The eclipse

Today there will be a solar eclipse. All the world plans to watch the moon show off her goods. Or at least in my neck of the woods. The ones that have them will put on their special glasses and go outside and watch as the sun and the moon do their little dance.

Let’s hope that people do what they’ve been told. But who knows? Some might get headaches. Others might develop a fever. Blood pressure might rise. I’m not a pessimist but it could happen. Then the show would be a real downer.

Am I scared? Not really. I’m sure it’s going to be some kind of show.

Now if this were a science fiction movie, that would be a different story. Extra-terrestrials might land and try to take over the planet. It has been known to happen. Remember the pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. I’m just saying.

Writer’s Block?

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. –Jorge Luis Borges.

It’s a real beach, that devil of a writer’s block. A real hot beach. I can’t go for a swim to get the sand out of my drawers and cool down. There are sharks in the ocean. Jelly fish scattered around me. Those darn jellies and their sting stop me. There is no way off this beach and out of the sun. I’d say that sums up my version of writer’s block. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

Instead of a beach, it might be a snow storm. Or out on a desert dune and no oasis. Or stuck in an elevator that won’t go up or down. There isn’t an easy out. It’s always a beach when a work-in-progress falls on my head.

The characters, especially Miss Main, are not letting me in on their inner lives and their secrets. In one way or another, characters I’ve befriended, fallen in love with, have shut down my story.They are leaving the party with no explanation. All the struggle in the world won’t get them back to the Yellow Brick Road and on their way to the Emerald City. No amount of alchemy will return Dorothy to Kansas. You see, it’s not their story.

So how do I get myself off the beach? Through the snow storm? How can I find that oasis? Certainly not by gritting my teeth and grunting my way forward. Those jelly stings hurt like hell and I am not fond of shark bite.

Of course, I could take a helicopter lift off the beach and be done with the whole damned mess. But abandoning Story is not an option. If I abandon her, she dies, never to live again. No other creator can breathe life back into her.

The only way off this beach of writer’s block is to let go. To trust Story, when she is ready, to reach for my hand, to squeeze it softly, then lead me out of the darkness and into the sunshine. Trusting Story means I have to sit myself down and write first draft crap. Complete garbage though it is, this is only the Lewis and Clark part of the journey. Laying down a beautiful, scenic highway comes later.

Does this work every time? Does this work for every writer? I’ve lost enough stories to know that the answer is probably no. All I can do is try and write that first draft crap. Once that draft is done, there’ll be another and another until a final, polished manuscript is ready for the world. If I don’t do this, I will have the death of more stories on my conscience. Then I have failed not only my stories. I have failed myself.

So what do I do to get back on track with Story.

Pre-writing Exercises

I have a couple of morning exercises I practice.I am not always able to do them, but I do try. Been doing them a couple of years. I wake up thirty minutes before my day begins. I make myself a cup of coffee. Then I sit myself down, draw a card from my tarot deck or randomly choose a hexagram from the I Ching or open up a book of photographs or paintings. The chosen image is a prompt. Inspired by this image, I free write 50-250 words of a scene, a reflection, a short essay or a prose poem.

Next comes a Copy Exercise. I copy 250 words or so from the work of a writer I admire. It might be a short story, the chapter of a novel, or an essay. Once I complete that work, I try a different writer. Over the past two years, I have copied Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Alice Munro, Yasunari Kawabata, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and P. D. James. In case you wonder why the rotating writers. It’s so I won’t start imitating one writer or another.

Both these exercises loosen my mind and get my subconscious going. They let it know that I am available. As a bonus, the prompt exercise occasionally gives me a blog post.

Some Suggested Techniques

Creating can be scary and hard. Often our subconscious will prevent us from going boldly where no writer has gone before. Over the years I’ve used a number of techniques that have helped.

QUIT TRYING TO MAKE PERFECT: Give yourself a break. You are human. Nobody gets it right the first draft. That novel, story or blog post you admire so much may have taken the author twenty, thirty, forty drafts before it was ready for primetime.

MOST OF ALL: To get the imagination going, simply to Be Available.

FREE WRITE: Free write for five minutes as fast as you can, beginning with the sentence: I am afraid to write this story because…

THE FRIEND: If you are writing a novel or short story, think of your Main Character as a Friend you are getting to know well. Ask yourself what it would take for you to abandon a friend. Has this occurred with MC?

THE HEMINGWAY: Hemingway stopped in mid-sentence at the end of a day’s writing session. The next writing session he picked up that the sentence where he laid it down and wrote his five hundred words for that day.

PROMPTS: For each of my three nanowrimos, I used a visual prompt for each day’s work. I pulled up my day’s image, then asked how the image related to my characters and their story. It gets funny when my characters reside in Bithlo, Florida, and the picture is of the Eiffel Tower or New York City. Sometimes I have to stretch but it’s okay. The wine on their table was produced in France.

THE ELMORE LEONARD: Get the characters talking. Elmore Leonard once said, that when a character quit talking, he killed them off. I find murdering a character a little extreme. Then you have bad character karma and that is a real beach. Who wants that? Sending them to bed without supper can wake them up to sunny side.

CHANGE CHARACTERS: Write a scene from a minor character’s point of view. I once wrote a story about a contract killer. Before he fulfilled a contract, he got a manicure. So I wrote a scene from the manicurist’s point of view. Without knowing anything about him, I wanted to know how she saw him?

CHANGE PLOTS: Write some scenes that are not in your story. Take your Main Character grocery shopping. What kinds of food does she like? Does she move through the store slowly or briskly? Does she have conversations with the other shoppers, or with the store employees?

DATE A CHARACTER: Take one of your characters on a date. Where would the two of you go? What would you talk about?

INTERVIEW YOUR CHARACTERS: Ask a friend to portray a character in your story and not just the hero or villain. Give them a profile of the character. Make a list of ten open-ended questions for the character to answer. Then interview them. Pretend you are Jimmy Fallon. Or interview the character for a major character role in your story.

THE LAST SCENE: Write the Last Scene. It should mirror your First Scene. If the First Scene begins on a trip in a car, your final scene might have MC in a car. Once you have written your final paragraph, you now have a destination for your story.

LIST 10 THINGS: Return to your First Scene. List ten things in that scene, such as: a bridge, a man with a cane, a duck, a river, a bulldozer, a pebble in a shoe, a dead tree, rain clouds, a dollar bill and a pair of spectacles. Now choose a character other than your Main Character. Write a scene including that character and one of the ten things.

THE WEEKEND NOVELIST: Over the years I have read hundreds of books on writing. Blessed is the one who picks one writing book and sticks with it. If I had to choose just one, it would be Robert Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist”. The first edition is best but the more recent edition will do. It is designed for non-professional writers with a forty hour work week. Setting aside several hours each weekend to work through the exercises in the book, the novelist will have a polished novel in one year.

TAKE A BREAK AND FIND THINGS THAT INSPIRE YOU: Sometimes we run out of gas just like our cars. Find things that inspire you and help you rediscover that inner creative. It can be a movie or reading a scene in a book or a piece of music. I have a friend who wrote her first published novel to the sound of Dave Matthews.

These are not hard and fast rules. They are guidelines. Each writer has to discover the process that works best for them. The important thing is to keep writing. Remember a day without writing is still a day without writing.

Hamlet: If walls could talk

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
(Richard III, 2.3)

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Now here’s where things get greasy. The ghost don’t talk. He is the strong silent type. His little finger motions Hamlet to follow him. Just like Daddy did when he was alive.

“Don’t go, Hamlet,” Horatio pleads, afraid that Hamlet will try to fly or something foolish. But Hamlet is stubborn. He’s got to find out what the big guy is up to.

Next thing the Hamster knows he is up on the roof alone and cornered. Ghostee is out for revenge. And not just any revenge. He wants big time revenge. Big Daddy Hamlet isn’t about to take his croaking lying down. No, sirree. Hamlet’s old man is not going to give Hamlet a Get-out-of-jail-free card.

Seems his Cain of a brother, Claudius, poisoned him. Didn’t even give him time to say his goodbyes one last time to the woman of his dreams, Gertrude. On top of that, he’s roaming around purgatory, trying to cleanse himself of all the blood and guts he spilled. He had a lot to confess. Daddy Hamlet was the original Terminator. He was out to terminate Norway because Norway wanted to terminate him. Now he’s roaming around purgatory. All ‘cause Claudius didn’t give him a deathbed confession.

Hamlet had never been close to his dad. Now here is the Great Santini asking Junior to do in Uncle Claudius for croaking him. Claudius is going to pay, and he is going to pay Big Time. And Hamlet is the Chosen One. Big Daddy is insisting he do the deed. And leave his mother to the fates. They will take care of her.

Well, the ghost has gone and done it. He really has gone and done it. Sure, Hamlet knew there was something rotten in Denmark. There’d always been something rotten in Denmark. The good news was that Denmark wasn’t Sweden. The bad news was that Denmark was Denmark.

Hamlet isn’t sure revenge is a good idea. What is the big deal about croaking the king? Why does it need some revenge. Why can’t everybody just get along.

Everybody did their kings in. Even the Romans. Just look at the Neros. All that fiddling around and nobody had a taste for revenge when they were assassinated. If there was anybody who croaked a ruler and got away with it, it was the Romans.

These days there’s no more croaking the king or the queen. It just isn’t done. You have to wait for Mommy to die, and she never dies. Just look at Prince Charles and Edward VII. Queen Victoria hung around till she couldn’t hung around no more.

Hamlet Has His Doubts.

We’ve all got a bit of Hamlet in us. Hamlet reveals doubts we all have. Did I make the right decision? What if I do this thing? What if I don’t marry her? Do we have enough money to buy this house? Should we try that new treatment? Is this the right school for Junior? What if he don’t ask me out?  Should I spend all that money for this school? On and on these questions go. If they’d just go away, we’d be happy. Right?

So here’s Hamlet. He’s seen the damn Ghost. The Ghost says that he’s his daddy. He sure looks like Daddy. With all that armor and all. But what if he isn’t Daddy? What if he’s the devil? Old Scratch? Lucifer? Satan? Didn’t Satan tempt Jesus? Not just once but three times? What if Hamlet’s hallucinatin’? Wouldn’t be the first time some kid has got a bad batch of mushrooms, now would it? What if it was Polonius, and not Claudius, that did Daddy in? Daddy didn’t like Polonius.

What if Hamlet refused to follow the Ghost’s command for revenge? It’s a ghost of an idea, but it’s an idea. Even though the ghost says he’s Daddy, even though the ghost sounds like Daddy, even though the ghost smells like Daddy with his Early Viking cologne, Hamlet can’t be sure. What ghost in its right mind would walk around, asking somebody to kill someone? That went against the Thou-shalt-not-kill Commandment. That would get the ghost in even deeper in purgatory.

Besides this ghost says he’s Hamlet’s daddy and he’s in purgatory, not hell, for his sins. How can that be? Everybody knows purgatory doesn’t exist. Martin Luther says so. John Calvin says so. John Knox says so. It’s not in the scriptures, they all preach. Purgatory is a pigment of the Pope’s imagination. Any good Protestant knows it’s a Catholic thing. And if Hamlet is anything, he is a good Protestant. So he has his doubts.

This is a Revenge Tragedy, and don’t you forget it.

Hamlet is a dead man from Act One on. From the time he sees the Ghost of a Daddy, demanding revenge. For the avenger must die. It is written. It is the tradition of all the revenge tragedies before and Hamlet knows this. He is well-schooled in dramaturgy.

If only Hamlet ignores Big Daddy and elopes with Ophelia to sunny Italy, maybe love can save Hamlet’s hide and he will get to ride the happily-ever-after Disney ride.

‘Course love didn’t save Romeo. It’s hard to escape your fate. But you can try. It’s a lot for Hamlet to think about. And one thing is for sure. Hamlet is good at thinking. It may be the only thing he is good at.

Lazarus returns from the dead.

So now it’s dawn and Hamlet returns from his Agony on the Roof to find Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo snoring. He wakes them up.

“Listen, dudes,” he says. “Nothing happened last night.”

“Nothing?”

“Nada,” Hamlet lets them know. “On top of that, I need you guys to pretend I am mad. Can you do that?”

“But, Lord,” Horatio says.

“No buts.”

“You’re the sanest man I know,” Horatio throws at him.

“Not anymore. Now, swear.”

Barnardo, Marcellus and Horatio swear. Hamlet leaves the stage.

“Why won’t the Hamster tell us what happened?” Horatio asks the air.

“He doesn’t trust us,” Marcellus points out.

“Don’t that beat all,” Barnardo says.

They are feeling like that fifteen-year-old kid who isn’t chosen for the baseball game.

Short Story Wednesday: A Case of the Pauls

Short Story Prompt: “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament” by Willa Cather

They were like bookends, the two Pauls. One on each end of my block.

Paul A. was a sixteen-year-old kid who lived with his single mother, Phyllis, in the red brick, two-bedroom house. This Paul never smiled. He wore a sullen look on his face like it was a suit of armor, his clothes rumpled as if no one in the house knew how to care for clothes. Not him. Not his mother. Most of the time he seemed angry. And there was a darkness about him.

Paul S. was at the other end of the block. He lived with both his parents and his three sisters in a two-story white house with a well trimmed lawn and a white picket fence. A curly blonde-haired kid, always smiling, eyes bluer than the sky on a clear blue sky day. A yes-sir or no-sir when I threw a question at him. Like playing catch with the kid, only with questions. Real polite, and likeable as the day is long.

Needless to say, the two Pauls did not run with each other. Paul A. was as much of a loner as anybody I have known in my seventy years. Only a couple of times did I see him with some boys. They had thug written all over them. Paul S. lived in a world where everybody was his friend.

Now the Good Book says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I try to follow that old saw best I can. It was hard though. If Paul A. passed my house, I would give the boy a smile and a good day. All he did was grunt and move on in a hurry like he had someplace to go.

It was a hot summer day. An August day I believe. My air conditioner had gone out early that morning. It would be the next afternoon before a technician could get over to check it out. It was ninety degrees outside, eighty-five inside and getting hotter. I had the windows open for what there was of a breeze and sat in my living room with the overhead fan on.

I went out to the kitchen and stuck my head in the freezer to cool off. How refreshing that was. I was giving a good amount of thought to running myself a cold bath and soaking. Then I thought that maybe I should drive down to the senior citizens’ center. Thing was that they closed at six and I would have to come back to the house and sweat.

Oh, what the hey. I’d gotten way to use to living with all these modern conveniences. Why when I was a kid, we had no air conditioner. And there’d been times when the weather was hotter than this. So what was it with this doing without. “C’mon, man up,” I said to myself. “You’ve gotten too too soft.”

I walked out on the backporch and grabbed the cat’s water bowl. Friskers needed some water so I took it inside and filled it, then back to the porch. I looked out in the back yard. Not a bird in sight. Even the birds were not happy about the heat.

There was a breeze on the back porch. Looked like we’d get some rain soon. Then we’d get more humidity and that would make the heat sticky. For the moment I settled into my lawn chair with a glass of ice tea. Before I knew it, I was dozing off.

I woke to a crash. Coming from inside the house. Had I let Friskers inside? Sneaky cat. He always got past me. I got up and headed inside.

“Friskers, what are you in to now?”

I walked into the living room. Before me stood one of Paul A’s thuggish friends.

“Now hold on here,” I challenged him. “What are you doing in my house?” He was bringing out the former cop in me. How dare this punk come into my house uninvited.

I turned and made for the kitchen. Before I could get to the drawer and my .38, this punk had his arms wrapped around me in a bear hug. He threw me to the ground and said, “Oh, no you don’t.”

Another beefier thug came out from my bedroom, rifling through my wallet. “Just a few bucks in here,” he said to his partner.

“You bastards,” I yelled, crumpled up on the floor. “Get the hell out of my house.”

The bear hugger kicked me in the gut. I went fetal, grasping my stomach.

“Find anything else?” hugger asked.

“Just a couple of rings and some credit cards.”

“Take them and let’s get out of here before this old codger recuperates.” Hugger kicked me again. It felt like he had broken my arm.

Beefy headed for the door. But he didn’t go no further. Before him stood the light Paul. “What the hell are you guys doing?” he demanded. Then he came through the door like he was a bull running down its prey. He hit the hugger in the gut with his fist and went to do it again. Beefy’s fist came down hard on his head.

Both Beefy and Hugger went through the front door, then I heard a noise like a two-by-four splitting. “I told you no. Leave Mr. Williams alone. But you didn’t listen.” It was the dark Paul’s voice.

Light Paul picked himself up. Dark Paul yelled, “Call the cops.”

When the police arrived, dark Paul had scooted away, melting into the night as if he had never been there. Light Paul told them what had happened, took credit for my rescue. As the paramedics loaded me into the ambulance, he said to me, “Paul told me not to tell about him and so I’m not.”

Several days later, the nurse brought me home. As she walked me out of the car and into the house, I saw the two Pauls. watching from across the street, smiling. It seemed that the light Paul was now a little darker and the dark Paul a little lighter.