Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘write’

Whatever Your Taste

51-SfLy8Z8LThe Blue Serpent & other tales by Claire Buss.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This imaginative, diverse collection of short stories is an excellent example of how to write shorts. Every story in The Blue Serpent & other tales has a beginning, middle, and end. Each tale stands on its own, and provides distinct perspectives and voices. Ms. Buss uses themes about data, technology, and society, to not only wake readers’ up, but to entertain.

One of my favorite selections is The River Flows In You. Here is an excerpt (about loss and grief). “It helps to push my hands into the earth, feel it crumble beneath my fingertips as I try to find meaning in my devastation. I stand still in a swirling, whirling vortex of people rushing, rushing, rushing, trying to run away from their hurt and their pain.

I have a feeling that Ms. Buss has scribed many of her writings while enjoying a drink at her favorite coffee shop, as there are three stories in the compilation that take place in such an environment. Other tales include nationally required brain scans for one and all, a pretend circus, and a man who is Ava’s fairy godmother (The Party’s Over).

No matter what your taste, you’ll find something in The Blue Serpent & other tales that will wet your whistle, tickle your fancy, or provide other pleasurable metaphors and cliches. One word of warning. The next time you go to a coffee shop to write, or just have a sip, make sure to heed any messages telling you to move (The Wrong Note).

 

Once You Wake Up

51NTSaSA13LWhile You Were Watching the Waltons: A collection of essays and short stories by Gormla Hughes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A short book, with short writings, and short powerful sentences. A brilliant writer. When scribes, and writing teachers, say, “make very word count”, they must have read the words of Gormla Hughes. While You Were Watching the Waltons combines fiction and non-fiction as few do, and uses every space to its full potential.

Here is a brief glimpse from the essay, Pink Ink and Cyberspace, which looks at the influence of media, role expectations, and maintaining the status quo. “Having stigma attached to you folds you up in eights as citizens. An invisible tagging system. One designed to keep you in line. In line long enough for the Power Holders to acquire more bricks for their empire. But, once you wake up. Once you wake up the anger is transformative.”

The story The Rocking Chair kept me on the edge of mine. There is tension, pain, an encroaching past, and constant threat of violence. “Sitting in the rocking chair, I pour the wine. I take three gulps. I need to numb the desire to kill. Me or Her. I lean back and rock. I like the motion. It makes me feel nurtured. What I think nurtured feels like. I can only speculate.” This tale is a perfect example of the author’s use of rhythm and precision. What could be simpler, or more menacing than, “I need to numb the desire to kill.”

Other stories include The Insemination, about Elsa’s hopes of getting pregnant; Elizabeth’s reaction to her mother’s death, with painful memories of abuse, and not believing, in The Funeral; and the final essay, My Disappearance, which describes the process of loss, discrimination, and finding one’s self beyond expectation. “But I have lost everything that kept me a visible part of humanity, and with it found a freedom. I know how polite works as a tool of subservience.”

While We Were Watching the Waltons is an affront – an affront to “normalcy”. It not only helps us see the world from other perspectives, but also challenges its readers’ to question authority, support those who do, and look inside and out, to see what lies and stories we believe and tell ourselves daily. Creating characters (real and imagined), and using words that have meaning and depth, is no easy task. Not many do it justice. Ms. Hughes is an exception to that reality. She does it very well.

 

 

Pleasure or Pain?

LastConception-CoverDoes writing give you pleasure, or is it a pain? Are you struggling through every line, wishing it would end, or enjoying the process word by word? Do you write out of necessity, or as a hobby, or pleasant pastime? Writers’ have argued through the centuries about whether writing should be, or is, a process of hard labor, or whether it is a joyous exercise in reflecting oneself and the world in which we live.

Some writers’ say they cannot live without writing something every day. Others tells us they write in spurts, when moved to do so, or have long periods of inactivity and/or creative ideas. And a few cannot stop writing once they get started and write manically, without pause or respite.

I’ve been told that writing involves a high degree of masochistic tendencies if you are not writing solely for pleasure, but to have what you’ve written read and accepted by others. There is a lot of truth in this, as so few writers ever receive any recognition, let alone financial rewards, for there many hours of plotting, research, editing, characterization, and marketing.

From my experience, writing can be both pleasurable and painful, whether it is for personal or public consumption. Scribbling, or typing, refried storylines again and again, is easy, but artistically boring. Writing something that has never been put together in quite the same way, can take hours of painstaking thought, and pleasurable results. Then again, the results may be painful to see, and not as joyous as the process.

So, this may sound weird, but unless it is a wee bit difficult, or challenging, I do not enjoy writing. That doesn’t mean I prefer an extremely intimidating project, but one that calls me out to do my best, improve my skills, and look at an issue, or story, with fresh eyes. Writing something I’ve written a thousand times before, though perhaps monetarily rewarding, is more painful than a new challenge.

What’s your hit? What’s it like for you? Do you cringe at the thought of a deadline, having to think of an idea, or putting an idea on paper? Or, do you get excited each time the words in your head come out on the screen as you envisioned? Pleasure and pain are somewhat subjective, but are also very real. I guess the real question is whether pleasure or pain is the driving force behind your writing, or any aspect of why you write at all.

Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba, The Last Conception, and Loving Annalise, are some of Gabriel’s most recent works of fiction. They were pleasurably painful to write.

Fictional Realities

41jh2yi72qlThere is a friend of mine, who worked with me as a nurse at hospice a few years back. One day, after work, I met her husband. When I asked her the next day how they’d met, she told me she’d been married to his brother. Well, I thought, that’s interesting. Tell me more. What arose from her telling was a story that sounded like a movie. She isn’t the kind of person who jokes around, so I knew she was telling the truth, though it could have been the best of fiction. That’s when I decided to make it just that – a fictional story based on real life. Loving Annalise was the result.

After years of poverty, heartbreak, loss and betrayal, Tomas enters Annalise’s world and shatters the iron casing she’s erected around her heart. Tomas is kind, intelligent, romantic and handsome, but he’s also her husband’s brother! Once Tomas and Annalise meet, they are forever intertwined and repeatedly ripped apart by fate, self-doubt and blackmail. Her husband, Jens, is a brilliant, jealous and manipulative scoundrel who keeps her psychologically under lock and key, until her passion for Tomas sets her free.

Writing Loving Annalise is the second time I’ve written a novel based on historical realities. Buddha’s Wife was the first. Though most of the people in the story existed, and some of the places, times, and words are reported to have been accurate, the majority of the conversations, interactions, and story-line were imagined. Like Loving Annalise, Buddha’s Wife is based on history, and people that were living breathing beings.

Loving Annalise, and Buddha’s Wife, are the only time I have written stories in this fashion. Normally (whatever that is), I either write straight fiction, or non-fiction, about a specific person, place, or issue, and do not attempt to combine these disparate genres. That doesn’t mean that parts of my life, and personal experiences, do not influence or become part of my writing, but not intentionally (that I am aware of).

Taking Liberty With the Truth

586613838e010d433bacb209ce65ea56c69e859e-thumbFor my satirical book of koans, stories, and words of wisdom (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), I used the same format that was used in the 1961 classic book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Zen Flesh presented the sayings, teachings, and koans of real Japanese teachers, whereas Zen Master Tova takes liberty with a fictional character and the truth, to put it mildly.

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Nan-in a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty our cup?”

From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba

“Do cats and dogs have Buddha-nature” Sister Sexton asked Master Toshiba.

“Yes.”

“Can cats and dogs attain enlightenment?”

“Yes.”

“Can all animals reach Samadhi?”

“Yes.”

“Do insects and bugs have Buddha-nature?” Sister Sexton persisted.

“Yes, they do,” The Master, patiently replied.

“Is it possible for vegetables, fruit, and flowers to see their true selves?”

“Yes, they can.”

“What about dirt, grass, trees, rocks, and water?”

“All life can become conscious of its true nature, even if it does not have a consciousness, as we know it.”

“Then surely, all women and men can awake to their Buddha-nature and find peace?”

“Yes, all women can express their Buddha-nature and attain enlightenment.” Master Tarantino paused, “As far as ‘all men’. I’ll have to think about that.”

Perhaps this use of fact and fiction are more intertwined than we like to believe, and history is permeated with realities which have been diluted, reinterpreted, and/or intentionally changed, in order to favor, or present events, or beliefs, in the manner and fashion that the writer in the moment chooses, or “believes” to be true. Read Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba and do your own sniff test to see if any of it rings true, or it is a total farce.

Connect the Stories


Some writing “experts” once told me that the best way to write a novel is to first write short stories. They said, “If you can write a good short story, with a beginning, middle, and end, then a novel will easily follow. All you have to do is use the same characters in one short story after another and string them together.” Turns out that they were right, in most respects, but not always.

From my experience, it is extremely difficult to write a good short story, and more difficult to string a number of them together for a book. I’ve had some success with shorts, with some of mine appearing in Go World Travel, Listen, Los Angeles Journal, Japan Airlines/Wingspan, Omega, Enigma, and the Roswell Literary Review. As you can see from the following description of my collection of short stories, Saint Catherine’s Baby, which was released 7 years ago, I hadn’t yet figured out how to keep the same characters and storyline for a novel.

Saint-Catherines-BabyAn eclectic collection of short stories that include Ruthie and her obstinate elderly student from Germany (The English Lesson); Stephanie, who waits for the unorthodox return of her deceased father (Dressed In Black); Walter O’Brien, who discovers a young couple and their child in an abandoned monastery on the West Coast of Ireland (St. Catherine’s Baby); Shannon, on the run at a shoe store in Chicago (Sizing Up Shannon); Jacque, meeting Rosalita’s shocked parents in New Mexico (Framed); and Joshua Johnson, a school custodian whose mother may have interfered in his love life for the last time (The Sweetest Man).

It still rings true,  writing a good short story is a great beginning for a novelist, and also some of the most difficult writing to do. Character and scene development, crisis, insight, and/or conclusions, must all be created within a limited number of words. Some writers can also write great books, without ever having written a short, and vice-a-versa. To this rule, if you choose to call it that, does not apply to everyone.

Writing “Real” Sex

I enjoy writing about “real” sexual and sensual experiences, and including them in my fiction. Some of it is imagined, or fantasized, but most of my scenes are from personal experience. This isn’t true for all writers of erotica and romance. Many will include scenes and situations that are unbelievable or, literally, out of this world. This kind of sex writing is not better or worse than using, or exploring, “real” sexual situations, just different.

Setting, relationship, and feeling are vital ingredients in my erotic world. There’s nothing wrong with throwing in “pussy” “fuck” “lick” “suck” or similar words into a scene, but to do so without context tends to have them fall flat on their face, or someone else’s. Sometimes you just want to fuck, or read about a good fuck, without any emotion, romance, or preamble, but minus some setup or story, it ends up looking like a glut of sexualized words and actions randomly thrown onto the bed. The heat is missing.

Here is an example of intimate sensual sex from my erotic romance Loving Annalise.

41jh2yi72qlHis soft fingertips lightly scratched the skin as they moved towards the base of my spine, lighting a torch that licked my groin from the inside out, filling my body with the heat of the sun. As my legs wrapped him tightly into my cocoon, I heard a voice rise from my gut, screaming, “Tomas! Tomas!” My body shook and jerked on the wet sheet with gale-force winds, as my muscles contracted from my toes to the crown of my head. The candles danced, and my back arched towards an invisible force. I was conscious of nothing and everything; bathing in a river of sex, I swam in its smell, sight, sound, taste and touch.

I invite you to read Loving Annalise, if you enjoy realistic erotic fiction.

 

Icons of Wild America

Icons of Wild America

Gray wolves are icons of wild America, but the Obama administration’s Department of the Interior is on the verge of stripping most of them of their protections under the Endangered Species Act. This would be catastrophic.

Tell the Obama administration not to turn its back on wolves.

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Forty years ago, wolves were on the brink of being hunted to extinction. They were saved by the Endangered Species Act, which allowed them to begin to flourish again in the mountains and forests of the United States, in places like Yellowstone National Park and the northern woods of Michigan.

Wolves still have a long way to go, but they’re making a comeback. Now that comeback is in danger.

If the federal government goes ahead with its plans, wolf management will be turned over to the states. This has already happened in the Northern Rockies and it’s been a disaster – over 1,700 wolves have been ruthlessly hunted down and killed in just the last two years. If wolves are stripped of their protections, we could see this happen in parts of the United States where their comeback is still in its early, fragile stages.

The recovery of gray wolves is one of the great conservation victories of the last 50 years, but the job isn’t done. To abandon wolves now would be an enormous tragedy for wolves and for their forest habitats — and for us.

Don’t let the Obama administration abandon wolves — send a message today.

Thank you for everything you do for our wild America,

Michael Brune
Sierra Club Executive Director

ROP’s First Photo Exhibition

Rwandan Orphan’s Project First Photo Exhibition
Rwanda, October 14, 2013 by Jenny Clover
ROP Stories

As you may have read here our boys have been getting weekly lessons in photography from American teacher Amber for the last few months. We’ve all be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work the kids have been producing and are often amazed at the shots they take, which show the Rwandan Orphans Project through their eyes. Last week Amber organised an exhibition at a communal office space in Kigali – called The Office – to show off some of the photos the kids have produced.

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We picked 9 names out of a hat, they got dressed up in their best clothes, and we all excitedly set off in a bus from the ROP to town.

The kids’ photos were mounted around the large office space, everything from close-ups of their friends’ faces, to the acrobatics the boys are so good at, to documenting daily life at the ROP. One wall was dedicated to photos the boys had taken of their own bodies, which they’d colored in and written over. Some chose to write about themselves or their bodies, others about their hopes and aspirations. For us to see them writing about their dreams for the future when we’ve seen how hopeless some of them can be at their lowest point was really nice.

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The evening was packed from start to finish. Hundreds of people came to see the boys’ photos and ask them questions about their work and their lives. The kids told us that at first they were nervous and didn’t know what to say to all these adults. But gradually, and probably with the help of the multiple sugar-ey drinks people kept buying them, they opened up and were confident enough to go round pointing out their photos and explaining them.

When not busy playing on the table football and ping-pong table and slurping their drinks, the kids were happy mingling, meeting different people and showing off their photos. They told us afterwards that they held a meeting around the football table where they discussed how nervous they were. One of them pointed out that all these people were here for them, and to see their work, and they agreed that they shouldn’t be nervous and should instead enjoy it. It’s great to see our kids developing into mature, proud, open-minded little people before our eyes and it makes us very proud of them.

Read complete story, with additional photos at ROP Stories.
Donate to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project HERE.

Eggy – Son of Chicken

Eggy – Son of Chicken

Our cat friend of 18 years stopped breathing air and died today. We put him in the ground to say goodbye and help him nourish new life. Our daughter named him Eggy (because his mother’s name was Chicken). Eggy came into our lives when our son Shona was 2 years old and he was the last of our children still at home.

Eggy was born to be a lap cat and my daemon. He sat on my lap when I read and meditated and was constantly laying across my legs when I wrote and was at the computer. For those familiar with the The Golden Compass series, you will understand immediately what “daemon” means. For those who haven’t read the wonderful trilogy by Philip Pullman, here is one definition.

The words “daemon” and “daimon” are Latinized versions of Greek, in reference to the daemons of ancient Greek religion and mythology. “Daemons are benevolent or benigh nature spirits, beings of the same nature as both mortals and gods, similar to ghosts, chthonic heroes, spirit guies, forces of nature or the gods themselves.

We are grateful for the years Eggy was physically present and the ways in which he will always be with us.

Here are some photos of Eggy and me reading a book about chocolate and on Shona’s desk when Shona was about 4 years old and Eggy was 2.

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