Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holy Serendipity

If there ever is a reason to flaunt the word serendipity this is it. Thursday I went to my critique group and read a scene from my dark fairy tale that takes place within a labyrinth. The maze I described was complex, and my partners asked if I could draw it. “Yikes,” was my first thought.
Friday dawned clear and warm. I headed out for a long beach walk, musing on how I was going to tackle a maze drawing not being a) an artist, b) a puzzle-maker, c) a farmer with a corn field.
As I walked under the pier, I noticed a young woman ahead making a large drawing in the damp sand. Beyond her, a young man was doing the same. There were more than a dozen people busy making circular designs. They were drawing labyrinths!
Spooky music? Celestial horns? Drum roll? I mean, this is pretty serendipitous, is it not?

So I approached the girl and asked if they were in a club or something that likes to draw mazes. I mean, there are clubs for everything, right?

But, no, they’re students in an architecture class being taught by Ben Nicholson of the Art Institute of Chicago.

And Mr. Nicholson is so nice he invited me to hang around with them. We even all held hands in a big circle—but I’m getting ahead of myself.



First thing I learned was to begin a labyrinth with a cross. (see illustration)

Then you put L-shapes and dots in each quadrant. After that it gets tricky. Lines are drawn from an end of the cross or L or dot to a point in another quadrant, thus creating the pathways. I practiced a lot. Sand is forgiving, but I won’t be earning a degree in labyrinth making any time soon.

Mr. Nicholson talked about the perfection of a beach as a drawing surface, how the horizon is wide and can be used to set horizontal lines, how a penny can be dropped in the sand as a radius to the center of the earth. “On the beach you have, natively, the axis to the world,” he said. And, it suddenly felt very momentous standing there in one of my favorite places.
And then he did one of my favorite things, he told an ancient Greek story about shipwrecked sailors who swim to shore and see geometric drawings and conclude that means they’ve found civilization.

Oh, and then there was the hand-holding. We stood in a large circle, arms stretched wide so our hands strained against one another and walked around and around and around, always keeping eye contact with the person directly across the circle. This led to giggles since there was a dizzying strenuousness to it. After our tramping feet had made the widest circle our group could make in the sand, we squished forward into a tight knot and gave it a bulls-eye. “Any group can make the largest circle and the smallest. Where’s the sun’s axis?” Using his own shadow he drew it in.
One of the things I liked most about stumbling into this class were Mr. Nicholson’s prompts for observation. He may be teaching students about architecture but anyone can benefit from being aware of surroundings. Notice how the sun changes its place in the sky by hour and by season, how its light falls differently on familiar objects, how you can ascertain direction if you know where it will be on the horizon.
Not only did I learn useful real world stuff, I got a few ideas for my characters and story from this encounter. Serendipity is a wondrous thing.
Now back to practicing maze-drawing… I've a long way to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Weather changed from living inside a gray cloud to nothing but blue skies today. So fine. Walked twice and became transfixed by patterns in the sand. Low, low tide. Watermarked shore.


A Lilliputian

estuary--languid tide

trickling back to sea



I see giant squid. Or some sea monster imprinted in the sand. Temporary fossils.


Tomorrow I travel many miles to spend an afternoon with some fabulous critique partners. I've got my pages and can't wait to hear theirs. Finding crit partners who both encourage you and push you to climb a little higher, stretch a bit more is one of the best things a writer can do.

I've written more than 68k on the fairy tale I've been working on all year. Closing in on the end and still in love with this story.

I hope you're all finding wonders outside your doors and inside your heads like me. *silly grin*

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I've been stolen by water horses

Maggie Stiefvater made me cry. When I came to the ending of THE SCORPIO RACES I had a lump in my throat big as an island of chalk cliffs against black water, painful as the loss of a beloved. And it was the satisfying ache of a story well told, of characters one cares about after the book is closed.
I had thoroughly enjoyed her five earlier books (the Lament fairy stories and the Shiver werewolf tales), but THE SCORPIO RACES is her masterpiece, carved out of myth and painted with blood.
She has explained what it took for her to write this story after many years of trying and not finding it. I think you’re best served to read her words on that. And if you haven’t seen her trailer for which she did both animation and music, do yourself a favor and track it down. Actually, here's a link to both.
Her book proves that she was as ready now to take on this tale as her protagonist Kate “Puck” Connolly and her mare Dove are to face the savage, killer water horses in the deadliest race ever devised.
I kept thinking as I read this how fleshed out and achingly real her characters are, how grounded and alluring the sense of place, how authentic and thrilling the equine detail. And how seductive and terrifying are the water horses.
When my heart wasn’t in my throat it was lost to this wild place.
The story is told first person from Puck’s POV and from that of Sean Kendrick, a young man who loves horses but most of all his water horse, Corr, and what that love costs him.
Here are some writing samples to give you a feel for the atmosphere and thrill of this book:
The wind is sucking the sound away from me, so as I approach the scene, it seems as if the men are voiceless. The struggle is almost artful, until you get up to it. It’s four men, and they’ve snagged a gray water horse around its neck and by the pastern on one of its hind legs, right above the hoof. They tug and they jump back as the horse lunges and retreats, but they are in a bad place and they know it.
And this:
The water shifts, black then gray-blue then black again, the froth of a white ruffled collar, and then, out of the froth, we all see it. A dark horse’s head surges above the water, jaw wide open. And then, before the sea swallows the first, we see a chestnut mare break the surface, along with a brief glimpse of a brown spine curving in the water alongside it. Then they’re all gone beneath the water and I have goose bumps creeping up my arms.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Haiku by the sea

I'm in musing mode. So here are a few haiku that washed up in the shore of my mind or whatever.


next to me a clunk

along the deserted strand,

airborne gull dropped a clam


tiny periscopes,

those black cormorants fishing

in the tidal wash




so fast the sand crab

scuttles into the jetty,

was he there at all?


sanderlings skitter

like a flock of wind-up toys

from the rushing wave


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food, what is it good for?

Are we at war with our food or what? Listeria in cantaloupes and cheese. E-coli in lettuce and beef. Salmonella in eggs and chicken.

The world has come a long way in fighting disease and pests, but we’ve also created new problems. Our reliance on mega-agriculture where crops on grown on a huge scale with mechanized production and long haul transportation increases time from farm to table and may allow some bacteria to multiply and spread.

Pesticides and herbicides have led to resistant weeds and insects that then lead to a new spiral of poisons. Are you really at ease eating animals treated with growth hormones and antibiotics? It’s a common practice.

Since this year’s Blog Action Day is all about food, I thought I’d post some things ordinary people might do to make the world a better place.

I prefer not to politicize this blog or make choices for readers who have differing views on social action. For some people it will make sense to protest the corporate nature of today’s farming. For others, a donation to an international aid organization fighting famine will be right.


But what I’m going to suggest are things everyone can do without regard to political or social views:
If you have a garden or even a planter box grow some of your own food.
Frequent your local farmer’s market, thus supporting small-scale farmers.
Buy organically-grown if you can afford to.
Check your supermarket for locally-grown produce, which has been increasing in several stores I shop at. Ask you supermarket to start the practice if they haven’t. What this does is support smaller farms, cut down time to table and decrease use of fossil fuel to transport.
The cost of naturally-grown meat or hormone-free milk can be high, but I’ve found I can buy it often by keeping an eye out for sales. They are pretty frequent.

This may sound simplistic, but if a lot of people take small steps, they add up to leaps forward.
End of soap box probably until Earth Day when I’m compelled to remind everyone to keep our home planet clean and safe.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A sky of stars for Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Like Mandarin

I recently gave five stars on Goodreads to two very different books, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE and LIKE MANDARIN. Both are gorgeously written and have characters and stories that have substance and linger in my memory so that I want to talk about them here, too.

I’d read Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch (a National Book Award finalist) and Dreamdark books and been enchanted. But now they feel like an overture for the magnificent symphony that is DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. Ms. Taylor has brought it all to this work—unforgettable characters, gripping storytelling with surprising twists, depth of meaning and lyric, yet biting, style. (Example: His memories were knives, and he was not pleased to have them turned against him.)
I don’t even know where to begin, because I remain stunned by so many things in this story. The quirky main character, Karou, has a mysterious past, and her strange family deals in secrets she can only guess at. Taylor’s storytelling is like a trail of bread crumbs that lead us slowly, skillfully to the astonishing answers.
In a way, this is Romeo and Juliet among angels and demons, but it’s so much more than that. Taylor pits bigotry, hatred and war against hope, tolerance and love. And she does it all within richly-detailed human and fantastical worlds. I was both grounded and enchanted by her descriptions of places from the souks of Marrakesh and streets of Prague to the land of the chimaera.
My heart was ripped out at the end, but I don’t want to give much away, because I really hope you’ll all read this one. I can’t wait for its sequel.
Here’s a taste of the writing style:
A thrill along every nerve ending. Her body, alert and alive. She was hunted, she was prey, and she didn’t even have her knife tucked in her boot, little thinking she’d need it on a visit to the graverobber.
And this:
He stood revealed. The blade of his long sword gleamed white from the incandescence of his wings—vast shimmering wings, their reach so great they swept the walls on either side of the alley, each feather like the wind-tugged lick of a candle flame.



LIKE MANDARIN is a contemporary YA debut by Kirsten Hubbard that I wish I’d read even sooner. It was released in March.
The Wyoming badlands are as much a character in this story as Grace or Mandarin--two teenagers who seem as opposite as day and night. This rocky, windswept landscape interrupted by barbed wire fences and small towns is a place with wide vistas but narrow viewpoints, where people like what's known and distrust what's new. I really like that Ms. Hubbard brings such authenticity to this contemporary YA story. These characters make bad choices and big mistakes but they help each other find what they're really looking for and, hopefully, change the course of their lives. This is a story that sticks to you for all the right reasons. Some beautiful writing, too.
Here's a sample of a badlands moment:
I'd wandered through the Washokey Badlands Basin so many times I'd memorized the feeling. The forlorn boom of wind. A sky big enough to scare an atheist into prayer. No wonder cowboys sang about being lonesome.


Have you read them? Did they touch you, too?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Soft and sweet

steady showers--just

me and falling pink lanterns

from golden rain trees



Been gone a few days. Had a lovely, rain walk.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The sky was showing

What a showy, showy night! A bit of thunder to startle the senses. Stark white and soot black clouds blowing through in late afternoon, leaving behind the kind of sky and air that makes you crackle with anticipation and wonder.

The sky was showing it's glory and using its voice to get everyone's attention.

I believe these folks were celebrating Rosh Hashanah, tossing bread into the sea and drawing some enthusiastic sea gulls.

I'm not Jewish but my understanding is this New Year ritual is a spiritual wake-up call, a time to cast-off the bad and savor the sweet. The evening before I heard a sonorous note being blown and saw a man with a long, curved ram's horn raised to the sky. He was surrounded by at least a hundred people who had probably made the trek to the shore from a temple.

Earlier on my walk I came upon these silver strands of sea water, slowing ebbing and flowing.

When the tide is this low, it almost feels you can walk upon the water, venturing to places normally submerged, secret and silent to us.


Like these starfish I found on a bared jetty.


A photographer is the last to fold up his tripod and call it a day as the sun's rosy glow faded to gray, leaving us all with a sense of wonder and renewal.

*Do you ever feel renewed, cleansed by passing storms--be they external or internal? Life can be so hard, but those chances to start afresh come around again and again.

P.S. This being Banned Books Week, I just read one of the best anecdotes on the value of all books on Jemi Fraser's blog. Check it out!