Anticipation

The day before NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. I signed up to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ambitious, exciting, foolhardy. I remember feeling this last year. At odds about what I was planning to do. Too early to begin, yet not enough time to finish anything else up.

One manuscript is off in two directions. With a Beta reader, and being considered by a publishing house. Tonight I heard from the Beta. She loved it. I hope the publishing house falls in love with it as well. But they will hold it for 90 days. In the meantime, I will go bat-shit crazy waiting for a response.

Another manuscript is screaming at me for a rewrite of the first 30,000 words. My mind, in its continual state of OCD grinds over and over the endless possibilities of new beginnings. But, 30,000 words cannot be written in a night, and this challenge must wait until December.

The third lies dormant on my computer, leaving my main character alone in the outback of Australia for yet another thirty days. I hope his supply of food lasts. I hope the dingoes don’t eat the cows he’s been sent there to care for.

But tonight, I feel restless, anxious and adrift. I’m concerned that tomorrow my allotted 1,500 words for the day won’t come. What if I spend the entire month rewriting the first 75 words? Worse yet, what if my new manuscript consists only of one word, typed over 50,000 times. ‘HELP!’ Yes, that could be the title too!

But then, Halloween is meant to be scary. It’s a good night for it.

 

 

 

Dreams on a Thursday Morning

bed

 

I’ve been having the most incredible dreams lately. This one is from this morning.

The alarm this morning woke me, and I stopped the scream that was mounting in my throat. I was home in my own bed. I hugged the pillow, encased in its soft, worn cotton, and relished it’s familiarity. Only seconds before I’d been in India.

Becky was driving. The car was small, barely enough room for Becky and me and our luggage, although we had packed light. Very light. I don’t know how a change of clothes fit into those small bags, and soon they were lost anyway. The back seat barely existed, and our seats pressed us against the windshield. The standard transmission whined as we drove uphill. The car was brown and cream, the license plate rusty and impossible to read.

I was riding shotgun, armed only by a map. This may sound well and good, but I was handicapped by the difficulty of not being able to read it. To complicate matters, I couldn’t read the road signs either, making the level of help I was able to offer rather dubious. They were written in Hindi Devanagari script.

I circled our destination on the map to aid myself, but as we darted through the streets barely avoiding cars, pedestrians, dogs and cows, I could find no signs that matched the foreign squiggles I was looking for. Becky kept making turns onto other thoroughfares to get out of the thick of traffic, which only served to widen the maze.

The highway took us into mountains. Big, tall mountains. I was sure this little car would never make it over the pass. For some reason, I thought it was Mount Kilimanjaro. Wrong by about 3,000 miles. They must have been the Himalayas. Perhaps my mind confused Himalaya with Hemingway and inserted Kilimanjaro? The road was steep here, and we saw no other cars. Small, yellow flowers grew by the side of the road in the loose gravel and I wanted to stop and pick them in the crisp, cool air.

We passed small huts where women were hanging out their laundry. Beautiful, embroidered robes in bright colors. We stopped, and I bought a silk scarf from an old woman. She was missing several teeth, and she explained that she had lost a tooth for each of her children, and she had had several. Many children, all of them gone. The scarf was lavender, smooth and exquisite. I wrapped it around my head and the silk caressed my face. The old lady showed me the correct way to wear it, and she kept calling me ‘daughter.’ As I kissed her time-worn face, she cried. I held her as I told her goodbye. The scarf felt comforting and I told Becky I might never want to take it off.

Instead of getting back in the car, we mounted a long flight of stairs, arriving at a large Railway Station. A maze of tracks and platforms stretched for miles. Above us were wires that crisscrossed, supporting a series of signs that I couldn’t read. I had left the map in the car, and I couldn’t remember the name of the town where we were headed, I couldn’t remember the design of the script it had been written in. The sun was going down, and the meager light bulbs that hung naked from the wires only provided enough light to feel our way along the platform where I saw a sign I recognized. A phone booth!

Becky asked me to call for directions. It took awhile before I could get an operator that spoke English. The conversation went like this:

Me: “I’m lost and I need help.”

Operator: “Where are you?”

Me: “I don’t know. I’m lost.”

Op: “Where are you going?”

Me: “I don’t know. I can’t remember the name of the city.”

Op: “Can you spell it?”

Me: “I don’t know your letters.”

Op: “Where are you?”

Me: “I don’t know. I’m lost, but I’m at a train station.”

Op: “Which one?”

Me: “I don’t know. I can’t read the sign.”

And so on. For a long period of time. The phone began having serious problems. The operator faded away, and the phone dissolved in my hands.

Becky grabbed me by the shoulders, and pressed down. “You are not lost. You are here. Feel the ground under your feet? You are here. We just don’t know where ‘here’ is right now.”

We continued down the wooden platform until a stewardess pointed us into a train. Narrow beds were made up on each side of a narrow, dusty hallway. The dark oak paneling accented the starched white cotton sheets on the cots. I wanted so much to sleep. I could smell curry that was being prepared, and I hoped dinner would be served soon. The train began to pull out of the station as I stretched out on the cot and I felt myself drift off into sleep.

The alarm went off and I was home. Smooth, lime green soft cotton sheets that I had chosen. I hugged my pillow and celebrated its normalcy.

Spider Dance

Huntsman spider

There are few things that embarrass me as much as doing the spider dance in public. Especially since I can’t keep quiet while performing it.

Becky and I were out working on the woodpile. We were moving the wood from the ugly pile that has transformed our backyard from a beautiful peaceful oasis into a haystack of chopped wood piled higgledy-piggledy with blackberry vines threatening to over-rule everything. For the last two years, I have groaned whenever I have looked out the utility room window. Ugh! Someday those would be gone. Someday was last Saturday, and I am proud to announce that the pile is gone! It is now neatly stacked on racks. I still have piles of kindling to stack neatly on pallets, but that is still a work in progress.

The problem came when we lifted the last pieces of wood under the lilac tree I had forgotten we had. I suppose the spider had picked up and moved hundreds of times as we picked piece after piece off the pile. Each time, he moved on to the next log, the next row, the next stack. Thinking he had plenty of time to hang the pictures, move the sofa, straighten the tablecloth. But no. We kept him moving all day long. Finally, at dusk, he was unearthed with nowhere to go.

A huge spider. I suspect he was harmless, but one never knows. When you can’t ask a critter to roll over and show his belly, or stand still so you can take a picture and wait there while I email the picture to a nearby university extension where they can tell me whether to kill the spider or let it live. In that moment, as I looked into his many eyes, I covered him gently with the nearby tarp and whispered that if he knew what was good for him, he would be gone when I came back.

I thought that was it. But no. When I stepped into the alley, when I was in full view of the entire neighborhood, I suddenly felt like I had a million huge spiders crawling all over me. The inevitable creepiness took over my body, and alas. The dance and the screaming took place.

No one cheered. No one laughed. I suspect everyone knew exactly what had happened. It’s a spider dance and everyone knows the steps.

Is It Spring Yet?

spring yard

Ahhhh. The sun is out. I want to put shorts on and go lie in the grass. Take out a good book, or my e-reader and spend the day reading in the sun. I have my hat somewhere that I use to shade my eyes from the delightful rays of the sun. Then the sun screen–I need to check the expiration date. But oh. The grass is still soggy. The wonky patio is filled with puddles. The downspouts are still dripping…ugh! I am told I still have ten days to wait.

Then it’s off to my manuscript. It’s spring there.

Pepe and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 13: What’s Squirrels Got to do With It?

Pepe romantic

A diamond mine, worked by squirrels, moles and possums. A regional gang of squirrels, controlling an entire square mile area. A band of moles that kept the lines open between the diamond mine and an underground labyrinth system. A book, which described in detail the landing pad for alien squirrels, ETA April 11, 2015. The Lost Sox Laundry, taking possessions of tons of diamonds. Above all this information, one question raged in my mind.

What’s squirrels got to do with it?

New phone books had been delivered to the house, and George was pleased to be the first to find the new reading material. He had already begun to devour it. Luckily, he had stopped two pages shy of the listing I sought. There I found the address of Lost Sox. George agreed with me that should be my next step.

A short way down the block, I saw a delivery van parked at a neighbors house. I checked his delivery schedule hanging on a clipboard between the front seats and was pleased to see his next stop was only a mile away from the address burning a hole in my mind. It shouldn’t take me more than ten minutes to make that run. I jumped effortlessly into the back and curled up on a pile of boxes. I would catch a nap during the ride.

The bright sunlight woke me as the deliveryman raised the back door of the van. I screamed and ran out between his legs as he stupidly clutched his chest in surprise. I saw him sink to his knees as I rounded the corner. If I had been a lion, he would have been my lunch. How quickly men forget the rules of the jungle. A cat, on the other hand …

I found the address without any problem. I could see the steam rising from their ventilators from several blocks away. Someone had left the back door ajar, and I crept through silently and blended into a dark corner while my eyes adjusted to the dim light.

Stay tuned for further adventures with Pepe in Episode 14: The Laundry’s Filthy Plan Stinks

Pepe and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 12: Creepster Surfs the Internet

Pepe romantic

When the sun rose, I descended from my hiding place. My ears were in surveillance mode as I kept my belly low in the underbrush. I passed no one in a wood filled with Oregon grape, vining maple and stinging nettles. I made my way to the south in case they sent trackers after me. Coyotes can be bought at any price. I dog-paddled through The Distasteful Swamp. My pelt stank so bad I couldn’t bring myself to bathe. The result was that I was no longer a beautiful black and white Tuxedo cat, smelling of catnip. I now was a grey feral that no one had ever seen before. I passed the sentries, and they taunted me with shouts of ‘Your kind ain’t welcome here!’ I disappeared into the undergrowth again, circling around until I was standing in front of the Concrete Palace. I scratched at the door, and I could hear George bark from within.

The slightest noise from behind me sent shivers of anticipation through my already tense body. Someone, or something was approaching at a fast rate. I hadn’t turned all the way around before it had its claws in me, and I took the full force of the hit to my right side. We were tumbling across the grass, teeth and claws of this thing penetrating through my filthy hide. In the confusion I could hear George laugh.

“Enough, Creepster. Your brother is in disguise! Let him up. We need the information he brings before you kill him, not after.”

I was still growling when he pulled her off of me. She sat crouched, her emotional state betrayed by the lashing of her tail.

We were so intent on glaring at each other, that we didn’t see what George had planned for us. The water from the hose hit us full force, and we ended up in a soggy heap. He explained he was trying to clean me up, but Creepster and I both knew it was to cool our tempers. We both sat before the woodstove in the concrete palace to dry off as I told them of the extensive underground diamond mine, and the Squirrels deliveries to The Lost Sox Laundry.

Creepster was staring thoughtfully into the fire. She does her best thinking this way.

George nudged her with his muzzle. “Go, find what you can about the Lost Sox Laundry.” He gazed at the house nearby. “Find some excuse to get on line. Find everythig you can!”

Creepster fluffed out to twice her size and smirked at me. I had been out schmoozing with the enemy, hiding in trees, slipping through underground passageways and swimming the swamps, and she was handed an indoor job. On a silver platter with a serving of salmon and cream on top.

We said our goodbyes and I watched as she slipped through the screen door. I hadn’t slept for days, so George left me curled up by the fire. I slept like the dead until voices woke me eight hours later.

Creepster was a seasoned surfer of the Internet. No secrets could escape her eager eyes and paws. It was all discoverable, she said. You only need to know where to look. She had covered her tracks by ordering a new song on iTunes. I could hear the tune as she hummed it softly.

The Lost Sox Laundry did not launder sox as the name implied. They laundered money. That being the case, why were they now laundering diamonds?

Stay tuned for Episode 13: What’s Squirrels Got to do With It?

Pepe of Noswad and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 11: Mind Our Diamond Mine

Pepe romantic

The diamond-studded walls of the cave nearly blinded me. Bud nonchalantly rolled a smoke and lit it. Catnip. My blood danced with excitement. My paws moved with a mind of their own, and I snatched the nip-reefer from him and took a long drag. I held it for a long time. As I exhaled, I handed it back to the startled squirrel.

“All these diamonds! What are they for?”

He took another drag and settled himself. I think he truly thought I was going for his throat, not his toke. Perhaps he wasn’t as stupid as he looked.

“Some are shipped off to be used in the machinery and rockets for the landing party. Some will be sold for needed funds. The smallest will be crushed and used in the pavement of the landing pad itself. The reflected light from the diamonds embedded in the asphalt will help illuminate the spot for landing.”

I watched as thousands of squirrels chipped away at the massive wall. Some of the diamonds were so big that three or four squirrels couldn’t carry them. For this task, they hauled out heavily yoked possums. These poor beasts were made to pull the stones, some of them over a foot in width to a loading dock. The squirrels were tough taskmasters, and wielded their sticks when necessary to hurry the possums along. One possum fell during the loading process. Even though the squirrels prodded, poked and beat him with their sticks, I doubted he would ever rise again.

We walked past the loading dock, and along the route up and out of the cave. The filled wagon, pulled by a six-mole team, came along behind us, and we hugged the walls of the tunnel to allow its passage. When we reached the gate, the wagon was empty, and returned back down into the darkness. This continued, Bud explained, day and night. I saw a black SUV disappear down the gravel road through the woods. White letters identified it as ‘The Lost Sox Laundry.’

When I turned, Bud was gone. I caught the whiff of his joint, but he had disappeared back into the dark tunnel that was camouflaged in the tall grass.

I too disappeared, climbing high into a hemlock tree and kept watch all night. The wagon brought up loads 24 times. The SUV arrived, loaded and left 24 times.

Somehow I had a hard time believing that alien squirrels ran a laundry, or that they would ever find my lost socks.

Stay tuned for Episode 12: Creepster Surfs the Internet.

Creative Obsession

Studio

I have been asked how the creative process works with me. Where my ideas come from, when and where do I write, and the most basic question of all: why?

You can ask Becky. When I’m not working on a project, when my mind is not engaged in a story, I am impossible to live with. Yes, the nice little lady you know as Fai becomes a bundle of nerves seeking out problems to solve. Becky would much rather see me working out imaginary problems for imaginary people rather than inspecting our walls for cracks, timing the draining cycle of our washing machine, and counting our forks yet again.

But my mind is like that. It seeks things to solve and it ponders what could go wrong. I’m learning to train these obsessive thoughts (since I can’t seem to stop them) into turbines of creativity. I find when I’m working, I don’t obsess. My mind automatically works through my fictional characters’ drama step by step. It’s when I reach the end of the creative process and enter the editing and marketing phase that I drop off into the abyss. But that’s a challenge most creative people struggle with.

My ideas come to me when I’m busy doing something else. While I’m washing dishes, I watch Pepe outside stalking a squirrel. Absurd conversations and schemes of squirrel chaos pop into my head and soon I’m drying my hands and grabbing pen and paper to record their dangerous secret plans. Pepe of Noswad and his mission becomes real. Forget Me Not came to me as I was driving home after taking Becky to the airport. The point of inspiration: passing a hitchhiker. Beyond the Black Stump was inspired by cattle stations in the Outback, Australia. Please Understand grew out of a dream I had after I fell asleep listening to a song I liked in the 70’s.

I fall in love with the characters. I write their hopes, dreams, fears, lives onto the page. Words that are strong, words that are weak, words that describe the people and places that populate my mind are woven together. It’s a scary place, my mind. It makes me vulnerable to open it up to you. It’s a very humbling experience.

I’ve carved out a small space in a room that had once been a small attic storage room. I can stand in the center of the room. My table loaded down with computer and printer is under the sloping ceiling. The rain comforts me as it falls, as often happens in Washington State. The guest bed is in there, and sometimes Pepe curls up on the quilt to encourage me. Moxie guards me in the hallway outside the door. She reminds me when I need to eat or go for a walk to clear the emotion out of my heart. It’s good in my studio.

Oh. And the why question. The only answer I have is very simple. I simply must.

On the Subject of Snowmen

Will and snow coyote

I was looking through my old papers, and found an essay I wrote for a class I took many years ago. It was dated January 11, 1987! Since we’ve been snowed upon, I thought it was timely to post it here. This is a picture of my son (around 3 years old), and our snow coyote sculpture.

I believe that the world has gotten into a terrible rut in the building of snowmen. I mean, how many snowmen have you seen in your life? Oh sure, a few brave souls have built a few truly gorgeous snow-women, but is that really breaking away from tradition into new territory? I think not.

One cold, snowy day, I decided to take a survey of this very important issue. I walked around the neighborhood noticing the subject matter of the local snow artists. Out of the 25 yards I passed, there were 11 snow sculptures. Ten of these were snowmen, and one of them definitely a snow-woman. I decided to go home and do something to correct this deficiency in diversity.

My neighbors were shocked and amazed as my snow coyote took shape. Complete down to the button on the end of his nose. In the next good snow, we made a snow rabbit. The next year, a snow lizard.

The technique used in these sculptures are no different that those used in the common variety of snowmen, although special care must be taken in the formation of the muzzle. Ears, also, can be a problem in some species of snow creature sculpture.

Now that the snow season is upon us, I believe it is time for us to break away from the ordinary, and into higher realms of creation. Evolution, so to speak, into a higher art form. It is time to put those mittens on and be inventive!

Authors note: Although I have since retired from snow driven art, I still adhere to the premise of this piece. 

Pepe of Noswad and the Squirrels of Chaos, Episode 10: Pepe Descends into the Lowest Pit of Chaos

 

Pepe romantic

So. I was entrusted to ‘Bud,’ The Commander’s Second in Command. I was to be briefed on any and all information that I would request. The evening was getting interesting. All I had to do was keep my eyes and ears open, and appear to buy into their plan. The information would be safe with me…until I got it to George.

The path was descending sharply now, I had to use my claws to keep myself from slipping down the rocky slope. Even in the low light, I could see workers busy in the shadows. Desks were lined along the edges of the tunnel, papers were piled high, huge maps were nailed into the very rock that formed the walls. Maps that corresponded to the one we’d found in the book. I motioned for Bud to show them to me.

He sighed, anxious to hand me over to someone else, I assumed. He shuffled to the wall, and turned on the overhead light. “We are here,” he pointed with a stick. “These things are over there,” he pointed again to the other side of the map.

“What are those things?” I asked patiently, not wanting to push him beyond what his simple thoughts would allow.

He got up close to the map, and brought out a pair of reading glasses from his satchel. He fastened these around his ears and peered at the map again, reading carefully. At first, I thought he was truly dim-witted, then I saw it was a clever act. He was hoping to be rid of me and get on with whatever his original plan for the evening was. But I had information to gather, and he didn’t know how close he was coming to becoming a meal. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and hauled him close to my face. I couldn’t help that I was drooling by the mere thought of the tasty meal he would provide. He assumed I was rabid.

“Don’t be foolish,” I hissed. “The commander wants me to know all there is to know. Don’t go acting like you know nothing, or we’ll go back and have a talk with him about your lack of enthusiasm!”

This caused a surprising response from Bud. His knees began shaking so hard that he had to sit down to recover. “I know you come with recommendations, but I don’t trust you,” he whispered, wringing his hands.

“We can go back…” I began.

“No! I hate to think what he’d do with me. Hail Father of Chaos!” He shouted this loud enough for the other squirrels in the tunnel to hear him, and shout, “Hail our Father,” in response. Soon not only was the map explained to me in detail, but I had a copy of it as well. We left the wall, and descended further into the darkness.

My eyes are good. Cat eyes are incredible with the amount of light they can wring out of the darkness. I saw things Bud couldn’t see, and I saw things I didn’t want to see. Stairways leading to other tunnels, signs scratched into the rock depicting executions, calendars with expected goals written onto them. I demanded copies of those. The landing of the alien squirrels was scheduled for April 11, 2015, still quite a ways into the future, but there was no time to waste. We descended further.

We went down a long stairway that had been carved from stone. This passageway was long; I could hear noises ahead of us, and they echoed along the corridor. As we turned a sharp corner, the light blinded me, and I had to grab Bud to keep myself from falling. We had entered a huge open room, filled with lights that were wired into a ceiling 50 feet above our heads. Fifty feet below us was the floor of the chamber. At least 500 feet across, the walls shone with a brilliance I had never seen before. Reflecting the light from above and below was a wall covered with crystalized formations. Diamonds the size of footballs.