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They say that to have your manuscript read by an actual human being, the first five pages need to hook the reader quicker than a pumpkin spice latte on a crisp autumn day.

While an adult may slog through an entire chapter to get to something good, kids tend to put a book back on the shelf if they’re not hooked in the first three pages. This is probably the reason that many books these days begin with the climax. Instead of a gradual buildup of story, plot, and character, the writer entices the reader with a cliffhanger, and then spends the rest of the story filling in the details.

I’ve started to see many adult novels doing this as well. It’s annoying because it used to be that I could pick up a book, begin reading, and then, to the dismay of my local library, toss it in the ‘donate’ pile if it was too dull. Unfortunately, with these newfangled climactic openings, I find myself reading duds, just to find out what happens at the beginning, or the end, rather.

I used to think it was a cheesy way to write, but now, I admit, I’m kind of hooked on the style, which is probably why my novel for NaNoWriMo this month begins with the climax.

So, I thought I would share the gimmicky, yet strangely compelling prologue of the book I’m writing about a boy who can make clouds come to life.

Enjoy!

Nimbus: Firmament

Charlie Dalton stood at the top of Mount Defiant. Stone gray clouds were stacking themselves in the sky, filling it in slab by slab. The cottony clouds were pushed out like sheep, who upon fleeing the wolf, scatter into the wilderness. 

 At his feet were the crumbling remains of a civilization that had died out long ago—so long ago, in fact, that nobody knew anything about them. There were only a few ruined pieces of what must have once been a castle. Charlie briefly wondered if those ancient people had been faced with a choice such as his. And if their final choice had brought them victory, or if it destroyed them. Could it be that they had made the wrong choice?

Cries echoed from the forest up to the barren hilltop where he stood.

They must’ve found where Liberty was hiding! he thought, his heart beating more quickly. I told her to leave when she had the chance, but she wouldn’t listen.

Or maybe, his conscience whispered, it was you who wouldn’t listen to her.

But it didn’t matter now. 

Charlie sprang forward and climbed up to the only solid remaining structure. The platform at the top of the little tower was breaking apart, like everything else, and Charlie quickly bent down and lifted the mat from the center.

“Home Sweet Home:” the mat seemed to chide him. It was ridiculous, yes, but he couldn’t think of it now. He brushed away the dust and traced his hand over the strange shape etched into the ground. A crashing came from the forest and there was a loud cry. He could hear  rapid footsteps coming up the path.

Charlie stood rigidly, tipped his head towards the sky and lifted his hands. The clouds quivered all at once, as if a great unseen wave had suddenly struck it. Then the flat stacks of clouds began to tremble, slowly at first, then more rapidly, like water simmering over a fire.

The sky was dark now. Yet through it, he could see one shape, darker than all the rest. It wasn’t the flat, cold gray of the other clouds, but it was dark, nearly purple, like a bruise on the living sky.  Charlie gasped.  A sense of dread and despair and power swept over him all at once.

The dark shape twisted itself into a long funnel, thinner than a tornado and laying horizontally just over the horizon. Suddenly, the millions of small dark clouds making up the figure seemed to pour over each other, like a pot boiling over. The shape coiled like a snake, and rose its head, as if to strike. It paused for a brief moment, though it seemed a lifetime to Charlie, and fixed its gaze on the boy.

Charlie felt sick.

Suddenly, the snakelike cloud whipped its tail, and as it rushed towards him, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger.

Charlie thought of Liberty, and her words to him—the words he didn’t want to listen to then, but seemed so significant now: “Be careful what you invite into your life, Charlie, because some things should be left alone.”

The snake was so close now he could feel the moisture from its breath. It paused before him, its mouth open in a hideous snarl.

Yes, Liberty had been right. Calling this thing into the world would be the end of them all. 

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When 2011 began, I made a commitment to write a weekly blog, no matter how short, poorly worded or insignificant, for the sheer practice of writing. But in recent weeks I’ve failed.

Sure, I’ve been busy (like everyone else on the planet) but the real reason I haven’t blogged is because I felt that anything I wrote following my last post would seem trivial.

How could I write goofy little stories about my life when something so tragic had happened?

And besides, some of my thoughts and feelings are better inked on the worn leather journal on my nightstand.

For all the honesty I strive for on this blog, there are a handful of things that belong to me alone or can only be shared when there is someone to embrace while sobbing.

But I couldn’t abandon my sweet little blog entirely.

Over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me that while matters of death trump most things, matters of life are equally important. We have to continue in these roles the Author has sketched out for us. And I do hold to the belief that the things we do here on earth, every seemingly insignificant thing we do, matters in the long run.

So forgive this somewhat inelegant segue from matters of dying, to matters of living. While tears are still shed here in Germany for my aunt, it’s time to get back to the important little things that make up this incredible big thing called life.

As Aunt Kathy wrote to me in an email once:  Go, Keri! Go! Go! Go!

Matters of running

Believe it or not, I HAVE continued with my marathon training during the past couple of months. I’ve been very faithful to it, mostly out of necessity. Without it, I’m a big, unusable ball of stress. With it, life seems like something I can work with.

If I looked through my archives, I think I would only find a time or maybe two over the past six months where I had to work out on the treadmill or elliptical. I’ve been outside rain or shine for the majority of my runs—and I’m stronger for it.

I did take a week off while traveling across the pond because it seemed more important to linger over coffee with Grandma, or even to sit and watch Grandpa fall asleep at the kitchen table, than to run off on my own.  It was time well spent.

I came back from my trip re-energized, re-focused, and determined to do my best. When I arrived back, I did a run of 18 miles, which made me feel the American food and all that Starbucks didn’t do much harm.

Last week we had a spontaneous road trip to Italy, where I managed to stick with my training schedule.

It’s easy to get up early when the sun is shining, the streets are lined with flower bushes taller than you, and your path takes you around a sky-colored lake.

If Dorothy had landed in Italia instead of Munchkinland, she never would have sought Kansas again.

Once we left the lake and went to the city, I didn’t run, but during those three days, the kids and I logged over 30 miles of walking. It exhausted me for two whole days when we got back. And yet, I still did my last long run—20 miles.

The Italian food and cappuccino hadn’t done any harm either!

The 20-miler was the best run I’ve had thus far. Though I had some knee pain the last 3 miles (because of not properly warming up), I still beat my goal time.

I have some issues to work out with food. Because I can’t have gluten (which often comes in the form of modified food starch) and because artificial sweeteners give me stomach cramps, many of the brand name energy goodies are off limits.

For now, apple slices and chia jelled with juice seems to be good enough. Last year, the marathon had cokes available along the way, so that might suffice for a little caffeine kick.

I know I am physically ready for the marathon, but when I recall there are only 9 days left, my stomach lurches. I am re-reading the book Born to Run for inspiration, but still…

I seriously, seriously ask myself: What am I doing?

The only answer to float across my brain is:

Living life, I guess.

It is said that a monkey will reach into a jar to grab fruit and becomes trapped by his own clenched fist when he stubbornly refuses to let go.

In his quest for the prize, the monkey trades freedom for frustration.

The moral is that sometimes we are so focused on what’s in the jar we miss out on bigger rewards. 

I’ve played the primate more times than I’d like to admit.

For several months, a friend and I have been working on a book I feel will benefit many families. It is the culmination of years of experience and provides a new philosophy regarding traveling with children.

But it is much more than a travel book: not only can it help improve relationships between parents and children, but it has the potential to help families build bridges cross-culturally. I believe in the project with every fiber of my being.

But somewhere during the process, things got complicated.

I became stressed, and the harder I held onto the project, the more anxious I became. 

The project I loved became my own monkey trap.

So, I let go.

I let go of fear and worry about the project’s future and simply went on living, running, and writing.

This week I was informed that not only was the project back on, but my prior concerns had completely vaporized.

Jenn and I can write, publish, and market the book how we want.

The prize fell freely into our hands.

I had no idea two years ago how similar the journey through life is to long distance running.

You see, when a runner is anxious or stressed, muscles tighten, endurance crumbles, and pace slackens. It can even come to a point where the harder you try, the worse you perform. The best remedy for a runner in that situation is to relax, release the anxiety, and simply run.

Whether you are running, writing, or walking the unique path of your life, if you find yourself frustrated or fraught with stress, it is best to look down and see what exactly you’re holding onto.

Anything you grasp too tightly can become a monkey trap.

Stats:

Miles: I fell short of last week’s goal, but this week I’m back in the groove. It’s funny how easy it is to ignore running when you haven’t registered for a marathon.

Weather: Gray, clouds, cold, gray, clouds, cold…I want fake spring back!

Wildlife: 4 crazy kids with cabin fever. Lots of little blue and yellow birds. Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing lots of gunfire outside and haven’t seen my deer all week:(