Happy Holidays

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I looked everywhere for a comprehensive list of holidays celebrated at this time of year. I wanted to list them all in their languages, but the task proved beyond my skill. So, in my own words, I wish everyone wherever you are in the world a heartfelt season of joy and love, and a new year brimming with kindness, compassion, and peace.

we are each authors
of the world’s love and kindness
be the words of peace

I’ll be taking a short break to spend time with Tornado Boy, family and friends. See you 2017!

Love, Diana ❤

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The Terrible Night Before Christmas

This tale started circulating again and I thought I might as well repost. Tis the season, after all. A Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Myths of the Mirror

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This story won a Kellan Publishing challenge in Dec. 2014. It had to fall between 1000-1500 words, and use the following words/phrases: Santa Claus, Popcorn, Photo Album, Black Cat, Train, Slide, Police, Sled, Typewriter, Horn, Alarm, Church, Glue, Bow, Fire, Dragon.

The Terrible Night before Christmas

The whole escapade started with the black cat. Santa leaned forward in his rickety office chair, puffing on his stumpy pipe and wreathing his head in smoke. He pecked with two chubby fingers at his typewriter, finishing a last letter to a second-grader in the Bronx. The kid was bound for disappointment this year, the result of a spectacular imagination and a dose of new-fangled animation that left make-believe characters appearing plausible. A challenge for the elves who prided themselves on unabashed creativity.

Dear Chuck,

I hope you enjoy the train set, hand-carved by a master elf in my workshop. I realize you requested a live…

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The Hunt

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This is a 500-word stand-alone flash piece. I hope you enjoy.

The Hunt

I found the woman that Kester shot, stiff and snow-dusted beneath a fir. Other footprints head north, the white glaze of ice crunching as we track them in our heavy boots. This is my first hunt, my first war, old enough now to join the rebellion and execute my neighbors. Better than a bullet in the back, Kester says. You have to pick sides in these things.

“We’re stopping for the night.” Kester kicks the snow and points at the trees with his rifle. “You’re in charge of wood, Grayse. The rest of you set up camp.” I stare into the black forest beyond the body, my eyeballs stinging, toes gone numb hours ago. “Get going,” he barks at me. “I’m gods-damn freezing.”

My rifle abandoned, I trudge into the winter barrens beneath a star-spilled sky. The trees are giants wearing snow-draped robes, yet their crisp twigs and dead branches snap like small bones. I fill my arms, tramp back, and head out for more. Kester will nod when it’s enough, so there’s no point in asking.

Worried about losing my way, I follow the tracks while gathering my sticks, and the trek is easier where the snow’s crust was broken. Before I’ve hiked far, the trees thin and part, and at the forest’s edge, the night burns in a fire-show of light, rippling in hues of topaz and tourmaline.

Beneath the sky’s blazing ribbons, a village winks into existence, candles glowing in frosted windowpanes. I blink and rub my eyes with frozen fingers. Across the pale snow, I behold my countrymen staggering, stiffly, colder than death, lurching like disjointed corpses toward salvation. Their skeletal shadows stretch in the holy light back to me.

“Grayse! Graaaaayse,” Kester bellows from the forest, searching, my absence too long. “Graaaayse.”

In a panic, I run toward the village. I don’t know why. Do I seek its snug hearths or the promise of golden windows beneath a child’s magical sky? Or do I flee my future? Am I a weapon of the soulless, a beast in a child’s skin, killing my victims in the cold? Before me, the hunted weep and fall as they flee. I grab a man who pleads on his knees and hoist him up. Arm in arm, we stumble through the deep snow before the calls of my pursuers.

The last to reach the village, the man staggers through an open door and turns, beckoning me inside. I want to join him in the warmth and light. Instead, I draw my knife and face the skylit snow and black rim of forest.

“What the hell, Grayse?” Kester demands as my unit tramps toward me across the barrens.

“I was…” Despairing, I glance back before attempting to explain the village, to defend my actions, but behind me, nothing more than the night’s aurora ripples over the snow. “I was…lost.”

Kester smacks me across the face. “Run off out here, you get lost forever.”

“No,” I murmur. “You get found.”

 

Flickr Image: Northern Lights, Yukon, Canada www.studiolit.com

250 Words per Hour

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Not long ago, my muse gave me an ultimatum (here) – Write or Else!

So I’ve been writing, keeping up my end of the bargain and then some, writing 6-10 hours a day, 5 days a week. I start at 5 a.m. and write until about 3. Then 3-4 hours of blogging. It’s been a challenge especially when the holidays started revving up.

For me, writing that many hours means letting other things slide like getting dressed, showering, brushing teeth, eating, cooking, laundry, holiday shopping, dishes, and vacuuming. Coffee is about all that gets accomplished with religious fervency.

This morning, a couple of people stopped by unexpectedly to have me sign some paperwork (our area is getting high-speed internet in 2017!). We stood outside in the sleet because I just couldn’t bear to usher them into my disaster area. When I went back inside, I walked by a mirror and noticed that my clothes were on backwards and inside out. Seams showing and the tag of my shirt flapping at my throat like a teeny white necktie. Ha ha. Yeesh.

But I also finished the first draft of the fourth book in my next series. I write about 250 words per hour. A first draft takes me about 400 hours. Subsequent drafts, maybe another 400 for a total of 800 hours per book. Four books? That’s about 3,200 hours.

Now really? Tell me. What writer has time to worry about whether her clothes are on front forward and right-side out? What do you let slide?

Cracked Ice #writephoto

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Flight of Faith

When I was a child, I could fly
you and I hopped in dirt-road afternoons
faithful
and the dust-wind flung us over seas of wheat
scuffed shoes skimming the feathered awns
we whipped around the corners of the barn
in a home-sewn world of farm-hewn hands
our secret futures soared

In the veins of my hands
the blue brooks of time stream by
Somewhere on the way, I unlearned how to fly
and trod worn paths through autumn’s lea
snapped night’s brittle ice
shards of fractured faith
glinting in my wake

Today’s morning purls in plumrose
cast on a withering season’s stark debris
spangled with winter’s gilded rime
a new path of violet ice wends to the horizon
fragile, fissured, a wish yet unbroken
my secret future soars
faithful
and I wonder if I might fly
one last time

 

This attempt at poetry was in response to Sue Vincent’s weekly photo prompt. Check out other submissions on The Daily Echo and maybe try the next one! Thank you, Sue. ❤

Creating Rich Characters – Prompts

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While my days are spent grinding out my WIP, I thought I’d share an old post about writing character bios, specifically about using prompts to expedite the process.

The prompt-list below looks more complicated than it is (a result of explanations and examples). For some prompts, a word or two is sufficient, while others require some contemplation. Unsurprisingly, I force my main characters to endure the entire process; incidental players get a pass with a mere smattering of details, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Ultimately, I believe that this pre-work pays off, not only in rich characters. To me, the process of writing flows with greater ease. My characters are immensely cooperative in telling their own stories when they know who they are.

The External Character

woman-1801830_640Physical Description: Appearance goes without saying, but add at least one remarkable feature: glass eye, cleft chin, crooked teeth, chewed nails, scars, moles, beady eyes, or rumbling voice. Remember, even beautiful people are imperfect.

Gestures, Mannerisms:  A distinguishing physical habit not only defines a character but makes him memorable. A character may habitually pick his teeth, clear his throat, rub his jaw, trace an old scar, purse his lips, fidget with a button, wink, spit, raise one eyebrow, stroke a beard, belch…

Quirk: A distinctive behavior that goes beyond a gesture: Won’t eat anything green, corrects improper speech, loves bad puns, doesn’t like to be touched, is afraid of heights, always misses the bus. There are numerous lists of quirks on the web.

Attribute, Trait: People have a blend of traits. Pick one or two for your character that stand out. Maybe she’s stubborn, lucky, picky, impatient, naïve, or flippant. Lists of attributes are also readily available on the web.

Skills, Abilities, and Interests: No real person is great at everything, and neither is your well-rounded character. Does your character have an education or special training? In what skills does he excel? Where is he lacking? What does your character do for a living? What does he do during down time?

Mix it Up: People are multi-dimensional. Villains can have redeemable qualities. They may rescue animals, love old movies, grow roses, or play chess in the park. Likewise, heroes have their flaws. They drink too much, have hot tempers, always run late, get easily flustered, or are slobs.

Don’t Overdo It: Creating a one-eyed, belly-scratching, kind-hearted, hypochondriac swordsmen with a penchant for chocolate is fun, but most characters will require much more subtlety.

The Internal Character

woman-1596954_960_720Backstory: Each character has a formative life that shaped him. What was the character’s childhood like? How strong were/are his family ties? Where are his parents and/or siblings? What significant event of the past shaped who the character is today? What was the character doing before the first page opened?

Secrets: A secret impacts a character’s attitudes and behaviors. It adds interest to the story because it can create tension or mystery in interpersonal dynamics. What is the character’s secret that no one else knows?

Goals: What does your character desperately desire? A protagonist’s overarching goal will often drive the story, and conflicting goals between characters may be a major source of tension. Consider that the main characters will have goals related not only to the main plot but to subplots.

Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the character reaching her goal. This may be a nemesis, a personal flaw, or a condition of the culture or world. Remember that villains aren’t the only ones that can stand in a character’s way. Obstacles can be large and small and there are usually lots of them in the protagonist’s path.

Active Pursuit of Goals: At some point in the story, the character moves into an active role in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. What triggers the change for the character? How does the character take or attempt to take active control?

posing-1022162_640The Big Fear: This is the one that terrifies – betrayal, loss of control, inability to protect loved ones, failure, death, aloneness, disgrace, insignificance, poverty, aging. It may drive the character’s goal or be an obstacle he must overcome. Fears have a basis in experience – where did this fear come from?

The Mask: A character’s mask is directly related to his fear. The mask describes how a character compensates for the Big Fear, or hides it from the world. For example, a character fearful of betrayal, may act overly independent or refuse to get close to others. Often the mask comes undone during the course of a story and the character is forced to face and perhaps overcome her fear.

Cross-Character Relationships: Another way to add interest and tension is by creating similarities between conflicting characters, and differences between companionable characters. What might the protagonist and villain have in common? Perhaps they both love horses, appreciate fine wines, or fear water. Along the same lines, how might the protagonist and his cohorts clash? One curses constantly and the other finds it offensive; one might play an instrument poorly while his companions cover their ears.

There you have it – my prompts. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if there’s something I missed!

 

**Images from Pixabay**