A few weeks ago, I went back to school. Not really traditional school – that won’t start until August, but my non-credit classes started. I’m taking five, all writing related, and so far it’s actually been an enjoyable challenge to keep up with the amount of work that comes with that many as well as my usual writing. And even though they’re still just getting started, I’ve already been posed with several self-altering questions. Is your burning desire to write just words or can you really take rejection and failure and still survive? Are you going to be able to take criticism and make it constructive? And my favorite so far was this exercise:
Let’s pretend that life is perfect. In fewer than 100 words, write about your perfect writing life. Now write another short paragraph (fewer than 100 words) describing why you can’t or won’t attain this perfection.Continue reading →
There’s a scene in Shakespeare in Love (1998) when Viola (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is sitting in her room reading through the newly completed, hand written script of Romeo and Juliet. There are tears in her eyes and she’s so engrossed in the story that she doesn’t notice her nurse coming and going or her dinner tray arriving or leaving. Granted, within the context of the movie, that script was more than a story. It was her life, written out in poetry.
That scene is me with almost any book of poems. The physical world around me falls away while beautifully arranged words lull me into a place within myself that I can’t reach any other way. A place that’s a little bit calm, a little bit sad, full of knowing smiles, reawakened memories and a quiet understanding that there, in that moment, everything is okay. I read novels to live lives I would never otherwise be able to. I read short stories and essays for different perspectives and to create a wider understanding of my own world. I read poetry for escape. Continue reading →
My stomach began to twist into knots as we tried to find parking. We live in the suburbs of a major city, and the often vicious hunt for parking is a mundane part of life. But the country girl in me always takes it as a bad omen for the coming event; what do these people have against parking lots? We had left with plenty of time to navigate the cramped little side streets without being late, but the hassle added to the quiet unease already bubbling under the surface.
I hate having to go to church.
We park a block away and walk. The sheer number of cars, and the fact that I don’t recognize any of the people making their way in the same direction tell me that this is not what we’ve been told it is. This is a normal mass (on Saturday?) and not a memorial service for Zio. I feel trapped and angry and I carry those emotions with me as we pass over the threshold. We loiter in the entryway, alternatively poking our heads around the ornate double doors that lead into the chapel proper and looking back outside, frantic for a familiar face to tell us that this is indeed what we were supposed to be expecting.
A cousin appears, ushering four kids from that side of the family into the chapel. He kisses me on the cheek in the very Italian gesture of greeting, and I smile, hiding my growing anger as my “This is normal” mask slides into place. “I go to mass all the time,” my dead eyes say. And inside I’m struggling not to laugh hysterically. There’s a witch in your congregation.Continue reading →
I can’t count the number of times someone told me to join a writer’s group. And every time, I’d think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’m gonna go look for one.” And then every time without fail I’d stall somewhere between the idea and actually going. The closest groups are too far away, they’re too small, they’re too big, they’re not focused on my genre, this person organizing the whole thing looks mean. The justifications were endless, but ultimately they came down to one thing: fear. I was always afraid to be around other writers, afraid of critiques that picked apart my precious manuscripts. Afraid of finding out that I was not a real writer.
Fear is one of the big dividers between the dreamers and the people who actually make their dreams come true. We research, study, practice, agonize and plan, but until you take that final step and actually start down whatever road you’re staring down, you’re letting fear stop you. And on this one front, I had finally decided I’d had enough.
I joined a writer’s group a few weeks back, and honestly it was one of the most liberating things I’ve done in a long time. Continue reading →
The guardsman steps into your personal space, reaching out a hand to grab at Azure’s lead as though to prevent you from running. He pats the horse’s neck, assessing you with quick and sharp eyes. He moves and assess like someone used to being active and in the occasional skirmish, but by himself he doesn’t present any threat to you, especially if you were to draw MotherKiller.
You tilt your chin towards the peasant man, grinding your teeth together as he takes a punch to the gut, despite his cowering and pleading posture. “A lot of men for one lone farmer.”
The guardsman looks over his shoulder, unperturbed by the attack, then looks back at you with an amused grin and a slight shrug. “He’s a known cheat, and owes the governor eight silver. We were instructed not to allow him to leave the city without what’s owed.”
You stare at him, unimpressed. “Why isn’t there a magistrate here then, to ensure fairness in the transaction and collect the money?”
His mouth twists into a frown as he spreads his feet slightly, as though edging into a ready fighting stance. “What’s it to you?” he demands, clearly displeased with your questioning of his and his fellows doings.
Like a lot of my how to pieces here, this one came from my own developing of a fight scene. I used to be really good at writing them as a teenager. I used short, choppy and frequently fragmented sentences to develop the abrupt feel of a fight, choosing active words and keeping dialogue and description to a minimum unless the need to describe an object or wound arose. And while these are still things that I tend to do, fights just don’t come to me like they used to. They’re one of the things that I lost the ability to write when I stopped actively developing my technique, right around the same time that I got my first job and had to be a full fledged adult for the first time.
But fear not! As with all things that I’m working on myself, I’ve got you guys covered too. Here are my tips for constructing a gripping fight scene.
Decide your level of description. This is where you want to start as it will determine how detailed you need to be. This is the difference between the setting being an alley or a cramped, damp space with molding cardboard boxes and a trashcan with red knuckle marks against the chainlink fence at the back. This is the difference between a punch being landed and spit, blood and teeth sailing away from an opponent’s jaw in slow motion like the movies. Continue reading →
The smith leads your freshly shoed horse, Azure, out from behind his shop. You examine his work and then nod in approval, passing over a silver for each shoe. The burly man takes the silver with a grunt, hefts its weight in his hand and turns back to his smithy and the other requests made of him.
Turning your head up, you check the position of the sun: early afternoon. It is midsummer and you are likely to have six or seven more daylight hours, plenty of time to reach the portal that will take you one world closer to your homeland. With haste, you walk Azure around to several of the stalls to purchase foodstuffs and other supplies for traveling. You overpay for a bag of grain, though without much fuss considering that the frail looking boy doubtless needed the extra coin more than you. When you are satisfied with your provisions and you’ve had a bite from one of the taverns that was roasting a whole pig in the side yard, you lead Azure to the north gate. From here, if you move at a steady and determined pace, you will likely reach the portal in four or five hours, provided nothing detains you along the way. You can be home in less than three days.
As you approach the wall and guarded gate though, there is a tingling along the back of your neck. The gates are mostly closed, allowing only enough room for a single wagon to pass through at a time, and the wagon that looked to have been leaving town is stopped. A guardsman is advancing on the driver, a peasant man in common, dirt-smudged attire, who backs towards his cart with his hands held placatingly up. You quickly count eight guardsmen scattered loosely around their fellow – far too many for watching a gate in peacetimes on a market day.
Before you can decide whether to intervene in what seems unmistakably to become a physical altercation or turn Azure around and exit the town another direction, one of the guardsmen takes note of you.
“Ho, traveler,” he raises his arm to signal that you should remain still as he approaches. “Those passing through the gates must submit to an inspection of their persons and goods.”