Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spirit Dogs at Wounded Knee

Paranormal alert:  There be spirits here.

My niece, Marcy, told me this story after her experience at the Wounded Knee National Monument. It is important to note that she has Native American blood and is very sensitive. Here is her story:

My husband and I were on a road trip on our motorcycles and decided to stop at Wounded Knee, a place I had longed to see for many years. When we arrived at the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, it was not like anything I had expected. It was an extremely poverty-stricken reservation, with some Lakota Indian folk here and there, but not many. Tony and I parked in the dirt lot at the base of the hill, approximately 50 yards below the cemetery.

Two friendly Native men were there when we arrived and seemed eager to talk with us. They wanted to share as much information as they could about Wounded Knee.

There was another group of five Native Americans in a van parked a little farther away. It hit me that they were waiting for us to leave the bikes so they could rip us off. I often get feelings, psychic insight you might say, and this was one of those times. I told Tony about this feeling and we decided to take turns visiting the cemetery, that way one of us would be with the bikes at all times.  

I didn't want it to appear too obvious that we suspected their intentions, so I walked with Tony a few yards up the hill, and then pretended to forget something. I walked back to the bikes by myself while Tony went on to the cemetery. I rummaged through my saddlebags, pretending to be looking for something, finally pulling out my pack of cigarettes from one of the side pockets. I smoked a cigarette until Tony came back. It was now my turn.

I walked to the top of the hill, where a huge wrought iron archway stood over the entrance to the crumbling "WOUNDED KNEE CEMETERY". I stepped under the arch way and stood at the head of the graveyard which was about 20 yards long and about 8 feet wide. I imagined the 200+ Sioux buried there and contemplated the horrific tragedies that occurred where I stood.

I had walked almost all the way around the graves, noticing the many old and newer head stones—some written in English and some in Sioux. I was alone—or so I thought when an odd feeling of being watched came over me. I turned around.

An extremely large, dirty, white dog was getting up from a lying position. I thought it odd that I hadn’t noticed him when I passed that spot. He walked towards me very slowly, but was big enough to encourage me to walk a bit faster. I have an overpowering fear of large dogs and had absolutely no desire to engage him in any way.

Then, I saw other dogs coming out from behind head stones, as if they had been laying in their shade. I continued on, noticing more of them appearing, all walking towards me—staying behind the white one.

They were all big dogs of different colors, all dirty, hot and tired. I started feeling VERY, VERY uneasy so I picked up the pace, trying to stay calm. I feared if I ran, they might run after me. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry but were determinedly walking towards me—as if pushing me back to the entrance.

After I passed under the archway, I turned back to check where they were. They had stopped and were staring at me. They did not step beyond the wrought-iron entrance, even though I was just a few feet away from them.

They all made eye contact with me as I looked at each one. They were not fidgeting or looking around like normal dogs would. They just stood there, staring. Then I knew they wanted me to leave—this was not a place for me, or anyone else. This was a place of horror, lost life, anger, hatred and sadness. I left immediately, walking back down the hill. I looked back once to see them still standing there watching me.

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I asked the two Native Americans with Tony, “What the deal with all the dogs?” 

They looked at each other in a puzzled kind of way and asked, “What dogs?”

I quickly told them what I had seen, which seemed to concern them both. They told me and Tony that there were not any dogs living in the cemetery or hanging around it. I turned back  to point to the dogs, but they were gone. The two men looked at me as if I were out of my mind. They told Tony that we should leave there, now.

I'm not too sure what happened up there that day, but I know they were not dogs. I believe they appeared because they knew I feared large dogs and it was a way to get me to leave, whether because of the threat I felt from the men near the van or because of the horror of that place.
Many Native Americans believe animals are messengers from the spirit world and sometimes they give warning of approaching danger.

It is said that if a person carries dog medicine, he or she is usually serving others of humanity in some way. Marcy was working in the emergency services field at the time.

Dogs as symbols are said to embody the loving gentleness of best friend and the half-wild protector energy of a territorial nature. The dog is also an archetypal symbol of a shape shifter in Celtic myths.

What do you think Marcy saw?

Have you ever experienced a warning from an animal?

Have you ever gotten an instinctive feeling that made you change course?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Writer's Life

Rituals make up a good portion of our writing/artistic life. We feel comfort in sticking to rituals that help us achieve our goals. But sometimes life interferes with the routines we would like to maintain.

This weekend I had an amazing rally from my writer friends on Facebook (you know who you are) who offered words of comfort and advice, most of which was to keep writing no matter what.  

As writers we all have our struggles to find time to write amidst the many responsibilities that pull at us. We have people we love that need our time, and responsibilities to other endeavors in our life like jobs or school, or maybe health issues that interfere with how much time we can spend on writing. Our fictional world pulls at us to be written down, and we need time and quiet to get into our imagination, formulate our new scenarios and write them out (at least I need quiet—some people have their favorite music).

So, what do we do to get to the writing? I decided to highlight a blog post that offers the rituals, routines and habits of our more famous writers so you can draw inspiration from them if you need it-or just in case you're just curious.

I could relate to the routines of several writers/artists but found that I have my own routine that works best to get things rolling along smoothly for me:
·                    Get up between 4-5 am and read/meditate/jot down ideas then sometimes, go back to bed.
·                    Get up again around 7-8 am, have coffee & toast.
·                    I do the daily Sodoku while catching news on TV, and read a few funnies and the artist/movies section of the newspaper to see what’s going on in the city of interest to me.
·                    Dress, walk the dogs and then begin working on writing. I’m into it until I unplug-sometimes at noon and sometimes not until around 4 pm, depending on what interruptions are bound to intrude, or shopping that needs to be done.

Do you have a writing routine? Care to share it? How consistent are you in keeping to it?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Summer's Last Hurrah

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

This time of year has a sadness, a last sigh, a yearning for cool, brightly colored fall days to come. It is still summer for a few more days and before it's over, there is one more bar-b-que and family gathering to send it off with a last hurrah.

Clean the deck, patio and lawn. Rake, prune and repot the scraggly plants that didn’t do too well through the hundred plus days of summer.

Hang the garden lights that have been sitting around since June. Spruce up the chairs from cobwebs and dust.

Anticipation is building.

Boxes of tomatoes bought from a local farmer last week, are the basis for home canned tomatoes—out of which comes the pot of spaghetti sauce needed for the lasagna yet be prepared.

Everyone will chip in with potluck dishes, salads, beverages and hors d’oeuvres.

Soon I will scroll through the summer drinks gathered on Pinterest for just such an occasion. Not to mention the desserts—that the women will complain about, but always take at least a taste or two, or more.

Weather is expected to drop to the low nineties—great relief from the hundred plus temperatures.

So, for summer’s last few days, I get to be lazy with family and friends—gossip, learn new developments in everyone’s lives, re-visit the past, and like Langston Hughes says:

            Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you. 

Have a good week.

What plans do you have to send the summer on its way—or has it already gone for you?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ho-Hum, Is Your Novel a Bore?

If someone asks you to draw a person, what do you draw? Do you draw a stick figure (which experts would say is the point beyond which you no longer developed your drawing ability in early elementary school)?

Or, do you draw a body and head that looks like a cartoon? Or, do you draw a more representational body with hands and realistic face features?

The point being that we develop alternate ways around drawing representational figures when our skills are lacking.

Do you also find alternate ways around drawing an emotional picture of your protagonist?

Last week I talked about how we can limit ourselves in our writing regarding technology depending on the point past which we will not go in our personal life. We could do research, but we might feel it is not worth going through the process of learning all those new technologies and terms when, what the heck, we personally don’t care to go there. 

Do you do the same thing with emotion?

Check yourself regarding your use of emotions in writing:
  • What emotion or emotional experience drives your character?
  • What emotional issue is your character dealing with?
  • Do you give your characters the kind of depth and reflection that turns them from wooden stick figures to full blown people?
  • Or, do you keep them as talking he-said, she-said mannequins?

When authors use the Red Smith quote about, “opening a vein and letting the blood out onto the page” they are talking about emotions. We must become vulnerable and give our characters real emotions for readers to be able (or want to) relate to our story. If we protect ourselves and hold back our deepest emotions, readers will be unmoved by our character’s struggles. Our characterization will be weak or worse, fall flat.

You say your character is in pain—not good enough. Show us why, when, how she came to be in pain—what does that pain look like:
  • in the way she lives
  • through what lens does she view the world and relate to it
  • what skewed vision does he have
  • what does he resist
  • what off-center logic does he operate from (and how did he come to have this viewpoint)
Explore how emotion operates in your own life. Give it to a character and then put her in the dramatic situation you have plotted and see how she reacts—don’t protect her from the speeding train, see how she will get out of its way, or not.

And there are always at least two choices: resistance or go deeper.
  • Resist and repeat a negative reaction over and over
  • Go deeper and find the weakness in your character (and maybe you) that that emotion uncovers
There is a consequence to everything that happens—forcing your character to take an action he would rather not take. If it was easy for him, or you protect him by not giving him the hard choices, why would we be interested to read on? Ho-hum.

Live it, see it, feel it, smell it—let your character experience it through your own emotional lens. Your readers will come back for that roller coaster ride. And, you just might find that you learn something in the process of solving your character’s emotional struggles.

What emotion or emotional experience drives your character? 

How do you use emotion in your writing?

Do you stop reading if you are bored with the characters an author has ‘drawn?’ If not, have you thought about what element in a story makes you stop reading?


Monday, September 3, 2012

Beyond Which I Will Not Go

For our monthly Sisters-in-Crime meeting, we had two very interesting authors come to discuss technology in writing. Unlikely speaking partners, Camille Minichino, a physicist/writer (when stressed and needing to relax, she does math problems) and Simon Wood, a thriller and horror genre writer (author of over 150 published stories and articles) joined us for a talk and lunch.

What an interesting talk it was! (I left with an armful of books.) They asked some thought provoking questions I had not considered before (and got a chance to talk to Camille about String Theory and Bubble Theory at lunch).

“What’s your technology threshold?”

Camille mentioned that some people she has asked this question of say they don’t want anything to do with technology. But, that is not true, she counters, we all have technology in our lives, but our thresholds vary. The wheel is technology. The pen is technology. The dial-up phone is technology but some can’t go to the level of the smart phone, iphone, computers or the latest tech gadget—they are unwilling to dig in and learn for whatever reason. “I only need a cell phone that just lets me make telephone calls.” How often have you heard that?

 “What do you think of as natural?” (Technologically speaking)

Camille and Simon pointed out a problem I came up against a few weeks back when the acquisitions editor who has my book told me to bring the time of the story into present day, not the 1980’s where it was when I began writing it. (I know, I know, I’ve been sitting on this book a long time) I didn’t want to change the time period, thinking of all the reasons why I couldn’t, but soon realized it wouldn’t be that hard (the story mostly takes place in Mexico where there is no cell phone reception, so I wouldn’t have to be concerned with cell phones). But as a writer, where do you draw the line? Do set your story back to a time you feel more comfortable with?

 “We all leave trails.”

Simon reminded us that we all leave trails—paper, technical, physical, and other. Have you ever thought about the signals you are sending to the internet every time you go public (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, web sites, searches)? Every word you plug in leaves a trail and sends signals (words) that are used to target/identify you. 
        (Remember what Kristin Lamb teaches in We Are Not Alone-The Writers Guide to Social Media—find the tags that identify you and your writing and use them) 

But, did you ever think that every word you use identifies you.

If you start talking about cars, say, and you mention your new VW beetle, you might notice that the ads to your Facebook page will begin to show ads for cars and specifically VW dealerships.

In reverse, I can view the ads showing up on my Facebook page as an indication of what I’ve been putting out! (I just looked; there’s puppy adoption, author, Kindle and shoe ads—I don’t know why the shoe ads—maybe simply because I’m female and they know females love shoes, but 3 out of 4 is very telling.)

Simon brought up the point that in today’s writing, it is harder for the bad guy to stay hidden because cell phones can be pinpointed and cars have electronic systems that can be found by satellite search. He mentioned that that is why many writers choose old cars that can’t be located by the newest electronic devices--technological issues to consider.

Do you like fast paced mysteries? Check out: Simon Wood Quoted from his site: Welcome. You’ve been dragged off the internet and into my cyber world. I write in both the thriller and horror genres. My work tends to err on the dark side, so don’t say you weren’t warned.

Are you a science geek? Even if you’re not, then you might like Camille’s books.
Camille Minichino Retired physicist turned writer. She is on the faculty of the Golden Gate University, San Francisco, and on the staff of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She has written eight novels under her name, The Periodic Table Mysteries. (She’s written more under different names which you can check out at her website: 

A few other interesting tidbits I gleaned from the talk that you might want to use in your writing:
·        One million dollars in hundreds weighs twenty-two pounds.
·        It is possible to send an email from someone else. (We weren't given the how)
·        You can always skew things on the internet by sending the wrong signals (the words you use)

I won't do cyber games (I have too little time as it is to get my writing done-I'd have none if I started learning games).

So, what’s the level of technology past which you don’t want to go?