Light From Within

It is an older house,

Not old in the good sense,

weathered, outdated, simple

with overgrown bushes.

But the top edge of the windowed front porch

is adorned with vintage Christmas lights;

Big, bright, red, blue, green, yellow.

Jolly colors that tell me,

Someone in that house has a merry heart.

The care of its simple decoration,

Says there is joy within its walls,

And I imagine peace.

No pride and conjured up importance,

Just a little show of holiday cheer,

Put up on a Saturday afternoon.

I muse a box labeled “Xmas Lights”

Taken down from the attic,

Carried to the front steps,

Ladder retrieved from the corner of the garage,

Perched safely not too high,

Smile on the face,

Jingle bells hummed,

Hooks left up from last year,

Makes an easy task.

After dusk falls the first night,

the lights come alive,

Step back.

It is enough.

Whose Socks Are These?

I’m a keeper of old things. That’s clear, though these days, less and less. Going through boxes of Christmas decorations, I found my childhood stocking. I think my parents bought it when I was born because it’s not the stocking I remember being stuffed with little gifts.

For those who may not know the traditions surrounding Christmas, children hang a ‘stocking’ which used to mean a long stretchy sock but morphed into a specially crafted, usually red, classic shaped ‘stocking’ large enough to hold small gifts like candy, toy cars and other trinkets.

It was the original place for gifts to show up that Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) who was a kindly soul who blessed poor children on Christmas Eve by putting a treat in the children’s socks which were hung over the fire to dry after their daily washing.

There are all kinds of variations about this. It’s the secular part of Christmas but in many ways, the idea of sacrificially giving to others to bring unexpected joy, hope and love is a central theme to the birth of Christ for which the word ‘Christmas’ means.

Christmas lesson done, back to the relic of my childhood. When I look at this stocking, not only is it way too small to suit a child’s dream of an overstuffed abundance of goodies, but it has a nursery rhyme on it which has nothing to do with Christmas. This always confused me. (I spent a lot of time confused about things!).

My parents however, bought it for their sweet, angel baby (I was sweet and angelic then) as the most appropriate. It meant something to them. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me.

This just reminds me of the conundrum that new writer’s often get stuck in, especially fantasy writers. How to explain and convey the significance of values and attitudes of a character that lives in a world that doesn’t exist.

From the writer’s mind everything makes sense, but for the reader that has not hashed out the details, edited and designed for hours on end, it’s all foreign, disconnected. I know if I took the time to research Christmas at the time my stocking was bought, I would find that the symbols that were part of my older childhood were not yet established. I might learn that nursery rhymes were the backbone of parenting. I’m guessing this is the case. It doesn’t really matter. I do appreciate that after several (unnamed) years the print is still pristine, and it is not falling apart. That says something about quality! The other take away for me is to put this mental exercise into practice as I write, by keeping in mind that what I think is common knowledge, contextually clear, may need more scaffolding than first seems necessary. Hope you find this tip helpful too!

NaNoWriMo 2020 Novel – A Walk Through Editing

At 40K words, I shared my opening paragraph of my NaNoWriMo novel – “Kill Words” . Below I have shown it again and explained the edits I have made so far. The first sentence of a novel is hugely important but the first paragraph in my opinion is usually the ‘make or break’ that determines if a reader goes on reading. That is the case for myself. When I open a “Look Inside” on Amazon, if the tone and intrigue is not there in the first paragraph, I’m not likely to go on. Sometimes I’ll open a random chapter and see if it catches me, but not often.

BEFORE Edit; First Draft, opening paragraph:

I’m named after my grandmother Gertrude Maisey Warner, the revered matriarch of the family. They called her Gerty, but I’m called Maisey. I guess my parents could tell even then that I would not be able to fill her shoes. She married at eighteen and had ten kids all of them growing up to be upstanding citizens. My uncle Bill is a neurosurgeon, uncle Jack head of mathematics at the university, my aunt Becca a CEO of a medical device company. My own mother not only won ‘teacher of the year’ five years in a row for the Midwest region, but she started a non-profit to combat illiteracy in the inner-city.

The Edits and why:

Removed – “The revered matriarch of the family” – Telling; I don’t need to state this; that is clear by what follows.

Removed – “They called her Gerty,” – Telling; it works better to just start calling her “Grandma Gerty”

Changed- “I guess my parents could tell even then that I would not be able to fill her shoes” – ‘I guess’ is soft compared to the revision ‘the truth is” since this is establishing the character’s belief and state of mind; it needs to be stronger.  ‘even then’ not as defined as ‘when I was born’ – again this is a judgement she feels she’s been under from day one; a key point to make.

Changed – “She married at eighteen and had ten kids all of them growing up to be upstanding citizens” – the sound of ‘upstanding citizens’ seemed out of character voice and telling. Adding in how grandma herself was a success (a point needed further in the story) works better.

Changed the accomplishments of some of grandma’s children to be more descriptive — this all may get cut; still on the fence if it pulls the reader out of the story. Let me know what you think.

Added in another statement of the character’s main concern in life at the start of the novel. This of course drastically changes!

AFTER Editing opening paragraph:

I’m named after my grandmother, Gertrude Maisey Warner. But I don’t have her first name, I’m called Maisey. The truth is even when I was born my parents could tell I would not fill Grandma Gerty’s shoes. She married at eighteen, lost her husband at thirty and raised ten kids by sewing children’s clothes, eventually creating her own brand. Each of her children grew up with the same penchant for success. My uncle Bill is a neurosurgeon and pioneered a technique for treating a rare brain tumor. Uncle Jack is dean of mathematics at the university. Aunt Becca is co-founder of a medical device company. My own mother not only won ‘teacher of the year’ five years in a row for the Midwest region, but she started a non-profit to combat illiteracy in the inner city. Now it was the next generation’s turn to carry on the legacy unless I break the trend.

I hope you have found this editing session helpful in your own editing adventures. Let me know what you think. You’ve “Looked Inside”. Do I need to edit again?

Puppet Talk

I have a set of puppets. Looking at each character I could write a story, a horror story. They are creepy, at least to me. I’ve been carrying these puppets with me for over thirty years. They were my father’s. I’m not sure if they ended up in my possession because he gave them to me or if my mom slipped them to me when my parents announced their divorce.
The thing is, I’ve held onto them because I’ve always believed that were rare and therefore valuable. But now years later, the sentimentality has faded and I started to wonder how special they are. I checked online. Would you believe they’re only worth maybe a hundred dollars? It’s funny to find out something that seemed rare and growing in value is no big deal.

I have to laugh. How much other junk have I carried around attributing false value to it? Here’s the backbone of a good story. What starts out important to your character but becomes meaningless by the end? Start with something in your own life. Take us on that trek in your story. It will be familiar and inspiring.

I’d love to hear about your favorite character or person and what they learn to leave behind.

Leave a comment!

Storm Weaver 2 -100 word story

continued from October 24 post

The old man held out the pouch in the palm of his crooked hand,
“Take it.”
“I’m giving it to you.”
A simple reason.
The leather pouch was tightly closed.
Did I dare open the strings?
The sun warmed my face,
Poured over wet pavement,
Washed away all trace of cold.
Everything shined on a new day.
The old man smiled, knowing I couldn’t resist, but he gave no permission.
Still, I went ahead and worked my fingers under the string,
Undoing his labor.
Slowly, the mouth of the bag opened.
I peeked inside then looked up.
He vanished.

Who Is In Your Corner?

No one likes to be backed into a corner, to the place where there doesn’t seem any way to go.  Left, right, up or down, is there a way out? It’s the perfect place to put a character in. It’s classic. Every story has it. The moment when all seems lost. It’s the reason we don’t put down the book. Why we watch the movie over and over, we want to see the resolution whether it’s happy, sad, defining or moving.  

Today humanity is in a corner. Never in modern times has every human being faced the same restraint, the same submission without anyone truly exempt. No one escapes. Kind of like death but we dodge that just fine because there’s always the pursuit of happiness until our hour is up. But this confinement, this change of circumstance, this lack of choices, threat to loved ones, threat to ourselves. This is not life as we planned it. 

There’s a beauty in the unity of this situation. Yes, a beauty in the oneness of our experience. Only made possible by today’s technology; in today’s world where we’re starting to understand we are not different, not at all. We just have different habits, comfortable traditions, ways of speaking but we all breath, feel, care, dream and love the same. So here we are in the story of a millennia. How the story will end no one knows. What is life like in the corner? It’s not lonely, not when we’re all in it together.  Hold your neighbor up my friend, your strength is not for you alone.