On Winter

Part III

Crows on carrion carry on cawing,

carving out a living on dead things,

flapping black flags on the roadside,

undertakers of the animal kingdom,

leaving white bone and fur bits by

winter highways, ravens on dark wings

weaving shadows over wintered fields.

Corvus corax, common raven,

dark intelligence, inquisitive

sentinels against a snow white world.

Part II & Part I

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Oh Hi!

It’s been a week and some change and speaking of change….

I have some news and plans.

Firstly, the next installment of On Winter is posting at the end of the week. I plan on sharing more poetry and fiction in the coming year. 

Next, grad school applications are going slowly but I’m nearly done gathering materials for the two schools I’m most excited about. 

And finally, I’m going to trunk my current WIP because I’m just not experienced enough at this point in my writing journey to do that story justice. I’ll come back to it. This is only a brief farewell, not a goodbye forever. There will be no updates on it during 2018. 

On NaNoWriMo with a full-time job and overtime hours this month…

I am in over my head. I’m fixing up an academic paper to send in with my graduate school applications. I’m trying to keep up with this blog. I’m neck deep in rewrites for NaNoWriMo. This is probably our busiest month at work this year. And i want to write more short stories and poetry.

I need to get organized if I hope to accomplish even a fraction of this list. In the interest of preserving my sanity, my posts this month will be of the poetic variety. I have stuff to do, and precious little time. This idea–a serial poem in parts– has been pinging around in my brain for nearly a year. It’s time to eject it.

Part I is posted.

The rest are on the way.

On Story as a Reflection of Character Action

I have a note card posted by my desk listing the problem/need of each of my three major viewpoint characters. The problem and the need each character has are unique to him or her, but they play off one another. I have this card in a prominent place so that I see it every day. I (literally and figuratively) don’t want to lose sight of my characters’ greatest desires and motivations. 

These are the main desires, and knowing them is crucial to the story I’m writing. I realize they aren’t the only desires that need to be acknowledged and addressed. Recently I purchased Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig, and in reading it, saw that my characters need depth and breadth in their desires and motivations. Which I already knew. Still, it’s helpful to have it spelled out via examples, and by a professional author. And with Damn Fine Story, the focus is on story and not mechanics or plot or beat sheets. I’ve read a fair few books on writing and the writing life. This one is–so far–unique, helpful, and fun. It has a monocle-wearing elk on the cover! This post is not intended as a book plug, however, it did prompt a critical thinking process for me so I thought  it worth mentioning. 

So here I am, looking into the deepest parts of my characters’ souls and asking, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”

Wait, hold on…

Wrong script. 

Here we go: “What would you do with all that power?” And to follow up, “Why?”

Some of my characters have standard issue fantasy trope magical abilities. [I discussed my struggle to hit on some credible yet original magic system in a previous post.] Some have political power, wealth, or armies backing them up. A few have the strength of personality. Several have nothing but friendships propping them up. 

All of them want things. Peace, security, personal gain, political power. One wants to be rid of his power for personal peace. Others will use their power for personal and political gain, no matter the cost. My job as the author is to tease out the nuances based on the interactions and conflicts that shape them. 

 Now I want to focus on a specific example of how I’m incorporating this idea into my rewrites. 

There’s some popular writing advice that says something like, “Start as late in the story as possible,” and I agree. In trying to follow that advice, I started too late. I left out the entire status quo period for my protagonist, which left out an important episode in his life. That episode turned him onto the path he follows in my story. I stuck it in later as a flashback. Now, I’m not leaning heavily on flashbacks in my story, but this one comes at a pivotal moment for the protagonist–a confession (as recalled by flashback) leads to a change in his attitude toward the events around him– and I’d like to keep it where it is. 
How do I reconcile two scenes related to the same event–the opening chapter and a later flashback–without being repetitive? Point-of-view! and a little narrative sleight of hand. I can show him approaching that moment then cut to his reaction after the moment has passed. Later, the moment itself will be revealed during a vulnerable moment for the protagonist. 

This is only one small tweak with big impact that I’m making as I go through revisions. Rearranging is easy work, the hard part is building or restructuring scenes to bridge the gaps and accommodate changes. My characters are necessitating a lot of changes. It seems that once I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with my characters, they become alive, almost. They push on the narrative. The weaknesses in the plot are obvious as places where the characters are acting, well, out of character. 

I never had a good handle on my plot. Now that I know my characters better, I have a clear grasp of the story I can tell through them. The plot will grow alongside that.

Trailblazing

Coming to you from the sunny Sonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ, I have some “good news, everyone!” I went to the University of Arizona yesterday and talked to the Graduate English Department. They said I have a chance of getting accepted with my GRE scores if I turn in a great writing sample, and if I get great recommendations. Even though my GPA for my undergrad isn’t quite high enough.

I wasn’t in Tucson just for a school visit. That’s too expensive a trip to do something I could’ve done over the phone. I went to Tucson to visit friends, take a few hikes, and see the sights. The desert is a beautiful place. That picture above is looking out from Bear Canyon in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains. We hiked up to Seven Falls and back–seven miles round trip–on Sunday, and I loved it. There was no water because it’s the dry season, but there were a few pools at the top. Photos, please to enjoy:

I also went to an improv theater Saturday, the night I arrived. That was a new experience for me and loads of fun. I also spent some time in the tourist district of Fourth Avenue where the improv theater is located. I stopped by a souvenir shop and got a retro looking print of Seven Falls so I’d have something that proved there’s running water there during the wet season.

We went on another hike today, up through Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. We took Old Baldy Trail up to Josephine Saddle (2 miles, about 2000 feet up, took 2 hours), stopped to rest and refuel, and walked down the Super Trail (4 miles, about 2000 feet down, and 2 hours). There was actual running water still left in the canyon. Sometimes hikers see bears or rattlesnakes or mountain lions (or pumas, or cougars, pick a flavor) up there, and the area has a resident jaguar that’s rarely seen. We had a blessedly uneventful hike with a few species of lizards and birds popping up along the way. Nothing else. The skies were a beautiful blue, the pines swayed in the breeze, the clouds…you know what? Just take a look:

I’ve had a wonderful time so far. I hope to come back again soon! This has also given me quite a bit of inspiration for writing projects.

Happy Trails!

Post-GRE Prepping, Post Haste

I did not give myself a large enough window for the admissions process. Nuts. And bolts. I’m screwed. Actually, it’s not that dire. Two of the schools don’t require all the application materials until mid-January. One requires everything by Dec. 10th. It’s alright. I am calm. I am capable. I am concerned about losing my sanity.

Enough about my ill-scheduled application attempts. I want to discuss some important, but difficult topics. After all, I need a twenty page example of critical writing, and that means I need to refresh a topic I covered during undergrad. I want to synthesize a few topics to show I have a broad background of interests/studies and information to draw from. I did a paper on colonial women writers, one or two on Native American literature, and a few on international/global literary topics (i.e. non-Western writers). I’m quite interested in topics of ethnic divides and immigration, refugees and cultural identity. I’m about to dive into the long literary gulf between Manifest Destiny and modern Israel/Palestine.

God help me.

I want to be fair, and objective, but it’s hard because the issues certainly don’t play by the rules. What I’m going to attempt is a critical analysis of literature created by displaced peoples. Sometimes groups that have experienced hardship and oppression create poignant writings and art. These writings are not a Band-aid for the hurt, but an expression of it, a voice for those without a voice.

This will be a comparative study, with an examination of the history of Native American relations and treatment since European settlers arrived, and what it looks like now after all this time. Then I will take a look at the more recent and ongoing issues between Israel and Palestine. The lens I plan to use to examine these places and issues is that of fiction and poetry, but there will be a lot of historical and critical research supplementing my primary texts and argument.

P. S. My GRE scores were great for Verbal Reasoning, abysmal for Quantitative Reasoning, and meh for Analytical Writing. That does not bode well. At least I nailed one section.