Sunday, December 9, 2012

How's the view?

I survived and thrived through NaNoWriMo - a 66,000+ winner - and took a break from my novel to enter into Mysti Parker's wonderful Christmas Flash Fiction Contest.  Mysti always runs great contests and she's posted several Christmas gems already.  Thanks for the gift of your blog, Mysti and to anyone else, check her great Tallenmere books!

Click here to read my entry!

My submission got me thinking about Point of View.  Sometimes it seems that only one character's voice can tell the story.  But more often, I prefer to entertain multiple viewpoints.  It a great way to build drama and conflict for the reader, and helps the writer free all the voices in their head.

So while Mysti posts the flash fiction I sent her from the Robert point of view, I'm sharing a peek into Ljuba's head.


A Good Story (Take 2) (c) 2012

“Night, Looby-loo.  Sure you don’t want to come with? You shouldn’t be alone on Christmas Eve.”  Jeanette gave Ljuba the puppy eyes treatment.

Ljuba airkissed Jeanette and waved to Jeanette’s husband, Daniel, who was already half-way to the door.  “Hello, ham dinner?  Jew?  Thanks sweetie, but I’ve got Kung Pao Chicken to prep and cozy flannel sheets to snuggle in.  Now scoot home to that wonderful family.”

Ljuba sighed with relief as Jeanette weaved through the remaining stalwarts still enjoying the office Christmas party.  Technically it was a Holiday party – cue the air quotes - but the company held it on Christmas Eve each year, never one of the eight nights of Hanukah.

Which was fine.  Holding it on Hanukah would mean Ljuba would be asked ad nauseum to explain the holiday.  And some idiot would make a joke about bacon or being cheap and she’d want to punch them - which wasn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit.  Besides, she liked Christmas Carols.  There were only so many times you could hear ‘Dreidel, Dreidel’ and not go mad.

The bar emptied.  That’s when she saw him.  Elevator guy.  He always got on the elevator smiling, with his Yankees travel mug and a friendly good morning to the other riders.  She liked that.  Most people just avoided eye contact.

He was so her type.  Despite his friendliness, he seemed a bit shy, blondish hair flopping over his forehead to hide his eyes.  He was yummily tall. His suits fit him like he was an athlete, his muscles showing off the cut, rather than fabric hiding some flab.

She watched him watch the TV, seemingly mesmerized by that silly Santa GPS thing they aired every year.  The bartender spoke to him for a few moments, then walked to the bottles in front of her, the ones filled with manly drinks, like bourbon or scotch. 

“Hey, is that for him?” Ljuba inclined her head towards Elevator Guy.

“Yeah.  You want one?”  The bartender poured the drink, giving her a quick grin.

Ljuba fished out a ten as she wrinkled her nose.  “Ugh.  No.  But tell him that one’s compliments of me.”

The man winked as he made change.  “No problem.”

Ljuba watched the delivery as nerves danced a cha-cha in her stomach.

Elevator guy raised his glass to her.  She lifted the martini glass holding the remnants of the Cosmo she'd nursed all evening.  After a moment, he strolled over, that killer smile on his face.  She kicked out the closest stool.

He extended his hand.  “Thank you. I’m Robert.”

“I’m Looba.  L-j-u-b-a.  You’re welcome.  We’re elevator buddies.”  She shook his hand, enjoying his firm grip before letting go.  He was even taller up close, his shoulders broad.  She felt like a munchkin.  Or maybe an elf, ha-ha.  

He smiled with his eyes. “So we are. So, Ljuba, no Christmas Eve plans?”  He frowned, but it didn’t seem directed at her. 

“I’m Jewish.  Hanukah’s over - got my eight gifts, plus a dollop of guilt served with latkes.”  Ljuba wet her mouth with an icy sip of Cosmo.

“All that’s left is the Chinese take-out, right?” Robert’s eyes went all deer in the headlights the instant the words left his mouth.   

His panic charmed her, the comment more gauche than offensive.  A snort of laughter escaped her nose.  “Chinese food’s tomorrow.  I had a few invites tonight, but -”

He grinned, his relief obvious as he finished her sentence.  “- you’re not interested in being the party orphan.”

Ljuba smirked.  “Exactly.  What about you? No plans?”

Robert shrugged.  “Mom’s with Sis, in Seattle.  Grandkids trump a single son.  Plus, I’m working the 26th.”

Phew, he was single.  “Me too. I’m glad we finally met, closing down the bar. You headed home?”  She blushed.  He was staring at her mouth, a half-smile playing across his lips. 

Robert blinked.  “Um, I was thinking about going to a service.   My Dad was a pastor.  But he died a few years ago. I haven’t gone to church since - well, I just haven’t.” 

His voice cracked, melting her insides.  She touched his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

He gulped his drink, a far-off look on his face. When he didn’t respond, she said the first thing that popped in her head. “I’ve never been to a service. I love Carols.  I’d go, if you like.”

Holy Moses, did she just invite herself to church?

“Really? There’s a church nearby with an eleven o’clock candlelight service.”  His face lit up, but he bit his lip.    

“Perfect.”  Ljuba pulled out her phone.  “Do we need a cab?”

“We can walk, if you don’t mind the cold.”  Robert tossed a bill on the bar.  He helped her with her coat. 

“Merry Christmas, folks.”  The bartender waved as the cold outside air hit them.

Walking was a relief after the steamy, over-decorated bar.  Ljuba chattered about her family.  Robert didn’t say much, but he was attentive.

The church was crowded.  As they sat, a sweet-faced girl with unfortunate skin raised her trumpet.  The opening notes of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ rang out.

Robert held their book.  Ljuba almost jumped when he opened his mouth and a marvelous, deep bass issued forth. She couldn’t help but grin when he hit a low note.  She sang the alto part.  Their voices blended well.  She noticed a few folks peeking back to see who was singing.

The pastor, a woman, recited scripture: “…For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out…”

Ljuba glanced at Robert.  He seemed enraptured.  She squeezed his hand.  He squeezed back and kept hold of hers.  She liked that.

Ljuba lost herself in the service.  She knew the basics - who didn’t - but it was different to hear it as worship, not just some trite retelling on an animated TV special.

The candle-lighting began after they took up a collection.  The flame passed through the pews.  When it reached them, Ljuba tipped her unlit wick into Robert’s candle flame.  The lights dimmed and Ljuba soaked in the quiet beauty of the softly lit faces .

The choir sang the first verse of ‘Silent Night’ in German.  The congregation joined in, as did Ljuba.  Her grandmother always flipped when Ljuba sang Carols - "those Nazi songs".  But it was beautiful, the moment so sublime even her Nonny would have sighed.

Robert’s voice faded. Ljuba looked up, her heart lurching again at the stricken look on his face. She acted on instinct, snaking her arm around him.  “Harmonize with me.”

He hesitated, then started singing.   He rushed them out ahead of the crowd.  It had started to snow at some point.  Ljuba lifted her face to let the flurries cool her skin. 

She sidestepped an icy patch of sidewalk.  “Was that hard?”

Robert tucked her arm in his.  “Yes, but…thank you.  You have a great voice.”

“You too.”  They’d reached the bar.  She’d ridden here with Jeanette.  She should probably call a taxi.

Robert exhaled a steamy breath.  “I’ll call you a cab.”

Ljuba appreciated that he didn't assume anything.  They moved out of the wind, close to the building.  Robert didn’t speak, but she didn’t mind.  It felt perfect, like the song.  A silent night.

Ljuba spied the cab, a few blocks up.  Robert cleared his throat.  “So…” 

“So… My Chinese is homemade.  My Kung Pao chicken will knock your socks off.” Ljuba peeked up, hoping he’d get the hint.

Robert grinned and tugged up his pant leg, exposing hilarious lime green socks with elves.  “You want to knock these socks off?”

Ljuba giggled.  “Definitely.  So, noon?”

The taxi pulled up.  Robert waved off the driver and opened her door. “Noon.  I’ll bring pie.” 

His hand touched her back as Ljuba got in.  She leaned out, wanting to thank him for what they’d just shared.  Wanting it not to end.  “It’s a good story, Robert.”

“What’s a good story?”  He quirked his head, all Jack Frost-like, dusted with snow.

“The Christmas story.  The baby, the stable.  The star.  It says the right things.  About love.  About being open to everyday miracles.” Ljuba flushed.  She shouldn't mention love on a first date.  Or a first whatever this was.

Robert didn't seem to mind.  His brown eyes warmed, cozier than her flannel sheets.  He leaned down.  She held her breath, tipping her face up.  His lips brushed hers, just a soft kiss, but the shiver that went through her had nothing to do with the weather. 

He smiled.  “Yeah.  It is a good story. Happy belated Hanukah, Ljuba.”

“Merry Christmas, Robert.”   

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NA-NOt ready to WRIte MOre

It's Halloween.  Tonight my neighborhood will be over run with all manner of spooks, ghouls, witches, vampires, ninjas and trade-marked characters, seeking, with zombie-esque single mindedness, the elusive favorite type of candy.

Dark clouds hung low in the sky this morning and bare trees served as haunting silhouettes as their leaves littered the roads, twirling into the air with a gust of wind, or passing car.  It's a perfect broody setting for the holiday, just waiting for me to set out the Jack-O-Lanterns with lighted candles.

But this Halloween I'm scared for another reason.  Halloween means only one thing to me.  One terrifying, looming, fright-filled fact.  It means I'm less than twenty-four hours away from starting NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month to those unfamiliar with the acronym.

Why the terror?  Why the blood-curdling B-Movie Horror queen shrieks?  I'm not ready.  And I should be ready.  But I'm not.  

I should be.  I've worked hard to align my NaNo stars.  I have three book ideas to choose from.  Two are reasonably well out-lined on paper and the third resides in my head, fully-fleshed out characters chattering away, just waiting patiently in the exit line.  

I've alerted friends and family about the upcoming month of shameless neglect.  They will ignore my warnings and whine, but I am prepared for that.  I will bend, but I will not yield.

And I'm not in this alone.  I'm taking my child with me into the tangled NaNo forest, my daughter signed up for the Young Writer's Program.  We have her characters named and the plot sketched out.  She's chosen a word count goal.  I've even drafted my mom as her back-up typist, so that I have time for my own writing.

Instead of my usual loitering on street corners, I've been hanging about the NaNo forums, interacting with the other crazies who plan to take on the WriMo challenge in 2012.  I have my dropbox account folder set-up, and a back-up memory stick to save, save, save against the dying of the machine.  I even have the T-Shirt.  Washed, dried, fluffed and folded.

Yep, so not ready.  

You see, for me, NaNoWriMo readiness is as much a state of mind as it is a well executed pre-launch check-list.  And my mind?  Totally not in NaNo State of Mind this year. It's more a questioning my sanity state of mind.

Am I really doing this again?  Really? Last year's 50,000 plus word disaster sits in the ether-sphere of the computer, unedited and mostly unread since 12/1/11 came around.  I barely wrote at all in 2012.  I've grown to enjoy a good night's sleep, which, given my day job and my unwillingness to completely throw my family to the wolves (if I decide to go with the Shifter novel), I'm not really sure how I'm going to average 1666.666  words per day.  That .666 looks ominous to me.

So why did I sign up again?  What was I smoking?  I've never been one for this type of challenge.  I don't get the whole vibe - the Mount Everest climbers, the marathon runners, the competitive eaters.  I don't get the whole 'because it's there and because I can' mindset.

Except maybe I do.  Lurking somewhere in the dark and deep recesses of my psyche is that slightly crazy person.  Because, despite my uneasy unreadiness, I'm still going to start typing away.  Tomorrow around noon, without fail, my lunch hour likely my first opportunity to start eating the word elephant named 50,000, one tap at a time.  I'm as ready as I'll be at this point and not ready at all.  

So I'll meet you at the NaNo site tomorrow, at a reasonable bed-time, to enter my word count for November 1st, no matter how below or above that 1666.666 mark I am.  And I'll post my WC here too.  Why?  Because it's there.  Because I can.  Because I already told enough people I'm doing it for it to be too late to weasel out this year.

And if you're hiding from the big bad NaNoWriMo monster too, look out.  Ready or not, here it comes!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Light and Shadow

A good writer reveals character and story by balancing  illumination and obscuration.  On a camping trip back on Memorial Day Weekend, in between slapping at black flies, I captured the patterns and shapes of light and shadow on the forest trail we hiked.  Here are some of my photos to inspire you to seek what the light reveals and what it hides in your path through the woods. (All Photos Cristina Rehn, (C) 2012).  If you'd rather not meander down the page, click on a picture to view in larger format as a slideshow.







Thursday, July 5, 2012

Literary Roadkill

Writers are miners and scavengers.  We dig into our own and others' pasts for good stories and we scour our present for usable material.

While there are current-day Hemingways out there, living grand adventures at sea or in exotic locales, personally I inhabit a more mundane world.  My daily dramas consist of my righteous anger at that driver who cut me off, or the despair over the old van that, yet again, needs repair.  Or perhaps you'd like to read about my epic struggle against the hordes of Sunday shoppers at the grocery store?

Yes, it's the stuff of, not.  Alas, my commute and daily chores aren't particularly literary award-worthy.  Or publishable.  So when something out of the ordinary crops up in my pedestrian existence, well, I immediately check see if it's rich vein or a dead-end.

Imagine my excitement, then, when this week I faced a monumental battle in the realm of motherhood.  My child was diagnosed with...head lice.

(Pausing so you can scratch your head and give into that convulsive shudder).

Anyone who's dealt with these pernicious critters knows that my daughter's contagion meant all out war.  Armed with prescriptions and sprays and lice combs and laundry detergent, we marshalled all household forces and forged into battle.

After our initial charge of stripping bedding, spraying and vacuuming carpets and upholstery and treating the infested head, I quickly discovered the demoralizing truth.  Defeating the enemy requires both a head-on attack and a siege.

Here's a little peek at the characters in my war story:

My daughter and her hair:  A nine year old, mercifully compliant and a reader able to sit still for long periods of time.  The hair is long, thick, wavy and prone to snarling.  As was my daughter by day three.

Her cousins:  We'd just ended a visit with them when the diagnosis came.  The one cousin who stayed with us all week, was, of course, the girl with the long, thick hair (but straight, thank goodness).  We sent them back to Texas, potentially carrying the enemy with them across many borders.  Fortunately their dad, my brother, is a seasoned veteran in the Pediculousean Wars, and sent many reassuring text missives.  But no cookies.

Me, Commander Mama: I am patient (mostly) and armed with good bifocals and long fingernails.  Plus I work with public health professionals, with access to good generals to choose my weapons and guide my strategy of attack. 

My husband and mother, the infantry:  Willing to pitch in, they fought brave struggles against the Sisyphian mounds of laundry, and carried fresh containers of soapy water to me (and the occasional adult beverage of my choice) to aid me in my siege.

Mine enemy, the louse:  The adult louse is yucky and fast, but susceptible to chemical warfare.  When louse becomes lice, expect a protracted engagement.

The Nits, aka, the secret weapon: Unfortunately, even when you've vanquished the foe, he and she leave behind sleeper cells, the tiny nits that hide in the dark depths of the hair, like pod-people waiting to hatch a new round of soldiers.

As for the initial battle, well, the term nit-pick took on a whole new meaning.  Imagine something less than the size of a head of a pin, clinging to a single shaft of hair, that needs to be tightly grasped and dragged down the length of the strand to detach it.  Trust me, if you find this enemy, tremble in fear and prepare for tedium.

We came, we combed, and hopefully we conquered.  Alas, the war is not yet over, as I must return to the siege daily to find soldiers that remain behind our lines, waiting to hatch their evil plans to bring forth a second wave of destruction in seven to ten days.

Are you still with me?  God bless you if you are. 

I'm pretty sure there's no gold here, just roadkill.  It's gross, but it's not gripping (well, except for the nits, which grip and grip and grip.), and you'll wish you hadn't looked.

But even if it's just fool's gold, I decided I could still try to cash in on my little personal Public Health hell, perhaps with a moralistic song for the kiddie set - think The Wiggles(TM), with wiggly bugs:

(cue banjo and tissue covered comb)

Pickin' cooties with my mama
While I sit in my pajamas
patiently beneath the morning light

Though she's using all her fingers
Still those buggies they do linger
I suspect we'll be here
till a long hair past midnight

What?!  What do you mean you're not buying my album?  I'm crushed.


Okay, how about a simple Seussian tale:

There's a louse in my house
And he's leaping on my head
Hoping to make it his new bed

If it's warm, he'll call the swarm
And tell them that it's nice
And then my lonely louse will turn into lice

Do you like nit eggs in hair?
Do you like them everywhere?
I do not like them, mother dear.
I do not want them here or there.

Can we get them with a comb?
Have they made your head their home?
Mother dear, this rhyme is sick
And you are making me go 'ick'!

(Sigh.  Deeper sigh.  Long, drawn out sigh of surrender.)

Yes, fellow artists, there are some itches you just shouldn't scratch.  So I leave my lousy drama on the side of the road, hoping that it doesn't hitch a ride with you.

   But don't worry about me.  I'm going to a conference next week.  Between flight delays and long hours of meetings, I'm sure I'll strike gold yet!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

He laves me, he laves me not?

credit: Ince
I've been brooding and nibbling at my lush pouty lips over the idea of writing a romance novel.  Though not a regular romance reader, I've recently immersed myself in the strong men, lusty women (or vice versa) world to familiarize myself with the genre. Plus the advent of the e-reader makes it so much easier to read them on the down-low.

Like Sci-fi, Mystery and similar serial-type genres, Romance operates under certain set conventions, with the Happily-Ever-After or HEA as the prime directive.  I'm happy with HEAs.  We like to get what we expect - that's why chain businesses are so successful.

Romance novels characters tend to exhibit a stock set of traits:

1) The heroine is (pick one or more):

a. a spunky spitfire from the wrong side of town, or the right side of town, family either tyrannical/abusive/interfering or perfect
b. innocent and unaware of her beauty
c. experienced, with a broken heart in need of healing
d. secretly yearning to be dominated
e. a supernatural being who may or may not know her own power
f. a cowgirl

2) The hero is (again, one or more):

a. fabulously wealthy and powerful, but his life is empty
b. the epitome of male strength and beauty
c. dominant, alpha male who is a player, until he meets the right woman
d. dominant alpha male in need of healing
e. a supernatural, all powerful being, who can be tamed by the right woman
f. a cowboy

After you stir the heroine and hero together in a good stew of a plot, be it gumbo or beef bourgignon, all romance boils down to a handful of fantasy themes.   The heroine changes the man for the better, the heroine gains protection/care from the hero, and/or the hero and heroine alike are loved for their own special selves.  Oh, and the sex is always earth-shattering, vanilla or otherwise.

Again, this is all gravy to me, even if my own feminist sensibilities make me a poor heroine candidate.  Romance novels are works of fiction and, when well-written, I suspend my disbelief to 'The End'.

Where I struggle as a reader and potential writer of romance, is in the down and dirty descriptions.  Romance writers work hard to stroke all our senses, but certain words or phrases pop up so frequently that they feel more like assault and battery.  Here's my list of top offenders:

1) Let's start with laving.  There's a lot of laving in romance novels.  Now I'm happy to be both laver or lavee in real life, but I struggle with the word itself, because it is a writing only word.  The dictionary meaning is to wash or bathe, but in romance novels it seems to be a stand-in for the word "lick".  It's possible that I don't hang with the right water-cooler crowd, but no one uses lave in conversation when I'm around.  You never hear anyone say "Sweetie, lave the edge of your ice cream cone, or you'll get chocolate all over your shirt."  So can we agree to consign lave back to it's archaic origins, except, perhaps, for cats cleaning their fur*?

*Allowable in feline shifter novels, natch!

2) My nose is twitching over my next bugaboo, smells.  Heroines give off a stock stable of aromas, usually peaches, vanilla, or strawberries, or some combination thereof, with roses and honey glopped on every now and then.   These odors pose an irresistible draw to the male, particularly if he is a supernatural being with a heightened sense of smell.

These are evocative scents, likely chosen because they are familiar to a broad audience.  But are they really the types of odors to attract our domineering beast of a man?  I conducted extensive mental research, seeking alternative colognes.  I whiffed and sniffed through other fruits first:  mango, kiwi, cherry, banana, apple, coconut.  All perfectly pleasant bouquets, but I'm not sure they have that necessary alluring impact.  Well, the banana and coconuts combo could work for tropical beach settings, if it weren't so Freudian.

I did the same for flowers, but neither fruit nor flower seemed to truly capture the essential perfume guaranteed to attract men.   I decided to go a primary source, my husband:

Me: "Honey, what's the best smell ever?"

Hubby: "Bacon."

Bacon?  BACON!  Yum.  You-reek-ahh!  The man is a genius.  No predator could resist bacon.  Let's see how it works:

source: Andreas Gradin
"Her scent filled the air, redolent of smokehouses and morning after lie-ins at bed and breakfasts.  It tantalized his nose, crackling and popping through every nerve in his body.  His mouth watered as he drew closer and breathed in the porky aroma emanating from the curve of her neck, longing to sink his teeth into her sinew."

Erm, uh-uh.  No.  Evocative?  Yeah. Romantic? Bleah.  I flung my bucket at hubby's well of male knowledge again.

Me: "Okay, what smell turns you on?"

Hubby: "Nachos and Beer."

Me: "Nachos and Beer?"

Hubby: "Yeah.  Reminds me of date night."

I decided that Hubby is an unreliable source.  Plus, we are clearly in a rut and I am wasting money on scented body products.  I suppose I must reject Bacon, Nachos and Beer, at least as aphrodisiac scents, but let's agree to expand beyond roses, strawberries and their over-used compatriots.

3) In the realm of sound, I only have one small quibble.  Too often, in the midst of their passionate nookie, the heroine performs some sort of move that causes the hero to make a "nonsensical sound."

At the risk of exposing the limits of either my imagination or experience, I confess, when I read the phrase "nonsensical sound", the soundtrack from a Three Stooges movie starts running through my brain, all nyuck,nyuck,nyuck.  Then the heroine falls off the bed in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, never to share a  booty call with our poor hero again - though she will dine out for years on the nyuck-nyuck story with her BFFs.  I vote we stick with the usual snarls, growls, groans and moans and relegate the nonsensical sounds to the Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and kiddie lit.

4) Cup size.  I'm not talking about Grande vs. Venti here.  Let's just say that some authors repeatedly feature heroines who bemoan that they must do more with less, while others prefer to cast the same buxom lass with the bodacious ta-tas.  Here's the problem:  When I read multiple books by the author whose heroines always display that barely a B-cup, or overflowing double DDs bosom, I assume that the author's sporting similar-sized lingerie and is working through her own body image issues.  And that's TMI.  Change up the girls, girlfriend!

credit:© Cathy Keifer
5) Last on my list of poetic peeves comes romance novel lip action.  I want to keep this PG, but too often in books, the hero starts thrusting his tongue in the heroine's mouth to "mimic", um, lower thrusting activities.  While it's possible that hubby and I don't possess the right skill set to pull this move off successfully, when I read this, all I think is "Ewww."  Then I think about that boy from that week at summer camp, whose name I've mercifully forgotten, who lives on in my memory only as "Lizard Tongue."  There's also a whole lot of biting going on in Romance novels.  I'm all for the occasional nibble or nip, and I concede its necessity when it comes to the supernatural set, but otherwise, isn't that a habit we actively discourage from toddler-age on? Keep the teeth for the nachos and bacon our lovers consume in their pre- or post-coital munchies periods, or someone's gonna get hurt.

So Alpha males and Spunky gals, let's recap our new romance rules:

1)  Limit laving - one lave per novel, please!
2) Start sniffing around for new scents.
3) Nonsensical sounds are nonsensical, unless your name is Curly or Moe, or you're the Toon dating Jessica Rabbit.
4) Women come in all shapes and sizes and so should your leading ladies.
5) Less tongue is more and sheath your teeth at the door.

Happily Ever After Writing!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ridiculously pleased

Each day I visit my writer friend Mysti Parker's blog.  I enjoy her work and I appreciate how supportive she is of fellow writers. Today's visit brought an unexpected treat - I was chosen as the second place favorite in her May Flash Fiction contest!  Here's the link to my piece, Banished.

If you have time, read all the entries.  So many wonderful authors submitted moving works.  I've been impressed by the poignant moments each expressed in so few words, using the same writing prompt.

I like to win anything, so I've been beaming all day.  I'm going to use this as inspiration to ratchet up my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, Camp Vamp.

Thank you Mysti and all my other writer friends out there for your support and encouragement.

And if you haven't read Mysti's Serenya's Song, or her first, A Ranger's Tale, do yourself a favor and pick them up!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Folded Flag

Memorial day was yesterday, but the words didn't come to me until today.  For my father...

The folded flag sits
inside its plastic sleeve.
Medals hang from the dark blue cloth of the covered cotton batting
inside the cherry wood case
on the middle shelf of my china cabinet.

Forty three years passed by
since you died at twenty-nine.
My aunts and uncles grieve together,
sending your picture into your hometown paper.
My mother grieves alone,
her memories still too private to share.

The anniversary of your death comes each year,
so close to Memorial Day,
Two chances to remember, two chances to forget.
There is no grave to visit.
The markers bearing your name
stand miles away from my home.

You're just a picture to my daughter.
An old scar, not a fresh wound.
You're just a picture to me too.
Gone, before I grew old enough
to remember you.
Dead, before I really lived.

Still, I pause for a moment,
after we unpack the camping gear,
to notice the flag waving from my neighbor’s porch -
A vet who fought in your war
(One who came home
One who truly never forgets).

And I think of you,
my black and white photo father.
A two-dimensional man,
occasionally made flesh and blood,
with borrowed memories,
because I have no memories of my own.

I wonder who you are,
who I would be if you had lived,
what I would lose if you survived.
My husband? My child?  My home? 
You created me, first with your life
and then with your death.

And the parade passes by.
Old men stick paper poppies
into the button holes of their lapels.
Mothers and wives adorn themselves
in red, white and blue, and gold star pins
dressed up to hear the bugler blow "Taps".

They lay flowers at graves and markers, 
wiping away the tear that escapes as the last mournful note plays. 
Then they move on with their lives
breaking bread at parties and picnics.

And I wonder if they know, too,
that we are your memorials.

copyright May 2012, Cristina Rehn

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Writing prompt, anyone?

It's so lonely over here at Quiet Content that I've been forced to fill my time with frivolous pursuits.  Thanks to a FB friend, I've been having fun messing around with my photos at this site: 

After you've whiled away hours of your own valuable writing time playing with all the options, come  back.  In the interests of dragging you all kicking and screaming to my blog, I've posted a few of my altered works here to spur your imagination.

Either post a prompt sentence to go with one of these in my comments section, and I'll add it as a caption, or send me a flash fiction of 700 words or less for one and I'll post you here as a guest blogger.   I'll accept R-rated stories, but no X-rated, please (you can send the X-rated ones, but those will be for my reading pleasure only - no guest spot).  I will post all comers!  Email your flash fiction to me at c.rehn43012 at

If you're interested in knowing where I took these pictures, post a comment.  Feel free to email me your own photo creations to share as prompts and I'll put those up in my next post too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Road Blocks, Stumbling Blocks and Building Blocks

I am suffering from a case of writer's block.  It's not writer's block in the traditional sense.  I don't sit at my computer screen, staring at the white space, waiting for my muse to descend and unleash a torrent of creativity.

My writer's block is more of the logistical variety.  It started in February, when the hard drive to my new netbook crashed.  The one I hadn't yet made back-up disks for, because I hadn't yet purchased an external disk drive. Off it went, mummified in bubble wrap, across state lines to anonymous techs.  Between the crash itself, communicating the problem, sending it off and waiting for its return, I lived without it for six weeks.

This shouldn't have presented a stumbling block.  I'd written my NaNoWriMo novel on our PC in our upstairs home office.  But the netbook spoiled me.  It allowed me to perpetuate the illusion to my family that I interacted with them, by virtue of sitting in the same room.  My family liked that.  The cats liked it too.  Without the portable writing tool, I stopped writing.  Oh, I know, you'll throw the suggestion of pen and paper in my face.  I have two words for you: chicken scratch.

The netbook's been home since mid-March, so that particular block is long gone.  But then I got sick.  It was just a mild head cold, a few days of rest and I was fine.  For a week.  Then I got sick again, with a slightly more pernicious cold virus.  A fuzzy, mucus-filled head, hacking cough and a need to keep a tissue in hand at all times do not lend themselves to writing.

By the time I recovered, we headed out on our spring break trip to Disney.  I managed to dash off a guest blog post when I returned home.  I powered up my netbook and started sifting through the ideas in my brain.  A civil war shifter romance novel formed.  That little germ of a novel about the recent floods floated by.  My fingers wiggled in glorious anticipation.

Busy as a Bee!

Then softball season started.  My daughter's playing in majors, the youngest girl on the team and at that level.  Turns out there are a lot more games and practices in majors.  And her science fair is coming up and she chose a project that "requires adult supervision".  My van broke down - again - requiring elaborate transportation-related square dancing between my husband, mother and me.  The diet I started back in February means I grocery shop more often, to keep us stocked in fresh veggies and fruits. Yay weight-loss!:)  Boo time loss.:(   Laundry is endless, my full-time paying job is busy and I confess, in my initial writing hiatus, I rediscovered my love of sleep.

My writer's block is a really just a series of road blocks, the construction zones of daily living.  The great thing about construction zones is that they generally come with detours.  It takes longer to get to your destination, but you'll get there.  I'm getting around my blocks by seeking out some building blocks.  I picked up Strunk and White's Elements of Style, at last, an overdue addition to my reading list and writer's tool box.  As long as I watch when my daughter's at bat, my husband doesn't scold me too much for reading at her game.

I started this blog too.  I whipped up a short piece of flash fiction for Mysti Parker's May blog contest.  I'm reading a lot in the genre I'm thinking of writing in next.  These may be detours that take me further away from sitting down and actually writing that novel, but they're pleasant detours.  I'm hoping these detours will unblock my creativity so that I begin to block out the time I need to write.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

No time for a lengthy post today, so I'll just send you over to Mysti Parker's blog, where my May Flash Fiction contest entry is up today.  Thank you Mysti!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Character Ethics

My daughter's elementary school is big on character.  They start teaching the character values at day one of Kindergarten, both in the classroom and through regular school-wide assemblies.  It's a great thing, a complement to the behaviors and ethic that we teach at home.  The challenge comes, of course, when the decisions and choices turn out to be not quite as black and white as they seem.

As a writer, I certainly wish the ethical decisions were as clear as the simple values my daughter learns.  Creating characters often feels like an exercise in character development for me.  I don't know how it works for you, but characters and their stories come to me in two ways.  The first is when they seem to spring into being, like the goddess Athena, fully formed from my head.  Characters like these certainly present their own challenges, generally being pesky independent sorts, but they don't usually offer any ethical dilemmas.

It's the second type that are the troublemakers.  This batch is the characters I run across in real life.  How do you use a flesh and blood person as a character?  Sometimes they raise only minor concerns, such as the character whose name is the same as that boy from my daughter's preschool class.  That's an easy choice, even when you love the name.  Just pick a new one and get over it.

But when the real-life character uses more than just someone's name, the choices get much harder.  Sometimes it's a case where I come up with a character as a means to vent some spleen at a person or persons who have royally pissed me off.  It's cathartic to write those characters, but should they ever be allowed to escape my journal or password-protected document file? Probably not, unless I can find a way to take that initial too close to real life characterization and morph it into someone far less recognizable.  For the most part I find, if I can't do the latter, as a writer, the ethical thing to do is to be satisfied with the former, the getting it all out and letting go.

The most difficult characters for me, though, are the ones that really belong to someone else.  I'm not talking about plagiarism.  I'm talking about that great story someone tells you about their friend, or family member, or neighbor.  The one who is so compelling, who gets into such scrapes and adventures that you love them from the start, be they villain or hero.  You hear their story and your first thought is "What a great character."  From that thought, my writer's brain starts sucking up all the details, working on fleshing out the person, wondering if I can ask the storyteller what they looked like, or do they have a picture, or...  Oh crap.

It doesn't take too long for the 'Oh crap' to hit.  That's the realization of "Oh crap what am I doing?  I'm raiding this person's life, their private memories."  And I know at that moment, I can't use it, any of it, this wonderful character, with their fantastic story.  Not now.  Maybe, just maybe, when the storyteller is dead, along with every other person we know in common who might know the person, or at least the story.  Or maybe never.

It's not always so personal.  Sometimes the character and story spring from an event - a fire, a murder, a natural disaster.  The character is not a particular who in real life, but rather a sum of experiences of many 'whos".  Then the ethical question is: Do I have the right to profit from someone's pain?  Plenty of people do this of course - just pick up a tabloid.  But can I do it?  Am I taking a tragedy and making some meaning from it, or am I just a vulture, picking over the bones?  Those characters require time, distance.  I set them aside for later, when the pain isn't as fresh, and make the decision then.

So, I wish I could write that story about my father-in-law's cousin who...but I can't.  If I'm to be a writer of character, I can't use characters that can hurt someone, someone real who lives in my world, not the world of letters and pages.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Frustrated by Fog

On my daily commute into work, there is one point, early on in the drive, when I crest a large hill to a panoramic view of a large valley.  It's a perfect bowl, dotted with farm houses, a small community and many trees.  The trees are a sprightly new green in the spring, a luscious emerald in the summer, a picture-perfect autumn palette in the fall and a starkly beautiful combination of silhouettes and evergreens in the winter.  It's truly gorgeous.    But as a writer, it's driving me crazy.

In the late Autumn and early Spring, when the temperatures fluctuate, mornings here are often foggy, and no more so than in this valley.   The technical name for this particular fog is radiation fog.  I'm going to let the National Weather service explain that to you:

"...infrared cooling of a cloud-free, humid air mass at night can lead to fog formation - this is called "radiation fog". Radiation fog is most common in the fall, when nights get longer, and land and water surfaces that have warmed up during the summer are still evaporating alot of water into the atmosphere."

I suppose that's as good a description of the fog as any and I hope it will do for you, because I cannot describe the fog.

The fog both enchants and eludes me.  It's different each day.  Some mornings it lays over both the valley and the surrounding foothills like the stereotypical blanket.  It's practically solid in its mass.  I feel as though I might run up against it and I'm almost shocked when my car travels through with no resistance.  It coats my car with drops of water that I push out of the way with my windshield wipers.  I watch closely for taillights and strain to see the painted road markings so that I stay on track.

Other mornings, the fog is gauze-like.  It picks and chooses what it wants to embellish, draping like doilies over the the treetops, a decorative crochet rather than a solid weave.  One spot might be covered in a spidery lace while right by it the yellow, orange and red leaves sit unadorned, perhaps too lovely in their own right to need the fog's help.  This fog deceives the eyes, so that it appears as a sheer, floating curtain, but then dissipates into nothing as you drive through it.

Then there are mornings where the fog falls into pockets.  On those days, I drive to work in bright fall sunlight, under a morning sky tinged with  tangerines, reds and roses that are  the precursor to the deep blue of an autumn sky.  The fog snuggles down deep in the valley, unwilling to leave it's cozy bowl.  It brims right up to the rim of the surrounding hills, like a tureen of wool waiting for a giant ladle to scoop it out.

I've just spent three-plus paragraphs trying to describe the fog to you.  I've pulled out all the stops - adjectives, adverbs, simile and metaphor.  And I still feel as though I'm no where near to a remotely adequate description of what that fogs is like on these Fall mornings.   Every time I glimpse it, I skim through lists of words that I might use, so that you, dear reader, might see the fog as I do.  And each time I come up short.  It seems to me that there are some things in nature that are too much for our feeble little language.

I love that fog.  It takes my breath away each time it makes an appearance.  On an otherwise wearisome commute, the fog is just one of nature's gifts that make the drive bearable.  Its lifespan is short, both by day and by season.  After a few weeks, the fog mostly disappears, as the temperatures either cool or warm enough.  Then I'll be stuck trying to describe the heavy frost that encrusts the tan and yellow fields in diamonds when the morning sun breaks through, and how I love a particular wetland I drive by where it glazes the bright red nanny berries, turning them into sugar-coated rubies.  Next comes the clean white coating of the first snowfalls that freshen up the landscape to put us in a Holiday mood, one last delight before the long dark months set in.  After that it's just a tense slog through winter, and I'm too caught up in the fear of black ice or heavy snows to indulge in wistful meditations on the world beyond the road, forgetting about the  fog until spring comes.

I hope there's fog where you live.  It's the only chance I have that you might know what it is that these lines and curves that we call letters are ultimately too weak and limited to convey.  Or maybe it's just me who is too weak and limited.  If so, please take pity on me and describe the fog.

(C) 2010