Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ice Mirrors

Have you ever gazed into a crystal clear frozen pond? The shadows of yesteryear gently reflect memories into the present. The still winter air releases the sounds of the laughter and merry-making of days far and away to ears warmly covered under yarn stitched caps. The snow alighting on the branches of the trees shimmer with the light of the sun creates a snow globe of a wintry wonderland. It is the gaze into the ice mirrors that hold all the peace and joy of all the world; only to be released this one time of the year.

Images of a sleigh gliding over the frozen banks of snow from a warm prairie shanty to the hearth of a country church come into clear view. The mother has donned her finest dress and bonnet, the children snuggle together in the bottom of the sleigh, the father, wrapped in a gifted buffalo blanket, holds the reigns of horse whose nose bears the frost of his labor. The gentle sounds of the bells on the sleigh intermingle with the church bells that ring out breaking the icy air of winter calling all to celebrate the joy of the season. It is the memory of prairie Christmases from years long past.

Visions of the kitchen, long left to the history of the world, merges with the faint scent of gingerbread baking in the oven, fresh breads, cakes, and holiday deserts spread throughout in anticipation of the festivities to come. Grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters laugh and sing songs of the season as they work.

The images of the blades of sled runners whizzing down the ice covered highest hill end in the banks of snow at the bottom mingling with the sounds of the laughter of children. Ice ballerinas glide to and fro across the ice pond performing their finest tricks are interrupted by future hockey players chasing a homemade puck.

As the sun begins to sink over the glimmering snow covered horizon a baby is swaddled in blankets and laid in the hay of a manager.

Walking away from the mirrors made of ice, a final glance over my shoulder reveals the peace and comfort for all the year to come. He smiles and steps through the glass as we make our way toward home. Home to the love of family, hope for better days and the faith of the world that is mine.

This holiday season I wish you joy, peace, love and faith. Merry Christmas and very Happy New Year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nollaig Shona Duit

Nollaig Shona Duit - pronounced Nullig Hona Dut - is the traditional Irish Gaelic greeting meaning Merry Christmas.

I wish you peace, I wish you love, and all the joys of the holiday season. It is in my tradition and culture to wish you a Merry Christmas and I duly note that not all have it within their traditions and culture to reciprocate the greeting. None-the-less, I wish you Merry Christmas as it is a holiday that exists in the culture and traditions of my family from generation to generation.

Merry Christmas to one and all. May your heart be light. May your love reach out to those who are living in their darkest moments and those who wish to share in your love.

I will be home for Christmas - not only in my dreams. I will be gone from Butterfly Phoenix for a couple of weeks, but I will be back after the New Year holiday with stories and news from far and near.

Nollaig Shona Duit! Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bootstrap Publishing: A Look at the Current Market

There's a subject out there that has been discussed, researched, and disected to such a degree, the new author may find themselves in a conundrum of sorts. How do I publish? What constitutes success in publishing today?

As a potential new author I find myself standing at a crossroads. I am a traditionalist by nature. I like to do things the way they have always been done. Is it my generation category? Is it just personal? I don't know. What I do know is the business of publishing is changing as quickly as new technology enters the market.

Growing up in a bootstrap state also plays a role in how I view the way things should be done. For those of you who are unaware of what a bootstrap state is I will define it for you briefly. A bootstrap state is a State, such as the one I live in, North Dakota, where you are expected to make your own way without a lot of assistance from others; AND do things the way they have always been done. There's not a lot of wiggle room for new technology or methodology. Granted, things are changing here, especially in Fargo, but the underlying message is still - tradition.

I have always believed if a professional person does not believe that my work is worth publishing it probably isn't. However, after months of research and market trend analysis, I have discovered the closed markets in the United States and the United Kingdom are having a significant impact on new authors. New authors are clammoring to the POD and vanity presses for the simple reason it seems they can no longer access the market any other way. Over the last few months, I have come across authors who are seeking publication in India, Germany, and even China, for the simple openness of the market in those countries.

The 'slush pile' seems to be an accurate term for the countless numbers of manuscripts received on a daily basis by publishing companies and agents across the US and UK. In this author's opinion, I feel that the slush pile is now making its way to the market via self-publishing - regardless of quality. I can't say that everything that is self-published is not worth publishing. In fact, I won't say that. I think, based on my own quest for publication, that it is frustrating and nearly futile to try to enter the publishing market in the US and UK. I think that we are seeing the frustration showing up on websites like Amazon all over the world.

The question each of us new authors need to ask ourselves at this point is: "Is it worth it to pursue traditional publishing?" Do we even have a chance to enter the market taking the path most traveled? Somehow, I don't think so. It's not a criticism of the publishing companies. After all, they are in the business of making money for themselves as well as the author. I think they are so overwhelmed with the sheer number of inquiries, are subjet to the economic state of the country, and having to deal with the new competitors they just can't seem to get a handle on what to do next.

The current solution seems to be to bootstrap publish - do that which they know works and keep doing it. Take on celebrity and known authors for sure sales and to hell with the rest. But what happens when there are no more celebrities? Known authors become stale in the market? All the gems in the slush pile have moved on to more lucrative sales and marketing methods; or, are publishing in other countries and have lost interest in the traditional publishers?

It might sound like a new author whine fest here, but it's not. It's a new author taking a realistic look at the market and gauging the chances of actually achieving publication through traditional means. Perhaps, just perhaps, she is grabbing hold of her own bootstraps and preparing to go into vertical market publication and not worrying about whether a traditional publisher is interested or not. Maybe, just maybe, there are many more out there who are doing the same thing. No whinning, no venting, no begging or pleading agents or publishers to please read my manuscript, just going about the business of putting their books in the hands of the public the best way they know how.

I used to think it was about quality of writing. I honestly did believe that for a long time. Now, I'm pretty sure it is more about the business of bootstrap publishing on the parts of agents, publishers, and authors. The publishing world will never be the same. The competition in the market has exploded exponentially. It's time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get the job done in the way that fits each of us best. Neither is better; only one is easier and less frustrating. It will be interesting to see the way the market shakes out in the next year or so. Until then, keep writing, keep working, and never give up.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Willfully Letting Go

Have you ever heard of John Grim? He’s one of our own. (From North Dakota) A former professor at Bucknell University, Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University and published author. I want to share an exerpt of a letter he wrote back in the 80s:

"When I was young I learned against the winds of North Dakota. If I long for that youth I am even more nostalgic for those winds. They move through all my memories of family affection, personal reflection, and troubled volition. Rising out of old glacial lakes, those winds carried the whooping cranes of my imagination into flight. Sometimes I would strip off my winter coat and intentionally sit out in the howling Dakota storms and defy the cold snow knowing that the winds would finally release me from my madness. Only the frozen bodies of the Arctic owls which my father had shot and placed in the garage knew more pain, I thought…how shortsighted my youthful assessment of pain. How innocent my youthful bravado in blissful ignorance of the reciprocities that empowered me and of the pathologies that fed my own aggrandizement.

What smokestack in what remote place stains the sky so that I might record these memories and thoughts on my computer? No barbarian shouts at the outer gates totally apart from myself. If I have slipped through the hourglass years, the whirling monster of these times, I have come face to face with myself. The antibarbarian statement has become a reflexive exercise in the tumultuous search through knowing the self and the other as one and two. I cannot cast an asperation that does not return. I cannot imprison the demented madness away, but I can name it, speak it, remember it, celebrate it as a way now put aside. Love it even as I willfully let it go. Remembering and forgetting like the flapping wings of a great bird."

It took me a long time to come to an understanding of what Professor Grim was saying in these two paragraphs of thought. No matter how hard we try to let go of the past it is still a part of us, regardless of what it holds. The past is part of what makes us what we are today, however, at the same time we must willfully let it go.

As the sun of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, 2009, is now setting and tomorrow looms in the hours to come, we must, as Dr. King stated, release ourselves from the past and build a future from today. There is nothing in the past of our country that can be changed or amended in any way. It has made us what we are today. We cannot recount the times of injustice and inhumanity, nor can we punish ourselves to the end of time for it. We can only name it, speak it, remember it and willfully let it go. Building a better tomorrow on the rememberances of the mistakes and triumphs of our past. Today, I will willfully let go of all the past in my history and build from the stone on which I stand today. I will remember all the injustices and inhumanity to the end of time, but, I will not allow them to shape my future simply because I remember.

Originally posted January 19, 2009 on my Areavoices.com blog. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Realism of Characters

I am the analytical reader and writer. Everything I read is thoroughly analyzed for realism. With that said, it should be a given that everything I write is also analyzed for realism.

I'm often questioned by young people, who are also aspiring to be authors, why can't characters just be whatever you want them to be or do whatever you want them to. The answer is quite simple - if the character is not believable then the story is not believable. If the story is not believable it will not sell. Today, although many readers are reading for escapism, they still require a certain degree of realism in order to be able to relate to the characters and the events that occur in the story.

My first finished full-length novel, "Sticks and Bones" is written with a stark dose of realism to drive home a point to young people. I won't give a story spoiler here, but in order to write for young people they need to be able to see themselves in the story. Not always as they are in their own real life, but even as they might be in a fantasy story. "Sticks and Bones", a mystery crime thriller for young adults, required a certain amount of realism regarding high school students of today and why they do what they do in order to spark the interest of young people.

It was a fascinating adventure spanning four years immersed in the world of high school students of today so that I could demonstrate that realism in the book. This, in itself, is a testament to why characters can't just be what you want them to be. In this particular case they had to be as real as the reader and the friends of the reader. The characters of the book and their worlds are easily identified in the lives of the readers. A young adult will be able to say, "That sounds just like so-and-so," a person well-known to themselves. At the same time, I had to create adult characters that were just as realistic as the high school students of the story. If I had not created these realistic characters neither adults or young adults would understand the crime and why it occured thus diminishing the point of the book.

"Sticks and Bones" has yet to be published, however, I am hopeful that it will be picked up by a traditional publishing house and disseminated across the world. As arrogant as it might sound, I feel that the message carried in this book will send it soaring to the top of the readers lists all around the world.

The novel I am currently working on, "The Ten Thousand Hands Project" will astound even the most critical or skeptical reader. It is a work of fiction that has a very real place in the world in which we live. It will cause readers the world over to take pause and question what they honestly believe to be true in the world and what they don't. Why? Because of the realistic nature of the characters. Building characters is difficult. Characters require knowing everything about them - what they like or don't like and why they do or don't like those things; what are their physical attributes as well as their psychological attributes and how do each of these connect with the world in which they live - a world that must be created by the author with just as much realism as the characters themselves.

"The Ten Thousand Hands Project" is the prequel to the series, "The Malakai Chronicles". There are fantasy books, books on the occult, books based on religious history - but there are few books out there that touch the subject matter in "The Ten Thousand Hands Project" or "The Malakai Chronicles". I am hopeful for publication with this series as well and know that it will take the reader world by storm.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Christmas Snow

And the world lay in silent anticipation of the coming storm. The air was heavy causing me to take a single moisture laden breath that was let out with a humbled gasp. The stillness of the silence shattered my ear drums as I looked across the plains and saw the darkness overtaking the blueness of the sun-filled sky. It was only a matter of time before the clouds in the far off distance would reach down and touch the frozen earth enveloping the world with a blinding whiteness. Daytime; no light would penetrate that whiteness as the strong winds carried it across the land.

I pulled my parka close to my body. The frigid temperatures foretold by the weatherman were slowly creeping into the nooks and crannies of the city. I searched for protection from the sure death that was approaching. I pulled and pulled on the sidewalk grate as people passed me by without a single glance or question. Finally, it came loose and I lowered myself down, down into the underbelly of the city where the stench hung frozen in the air but the wind no longer bit my cheeks and nose. My fingers began to melt into the warmth of the material surrounding all but one. I could hear the hustle and bustle of the traffic on the street high above me. The sounds of gentle, merry-filled voices drifted down through the tunnels carrying the sounds of well-wishing for a good holiday. I wanted to wish those above me a good holiday in return but my voice only traveled through the darkness of the tunnels before me.

Darkness fell and the sounds above me dwindled into silence with only the ocassional howl of the wind that had arrived in the city. Snow lilted down through the holes of the grate lit only by the street light above some distance down the tunnel creating a tiny snowglobe effect. The cold sunk into the tunnels wrapping its icy fingers around me as I drifted off to sleep. My mind wandered back to the days when I lay in my childhood bed shaking the snowy mountain scene watching as the snow twisted and twirled in a world of fancy and imagination. Such peace that was beheld in that one tiny scene.

It is Christmas morning, the sun is shining and I am alone and warm. I see her lying there still asleep and wonder if she will ever awaken. It is Christmas morning and I am alone and warm. I am alone and warm. It is Christmas morning and the sun is shining. The winds have passed over and the snow has ceased its descent. I am alone and warm. My parka is shared with the sleeping woman just feet away; and I am warm. A single light shines some distance away as she lies sleeping; dreaming of a snowy mountain scene. I cannot stay and move into the light wondering if she will ever awaken.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Ten Thousand Hands Project ~ An Excerpt

“Ok. Look around you, James. What do you see?”

James looked around the room and let his eyes land back on Jezebel Leigh. “I see a room full of people drinking coffee and eating baked goods.”

“Wrong! What you see are the people who are nameless, faceless, and countless. In this world, the names our parents gave us don’t matter anymore. We aren’t those people. We never were.”

“I think you are wrong. Your name does matter. When you leave this world you want to have a clean, untarnished name to carry with you; don’t you?” James’s voice became one of seriousness. Jezebel Leigh laughed hysterically; so loudly in response to his question a hush fell over the whole room as all eyes turned to the commotion at Jezzie’s table.

“James…James…James,” she started in a low voice shaking her head in utter disappointment, “you don’t really believe that do you?”

“Of course I do. Don’t you?”

Jezebel reached out her hand and softly placed it on his in a gesture of pity. “James, we aren’t ever leaving this life. Once you are in this world you don’t ever get out; you just get forgotten.”

"Sticks and Bones"

It’s true, sticks and stones can break bones; but words…words can break the whole person. The evil has been created; can Marcia Grant stop it?

Detective Marcia Grant is drawn into a world that wasn’t covered in the behavioral science or criminal justice text books.

When Leah Jackson is reported missing and turns up dead on the abandoned farmstead of Clyde Jordaine, the most hated man in West Fargo, Detective Marcia Grant and the whole city of West Fargo are drawn into a world where nothing makes sense. Through the investigation, Detective Grant is drawn back into the dramas of high school-- the categories, abuses and social ladders to be climbed and clung too at all costs. Nothing had really changed since her own high school days in the 80s, except the technology boom of the internet, cell phones, and internet social networking sites.

The case is botched from the beginning. To make matters worse, Officer Jonathon Drake inadvertently lets Marcia know how he truly feels about her and quits his job in the field, leaving her with a rookie cop, and Arnie, a seasoned officer biding his time to retirement, to solve the case.

Sticks and Bones is a psychological crime thriller that is bound to change the way people think about the underlying evil that has a very real presence in American society.