Soft… with Potential

DSCN0596Over a period of six weeks, I watched “The Island,” a survivor-style show hosted by Bear Grylls. It’s always fun to read the comments section of sites like Hulu.com for the array of snark, humor, and armchair analysis. One recurring complaint was that the show had some scripted material. Also, I couldn’t help but agree with some viewers’ remarks that the men seemed somewhat unprepared, while others commented that the participants seemed downright soft. The purpose of being going to the deserted island was for the men to test their capabilities when cut off from the modern essentials, reaching deep for a different type of hunter-gatherer roots than what is used in the bustle of modern society.

Unlike some Hulu commenters, I have a hard time pointing out someone else’s pillowiness when I have become quite soft myself. Last week I suffered a slight meltdown when my internet and phone service went down for a few hours, interfering with my ability to work. Then—same day—the water pressure pump went, and I had no running water until the following day. By that point, I had regained phone service, experienced one last hiccup with the internet, and still had electricity, so the “hardship” was minimal. And while I was inconvenienced, the time frame was less than 24 hours of hassle. Luckily, I didn’t have to search an island for a fresh water source or boil my water to kill pathogens.

It’s part of that modern society handshake deal I recently touched on. But while I wrestled with the autopilot habits we’re accustomed to, such as flushing the toilet and turning on the faucet to wash my hands, I also found that my brain was already thinking of means for adapting to the situation. For example, running a dehumidifier fills the reservoir with the water pulled from the air. Voilà: a source of water to fill the toilet tank after lifting the interior apparatus just enough for a manual flush.

So, deep beneath my civilized layer I’m soft-with-potential when it comes to adapting. A little toughening is a current pet project—no deserted island required.

I’ll be co-presenting a workshop at the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Conference on Saturday, August 8th. Here are details for the MAWFI Conference:

Website: www.mafwi.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mafwihcc

Twitter: @mafwihcc

 

Nature Disconnect and the Handshake Deal

urban woods By choosing to live in an urban area, I am disconnected from nature. Often achingly so. While I can step outside into my yard and enjoy the benefit of grass, trees, flowers, the calls and songs of birds, and a view of the sky overhead, it’s only a stop-gap connection. I can still see, hear, and smell civilization. So, I must actively seek opportunities to get into a deeper natural place, and if I don’t have time to travel far, it can be a Soviet era-style selection for suitable local areas.

While I make the effort to get out, I know not everyone has an interest. And, some people are not just disconnected—they never had a connection to start. This was demonstrated once when I met up with a buddy for a little day hike. The particular urban oasis we chose was a forty-five minute drive. My buddy had apparently invited along a friend and the friend’s pre-teen daughter. The more the merrier, so it’s said. But it didn’t turn out to be very merry. The friend showed up wearing jeans on a hot day, carrying a big purse on her shoulder with intent to take it with her on the trail.

But children can be just as disconnected as adults. We’d hardly sallied forth before the young girl began dragging her feet and then altogether stopping, saying she didn’t feel well and looking about as miserable as a preteen can look when forced to do something in which they have no interest. The mother convinced her repeatedly to keep going but at a certain point, said she’d have to take her back to the car. (Unfortunately, they’d carpooled with my friend). We weren’t that far in, and I knew somewhere ahead the trail looped back so that they could reach the start point with relative ease. A couple of times I said I was pretty sure we were close, but it had been a while since I’d been to that particular park. The woman, who I had only just met, snapped at me, “Well don’t get us lost!”

I didn’t snap back that I hadn’t signed up to be a trail guide because I could hear the panic in her voice. I also didn’t point out that it’s hard to get lost in the woods when in certain spots you could hear—and see—the traffic from the road as well as homes dotting the way, visible through the trees. It’s not anywhere close to being desolate, but to this woman, we may as well have gone past the point of no return. It made me think about the handshake deal we in urban landscapes make, where we give up some degree of independence and form an interdependence for our survival. We also give up a feeling of comfort in what is our natural world. When an urban oasis is considered daunting, I would hate to see what would happen if society ever collapsed. People do adapt. Or, they don’t.

I’ll be talking, along with my writing partner, Sandra R. Campbell, about another form of survival: collaborative writing! We are presenting a workshop at Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute on Saturday, August 8th. If interested, here are the details:

Website: www.mafwi.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mafwihcc

Twitter: @mafwihcc

What Seeds May Lie in Dreams: An Interview

In this interview, I talked with Sandra R. Campbell, author of The Butterfly Harvest and Dark Migration, about her just-released novel, The Dead Days Journal. Prepare to enter a radically-upended world… (Excerpt included at the end)

How would you describe The Dead Days Journal

The Dead Days is tragic tale of fear, family and love: a story about facing your fears and believing in yourself. Leo Marrok and her father Vincent are forced to face their worst fears, and the choices they make will either increase their chances of survival or destroy them completely. This story shows how family bonds can be twisted and torn, that blood is not always thicker than water, and how the people you love and trust the most are often the ones who will destroy you. There is also a love story intertwined in all the chaos that demonstrates how your initial perception of someone can be changed by their actions. Outside appearances are not a representation of what is in someone’s heart. The old adage: never judge a book by its cover, applies to the relationship developing between Leo and the creature she calls Halloween.

Judging a book by its cover can be dangerous, for sure. It sounds like you’re tackling some darker themes. Did you initially know this was the direction you were going to take the story, or is it something that evolved from the characters?  

Vincent Marrok was always meant to be a dark character. A man without limitations is dangerous. Not to mention, a man who suffered a lifetime of animosity and excommunication due to his albinism. Add in a lawless world, where the only rules that apply are the rules he makes. At some point, he’s going to cross the line between what’s truly moral and what he believes to be right. Lucky for me the characters were all onboard and helped in creating a story that explores the darkest side of humanity. 

I’m going to ask you a question that I know authors tend to laugh about, but because readers often ask it, it means there is general interest in gaining an understanding. So, here goes: where do you get your ideas? 

I’m not laughing, but your readers may laugh at my answer. As cliché as it sounds, I had a dream. A family is trapped in a house with their enemies breaking down the doors. The father orders his daughter to flee the house. But her only escape is to jump off a cliff to her death. Just as she’s about to leap, she is rescued by her pursuer. This scenario is a far cry from the current story, but the dream planted the first seed. If a dream sticks with me until morning, I use it. The subconscious mind is a powerful tool for a writer.

Do you have plans for continuing this story? 

Yes, I listed this book as Volume 1, so readers know there is a sequel coming. Book 2 will be the final resolution of The Dead Days Journal.

 sandra9 (1) The Dead Days Journal is available now. To learn more, visit Sandra R. Campbell at http://www.sandrarcampbell.com/. Here’s a special excerpt for your reading pleasure: 

I’m alive, but I should be dead. I’m moving but not walking… Someone’s carrying me.

The sounds of the forest were all around me, except there wasn’t a single footstep rustling the forest floor. I only sensed the movement through the person who held me—superior strength and superior grace. I felt his powerful strides advancing as he clutched me to his solid chest, the strong arms that cradled my damaged body.

Can the dead dream? No.

There was no way of knowing how long I’d been unconscious. My memories were slow, spotty, coming back in short blasts of terror that started with the recollection of my father’s demands for a grandchild. I remembered running away, being attacked by a man in a mask, and waking up on the ground alone, the hungry beast dropping out of the tree.

Are the attacker and the monster one and the same?

I tried to recall the struggle. I’d stabbed the strange monster in the gut and made it bleed.

I hurt it.

The monster had retaliated by taking a chunk out of my neck.

It hurt me back.

I cringed as I remembered the terror and the agony I felt while it fed from my vein. An odd sort of throbbing in my neck quickened as my heart raced. How am I still alive? Panic stole my breath and uncontrollable twitches jerked at my limbs. The arms holding me tightened in response, restraining my erratic movement.

Something slid past my lips into my mouth. I tried to turn my head, working to keep my mouth clamped shut but failing. Nothing stopped the intrusion, which I thought to be a finger, from the size and feel. Whatever he forced me to eat left a sticky residue on my tongue that tasted sweet and bitter, like a bad dessert wine. I wanted to open my eyes to see who carried me, but I couldn’t. So I tried to call out, several times, but nothing came out of my mouth.

He’s taking me somewhere I don’t want to go.

“Is she going to be okay?” It was a man’s voice, a voice I knew. I’m not in the arms of the monster. Jack must have heard my screams. He saved me and now he was taking me home to Ben. A sob of relief pushed past my lungs to escape my mouth.

*Excerpted with the author’s permission from The Dead Days Journal.

Author Takes on Alzheimer’s Disease in Debut Novel

Ellen_picI introduce to you Ellen Smith, debut author of Reluctant Cassandra. I had the opportunity for an advance read, and it is an intriguing story (and includes a cute dog!) that I thoroughly enjoyed. Ellen takes on big issues, drilling down to what they mean on a very personal level. Here’s more:

What is Reluctant Cassandra about?

Unwilling clairvoyant Arden McCrae must learn to stop avoiding her visions of the future and tackle life head-on. As her family and her town begin to fall apart, Arden discovers the strength she never knew she had.

Would you say this is a book about change, then, and how we handle change?

I would say so- in fact, I’d take it one step further. I think the book explores the conflict of when to move forward versus when to fight for what you had. Each of the characters explores that dilemma to some degree, and Arden most of all.

Does Arden use her clairvoyance as a crutch?

In some ways she does! Arden has visions of the future, but she also has the ability to sense the truth about the past. She runs the local antique store, and we see her depending on her ability to hear the stories behind her antiques in order to make sales. Arden is much more uncomfortable with her visions of the future, though!

Julianne Moore just won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award and several others for her role in Still Alice. What do you think surprises people the most about Alzheimer’s disease?

I think the most surprising thing is how different the effects of Alzheimer’s can be from one person to another. A number of people have said they were surprised by how quickly (or how slowly) their loved ones progressed through each stage. Others were very surprised by the personality changes their loved one went through while dealing with the confusion and frustration of living with Alzheimer’s.

What intrigued you about this disease that made you want to write about it?

When I first thought of Arden’s character, I wanted to see how she would react to a situation where she was moving forward but someone she loved was sliding back into the past. When I started doing research on Alzheimer’s disease and how it affected the patient and the whole family, the characters really started to develop.

Reluctant Cassandra will be available June, 2015. Visit Ellen Smith at http://ellensmithwrites.com/

Don’t Let Creativity Die with the Wrong Writers’ Conference

For writers attending a writer’s conference, there are very high hopes about learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining that extra spark of motivation. Sometimes, those hopes go unfulfilled.

Waterfront Writers

STOPNEGATIVITYWriters’ conferences are important for new and seasoned writers trying to find their way. You invest with time and money, hoping for inspiration to keep you going. This is a conversation about how the wrong conference can affect your productivity—throw off your writing and dampen your spirit.

S: So, we’ve got that conference coming up—Bay to Ocean—end of February.

D: Yes, and I know we’re both hoping for great things.

S: Especially after that one we attended last April…

D: Dare we name it?

S: Yes, I think we should.

D & S: Conversations and Connections.

S: What was the one thing you learned at the conference?

D: Um, what NOT to do? How about you?

S: I learned how to insult writers who are better, more accredited than me.

D: That’s a very useful skill!

S: I especially want to talk about the first panel session we attended: Faking…

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W.I.N.O. – Raise a Glass

Have a suggestion for a favorite wine? Let us know!

Waterfront Writers

WINOWFW

Everyone knows writers like wine. In fact, most artists have some sort of creative vice. For the Waterfront Writers team, those vices also include caffeine and exercise. Nothing breaks through writers block like an hour of physical exertion. But wine is still their first go-to, or at least it is for one of them. Twice a month, Sandra R. Campbell and Desiree Smith-Daughety meet to discuss present and future writing projects. This brainstorming session is affectionately referred to as W.I.N.O. – Write In Night Out. Along with their laptops, pads of paper, and pens, wine is a frequent, if not necessary, ingredient. As there’s no better way to shut out the real world and indulge in the fantasy life bustling around in their big writer brains. It was during one of these laughter-rich meetings that they found a way to involve readers in more than just their stories. Since they…

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