Tag Archives: 2014

Songs that Come to Us out of Strange Places

There is a lot contained in this post, I will only touch on one small aspect, so you should go read it for yourself. Thank you, stephencwinter, for letting me re-blog it!

Reading people have relationships with books over the course of their lives. All people have relationships with stories.

Sometimes, when a child, you like books that, as you grow, you will outgrow (though they may still carry a lovely sheen of nostalgia). Then there are the books, those wonderful books, that grow with you. There are books one has to grow into, and sometimes books that are written “for children” find you later in life and have great impact.

That is, if you let them. Some folks feel, or believe, that “childish” books are unfit for adults, and some dismiss entire genres of story-telling and art because they consider them “juvenile.” They are welcome to their opinions, of course, but I cannot agree.

There is something to be said for growing into books you would not have been able to appreciate as a child, but one shouldn’t, I think, have to grow out of any good book, no matter the genre or the “age bracket” for which it was written. By all means, read and love Tolstoy, but there is no reason to turn your back on A. A. Milne.

Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

It is through the intervention of the Ents of Fangorn that victory is won at Helm’s Deep but this frightens the Riders of Rohan more perhaps than did the enemies they faced in the battle. For a kind of disenchantment has been at work among them for a very long time. You may remember that when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli first encountered Eomer and his war band upon the plains of Rohan they met with mistrust and some fear. When Eomer heard that the friends had met Galadriel in Lothlorien he reacted with both wonder but also fearful hostility.

“Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!” he said. “Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.”

Théoden’s reaction to his first encounter with Ents is less hostile, perhaps…

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I Have a Great Teacher

Who also happens to be my mother. This is what she had to say, today, about the issue of Racism in the U.S.A.

I am delusional if I think I am in possession of all of the facts about what happened in Ferguson. I am delusional if I think I have a complete understanding of what happened and who was at fault. I am delusional if I think either Michael Brown or Darren Wilson was in complete control of the situation that engulfed them. I am delusional if I deny that both men responded to what they feared the other man might do. I am delusional if I think that fear was not based on racial stereotypes each held of the other. I am delusional if I think that only facts were presented to the grand jury and we have an accurate picture of what actually occurred. I am delusional if I think those who presented evidence to the grand jury did not color their testimony to present themselves in the best light possible. I am delusional if I think eyewitness testimony is the same thing as physical evidence. I am delusional if I think the district attorney acted totally without bias and without regard to his ambitions. I am delusional if I think that there is not a real issue that undergirds this specific event that has everything to do with race and politics and justice in this country.
If you are 100% certain you have an accurate perception on any of these statements, you are truly delusional.
I will add one more statement to the list. I am delusional if I think I am completely rid of personal racism. God knows I have worked to free myself from bias, but latent forms of old habits and thought patterns still ambush me when I least expect it. But I will not excuse it when I see it in myself or in others. We have to do better.
Let no one rest in arrogant complacency that they have clear vision about our national racial divide, as it is reflected in Ferguson or any other flashpoint. Race relations in this country are what they are not just because of what happens or does not happen inside black homes and black communities and black churches. White people contribute daily to the racial divide by ignoring the ways they contribute to racial estrangement and by pretending racism does not touch their lives in any real way. If you deny that “white privilege” and “victim mentality” are not both barriers to racial progress, you are active in your contribution to the problem. We develop two different languages with totally different sets of catch phrases and sound bites when we discuss our views about racial tension. It is almost as if we cannot speak or comprehend a common language. We judge people we do not know and often choose the most negative stereotypes to characterize “them.”
If you really want to feel the pulse of race relations in America, read the trolls’ comments that accompany the major editorial posts from either side of the political divide. FaceBook makes that really easy. You will see the vitriol that poisons both sides of the discussion. People write what they really think/feel in the anonymous rivers of sewage that spew out after a polarizing event like what happened in Ferguson.
Admit the problem is real. Do some soul searching. Then see if you can’t find a way to help us become “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

 


Friends who answered the call

A while back, I tossed out a list of questions, or more accurately, writing-prompts, and asked for input. I find that my writing benefits from fresh ideas and perspectives (as I suspect everyone’s does) and I was in great need of inspiration.

The responses I got were exactly what I needed, and I have permission to gather them together into one post (some via links) so that I can better share them. I offer my sincere thanks to all my friends who responded. Thank you!

If you enjoyed this, or if you think you want to give it a try, please toss out your own set of prompts. Perhaps we can make a thing of it, a periodic shot of inspiration. Until then, enjoy the following:


 

Bill:

In response to (6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

Our local ghost is named Sukey (rhymes with rookie) Short. She’s the only ghost I believe in.

According to the story Sukey was an old black lady who lived alone. All of her neighbors were afraid of her, believing her to be a witch.

One cold winter evening she must have discovered that the coals in her fire had gone out, so she set out to get some from the people who lived around here, to use to restart her fire. But no one would open the door or give her any. They were afraid she would use them to cast a spell on them. She went from house to house, being turned away at each place. Finally she started walking back home. The road here was being built at the time and she stopped to rest, sitting on the stump of a tree that had just been cut down. Someone found her there the next morning, frozen to death.

Since that time her ghost has haunted this community. These days the story seems in the process of being forgotten but when I was a boy many of the old-timers had stories of having seen her and of the things attributed to her over the years. I saw her once when I was a boy (or saw something that I believed must have been her).


emilykazakh:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)



Love The Bad Guy
:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.
Up there, do you see it? That’s Maedia – The Bride. She was stilted at the altar and feared her beloved had been stolen by Death, so she threw herself to the heavens to be reunited with him. Only there could she see the truth – her betrothed, far below her, in the arms of another. That cluster of stars? That’s her heart, shattered into a thousand pieces.
2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and why?
I’m afraid that Christmas is the only holiday that holds any true value to me. Most of the others that I can think of right now are only good for a day off work…
3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story.
I like anything with mystery to it – an alien artefact; something ordinary that holds unknown meaning to someone; a puzzle that needs to be solved.
4. Make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does.Fuoco intra – a wicked curse that causes the victims’ bones to burn like fire.
5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it.In days of old, people would plant morte duis at the doors of their enemies. The petals, as dark and silky as pooled blood, were said to be a bad omen that would attract Death himself. To have the flowers at your door was to invite ill will into your home.
6. What is your favourite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not).
I’m partial to a good video game, so I’m going to veer slightly off course from a scary story to a horror game – namely, the Outlast game. There are two things that I find brilliant about this game: the atmosphere, and the characters. The former is an intense formation of understated music, limited visibility, and an awareness of pervasive threats. The latter consists of a delightful variety of psychopaths, terrifying both in physical appearance and in actions.
Sorry for gushing about something only slightly related to your question, but Outlast leapt so vividly to mind when I saw the word “scary”; I just couldn’t think of anything else!

palecorbie:

1) The raven, a dark parch on the sky with nothing but the bright point of one corvid eye and a thin shimmer of feathers in the black. Would have been the helper-spirit of the first blacksmith, gifted to the same by the first shaman, but cared more for stealing shinies and prying things apart than helping with the work and eventually fled to the top of the sky-tree to avoid the Smith’s wrath after breaking something important (creating the spray of shiny over the rest of the heavens).

2) American much? Not that we have other officially recognised holidays over here save May Day…

I tell you, your Hallow’s Eve and mine are quite different things, though as for foreign festivals I am charmed by the way Mexicans celebrate All Souls’ (the Day of the Dead). Scandinavian Midsummer festivals are fun, too.

3) [wonders if nonsapient undead – and thus jiang shi and/or vampire watermelons – count as ‘objects’] A genuine trade-grade barbarian tea brick.

An ancient form of quasi-currency traded about by Eurasian nomads back when black tea was super-prestigious (my current obsession is Siberia, thanks partly to Sky Dog). Wikipedia will tell you more.

4) Expellyureathra – causes targets under area of effect to need to pee badly. Can disrupt entire military units, especially if aimed at COs.

Also useful for disrupting powderkeg civil situations, and practical jokes.

5) Gorse – resilience, fighting spirit

Many’s the time I’ve seen the yellow flags of gorse raised over deep snow, spears to the fore…

6) O Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad/The Tale of the Shifty Lad, the Widow’s Son/SKELETON  (Jubilare’s note: The first one is by M.R. James, the second is an old folktale and can be found here, and the third is by Ray Bradbury)


David:

Constellations, spells, symbolic plants and strange objects: Questions from Jubilare


And finally, my own answers:

 

An Exercise in Eccentricity


 

I keep thinking that I have missed someone. If so, I am sorry! It has been a while since I read most of the responses. Please let me know and I will add you to this post, because I want to be able to come back and find the responses, too.Again, thank you all!


Out of the Silence Comes Pumpkin Pie

Sorry for being so quiet, of late. Things have been things, and I haven’t had much inspiration.

 

However, given the nearness of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a recipe.

Phila Rawling Hach is a living friend of my late Grandfather, and a friend of my parents (I like her, too, but I’ve only met her twice). Her zest for life is greater than pretty much anyone else I have met. Phila loves to cook.

A few years back, the Nashville Retrospect, which is, by the way, a fascinating slice of Nashville history, dug up her pumpkin pie recipe from her cook book Kitchen Kollege.

I thought it looked tasty, and decided to try it. I will never make another kind of pumpkin pie again, if I can help it. The freshness of the flavor, the texture, everything about this pie is fantastic, so here we go:

 

Unbaked pie shell

1 cup raw, grated pumpkin

2 cups top milk (or half-and-half, if you must)

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp mace

3 well-beaten eggs

Beat together eggs, sugar, and spices until smooth. Add milk and pumpkin. Arrange unbaked pie crust in a pie plate, and fill with mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn the oven down to 325 and bake until firm. It will look lighter than most pumpkin pies, so test it with a toothpick.

 

Grating raw pumpkin by hand is a chore, so if you have a food-processor, you can do that, too. The important thing is to have a good pie-pumpkin, and to have the pumpkin raw when it goes into the pie. That way, all it’s lovely juices stay in the pie.

 


A Mistake to Run

Happy Halloween, folks!
This is a snippet that came to me a while back as I considered part-one of my WIP. Whether or not it will appear in the finished work, who knows! I changed the names because, well, I’m not sure, yet, whether or not I want this blog linked to the work itself. I am rather of a mind to finish my work, try and get it published, then be hands-off. But that is just how I feel now. Who knows how I will feel when, and if, the time comes?
Anyway, here it is!

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

The crickets were singing. Aubry lay awake, enjoying their rise and fall as if he would not hear it again for months. So late in the season, there was no telling when the first frost would cut them short.

One trilled in the corner of the cabin. A “thump” below told Aubry that ma or pa had thrown something at it. The inside-cricket was silent for a short time, then he started up again.

Aubry sighed. It was cozy under the thick quilt with his newly-adopted brother, Egan, curled up like a squirrel at his back. The small loft window stood open, letting a trickle of cool air move over his face.

Since the death of his last sister, years  back, he had forgotten what it was like to have a bedfellow. The extra warmth, the sound of soft breathing, and the occasional elbow or cold foot jabbed into his side were, at least for now, welcome things.

Sleep came smoothly, and dreaming too, like changes in the sky where gray becomes salmon and gold, then purple, then a luminous dark blue, and blue-black, swift yet gradual.

A chill crept into Aubry’s back, near his shoulder. He shifted, and felt something round and hard against him, cold, like a stoneware jug from the springhouse. He rolled away and turned to look.

What lay on the pallet beside him, where Egan should have been, was a gray, greasy-looking skeleton, still bound with shriveled strands of flesh. With a nearly silent, strangled cry, Aubry shuffled backwards until he was against the wall, next to the ladder. As he started to climb down, the corpse moved, rubbing at the remains of its face as if to wipe away sleep. It made a dull sound of bone on bone.

Aubry froze as it sat up, empty sockets turned to him. Moonlight from the window outlined the angles of its wagging jaw. He slid down the ladder and pulled it away from the loft before the thing could try and follow. His parents’ bed was empty.

At the door, he glanced back to the loft and saw the skeleton kneeling at the edge.

How lonesome.

The thought stung him unexpectedly, like the time he found Lily crying and realized that his teasing, along with the others, was the cause. But little Lily was pretty, when you really looked at her, and alive. The skeleton was cold and filthy, something that should be buried deep, or burned.

There had been a price to pay, learning to see Lily. He had gained a friend and a heartache, and found himself distanced from several of his oldest companions.

The skeleton clacked its jaws.

What’s the cost of this? To let it kill me?

     It had no tongue, or throat, or eyes for expression. Just a blank grin. Only the tilt of its skull and it’s shriveled hands gripping the edge of the loft gave it character. Was it saying “I want to get down and kill you” or “Are you going to leave me here alone?”

“What d’you want!” Aubry squeaked.

The corpse dropped down onto its creaking ribcage and reached out the remains of its hands.

Aubry stared at it, then fumbled for the door behind him and, opening it, ran out into the night.

The fort was as silent as a picture, full of gray and nothing. No wind, no crickets.

“Bear!” He called his dog, but nothing shuffled under the porch. Behind the closed door came a creaking, scraping sound.

With a groan, Aubry leaped off the porch and ran down the common.  Even his footfalls were swallowed into silence as he ran, but the scraping at his cabin door echoed out behind him.  He was scarce strong enough to open the main gate, even with the winch, so he made for the eastern one.

When he reached it, he paused to listen. There was nothing, no creak or clatter, just thick, congealed quiet.

In the dark, he fumbled for the latch and found it locked. He wrestled with it, fighting like a raccoon in a cage. The lock gave way and he burst through the gate into gray, silent fields.

He ran, and ran, past the pine grove, past Dorwich farm, down to the ford at High-bend creek.  There, at last, was sound, but it murmured defeat. The creek was up, too high to cross.

For the first and last time, he turned to look back.

There was nothing in sight.

Trees swayed, but did not rustle, grass moved in soft waves, but he could not hear the wind.

He realized, as he watched the empty fields, that running had been a mistake. The thing could now be anywhere, doing anything. He might live his whole life looking over his shoulder, wondering.

“Where’re you?! Come on out!”

Nothing. He backed away from the nearest tree, sat as close to the creek-bank as he dared, and tried to watch in all directions.

Then something grabbed and shook him. He lashed out, and someone caught his arm and smacked him across the face.

He startled awake. The waning moon was up and the shutters of the loft window were still open. He could see Egan kneeling beside him, holding his arm.

Aubry sat up, shivering, and rubbed his hands over his face. He looked over to see Egan’s crooked little smile.

“I get nightmares, too. Mostly that I’m still dyin in the shack and yall’re jus a dream.” He leaned towards the window and closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. “If that happens t’ be so, I’d rather die dreamin.”

“I…” the fright was too near for Aubry to put it into words. He managed only “I dreamed you’as dead.”  That’s right, ain’t it? It was Egan. It was Egan, and I ran from ‘im ‘stead of tryin to help. Some brother that makes me.

Egan blinked at him.

“Boys?” Pa rumbled from down below. “Hush and get sleepin.”

“Yessir,” said Aubry. He patted Egan’s bony shoulder and lay down. Egan curled up and rested his shaved head against Aubry’s back. It was round and solid, but warm.

As Aubry drifted off to sleep, a chill moved over him, and brought him full awake. It was just a passing feeling, perhaps a  final shred of that horrible dream.



If you want more, or something different, here is my favorite spooky poem: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/the-listeners/
and a spooky poem that I actually wrote: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/gothic-galatea/

And, for fun, this is “Lily,” once she’s all grown up and sich: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/voice-week-day-3/
One of the characters involved in this story eventually picks up a nightstick: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/mystifying/
And this story is neither mine, nor is it related to any of the above, but I think it is awesome and everyone ought to read it: http://bekindrewrite.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/flash-fiction-the-mysterious-case-of-the-marshmallow-mushroom-forest/
Enjoy!

Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.

In other words, everything is normal for the world.


It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


Put it to a vote

I am planning to post a few new mask pictures soon, but I am also wanting to post a creepy story snippet next month.

My problem is that I have more than one to consider.  So I have decided to consult you-all. Both are pieces of larger works, and so are not fully explained or resolved, but hopefully both are entertaining, and I certainly want feedback on both.

Option 1.  A short vampire-tale in a more classic-style and with a more medieval setting than usual. There is no mopey vampire wangst, and no sexy-vampire, just, hopefully, and undercurrent of creepy.

Option 2. A less-classic, more “New-World” based snippet that is also, hopefully, creepy. It is shorter and stranger than option 1, and not a monster-tale or ghost-story, exactly.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I do not aim to write horror. I don’t like blood and gore, and I don’t like things that leave me feeling frightened. I do, however, like stories that give me a creepy chill, or a feeling of suspense. It’s a fine line, and varies from person to person. Also, it is especially hard, I find, to judge where, in my own writing, the line falls. Finding that line is one of my current goals.

So, vote away! And if you want to vote for something else, I suppose that is fair, too, though I may not listen.


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

..

.

*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


That gun is loaded

Riza Hawkeye, from Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu.

Nothing like a sniper to teach one gun safety. Riza Hawkeye, from Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu.

Would you feel comfortable with someone waving around a gun they do not know is loaded? How do you feel about someone who is not a marksman doing trick shooting?

No, this is not a post about Gun Control or Firearm Safety, it is a post about writing.

No one in their right mind will deny the fact that stories humans tell have patterns. Some of these patterns, over time, become so common that they earn the title of “trope” or “cliché.”  You know some of them by sight, having seen them again and again. New ones appear every so often, Sometimes old ones go out of fashion, and sometimes they return and, for a little while, seem new again. Sometimes “new” tropes and clichés are actually old ones in disguise.

Let me pause a moment to define how I am using these terms:

Trope: a common or overused theme or device

Cliché: something that is so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it is no longer effective

A trope can be a cliché, but not every trope has to be. “Cliché” is what happens when that loaded trope misfires and a character, scene, or entire story dies to the reader’s interest because of it. I know you know the feeling.

That moment, in a movie, where that thing that always happens, happens and you groan inside. For that moment in the story, if not for the whole of it, the writers have lost you. You are back in reality and rolling your eyes at the choices made in creating the film.

The story lies bleeding. Maybe it’s just a fleshwound. Maybe it is fatal. Either way, it could have been avoided.

So the question becomes: How can we, as writers, practice acceptable trope-safety?

Step 1: Awareness

We are all inundated with tropes. Whether they would arise from our minds independently, or whether we are simply fed them from early childhood, they are in us. Chances are the first thoughts coming out of your head when you sit down to write, are tropes. In order to avoid any unpleasantness later on, you need to learn to recognize them, see them for what they are.

Step 2: Acceptance

I am of the opinion that tropes are neither good nor bad. I know people who struggle to avoid them altogether. The truth is, that is a trope in itself and often creates meaningless mush. Tropes exist, and continue to exist, because they serve purposes, and often serve them well. Fearing them is counter-productive. You will never be able to write anything meaningful by avoiding them completely. If you don’t believe me, spend some time wandering around tvtropes.org*. There is a trope for everything.

*Warning. This website will eat your time like a huge time-eating sarlacc.

Step 3: Education

So we cannot avoid tropes. What, then, should we do with them to prevent accidental story mutilation?

Before a firearm can be either safely used, or safely discarded (whatever your preference) the person who has it must know what it is and think about what they want to do with it. The key is education and thought. Learn to recognize tropes, decide not to fear them, and then be deliberate in how you use them. The difference between effective use of a trope and a trope-turned-cliché can be very slight.

This sounds vague, I know, but I cannot tell anyone how to use tropes because there are so many and I have no idea how any writer, other than myself, wants to use them. I think there are a few strategies, though.

a. Turn the trope a little. Don’t change it entirely, but tweak it (and make sure you know if the tweaked trope is also trope). Think of this like a feint. Your audience gets something just different enough from what they expected to cause them to look at it more closely.

b. Flip it. This one is pretty common, so be careful. It is usually referred to as an inverted trope. Princess saves knight can work quite well, but inverted tropes are tropes, too, and can become cliché or, worse, feel forced.

c. Play it straight. Be very intentional. Know what you are doing, and have a good reason why. It is a little safer to do with with less-common tropes, but sometimes it’s fun to go with the “well-worn.” Just try to avoid doing this by accident because purposeless tropes easily become boring or even annoying.

d. Subvert it. If there is a trope you really don’t like, consider using it to make a point against itself. This is the ultimate bait-and-switch of storytelling. I don’t particularly like this strategy, though it is sometimes very effective. Just be careful not to make war on straw.

e. Leave it. If the story will work just as well if you abandon the trope, or move to a less-expected one, then maybe you should do that. While tropes can be fundamental to plot or character, often times they are just trappings. Trappings can matter a lot, but not all are of equal worth.

f. Beware the implications of your tropes. This isn’t so much a strategy as very good advice. If you write about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, make sure you don’t miss the problematic undercurrents. Whether you play them straight or subvert them, being unaware of them can undermine whatever story you are trying to tell.

Ultimately, this post is me working through these questions for myself. I value input, and if this post has helped make you more aware of tropes, or helped you see new ways of dealing with them, then I am glad. Many times have I seen a perfectly good story or character fall prey to careless trope-use. If I can see it less in my own work, and less in the work of others, I will be very happy.

Do your part to reduce story mortality!

Practice Trope Safety:

Awareness, Acceptance, and Education.

.

I would like to dedicate this to BeKindRewrite. I promised her, long ago, that I would write this post.  She has written many good articles on this kind of thing, too. For starters, check this out: How to Be Original

Riza Hawkeye from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by She's awesome with handguns, too. Riza Hawkeye from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Arakawa Hiromu.

She’s awesome with handguns, too. Riza Hawkeye from the anime “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Arakawa Hiromu.


N. T. Wright: “The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them”

This blog is hit or miss for me (though always interesting) but this quote is a definite “hit.”

Dover Beach

N. T. Wright

“The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
– N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture

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