Monday, June 28, 2010

A Touch of Nostalgia

Old Highway 80 used to be the main drag if you wanted to cross the mountain from Alpine to El Centro . In those days Jacumba was a resort town, thriving with glamour and important people on their way to important places. Some the hot springs are still there but like the volcano it is built on the town has gone to sleep.

Our house was on a neat little street, lined next to dozens of others. From the front it could have any suburb but on the other side of the backyard was the rail road track from a hundred years ago and the yard itself was buried in desert sand from a flashflood a few decades ago. It was a place with layers of time and history poking out of the seams.

Growing up with a whole brood of siblings we spent a lot of time outside. We did the normal things like riding our bikes with the neighbor kids, running through sprinklers and organizing soccer games in the front yard but it was an hour's drive to the nearest grocery store and farther to the nearest movie theater. If we wanted to be entertained we had to be creative.

The summer reading program at the library was a real event; every kid showed up for the watermelon spitting contest. Our greatest excitement was the summer a movie was shot at the abandoned building across from Gift's in Things and we collected 'movie star' bullets off the streets when they were done. We had a tire swing in the back and later a tree house that we played dress up in for hours on end. Even my brothers and the neighbor boy --though they stayed away from most of the lacier costumes. Sometimes we had a three foot pool up in the yard. Sometimes we walked across the street to the brush field to kill time. Sometimes we just dug holes and buried objects we didn't care about hours deep in the sand.

Jacumba wasn't the place we lived the longest. It wasn't the smallest town, or the one furthest away from civilization but it was where I left my childhood.

When we moved to Jacumba I had my dad. When we left I didn't. When we moved to Jacumba all the world I needed was my family. When we left I knew I would need something bigger. When we moved to Jacumba I was small, safe, and happy. When we left I was approaching adolescence, uncertainty and moodiness. Like lava exploding from the earth's core I erupted down the mountain’s surface, smoldering and looking for a shape to cool into. Eventually I found one. Or something close enough. I adjusted to the busier, more chaotic world of adulthood but I was forged in a small sleeping town on top of the mountain. A place that used to be boiling with excitement. A place that could be again. A mountain with deep feet that reach all the way down the valleys of El Centro , each road smothered in my memories. A place where --for now --the world stands still.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things That I Love

I love stories. I love chanelling human experiences and emotions into something universal that we can all share.

I love the feel of a pen gliding acrosss the page beneath my fingers.

I love traveling and being in new places, exploring new ideas, savoring new experiences.

I love looking for beauty where no one expects to find it.

I love the tranquility of nature and the complexity of everything working together.

I love the busy chaos of the city where life has to be chased down or it will get away.

I love trying to make sense of things I don't understand.

I love standing on the edge of something bigger than myself and wondering if I might fall.

I love the smile of a stranger who takes a moment out of their own stress to pass on kindness.

I love watching things grow, quietly peeking out of the earth one fraction at a time.

I love the dawn and the sunset, swirling the sky in their endless cyle.

I love the excitement in other's eyes when they speak of what they love.

That is what I love. What about you? What do you love?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forgive my Experimentation

A stranger apeared from deep inside the woods. Elizabeth stepped back, glancing at the knife in his hand, the bow strapped to his back. Then she recognized the green feather in his cap, the hunting horn hanging at his side. She relaxed.
"I know you. You are a hero."
"No," he said "I am a man."

He fell off time, spiraling outside the space of existance and then back again, straight down onto the lap of an old man with spectacles lowered over his nose.
"What happened? Where am I?"
"Another time. Another place."
He took in a breath of amazement. "How? Why?"
"How the hell do I know. Get off so I can figure it out."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: Perchance To Dream by Lisa Mantchev

Perchance To Dream follow the adventures of Beatrice Shakespeare Smith imediatly after Lisa Mantchev's first book Eyes Like the Stars as Bertie leave the Theatre Illuminate (where all the characters from every play ever written make their home) to rescue Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaind from Sedna the Sea Goddess. She is acompanied by the mischevious sweets-obsessed faires from A Midsummer's Night's Dream and the wind sprite Ariel from The Tempest who is threatening to steal her heart even though she is on a quest to save the man she loves. The road is full of wolves, mysterious strangers with secrets to reveial, lack of cup-cakes, snow storms, sneak theives, a magical journal than manipuates the world around her in ways she never indended, dangerous type rope acts and the startling realization that the real world is nothing like the theatre but the hardest task Bertie faces is examining her own heart.

If you like books where the laws of magic are clearly defined you will probably not enjoy this book. The concepts of reality are hazy and many of the scenes take place in an alternate existance between truth and lies. Even the most whimsical of minds will have a hard time understanding what is actually happening in some places, masked as it was by poetical albiet beautiful prose but for some (like me) that is part of it's charm. The dialogue is riddled with Shakespeare quotes, the covered in glitter even outside the scenes involving show biz. The plot blurs --in true dream fasion -- and sometimes gets lost in the colors of the circus traid and the ramblings of Berties heart, leaving the reader confused and ever so frusterated. Still, the climax is beautiful and pulls most of the wayward threads together, leaving only a few to run rampant in the next book.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Outside My Mind

It was getting dark as I made my way down South Grade pulling on Rusty's leash to hold her in the heeling position. It wasn’t cold but there was a chill breeze. The roses climbing over the fence of the house next to me were in full bloom, brilliant and flagrant as always.
A familiar walk. A place I had been a thousand times before with Twilight drifting in the air around me like a cloud of smoke but suddenly it didn't seem so comforting. It was quiet, still. Unbelievably still. Frighteningly still. Suddenly, I stopped. Standing where I was, unmoving in the quiet anything could happen. Maybe I should turn back.
No. That was foolish. How many times had I walked this road? How many times had anything happened other than the setting of the sun? Nothing had changed. There was no reason to let my imagination run rampant.
Still, I reached for my cell phone to remind myself that I had contact with the world outside my mind.
Damn. it wasn't there. I must have left it charging on my dresser. Maybe I really should turn back.
The idea was ridiculous. There was no reason for a moment of fancy to obstruct my Sunday evening walk. No reason at all. Thoughts of the reaper in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine floated through my head but I shook them out. I raised my head in determination and took a step.
The world went black. Colors bled away from my eyes and the ground beneath my feet gave way. The leash in my hand wrapped tight around my wrist burning into my skin and then it was gone. My last hold of reality disappeared and I was falling. A hundred feet. A thousand. I had no way of knowing. The scent of the flowers disappeared along with the sound of the cars whizzing by on the road. One by one my senses faded until they ceased to exist and I was left alone in darkness with nothing but myself.
"Who are you?" a voice asked, though I couldn’t hear it or see the speaker.
I didn't answer and a hint of panic rustled through me though I wasn't sure where it came from.
The voice sounded again from inside my head, this time more demanding, almost angry. "Who are you?"
I shook my head, refusing to answer.
"You will have to answer one day.” It was a murmur now, a cold sound brushing against my ear, hardly audible in all the darkness “Who are you?"
I tried to close my eyes but they were already closed, tight until they felt like they might explode.
I opened them instead.
The road reappeared in front of me, a long stretch of gravel with sidewalk on either side. Rusty tugged at the leash, no longer curious as to why we’d stopped. A car whizzed by.
“I am me.” I whispered. “I am myself, here now.” And I took another step.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reading List

I've decided to make a point of reading through all the books on my shelf that I for one reason or another haven't got around to yet. The books at the moment are:

Avalon --by Anya Seton

Silverlock --by John Myers Myers

Perchance to Dream --by Lisa Mantchev

The Wind's Twelve Quarters --by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Golden Apple of the Sun --by Ray Bradbury

The Lady in the Loch --by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Tam Lin --by Pamela Dean

Artemisia --Alexandra Lapierre

I am also taking a vow to get my hands on Delia Sherman's The Porcelain.

So here's hoping I have time to get through them all. Wish me luck. There maybe book reviews some time in the near future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Influence of the Theater: Symbolism and Blocking.

I am not exactly a theater buff but I sometimes take technical theater classes just for fun, and like to see plays when I get the chance. This last weekend I went to see King John with my sister(who is sometimes in plays herself and therefore an expert -- according to her at least) and as we drove home, discussing King John's crown and why she thought the two minor lords shouldn't have been the ones to hand him this all encompassing symbol of power because they did not themselves possess said power, something struck me.

My exposure to the theater has influenced a lot of the way I write.

It shouldn't really be that surprising. Everything in your life influences your writing in some way or another but there are two things that the people who seem to enjoy my writing will say about it. One is the subtle symbolism (sometimes unconscionably, but after I discover it I know that that was why I felt it needed to be there)in the characters surrounding and props and the other is the detail of my blocking. (aka beats, which I've always thought of as blocking long before I knew what beats were)I think both of these things are due to my dabbling with the theater.

A play is different than a movie in that the set is usually much more minimal and they can't do close ups to draw attention to a character's facial expression or a prop that will be important later. Everything is in the actors' movements. In what props the set designer chooses to use. And because there are so many actors and stagehands flying back and forth across the stage every time the curtain is down everything has to be there for a reason. It has to mean something or there is no point in tripping over it.

These are important things to keep in mind when you are writing a scene in a novel as well as a play. What are the characters' movements as they speak and what does it say about who they are and their part in the story? How does the set around them help express the mood (sometimes by contrast) or even insights to the character's true motives?

So now I have an excuse to go the theater more often.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Character

Lately I've been thinking a lot about Character. Not just 'characters' but Character in general. The character of a building or a lampshade or . . . more or less what makes something what it is and not something else.

Character changes. The house is painted, the lampshade is cracked. Now it has a new character. I don't think anything changes more than a human character.

I know it would be impossible to contain all the complexities that are a human being in a two dimensional fictional character (yes, two dimensional, no matter how complex and intricate we create them a fictional world or character will always be two dimensional in comparison to real life)but there is something to be said in remembering that a character can change --without changing who they actually are.

It is easy to draw out a character sketch.

Name: Charlotte
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Brown
Gender: female
Profession: Scuba diver
Height: 5'2''
Hobbies: Stamp collecting and stalking the neighbor
Residence: Hawaii

These are the things that make Charlotte Charlotte. Ok. But say she dies her hair? She quits her job, sells her stamp collection and moves to some small town in Oklahoma where she can no longer stalk before mentioned neighbor. She now wears contacts and works in a super market. Is she still Charlotte? of course she is. These things only define her life not who she is. What, then, makes her who she is?

The nervous twitching of her fingers when she is talking to someone who annoys her?

Say she goes to finishing school and talks to people who annoy her all day long until she learns to keep her fingers still. Is she still Charlotte? Of course.

Does her adventurous nature and business attitude make her her? Say she is one day cowed into staying home (or moving to a small town in Oklahoma and working in the non adventurous, job of a super market cashier) and lets everything around her grow slightly wild? Is she still Charlotte?

Even though I've made Charlotte up in the last five minutes and never plan to use her in anything ever I am already starting to get a feel for who she is. Everything I've just described seems quite in harmony with her 'character' and yet none of it has quite defined her. Everything I've described is subject to change and yet her ultimate character is not. What then, makes her her?

Anyways, that's soemthing I've been musing a bit about. Any thoughts? What makes a character their character but still allows them to change everything about themselves?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Literary Idol Replay: Write a “Book a Minute”

Last month I announced my intentions to begin a Literary Idol contest. It turned out no one had time to compete but maybe you will all have more time on your hands this month. I’ll go easy on you this month but don’t get used to it.
When I was taking a Shakespeare (are you scared yet?) class at our local community college my sister and I were trying to decipher some sort of meaning out of the play Henry IV and came across this site. Inspired by their brilliance here is the “Book a Minute” we compiled for Henry IV to help us better understand all the complexities that are Shakespeare.

Falstaff: I like to drink!

Hotspur: I like to fight!

Prince Hal: I like to drink AND fight!

(There is a battle in which Hotspur dies, Prince Hal does some heroic stuff and Falstaff takes credit for other people’s heroic stuff)

So this month’s assignment? Write a “Book a Minute”. Condense the essence of any novel, play or epic poem into something that can be read in a minute or less. E-mail your entries to:

I will post the entries to be voted on Monday, June 14 so make sure you have them sent in by then.

Edit: A condensed version of your own work is also acceptable