A Victory March

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holding All The Tickets

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


:dent:ty

Sunday, November 11, 2012


image by Dave Bleasdale

Have you ever been in the middle of telling a story, a really good story (at least you think it's good) and then some real world thing happens, something important, some earth-shattering event that stops the whole world in its tracks and everyone drops everything and runs off?  And later on, when people say oh yeah, what was the rest of the story? you say you can't remember and say you can't tell it, that it don't matter and why doesn't someone tell a joke, mainly 'cuz you can't remember it and don't remember what you were saying but also because trying to tell the story later on feels different somehow, like the moment that was, is now broke open, hollowed out, like no matter how big a finish you put on things, no matter how you try to pick up where you left off, it'll never ring true, never be the same, not again?

I'm feeling a bit like that coming back to this blog.

The reasons why I left off writing in this space are many and varied and frankly I've learned (slowly--sorry I'm not always a quick study) that you, dear reader, aren't really interested in hearing about my bellyaching and excuses.  I don't blame you.  I'm pretty sick of hearing them myself.

The fact is I haven't written fiction in months.  And you've heard this story too: "not because I didn't want to."  But at some point facts become facts and the fact of the matter is that one can no longer call themselves a fiction writer if one does not write fiction.  That's the sad idea that I've been very slow to come around to, and I suppose it's the reason why my behavior has been so erratic and nonsensical.

If I had understood the problem better, I probably would have had the presence of mind to put up a nice hiatus post, say I was taking a break and so on, and at least exit stage left gracefully.  But that would be too easy, right?  I had to do it the hard way.  Somehow, no matter how much sense it made,  I couldn't bring myself to do that post.  It felt like quitting, you know?  But the evidence was right there in front of me, dog: what real fire of fiction in my belly could I still be tending if I wasn't finding a way to get fiction on the page?

And another stumbling block was that I felt I created a sort of persona for myself here, someone who was knowledgeable and wise on what writing fiction was about, and yet I couldn't come to grips with my own demons.  The more I tried to put on a face as a blogger, the more I felt like a fraud.

It feels really weird to say that out loud.

But, well, there it is.  I suppose the reason why I'm writing about it now is that I feel like I owe you--the one person who's probably still reading this (Hi Mom! *waves*)--some sort of explanation, some sort of repayment for your loyalty.  I feel I've served you all poorly, as silly as that sounds, and it's been a hard path finding my way back.

I feel like I can still contribute to the conversation, somehow, but I don't know what form that will take.  I'm on new ground, and maybe that's a good thing, but it's going to take me some time to get my wits about me.  The last thing I want to do is build another house of cards.

And, well, at least there's this note, from the other side of midnight.

I have no idea what my writing future holds, or if I have a writing future.  I don't know if the last few days' posts mean there are more on the horizon.  I wish I could tell you more, but I don't know.  It's pretty much one day at a time right now.   

Thanks.  Thanks for listening.  I suddenly feel the need to quote a Tennessee Williams line, but I'll refrain.  What about you?  How's life at your end of the universe?

Can You Whisper?

Friday, November 9, 2012


photo by Paul Stevenson 

Thinking about you guys today.  I know NaNo is in full swing and I hope everyone is having a blast.  I miss you guys.  Truly.  Hope you all--every one of you--are rocking it, whether it be NaNo or something else.  Life's too short, you know?

DJ of the Soul that I am, I can't not stop in without offering a song. Enjoy!


High Desert

Monday, July 16, 2012


Absent Without Leave

Wednesday, June 13, 2012



I sometimes have conversations with my ideal self.

"We live very different lives, you and I," I say, trying hard to keep the false drama from coloring my words.

He ignores me.  Hunched over the keyboard, he stares into the illuminated screen like a mage studying the fog, then continues typing.  He is lost in his story and I resent him for it.  He has no time for me, for lost souls with mouths full of excuses and hearts full of uncertainty.
 
"I suppose it doesn't matter," I say to no one in particular.

Perhaps I should offer a correction.  These interludes are not so much conversations as hollow soliloquies cast like spells into the discarnate air.

If he were to relent, to offer some breadcrumb of understanding, I might not feel so lost.  But his commitment is unwavering, his dedication pure.  When he faces an obstacle, he plunges on, undeterred.  He has no time for me and those like me.

I talk.  He works.  I think.  He works.  I breathe.  And still, he works.

It's one thing to know in every nook and cranny of my being that there are good reasons I am not accomplishing certain of life's critical pursuits.  Being OK with it is another thing altogether.

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


YEP!

Oh, The Places You'll Go!
by Dr. Suess

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

You have brains in your head,
you have feet in your shoes,
you can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

You'll look up and down streets.  Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.

It's opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don't worry.  Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!

You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes, you won't.

I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch.

You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.

And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose?  How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters?  Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads
at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles
across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear,
toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place.

...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That's not for you!

Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of guy!

Oh, the places you'll go!  There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.  There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don't.
Because, sometimes, they won't.

I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes!  You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So...
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!


:D

Who Do You Write Like?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Author's note: This post was first published July 15th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

The age old question: what famous writer does your work most resemble?  I got my answer this morning:


I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I can't say I am remotely disappointed with that result, although I'm not sure it's true.  I have lifetimes to go before I produce anything on the order of even the meagerest of Joyce's offerings, and I may never reach those lofty literary heights; still, dreaming makes good entertainment.  :)

Wanna know who you write like?  Head over to the I Write Like blog, paste a fragment of your writing into the submission block and hit the "Analyze" button.  I'm not sure it's scientific or remotely accurate, but it sure is fun!

Share your answer in the comments, if you please!  Oh, and have a groovy day!

WWAHD?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Author's note: This post was first published November 3rd, 2010.  It looks like Sarah is on blog hiatus.  Still, feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Sarah over at The Wit and Wisdom of Another Sarah (you should go check out her place if you haven't already!) had a great post last week about Alfred Hitchcock--and his various projects and cameos.

We as writers are no strangers to the advice: "Do something different!"  We hear it everywhere from writing how-to books to forums to blog posts to writing conferences.  Originality is a pretty key element of good fiction, and arguably--although in film rather than fiction--Hitchcock was the master at finding original approaches to familiar story elements.

Here are a few examples:

**In Psycho, he kills off the main character halfway through the film, something never done before.  The genius is, of course, that this is the last thing the audience suspects, so the rest of the film feels untethered and eerie--the very effect Hitchcock was no doubt going for.

**North By Northwest upped the stakes when Hitchcock turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill chase scene into something truly memorable by substituting a biplane for a car.  Those scenes where Cary Grant runs across the flat Illinois scree being buzzed by a crazed pilot in a Stearman biplane are downright iconic--and tremendously dramatic too.  The chase scene across Mount Rushmore at the end of the movie is equally memorable.  Reinventing the usual movie chase scene by changing one element to something unexpected, he raised the tension and drama to the next level.

**Lastly, The Birds set the standard for transmogrifying an ordinary element in the everyday world into a truly terrifying phenomenon--long before Stephen King and his ilk picked up that baton.  Who'da thunk it, that someone could take the most ordinary everyday creature and turn them into a terrifying plague?  Hitchcock, that's who.

Yeah, Hitchcock had the mojo when it came to flipping assumptions on their heads, and there's a lesson for us all.  The next time you're working on a scene and it feels unoriginal or flat--a problem that comes up often as I plug away at my NaNo project--ask yourself: "What Would Alfred Hitchcock Do?"  You may be surprised with the results.

What about you?  Do you have any similar tools that help you keep your fiction fresh and interesting?

Step By Step

Friday, January 20, 2012

Author's note: This post was first published October 27th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.


The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me.  If my travel companions hadn't been tugging gently on my sleeve--"Come on," they urged.  "We have a ton to see!"--then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.

Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process.  My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour--a set of stairs, for example!--as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.

In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published.  What we all hope for, right?

The staircase becomes a metaphor.  What could be simpler.  But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me.  As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled.  Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility. 

Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen--perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city--the ancient equivalent of e-mail)--who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.

After all, they'd been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off.  They'd successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew.  Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers. 

Their continued success was built on that wisdom.

As writers, I think we share the same challenge.  The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it's up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules.  As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:


Clearly, I have plenty of work to do.  :D  But I am committed.  I want to keep building, learning, discovering.  Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.

_ _ _ _ _ _

But wait!  The story's not over yet!  Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like.  I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?

After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here's what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Short Fiction:


Experimental Fiction:


Mystery/Thriller Fiction (DL, I'm looking at you :D):



Epic Fiction:


Horror:


Historical Fiction:

Fantasy:

Science Fiction:


Romance:


Combat Fiction:


Pantser Fiction:


Plotter Fiction:

Writer's Block Fiction:


Unfinished Fiction:

Here's hoping my upcoming NaNoWriMo project--and yours too if you're doing one--doesn't end up looking like the last two!  What about you guys?  What would your fiction look like as a set of stairs?  Or any other architectural device for that matter?

Hope you're having a great hump day, and don't forget to stay groovy!

Genesis Of A Twit

Wednesday, January 18, 2012



Author's note: This post was first published January 25th, 2011.  I obviously have been on Twitter for some time now, but found this post entertaining nonetheless.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

I'm in!  I'm now one of the crowd.  I took the dive: I started a Twitter account--and yes, it was as easy as pie.  And the funny thing was, it didn't hurt at all.  No.  Painless as an ice cold margarita on a Saturday afternoon.

With all this technology and progress, I sometimes like to look back a little bit.  I don't know if it's genetic or simply the age I grew up in, but I've always felt like I was reincarnated, as if I lived in the Forties and was born again--literally--in 1968 after a long hiatus.  I know in my heart that this is fanciful thinking, but it carries a certain reality for me, and I often wonder how much this affects my writing...?

Simply said, past ages fascinate me.  What was the pace of life like back then?  How did it compare to today.  Was writing a novel a completely different experience without all the world's information and resources at our fingertips in tools such as Google?

I think about the people who populated those eras.  I puzzle and stare too long at the pictures of writers we all admire, wondering what floated through their transom on any average Tuesday, and how that train of thought might compare with my own.  I play games in my head.  For example, wouldn't it be fun to imagine some of our favorite authors--some now long since dead--tweeting?

If you too have wondered these things, then today's your lucky day.  Behold, with a little modern magic, some Photoshop and a little elbow grease, we can see what a few of the best known writer's might have tweeted, if given the chance.

Off the bat, I can see it now: good old F. Scott sitting around with Zelda, jotting off:
Or Hemingway, laying it on thick:
And who knows what kind of crazy stuff Lewis Carroll would come up with:


I can imagine good old Charlie Dickens adding his voice to the conversation:
What about Herman Melville?
Of course we can't leave the ladies out.  Jane Austen might have expressed herself thusly:
No doubt Charlotte Bronte might have quipped:
Standing in the shadow of these literary giants, I am indeed humbled, a condition in which I have spent most of my life, well in advance of the Twitter Age.  Thus, and I understand the meagreness of my offering, upon opening my account today, I could but manage:
If you'd like to come join me on Twitter, feel free.  You can find me here.  Rest assured, I'll see if I can find a way to be a tad more interesting.

Tag, You're It!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Author's note: This post was first published April 29th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

I've been wrestling with dialogue tags lately, primarily because my WIP involves a number of characters (an infantry squad if you must know) who talk amongst themselves constantly.  Balancing the requirement to identify who says what against the need to avoid slowing my pace to a snail's crawl has been a challenge.

I may have mentioned at some point that I minored in Playwrighting, among my other claims to fame (we won't mention the dating a supermodel incident--primarily because it never happened).  While I was never a great playwright, I did learn a thing or two about dialogue, and I thought I might share a recent insight.

The general rule in fiction I've heard kicked around is that you should use "said" whenever possible to tag lines of dialogue.  No tag at all--so-called "naked dialogue"--is even better, as long as the "naked" doesn't go on too long.  The reason is that "said" isn't really heard by the reader (I can believe that), and so should be used in all cases where something stronger isn't needed (retorted, answered, mocked, etc.).

But how do we know when said is proper and when it is not?

To get to the answer, we need to take a short detour.  Let's look at a scrap of dialogue from a stage play (straight from my unhinged and lucid imagination of course).
GAVIN
(rubbing his belly)
Man, I could really go for some of that pie!

Here we have an action Gavin should be performing (rubbing his belly) as he says the line. Remember that stage plays have to rely almost exclusively on dialogue and character action.  Unlike fiction, description and internal monologue is kept to a bare minimum, so the tag is a way the playwright can tell the actor reading the script how to behave.

What often happens with beginning playwrights is that they misuse the action tag to describe how they imagine the line should be said, like so:

GAVIN
(hungrily, angrily, cornily, crazily, etc.)
Man, I could really go for some of that pie!

What the playwright is trying to do here is compensate for the fact that the line does not carry all the information required to express the needed idea.  Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you were to take a look at the best plays out there, you would see page upon page of dialogue where no tag is given at all (except in cases where a clear physical action is needed from one of the characters).  Good playwrights make the dialogue do all the work necessary to carry the story forward.

So what does this tell us about tag usage in fiction, you ask?  Well, I was getting to that.  As I said, sometimes dialogue needs the tag to put it in context for the reader.  Observe:

"Jimmy, come over here," Sharon crooned.
"Jimmy, come over here," Sharon barked.
"Jimmy, come over here," Sharon whispered.

In these three examples, the tag actually conveys the emotional context for the dialogue.  Without the tag (i.e., using only "said"), the emotion in the line/scene might not be clear.

As this shows, from time to time the right choice is substituting a more muscular verb for "said", to convey the meaning of the situation.  But another option available--and the preferred one in my opinion--is to think more like a playwright, and make your dialogue do as much work as possible.  For example:

"Jimmy, I want you to come over here," Sharon hissed.  {good}

"If you don't come here this very minute, I swear I'm gonna tan your hide!" Sharon said.  {better}

So that's it in a nutshell.  Let your dialogue do more work, and you may find your job of tagging a little bit easier.  Thoughts?  What do you wrestle with the most when working on your dialogue?

Fail Up

Friday, January 13, 2012


Author's note: This post was first published April 28th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Not a single one of you reading this wants to fail at the writing game.  I don't either.

But statistics are against us.  After all, as the famous demotivational poster points out: it could be that the purpose of our lives is only to serve as warnings to others.

So I was blown away by this recent article about why some authors never succeed.  I tell ya, I wish I could report that there was much here I already knew, but my impression was exactly the opposite: there is a lot here I have barely given thought to or am only now beginning to wrap my head around.

A few quick thoughts after reading this article:

  • Learning about the industry is certainly key--but there is a lot to know.  Make sure you set time aside to do your homework.
  • Accepting feedback is critical, but equally important is finding good sources of feedback.  Not doing so can be a dealbreaker.  Classes and forums can only go so far--get out there and find other writers that are at your experience level and that share your interests who you can exchange work with.
  • I think right along with measuring success in book sales, measuring success in blog posts (for us greener writers who have not been published yet) can be equally misleading.  If the fiction isn't getting done but your blog is rocking, you may need to take a closer look at your priorities.

And I think the most important lesson is understanding that you are going to fail--that sooner or later you'll try and not succeed--but learning from your failures and pressing on.  "Fail up," as the author notes. 

So I ask you: how do you measure short and long-term success?  What are the measuring sticks you use to judge daily, monthly, and yearly progress?  What's your process when things don't go as planned?

To Err Is Human (Good Copy Is Divine)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Author's note: This post was first published February 4th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Let me ask you a question: If I do a butt load of work until this post screams "Awesome!", has my work been "intense" or "intensive"? 

You choose: "JP worked 'intensely' to rock his readers' world" or "JP worked 'intensively' to rock his readers' world."  Which is correct?  (Feel free to make snide comments about the truthiness of either of these statements below ;))

If I decide to shorten this post (and I am notoriously verbose--so this happens often), will I then have "less" words, or "fewer" words?  Which is the correct descriptor?

The answer to both those questions didn't come easily to me.  How 'bout you?

Word choice is the most fundamental act in the writing process and cuts across everything a writer does, from the WIP, to the query letter to the agent, to the email to the publisher's assistant. 

A writer's words are like colors to a painter.  Just as the best painters have an innate ability to understand how a certain shade of red both compliments and enhances the other colors in a painting, good writers understand why a particular word fits their composition. 

Understanding the meaning behind words is a key element of this skill.  Pick the wrong word or term and you're like the watercolor artist with a stunning oceanscape--painted in subtle greys and delicate blues--who abruptly adds a dollop of garish yellow-brown to the white wavetops for no apparent reason.  Trust me.  It's an easy mistake to make.  Don't be that guy/gal!

Solomon, smart fellow that he was, said in Ecclesiastes 1:18: "With great knowledge comes great sorrow" (I always wondered if knowing that bummed him out).  I will co-opt his quote and offer instead: "With great knowledge comes great writing."  (I'll not comment on the connection between writing and sorrow--maybe another time). 

And the good news for all us struggling writers is that the knowledge is out there.  Here is a helpful link a friend sent me to aide in making effective word choices:  Common Errors In English Usage.

A few more great examples:

  • When I want to footnote something, do I use an asterick or asterisk?  Answer here.
  • If I call someone, do I "get ahold" of them or "get hold" of them?  Answer here.
  • Do I have a "method" or "methodology" for coming up with great story ideas?  Answer here.
  • If an agent writes back and says your novel is "mediocre," are they saying it is average or bad?  Answer here
  • If I am in the middle of a "sojourn," am I moving or stationary?  Answer here.
  • Is my midsection my "midrift" or "midriff"?  Answer here.
And check the link for a lot more!

I hope you find the page helpful.  I certainly did.  Oh yeah, my work preparing this post was intense and all the editing resulted in fewer words.

What are the errors you most commonly make?  Also, there's one (pretty obvious IMHO) error in my post.  Can you find it?

HINT: The error is one of the ones listed at the link.

Dreams of Kilimanjaro

Monday, January 9, 2012


Blog-wise, I've kept a low profile recently, as you've no doubt noticed.  To tell you the truth, I never expected to take the entire month of December off.  Truly.  But you've heard the story before: a break for a few days turned into a week, the week turned into three weeks, and before I knew it, an entire month had passed without so much as a whisper from me.

This is not to say that I haven't been busy.  In fact, as excuses go for not blogging, I have several pretty good ones.  At least I think they're pretty good, but then again, I'm probably pretty biased about my own reasons for doing things.  :D

Of course, like everyone else, I had Christmas to contend with, and New Years.  My birthday is the last day of the year, so there was some planning and activity related to that.  Oh, and did I mention that we're moving back to the States in less than 25 days?  Yeah, the movers already came and took our stuff.  We're living like denizens of a strange trailer park where they provide you a cabin, but very little in the way of furniture or other sundries like pots, plates or silverware.  We have not yet succumbed to eating off paper plates, but we're only a lazy-don't-want-to-wash-dishes night away.  Needless to say, life has been interesting.

But the big doozie, the one I've been spending many of my waking moments working on is pictured above.  I leave this afternoon to fly to Tanzania for three weeks.  Planned adventures include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a short safari, and generally enjoying all that that part of the world offers in the way of tourismistic bliss.  (Long time readers may recall this item on my 2011 goal list).

And it's funny, because this little jaunt ties in with writing.  Let me explain.  I first decided to climb Kili way back in 1993, after I read Michael Crichton's Travels where he relates his experience climbing the mountain.  Something about the idea of it stuck with me, and it's been on my bucket list ever since.  Even now, it's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a book can affect someone so much, but, well, there it is--and it's certainly one of the reasons why I'm so interested in writing fiction.

Some may laugh that it's taken me nearly 20 years to realize my goal, but when I hear those chuckles, I just nod my head.  I see my writing career the same way.  I may not be a best-selling author next week or next year, but if I keep my eye on the target, don't forget why I'm really doing it, and keep working, someday--with luck!--I'll get there.

So, I just wanted to pop in and fill ya'all in on the details.  If I get a few more spare moments this afternoon, I may see about preparing some oldy but goody posts to autopost in the weeks while I'm gone.  And of course, I'm taking my journal and will have the whole story to share when I get back.

Wish me luck--and don't forget to stay groovy!  :D

No Kiss Blogfest

Monday, January 2, 2012


I'm awake!  No seriously, I am! :D

Happy New Year, ya'all!  Hope it was a good one, and can you believe it's 2012 already?

So, to get going early this year, I signed up for the Frankie Diane Mallis' 3rd Annual No-Kiss Blogfest!  Get all the details at the link.

This kind of scene is somewhat outside my comfort zone, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.  Also, I took a swing at structuring the story a little differently than the usual guy/girl match up.  I've no idea if I pulled it off, but it sure was fun to put together!

So here it is!  Enjoy!  And don't forget to go read everyone else's entries also!

***** 
Sarah
(c) 2012 Jon Paul

     Sarah left her bags at the front door and walked toward me, crossing from the morning-brightened living room into the kitchen, her easy disarming smile dancing in the honeyed light. As she approached I remember thinking only one thing: she was still my little girl.
     She intended to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, an understood ritual, the last act of affection a daughter shows her father on the day she leaves for college. The scene was a cliché of course, acted out in a hundred corny movies, but the prospect of facing my daughter in that moment had played and replayed in my mind for weeks. How would it feel, I wondered, when it came time to say goodbye?
     I set my coffee cup on the counter and returned her grin.  Doubt flickered through her steady gaze, or surprise perhaps. Sarah was not the kind of person to find herself at a loss for words. Her blue eyes swept the kitchen, as if the familiarity of the table and chairs, pots and pans and dishes peering from the shelves, might offer her a clue what to say.
     "The big day is finally here," I said. "You all packed, ready to go?"
     "Yeah." She blinked twice, as if a spell had been broken, then poured herself a cup of coffee. Cream. Two sugars.
     "When's Heather get here?" I asked.  Sarah's best friend Heather Nance had been accepted to the same school.
     Sarah looked at her watch. "In about twenty minutes."
     "Ok. Don't forget what we talked about."
     Sarah chuckled and raised one eyebrow.
     "Be careful when you get to Austin or you'll hit morning rush hour dead on. I-35 will be like a parking lot by then if--"
     "Dad?"
     "Yeah?"
     "I got it."
     I fell silent, my overprotective words suddenly ringing in my ears. I couldn't help but smile. It was a hard habit to break. Too many skinned knees. Too many tears over broken dolls and schoolyard crushes.
     "Dad, listen," she began, standing close. "It's...I-I'll be home weekends and holidays, you know..."
     I nodded. When I met her gaze, she was reading my mind, sensing my uncertainty.
     "Sarah?" Her mom's voice filtered down from upstairs. "I found that sweater you asked about. And a couple other things you might want to take."
     "Be right back," Sarah said.
     "Ok."
     When she was gone, I sipped my lukewarm coffee, feeling too lazy to warm it from the pot. Upstairs the girls negotiating over what clothes might still fit in Sarah's bags. The plan was for Sarah's mother Nell and I to drive up in a couple of weekends with her furniture, once she knew how much space was available in her dorm room. The semi-furnished rooms pictured in the college brochure looked smallish so Sarah, sensible as ever, decided to pack light and make due until we arrived with the rest of her stuff. We'd suggested driving her to college ourselves, but she'd already agreed to travel with Heather. Two weeks would no doubt feel like an eternity.
     I placed my empty coffee cup in the sink, ran hot water into it and put it in the dishwasher. I caught a glimpse of my face reflected in the window. How tired I looked. I'd stayed up late looking through old photo albums, having a few too many beers.
     Eighteen years had come and gone in the blink of an eye. People always said kids grew up fast, but life is full of platitudes that barely resemble reality, so I suppose I never really believed it. I couldn't escape the feeling that the last few years had blurred by in seconds.
     Dustin, Sarah's brother, bounded down the stairs and came into the kitchen. His bedhead hair stood out in wild angles, and he gave me a wry smirk. "She still here?"
     "Yep."
     "Bummer."
     Dustin pulled a carton of orange juice from the fridge, pouring the golden liquid into a glass. Naturally, his sister's departure didn't seem to bother him. Sarah had vacated the larger of their two bedrooms, so he'd immediately staked a claim to it, no doubt contributing to his eagerness to see her leave.
     I left Dustin in the kitchen and went to my office. I wanted to get in a little work before a planned trip to the grocery store with Nell later. I flipped the power switch on my laptop and listened as it booted up, feeling a thousand miles away, my mind adrift. I clicked open a report from Jim Lackey, one the insurance agents in my office. He had a couple questions about my methodology for settling a recent claim for one of his customers. I tried to work my way through his notes, but I couldn't concentrate. I kept catching myself, eyes on the wall, listening to a peculiar silence settle over the house. Soon, Heather pulled up outside. Dustin answered the door when the doorbell rang and yelled upstairs. Sarah and her Mom came down, still chatting over wardrobe choices.
     "Dad, come on! I'm leaving," Sarah yelled out.
     "Be right there."
     I closed the laptop, sat still for a minute. On my desk, my gaze fell on a framed photo of four-year old Sarah, dressed as a genie, her pre-school Halloween costume one year. The same smile. The same twinkle in her eye. 'I love you, Daddy' scrawled in crayon along the edge of one corner. It felt like the picture had been taken only yesterday.
     When I came down the driveway, Dustin was putting Sarah's bags in the trunk of Heather's car--a rare act of chivalry. Nell hovered nearby, arms crossed in her cardigan, a strained smile painted on her face.
     "Morning, Mr. Howard," Heather said as I approached.
     "Morning, Heather," I said, sounding more chipper than I felt. "You have everything, Sarah?"
     Sarah ran her eyes quickly over the bags in the trunk. "Wait. My camera bag." She started up the driveway toward the house.
     "I'll get it," I said.
     "It's on the side table in the living room," she said as I disappeared through the door. I found the small black bag, right where she said it was, and brought it back outside.
     As I came back down the driveway, Sarah waited patiently near the open trunk. It was clear the others had already said their goodbyes. Dustin and Nell stood off to one side as Heather climbed into the driver's seat of her car. I handed Sarah her camera bag, but she refused to look me in the eye.
     The sun, fully up, bathed the street and houses in a brilliant, sundering light. I keenly felt everyone's eyes on Sarah and I. Gone was the intimacy of our time that morning in the kitchen, evaporated like steam dissolving in the warming air.
     I searched Sarah's face, seeing a new maturity there. Or had it been there all along? At that moment, I really wasn't sure of anything and I shook my head, trying to get my eyes to focus. It made no sense, but someone had taken away my daughter and replaced her with a beautiful, mysterious young woman who looked at me now with a kind of sadness. There was a new remoteness, an invisible barrier, an expansive wall constructed from the bricks of a missed opportunity.
     Did she sense it too, this strange shift in reality? Was it some defensive mechanism on her part, to put some distance between us, to make leaving less painful?  Or perhaps she was nervous in front of her friend.  Whatever it was, she seemed suddenly like a stranger to me, grown up, responsible, sophisticated in a way I couldn't fathom. I searched her eyes for a sign, for some indicator that this was all a mistake, a misunderstanding. She returned my gaze tenderly, with great composure, and that's when I knew something had changed.
     "Goodbye, Dad," she said quietly. "See you in a couple weeks." She didn't hug me, or give me a kiss on the cheek. Instead, with forlorn grace, she turned and climbed into the passenger seat of the car, a bizarre frown turning down the corners of her mouth.
     When they had driven away, Nell came to me, took me by the arm. Dustin had already disappeared inside.
     "You Ok?" Nell said. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
     I nodded, but couldn't speak. I could only smile weakly, a spiritless emptiness gnawing my insides. We embraced, my wife warm in my arms, then walked up the driveway, alone, and disappeared inside.

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to stay groovy! :D

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