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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. 

My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

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:(

Yesterday, I did a lot of thinking about running. I also did a bit of writing about running. Did I mention I thought about running—a lot? In fact, when I stuck my head out the door to let out the dog , I REALLY thought about running, until the north wind greeted me with an icy slap in the face. I shut the door and left the dog to natural selection. By the time he was whimpering at the door, I made up my mind: it was time to write about running.

To keep the children busy, I began them on their schoolwork for the day. But they had forgotten to tell me it was “Ask Your Teacher a Question Every Sixty Seconds” day. And since I happen to be their teacher, it didn’t make for the ideal writing environment. It was like fartlek for writing: a frantic jotting down of ideas, and then slow to sound out a new phoneme; more writing as fast as my neurons could pop, and then leisurely define “Constitution;” a mad dash to elucidate my main point, and then relax to convert square yards into square feet. But, I pushed through it all, and finally finished the blog about running. Then it was time for lunch.

I had a bowl of hot, cooked quinoa, a bundle of raw broccoli intermittently dipped in Ken’s Steakhouse Ranch (gluten-free, thank you, Ken, whoever you are), a liter of water, and a Super B vitamin, which, I’m hoping will eventually give me special powers.

After lunch, it was time to walk the dog, so I let him out on his line again. I watched through the glass door as the wind made the tree limbs bob up and down. I measured the amount of sway, trying to determine if the wind was enough to cause frostbite. The dog came in, shivering as he waited for his treat. That settled it—I would do the treadmill.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for treadmills. And doing the treadmill is better than sitting at the computer, wolfing down peanut m&m’s; a hypothesis I’ve actually tested scientifically. But since I began running outside last spring, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the mill itself—and the feeling is mutual. That thing hates me.

As I donned a thin layer of high-tech spandex, which goes under things very well but is actually not suitable as armor, I thought about how dark it is in the basement. And even if it’s just about the only time I watch TV, I would prefer running up and down the stairs while pulling out my hair, to getting on that thing. Then I saw it: my Supersuit, folded and sitting patiently on top of the clean laundry pile.

I bought my Supersuit last month when we had a thaw, and all of the cold-weather running gear plummeted in price. It’s cozy, tight, and black with crazy turquoise zigzags across it. When I put it on, I feel like one of the Incredibles.

I looked outside at the swaying bushes. They didn’t seem to be dancing as violently as earlier. The sun was shining, and just maybe, if I ran into that blasted wind, the way back would be okay? I am solar-powered, after all.

I took off my treadmill shoes and grabbed the pair with last fall’s dirt still on the bottoms. With my Supersuit, ear wrap, stocking cap, fuzzy scarf, gloves, and a light vest, I headed out to combat Ms. Icy Wind.

It turns out, I had miscalculated the bobbing trees. The wind wasn’t that bad—especially with the sunshine urging me on. Halfway through the three miles, I picked up my pace, the wind pushing me home.

Stats:

Miles: 3.2

Terrain: The high crown on the gravel portion of the farm road was a problem for my right ankle, which is still a little tender from my battle with the treadmill last week. I ran in the middle of the road, which was fairly safe, since the farmers are currently hibernating. The B-road, asphalt, was icy in spots, which meant a little Lippizzaner stallion type maneuvering. There were patches of snow too, but it was navigable as long as I followed the rabbit tracks. After a circular detour through the sugar beet field, I ran to one of the neighboring villages: a route with a lot of long, fairly steep hills.

Heartrate: I kept it in the 80 percent range, not wanting my enthusiasm to hijack the training schedule.

Overall feeling: it was a good, easy run. No humans or animals were harmed in the training.