Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not So Fictional Fiction "A Little Help From My Friends"

Yesterday, while at a book signing event hosted by my friends at the Purple Cow bookstore, I had the privilege of  spending a couple of hours speaking to, and fielding questions from a small group of reading enthusiasts.  The setting was intimate and very comfortable, which made for easy conversation and a terrific time.
     Of all in the audience, one young teen, a girl named Kelanie, very politely stole the show with her probing and very intuitive questions.  I loved that she was so eager to learn, and unabashedly laid herself out there in order to satisfy the passion driving her need for creative expression.
     The usual questions all came, "what was your inspiration to become a writer?", "is your writing biographical?",  "could you tell us something about yourself?", all questions I enjoy answering as often as opportunity allows, but then miss Kelanie offered up something that came from deep inside her own struggles as an aspiring writer.
     "I've tried to write more than a dozen books, but have been unable to complete them," she said, "...but I always reach a point where my story loses steam and I just can't find a way to keep it going.  Does that happen to you?  If so, how do you get past it?"

     Wow!  This is why I love to speak with students! Young people are so fresh, open and eager that it makes for perhaps the greatest reward of my whole writing experience.  My mind immediately went to my own first attempts to begin "Search For Yesterday" and the innocent mistakes that contributed to early failures to complete it.
     "Can you describe to me your main character Kelanie?" I asked.
     "Well," she replied a little bit shy, "...sort of just, ...me, I guess."

     Not yet fifteen, Kelanie had run into the exact problem I had as a teen.  With only minuscule life experience to draw from in attempting to create a main character, we both found ourselves languishing in the frustrating realization of how "not interesting" we really seem when standing all by ourselves. Actually, I have confidence that she is every bit interesting enough, however, the key error in both of our dilemmas was and is, thinking we are compelling enough figures to drive and sustain the story by ourselves.
     Early on in "Search For Yesterday" Kid, finding himself completely alone takes comfort in just having his own voice for company.  However, as he passes through the monotonous minutes and hours of the days that follow, his voice alone cannot console him and his need, like ours, for outside contact becomes critical for his survival. In my original manuscript, Kid's story became  nearly unbearable to read, for with his gloomy situation alone to dwell on page after page, most readers would say enough and look elsewhere for their entertainment.  It wasn't until he finally encountered the Halliday family and began to live again, that he became an enjoyable character, and I discovered my mistake. 
     By themselves, even super heroes would be boring, so why should I think that a character based on me at the ripe old age of fifteen could possibly be any different.  As sympathetic as Kid's situation was, to become compelling, lovable, relatable, he had to have contrasting personalities who he could love, relate to, and be loved or hated by, to interact with.
     This discovery prompted me to go back and write in encounters with a baby deer, birds, squirrels, and eventually a hound puppy to fill the void, quietly reminding the reader in those early pages, that even amidst Kid's despair, normal life still existed all around him, and that hope of his own life returning to him wasn't unthinkable.
     In answering Kenanie's questions, I simply reminded her that if she wanted her artistic expressions to imitate and feel like real life, then all of the surrounding contributors and characters in her life, good and bad, dull and intriguing, happy and sad have to be not only present, but prominent in her story development as well.  With their inclusion, she as a main character will surely be interesting and compelling enough to carry any story to her desired end.  Good Luck Kelanie, you were an inspiration to me, and I'm sure you will be the same to many as you strive to reach your goals.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Stuff That Fills The Senses

Thunder clapped ahead, amid building breakers, natures not so subtle hint that caution might be in order as we made our way upward along the mountain trail. From perfect calm and cloudless skys less than an hour earlier, a storm had suddenly exploded into a tumultuous disturbance in the higher elevations, blasting ahead of it, misty gusts of rich mountain air.  Sweet smells of rain moistened trees, wild flowers and grass filled the air flowing to us from the hidden vallies that lay beyond our view. 
     "Think it'll turn?" I asked my son Kent, who rode along side me on his brown and white paint, aptly named "Hidalgo" after a similar horse from a western movie of a dozen years back.
     "Figure we're about to get wet," came his reply, his wide grin an obvious give away of his lack of concern. Frisco, my own horse, a big black Morgan, pricked his ears, lifting his head into the stiff gusts with nostrils flared wide to take in the new smells as he danced uncertainly on.  I leaned forward, whispering gently and patting him reassuringly on his huge neck. His ears flicked back for a moment and then returned to the front, his powerful legs eating up the steep grind that marked the last of our climb.
   Emerging high above the valley, we stopped to let the horses rest a minute before moving on.
     "Sure does suck living in such an ugly place," Kent mumbled.  Noting his sarcasm, I took in the sprawling landscape, marveling at the grandeur and vast beauty surrounding the valley where we live.
     "Yeah," I agreed, "...I hate it too."  Kissing to Frisco, I turned him away from the threatening clouds onto the ancient Bonneville shore line trail leading south against the steep mountain side.  Suddenly, abundantly aware of how small we were in contrast with the majesty fore and aft , we rode silently, ...reverently on. 
     Words can't adequately describe the powerful affect nature has on me.  I feel most humble in even trying, but since my boyhood years, growing through adolescence and on through adulthood, such places, as the one in which my son and I found ourselves watching the setting sun, are where I have frequently found communion with my Heavenly Father.  It was truly inspiring.
     The clatter of sliding shale burst our stillness, Frisco's head and eyes instantly directing our attention to a young buck in velvet on his way to higher ground.  Two does immediately joined him and all three turned to watch us before moving farther away.  Less than a dozen steps farther along the trail, a lone chucker burst up from the grass, then another and another.  Suddenly the ground seemed to rise up in front of us as numbers exceeding fifty exploded from almost beneath our horses hooves, filling the twilight sky momentarily before diving quickly back down the steep slope and out of sight.
    "My gosh, this place is awesome!" Kent whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.  Doubtless he felt to a large degree something equal to my own sentiment, as he and I, for his whole young life, have frequently enjoyed such places together.
 For a long time we lingered at trail's end, watching with intent awe as the sun dipped behind the western mountains and into the desert beyond.  Deep red and orange streaked the darkening sky, spraying the sun's spectacular exit toward us as an invitation home.


  "This is the stuff," I said back, turning Frisco for home.  Just then off to my right several yards, a large rattler joined the symphonic moment, finishing off the dazzling display that had filled our senses as if an unseen baton waving directer had given his cue.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Up Or Down?

Faith, Hope, and Charity right? Aren't we taught that these are the three most essential and important virtues in life? Their mortal enemy "Fear" would have something to say about that, sucking if possible, their healing tonic out of our hearts before we ever have the chance to feel the affect.
     "We have hope!"  my good friend and brother in law Chad whispered as I entered his home a week ago to check on my dying sister.  Intent on being supportive and positive, I remained quiet, my inquisitive expression begging him to explain, fearing my voice might betray me, revealing the flood of confliction that immediately coursed through my head.
     "A friend referred us to a Doctor who for his whole career has been researching and experimenting in hopes of finding a cure for cancer, and so, since our only other option is to wait for Jo to die, we went to see him hoping he might be able to help her." 
     I've heard hundred of such stories over the years of my life, few ending well, but seeing the look in Chad's eyes, and knowing that precious little time remained for JoLyn, I immediately jumped onto his hopeful wagon and tried not to think of the "what ifs".  The difficulty, however, has come in the days that followed, as I've had time to lay in my bed at night and think, or as I've allowed myself to fully embrace the thought of a possible recovery, only to have fear cut through me, gutting my budding hope, and in the end leaving me empty and conflicted.  How it is possible to feel anything other than pure elation over a possible positive outcome, I haven't a clue, but the revolving confliction of emotions is enough to make me want to scream.
     Today, more than a week later, JoLyn is still with us, complete with her awareness which at the beginning of her last ditch decision to battle longer, had already begun to leave due her liver failure.  She is in every possible way, battling from one second to the next to remain with her family, and it is her courage and unwavering resolve that gives me the strength to hope with her for a miracle.  The other day while visiting, I found myself alone with her for about an hour, a rare opportunity these days, and one that had not presented itself to me since she fell ill.  I loved the time, brief though it was, to sit with her and share in some one on one sibling love.  We talked about things, some heavy, but also others not so much, and in our time gained a level of closure ensuring us that, come what may, we will be well enough off together or apart.
     What an incredible blessing, and one that I am so thankful to have received.  So often we find ourselves feeling alone and forgotten in our tumultuous lives, and we forget that God is over all, seeing, knowing, and feeling even our most subtle concerns.  "Fear not, and know that I am God," He said, and after my repeated confliction, not knowing if I was up, or down, and fluctuating between sensations multiple times over in a day, I am truly happy to feel him near, to know that regardless of the outcome, he will still be near me to bear me up.
     Happiness is life's greatest oxymoron.  If we hope to experience its euphoric peaks of joy, we must first be willing to travel its deep vallies of sorrow.  I love my life, my beautiful Marianne, each of our children.  This week we have been graced by the company of our first grand baby Jordyn, a priceless treat for sure, and as I find myself languishing at times in unmeasurable sorrow, though seemingly impossible, I am also floating with the clouds. 
     Thanks be to God, for my life is truly a blessed moment in eternity.