When the Nina Simone cassette began a fourth time,
Chloe’s father slapped the console to turn it off. A bead of sweat trickled
down the backside of his right ear and soaked into his coat collar. “If I knew
we’d be in the woods this long, I’d of filled up by that bastard out in Eagle
River,” he said. His eyes stayed fixed on the truck ahead of them, so he didn’t
see Chloe glaring at him from the back seat. Thomas Watchman never swore, not
even when his tools sliced his skin open on a job. This was bad.
So Chloe put her other hand on her father’s
shoulder. “We’re okay, Dad.” For as much good as those words could do in a car
low on gas in the middle of nowhere.
A large snowy owl comes to a sliding perch upon
the truck’s tailgate and looks into the Watchman station wagon with yellow
Chloe risks a smile. “Didn’t think owls liked
free rides.” For it clearly did, preening its feathers as the snow blew around
him and the truck bumped on beneath him.
“I know I wouldn’t mind one in this snow,”
Thomas added with a relaxing glance Chloe’s way.
Trees stopped reaching for the car. The snow no
longer swirled in ribbons, but straight down, gently, like a snowglobe left to
play its song. The truck was turning away to park upon an open space; Thomas
pulled the station wagon up alongside him and shut off the engine. “Finally.
Tomorrow I’ll ride with the plowman to a station for more gas to get out
of here tomorrow.”
“No!” Chloe’s mother nearly lunged out of her
seat, her fingernails digging into Thomas’ arm. “Don’t leave me here alone with
“Mom, Mom, I’ll be with you, it’ll be okay, I’m
here.” Chloe tried to hold her mother’s face like she’d hold Chloe’s after a
bad dream. Her skin was so cold Chloe almost recoiled from the touch, but she
didn’t. She had to be strong. If her momma could walk by protestors demanding
segregation of schools without wincing once, then Chloe could be strong with
this…this grandmother, whomever she was. Not a good mom, if her own
daughter’s too scared to be around her.
Chloe’s father finally released the steering
wheel. He slid a gloved thumb beneath her clawing fingernails, and gently pried
her off. “All right. I’ll pay him to bring us gas. That better?”
Angela Perdido Watchman breathed his words in
deep, exhaled, breathed in a little easier exhaled a little easier. She closed
her eyes, nodded, and said, “Don’t say anything about the owl.”
“Why?” Chloe asked. She turned to look out the
passenger window–the owl was already gone. The plowman stood back there now,
rubbing down the tailgate with a cloth. He noticed Chloe watching, and tipped
his cowboy hat to her. “It’s already gone.”
“Good.” Angela took a few more breaths, then
eased back into her seat. “She asked for one night, and that’s all we’re
giving. The others agreed. We hear her out, and we leave in the morning.”
Thomas, too, watched the plowman wipe down the
truckbed. Two other snowy hulks became visible in its headlights. “Those cars?”
“Sal and Reg must be here already.” Angela slid
her hands into chunky green mittens a student had made her for Christmas. She
was about to put on her hat when there was a knock knock on the
windshield: the plowman again.
“You’re not going to sleep in there, are you?”
He had a nice grin, the plowman.
Word Count: 593 Total Count: 2,627
I like stopping mid-scene sometimes–it’s a lot easier to pick up the writing momentum. Blondie’s been back at her Alley Heroes story, too. Here’s hoping I can share some of it with you later this week!
Hi, friends! I’m continuing the fairytale backstory today. Of course I realized there was something I wanted to include in yesterday’s submission, soooo I’ll just manage it into this one. That’s the way of NaNoWriMo: always write moving forward. xxxxx
“Good morning,” said the Silver Man with a tip of his tall hat.
Such a strange creature! This man was not like Papa at all. His skin was darker, his voice smooth and fearless. He wore no wool sweater or flannel shirts as they, but a suit much like the fancy men in story books, right down to the shiny shoes. Beneath his long silvery coat was a lining that looked like white fur, but the hair was too long to be fur.
The girl and her brothers clasped hands. The little brother shivered. A crow called from atop the roof of their home, but the children didn’t answer him, either.
The Silver Man tucked his hands into his pockets and took another step away from the forest and closer to their front stoop. “I do hope I have the honor of addressing the children of Master Perdido.”
Black wings flew out of the forest–more crows for the roof just above the children’s heads. When the girl watched them perch, they seemed more like holes in the sky than birds.
It is just Mama and Papa and us, the older brother said, very loud and sure as he gripped his sister’s hand. Are you from beyond the forest?
“Indeed I am.” The Silver Man removed a small bottle from his coat pocket and took a drink. “I come from a land without snow such as this.” He picks up a handful, and tosses it in the air between him and the children.
The snow does not fall. Each flake remains clear and still and perfect before the children’s eyes, blinding them to the Silver Man and the forest behind him. Not even the crow swooping over the their heads as it circles the house can take their eyes away.
The Silver Man begins to speak.
“From beyond the forests and oceans and mountains…” A dot of still snow melts, revealing the Silver Man’s finger. The finger melts snow as it draws little lines, little circles, little arms and legs–
–three. Three little children.
“…I have crossed the world on magical waters to find you.”
A flurry of scratches in the snow surround the drawn children–the eternal forest that, to the girl’s amazement, is not eternal, for the Silver Man’s scratches end—the forest, it must end, too! He sketches lines for rivers, and, and squares for buildings, squashy circles for lakes and bumps for mountains. Snow melts into the ocean and there’s more, there is more to the world, such a world! The girl leans away from her brothers to see the Silver Man draw some buildings and trees, and…another line, circle, arms and legs. Himself, surely.
The world, it had never felt so near…and so achingly far away.
A dark shape melted into the snow map: The Silver Man waved his top hat through the snow, and the snow fell to the ground as normal, boring snow does. He brushed the last flakes from his hat, and replaced it upon his head. “My farm is kissed by the son every day, its air filled with the scents of sweet fruit and flowers. You can run free to play with other children all day, and the fairies will tuck you in to bed at night. That is,” his legs bent and suddenly he was eye to eye with them, “if you wish to go.”
The scent of oranges drifted from his shoulders. The children swooned, their imaginations filled with grass and no trees, with treats and no wool sweaters, with other children waving to them, calling their names, wanting them, them, to come and play–
–until a crow swooped again, knocking his hat off his head. There had to be a dozen crows now, circling the house and cawing, cawing, the noise too loud for dreams and maps and–
“Children!” Their mama stood in the open door, wild-eyed and shaking. “Inside!”
The children ran beneath Mam’s arms, the girl almost caught in the door as Mama swung it shut and brought down the beam to lock it in place. The children clung to the stairwell’s bannister, waiting.
The Silver Man approached the door.
Mama’s chest moved up, down, up down, fast like the bellows when she stokes the kitchen fire. “You can’t have them!” She yelled at the door. “I don’t know where it is! You can find your own demon seed!”
Black shapes whipped by the windows surrounding the door: crows, flying.
The Silver Man left the door.
Crows cried from the rooftop.
Mama’s breath kept heaving hard, so hard, harder than her children. Her skin shone with sweat, her dress sleeves sliced and bloody.
Who is he, Mama? asked the little brother.
All crowing stops.
A cold wind tumbles down the stairs and over the children’s backs. The girl watches a snowflake land upon her older brother’s cheek…followed by a white feather.
The top stair creaks.
Only the girl dares peak over her shoulder to see the Silver Man standing there above them all, brushing snow off his top hat.
“You know I can’t.”
Word Count: 857. Total so far: 1420. Yay!
While I know 50k won’t happen, my goal is to write 500+ words every day through the month of November–enough to have a solid start on my next novella. So, I’ll see you tomorrow! xxxxx
Hi, friends! I wanted to give myself a little warm-up to the main story with a moment in the story’s history. Considering my recent enjoyment of Labyrinth of the Faun, I wanted to take an impromptu stab at the fairy tale structure. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a girl who had two brothers: one elder, and one younger. They lived with their parents in a forest filled with wild things in a vast house built of secrets and fear. No window allowed a view into the house from the outside. The brick walls were so unpleasant no vine wanted to climb them. The house, named Crow’s Nest for reasons which will later be revealed to you, looked out upon the forest with its mirrors eyes as if it loathed its own surroundings, but had nowhere else to go.
It was the perfect place for to live if you were
an explorer, which is just what the girl and her brothers deemed themselves to
Not that they could all explore at once. Being
that rarest of sorts known as sensible children, they knew it best to take
turns with each dangerous task involved with an explore. One was required to
distract the parents, be it helping poorly with chores, hiding the day’s cooking
rations, or—the riskiest option—asking incessant questions about the world beyond
Only the girl dared do this. Why must my hair be black? What are those
things that fly above us without flapping? Angel talks too much, can we eat
him? I want go riding into the forest like Papa does. What are those loud
noises outside the trees? Where does Papa go when he rides on Sean? When can I
read the big papers Papa brings home with the food?
Often the questions would drive the mother to tears in a hand towel, to screams with a spoon, or to both. The girl learned to run and hide in the Crow’s Nest, very well, and very fast.
After the Distractor came the Watcher. This
child must study the witchy trees and starved fingers for any signs of the
Devil’s eyes, for to be caught by the Devil’s servants is certain death. They
do not appear often in the day, but the children have seen them from their
bedroom window when the sun has not yet woken, and the world is violet and
sparkling with frost: small and yellow as the marbles they kept in their
playroom. But those eyes never turned away. Those eyes stared upon their house.
Those eyes stalked the innocent, flying down to strike any helpless rabbit or
mouse foolish enough to cross the bare yard. The children’s book called them “owls,”
but to their parents, they were nothing but servants to the worst Evil.
And no child wanted to be caught by the worst
So the third wore a dark green blanket they
fashioned into a cloak and carried a knife. This was the Insider, crawling
among the trees to carve little arrows near the grass line. Every found hoof
print of Sean’s marked another clue to the living labyrinth around them, another
tree marked to help them uncover the mysteries of distant rumbles and
high-flying creatures, of where food came from, and clothes, and books, and maybe,
just maybe, other children.
Oh, to see other children! The girl and her
brothers often talked late into the night of their dreams of new friends, what
they might look like and the games they could play.
So when the Silver Man emerged from the forest one wintry morning, the children were very curious, indeed.
Word Count: 563. Woohoo!
While I know 50k won’t happen, my goal is to write 500+ words every day through the month of November–enough to have a solid start on my next novella. So, I’ll see you tomorrow! xxxxx
It’s the perfect sort of day to explore a place hollow and forgotten, one where ghosts maybe, just maybe, linger in our world. That place is The Alexian Brothers Novitiate.
I learned of this peculiar estate while reading Wisconsin’s Most Haunted Volume II. What started as a loving father’s home for his wife and disabled daughter turned into a home of sadness: both the father and daughter died before the home was completed in the 1930s. The widow donated the home to the Alexian Brothers in the late 1940s, since her late husband had befriended them in Chicago years before. Novices and monks lived there for only a few decades when, without warning, the Menominee Warrior Society took the Brothers hostage and demanded the estate be turned over to the Menominee tribe. It took two months, but the Brothers and Tribe finally reached an agreement for the tribe to purchase the land from them. A few months later, a fire ran through the estate, and the tribe could not finance rebuilding any of the structures. The Menominee returned the estate to the Brothers, but they no longer had use for it either, so….here it sits.
I had hoped Bo and I could road-trip it up to the small town of Gresham, the closest community to the Novitiate, and see if we could take a look around. But finding time and an all-day sitter were impossible during Bo’s hellish work schedule this past summer, so we managed a visit to the House on the Rock instead. (Considering I didn’t know if we’d have even access to the grounds, I think we came out ahead. x)
Ghost hunters still visit the site sometimes, but I’m not sure what they’ll find. The history of the Novitiate isn’t bloody, like these creepy locations in the Dairy State. It’s tragic, not bloody.
But one doesn’t need a bloody past to imagine a magical future, one perhaps where shapeshifters make their home, where teens foolish to run where angels fear to tread discover a race mankind has all but forgotten…
Oh yes, you bet your boots I’m bainstorming a story about this place! And this isn’t even the novella I’m working on for NaNoWriMo.
Do I think I can write 50,000 words in 30 days? Heeeeeeell no, I’m not delusional. But I DO need to step up and start writing every day. My family needs me to be a working mom, so my hours for writing are now in tatters. That’s not going to change any time soon.
I need those tatters to make something for the sake of my own sanity.
If I can just do 500 words a day, I’d be ECSTATIC. So that’s what I’m going to do, and you’re going to have to watch!
Yup, I’m going to make myself post my draft here on WordPress. That means it’ll be rough’n’raw, probably not coherent. But it’ll be me writing, dammit, and that’s what counts. I’ll be happy to read your comments, or just know you’re reading. That, to me, is more of a “winner” badge than anything NaNoWriMo can give me. 🙂
I’m not the only one burning the creative oil around here, either. Biff, Bash, and Blondie are all digging their own unique storytelling grooves here, from nonfiction to comics and back again. I had them talk about their stories with you…so I could share their Halloween costumes, too. They’re all homemade this year, which I just LOVE!
My three Bs had a blast roaming my mother’s neighborhood for Tricks or Treats. Some towns are content with a few ghosts or pumpkins out in the yards, but not my mom’s neighborhood. Not by a LONG shot.
Some houses filled their front yard with beach balls and balloons for kids to play in. Homeowners handed out candy and popcorn to kids while parents got adult “treats” like chili and beer. One owner we talked to had been working on his decorations since July.
A few houses freaked the kiddos out, and I couldn’t blame them. One man was dressed in a bloody doctor’s outfit running around his yard with a chainsaw–not a fake one, a REAL one, revved and ready. Dude, simmer down! Others showed just as much love for the day without, you know, potential loss of limb.
We had a magical evening together, banding about in the misty rain while the Monster Mash echoed up and down the streets. Eventually Robot Biff was ready to go back–“Beep boop, too many people!”–and helped his grandma hand out candy while Bash, Blondie, and I continued on until twilight’s end. From my little wonders to yours…
…may you have a safe and happy Halloween, and a most fantastical National Novel Writing Month!
Allow me to sum up the current state of Autumn in Wisconsin with the following excerpt from a beloved classic:
Yup. Rain. And lots of it. Our sump pump is working, thank the Lord, but the extension hose attached to the pump outside came off. Heaven knows how long our sump pump dumped water right next to the house. I’m praying that I got it re-attached in time…and that it stays connected when I go to work at a nearby elementary school for a while.
So, um, my mind’s not exactly in a writerly place right now.
But let’s not fall into another panic attack. Let’s think on the lovely colors of fall (that will hopefully show up some time) and the literary celebration that is National Book Month.
I usually roll my eyes at “National ___ Day/Week/Month,” but this one’s got my attention, especially after working with kids of elementary age who still cannot read.
My heart chokes as I sit with children who cannot recognize letters, let alone words, and these kids are at least my sons’ age, if not older. These children want to read. They want to understand what those printed squiggles are with every picture. They want to know what all the signs say in the rooms, what the teacher sees when she reads to them. They want to know what the world is trying to share with them, to enter all the worlds that flourish around the illustrations on paper, to fill their imaginations with places and people never seen before.
They so badly want to know.
So this month, my friends, please take a moment to read to one who cannot. Share a story you love, or a story neither of you have ever seen before. Countless worlds await us in the bookshops and libraries, worlds of dragons and treasures and friendships and love, journeys of redemption and damnation and transformation and hope.
Let us bring those worlds to those who do not yet know their own written language. Let us share a cherished tale with those whose eyes can no longer hold words in place.
Let us celebrate this most precious gift: the gift of story.
Not sure what to read? Allow me to share a few books floating around my house.
What’s Blondie reading?
Blondie also had a go at some classics earlier this summer thanks to Bookpacks, a really cool combination of book and audio book to help kids focus on reading when there’s no pictures for context. Maybe your library has Bookpacks, too! Click here for more info.
I’m bringing a talk about familial villains to the table with an analysis of Black Maria–or Aunt Maria as it’s known in the States.
While I was also tempted to reread Something Wicked This Way Comes, I decided to try something new. I’m hoping there will be a lesson or two to share when I’m done.
Not gonna lie–my brain is addled by the overlapping schedules of six different school districts that can now call me at a moment’s notice to substitute. Time to read, let alone write, feels all but gone.
It’s at such a moment like this, when the world is soggy like forgotten cereal, the kids are screaming like so many banshees wielding stale banana chips as throwing stars, and the university asks for the presentation due a week ago, that I need to remember the gift of story.
The gift of escape.
Sweet, spooky escape. x
Any reading recommendations you’d like to share here among fellow book lovers? Please share it in the comments below!
Once upon a time, when magic did not hide from human eyes as thoroughly as it does today…
“The Mill That Lost Its Pond”
You know the words.
Once upon a time.
So many fairy tales begin this way. Like river stones bridging shores, we travel with those words from our world to another, eager to see what lies beyond.
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has been luring his audiences to cross reality’s river for years, but this summer he and author Cornelia Funke did more than lure us over the river. They led us through the hills past Grandmother’s house into a forest where past and present seemingly grow as one.
According to IndieWire,del Toro had wanted to expand on the folklore within his fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, and I’m so very glad he did. The book’s a beautiful reading experience from cover to cover. (Seriously, the art work of the book is stunning. Just look at this!)
I could gush for another thousand words about the beauty of the language, the flawless shifts in point of view, etc etc, but instead let’s sit and talk depth. Not, you know, profound philosophy or some such thing, but giving a story-world depth. Giving the world a feel of history and life. Giving a sense of reality to non-reality.
And using the fairy tale to do just that.
Now I suppose that sounds a touch ironic. Words like once upon a time are timeless, aren’t they? They’re right up there with A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fairy tale lands are…you know, out there (insert vague hand-wavy gesture here). That’s why there’s that indefinite article a. A time could mean Any time.
But The Labyrinth of the Faun is NOT “out there.” We are told on the first page of Chapter 1 precisely where and when we are:
There was once a forest in the north of Span, so old that it could tell stories long past and forgotten by men. The trees anchored so deeply in the moss-covered soil they laced the bones of the dead with their roots while their branches reached for the stars.
So many things lost, the leaves were murmuring as three black cars came driving down the unpaved road that cut through fern and moss. But all things lost can be found again, the trees whispered.
It was the year 1944 and the girl sitting in one of the cars, next to her pregnant mother, didn’t understand what the trees whispered.
Chapter 1, “The Forest and the Fairy”
The girl’s name is Ofelia, and this story not only tells of her meeting the Faun, but of war, of grief, of sorrow, and of hope. (After seeing what high school students are reading these days, I would LOVE to just assign this book and build a critical reading/writing unit around it.) So many themes are woven into one girl’s quest to discover her true soul, her identity as the long-lost princess of the Underground Kingdom. And hers isn’t the only journey shared here; we experience the life of Rebels hiding from the Fascist soldiers. We experience the mind of Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s sadistic stepfather. But best of all, we experience the life of this forest via the fairy tales interspersed between the chapters.
This is something del Toro must have known would not translate into the film medium: he and Funke interrupt the present-day narrative with Ofelia to take readers out and into the past. It’s an occasional pause during the first third of the book, but the interruptions increase in frequency towards the end of the book–past and present coming together for that single climactic moment in Ofelia’s journey.
The first fairy tale comes after Chapter 5, sharing the story of the sculptor whose creations Ofelia discovers centuries later in Chapter 1. The second fairy tale, “The Labyrinth,” tells of a nobleman who discovers a beautiful girl asleep in an ancient forest by a mill pond. They fall in love and marry, but her lack of memory plagues her in the night, sending her back to that forest time and again with sadness. The nobleman visits a witch her lives near the “Split Tree, which was said to house a poisonous toad between its roots.”
Hold on to that reference, if you please.
The witch Rocio instructs the nobleman to construct a labyrinth out of stones from the nearby deserted village where the Pale Man stole children to eat. The nobleman threatens to drown the witch in the pond if his wife’s memory doesn’t recover.
Rocio answered him with a smile. “I know,” she said. “But we all have to play our parts, don’t we?”
The labyrinth fails to awaken the girl’s memory, and she dies, too ill with sadness to live. The son she bore the nobleman later walks the labyrinth to find what his mother lost only to never be seen again.
It took another two hundred and twenty-three years until the prophecy of the witch came true and the labyrinth revealed his mother’s true name when she once again walked its ancient corridors as a girl called Ofelia.
All this is learned before we come enter Chapter 10, “The Tree.” The Faun has given Ofelia three magic stones and a book that instructs Ofelia to give the stones to a “monstrous toad” inside a “colossal fig tree” that is now dying because of the toad.
By the end of Chapter 12, Ofelia successfully kills the Toad and sees “The key the Faun had asked her to bring was sticking to the Toad’s entrails along with dozens of twitching woodlice.”
Yet despite dying, this is not the end of the Toad’s presence in the story.
Remember, we are given this land’s history in fairy tales, and fairy tales know no time. Whenever Man wishes to control something as powerful as Time or Life, Death often follows.
Once upon a time, a nobleman ordered five of his soldiers to arrest a woman named Rocio, who he accused of being a witch. He told them to drown her in the pond of a mill deep in the old forest where she lived. It required two men to drag her into the cold water and one to hold her down until she ceased to breathe. That solder’s name was Umberto Garces. … The task was terrible, and at the same time it arouse him, maybe because the witch was quite beautiful.
“The Echo of Murder”
This vicious act mirrors the evil we readers have seen earlier in the book with Captain Vidal. The echoes don’t end there, however. After sleepless nights of haunting visions, Garces returns to the old mill pond in hopes for peace of mind.
When he stepped closer to the water, though, Garces wished he’d never returned. The water was as black as his sin, and the trees seemed to whisper his judgment into the night: Murderer!”
“The Echo of Murder”
The trees repeat the word, over and over. The land is echoing Garces’ evil back at him.
“I’ll do it again!” he shouted over the silent water. “You hear me?” His boots sank deeper into the mud and his hands started to itch. He lifted them to his face. His skin was covered in warts and webs were growing between his fingers–the fingers he’d used to hold the witch down. … Garces screamed again. By now his voice had changed. Hoarse croaking escaped his throat and, his spine twisted and bent until he fell to his knees, digging his webbed fingers into the mud. Then he leaped into the same muddy pond water he’d drowned the witch in.
“The Echo of Murder”
The Toad is created. Yet wasn’t this Toad already present when the witch was alive, a toad the nobleman thinks on in the second fairy tale?
And yet this STILL isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Toad. He appears once more in the final fairy tale before the final chapter. This last tale shares the origins of a Child Eater known as the Pale Man.
In “The Boy Who Escaped,” we meet a boy named Serafin from a village near an ancient forest. The Pale Man captures him and takes him to his layer to eat, but Serafin is so fast he not only escaped the Pale Man’s clutches, but made off with a large key. A key to what? A key to a cupboard where the Pale Man’s dagger was kept–the dagger Ofelia and the fairies retrieved back in Chapter 20.
But hang on, we’re still with Serafin here. He escapes the Pale Man’s layer and, desperate to be rid of the key, throws it into an old mill pond.
Serafin didn’t notice the huge toad watching him when he hurled the key into the pond, nor that it had the eyes of a man. Neither did the boy see the toad swallow the key with its wart-covered lips.
“The Boy Who Escaped”
So…hang on. In THIS story, the village is no longer deserted, but Serafin sees the pond and recalls hearing that “years ago a nobleman’s soldiers had drowned a witch” there. yet in THAT story, the nobleman is instructed by the witch to build the labyrinth out of stones from a nearby deserted village.
Fairy tales need not be restricted by time. Man cannot contain it, as Captain Vidal dares with his silver pocket watch. Oh no. As Doctor Who would say:
Fairy tales happen once upon Atime. Perhaps long ago, or not long ago. They happen when they happen. They are when the are.
And because they still are, they affect characters in this, the present tense.
Just as they affect us, the readers, now and always.
It’s always just a few who know where to look and how to listen, that is true. But for the best stories, a few are just enough.
What fairy tale echoes in your present life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
October awaits with all its firey magic! I’ve some lovely interviews coming, as well as some exciting news about Witch Week. Plus there’s updates to be told about myFallen Princebornseries–oh, my western fantasyNight’s Toothis still 99 cents, if you’ve not snatched that up yet!
I’ve the perfect music to haunt your dreams, and–if my teaching allows it–some snippets of a novella I’m building out of snow, fear, and secrets.
However, as book reviewer and author S.J. Higbeehas often noted, many authors and/or publishers feel compelled to stick waaaaaaaaaaaay too much information into the book blurb. (Click here for just one of MANY reviews where Sarah touches on the problem of chatty blurbs.) Where is the line between too much information and too little? We want to give readers a taste of the story inside, but we don’t want to ruin their appetites. We want to engage readers without killing all the story’s surprises or subverting all the expectations.
Which got me to thinking about M*A*S*H. Yes, the TV show.
I never watched M*A*S*H as a kid, nor did I know about the original book on which the film and television series are based. I only knew that whenever the theme song started playing on the TV, I went off and did something else.
Just listen to that mellow song played alongside these doctors and nurses treating soldiers near enemy lines. The show’s opener had the look and feel of some medical drama, the last sort of show Little Me would want to watch.
Then I learned after marrying Bo that this show was a comedy. A COMEDY?! How the heck is someone supposed to catch the comedy vibes from that opener? The melody’s a sad one; heck, the original song’s called “Suicide is Painless.” We see no happy or positive expressions on people’s faces, only the urgency of aiding the wounded. There is absolutely nothing present in this theme to tell one that they’re about to watch a comedy. Imagine if a book tried to pull this same stunt with their cover art and blurb. How do you think the ever-watchful Goodreads community would respond?
As writers, we need that blurb to give readers a genuine sense of the story-world they’re about to enter. Usually just a few elements of the genre are enough to tell readers, this is what you’re in for. If you dig X, then you’ll love this.
Since television themes are always held to a similar degree of requirement (unless it’s M*A*S*H, apparently), let’s use a few more for examples: Bonanza, Twilight Zone, and Dragnet.
Not one of these theme songs is all that long, but we get enough out of the music to know the genre of each show: the twang of the western guitar, the dissonance of an eerie suspense-filled horror, the stalwart drums of justice. With just a few seconds, these themes accurately and concisely provide the audience a sense of the stories that will accompany the themes.
Now I’m not saying that chattiness is always bad. Heavens, Rod Serling’s speech for Twilight Zone’s theme is iconic. Then you have shows like Dukes of Hazzard and A-Team, which just so happen to be Bo’s and my favorite TV shows from childhood. Both are spot-on with their carefree guitar and military snare, and both directly address the audience with the premise of the show (only the A-Team don’t need no Waylon Jennings to sing because they got Mr. T, fool!). These themes are slightly over a minute long, but they don’t overwhelm the audience with information. We only get what we need: Protagonists and Problems. It’s up to us to stay tuned for more.
So what happens when that blurb of a theme does give us more?
This is where I think we enter the “chatty” territory, the “too much” territory. Allow me to force more of my 80s upbringing on you for examples.
Okay, I’ll let the monotonous “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sung over and over in the background slide because it’s like a companion to the drums. But do we really need to hear the traits of every main character in the opening of EVERY episode? She-Ra and Masters of the Universe did that, too, always breaking down every damn character so you would know just who the good guys and bad guys are, and who knows the secret identity stuff and who doesn’t, because apparently you, you snot-faced lump of Cheetos-dusted child, are too dumb to catch on to any of this when watching the show.
And I think this is what really gets to me about those chatty blurbs on books today. It’s like the publisher/writer thinks they have to talk down to the reader to ensure they understand the story’s premise and conflict. Sure, no one wants the reader to feel confused, but the consequence of over-talking is that we make the reader feel inferior.
Yes, there are some that like having all the dots connected for them, but not this gal, not this gal’s kids, and I have a feeling that you don’t dig being babied, either. Plus, it says something about us as writers when we don’t trust our own storytelling skills to adequately show readers who’s who and what’s what inside the story itself.
There simply comes a time when all we can–all we should–give readers are duct tape, a lemon, and a broken magnifying glass. If they’re intrigued with the few pieces you leave for them to find, then you can bet your MacGyver-lovin’ boots they’re comin’ into the book for more.
Anyone else have a favorite television theme to share? I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in Hawaii Five-0, but I just couldn’t make it work, dammit.
Greetings, lovely readers! An unexpected flood of school work’s swamped my desk, and there’s a threat of storms severe enough to send animals hunting for an Ark. While I float upon the course prep and stare at our sump pump for the next 36 hours, please welcome the amazing indie author and filmmaker Mansu Edwards!
You are a creator in many forms: I love seeing how you weave in and out of genres like science fiction, young adult, and suspense. Do you feel the genre definitions in today’s market limit writers or help them?
Thank you Jean. I never focused on genre definitions. I use my instincts. I think Writers should create their own definitions. Genre definitions can limit Writers because it can prevent the Creator from producing a unique story. Readers don’t care about definitions. They care about good storytelling. Then again, not having a specific genre definition can hurt Author sales. People want to know what their reading and won’t spend money on surprises. However, there have been many instances where my story didn’t fit a specific genre or the genre didn’t reveal itself until midway in the story.
Your bio also mentions you recently created a short film, Texting in New York City. What challenges did you face as a storytelling in a visual medium? Does your experience as a filmmaker help inform your craft choices as a writer?
Texting In New York City is based on my book under the same name. The book consisted of random text conversations between New Yorkers. When creating the short film, I developed an idea and wrote a script. I understood the significance of brevity and pacing in film due to my Screenwriting background. I showed the 1st draft to an Exhibitor at a Trade Show. She explained the parts of the story that were unclear. I rewrote it and began hiring actors, actresses and a production team. The cinematographer, John Morgan pitched a couple of ideas; I watched a ton of short films and a popular webseries: Money And Violence to improve pacing and storytelling. The series made me retool the script. I eliminated and shortened certain scenes. It was a huge mental shift working on the visual version of Texting In New York City because I normally work alone when writing a book. Of course, I outsource certain parts of the process. Since, I have a Screenwriter’s mindset, I do my best to get to the point as quickly as possible. I don’t want to lose my audience.
You’ve been publishing works since 2009. With ten years of experience as an author, what would you say is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry, and how can we as the writing community overcome it?
Unscrupulous companies charging writers exorbitant fees to produce a book. I think its unnecessary and a terrible experience for novice authors. We can overcome it by offering writers a discount or providing advertisement for a reduced cost.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Yes, I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It interweaves the present and the past between two lovers. How their personal strengths and weaknesses affect their relationship. Also, the importance of making the correct decisions in life.
Let’s talk about your YA series, Emojis vs. Punctuation Marks. What a great concept of a story to share with young adult readers—especially those who forget punctuation even exists! (I teach writing, so I notice this problem. A LOT.) What first inspired you to write this series?
Thank you Jean. The Most High (God) inspired me. I’m sitting at the counter and an idea flashes in my mind. I hear the title Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Battle Of The Keyboard . I’m thinking this is a cool and unusual concept. Also, I noticed the change in online communication over the years. Senders and receivers using Emoticons to express feelings and emotions. And the story sounded fun, so I knew I had to write it.
Book 2 of the series, Land of Refrigeration, expands the universe of these wee characters to include insects and produce. I would love to hear you breakdown the worldbuilding process you went through to create this new level of the EPM universe!
I had an incomplete version of Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Land Of Refrigeration. I decided to have the Emojis battle the fruits and vegetables for territorial positioning while trying to find a way back to their unique world. I rewrote the story a few times. I wanted to show the survivors of Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Battle Of The Keyboard attempting to adjust on Planet Earth. But, their ultimate goal is to return to their digital world. Also, I provided a backstory on the relationship between the Punctuation Marks and Danna’s father, Menelik which began during his adolescent years. Then, I began reread another story I wrote, but didn’t quite finish. It was completely different concept. The story didn’t have a title. I decided to incorporate it with the Emojis story. The tale takes place in Outer Space. So, I thought why not have the Insect, Centipede McGhee design a portal for the Emojis and Punctuation Marks to travel to a exciting, unfamiliar, digital world.
Where do you see the third entry of this series taking you—and readers? Any other projects you’d like to highlight for us?
Very good question. The third entry is a work in progress. I may change the story’s trajectory. I haven’t decided yet. Nevertheless, I have a new Ebook entitled Plush Couches. It’s about a young man who has a serious gas attack on his way to a job interview. I’m currently working on an untitled piece about a Superhero.
Lastly, please expand upon the age-old storyteller conundrum: Does writing energize or exhaust you, and why?
Writing is both energizing and exhausting. It uses mental, emotional and spiritual faculties. It’s a relationship that has its ups and downs. You never know what to expect. Sometimes your pen is sailing on calm seas and other times it’s swimming in turbulent waters. It’s a gift from God. People’s positive responses to my story energizes me. Of course, all the responses aren’t positive, but, I can’t let it demotivate me. I write the story. Finish it. Then work on the next book.
Thank you so much for your time and thoughts, Mansu! Godspeed to you on your upcoming writing adventures.
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
Would you believe there’s an important lesson to be learned in TV theme songs? Yes, I’m serious. Then we’re going to ponder the structure of the fairy tale and how it can help add a darkly magical chapter to a story-world’s history.
No, he didn’t get this book for me; he bought it for his parents, my grandparents, whom I’m pretty sure never cracked the cover. You can bet your boots my brothers and I did, though. I was fascinated by these bizarre animals and people with 1950s glasses and beehive hairdos. The puns were atrocious, the wordplay crazy. My favorite running series in all the collections, however, had little to do with language and aaaaaaall to do with the situation.
How did Gary Larson come up with these combos? Every pairing seemed so outlandish, and yet I always laughed, even when I was small, because Little Me knew:
That’s a baaaad idea.
Even if you’re not a fan of forcefully brewing trouble, there’s no denying that we as writers thrive on trouble–aka, conflict. There’s got to be a struggle between person and nature, person and person, person and self. There’s a quest, an escape, a threat to overcome. Somewhere, whether in our world or in our imaginations, there must be something happening, ingredients to brew the trouble that make for a delicious story.
A recipe for disaster, if you will.
Recipes with ingredients only Gary Larson seems to come up with: poodles and falcons, sky divers and alligators, marching bands and migraine doctors. These are all common, everyday things in our world, but when mixed together the story–the conflict–is anything but ordinary.
Lord knows that as a parent of two Calvins and a Hobbes, my shelves are stacked with cookbooks of mayhem.
If you’ve never heard of Calvin and Hobbes, you MUST read them. Today.
Calvin’s best friend is a tiger named Hobbes. To all the world, Hobbes is a stuffed animal, but to Calvin, he is the ultimate friend and ally in a boring world.
When Bo found his collections of Calvin and Hobbes comics, Blondie and the boys snatched them up and still haven’t let go. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see the kids so engaged with a character. Calvin deals with a lot of kid issues like bullies and school woes, but he also gets into some very grown-up topics like environmentalism and death.
On the other hand, Calvin is, well, something of a troublemaker.
This comic feels like some hilarious yet horrendous portent of days to come with Biff and Bash. (No, Blondie doesn’t get off the hook. Hobbes instigates just as often as he cautions.) Calvin can be rude, foolish, and downright diabolical, but I cannot stop loving him for one simple reason:
Calvin can take any thing, any place, any one, and create a universe of adventure.
He inspires Bash to be his own Stupendous Man, complete with sidekick (Bash’s wee Bumble, Captain Ice Cube).
He inspires Biff to find magic on the snowy slopes, even after losing two teeth in a sledding accident.
Calvin’s dad even inspires Bo’s parenting style.
Yeah, I didn’t get to do much writing this summer, but I still consider the past few months well spent because I got to be a reader–no, that’s not the right word. A listener. I was blessed to listen and watch Biff, Bash, and Blondie work together to create hilarious adventures featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, Wall-E the trash bot, Optimus Prime, Lego Batman, the USS Enterprise, and more. Every plot point was preceded with a “How About ___?” and a “Yeah, and then ___!”. No villain’s ever truly villainous, and no hero’s ever truly perfect. Settings switch from Sodor to Cybertron to Gotham City and back again without characters ever missing a beat. I marvel at how their voices run through the story together, pulling each other along…and yes, sometimes one voice knocks another down, and I must end the story with a cliffhanger. They get so frustrated when their stories diverge with the same characters, and one wants the others to follow. I wish I had perfect motherly advice to give them, but considering my own experiences with collaborative writing went up in flames, all I can manage is a welp, kiddos, maybe you should just tell separate stories for a while.
And they do. Less excitedly, but they do.
Creative teamwork is a delicate thing, and I’m still very clumsy at helping it stay together. But after this summer I’m determined to keep trying because when together, my children imagined stories as magical as dandelion seeds flying through a northern wood.
I’ve got an indie author interview on the way, as well as a fun exploration into theme music. We also need to do some serious pondering of the fairy tale, and how two storytellers of film and page came together to build a country’s history out of…fairy tales?
Hello, everyone! At long, long, loooooong last, my novella “Night’s Tooth” is alive and kicking on Amazon!
Once Biff, Bash, and Blondie are all in school, I hope to get “Night’s Tooth” on Draft 2 Digital so it’ll be available on other markets. Click here for an excerpt of the novella. The whole thing’s just 99 cents–easy on the wallet. 😉 Don’t forget to leave a review, too!
Like “Night’s Tooth,” Charlaine Harris’ An Easy Death is a mix of fantasy and western, but while my novella takes place during the “official” time period of the Wild West, Harris’ story is set in an altered, no-longer-United States. I picked up An Easy Death after reading SJ Higbee’s glowing recommendation, and after reading it I can see why Time magazine lists An Easy Death as one of its top 10 fantasy novels of 2018.
Let’s take a walk through the first two chapters and see how Harris builds this broken world.
In the morning I got Chrissie to cut off all my hair. Tarken and Martin would be tinkering with the truck, which was our livelihood….My neighbor Chrissie was not too bright, but I’d watched her trim her husband’s hair and beard as he sat on a stool outside their cabin. She’d done a good job. She sang as she worked, in her sweet, high voice, and she told me about her youngest one’s adventures with a frog in the creek.
I see a few key words in here that can make the imagination fill in some mighty big blanks. “Cabin,” for instance, isn’t a term for a home in an urban setting; therefore, we picture the two characters someplace rustic. A child playing with a frog in a nearby creek emphasizes the country-type of location here.
A truck tying to livelihood tells us we’re dealing with transporters of a sort–a cross-country kind of job. We should expect to see a lot of the story’s landscape with this narrator.
Chrissie and the narrator, Lizbeth, have a conversation on the second page. I’ve copied nearly the whole page here because, like Agatha Christie, Harris packs a lot of information in dialogue that only takes a few minutes to read. (Still, it’s a long passage to blog, so I’ll break it up a bit.)
“You heading out soon? I saw them farmers at Martin’s place, when I was coming back from the store.” Chrissie’s trousers had long tendrils of dark hair all over’em now. She’d have to brush’em.
“Yeah, we’re leaving as soon as it’s near dark.”
“Ain’t you scared?”
Sure, I was. “Of course not, the only ones should be scared are anyone who tries to get in our way.” I smiled.
“You’ll kill’em dead, bang, bang,” Chrissie said in a singsong voice.
“Yep. Bang, bang,” I agreed.
What have we learned? Lizbeth is leaving with some farmers, who must be riding in that truck, her livelihood. It’s Lizbeth’s job to kill anyone who tries to hinder them. Considering Chrissie’s innocent tone in describing this, killing people has become a mainstream profession, and by Lizbeth’s tone, we get the sense she knows what she’s doing…even if the job still scares her.
“Why are they going to New America?”
“The farmers? The part of Texas they live in got swallowed up by Mexico a few years ago. You remember?”
Chrissie looked dim. She shook her head.
“Anyway, the government down there has been telling the Texans that they’re not real Mexicans, and their land is forfeit.”
Chrissie looked even dimmer.
Their land is getting taken. So if they’ve got kin up north or anywhere, even in Dixie, they got to leave Mexico to have a chance.”
Dixie was so poor and so dangerous you’d have to be desperate to flee there.
What have we learned? America is weak enough that other countries like Mexico have taken control of its land. Notice Lizbeth doesn’t say “North America” or “United States,” but “New America” and “Dixie.” This isn’t the traditional 50 states of our reality.
Chrissie ran her fingers through the short hair on the left side of my head, and shook her head. “Anyone ever go to the HRE?” she asked.
“Chrissie,” I said. She bent around to meet my eyes.
“Oh, sorry, Lizbeth.” She began to work on the right side, following her own whim. I tried to remember if I’d ever seen her cut anyone’s hair besides Norton’s. “I forgot you don’t like them grigoris.”
No. I did not like magicians.
What have we learned? The HRE is not someplace you want to find yourself because–and this is the part that hooked me to the story–there’s magic in this world. Magicians are part of the normal fabric of society; not liked, maybe, but still, they are as normal as killing people to protect others fleeing the country.
So, over the course of two pages, we have a sense of narrator Lizbeth’s no-nonsense attitude thanks to her clipped prose and dialogue. We know her profession. We know she has some prejudices, and some inner conflicts. We know something of the world, though we don’t know why it is the way it is. All we know is that it’s dangerous, and people are desperate to flee from that danger. Harris successfully builds the world just enough that we can move forward without tripping on any exposition dumps.
A couple pages later we learn the term for Lizbeth’s profession.
I passed Rex Santino. “Easy death,” he said in his gruff way.
That’s what people wished gunnies. It made me feel good. I nodded back at him.
Not quite “gunslinger,” but it’s close enough to familiar terminology that readers get what Harris is going for. On this version of the North American continent, hired guns are a must for safe passage from one country to another. Connections like roads and rails, amenities like electricity and plumbing, they’re all as fickle as the law one finds from town to town.
We were on a good part of the road, one that hadn’t been broken. There were still stretches around like that. My mother had told me that once almost all the roads were smooth, and that when they cracked, they got repaired. It sounded like a fancy dream. ….
If the New America patrols stopped us, we’d be fine. People were legal cargo, and respectable people like this were even welcome in New America. But if bandits caught us, well, that was why Galilee and I were on duty. That was why the oldest brother had hired us to get the two families through the lawless land along the border between Texoma and New America.
What have we learned? When we consider how the roads were built to help unite a country, is it any surprise the roads are among the first things to rot in this fractured land? It’s also clear that the new countries don’t much care for watching each other’s borders, but will instead keep to their own; hence, the “lawless land.”
Chapter 1 ends with an ambush. All the gunnies but Lizbeth are killed, the truck destroyed. In Chapter 2, an injured Lizbeth tracks the bandits and farmers. She discovers the body of a teen girl along the way.
There must have been more gunfire after I’d been hit. She’d tried to run. Lots of families taught their girls to run, figuring that a bullet in the back was quicker than what waited for them after capture. My opinion, sometimes they were right.
What have we learned? The violence of the bandits tells us just how much human life is worth between the countries: absolutely nothing.
Lizbeth kills the bandits, rescues the remaining family members, and successfully escorts them to New America on foot. During this trek the farmers get to talking, which allows Lizbeth to think about historical context for the reader’s sake. (Last excerpt, promise)
“Since the president died, the world has gone to hell. God help us all,” Jeremiah said, and his brother nodded.
When people said “the president,” they meant the last elected president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. When he’d been assassinated in some city in Florida, before he could be sworn into office, the government had started down a slope that had gotten slicker and slicker…..After the white government had collapsed, the Indian tribes who could muster up a group of warriors had taken back the land that had been theirs….And bandits were everywhere, especially in Texoma, New America, and Dixie. I had heard that in Britannia, the area that had knelt to England, there was so much law that bandits were caught and hung quickly. The same for Canada, which had expanded to take in a lot of northern America. Canada had its horseback police, who were supposed to be crackerjack at their jobs. The Holy Russian Empire had a squad of grigoris and militia whose job it was to track highway robbers and kill them on the spot.
But in Texoma and New America, formal justice was scarce on the ground.
What have we learned? Ah, now we get the mother-load, for now we have a time frame to work with. FDR was indeed fired upon by Giuseppe Zangara in 1933. For those who don’t know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the helm of the United States during The Great Depression and remained in the presidency through much of World War Two. He’s the only president to have served more than two terms; in fact, the man had been voted to serve a fourth term when he died in 1945.
All the world was in flux in the 1930s. The aftermath of World War I, the rise of fascism and communism, the transformation of media and transportation….Life. Was. Changing. Just as a single assassination tipped Europe’s political scales into warfare in 1914, Harris shows us how the United States could have been broken by assassination in 1933. And when one considers the political climate of that time, are we really so surprised?
Now Harris doesn’t clearly state how much time has passed since FDR’s assassination, but when Lizbeth does meet two grigoris who want to hire her for a job, we learn a bit more about the Russian monarchy that escaped the communist uprising as well as magic’s role in this new world.
But that’s for you to discover in An Easy Death.
When a writer sets out to cut history’s timeline and paste it somewhere new, she has the advantage of using some common history to give the reader context before guiding the reader into unfamiliar territory. It’s a tried and true method used by many to their advantage, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t, either. It all comes down to pacing–rather like helping a rambunctious kindergartner glue string on top of his fish picture. Sure, you can just squirt a HUGE glop of glue on the page and just slather it everywhere; it gets the job done, but then all you both see is the glue smears over his nice fish. If you carefully squirt teeny dots all along the string, the string will remain in its place, and the fish is no longer smeary.
…sorry, that’s quite a mom-metaphor there. Point is, you don’t want readers to see nothing but the exposition. You want it to blend into the story, right? So don’t slather that world-building everywhere, blurring what could be an amazing story. Bead it along, letting it glue together scenes of conversation, conflict, and discovery.
Thanks so much for reading! I do hope you enjoy “Night’s Tooth.”
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
The kids will be in school!
The kids will be in school.
(Honestly, it’s a mix of both.)
Anyway, September and the fall season await with more delightful author interviews, some studies of scary tales, a hunt for fun’n’freaky music, and hopefully some updates on my current WIPS–both novellas, both dark fantasy, and both spooooooookily inspired by Wisconsin’s North Woods.