Category Archives: Writing

Just snippets, here and there.

More NaNo

Another excerpt from my nanonovel (and an invitation to pitch some title ideas to me, if you got any):

Everyone has a life they would live forever, if they could just get back to it.

When we were six, Mom and Dad took me and my twin sister Marissa to the zoo. There were lions and giraffes and penguins and even a zebu, which at six years old was equivalent to meeting an alien face-to-face. In the big cats display, Marissa saw a leopard cub. It was romping around in its enclosure, behind chain link reinforced by what looked like chicken wire.

“Mom!” Marissa shouted, running to the cage. “Look at the cats!”

Mom chuckled. “Those aren’t cats, honey. They’re leopards. Baby leopards.”

“Kittens?” Marissa asked.

“Well,” Mom said, crooking her head, “they’re cubs. Baby cats are called kittens and baby leopards are called cubs.”

“Cubs,” she said, approvingly, turning back to the cage. “I want one.”

Dad laughed. “If you want, when you grow up you can work with them.”

“Really? I can have one?” She took Dad’s hand as we walked away.

“You have to learn how to take care of them and work at the zoo,” Dad answered. “And you have to grow up first. But if you work really hard, you can.”

“What do they call grown-ups who take care of cubs?”

Dad thought for a moment. “Leopard tamers,” he said, with a dramatic, round-eyed flourish.

Marissa started singing to herself, “Marissa, the leopard tamer, I’m gonna be a leopard tamer,” as she skipped along holding Dad’s hand.

“That’s silly,” I said. “Animals are smelly. Who would want to take care of animals?” But Mom shot me The Look, and I fell quiet.

Half an hour later we walked through the marine animal display, and I saw the otters. Any condescension I felt for Marissa’s childish excitement over the leopard cubs melted away at the sight of them.

“Whoooooa,” I said, dumbstruck, face in the glass. “Dad, what are these?”

“Otters,” he said, and rubbed my shoulder. I turned my back to the glass. All my awareness of potential embarrassment slipped away. “Do they have otter tamers?”

Marissa popped a pose that said, Are you kidding me?, with a hand on one hip and her head tipped sideways. Mom laughed.

“’Course they do,” Dad said, and that made Mom and Marissa’s responses worth it.

In the gift shop there was a display of two-inch-high animals made of porcelain. Marissa and I both sprinted for it the moment we saw it, which was the same moment we ran in the door. We also both stopped dead three feet away, then inched closer. “You break it, you bought it,” Mom always said. We were searching feverishly for our new favorites, but there were so many. A nice teenage girl came over, though, and asked, “What kind of animals are you girls looking for?”

We answered at the same time: “Leopard [“Otters!”] cubs!”

The girl smiled, reached out, and came back with a leopard in one hand and an otter in the other. Then she leaned down and whispered: “I can give you twenty percent off, if your mom and dad don’t mind.”

Five minutes later we were clutching our new treasures to our chests, safely tucked away in little boxes lined with tissue paper.

We had forgotten our egos by then, and we were united in our dream to become Leopard [or Otter] Tamers. We set our porcelain figurines on a high shelf in our room, to remind us. A few years later, when we moved and got separate rooms, we felt strange, somehow, about separating our figurines. But we also both wanted to see them (even though by now, we both wanted to be writers). It was her idea, finally, to go ahead and separate them, but opposite: I took her leopard, and she took my otter. That way, they were apart, but still united.

My otter stayed in her room, back home, when I moved out. And up until today, Marissa’s leopard has perched on the top shelf of the entertainment center in my apartment. I’ve thought about putting it away. There’s no reason that I need to see it every day, and I certainly want it safe. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And just now, my roommate Abby, burdened and disoriented by a load of painting supplies, bumped into the entertainment center, knocking it off the top. “Oh, Ta –” she says, dropping her stuff and tripping over herself.

For the first couple feet of its fall, I don’t worry; it will land on the carpet, which is thick enough not to cause concern. But then I notice a vase one shelf below it toppling. It falls immediately behind the leopard, chasing it all the way to the floor. They land at almost the same millisecond with a tiny chink that I know signifies the leopard’s demise.

I inhale sharply, frozen for a second.

“Oh, Tara, I’m sorry,” Abby says, but it’s sheer politeness. She doesn’t care because she doesn’t know.

“No!” I cry, lunging for it. “Did it break?”

Abby is confused. “Yes – it did, didn’t you hear it?”

I lean down, pick everything up. My sister’s precious leopard is in three jagged pieces, but the stupid vase, a gift from my still-living aunt, is intact. I throw it at the wall. It shatters.  I turn and lean my back against my entertainment center.

I curse. Abby has never heard me curse before.

“Tara …” she says, kneeling down. I’m surprised to find I’m not at all angry with her.

“You didn’t know,” I whisper, a tear already hanging off my nose. Her hand settles on my forearm.

“I know that,” she says. “But …”

“It was my sister’s,” I say.

“Your sister’s? I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“A twin sister. Four minutes older. Marissa.”

“Is she …?” She knows, but she won’t say it. Polite of her, I think.

I nod. “She killed herself when we were sixteen.”

hate saying that.

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Meet My NaNovel

I mentioned in a previous post that last November I planned to take part in NaNoWriMo, and I introduced my main character, Stacie.

Well, then, on October 30, I had this crazy idea about a crazy plot and decided to ditch Stacie, even though I’d been whittling away at her for six months. Thus was born Tara, my newest main character. And a very exciting experience followed: in thirty-two days I moved from the initial germination of an idea to a complete first draft.

I’ve said before that a common objection to NaNo is this one: “You can’t write a novel in thirty days.” And my rebuttal: “What you mean is that you can’t write a good novel in thirty days.” So for over three months now, I have been working this manuscript over. It’s been a joy, seeing it perhaps … becoming good.

A certain exhilaration came over me this morning when I felt the third draft falling neatly into place, and to celebrate that, here is a scene from my third chapter, provided for your pleasure.

… Hopefully. :)

The day [my twin sister] Marissa and I met Nate, we were eleven. We were wandering around our little neighborhood in a Portland suburb with Mom. We lived an hour out of town, in what our friends called the boondocks, meaning two things: one, she and I were each other’s best friend for more practical reasons than our matching DNA, and two, we took every opportunity that we could to get downtown and see our other friends. Today the opportunity had come in the form of grocery shopping and some other miscellaneous errands of our mother’s. Unfortunately none of our friends were available to entertain us (being accustomed to not having us around to entertain), but a change of scenery was always worth the drive.

While Mom weighed tomatoes and flipped through the coupon section of the newspaper, Marissa and I were free to roam the store and find ways to spend our weekly five dollar allowance. Today we were looking at magazines and books. Both of us loved to read, and often we surprised our parents by bringing home books like Oliver Twist and The Giver. Then again, we were also eleven-year-old girls, and such reading material as Vogue and Cosmopolitan had a certain, sometimes taboo, sway over us.

We were crouched down in front of the magazine rack, reading an article together called “Ten Steps to Skin So Soft He’ll Melt,” when a foul odor of alcohol (though of course we didn’t recognize it as such) wafted over. We both registered it at the same time – I distinctly remember the split-second sensation that I was looking in a mirror when we gave each other the same disgusted face.

We looked up at the same moment, too, to see a man shuffling toward us. He was tall and thin and kind of sallow. His hair was graying and close-trimmed but, at the moment, unkempt. He wore slacks and a button-down, but the buttons were done up lopsided.

At first I thought he was shuffling at us to kidnap us, the way he walked with such certainty in our direction, and I startled and stood. Marissa did, too, mostly because I did, I think. It became immediately clear, though, that his determined step was focused not on us, but on the Motor Trend which was in the display rack directly above where our heads had been. Only after he reached the magazine and snatched it to himself – he opened it and greedily buried his face in it – did I see Nate directly behind him, just a few feet from me.

There was nothing unique about Nate, looking back. He was an average gangly pre-teen, although he did have cute, shaggy hair. It was a not-quite-blonde sort of color, but I don’t think I noticed it then. What I noticed then was his eyes. They were brown, which I suppose sounds pretty run-of-the-mill. But they weren’t a normal brown. Maybe they’d be better described as ‘amber.’ They seemed like maybe the colored part was made of liquid.

“Dad,” he said, exasperated. “Are you ready to go?”

“Nah,” Dan answered. “I’m reading.” His words ran together. They were a little hard to understand, like his mouth didn’t work exactly how it should.

“What are you reading?” Nate’s tone suggested that he didn’t believe him. Dan flipped the magazine shut and read the cover article, squinting his eyes.

“Car of the Year or whatever. Hey, Nate, maybe if I get a hot car then I’ll find some hot lady to put in it. That’d show her, huh.” 

“Dad!” Nate snatched the magazine from his hand. “There are people here!” He pointed behind Dan, who turned and seemed affronted.

“Girls! Whoa. You’re too young to be listening to men’s talk like this. Go on, now. Git.”

“Excuse me,” I said. My head popped to one side and my eyes tightened. “We were here first, weren’t we?”

“Hey now, Missy –”

“Dad!” Nate said. “We’re leaving.”

“No, sir, we’re not,” Dan said, wiggling his head absurdly back and forth. I held my stare. “These girls need to learn to respect their elders. Now, you listen to me. I have worked my – my whole life. And here you come along, invading space, my personal space, and, and I won’t stand for it!”

“Dad –”

He was beginning to look dizzy, now, and Marissa reached her arms out at him, like she’d catch him if he fell. He didn’t fall. Instead, he turned, leaned one hand on the magazine rack, and doubled over. His body convulsed once, the movement starting at the base of his spine, and then he vomited one long solid rope which splattered all over the speckled linoleum. I jumped back, at first thinking he’d get it on me. Nate had rushed forward and grabbed his arm, but not to pull him or scold him – to steady him. After a moment my shock dissipated.

“Tara, go get someone –” Marissa said, stepping toward him. Her voice wasn’t quite panicked, but enough so to put a fire under my feet. I rushed off to find a clerk. There was a red-vested guy a couple of aisles down, restocking macaroni.

“Hey – there’s a guy throwing up on the magazines –” I said, and then realized it was a lie, because he’d thrown up near them but not on them.

“Oh –” he said. He reached above his head, grabbed a tub of cleaning supplies from the top shelf, and rushed off. I followed close behind.

When I got back to the scene, Nate’s dad was sitting on the floor, head in his hands, doing something I never would have expected – crying. Marissa was kneeling next to him and rubbing his back, murmuring comfort. Nate stood a few feet away, watching. The bottom of his face was crumpled up like he wanted to cry, but his eyes were wide and his brow high. He wasn’t watching his dad. He was watching Marissa.

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Dust

has settled in our home,
chafing our touch
and cutting the light;

and though it’s as certain
as the laundry and the bills
and the alarm in the dark –
still I know;

our love is gold dust,
bursting against the gray
in towers of freckled light;

glittering ephemera, but
it settles;

leaving flakes
bedded down,
which shimmer,

when the light is right.

June 2011
I love you, Allen.

***

Post script. Honest to goodness, I posted this in January and the Valentine’s Day thing is just a coinkydink. :D

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Judah: an excerpt from ‘The Sons of Israel’

My name is Praise.

My mother thought my birth would kill her. Maybe a part of her even hoped that it would. What had she to resent? Nothing at all. The victorious of two warring sisters, blessing followed her in everything. She had a strong husband who came consistently to her tent and three vibrant, healthy sons to show for it.

But my mother was tired. She had earned everything she had by right and by might; she was the sister to whom honor was due, but, dwarfed by Rachel’s meaningless beauty, she was forced to surpass the younger in every other way. The two were even. Israel ignored Leah’s dullness but praised her hardworking spirit and fertile womb. He adored Rachel’s sweet femininity but ignored her sloth, selfishness and barrenness.

There was a way that the race was uneven, though; it had tried my mother to exhaustion while Rachel lounged. Now, in childbed for a fourth time, she recognized futility. She’s told me the story time and again:

“I thought that my womb had closed with you inside. I convulsed with each pain. I had never, with three sons, felt such agony. Each of your older brothers took less than a day to come into the light. With you, I decided to die at a day and a half.

“I decided I’d never see Israel again, and I didn’t care. I would never see my sons again, and I accepted that. My only regret, Praise, was that I wouldn’t see you a single time. Not once. But with that pain under my heart, I lay back on the childbed and closed my eyes.

“My pain was cut in half. Something in my body stopped working, and for hours I lay there unable to move or speak. At first my midwife thought I had died. She stopped working, but then she saw my breath. She continued to help my womb do its work while I lay there half-dead. I don’t remember anything for days after that, but when I awoke, I had a healthy son – the biggest one I’d borne yet – and a flush in my cheeks again. El took half of my life, long enough to give me you, and then breathed it back into me so I could know you, love you, and tell you the miracle of your birth. I named you that day, saying, ‘This time, I will Praise the Lord.’”

My mother thought my birth would kill her, and even though no one has said it, today everyone thinks this birth will kill Rachel. Tomorrow, though, whether both Rachel and her son are breathing, or just one of them, or neither – I will praise the Lord.

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NananananananaNANO! …wrimo.

So. I write.

This year will be my third swing at Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. Any writers out there? Any writers who don’t know what Nanowrimo is? Well, listen up. Nanowrimo (hereafter known as nano, ’cause I get sick of typing “Nanowrimo”) is one of the best things that’s happened in the world of writing since … I dunno, the dawn of time?

Hyperbole – it’s THE. BEST. THING. EVER!!!

Anyway, nano is awesome. The idea is simple: writers across the world commit to writing an entire 50,000-word novel between November 1 and 30. This has been happening since 1999. Some writers roll their eyes at the exercise, claiming a novel can’t be written in thirty days. I beg to differ. What those writers mean is that a good novel can’t be written in thirty days.

But that’s cool, man. Make it good later.
This is about forcing oneself to sit that hiney in a chair and tap-tap-tap away until your fingers hurt. In order to write a novel in a month, a writer needs to put down 1,667 words each day. Now, that’s easy to do once. Doing it thirty times in a row is another experience altogether. It’s a serious exercise of butt-in-chair, regardless of whether or not the writing feels “inspired” today. Edit the darn thing later. Learn focus now.

Personally, I’ve been involved since 2009. That’s when I gave it my first go, writing a “novel” I referred to more often as a “testimony,” but which is known in the biz as more of a “memoir.” I sort of dug up some of my old demons and made them cringe in the sunlight of my blank page. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna make you read it. But that year I “won!” Wooo! Cue confetti and dorky little celebration dance!

Then in May 2010 I had a baby. Which meant in November 2010, I had a six month old. Which meant I didn’t win nano’10. Sadface. I tried, though – really hard, in fact – and I blame my failure just as much on my still-pretty-brand-spankin’-new motherhood as on the fact that I was trying true fiction. Quite frankly, in the context of an exercise in slap-it-on-the-page-as-fast-as-possible, memoir is easier – I already knew what was going to happen! But in 2010 I tried to genuinely write a novel, and I did it with a screaming infant in my care, and I am not ashamed that I didn’t meet my goal.

So. Nano’11 is just a month away, now.

Over the summer, I sat down and wrote a character, who I knew nothing about. I built her from the ground up, sans story, and every once in a while, over the last several months, I’ve taken a seat and gotten to know her a little bit better. I intend to spend November getting to know her better – 1,667 words at a time. Do you think maybe there’s a story in there?

Her name is Stacie. Do you want to meet her? Here she is, remembering a day she spent with her in-and-out father, Vince, when she was eight years old.

“Let’s paint, Girlie,” Vince said – that was his favorite nickname for me, ‘Girlie,’ and my favorite, too. I was eight now, and he had been home for a few days.

I’d been dreading this, though. Last time Vince came home, he sat me down and taught me to paint. Just beginner’s stuff, of course, he’d said, but then he blew me away with all the tricks he knew. There were hundreds of strokes and techniques and methods and brushes. I didn’t understand how a person could keep them all straight, let alone master them. He was patient, though, as I fumbled with the paper, attempting to create something. Anything. I didn’t succeed, but I wrote down a few tips. I wanted to remember, so that I could practice after he left.

I did practice, too. A lot. And hard. It was invigorating: I’d take an utterly blank sheet of paper, perfect but boring, and splash it with one firm, beautiful streak of color. And that one streak, no matter what color or shape, would animate me as much as the paper. Confidence, eagerness, joy would shoot through me.

But something else followed, something that proved to be as inevitable as the initial rush: confusion. My barns were lopsided. My people’s eyes were the wrong size. My trees looked like they were made of plastic. I fought long and hard with the tools Vince had provided me, and I wanted to be a painter, so bad. I just didn’t have the gift.

One day I took a painting of a kitten to Mama. She oohed and ahhed over it like I was Rembrandt. But that was exactly the problem. She laid it on so thick because she didn’t think it was any good, and she didn’t want me to know.

I put my painting supplies in a box and left it in my closet behind my shoes. Soon enough Vince would come home and I’d have to return it all.

And that’s why, when he wanted to paint, I couldn’t bring myself to smile. I slipped off my chair without a word and followed him into the yard (“Landscape is inspiring,” he’d explained before), where he had set up two easels and two blank canvases.

“You bought real canvases?” I asked. “But aren’t those expensive?”

“Only the best for you, Girlie,” he said. “Have you been practicing?”

I nodded dumbly.

“Well, let’s paint something together, then.”

“I – but –”

His head crooked to one side.

“I practiced, Vince, I really did, and I really like it. But I’m just – I’m no good.”

“Oh, jeez,” he said, “you’re worried you’re not good enough for me? Me? Why, I’m just a silly old coot what dun’t know nuthin’.” He crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue, and I giggled despite myself. “Really, Stace, not being sure of yourself is a dumb reason not to do something. Give it a shot.”

“I’ll ruin the canvas,” I muttered, “and it was expensive.”

“Baby Girl,” he said, leaning down in front of me. “If you stuck a wad of chocolate pudding in your mouth and then gave that canvas a good lick” – I laughed again – “and that was all the art you did, it’d still be worth it to me. I bought it because I want to see what you’ll do with it.”

I tried not to, but even so I smiled.

“What should I paint?”

He smirked with an idea. “Paint a picture of me. I’d love to see how you see me.”

So I did. The first stroke was exciting, as always, and when the insecurity hit, I ignored it the best I could. I forced myself to just keep painting, reminding myself what he’d said – it’d still be worth it.

I didn’t need him to model for me. I had his face memorized. And as I painted I found something else that was exciting: color. Vince had skin like leather, his eyes were as green as a jungle frog and his hair was three different shades of red. I painted these colors true – somehow, it was easy. At the end, his eyes were different heights and one side of his face was bigger than the other – but the colors were true. That was the first time I ever painted a picture worth keeping. And he did.

Are you doing nano? What kind of project do you have in mind?

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small pieces / of who I am now / on the page

loneliness
which I medicate
with my God

awaken
scared sweaty shaken
from nightmares

raspberry
globbed on a finger
makes him smile

my muse, my
inspiration, my
friend is gone

incomplete –
my state of being
while on earth

I love him
his quiet furor
for my heart

dark, spotted
with bulbs and moonlight
and laughter

solid legs
and a smart grin on
my baby

I love that
determination
runs through him

dare me to
love with ardor and
not despair

only trust
that the life He gives
pleases Him

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A New Katharine

This is not my first exploration of Martin Luther’s wife. For the historical version, click here.

My father John and my stepmother Ann decided when I was a child which college I would attend: Eternal Peace Bible College. It was a partner with Liberty Christian Church, the congregation we’d long called home, where my father was a deacon. As a child, I trusted what Dad said was true, and what Pastor Howard said, well, that was scripture.

They always taught that salvation was a free gift – that faith was valid and works were not. They’d throw bible verses at me and I always took it for granted that they were right. And in a way, they were. In another way, though, they were shortsighted and selfish.

We had a little group of friends in high school – me, my best friend Libby, and another pair of best friends, Ava and Maggie. All three of them attended Liberty with their families. The four of us did most everything together, and of course, that included college.

That’s where we were when my aunt Lena (my long-dead mother’s sister) forwarded us an email.

To the members of Liberty Christian Church and to any follower of Christ who hears:

My name is Martin James, and I am above all a follower of Christ. At the risk of mimicking an apostle to the point of absurdity, the first thing I want you to know is that I pray for you. I pray that your eyes will be opened and your hearts discerning, because I beseech you to test my words against Christ’s.

Romans 10:9 reads:

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Only one thing saves us: professed faith in Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads:

… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

The faith we profess is not our own merit, of which we might boast. It is a gift from God.

1 Corinthians 15:2 reads:

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.

The gospel of our faith saves us – but it has not saved us if we have not held firmly to the Word. We can believe in vain, as the demons do.

Titus 2:11-12 reads:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

If a man has received God’s grace, he is saved. If a man has received God’s grace, he is taught to say ‘No’ to ungodliness.

Jude 4 reads:

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord.

As believers, we face the challenge of discerning. Have men slipped in among us who are godless? Do men (or women) in our lives tempt us to exchange God’s free gift into a license for immorality?

Are you truly saved?

Several members of Liberty Christian Church, myself included, have committed to study the Word together with any believers who wish to discuss this. We will do so every Sunday night at 6 p.m. at my house. Directions included. We will continue this weekly study until people stop coming.

Peace in Christ,

Martin James

“Those are some pretty serious accusations,” said Libby.

“But do you see any errors?” I asked. All three girls leaned over the letter and scanned over it for a few minutes, trying to find a point they didn’t agree with.

“Okay, so we all agree on that much,” Maggie said. “What do we do with this information?”

There was a brief silence.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Ava asked. “We’re going to a bible study.”

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