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Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

December Spotlight On...

Elise Stephens, author of Moonlight and Oranges, answers questions about writing and her recently released novel, which has received comments on Amazon such as ... 


"Love, love, love this book!" 

"Moonlight & Oranges swept me away on a delectable journey of the senses and soul."

A graduate of the Creative Writing program at the University of Washington, Elise won the Eugene Van Buren Prize for Fiction from the University of Washington in 2007. The author of various short stories, essays, and articles, Elise also maintains a blog at: elisestephens.com

The Interview

Tell us about your Novel, a retelling of Psyche and Cupid, Moonlight and Oranges. What prompted it. You have great Q and A's on your blog.
Thank you!  I assume you’re referring to the five things I did that brought me to this successful place blog post Looking Back.  I think that in general, those five things are incredibly helpful to everyone.

I knew I wanted to write the story when I discovered that there was more to the fable than a marriage in which the bride never gets to see her husband and then she looks at his face and he leaves.  *Yawn* As soon as I realized that the story continued, that Psyche went off to find Cupid, that Aphrodite laid a series of deathtraps for her daughter-in-law, I was absolutely dying to retell it in novel form.

In Moonlight and Oranges I’ve intermixed a love-at-first-sight romance with a young bride’s challenge of trying to fix the mess she’s made of her love story, while at the same time facing threats from a mother-in-law who wants only one thing—her daughter-in-law’s destruction.
 
You became interested in mythology after reading a book of Greek myths at age 13, why do you think myths resonate with a modern audience?
I think that the reason we still have old myths with us today is because they resonate with generation after generation.  Otherwise, they would have just died out as a fad.  Myths are compelling to modern audiences because the heroes are still facing what we have to face today—broken marriages, illness, relational strife, family drama, identity, self-worth, inner demons, etc.  As soon as I strip away the special powers of Aphrodite as a goddess, I get a manipulative mother-in-law who wants to make hell for the new woman in the family.  That becomes very relatable, even if my readers relate to having to deal with a vicious aunt or a jealous ex-girlfriend.  

And for the record, my relationship with my mother in law is quite healthy.  We don’t get into screaming matches over the phone or threaten each other or anything like that.  She loves me very much.

What has it been like working with Booktrope on the launch of your first novel?       
So far, things have been great.  I began working with Booktrope without an agent.  I’d still love an agent, but for now, I’m doing it on my own.  I love the amount of teamwork in our arrangement.  For example, I had a lot of control over my book cover design—I keep getting excellent feedback on it—and I got to have someone who works with me directly on the book’s marketing so that I didn’t have to do it all by myself, which was an enormous relief.  There is always a tradeoff—going with big publishers versus little ones—but all the doors opened wide for me with Booktrope, and my heart has been warmed by the amazing people I work with.  I’m glad to be where I am.

What is your writing process like?
I believe in writing every day—six days a week with one day to rest.  I try to write first, before my brain fills too much with deadlines or emails or tasks to accomplish for the day.  I set the bar at 1000 words per day, and this is very achievable for me.  During November 2011 I participated in NaNoWriMo (learn more about writing 50,000 words in 30 days here: www.nanowrimo.org), which forced me to produce many more words per day (2,000 or 3,000), and that was only possible because I had plotted out my novel intensely before November 1st.

Plotting for me means pulling out a diagram of plot points, dividing my story into three acts, and figuring out what my pivotal moments are going to be.  I simultaneously sketch my main characters: protagonist, antagonist, helper, mentor, threshold guardian, temptress, etc.  As a side note, I almost always have a sultry dangerous female character in just about everything I write.  I love the concept of the Shapeshifter archetype from Chris Vogeler’s The Writer’s Journey and I use it all the time.

After I’ve plotted and character-sketched my story, I write it out, scene by scene, with pen and paper.  I have found my creativity is more constant and more enjoyable when I take myself away from a computer screen.  I especially like that paper can’t underline every mistyped word.

I also work very hard to make sure that my stories have some kind of message, such as “Trust is required for true love to endure” or “Live your life in the present.”  If I can keep reminding myself of what I want the story to say, I have a better chance of not running off on some rabbit trail.

And then… I write and write and write and try to not think too much while I’m in “the flow.”

What have you learned that you wish you'd known before you started your first novel?
I wish I’d known about how helpful it is to have a close group of writing friends read my manuscript.  Moonlight and Oranges went through so many revisions before my critique group saw it, and then when they began to pull it apart for the bizillionth time, I was half an inch away from despair, because I was exhausted with the writing of it.  I realized, as I worked through the manuscript with them, that I should have shown them earlier drafts that weren’t “perfect” so that I didn’t spend as much time slamming my head against a wall, trying to work out the kinks on my own.  

That said, there’s still the challenge to make my work as good as I possibly can before it meets the eyes of my critique group, because I know they’ll find holes that I never knew were there.  Bottom line—get your work read by fellow readers as soon as you can bear it.

What are you working on now?
Another novel!  I’m also praying that it’s not nearly as much of a beast to revise as Moonlight and Oranges.  It is an urban fantasy in which a fifteen-year-old boy discovers a magical door that will allow him to see the future.  He uses the door on the day he discovers that his alcoholic father has returned to town to see him.  I’m discovering a lot more about why to do certain things and why not to do certain things when writing this novel, but I’m feeling like I have more direction for revision than before, which is encouraging.

Final Words of Wisdom                                                                                           
Surround yourself with friends.  People who support your writing dreams and goals are your life blood.  Talk about yourself as a writer and take your writing projects seriously. Schedule writing dates at coffee shops with other writing friends and make writing a fun social event.  Write even on the days when you feel you have nothing to say.  Sometimes you have to get a bad story onto the page before you reach your next great one.

Word Count

Day 17 - November 17
50,176 Words

Goal Passed.
Writing with a goal of 50K in a month has been an interesting experience. I definitely put this particular project first. I would focus on it first thing in the morning and let other projects wait until I reached my daily goal.

I achieved my daily quota every day. That felt good. I didn't go back and rewrite or edit as I went, which I usually do, so that was a new experience for me. I need some time to digest the process and decide if it was better, worse, or just different than business as usual. I'm going to guess some aspects worked better and some aspects didn't. I know I blew off Yoga yesterday morning, and that wouldn't be good in the long run. I'm going back to class tomorrow morning.

I also have a rewrite for Prairie Nocturne to finish. Rehearsals start December 27, so I have time. But still... duty calls. 


For everyone out there NaNoWriMo-ing away. You can do it! That goal is reachable. Stick with it. We're all in this together.


It's been fun.

Spotlight on NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

Every year, writers around the world challenge themselves to write a novel in 30 days. Joining forces via the Internet, over 200,000 participated last year. More than 30,000 crossed the finish line, generating 50K words on a first draft.

Participants can join others in their region for group writing time, bitch sessions, or pep talks, whatever they need at the time. Writing is solitary. NaNoWriMo is community.

What do you end with? Fame? Glory? A book contract? No... not so much. But you do finish. And sometimes, isn't that all you need? To finish something you started? To reach a goal. To stretch yourself.
Thirty days will pass whether you take the challenge or not.

I decided to participate this year, not because I haven't written 50K (I have). Not because I will end with a polished product (I won't). But because I want to be a part of something that celebrates letting other things in life take a back seat. Putting writing first. Something many of us need to be reminded of from time to time. I love deadlines. I love word counts. I love benchmarks. NaNoWriMo offers all three.

Check in throughout the month for progress reports.




Spotlight On Peter Clines

When Peter Clines and I first met, we swung from pipes twenty plus feet over the stages at the San Diego Repertory Theater. Hanging by our knees, upside down, we hung, circuited, and focused lights for theatrical productions. Now - more than a few years later - Peter still works with story, but instead of watching it unfold on the stage, he puts it on the page.

Author of the genre-bending novels, Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, and The Eerie Adventures of The Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, all available through Permuted Press, Peter also writes articles and essays about screenwriting, Hollywood, and using modern technology ... like dictionaries. His blog, Writer on Writing, is chock full of useful info, funny observations, and tips for writers of all levels.

Peter's novels are available through clicking this link.

His short story, The Hatbox, can be read online at The Harrow

Not shy with words, I've split Peter's interview into two parts. First, Part 2. Scan down to the previous post for Part 1.

The Interview ... Continued

How did you develop your relationship with Permuted Press? 
Like everyone says to do, I started small.  Mundane again, sorry.  I saw a submissions call for an anthology they were putting out (History is Dead, edited by zombie master Kim Paffenroth) and submitted a short story.  I didn't get in, but I found their message boards, lurked for a while, and eventually started contributing to the different topics (some would say passionately contributing on some topics...).  When they announced their next anthology, Cthulhu Unbound, I was right there.  And this time I got a story-- "The Long, Deep Dream"--in the second volume.  Then I got a story into a later anthology, The World is Dead, also edited by Dr. Paffenroth. 

One of the advantages of a smaller press is they're a bit more approachable.  I'm not saying it's any easier to get in, because a small publisher is still a publisher and they've got standards and financial considerations just like the big guys.  But it's usually easier to bounce an idea off someone.  Permuted Press holds an online chat every Thursday night, and Jacob Kier, the publisher, drops in pretty regularly.  So I had a chance to talk with him a few times, and when I finally pitched the idea of Ex-Heroes to him it was something we'd loosely discussed before, the idea of superheroes fighting zombies.  He's since admitted that he didn't think it was an idea that could be pulled off, but if I was willing to write it he'd be willing to look at it.  At which point all the pressure was back on me and I had a very stressful summer of 2008 as I tried to write a book between dozens of magazine articles.  

One of the great things I got from journalism was the need to write.  You don't wait to feel inspired, you don't get to take time off, you have to write now and you have to have it done by then.  It wasn't my first attempt at a novel, by a long shot, but I knew I only had a limited window and I knew it had to be perfect!  And I still don't think it was perfect, but apparently it was good enough for Jacob to buy it and start talking to me about a sequel.  In early 2009 we were talking about Crusoe.  And we've talked about a few things since then. 

You publish in both paperback and ebooks, how has ebooks impacted publishing and writing? First, in all fairness, I have to point out that I'm not publishing anything.  I'm just writing.  The fact that my stuff is in paper/electronic/audiobook format is entirely the doing of Permuted Press.  There are a ton of authors out there who are great about getting their stuff into different formats--I'm not one of them.  I've just been very lucky to be associated with a big enough small press (so to speak) that all those things are done for me.

That being said... Okay, you've really asked two separate questions, and it's a topic I tend to pontificate on, so I'll try to give solid answers and be concise...  Wish me luck. 

As far as publishing goes, ebooks have had an undeniable impact, but I'm not so sure it's as great as some people think it is.  This technology has come along when the market's already in a huge state of flux because of the bad economy and the loss of one of the three major book retailers in the country (which I think is more from over-diversifying than anything else).  Plus there's print-on-demand which has changed things for individual authors and for a lot of smaller publishers.  So ebooks are changing things, absolutely, but to attribute everything that's happening in the industry right now to some sort of technological/ "indie writer" revolution seems a bit myopic to me.  

For example, someone showed me an article recently that said mass market paperbacks are on shaky ground right now and might not be around much longer.  And one of the factors of that was ebooks, yes, but they also cited the huge loss of shelf space with Borders gone and also the lack of sales in general because of the economy.  Folks haven't been grabbing a cheap paperback for the beach or their commute.  The same article also brought up, though, that people have predicted the end of the mass-market paperback for over thirty years now for a variety of reasons.  I'll point out people started predicting "print is dead" after the creation of radio and that the movie industry was dead after the creation of television.  The publishing industry is trying to find a new balance point and nobody knows what that point is going to end up being.  Nobody.  If anyone did know the future, they wouldn't be in publishing, they'd be buying lottery tickets between horse races.

From the writing viewpoint, I think this is a very freeing time, in some senses, and a time of fantastic opportunity, but it's also a very dangerous one.  Let me put it this way...  It's become very difficult in Hollywood right now to make a living as a screenwriter.  The market got flooded a few years back and it never really recovered from that sudden influx of new screenwriters who all thought they were going to move to Hollywood and make a quick million with a screenplay they polished off over a long weekend.  You still hear about so-and-so making a million-dollar deal, but you don't hear about the 95% of screenwriters who are making forty grand or less a year.  That's managing-a-Target money.  Probably less after reps take their cut. 

Now, a ton of people are going to read this interview and think "Wow, I'd love to make forty grand a year writing.  Heck, I'd do it for half that much!"  And that's the problem.  Hollywood's flooded with wanna-be writers who are lowballing each other for every job they can.  It's become a race to the bottom, and producers won't pay someone to write a draft when a thousand people are offering to do it for free.  All those writers think this will lead to getting paid for the next draft, but guess what?  There's a thousand people offering to do the next draft for free.  And the one after that, and the one after that.  

I've met people who have worked for years on stuff for no pay at all because they're convinced next time someone's going to offer them money.  But once you've established you'll work for free, why would anyone pay you?  Especially when there are a thousand other people willing to do it for nothing?  So working for free has become the norm and a whole class of employment has essentially vanished.  If you can't pay the bills... well, you can't write for a living.  And if you have to get another job to pay the bills, you're cutting into your writing time, so you've just drastically reduced the odds of writing for a living.

This is what I'm talking about when I say this is a dangerous time.  The publishing industry is in flux, there are thousands and thousands of people who see the web and ebook technology as their big chance to "get in," and they're already creating that race to the bottom mentality.  If writers aren't careful, we're going to destroy the career we all want so badly. 

I know this makes me sound kind of negative and I don't mean to.  I just see a lot of parallels right now between publishing and the gold rush in the late 1800s.  There were a lot of people who screamed "Gold!" and urged everyone to buy a pickax, run into the hills, and start hitting rocks.   That was all you needed to do, because there was so much gold!  So tens of thousands of people rushed to California thinking this was their big break, and the majority of them died penniless in the mountains.  Heck, whole towns died because they put all their eggs in the wrong basket.  There really was a lot of money to be made, but in the end the ones who came out ahead were the ones selling the pickaxes, not the would-be prospectors.  

That didn't sound much better, did it?  I'll stop talking. 

What are you working on now?
At the moment I'm putting the final polishes on a novel called -14-.  It's... well, it's a bunch of genres crossed together (there's that damned term again...).  It's the biggest thing I've ever done, and I had to cut almost a quarter of it just for publishing reasons.  Part of it is about community and the lack of community you often have in a city, especially in apartment buildings.  And a large part of it's a mystery, and the mystery is what helps a bunch of people in this particular apartment building to come together and form a community.  I'm trying not to talk about it too much because the downside of mysteries, especially today, is that too many people are spoiler-happy and determined to figure things out ahead of time.  Then they get fact X out of context and render a judgment.  Then that fact's weaker even in context because it was known ahead of time, so the mystery as a whole is weaker, and suddenly "really cool" has become "ahhhh, finally."  So I'm trying to keep this one as quiet as possible... 

Once that's done--probably by Halloween-- I'll be starting Ex-Communication, the third Ex-Heroes book.  So there's chocolate-marshmallow cereal in my future.  And Jacob Kier and I have talked about a few projects for Permuted after that, assuming the world goes on past 2012. 

Final Words of Wisdom:
The best thing any writer can learn to do is admit something they wrote isn't that good.  I've seen a lot of people fail because the stuff they sent out just wasn't ready to go.  It could've been fantastic but they didn't want to admit it wasn't ready or do that extra bit of work.  So they sent it out when it was just okay, and then they got angry that okay wasn't good enough.  The first thing I got in front of an agent really should not have gone out.  The first thing I ever sent to a publisher really should not have gone out.  They weren't ready.  I can see that now even if I couldn't then.  Stephen King didn't get a five million dollar advance for the first hundred-thousand words he wrote.  Barry Bonds didn't get fifty thousand the first time he swung a baseball bat.  Gordon Ramsay didn't get a hundred dollars a plate for the first meal he cooked. But the reason they eventually did is because they were willing to admit their early work wasn't good and they needed a lot more practice and experience.   

And sometimes something's never going to be good enough.  I know one guy who's been pushing the same manuscript for over a decade.  Hasn't written anything else because he's convinced this manuscript is going to sell.  So he's been pushing that one manuscript for longer than my entire career as a professional writer.  You've got to wonder what he could've done if he just put it away and moved on. 

So that.  And always brush your teeth after eating sugar cereal. 

That's all I've got for wisdom.

Spotlight on Peter Clines

The Interview ... Part One
Your work is described as crossing genres, how would you describe your work?
Adequate?  I think adequate's a good description...  Entertaining, hopefully. 

It's a tough question to answer.  The stuff I'm best known for, the Ex-Heroes
series, is zombie fiction crossed with superhero fiction, but I also wrote a book called The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, and that's a literary classic crossed with H.P. Lovecraft and a dash of werewolf.  Cross-genre is one of those terms that's absolutely correct in most cases but also doesn't really tell you anything.  I mean, a rom-com is cross-genre, but I don't write rom-coms.  Plus I think most really good writing tends to cross genres on one level or another.  Salem's Lot is the halfbreed child of Our Town and Dracula.  Michael Crichton pretty much invented the techno-thriller.  Lee Child took the western character of the mysterious stranger and made him a retired Army MP, but still has him riding into town to help solve problems.   One term I've heard a lot lately is "speculative fiction," and I think that's a great term.  I tend to write in the genre of "what if this happened..."  And that covers superheroes, zombies, werewolves, Cthulhu, space travel, time travel, the end of the world, and a lot of other neat stuff.

So really, on one level, I'm just a little kid going "Hey, you know what'd be really
cool...?"

How do you approach writing a novel compared to a short story or magazine article?

It's really three different things.  Well, two things and something else...  A lizard, maybe.  Magazine articles are very structured, which can be freeing or frustrating, depending on the material.  It's freeing because you start with so much of it done. For example, when I wrote for Creative Screenwriting
I knew I'd have a short summary of the film, I'd have some key process questions, a few specifics about the film, maybe an experience question or two--and a lot of this is going to end up being quotes from the interview.  Wham, bam, done.  I'd do the interview and work all the answers into place.  The frustrating part is sometimes, in the course of the interview, something really cool comes up and there's just nothing to do with it.  Sometimes you can beg and plead with an editor for more space, but that means taking space away from something else.  So usually this article is 1500 words, period, and if something doesn't fit it doesn't fit.  There were times I could polish off two articles a day once I'd transcribed the interview, and sometimes I'd beat my head on an 800 word piece trying to figure out how to include good material there just wasn't space for.  I got to interview Akiva Goldsman once and he had some wonderful, really brilliant observations about genre material and sci-fi vs fantasy.  I think I used two quotes from him in the final article.

Short stories are easier for me.  You've generally got a bit of flex room, size-wise.  The joy of them being a smaller, more concise tale is that they tend to come together pretty much fully formed.  You have characters, a situation, a conflict, and you've got it.  It's really rare for me to start a short story and not already know how ninety percent of it's going to go.  I've got one story coming out called "Mulligan," and once I had the basic idea and the characters it took me about two days to get a very solid draft.  One of my earliest sales was actually a first draft.  It got edited a bit by the publisher, but the story that sold was a first draft I wrote in about six hours.

For novels, I tend to scribble a lot of notes to myself when I'm working on whatever happens to be my current project.  I end up with a very, very loose outline of character sketches, dialogue, ideas for different moments.  I try not to do too much past that because I think sometimes an outline can be limiting.  It's good for screenwriting, where you have to be much more focused and usually have a very strict deadline, but I think in a novel you get a lot more out of it if you give yourself the space to be creative.  It's the difference between having OnStar map out your entire route and just saying "Road trip-- we need to be in Boston by the 15th."  Either way you've got the same beginning and end, but you'll get a lot more out of the trip when you've got the freedom to stop and see Graceland, the biggest ball of twine, the Sunsphere, and all that.  In every book I've written so far, there's something that only came out of it because I had room to explore within my rough outline.

Once I start writing, I try to do at least two thousand words a day, every day.  Sometimes when things are going well I'll hit four or five thousand, but two's the minimum.  My goal is to get a first draft done, because I think on this scale it's a lot easier to revise something than it is to try to get it perfect the first time.  Sometimes this even means skimming over something for now.  I don't like getting bogged down looking up how big a blue whale is, figuring out what day of the week Memorial Day falls on in 2013, or coming up with a reason for character A to get a pistol from character B.  If something's deathly important to the plot, I've most likely already got it figured out before I started this draft.  If it isn't, then there's no reason it can't get polished later.  The goal is to get the first draft done.  That means the second draft can be polishing and fact-checking, and the third draft is trimming and cutting.

Oh, and one other silly thing, speaking of "my approach."  This sounds ridiculous, I know, but just before I start a new project I go out and get a box of cereal.  Something with chocolate or marshmallows, preferably both.  It's become sort of a tradition.  It just lets me start three or four days in a little kid mindset.  I think it's really important for a writer to keep that sense of creativity and wonder we all had when we were little, when a lot more things were really cool (as I said before).  I think if you can't look at things with those fresh, innocent eyes, you're going to have an uphill battle as a writer.

Plus, it's a great reminder to get a new toothbrush.

Writing is part art, part craft, part business, how do you balance these different areas of being a professional writer?

Art's a tough one, because on some level we all want to do things that get recognized on a higher level than "an entertaining read," but we also need
to do things that sell.  Perfect example is that book I mentioned, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe.  It came out of the cross-genre craze (there's that term again) that  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies started.  I decided I didn't want to do something silly or bizarre, though, I wanted to do a serious book... at least, as serious as possible when you're introducing werewolves and the Cthulhu mythos into one of the classics of English literature.  And I'd like to think that, on an artistic level, I succeeded.  I wrote a perfect, early 18th century horror novel in the language and prose of that time.  The downside, from a business point of view, was that I wrote a perfect, early 18th century horror novel in the language and prose of that time.  And those really aren't selling these days... as I found out.

As for business...  Well, total honesty, I completely suck at the business end of it.  Can I say suck?  It's really the best word.  I don't have an agent but that hasn't really been a detriment so far.  I'm horrible at self-promotion.  I could probably be a lot more aggressive about marketing.  On the other hand, though, I see so many aggressive self-promoters who get annoying really fast.  I'd like to think some people enjoy the fact that I can--and often do--talk about something besides "buy my book!!"  I also think some folks get so obsessed with promoting themselves they forget they need something to promote.  I try to make sure the business side is always the minority of my time.

And I guess that leaves craft.  Which is the toughest because it's an ongoing process.  There's never going to be a point where I can say "NOW I know everything there is to know about writing."  There's always new tricks to learn and new traps to fall into.  I think it was in Neil Gaiman's Sandman
that one of the characters says something like "being immortal hasn't made me wise, it's just given me more time to make new mistakes." (As a side note, Peter introduced me to Neil Gaiman back in our theater days, for which I'm very grateful)

The main way any writer gets better at the craft is sitting his or her butt down in a chair and writing.  You can read all the how-to books and go to seminars with gurus, but at the end of the day the only way to improve the craft is to write.  Those other things help at first, but I think they quickly become a hindrance more than anything else.  If you're spending more time reading books about how to write than actually writing, you're doing something wrong.  So, mundane as it sounds, I try to write every day.  Sometimes it's a focused effort, other times it's blog articles or notes for future projects.  I also read tons of stuff, good and bad, in all different genres, because there's always more to learn from experience than from instruction.

Spotlight On Janna Cawrse Esarey

Author of the Memoir...

The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, & a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife (Simon & Schuster 2009). A Publisher’s Weekly Summer Fave and Today Show rec, it’s the humorous, true story of a woman who sails across the Pacific on her honeymoon, only to find her relationship heading for the rocks. Janna’s work has appeared in sailing magazines, such as Sail and Cruising World, as well as anthologies, most recently, More Sand in my Bra. Janna was a 2008 Jack Straw fellow and blogs about work-life-love balance for the Seattle P-I at Happily Even After. A devourer of books, sushi, and dark beer, Janna loves talking to book clubs—especially when they feed her books, sushi, or dark beer. Watch her homemade book trailer at www.byjanna.com.
 
Describe your writing process with your memoir:
When we set sail, I started working on a novel, of which I have 129 versions of the first paragraph. See, I had no idea how to write a novel and, being on a boat in the middle of the Pacific, no access to books, the Internet, writing groups, conferences, and other things helpful to writers. So I followed that old adage, Write what you know, and started writing about the ups and downs of life afloat. These musings turned into articles, which turned into rejection letters, which eventually turned into by-lines (and more rejection letters; those never stop). I didn’t know it then, but I was building my platform. This can be important for nonfiction writers. (It’s less important for fiction writers. As my agent once said, “The four most important things for a novelist to focus on are: 1) the quality of the writing, 2) the quality of the writing, 3) the quality of…” You get the point.)
            Eventually my articles and our adventures afloat turned into an idea for a memoir: a story about the ups and downs of love, that just happens to take place at sea. My timing was good—Eat, Pray, Love was getting big—and I was also lucky in that I could write a nonfiction book proposal to sell my book. Or at least that was the idea. It took a couple years, several conferences, and myriad revisions (not to mention the birth of my first child) before I found an amazing agent (Rebecca Oliver with WME) and she found me a superb editor (Michelle Howry with Simon & Schuster). Looking back now, I also see that writing my book proposal, with its detailed outline and sample chapters, as well as my blog, was how I wrote myself into my voice and my book. The time it took for my proposal to sell—and all the rejection and revision in between—was necessary for my memoir to find itself.
So then my real writing process began. S&S gave me about seven months to write the book, which meant a chapter a week, plus time for revision. I cobbled together the childcare we could afford, rallied the granny nannies, and started writing day-in, day-out for seven months. At the beginning of each week, I vomited the first draft of a chapter, got feedback from my writing partner (essential!), and polished as much as I could before the process started over the next week. It was fast and furious and definitely one of the happiest and most productive times of my life. Did I mention I was also pregnant? I delivered the manuscript just a few weeks before my second daughter.

How has your writing process changed now that you’re working on a novel?
These days I’m back at work on that same dang novel I started so long ago. You know how a character will show up in your brain and stage a sit-in? Consequently, I write at that godawful time the Kiwis call sparrow fart, a.k.a. 5:30 a.m., otherwise known as before my children get up. In actuality my girls sometimes wake at sparrow fart themselves, but they’ve been trained in digital clocks (masking tape over the minutes helps) and they usually don’t stampede until seven. Which is a longwinded way of saying I write early and often, but briefly.
This works for me because, well, it works for me. Writing all day every day was great for my memoir, but I don’t have that luxury now, so writing a little bit each day gives my novel time (OK, a lot of time) to percolate. As my parenting time decreases (kindergarten starts this month!) my writing time will increase. I am totally down with this scenario.

You recommend writers groups and conferences, what do you believe are the most important aspects of these tools for writers?
By the time we sailed into Hong Kong, I was thirsting for some writerly camaraderie, so joining a weekly critique group was practically the first thing I did. Sharing my writing with a group of other writers not only terrified me (in the best way possible), but it solidified my identity as a writer, validated my obsession with writing, gave me concrete deadlines, and provided valuable feedback that actually improved my work. I’ve heard some authors pooh-pooh writing groups as if they’re only for novices. But I’m still in a writing group (albeit a stateside one) because one thing writers always need, but can rarely get on their own, is perspective.
One thing that really helps in finding a good writing group fit is mutual affection: I love my group’s writing as much as they love mine. Like in a relationship, it can simply come down to good chemistry. Which is not to say we sit around and pat each other’s drafts on the back. No. We bleed ink on them, and pull them and push them, and what-if them to no end. But since we have a solid foundation—we love each other’s writing—the criticism is easier to take. And most of the time I find myself thinking, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!”
            The tough part of working with a critique group, even if it is a good fit, is that schedules can be whacky, commitment levels can wane, writing stages can shift, and people can up and move (though Skype helps with that). So when I busted out my memoir, I used just one person: my lovely, talented writing partner, Sarah Callender. She busted her butt reading and re-reading draft after draft, and on a very tight time schedule. Choose your writing partner carefully because you can’t ask that of just anyone. Your writing partner must not only butt-bust for you, but be someone you are inspired to butt-bust for in return. When Sarah was readying her novel for submission (she recently found her agent) I did some butt-busting of my own. And I’m looking forward to more butt-busting when she gets an editor.
            Speaking of agents and editors, one great way to pitch your book idea to them is at writing conferences. If they’re interested, they’ll tell you to send it, and then your email/manuscript can avoid the dreaded slush pile because you’ll write “Requested Materials” on it. Brilliant. If you’re ready to pitch, choose a conference that hosts lots of agents/editors. If you’re not ready to pitch, conferences are also great places to learn craft, get new ideas, meet other writers, form a critique group, or get inspired. I am a conference junkie. Being a northwesterner, my personal faves are: PNWA, Whidbey Island, and Book Passage Travel & Food Writers Conference.

What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you first started writing MOTO?
However hard writing a book is—and let me tell you, it is HARD—promoting a book is just as tough. Telling people about my book can leave me feeling cheesy, dorky, or just plain bored (enough about me already). I am not a shoe salesman, I am a writer for goodnessake!
But alas, books do not sell themselves. So promotion is, in fact, important. But I knew that then. What I know now is that it’s also time consuming, brain boggling, and involves niggling details that will wake you in a hot sweat at three a.m.. Like book bloggers to approach for reviews, venues to approach for events, homemade book trailers to create, blog posts to write, and, of course, magazine articles to submit (and have rejected). And, truly, I know you’re thinking, Hey, she can’t complain—she’s got a book out, it’s well reviewed, she’s working on her next book…I know, I know. But when your book comes out and you’re creating your author website and banging your head against the wall of html tags (we’re writers, not programmers!), you’ll remember this post and smile knowingly. Really. You will. (Though I have to admit I really did enjoy making that book trailer.)

What was the hardest thing about writing your personal truths for public consumption?
Most people think the hardest part was winning my husband’s support for the book. (Read the first line and you’ll understand why.) But, in fact, he was my biggest cheerleader—and he didn’t think a love story that glosses over all the potholes would do anyone any good.
No, the hardest part, still, is when people act horrified by my honesty. Someone in a book club over Skype will say, “Wow, you are so open! You talk about sailing naked! And your depression! And your uncanny ability to be twenty minutes late to everything! I would never admit all that!” (Some people really do use this many exclamation marks when they’re that horrified.) And when people are horrified, it makes me feel like raising my arms in a big O over my head for Oversharing and then adding an L on my forehead for Loser. But then someone in the book club will pipe up and say it’s actually my candor they loved and appreciated most. And I’ll lower my arms in relief and recall that it’s the memoirist’s job to say aloud the honest stuff of life that other people would rather hide. That makes me feel better.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a literary novel called Carry the Remainder in Long Division and it’s set in New Orleans the year before Katrina. It’s about a young white northern teacher who flees her parents’ ugly divorce for a job in the Big Easy, where she can immerse herself in blues, jazz, and her students’ Mardi Gras music. But living there ain’t easy. Besides being heckled and, worse, ignored by her students, she’s also branded racist, a claim that’s exacerbated when she accidentally breaks the star band student’s trumpet, and his wrist. But if she can decipher the lyrics to a dusty, old blues album, one she stole from her father’s vinyl collection before moving south, she might find the key to her students, her dad’s long-held secret, and her own resilience.
            (And if you’re working on writing a pitch, that’s an example of one.)

Final words of wisdom
Write. Write. Write. That’s the one thing all writers have in common. We don’t just think. We don’t just talk. We write. But if you want to improve your craft (and I’m not the one to coin this phrase but I love it): Write in the morning. Read at night. There are few better ways to fall asleep than to a good book. And come sparrow fart, you know what to do.

Spotlight On...

Jerry D. McDonnell - More info on Jerry after the word/prompt for the week to the right.

"Winter Too Short, Too Loud"

Published in South Dakota Review; Vol. 43, No. 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 2005

Reprinted with permission from the author.

The following is copywritten material and cannot be used or distributed without permission by the author.

Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Final Installment


When she awoke her husband was beside her in another wood place. It smelled good and light came in through an opening you could see through.
“Stay strong,” he said. “Things are going to get better.”
“What is this thing I am on?” she asked.
“It is called a bed. Isn’t it nice? It’s warm and soft.”
“Where am I?”
“You are in the Dillingham place. The trial is over.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you are going to die.”
 The Orthodox Priest man came into the wood place through an entrance. “Are you well?” he asked in her language. She could see another man behind the priest on the other side of the entrance sitting, watching.
She turned her head to see the priest, but did not know what to say. Turning back to her husband . . . he was gone again. The priest sat beside her and began to unwrap her bandaged head. For the first time, Anita realized that her head was wrapped in bandages. “Take this,” the priest said handing her a pill and a cup of water. She did not want to take it. He was one of the gusik people, but his voice was smooth and gentle. Most of the words she did not understand, but his smile was like a sunrise over the tundra on clear sky day when the ptarmigan came out of their snow caves. She sensed she could trust him and took the pill. He changed her bandages. She didn’t want to but soon she fell asleep.

When Anita awoke, she saw a half moon through the opening against a night sky. Feeling better, she got to her feet and walked to the opening and touched it. It was clear, cold and solid but she could see through it. Tapping on it with a finger, it made a small thumping sound. Stars in the sky were twinkling and the snow reflected the light of the moon. Two stray dogs ran across the tundra, stopped and looked back at her as if it was an invitation. Anita placed both hands on the opening, laid her cheek against the cold glass and closed her eyes. The land of ice melted before her and she saw a bear wading across the river. A caribou walked around her snare and her husband sat on the bank of the river, laughing, carving a stick. He was so happy. Always so happy, and he is still happy. She opened her eyes and cried.
 “What are you doing up?” a loud voice shouted. A man came through the entrance. He was big and had a hairy face and had a rifle in one hand. “Seems you’re well enough to hang now.” Anita stood firm like an esker of stone. Her tears stopped. Her eyes narrowed as she clenched her fist. The man rushed to her, grabbing her by the arm, pulling her to him. His smell was unbearable and his smile evil. Dragging her away from the window, he underestimated her strength. Anita swung her free fist into his groin. He doubled over. She raised her knee swift and fast into his face and then raised it again catching him again in the groin. The man fell heavily to the wood floor and the room shook. Anita acted quickly. Tearing off the flimsy cloth they had dressed her in, she found her skins in the corner and was half dressed when the Russian Orthodox Priest came in. Anita swept the rifle from the floor, held it by the barrel and raised it to use as a club.
“Hold,” the priest said gently, his hand open at the end of his stretched out arm. Anita held. Slowly she lowered the rifle. “You don’t even know how to use it do you?” he said. “When you caught the man in your caribou snare you didn’t mean it did you? But you left him hanging there and he froze to death. Isn’t that the way it happened?”  Anita nodded, but she didn’t understand completely; his Yup’ik was not good. She pieced the words snare and man and froze to death and worked on them as she continued dressing. “If you go, they will come for you,” he said. “I’ve convinced them you deserve another trial. We are waiting on a proper judge.” Anita walked toward the door. The priest moved and blocked her way. Anita stared at him. She did not want to kill him, but she must leave. Their stares connected. Anita’s brow wrinkled, her jaw flexed. The Priest finally gave a crooked smile and stepped aside.
The house she was being held in was on the edge of the town. Anita looked into the night sky and began walking across the tundra in the direction of her dugout wondering how long the darkness would last. The half moon was high in the sky, and she could see a distance toward the mountains. After a half an hour of walking, she began to feel faint, her head again hurting. Touching her hand to her bandaged head, it came away with stains of blood. She walked until she fell.
“Get up,” her husband said. He was dressed like the priest.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“Get on the sled,” her husband said.
Anita looked at the sled pulled by dogs she did not know and pulled herself up onto it with her husband’s help and then passed out.
When she awoke she was lying on the snow not far from her dugout as the light of a gray day began from the east over the mountain. There were no tracks leading to or from where she lay. Before she could raise herself, Elena was at her side. “You must not stay here. You must go up river. Can you travel?”
“Where is the sled?” Anita said.
“What sled?”
“The sled that brought me here.”
“There is no sled. You walked here. I saw you coming, and I saw you fall. I was sent to watch for you I think. I had a dream that you were walking from Dillingham and were in trouble. I have been waiting all night.”
“Then you saw, Sammy, my husband, your brother.”
“No. You must be still hurt bad. Sammy is dead. You know that, don’t you?”
“But the tracks? There are no tracks.”
“It is snowing, of course there are no tracks.
 “My dogs,” Anita said.
“We will take care of your dogs until next winter. Now you must hide like only you know how where no one will know. There is one man you can trust who will help you stay up river until you get well. He is from another people south of Dillingham. He saw what they did to you.”

A week later, Anita watched the man called Alexie paddle his kayak back down the river leaving her instructions to go someplace even he would not know. As she walked into the mountains, her dog Alag by her side, she talked to Sammy who was as usual laughing about how funny the gusik man looked hanging frozen to death from Anita’s snare last summer. Anita laughed with him saying how the priest thought she didn’t mean to kill the man who killed Sammy. The bad man did look funny hanging there. Alag hid in the trees with her when the airplane flew over them making the noise one could hear from far away.
 


Winter Too Short, Too Loud


Part 3

The sun was high in the sky the next day when Anita heard the voice of Elena calling out as she ran to the dugout. Anita, still asleep, vaguely remembered hearing Elena’s warning cries or the the gusik men and the Yup’ik men shouting. Guns were shown, bows and arrows and harpoons were lowered. Stern looking gusik men beat Anita while the people looked on helplessly. Anita lost consciousness and only vaguely remembers the sled taking her to Dillingham or the fact that she loosened her bonds on the trip and tried to choke a man when they lifted her off the sled with her feet still bound. She barely remembers getting beat again by several men and hit hard on the head while a group of gusiks and a few Yup'iks she did not know watched.
Hurting and hungry, she awoke in a dark place of solid wood like none she had ever seen before. Then she was taken to a larger closed in place of solid wood filled with light. Strange men spoke in words she did not understand. Her husband sat beside her at a thing he called a table.
“They are giving you a trial for murder,” he said.
“Is that the same as killing?” she asked. Anita was beginning to understand as she saw some of the same men who had been there when her husband was killed.  “What does this trial do?”
“It kills people,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. It is not so bad.”
Anita was having trouble knowing where she was and her head still hurt and she couldn’t understand what people were saying and the room was hot and stuffy and she had never been in such a large closed in place with some many strange people and the smell . . .  a man dressed different than the others came to her and said a few words in her language, but pronounced the words oddly. And then he brought a man she had never seen before to translate. The translator said the man who dressed different was a Russian Orthodox Priest who wished to help her. Another man sat beside her where her husband had been. The translator said he also was to help her. Much talking went on, people sometimes shouted and pointed at her. The translator said things to her about their laws she did not understand. Anita only wished to be alone back on the land with her dogs. She put her head down on this table and saw herself far north with her husband in their winter home where no one else came. She wished these people who it was said were to help her could let her go there and be left alone; the noise in this place was worse than the airplane, and the smell of the large wood place with so many gusiks and a few natives was very, very bad, and she was too hot, and she tried to take off her parka, but people again shouted and pointed at her, and a man in front of everyone banged a club on a table . . .  she passed out. 

To Be Continued...

Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Part 2 - See Post Below for Part 1

Anita felt the warmth of sun on her face. She saw her Yup’ik husband coming across the tundra, a pack dog walking behind him. As usual, he was smiling and laughing. He had two rabbits in his hand. Behind him a flock of ptarmigan still in their winter white plumage flew up over his head and scattered in every direction as a large black cloud came racing across the sky faster than a flight of ducks. The cloud descended and overtook her husband. He looked surprised as the cloud swallowed him like bear eating a shrew. And then she was cold. Anita opened her eyes, the moon in a clear, dark sky waited on top of the mountain in front of her. She could only see a few stars. Alag kept licking her face making it warm. The rest of the dog team waited, all still in harness, the sled behind them. It was hard to get up. She was shaking; her skin parka and pants were frozen stiff. She had stayed out too long, should have pulled her snares a week ago. Quickly, she took off her parka, knocked the ice from the fur inside it and put it back on. Doing the same with the pants and the mukluks, in frenzy she found the caribou robe. The robe around her, she began running in circles. The dogs were barking. One tried to break from the harness. Another picked a fight with another. Anita ran to the sled, shoved the sled brake into the snow, broke up the fight with blows, and calmed the other dog. She was still shaking. She had to move. She needed fire. The dogs settled, she pulled the brake and gave the command. Running behind the sled, she drove them toward the mountains where she knew there was a stand of cottonwoods. It was hard to keep up the pace, her heart was beating, she was still shaking, her vision was blurring. Her husband, riding in the sled, talked to her and joked.
“Did someone have a nice swim?” he said.
“Why did you leave me?” she answered.
“ Someone smells better now with the cool waters taking away the sweat. You were starting to smell like an old bear existing on salmon carcasses.
“I need you. Why did you die?”
“I’m here. I brought your dogs back. Keep running. Someone would run with you but his feet are sore. Someone has been walking for moons looking for you. Why do you stay out so long? Besides the view is better here lying on the sled watching the moon set over the mountain and the stars twinkling.”
“I saw something today.”
“The airplane? Oh yes, I saw it too. There will be many more of those in the coming years.”
“Airplane. What is an airplane?”
“It is something people ride in.”
“In the sky?
“Yes,’ in the sky, he said. “It carries people places very quickly. Someone is not shaking anymore. Someone must be getting warmer. That is good. I loved a strong woman. Keep running.”
“But how does it get in the sky? And how does it get down? Its wings don’t move. It doesn’t have feet, and it is very noisy. It hurts someone’s ears.”  
“They all have feet. Some are hidden like a bird when it flies. The cottonwoods are ahead. A fire will be nice. Someone is getting cold.”
“Why didn’t you fight back?”
“It was useless. There were too many of them. We didn’t know of the gun then. It shoots a very small dart that doesn’t even have a point on it. It goes right through your skin like spear or an arrow; it can even crush bones; it is very powerful. I thought if I walked away they would let me go.”
“He shot you in the back. He was not a good man,” she said.
“But you got away. It was you they wanted. They wanted to use you. They thought you were very beautiful. That is why the one came looking for you.”
“He found me.”
“I know. But he will bother you no more. And we are here. Here is the wood to build a fire. Get wood. I will watch the dogs if you set the brake.”
Luckily, Anita found some dry limbs low on a tree, quickly snapped them into smaller pieces, and with some tender she had in the sled and her tools that made sparks, a fire quickly came to life. The fire going, her parka and pants drying close to the heat, she turned to talk to her husband, but he was gone. She put on larger pieces of wood and looked up at the stars. The moon had set over the mountain. The sun would be up shortly. As tired as she was, she knew she must go on. She couldn’t wait another day to cross the mountain range over the pass.


The crossing of the pass went well and the dogs took her down the southern slope as the sun came up. On a ridge far to east, she saw a bear coming out of hibernation. It came out of the snow, put its head in the air, sniffed, rolled its head and then laid down in the sun and went back to sleep. In the distance to the south she could see the dwellings of a group of the people who had gathered for the winter at a wide spot on the river not far from her dugout. For over three moons she had been gone, living at her secret cave far in the interior where she and her husband had against tradition lived together most winters. He did not stay in the men’s house like the rest of the people and the couple did not have children. Most people thought they were an odd pair. Anita stopped the dogs halfway down the mountain looking at the dwellings; fear set into her heart. What if the strange ones, the gusiks, were waiting for her? A mere few hours by dogs on the other side of the river, one could be at the settlement on the coast of the sea where the strange ones had built dwellings of wood a few years ago and people in large, wooden boats began catching salmon. Anita had only been told about it, but the strange ones had named it Dillingham. It was south of Igusik, their summer fish camp on the coast. Anita looked at the dwellings on the wide spot by the river for a long time trying to see if anything looked strange before she started the dogs again.


“I tell you it went straight. It did not swoop or glide silently like an eagle: it went straight. It went straight like an arrow. If it was a bird, the wings did not move. Not once did it flap its wings.” Anita told the people. “And it made a loud noise. It is called an airplane.”
“We know. We have all seen one. Wassile touched one in Dillingham. There is a place where they take off and land there.”
Anita waited to ask if anyone had been looking for her. She knew which person she would ask when the time is proper. Some people were afraid for Anita’s safety. But some looked at her strangely and trust was not in their eyes. Many new things have happened since she left last fall. One person went to Dillingham and did tasks for men who gave him a thing called money. It is used to get other things. Most people here will not take it because it is useless. But the gusiks like this money very much it seems. They seem to think it is sacred. If you try to take it from them they will kill you. Young Natasha took some to look at it and the person became very angry and threatened to hurt her. Another older person took some and they took him away. He is in a place they call jail. He only wanted to look at it to see if he could make something out of it. He thought maybe he could patch a kayak with it or put it on a parka as decoration, but it wasn’t very pretty; it was very nothing, just green with small pictures and designs on it. They must be sacred pictures.  
Anita did not tell anyone about seeing her husband and how he had saved her. Most people were already afraid of her because or her strange ways and her strength. But still the ones who were afraid of her and did not have trust in their eyes took a portion of the caribou that Anita shared with the people. After the sharing of the caribou, she took the dogs to her dugout. While taking care of the dogs, Elena, one of her husband’s sisters, came to her dugout.
“Someone was gone a long time and is tired,” Elena said. Anita merely nodded while she unhitched the dogs, bedded them down and fed them. She thought about telling Elena about seeing her brother, but she did not. They watched a flight of circling cranes coming from the south and then sat quietly outside the dugout looking across the tundra toward the mountains. A time passed while they watched the birds in the sky, the clouds move and felt the soft spring wind on their faces. The sun had fallen near the top of the mountain before Elena spoke again. “Some gusiks were looking for you this winter. They came twice. I don’t think they like winter. Maybe you should not have come back. Maybe you should go north to your other people.” In silence the two ate some hot food Elena cooked for them. Before Anita fell into a deep sleep in her dugout, she gave Elena some beaver hides.

To Be Continued...

Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Part 1

Anita was not afraid of many things. The day she killed the strange, gusik outsider had not bothered her. He had killed her husband. Some of the people say she had killed the killer. She didn’t mean to kill him, but he was a bad man. Her husband was a good man. It was right. The way Anita saw it, the bad man had killed himself by being foolish. But now, this noise she heard coming was like no noise she had ever heard before. She saw it on the distant horizon approaching like a duck flying straight and fast. Quickly, Anita pulled her fishing stick and line from the ice hole and slipped into the sled under her caribou robe, flipping the lighter tanned side up to blend in with the snow. The napping dogs, already burrowed into the snow, blended in well; the thing in the sky would not be able to see them unless the noisy thing had eagle eyes.

The sound in the sky was deafening, louder than an angry bear. Anita held her hands over her ears. As the sound decreased, she peeked out from the robe and watched the bird thing in the sky; it glided like an eagle, but if those were its wings they never moved. Taking its sound with it, the thing moved like a well-thrown spear until it faded into the gray sky. Never once did the wings move. It was nothing she had ever seen before and in these times it was wise to stay hidden. She thought it must be another thing from these Russians or these other people who had come to her land. These strange ones were strong and rude and knew little of the land. She recorded the sky thing well in her memory to be able to describe it to the people and warn them. The dogs had only cocked their ears at the noise but did not seem too alarmed, which gave Anita hope.

The thing in the sky did not come back. Anita went back to her ice fishing. When the sun was low on the horizon she woke the dogs, fed them, and drove the sled toward home. All of her snares had been pulled, the useful pieces stored on the sled. At this time of year in the far north, there would be light for several more hours. Summer was near and darkness had reduced itself. She had been gone most of the winter, yet it was still a distance back to her dugout, 8 or 10 hours by dog sled if the trail was good. Maybe she had stayed out too long at this time of year, she thought. It was a thing she had been thinking about for several days. For over a week she had rested the dogs but not herself. Sometimes it was becoming hard to concentrate on things, difficult to do things the proper way. Crossing the pass over the mountain range would be the worst as it had snowed several inches a few days ago coating the old snow and ice. It would not be easy to see thin ice or bad snow. The temperatures were warming, which meant soft, rotten snow and ice breaking up on the waters that her and the dogs could break through.

A greater danger may lie near her dugout and the people. Some people may still be looking for her. Some other people might be willing to turn her over to the gusiks. In recent years, people were doing strange things, and Anita was not like the other people of the region. She was only half related in some peoples’ eyes. The Athapaskan half of her had made her tall and the Yup’ik half had made her heavily boned. Her eyelids lacked the epicanthic folds of the Yup’ik Eskimos, but had given her skin a light color that turned to olive when weathered by the sun as opposed to the darker skin of an Athapaskan Indian. Her facial features were sculptured, lacking the flatter faces of the Yup’iks. She had inherited the best traits from each people. Being half-Indian and half-Eskimo she looked different to both races. To some she was beautiful; to others she was odd. She was strong and liked to be alone, which for some men was too much not like a woman. No other woman lived alone. Even women without children lived with their sisters or mothers or someone else. Most of the winter Anita tended to her snares, running dogs pulling a sled like an Athapaskan in the interior of Alaska. In the summer she tended her nets taking fish like a Yup’ik from the Bering Sea and the rivers. And she dressed like a man.

The dogs, sensing they were going toward home, were anxious, and they ran too fast. Anita slowed them with soft calls, lightly applying the brake and riding the runners. Her dogs, like trusted friends, listened to her every utterance. The only sound was the soft sliding of the sled’s rails and the paws of the six dogs trotting on the snow. The terrain was flat, white, covered with wind swept ridges of snow and ice. A few clumps of bushes could be seen in the distance along the edges of the drainages. The late evening sun reflected a red hue from the sky and onto the distant mountains foretelling a clear day ahead. Anita continued riding the sled rails because she was so very tired. The dogs were rested and fed, and she knew a moon would rise late this night allowing her to travel the short hours of darkness if she wished. As the day spent itself, the temperature dropped well below freezing making the snow firm. Yes, she would try to cross the pass tonight before the next day’s sun warmed the snow no matter how tired she was.

They made good time for five hours with short rests. At the foot of the mountains, a full moon reflecting off the snow, Anita and the dogs stopped. Now they had to cross the river and leads were already starting to show. The visible amount of her exhaling breath told her the temperature was continuing to drop, but it was difficult to know if the ice was clear, meaning safe, or frosty colored with cracks, meaning not safe. Two major leads in front of them presented open water over deep holes. Unhooking Alag, her lead dog, she walked along the bank a distance looking for a safer place to cross. Delighted to be free of the harness, the dog romped beside her. At a spot that looked solid, hanging onto a clump of grass on the bank, Anita tested the ice by stomping her foot and listening to the sound. She tried to pry a large rock from the bank to throw on the ice, but the ground was still too frozen.

“Alag, go,” she pointed. The dog obeyed and walked onto the ice, crossing to the other side. The weight of the dog would not tell her much about the thickness of the ice but it seemed solid under the inches of fresh snow. Anita then tested the ice underfoot and found that her 120 pounds did not cause cracking sounds near the edge, which is usually the thinnest ice. A third of a way across the river, she bent down to the ice and swiped away the fresh snow with her seal hide mittens. The ice beneath was slightly frosty, but it did not show any cracks. It might hold her, but would it hold the sled with the furs and the fresh meat from the caribou she had recently snared? Reading the evening sky, Anita forecast a warmer tomorrow making the ice less sure. If she remembered correctly, the river bottom at this spot was not too deep except for two holes. The night would not last long. Exhausted, she made her decision.

The dogs raced onto the ice. Running behind the sled and pushing hard, Anita shouted them on when she heard the ice crack beneath the runners. Her next step found open water, and she was instantly immersed up to her chest. The current beneath the ice drug at her mukluks and her seal skin pants. One hand gripped a runner of the sinking sled. She was stretched out; the dogs pulled her toward the shore while the current pulled her under the ice. Water went over her head. Her hand began to slip from her mitten just as one foot found bottom. Emerging from the water, she saw the dogs straining on the harness trying to free the sinking sled. Shouting encouragement to the dogs, she pushed hard off the bottom, found shallower water, put her weight behind the sled lifting it and shoving it toward shore. Abruptly, she was being drug across the ice, onto the shore and across the tundra, the dogs running madly, the sled bouncing behind them over drifts of snow. Her strength gone, she lost her grip. The last thing she saw from a shrew’s view inches from the surface of the cold, moonlit snow was the dog team and sled fading into night.

To Be Continued.....

Prompt for the Week: July 31

Looking into the setting sun, I saw ...

Word for the Week: July 31

Clerestory: pronounced "clear-a story" or "clear story"
An outside wall that rises above the rest of the roof, containing windows.

An architectural term that historically referenced the walls which rose above the lower roofs of the aisles and contained windows in a Roman basilica, Romanesque, or Gothic church.

Modern usage: Any windows above eye level. Used to let in light.

Prompt for the Week: July 24

One day before the flood I ...

Word for the Week: July 24

Antediluvian: Traditionally, the period in the bible between the creation of the earth and the flood, chapters 1-6 in Genesis.

Colloquially, any ancient and murky time.

Prompt for the Week: July 17

Once upon a time, I followed the waters of a great river, along the way I found...

Word for the Week: July 17

Riparian: Pertaining to, dwelling on, relating to, the banks of a waterway. An area influenced by a stream or river.

Prompt for the Week: July 10

If I could travel back in time, I would visit...

Word for the Week: July 10

Colonnade: A long row of columns, often connected together by an entablature.

Entablature: In classical architecture, the superstructure of moldings and bands which lie on top of a row of columns to connect them together.

Prompt for the Week: July 3

The aspect I like the most about my appearance is...

Word for the Week: July 3

Mien: appearance or manner, especially showing one's inner state.

Her mien betrayed her embarrassment.

Prompt for the Week

If I could be close to you again I would...

Word for the Week

Propinquity: closeness in time or place. Kinship. Near.

From the Middle English propinquite, from Latin propinquitat- kinship and proximity.

In use since the 14th Century

The propinquity of the ocean allowed for the sound of the waves to be heard in the dining room.

Prompt for the Week

If I have one regret in life it is...

Word for the Week

Calumny: The act of uttering a falsehood designed for malicious intent. A lie to hurt another persons reputation.

She was the target of calumny....

Prompt for the Week

The music I hear when my mind wanders is...

Word for the Week

Canzona (or Canzone): Originally used in poetry to denote a specific style, it later became a musical form in 16th century Italy. The Canzona used multiple instruments, which mimicked each other. A direct ancestor to the fugue and sonata.

Prompt for the Week

In order to understand me, one must understand...

Word for the Week

Hermeneutics: The study of interpretation, usually in philosophy or religion. Either the art of or the study of interpretation. Similar to exegesis.

Exegesis: The critical study or interpretation of a text, traditionally the bible.

Prompt for the Week

The rashest act I ever did was..

Word for the Week

Overweening: arrogant, presumptuous, haughty, pompous. To believe too much in one's own conclusions, often causing one to act in a rash way. To presume.

Word for the Week

Power play: when a hockey team has one man in the penalty box, this results in the other team having the advantage of more men on the ice.

Prompt for the week

The funniest thing I ever heard was...

Prompt for the Week

If I could change one thing about myself it would be...

Word for the Week

Vicissitude: The quality or state of being changeable. A change occurring during the course of something.

Prompt for the Week

The last time someone was kind to me ...

Word for the Week

Brobdingnagian: Something of colossal size.

Brobdingnag: a fictional land in Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels, occupied by Giants.

Word for the Week

Antidisestablishmentarianism: Originally, 19th Century political position in Britain that opposed removing the Anglican Church as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales. The establishment of the church remained in England, but in Ireland, the Anglican Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871. In Wales, four diocese were disestablished to become the Church in Wales in 1920.

Often considered one of the longest words in the English language (excluding coined or technical terms).