Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What's this?

I couldn't help it, you guys. I know I said the vampire story was over, but I just couldn't resist tacking this onto the end.

Do you know what I like most about writing? It is that moment when an idea coalesces into shape, that instant where all the different characters and worlds swirling around in the brain come together and form a complete picture. It is the feeling that everything is sliding soundly into its proper place. That moment, to me, is pure creative magic.

Now, I'm not saying that what I have written below is polished or perfect, but it was conceived in one of those blissful moments of inspiration. So, say hello to a character I mentioned a while back. I'm so glad I found a use for her!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lessons From the Baba Yaga VII

[At the request of Clara, I present to you all a familiar face...Welcome back our very own Baba Yaga! :) ]


Baba Yaga and I had been living in her home for almost an entire season now. The Season of Change was creeping in. The air was more brisk, mornings were cooler, Baba Yaga was ecstatic. This had always been her favorite season.

I soon figured out that no matter what time of year it was she was going to keep me busy doing all manners of chores. She had picked up her pace, and we were both working twice as hard as we had been during the hottest part of the Summer. We barely had time for our hour together before bed, but she insisted that we stay up. It was important to her that we get to know each other better. I didn't see much point in sitting up and playing cards or reading, but because it seemed to mean so much to her that I obliged.

One evening things had cooled off considerably. Baba was chilled so we lit our first fire of the season. She clapped and cackled with joy as the firewood crackled with life. It was easy to see how all the little things excited her, and that made me smile too.

I inhaled deeply, the smell of dry, burning logs filling my lungs. As I breathed out I met her eyes and asked her why we had to work so much harder now. If it was because the days would soon be getting shorter and the weather colder. She motioned for us to sit in our respective chairs. As we sat she told me a story.

For as long as she had been living in the woods, the people in the nearest village would bring her children every 18 years. Always girls. Always the 'bad ones'. She said it was because of a rumor she had started about herself- that she ate little children in a stew and especially liked the taste of naughty children. She had intended for the rumor to keep people away and not come looking for her. "I like my peace." She said plainly. When the first child was delivered to her doorstep during the first thunderstorm of the new season, she was beyond baffled. A note pinned to the toddler's cloak explained in detail why the child had been left there. Sometimes the parents thought that the child was possessed and would be a good servant to an old witch like Baba. Other times the child was deaf, blind, or mute. A travesty among the villagers. Whatever ailed the child, physical or mental, that was beyond the healing of local shamans- was brought to Baba. Either to be eaten or raised as a companion.

"Obviously I don't eat them." She said with a wry grin. "Never thought about it either, something about children doesn't seem appetizing. I hate the way you wretched things smell- Gods only know how one of you would taste! Blech!"

Without fail, every eighteen years a child would be brought to her stoop and left with nothing but what they were wearing. Baba had taken it upon herself to raise the little girls, teach them all that she knew, heal them if she could, and when they were grown she'd send them on their way. When her hands had been more adept, she would draw portraits of them when they first came to her, and again when the left her. Pulling out bits of parchment from under her seat, she showed them to me. Some she touched their faces gingerly, as if remembering.

"You are different, however." A bony, crooked finger reached out and poked me in the shoulder teasingly. "You came and found me. Of your on volition. You are not a bad child in any way. Not a trouble maker in the slightest. That's why you confused the Garden so- why it hasn't named you yet. You ruffled quite a few feathers since your arrival!"

She had just started to tell me about each of the girls that had come to her over the years, about their talents, who was truly good and which ones were truly haunted- when the storm came. Just as she had predicted earlier. It was a hard rain, the sound of ice could be heard against the window panes. Soon it became a deluge and the sound of splintering wood could be heard everywhere around the hut.

Baba simply put another log on the fire, sat beside me and patted my leg. The lull in the storm brought another noise- someone rapping on Baba Yaga's front door. Followed by the skidding, sloshing sound of feet making haste before they were snatched up and eaten.

I followed behind her to the door, she grabbed the knob and twisted it open, looking back she gave a "told ya so" smirk. Peering down on the stoop we both gasped.

In all the years Baba had been taking in stray children, there had only been one at a time. Now, looking down, a girl with coal black hair, no older than five, was holding her baby sister, herself not older than two months.

"Well, I'll be damned. This is about to get interesting." A comment, we would soon find, was an understatement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vampire Post 2: Electric Boogaloo

Yeah, don't mind the title up there, I've not gotten much sleep lately.

Here it is, though, the second part of my vampire tale. I was really worried about trying to make it super scary, which is why I'm posting it rather late in the evening, but that isn't really what I needed to do. I simply set out to illustrate how vampires used to be versus what they have now become.

So this may or may not be creepy, depending on what floats your individual horror boats. Hopefully, though, I've given you a reasonable alternative to the modern "vampire."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Montana (Sans Hannah) Part II

A continuation of photos from the Epic Road Trip to Montana with the wonderful and lustrous S. Kemp!

I made these! Ok, not really. Well...sort of. I helped. (Mad props to Annin & Co.)

Glacier National Park- I could have stayed there all week had the threat of murderers and grizzlies not been so high.

You can never have too many pictures of pretty rocks.

...Like I said.

On the drive back from the park we stopped and bought 10 pds. of cherries. 

I can hear that "Double Rainbow" guy now...

The M&M Cafe, the great haunt of Jack Kerouac himself. 
Sadly, the cafe was closed until further notice. 
There was, however, an amazing pizza joint just down the street.

Sights like these made me wish I was moving out to Montana myself.

These little guys were our travel buddies. Ain't they cute?

You can barely see it, but there's a hint of the rainbow from the earlier photo in the lower right.
I'm hearing Judy Garland all of a sudden... 

This really was the trip of a lifetime I felt. I'm so glad Shannon asked me along! My fedora goes off to her for ability to be brave on the rocks!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Invite Me In

As promised, I am presenting for your reading pleasure part one of my foray into vampire fiction. I've gone old school with my vampires... really old school.

Tune in next week for the conclusion!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shameless Promotion of Dreams: River City Fiction

River City Fiction

Since March I've put together a blog about the fiction reading, writing, and selling community in my city.  I'm still geeking out about the people I've met, the books I've read, and the events I've attended. River City Fiction launched today, and it's taught me two things.

  1. Pour yourself into what you love and ignore the little voice that heckles you with past failures.  You would not believe how many times I almost quit because of fear I'd make a fool of myself or annoy someone.  In public I keep my head low and my voice quiet, but now I have to reach out to authors, booksellers, librarians, and readers in my community.  That is scary business.  The more I thought about all that could go wrong, the more the project lagged, but when I accepted I'd make mistakes, it galloped away.  I'm doing this because of a passion for good books and a reading community.  Focusing on others and their accomplishments and dreams allows me to ignore the self-absorbed voice telling me to stop. 
  2. People are inherently generous.  I can hear the anthropologists and psychologists agonizing over this statement, but I don't care because it is true.  My husband has given hours to photographing and proofing. Friends have listened and offered suggestions.  Strangers have tweeted and re-tweeted the contents.  They've visited the site and sent messages of encouragement.  And, of course, I have to mention the lovely authors -- Michele Young-Stone and Diann Ducharme -- and booksellers.  Without them, the site would not exist.  I was unsure of the site and now people are  taking it upon themselves to visit and promote.  
I dreamed big.  I put myself out there in a way I've never done before.  I'll be embarrassed by mistakes but I'll keep moving.  I discovered the magic of taking risks and growing into my own.  

Please take a look and let me know what you think.  

Friday, August 13, 2010

Feature Friday: Bethany Violet Hall Stephens

[The Second of our Feature Friday guest posts comes to you today in the form and spirit of a lovely woman. I've known Bethany since college and she was always the bright spot of my day. She's an incredibly beautiful human being and a very talented artist. Welcome, Bethany!]

Hello, Fantastic Spatulans! *waves virtual hand* Who am I? I am Bethany, a photographer/artist/writer, farmer, ex-art teacher, and soon to be (relatively!) cosmetologist. That said, I've been thinking a lot lately about who we are, what defines us, and what we allow to define us. For a long time, I, like a lot of people, let my circumstances dictate who I was to a certain extent and would try to translate who I am into words - who "our people" are, what we're good at, where in this little big world that we dream our dreams and have our struggles, what religion we are, what we look like, what our job is, what kind of music we like, and so on. Of course those definitely help convey who we are to an extent, it really isn't WHO we actually are at heart.

When I was teaching, so many students (especially females) would constantly fret that they were too fat, too stupid, too smart, too artistic, to preppy, too Goth, too country, or too “too” (as an older lady I once knew used to say). Instead of just starting on a project and going with the flow, they would fret and be so scared of doing poorly and of being picked on by “everyone” that they would never take the leap and create anything when their ideas were actually really cool and thoughtful. Why can’t we be comfortable in our own skin? For too long, I would beat myself up over my self-perceived flaws and old mistakes and would let what others said about my art, my looks, or such affect my mood/outlook way too much. I’d fret and worry if a decision was right or wrong so much that I would end up never taking a leap or creating anything, or, if I did, I‘d be self-conscious about it or keep it in the confines of my sketchbook. What’s the good in that? Why listen to the voice telling you not to create and be yourself over the yearning to create and be who you are? Just like the kids in my class, sometimes it’s easier to listen to the first voice because by not acting we never have to deal with the risk of putting our real selves out there. Sure we can keep on trudging through everyday fulfilling an old dream and help some people along the way, but how much happier would we be and how much more good could we do in the world if we were true to ourselves and our current calling? There will always be people that will try to bring you down, diminish your dreams and ideas, and kill your joy - largely because they’re in the same boat trying to justify their own insecurities. The lyrics to part of a song by the Avett Brothers that I like goes: “ If you're loved by someone, you're never rejected....decide what to be and go be it.” After going through a lot of setbacks and changes in the last couple of years, I’ve decided that life is too short to not be completely comfortable in my own skin. Go be true to yourself, do your thing, work hard, love people, and, I think, the rest will take care of itself. If it doesn't it will all work itself out, what really was lost that wouldn't have been lost anyway?

p. to the s. I’d love it if you’d come over and visit at my public blog at www.bethanyviolet.blogspot.com if you’re feeling so led, and Godspeed to you and yours. -bvhs

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Montana (Sans Hannah)

Safely returned home after four flights and a little bit of jet lag. I am sad that I had to leave our beloved S. Kemp in Missoula, but could not be happier for her. I thought I'd share a few of the pictures from the trip, and let them do the talking. Hope you enjoy!

Driving thru- or attempting to- Ashville, NC.

Eventually winding up in Nashville, TN and getting some much needed sleep. (And much needed time seeing my little sister who attends Vanderbilt! Smarty. ;) )

The second day was spent going from Nashville to Kansas City. Where we paid tribute at the World War I Memorial. (Sadly, they are closed on Mondays. Poo.)

We passed thru The Badlands of South Dakota and took a rest in Custer. (Such a cool place!) Somewhere along the lines we saw a bunch of old rockers. 

[Part Two of our adventures coming next week!]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Douglas Maxwell

“Everyone in the world has an unfinished novel or screenplay under the bed. But they’re not in the game. That’s not doing it; that’s pretending.”-- Douglas Maxwell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My thoughts on vampires, let me show them to you.

What? Vampires are creatures of magic, right? Magic isn't always pretty, sometimes it is frightening. Vampires have long held a high place in the realm of public fascination. To me, vampires are like sharks. They are mesmerizing and fascinating, but you wouldn't want to be next to one, because they would kill you.

I forget exactly how this train of thought coalesced, but it started with wanting to watch ‘Predators’ in the theater again (because I am not normal and because Adrien Brody is fine). I can’t, though, because it is not in my local theaters anymore. It’s gone after only being out a month. But do you know what is still in theaters after 3 months? Yes. ‘Twilight.’ ‘Twilight’ has ruined my life.

OK, not really. I’m only mad because I do not understand the appeal of an emotionally stunted 100 year old “vampire” who still goes to high school and generally acts like a grumpy pre-teen. I know some people like that, and that’s fine, but I don’t.

But why? Why are so many girls and women clamoring over something so implausible and, quite frankly, insulting as these books? The chances of finding a sparkly emo vampire are far more remote than being kidnapped by intergalactic game hunters, and I personally think it is far more frightening.

What happened to vampires? How did a creature of pure malevolence and evil turn into these twee, diamond crusted imitations? I suppose Bela Lugosi may be to blame. His portrayal of Dracula started the trend of making vampires sophisticated nobles, rather than twisted nightmares. Certainly, Frank Langella didn’t help either with his 70’s coif and come-hither eyes. Then there is Ann Rice and her brood of misunderstood immortals. However, even though they are romantic and beautiful, they are still vampires who relish in draining the life from their victims. Then along came ‘Twilight.’ Thanks, S. Meyers. You’ve taken something elemental and turned it into a disco ball.

Where are all the real vampires hiding? Where is the sense of dread that used to come on a foggy night, when the cries of beasts made the blood run cold? Where are the nightmares that haunt the mind and prey on the superstitious? Where are those creatures of the old legends?

Do you want to find out?

Missed days

Photo by Adrian Pingstone

Sorry for yesterday's absence.  Like Clara said, sometimes life gets in the way.  Next week I'll share my secret project(s).

In other news, last week I was leaving the parking garage when I saw an adult red-tailed hawk (like the one above) chilling on the guardrail.  I parked my car and watched for a while.  He (or she) was so calm I ventured out.  I was able to get a few feet away and snap a couple crappy cell phone pictures.  It was a piece of unexpected magic at the end of a long week.  I hope you can find similar moments of delight.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gratitude & Toilet Paper

[Greetings from the road! Another writing exercise posting while I am getting saddle-sore. (And loving every minute of it!]

A thought struck me this morning when I was reading a blog about positivism and hope and sunshiny goodness. The blogger was going on about how much she has grown in a year’s time and in the past several years of creating and maintaining her blog. Somehow that got me to thinking about how much I have grown in the past several years as well.

When I think on where I was a few years ago now, I can’t believe that I was the same human being then. Things were so vastly different. And when I get in a funk these days, I try to get myself out of it as quickly as possible. The only way to do that really is to listen to music, call my mom, or think about toilet paper.

I hear you on the last one, but stay with me on this. Toilet paper brings back some very interesting memories of growth and maturity for me, and I’ll tell you why.

When I was living in Durham with that horrible creature, The Roommate, and her lackluster slob of a boyfriend, The Jerk, life almost couldn’t get any worse. Not only was I unhappy with how things had turned out with The Roommate, my job also ended up being something along the lines of a dead end secretary position. My boss was a snotty blond woman who annoyed me to no end. Her younger sister who helped out wasn’t much better. The other women were fine, so long as you didn’t get into long debates with them. I tried to keep to myself and not be bored out of my mind with all the work they had assigned to me.

It was with this job that I learned to turn work into play. I made games out of scanning documents. I tried to see how many papers I could scan every half hour. The next time I would try and beat my previous score. If I didn’t beat it, no problem, there was always the next thirty minutes to repeat the process.

Back to the toilet paper- neither The Roommate or I had good paying jobs. She even worked two jobs to make ends meet. Even with the both of us living and working, our collected efforts weren’t amounting to much. Our paychecks ran opposite ends of the spectrum making the middle of the month the hardest part to get thru. It was near Christmas and we were running around trying to find gifts for our families and friends. While I’m pretty sure it was The Roomate's turn to go out and buy groceries and paper goods, I’m not entirely sure. So I won’t place the blame on her shoulders. (At least not on this occasion.) She ended up spending her (our) grocery money on expensive books for her siblings as presents. There were several days until my next paycheck, and we had next to nothing to eat, and we were completely out of toilet paper.

I will tell you right now that Kleenex tissues and napkins are poor substitutes for the real thing. And don’t even try paper towels unless you are in serious need of exfoliating your ass.

For one or two nights we made due with napkins and in the morning, we’d hold it until we got to work. I kept thinking, “This is ridiculous. Living like this makes no sense. Why didn’t The Roommate save some of her money to at least buy necessities? She knew we were out of toilet paper. Come to think of it, I could have saved some of my money, too.”

Realizing that two people were so utterly broke that they couldn’t buy toilet paper was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I realized then that I had to do something to get out of that hell that I had found myself in. I didn’t know what would be down the road for me as far as jobs and living arrangements went. I just knew that I’d be damned if I was ever going to hunt around for something to wipe my ass with.

Eventually, The Roommate got wise and stole a roll of toilet paper from her work bathroom. (I had no way of smuggling a roll out from where I worked. Although I did consider it for a time.) And at the end of the week, I got my holy, but solemn, paycheck.

And I bought some damn Scott’s 2-ply, bucko. I now know how Scarlet O’Hara felt in Gone with the Wind, as she held up her dirty fist to the sky and declared with ‘God as my witness!’ Indeed today I am doing the very same thing. “With God as my witness! I shall never go wipe-less again!”

So- while I am still not fit as a fiddle, I am still not making a million dollars a year, and I still don’t have a husband with 2.5 children running about, or a Pulitzer Prize winner under my strained belt- I at least have toilet paper. And that’s enough for me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Fiction

Well, now. Isn't inspiration a funny old thing? Here I was, sitting at my desk and desperately searching for something...anything to write about but I was failing miserably. Turns out all I had to do was hit the "next" button on my music player! Well, all I can say is thank the Universe for those four lads from Liverpool.

Here, as I promised, is a little slice of life from Dren. Will we finally get a clue as to what sort of world Dren inhabits? Will it be what you expected? Maybe I've been reading too much Sheri Tepper, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Read on, Macduff!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Struggle

Jacques Lipchitz, Jacob and the Angel, 1939
Red, white, and black crayon on green paper
Manierre Dawson, The Struggle, 1912
Oil on canvas

Adam and I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts last week.  These pieces demanded our attention.  I am interested in depictions of biblical stories, but that's not the only reason Lipchitz's work spoke to me.  Even though we can't articulate what attracts us to these works, we're mesmerized by the struggle.  Maybe we can see ourselves in the depiction.  Who among us hasn't wrestled with beloved people, enemies, God, work, calling, and ourselves?  Some of us struggle with art and the artist's temperament.  Madeleine L'Engle said, "Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling."  (Thanks to L√ČNA for reminding me of this quote.)