I could tell you that I took off in my time machine and neglected to recalibrate the proper return date. I could also tell you that it was due to vertigo associated with THAT moon. Then again, I could also just lie and say that I spent the entire month of September going through old boxes and looking at photos and other trips down memory lane (which I actually did).
The reality is that it’s just that time of year when time seems to go one way and I go another. That said, I’m planning to put out this newsletter on a quarterly basis now.
HERE’S A CHALLENGE JUST FOR FUN
(Because I’m not sure how many of you visit my websites. . .)
I loved watching Ray Bradbury’s TV show, and remember how he would often discuss the nature of creativity as well as his own writing process. One of the tips he gave was this: If you write a story a day, after a year, you should have a few good ones. (Or at least that’s how I remember it. . .) I actually took that challenge a few years back, and while I mostly wrote drabbles and longer flash fiction, it proved to be an excellent self-imposed writers boot camp.
I’d like to offer you three different challenges – and an opportunity to share your process.
Here they are:
- The Modified Bradbury Challenge: Write a story a day for a month. That’s right. . .from start-to-finish! It doesn’t have to be perfect, mind you, or even ready to submit; it just needs to be a complete story. Each week, pick what you truly believe are the best, and then submit them.
- The Revision Challenge: Go through those paper, computer, and flash drive files for abandoned or otherwise back-burnered stories. Now revise – and then submit – at least one per week for the next month.
- The I-Really-Want-to-Write-a-New-Novel Challenge: Chris Baty of Nanorimo – and the world-wide movement he spawned – has proven beyond a doubt that you can write a novel in a month. This is not a “no-plot-no-problem” challenge, however; it’s a plot-and-planner challenge. That’s right, fellow discovery writers, this is an opportunity to explore how the proverbial “other-half” writes. Consider the following schedule:
- Week 1: Create your character profiles and work out the plots and subplots.
- Week 2: Begin drafting; modify plot and character profiles as needed.
- Week 3: Continue drafting; modify plot and character profiles as needed.
- Week 4: “Finish” drafting, and yes, modify plot and character profiles as needed.
The challenge begins NOW! And yes, be sure to reward yourself daily. . .
THE MONTHLY GUEST ARTICLE
By Tyree Campbell
“What do I have to do to be a writer?”
Oh, jeez, the eternal question. [slaps self upside head].
It’s facile to respond that as soon as you conceive of putting words to paper, you’re a writer. [If you wish, you can define a published writer as an author; me, I think of it as “My occupation is writer, and I am the author of . . .”][Even this is inaccurate. What I am is a storyteller; that’s what I do. I do it by writing them—stories and poems.][Oh, you don’t think a poem tells a story? I’ll just go tell Homer you said that, bwa ha ha].
It might even be facile to respond that if you have to ask, “writer” might not be the occupation for you. Why? Writers are driven to express their “vision”—by stories and/or poems. Emphasis on “driven.” It’s not something you do while watching Judge Judy or Wheel of Fortune. It’s not something you do when you have a spare moment or two. It’s not a matter of splashing words onto paper and crossing your fingers.
Writing is a craft. Yeah, I know, you’ve heard this before, nag, nag, nag. Fearest thou not, and relaxeth! I’m not going to nag, not this time. I’m simply going to answer the question.
To wit: to be a writer you must do two things, and only two. One: write. Two: read.
Yup, that’s it. That’s the big secret us writers conceal from the rest of you lot. We make it sound as if writing is some esoteric mishmash of spells, incantations, and the reading of signs and portents in chicken livers [actually, we use lizard gizzards, but that’s beside the point].
But wait! There’s more!
[You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you? Silly rabbit…].
Writing requires the use of words. [Okay, I heard that “Uh-oh.”]. Not just any words, but your words. Why? Because you have a “vision” of something. Maybe it’s a modern-day tale about a princess who falls into a deep sleep after eating a poisoned pizza. Perhaps it’s a yarn about a single mother trying to get her adolescent son to stop hanging around other youths whom she regards as bad influences. Possibly you “see” a marriage disintegrating because you’re a toilet-paper innie and your husband or wife is an outie, and by writing the story as a fiction, you work out your own resolution. It could be an apocalyptic fable, in which civilization has ended, and yet a prison remains operational for a man who was sentenced to 720 years in prison and who refuses to die so that the prison can close.
Um…I wrote that last one, which segues right into the concept of “vision.” I’ll explain.
The story’s title is “Keokuk.” I conceptualized the storyline based on what I regard is the insane and stupid sentencing policies that allow a judge to inflict punishment of hundreds of years in prison. Like, why? If you want him in prison for the rest of his life sentence, just sentence him to life without parole. If the law doesn’t allow for that, change the law to make sense. A sentence of even a hundred years is a joke, and if the sentence is a joke, then “the law” is taken less seriously—although absurdity, not humor, was the focus of the story.
So I asked the question: what if someone actually served a seven-century sentence? Well, first, with good behavior, it might be reduced to two or three centuries. Still…what if?
Well, over time, terrain and civilization would change. The biggest agent of change nowadays is global climate change. I considered the potential effects of this—the loss of seacoasts, the inescapable wars resulting from the loss of seacoasts, the changes in climate in the continental interiors. Yes, I took a few liberties, in that my events probably occurred more quickly than they would otherwise. I also postulated two societies: one general, found throughout what remains of the U.S., and one specific, that which centered on the prison in which my character was being held.
All this, before I had laid down a word of narrative.
See—a story has a purpose, however serious or trivial or mirthful it might be. That purpose comes directly from your vision. What do you “see”? Because what you “see” is what you tell us. And you have to decide what that is, and how to express it. As I’m sure you know, that’s a bit more than just splashing words onto paper. It’s also a bit more than can be done in your spare time.
Okay…I’ve told you how I conceptualized “Keokuk.” It’s not a long story—just about 1800 words. Here it is, below. Let Terrie know how I did.
I said two things you have to do. We’ll get to “read” and related topics in another piece.
by Tyree Campbell
The young man pitched the ID into the open transfer tray, spoke his name—Jojon Rillard—and doffed his yellow plastic helmet to present a better view of his face, trying not to be intimidated by the twenty-foot concrete stockade. “I’m here to pick up my great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-grandfather.”
The armed guard levered the tray to his side of the window and examined the ID and Rillard, daring a characteristic to differ. His sigh signified failure. “I can’t let you in. Maximum security, you know.” There was a metallic reverberation as he punctuated the statement with a whack of his zapper against the chainlink fence that enclosed the sally port. “‘Sides, technically you’re not a visitor.”
Rillard shrugged. He had anticipated “technical” impedimenta: delays, interviews, data templates to complete, background minutiae to disclose, ultimately their resort to the letter of regulation. Not that he wanted to enter the Carnation Center for Ultra-Maximum Security, who would? But he didn’t want to wait outside in the Iowa sun while the security guard enjoyed the relative comfort of shade, either, who would?
Curious that the guard didn’t ask for the name of his Gee-to-the-eighth grandfather. Surely some obscure statute required you to know precisely whom you were picking up, even if there were no one else it could be.
Wind stuttered, and a dust devil sieved through the chainlink. Rillard shut his eyes and held his breath. Grit hissed against the shatterproof window and ricocheted onto his blue leather outsuit, catching in the fibers of the collar-to-crotch ventral seal. It also blew up his nose. Rillard turned his face away and sneezed. The barren panorama fluttered like a monitor with a dying solar cell, then bounced back into focus. Half a mile to the north sprawled Verdania, a malchristening if ever there were one, neatly laid out by protractor and laser compass, aligned longitudinally to minimize overhead sunlight, not a single tree visible above the Sumerian mosaic of tangerine tiled roofs. Beyond Verdania squatted the mininuke temple, beside it rose the exhaust ziggurat. Rillard could almost hear the steady mechanical whine of power feeding the air coolers and the fridges and stoves and culinary paraphernalia and God-knew what-all in the town built to support the Carnation Center and the incarceration of Clyde Ahmed Bedess Washington, Junior.
“He’s dangerous, you know,” said the guard. “And incorrigible.”
Cab Washington had refused to register for a military draft or to kill Indochinese natives in a spat du jour. Instead, he had killed the two police officers dispatched to arrest him for refusing to kill Indochinese natives. The powers-that-be in Dallas, a predeluvian hotbed of death penalty passions, had elected to blunt protest marches and a shutdown of sanitation and janitorial services by suggesting to the prosecuting attorney that a prolonged incarceration would in this instance be acceptable, to say nothing of prudent. Cab Washington had been sentenced to 360 years in prison on each of two counts of murder of a police officer, terms to run consecutively, with time off for good behavior [chortle], one good day worth two days of sentence [snicker].
“He’s served his time,” said Rillard.
“He should have died. He was supposed to die.”
“Then you should have imposed the death penalty.”
“I just work here, Mister.”
You and fifty others. thought Rillard. The warden. The sergeant of the guard. The guards in the corner towers he’d seen while fairly flying over the rammed-dirt road in the black skimmer with the yellow speed detailing and the kayak-shaped sidecar, now docked ten yards away in the vast but otherwise empty lot. The armorer for the weapons the guards carried. Guard shifts, working in pairs. Maybe a roving pair on the parapets, if the stockade had parapets. Someone to run the cafeteria, someone to serve the food, someone to clean up. Laundry, cleaning, maintenance and repair, transportation to and from Verdania for each shift, someone to operate the transport, someone to maintain it. Medical, dental, recreational, educational, nutritional.
You and a hundred and fifty others.
Wives, partners, children. Schools, teachers, nurses, student advisors, administrators. Grocery stores, grocers, clerks, deliveries, loaders. Pharmacies, pharmacists and assistants, more clerks. Furniture stores, and more clerks. Accountants, managers, assistant managers, recyclers. Communications operation and maintenance, plumbers, electricians, solaricians, sheet-metal technicians for the air ducts and the radioabsorbent siding.
You and three hundred others. All utterly dependent on the lingering incarceration of Clyde Ahmed Bedess Washington, Junior, and the remuneration for the work and services performed pursuant thereto.
“They said you was the only one left,” said the guard. “Last living relative.”
“Where is he?”
“He’ll be here.” The guard, paused, drummed fingers, leaned his chair against the rear of the enclosure, squinted. “Think you inherited whatever it is he’s got?”
The Washington name had died out five greats ago. But Canduca Washington had accommodated a vibro-artist named Xu Chali, and the issue from that evening eventually had taken up with Jayar Rillard. There’d been a lot of that going around, five greats ago. Whenever possible, survivors intermingled, because you never knew when you would get to intermingle again. Decades of planet-wide meteorological warfare and abuse will engender such uncertainties . . . but peoples tend to react badly when their coastlines are inundated. Those that have coastlines. Those about to get them.
“How’d they find you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“DNA trace. Apparently I had enough to qualify as a next-of-kin.”
“That’s how they identified you.”
Rillard jerked his head toward the skimmer. The movement dislodged a bead of sweat, launching it off the tip of his nose. “In that I get known. Someone zapped my comm.”
“You’re a runner.”
“From here to there. It pays.”
Everybody runs contraband. That’s where the money is.
Movement in the vague ochre sky to the south caught Rillard’s eye. Seabirds, he reckoned, drifting north with the high-pressure system that scared the clouds off but not the ubiquitous haze. Whenever the breezes died, you could catch the faintest whiff of brine and decomposition from the Ouachita Islands in the Bay of Louisiarka. Surf fishing between the Bay and Keokuk Harbor was good this time of year, and he had been on his way there when the comm flashed across the datascreen on the skimmer instrumentation console. The false bottom in his sidecar contained eight fresh artichokes, to be delivered discreetly to the back door of the Life Mayor of Keokuk, whose partner had acquired a taste for them during a vacation to Fresno Beach. In exchange, he was guaranteed food and lodging to the end of the snook season, and a permit to fish them. Something he did because . . . well, just because. What other reason could there be? The detour to the Carnation Center cost him but two hours, easily made up. But he had assumed Cab Washington ready to go.
The guard’s squint seemed a permanent affectation. “He know you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Why d’you suppose he lived so long?”
Why, indeed? For spite? Some old folks hung on just to watch the heir-expectants fidget. Some ripped the shroud off the Grim Reaper and played his ribs like a xylophone. Others simply gave up. What made a person want to live? To go on living? Especially nowadays.
Force of habit? The momentum of life?
“Maybe he thought it was funny,” said Rillard, plucking at the damp fabric under his armpits, “the way it cost so much just to keep one man locked up forever. When I leave with him, this place will die, like an industry town whose company moves elsewhere. Like the sunken coal mines in the Appalachian Archipelago. Maybe it amused him to keep you occupied.”
Whatever will you do now, Rhett? Wherever shall you go?
“He was guilty, you know.”
“After 273 years, who gives a fuck?”
“It was The Law put him here.”
“What’s that s’posed to mean?”
“You need Cab Washingtons a lot more than they need you.”
The guard pulled at his lower lip. “What’re you going to do with him?”
“He’s not on parole, or probation. He’s free. He can do what he wants.” Rillard looked away, at the haze and the seabirds. Already he could smell the snook and the smelt in the ancient iron skillet, hear the sizzle of the hot oil on the open fire, feel the sand between his toes. Maybe his Gee-eighth ancestor understood what it meant to be alone with your thoughts, your memories, your reveries, by a solitary fire on a dark beach. Maybe the incorrigible Cab Washington just wanted to go fishing. He could, now. He could do whatever he wanted.
“There he comes,” said the guard.
Rillard couldn’t look. How many wrinkles did Methuselah have? Or any of the Biblical patriarchs who lived to ages old and ripe? He sniffed, but the breeze deflected whatever fetid aromas emanated from the man. He flicked his eyes there, and away. A glimpse of a very black man, like an old pygmy, stooped of shoulder and hobbled of gait, pate a-gleam, attired in cafeteria whites and scarred brown slippers. Smiling.
Rillard looked again, longer.
Not exactly a smile. Almost a smirk. But the weariness of the rest of his expression said the victory included a terrible cost.
In his knobby left hand Cab Washington carried a sheaf of documents. Rillard reckoned they pertained to his new status. The old man did not so much as glance at the guard as he passed. He gimped toward the black and yellow skimmer as if he knew it was waiting for him. He spilled himself into the sidecar, and finally looked back over his shoulder. Let’s go, young’un. Rillard’s neck creaked with the effort the old man made.
With a parting wave at the guard, Rillard boarded up the skimmer, initialized power and controls, and eased her out of the docklot.
“Put this on,” said Rillard, passing the old man a battered orange helmet.
Cab Washington gave no indication that he had heard, or had noticed the helmet. He stared straight ahead, at the dead-brown roadway over which the skimmer passed without touching, at the eastern horizon where orange land met orange sky. With the sun behind them, they seemed to rocket directly into their own shadows.
“We off the grounds yet?”
The words startled Rillard into five seconds of silence.
“I reckon so.”
“Thank God Almighty,” cried Washington, in a fluid, prolonged gospel tone, and died.
Rillard slowed the skimmer. In and of themselves the words meant nothing to him, but in that tone they became a last will and testament. Gently he nestled the helmet on Washington’s lolling head, and gradually reaccelerated the skimmer toward Keokuk Harbor.
“Let’s go fishing,” he whispered.
Um…I get to shill a bit here, so if you think you might like my stories, and especially if you think reading them and the way I developed them will help you craft your own stories, go here: http://store.albanlake.com/product/quantum-women/
Meanwhile: if you want to be a writer, then write. And read.
THE OB WRITERS NETWORKING GROUP
WHO: Published and yet-to-be-published writers, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, editors, copywriters, and content providers, indie publishers et al. Whether you’re a local OBcean, live in San Diego at large, or are “just visiting” the area, you are welcome to join us.
WHAT: The Ocean Beach Writers Networking group for serious professional writers.
WHERE: Te Mana Cafe on Voltaire, between Cable and Bacon in Ocean Beach.
WHEN: Each and every Thursday, from 12:30p.m. – 1:30p.m.
WHY: To connect, share resources, referrals – and more!
HOW: Just go to FaceBook and click “join” on the Ocean Beach Writers Networking Group and/or email me at email@example.com to be placed on the weekly newsletter list.
Please be sure to thank Te Mana’s owners, Marguerite and Jason, for welcoming us. Check out this awesome menu as well as their new beer-on-tap, decadent Mimosas et al. Show your appreciation for the inimitable, cheerful and dedicated staff by tipping often and generously.
To receive the somewhat weekly OBWNG newsletter, please complete the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward to connecting with you!
THE WEEKLY COACHING CALL FOR WRITERS–NEW DAY AND TIME
For those of you who were members of the Boortean Embassy Literary Salon, these weekly coaching calls will be similar. We will be focusing on specific topics, issues, and processes to enhance your writing practice, focus on your success, and manifest your goals! The first topic will be how to balance work and writing. Eventually, I’ll have a schedule of topics, etc. posted here at my site.
Here are the particulars:
WHO: Poets, fiction writers, non-fiction writers et al.
WHAT: Free weekly coaching calls for writers with YT, a certified Master NLP & Hypnotherapy Integrative Life Coach.
WHEN: Every Wednesday from 4:00p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PDT).
HOW: Just dial into freeconferencecall.com! The number: 712.775.7031; the pin: 428-380#
THE DAY IN THE LIFE INTERVIEW SERIES
Currently, I have 55 interviews up in this series. The most recent is with poet and fiction writer, Mary Soon Lee. I’m planning to finishing posting Larry M. Edwards” interview, the author of Dare I Call it Murder?,
later this evening or tomorrow.
If you would like to be interviewed for this series, please email me at terrieleighrelf.com and I’ll send you the updated questions. This is a great opportunity to share the wisdom of your experience as well as your current or upcoming books for sale.
Thank you for reading, and remember that I would love to hear from you! What would you like to see in this newsletter?
If you’re looking for a Kinder Muse to keep you accountable to your goals, then be sure to mention you’re on my newsletter list to receive a special deal. In addition to being a writing coach, you’re probably aware that I’m also a hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner, and Reiki Master. I’m accepting new clients now, so if you’d like to have a clearer picture of what I can do for you, please call me at 619.269.0706 (PDT) or participate in my weekly coaching call for writers.
Until Next Time,
Your Hostess, The Kinder Muse
Terrie Leigh Relf