ReesesLast weekend we lost my dog who was more than just a pet; he was a member of the family.  Some people disregard the pain of losing a beloved animal.  “It’s just an animal.  It was bound to happen eventually.  You can always get another one.  Blah blahblah blah blah.”  Thankfully, I wasn’t surrounded by people who said such things.  Most of the peopl  e I talked to about it are either animal lovers themselves or they knew how very much I loved Reeses.

But that’s not the only thing I realized in the aftermath of that horrible visit to the vet. I realized that animals are huge inspirations in pretty much every area of life.  My dog hated my computer.  He would try to walk on the keyboard when he saw me typing, just like he would try to sit on my books or swat them out of my hand if I dared to pay attention to something other than him when he wanted petting.

Despite that adorable distraction, he was a wonderful writing companion anyway.  He was my sounding board all through junior high and high school whenever I had a writing assignment.  I could tell him anything and he wouldn’t judge the stupid ideas that came first, though sometimes I swear he gave me a “Really? That’s your best idea?” look.

He also inspired happiness and creativity in my writing.  His energy and random antics gave me a much-needed happiness during my teenage-slightly-depressed stage, which was good since I was writing for a newsletter for a large homeschool co-op and couldn’t write about blood and guts and vampires.  There were two huge ways he tried to cheer me up: He would bring me his rope and do a puppy bow to get my attention when he wanted to play.  If he realized that I was unhappy, he would simply curl up next to me and lay his head on my leg.

My best friend and I called Reeses a “hobbit-elf” dog.  He was small and had furry feet (like a Hobbit) and skinny and had pointy ears (like an elf).  He inspired at least one little creature in a fantasy story we were attempting to write.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember what they were called anymore, but I know they were there.

Reeses was way more than just a writing companion throughout his 14 years.  He was a friend, a comforter, cuddler, a listener, a child, a distraction, a companion, a foot-warmer, a food-stealer, a trickster, a pet, and a member of the family.  He was my baby and my dog.

ReesesReeses

How does your pet affect your writing?  Tell us in the comments.

ReesesReeses

Image  —  Posted: January 25, 2014 in Writing
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The campfire started it all.  I had never wandered before, preferring to always stay with a group.  I wish now that I had been content to stay with the group that fateful night, but, alas, I did not, and now I must pay the price for it, for mortal eyes are not meant to see what I have seen.

The tents were up, the mood was festive.  We aimed to spend four glorious nights surrounded by nature and good company.  In the midst of the first night, I disentangled myself from the arms of my lover to sit by the fire once again.  The flames fascinated me.  In those blazing embers, I could see the edges of visions and dreams.  Some time later, it could have been five minutes, it could have been two hours, another light caught my eye.  It was not the stars or the moon; it was too low to the earth for that.  Nor was it the light of any road or hint of civilization; we had carefully plotted our destination to be at least two miles in all directions from the nearest manmade edifice.  This light flickered briefly, weakened and then grew startlingly bright.  My friends all still slept soundly.  In my groggy, entranced state, I felt I absolutely must know what made the lights, for they were now multiplied. 

I staggered towards the faint lights, heard a giggle from the depths of the earth, and stopped.  The lights had just vacated the place where I now stood, I could sense it.  It was as if something existed there but moments earlier, something both warm and frozen at the same time, and it had left an impression for me to find.  As I walked to the center of the sensation, I saw more than just the edges of visions and dreams.  I could see all of human history.  Moments flickered through my mind at nauseating speeds. Nothing remained hidden from me.  I fell to my knees, eyes shut uselessly tight against the motion sickness, hands vainly clamped to my ears to block the myriad sounds that formed a mad cacophony.  As suddenly as the visions appeared, they released me.  I fell to the ground, face-down.  That is where my companions found me the next morning.

They claimed I had wandered half a mile from the campsite, though I knew I had only walked a few steps from the fire.  I tried to explain about the lights and the vision, but my friends insisted it was naught but a dream.  I heard then that same otherworldly giggle as I refuted their theory, but within it, I heard also a warning.  I obeyed the obscene chuckle and grew silent on the matter. We joked through the day about my sleep-wandering.  My partner threatened to tie me down should it occur again.  I vowed that that wouldn’t be necessary. 

I should not have made such a vow for it was one I could not keep.  The lights drew me once again the next night.  I made a point to sleep facing my partner, with his arm tightly around me.  No matter how beautiful the fire was, I refused to get up to watch it.  Instead I shut my eyes tightly against the world and feigned sleep.  When I shut my eyes, memories of the visions came again.  They would not stop, regardless of how hard I concentrated on something, anything else.  A shudder passed through my body, but it did not originate within me.  It felt as though something crawled or fluttered over me and under me at once, beckoning me to follow it.  Finally, I could bear it no longer.  I followed the sensation.  Once again, I extricated myself and crept amongst my sleeping friends back into the trees.  The feeling dissipated a few steps further away than my previous night’s excursion.  This time I could still see some of the lights.  I braced myself for another mental onslaught, but none came.  Instead, the lights moved to surround me.  Their warmth soothed me, though still I felt the chill beneath.  The lights floated around me, sometimes caressing my skin, other times wafting around my head.  The headache from the visions finally dimmed. 

I knew then that the lights were alive. They moved.  They saw.  They thought.

They planned.  They planned for me.  In that moment, I knew their intentions.  They saw fit that I should follow them.  Subconsciously, I made the decision to go where they willed, to the ends of the earth if still they led.  They must have read my mind, for they drifted onwards at the moment of decision.  The farther we went the darker and stranger the woods became.  The trees took on dark, living shapes.  They shied away from the lights – which I came to call “fairies” for lack of a better word – but leaned towards me whenever I fell behind.  The bark of one tree gaped as if it were a giant maw, reading to devour anything its vine-like branches could grasp.  If not for the fairy lights, those branches would have had me a hundred times!  I shuddered at the thought of my body being slowly mashed within those ancient wooden jaws.  For one brief moment, I wondered at where the lights led me, but the moment passed quickly.  The only thought now left to me was to stay with the lights.  I was safe within the circle of lights.  The darkness held only horrors.  More than once, I heard the howls and chitterings of unknown creatures.  The sounds were like nothing I had ever heard before.  Indeed, if asked to describe them, I barely have the words.  The most distinct sound was akin to the howl of a wolf, but there was something more wild about it even than that.  A wolf, at least, abides by rules and instincts.  I believe the only rule that this creature lived by was to stay away from the fairies.  But what kind of power could such small things have that even the most nightmarish of abominations stayed well away from them?  I would leave them now, if only I could, but I was in too deep.  To leave them would mean abandoning the safety of the bright circle.  I knew they would not follow me.  I could turn and run and hope to avoid all the terrible creatures I heard and saw, but without a light to guide me, I would run straight into one of the vicious animals or the carnivorous trees.  No, to stay alive, I must stay with the lights.

Many hours (or possibly days; time loses all meaning in the eternal darkness of this accursed forest) later, the fairies led me to an impossibly dark tunnel.  I thought I had known darkness in the wood, but this darkness seemed palpable.  I balked.  The darkness beckoned me even as it swallowed the lights.  My sole companions and protectors in this malevolent wood had led me to this place.  Surely they had some reason for doing so.  Mayhaps a paradisiacal utopia lie just past the oozing ink of the tunnel’s mouth.  Or maybe there exists at least an escape, a way out of the nightmarish copse back into the ordinary world.  But even then, I knew that I could not return to that world unscathed.  My wandering days were over.  I knew that I would forever be haunted by this ill-advised adventure into the unknown.  The knowledge that, just beyond our everyday experiences, dwelt a place so bent on unhinging the mind would forever infect my thoughts.  

I dove into the mouth.  Immediately, a hollow coldness seeped into my very bones.  I shuddered.  Ahead of me, in the eternal darkness, the fairy lights were just barely visible.  I hurried to keep up pace with them, refusing to be left alone any longer in this abysm.  The shaft felt to be leading downwards.  I longed to touch something, anything to give me an idea of what type of pit this was.  With outstretched arms and still moving feet, I felt neither side of the passage.  The sense of sight was long lost to me – I could still see the moving orbs, but even their bright star-light did nothing to penetrate the black – and now the sense of hearing seemed to vanish as well.  No echo announced each footfall.  It was as if I walked upon a thick sponge that absorbed all sound, though the surface of the floor seemed solid enough beneath my feet.  Even my shallow breathing did nothing to alleviate the perfect silence.  Again, I could feel the action, but no other senses accompanied the sense of touch.  They say that sensory deprivation is the surest way to drive the human brain insane.  Suddenly, I understood.  Even with my sense of touch still intact, the lack of my normal capacities left me reeling. 

As I walked, blind and deaf, contemplating my own growing madness, I became aware that my orb companions had stopped.  Here the floor leveled out and I stopped beside the lights.  The lights grew in size and intensity until I thought my eyes would burst.  Still, they illuminated nothing besides themselves.  Or perhaps the light so overwhelmed my dark-acclimated vision that all else became unimportant.  However it was, I soon felt the warmth of the lights wrap around my shivering body.

They say I dreamed this all – the fairy lights, the forest, the tunnel, and what came after.  Would that I could share my discoveries with all mankind, but the revelation of such things would drive all to either madness or despair.  I saw the world.  I saw it as it was in eons past, when massive creatures trod all to dust beneath their heels.  I saw it as it will be in eons yet to come, a fire and plague scarred flatland, devoid of people save a few scrawny, naked humans.  I saw them rediscover fire and later writing and all the things we say make mankind ‘civilized.’  I saw them begin again to…but no, I can say no more.  The lights gave me to understand that this is our fate.  I cannot by telling change the way it shall be, but I can spare others the grief and hopelessness. 

The first “adult” story I remember picking up and reading on my own was “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.  I was, perhaps 7 or 8 when I discovered a collection of thin books in bright hues on the bookshelf at the base of the stairs up to my parents’ room.  It was at the little window there that I used to read, by early morning light, the stories that would become my oldest and most cherished friends.  Each book was a classic work of fiction designed for children.  Pictures opened worlds on every other page.  How a collection of Poe stories, including “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Raven” came to be in a child’s book, I will never know.  Rats have terrified me beyond rational reason and ravens have become wise seers in my mind ever since.

But I digress.  I remember devouring every single one of those books in the mornings before the rest of the house stirred.  I didn’t like being downstairs alone, so I would read until I knew an older sibling or a parent was awake.  Huckleberry Finn, Romeo and Juliet, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and, of course, Poe – the master of darkness – entertained my mornings.  Something about “The Telltale Heart” made my own heart beat faster.  The narrator’s descent into madness was evident to me even as a child and yet, there was something chilling about the old man’s eye and his heart’s incessant beating even after death that made me grieve for the narrator.  The same first-person view that would later draw me into many of H. P. Lovecraft’s most unsettling stories hooked me from the beginning.  I think the viewpoint is what really hooked me from the first sentence.  “True! nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

As I grew older and, primarily through books and other entertainment, came to realize that mental stability is a highly questionable thing, I found myself latching on to “The Telltale Heart” more and more.  The idea of a mind unhinging both fascinates and terrifies me.

Though it was such a short story (the children’s version was barely pared down; the only true differences I’ve found from the original are a couple of word choices), it’s clung to me all these years.  I’ve since read everything Poe wrote.  Some of his poems oddly comforted me during my teen years.  “A Dream within a Dream” accompanied me to bed many nights.  “Kingdom by the Sea” gave me a reason to cry.  “The Raven”…well, it’s “The Raven.”  It’s beautiful and haunting.   But the one story that I’ve read countless dozens of times and still, though I practically know it verbatim, makes me hunch over my book, eyes wide, heart racing, deaf to the world, is “The Telltale Heart.”

If, somehow, you have made it this far in life without having read Poe, I highly recommend you read it as soon as you can.  Every decent library ought to have at least one copy of his complete works.  Or you can just go here.

What story first truly captured you: heart, mind, and soul?  Tell us in the comments.

This post was inspired by the Creative Task of the Week in the Future of Storytelling MOOC. 

As we approach November and the writing frenzy is in the air, one key question comes to my mind: What is storytelling?  I am working through a wonderful MOOC on the topic called The Future of Storytelling.  My initial thought is that stories are a diversion.  They divert us from the difficulties and boredoms of everyday life.  They let us lead exciting or tragic or romantic or dangerous lives from the safety and comfort of our bedrooms.  There is nothing wrong with storytelling as diversion; it can be a noble end in and of itself.  But storytelling is more than that.

The next definition I came up with, the one that I am sticking with, is that storytelling is about connecting.  Through stories we can connect with people across time and distance that we will never meet in person.  Many times we can’t meet the people we connect with because they are long dead and buried.  Short of the invention of time travel, I will never meet anyone from the cultures that created Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but I can hear their tales with them, become an extended part of their culture centuries after the original tales were first told.  Now if the Doctor shows up, I might just insist that he take me to see these people, but, sadly, that is rather unlikely.  I will also make him take me meet Tolkien, but I’d just become a puddle of fangirl goo if I got to meet the Professor and I’d never get to ask him burning questions such as “Why is Tom Bombadil mysteriously silent in the events of the Hobbit?  I should think he would be quite interested in those goings-on as well and we all know Bombadil existed in your head since at least 1934.”

But anyway, back to the definition of storytelling.  Modern storytelling is a way of connecting with people all across the globe.  The soaring of the Internet has made that more possible today than at any time in the past.  We all tell a story online.  Facebook is essentially you telling the story of your life.  Some people tell their stories in far greater detail than necessary, but it is always a story.

For a story-writer, one who crafts fictional worlds populated with fictional people, storytelling has many connections.  It connects us with the outside.  Writers tend to be considered introverts.  Many of us (myself included) prefer the company of a computer/notebook and a good novel to the company of flesh-and-blood people much of the time.  It connects us with past, following a tradition handed down through countless generations.  Methods may change, but there have always been storytellers, from ancient bards and poets all the way to the modern blogger and self-published writer.  Storytelling connects us with our inner child.  Children tell stories to learn and explore.  Most of us lose that as we get older, but the writer retains or regains that instinctual need to create and explore vast new worlds that exist only in their own imagination.

Storytelling also connects the storyteller with himself.  Writing is therapeutic for many.  Oft times, at least for me, emotions and longings stay locked deep within my brain until I begin to write.  Then they flow onto the screen or paper in a flood.  I’ve been floored by what I discover about myself whilst writing.  There are days I dread writing because I know that through writing, I will discover whatever is nagging me and be forced to confront it.

Storytelling, again, connects us to the world.  We speak hundreds of languages, work in countless occupations, come from entirely different backgrounds, but in the end, we all have stories to tell.

What does storytelling mean to you?  The answer to that question is as varied as the people who answer it.  Give me your definition in the comments.  And check out Brainy Quotes “Storytelling” page.  There’s some great quotes there by people in very different fields.

While reading the latest Writer Unboxed blog post about music, I got to thinking about my own distractions.  I recently moved in with three other people, my two best friends and their 6 year old daughter.  We do everything together.  When we’re not working, we’re on our back porch talking and eating and drinking or we’re in one of the bedrooms playing video games or watching movies.  You’d think this would be a very bad environment for writing and yet I’ve written more in the last three months than I did in the prior six months and, if I do say so myself, it’s better writing.  Maybe not grammatically, but editing is for later.  At the moment, I’m sitting on my roommates’ bed watching them slaughter zombies and I just wrote almost 2000 words in my WIP in about an hour.  Yes, I should be able to do more and I have done more in the past, but I’m enjoying it more now.  Writing does not need to be the activity of a socially-inept hermit.  For some people, silence is necessary and socialization is death to the written word.  I understand that. 

However, I’m finally realizing that I need noise and people.  Especially noise.  My characters are in a post-apocalyptic world; they’re not exactly plugging in their iPods.  Even if they were, they would never be listening to Top 40.  My playlist is a Pandora station based on Within Temptation.  It plays everything from Evanescence to Blackmore’s Night to Loreena McKennitt to Skillet to Linkin Park.  That is my perfect mix.  The songs help me get the right emotions for my characters.  Normally, I’m happy and optimistic, which works well at times for one of my MCs, but most of the time, I need dark, sad, and/or angry songs to put my mind in the right place.  Some of the music is actually quite wonderful and inspirational, but somehow it still works for me. 

For myself, I now understand that I will never have a quiet life.  I don’t think I want that anyway.  Maybe I’ll demand quiet time when I finally get to the editing stage of my WIP, but for the first draft, music and other distractions are an absolute necessity.  Surrounding myself with noises forces me to focus on just one of the many voices in my head at any given moment. 

And that may be the best form of silence in the world.

Snow Bound

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Short Stories

Eugene Stephenson lived in the middle of nowhere.  His nearest neighbor lived four miles away.  His driveway consisted of a dirt lane branching off of a gravel road off of a little-known back road.  He had always been a recluse, but it was worse in recent years.  The idea of mingling with people on a daily basis, of being unable to get away from people at the moment of his choosing, made him cringe.  He could mingle, of course, but he chose to avoid people most of the time.

It was late January.  He hadn’t bothered to dig the snow away from his door for over a week; he had more than enough provisions to last all winter, if he didn’t mind eating chunky soup every single day.  He woke up with the dawn, made himself breakfast, and worked on the puzzle he started the previous night before he looked out of his front window.

More snow had fallen during the night.  The world looked brand-new and sparkly.  The sun’s glint on the ice-crystals hurt his eyes, but it was still beautiful.  But something was wrong.  Eugene frowned, his attention suddenly captured by the random footprints marring the white landscape of his yard.  Who would have been out here in the middle of the night? No one had any excuse to be around his house without permission.  After all, he posted “No Trespassing” signs on nearly every other tree around his property.

He cursed and put on his winter attire.  He had to work at the door a bit to shove the drifted snow away, but he made it outside quickly.  He paled when he recognized two sets of giant paw-prints coming towards his house, along with one set of ordinary boot-prints.  Large dogs bothered him more than he cared to admit.  He followed the prints behind the house, where they seemed to stop beneath his bedroom window.  Claw marks glared out at him from the window frame.  Whatever that thing was, it had attempted to get in his house.  Unacceptable.

He was about to go back inside, to make sure that his shotgun was loaded and ready to take out the intruder, if it happened to show up again, when he noticed something disconcerting.  No tracks led away from his home.  Instead, it appeared that after the creature stalked his room, all three trespassers had meandered over to his garage.  The prints stopped at the side door, standing slightly ajar.

Go inside, Eugene, the voice of reason in his head demanded.  Get your shotgun, call the police, do anything other than go into that garage.  He nodded once, turned on his heel and marched back inside.  He was just loading his gun when a knock sounded on the front door.

Who could that possibly be?  A trespasser wouldn’t knock.  Would they?  His curiosity proved too much to bear, so he edged closer to the door.  “Who’s there?” he called loudly enough to be heard through the thin door.

“Are you Eugene Stephenson?” a young man’s deep voice growled in response.

“I asked you first!” Eugene sputtered.

“I’m sorry for breaking into your garage,” the voice apologized.  “It’s just…I was hunting and got lost, me and my two dogs.  We just needed some shelter for the night.  Didn’t want to wake you last night.”

Eugene sighed.  Of course that was the most logical explanation.  Ever since the incident several years before, he had been paranoid, especially where dogs were concerned.  He cracked the door a bit to get a look at the young man and his two perfectly ordinary wolfhounds.  They weren’t as large as he feared they would be, which meant that his greatest fear had yet to be realized.  “Come on in for a cup of tea.  We’ll discuss how you can repay the damages to my property.  Leave the dogs outside.”

The hunter smiled and tied the dogs to the porch railing.  “Thank you, so much, Mr. Stephenson.  I was worried you were going to call the cops or something.”

Eugene chuckled.  That would have been interesting, indeed.  I wonder what the cops would think of my basement?

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The dogs keening didn’t stop for three days.  The naïve hunter never did bring home any trophies.  Eugene Stephenson added a few more “No Trespassing” signs the following spring.

Haibun

Posted: February 18, 2013 in Poetry
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I’m not much of a poet.  This is my first attempt at a Haibun.  I may or may not repeat the experience.  This poem is about my first exposure to Edgar Allan Poe.  I was little – maybe 6 or 7 years old at most.  I found an abridged “children’s” version of Poe stories in my sister’s bookshelf.  Mayhaps I was too young for Poe.  *Shrug*  I was hooked from the first page.
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The pages of the forbidden volume
crackled open.  Moonbeams lit the letters
and the blurry illustrations.  The little girl
heard only the sounds of creaking wind
and braying dogs…and the squeak of mice
and the clatter of madness from the Pit
and the Pendulum.

The shadows lengthen
Night’s music moans and whispers
No more sleep tonight.