Thursdays Are for Hiking

Sometimes to write better, you have to not write. I’ve been pushing hard the past couple of weeks trying to meet a deadline for Uncommon Ground (better known as my Aliens in New York project). I need to be done by tomorrow, and I’m maybe 3-4k from the end. Doable, right? Even more doable if I hadn’t taken day to hit the Appalachian Trail today.

Lying in bed last night, however, feeling as though my brain was leaking from my ears, and wondering if the pain in my shoulder was going to keep me up, I decided that the best thing I could do today was not write.

So I got up this morning and wrote 1300 words. Continue reading “Thursdays Are for Hiking”

The View

When Out in the Blue released as part of Dreamspinner’s “Never Too Late” Daily Dose collection, I planned to write a post about the trail Jared and Fin hike during the story. Well, a part of the trail—my favourite part: The hike up to the summit of Mt. Tammany. In many ways, the short hike is a perfect metaphor not only for life, but for writing, and for Jared, for whom I wrote Out in the Blue. I didn’t get to the post then, as I wasn’t able to tackle the hike for a number of reasons. Thankfully, this year I’m back on my feet and fighting fit.

It’s a short hike, just over a mile and a half each way, but the elevation gain is twelve hundred feet. That’s a lot over a mile and a half and, appropriately, the trail is marked as difficult. It’s steep, it’s a definite hike, it’s hard work. This trail is not a walk in the woods. But the climb is so worth it, which is why this trail is one of the most popular in the Northeast. You do get a glimpse of success early on; a view through the trees of the Delaware River winding south, shouldered on each side by the Gap—Mt Tammany on one side, Mt. Minsi on the other.

The Gap

The trail wanders a little after that, steep, but we’re not climbing Everest here. Then we sort of are, without the snow. There are several sections where you’re on your hands and knees and you’re wondering why the heck you decided to climb a mountain today. You’re crawling, not hiking, and your thighs are burning, and you left your bottle of water in the car. It’s not feeling like fun. And all you can see ahead are more rocks and more trees.

The Trail

Where’s the view?

That’s life, isn’t it? We’re always looking for the view. We work toward goals, lured forward by the promise of a view at the end. The first sight of our finished project, or the pleasure it brings others. Financial reward, satisfaction, a job well done. They’re all the ‘view’. And the trail is rough. There are easy sections, but they’re never long enough to make up for the steep climbs.

Writing feels like that sometimes. I think any creative process can feel like that. Life is just so much like that, until we get to the view…and the climb is worth it.

The Summit

For Jared, it’s different. He’s stopped looking for the view. His life has flat lined. For uncounted years, he’s been walking the woods without looking beyond the trees. He hasn’t climbed, he hasn’t caught a glimpse of what’s around the next corner, or up the next slope. What drives him up Mt. Tammany (and along the Appalachian trail for two days before then) is something else. He knows he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what it is. So I wrote a story to help him find it.

He climbs a mountain:

After an hour of huffing and puffing, and two false summits, they finally reached the peak of Mount Tammany. While the elevation barely scraped a thousand and a half feet—a thousand feet more than the town they’d spent the night in—the view was spectacular. Jared could see the interstate snaking into New Jersey, the river curving south. Though he’d probably see more from the window of a plane, he preferred being on the ground. The scent of old mulched leaves filled his senses, as did the pride of having accomplished something, even if it had been a relatively tame ascent. He’d climbed a hill. He’d walked for two and a half days without collapsing in a heap, and he’d climbed a mountain.

Feeling the warmth of Fin beside him, Jared turned to study the other man’s face. Fin’s expression echoed his.

“Never gets old?” Jared asked.

Fin shook his head. “Nope. Doesn’t matter how high or how far, it’s just being out here.” His lower lip disappeared beneath his teeth a moment. “Being out here is part of the essential human experience.”

Rather than ask him to qualify the statement, Jared simply nodded. He got it. He felt it.

 

Then he takes a chance with Fin:

“I want to kiss you.” He’d kissed so few men. None after Brian.

“That’s a good thing.” Fin’s breath tickled his lips.

Jared opened his eyes, sought the clear blue of Fin’s, and found only an indistinct blur pressed close. “I’m not good at this. What if—”

Fin’s lips touched his in a brief caress. “Shh. If the sex sucks, we’ll laugh about it when we get together to watch a game on Sundays.”

Oh, God. They were really going to do this.

The pressure landed, pushing air from Jared’s lungs. He didn’t understand it, his panic. He just knew it had been getting worse over the past couple of months. Since the company had grounded him, since he’d turned forty-five. Every time he contemplated being stuck in one place, his lungs locked and his ribs dug into his sides. He wouldn’t be able to ignore life when it no longer passed by the window of a plane, constrained to a view of six inches by twelve, cornered in soft angles, obscured by clouds. He’d be out there in the blue, trapped in one place. Trapped in a vastness. An emptiness. His loneliness would be real.

Canting forward, he claimed Fin’s mouth in a rough kiss. His lips were hard, stiff, teeth in the way. Jared pulled away with a gasp. He reached up to frame Fin’s face, thumbs sifting through sideburns to rest against his ears, fingers spearing into dark hair. He sucked in a quick breath, one scented by all Fin was, then kissed him again, this time with less need. Lips softened and parted beneath his.

Spoiler alert, the sex doesn’t suck. 😉 But what I loved about writing this particular scene was the promise of friendship between these guys. Because this is a love story, and the best lovers should also be best friends.

Out in the Blue is one of my favourite stories. I loved writing an older character and Jared’s journey is proof that it’s never too late to start looking for the view, or to simply learn to appreciate it for what it is.

OutintheBlueLGOut in the Blue

At forty-five, Jared Tailler suddenly feels old. When his employer grounds him, he starts thinking in terms of measuring his coffin. Well, not quite, but he’s creakier and hairier than he was ten years ago, and his closest relationship is the one he has with his frequent-flyer card.

It’s time to get out there.

On the first day of a five-day hiking trip, he meets Finley Macrae, a younger, seemingly brighter man. As they inch together in halting steps, Jared learns he’s not the only one lost out in the blue—Fin’s good cheer hides a turbulence deeper than Jared’s midlife crisis. Maybe together they can find the trail to happiness.

 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Daily Dose package “Never Too Late.”

Amazon | ARe | Dreamspinner Press

Unearthly Places

Photographs of unearthly places nearly always capture my attention—especially when they’re of earthly places. It’s not hard to understand why storytelling is such an integral part of our culture when you see pictures like these. Even the names of these places evoke tales of wonder.

The Door to Hell

"Darvasa gas crater panorama" by Tormod Sandtorv - Flickr: Darvasa gas crater panorama. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
“Darvasa gas crater panorama” by Tormod Sandtorv – Flickr: Darvasa gas crater panorama. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Also known as the Gates of Hell and the Crater of Fire, Darvaza Crater is located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Darvasa doesn’t have a great story…yet. It’s a natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern in the early 1970s and was set alight to prevent the spread of methane. It’s still burning today and serves as a popular tourist attraction. The name, however, inspires all sorts of stories. This place has been burning for over forty years. Who knows what changes have been wrought within? Perhaps it really is a path to the underworld.

Broken Teeth

Moonrise over Evanston, Illinois by James Jordan
Moonrise over Evanston, Illinois by James Jordan

I named this one. Photographer James Jordan calls it Moonrise over Evanstan, Illinois. Apparently he doesn’t see the broken pylons as the remains of a mountain top fort or what’s left of a forest after a drive of dragons has passed. This could be the sight that greets our adventurers when they crest the last hill. Or, it could be the promontory sailors warned them about. The home of sirens and sea serpents.  Or, maybe he does. 🙂

Night and Day

Night and Day by Nick Venton on 500px.com
Night and Day by Nick Venton

Nick Venton takes gorgeous photographs and obviously has a vision and a story to tell with each one. What I love about this is the juxtaposition of night and day. Taken at sunset, it shows the last part of the day with the night taking over (to paraphrase the photographer’s words). When I look at this photo, I see a planet with two suns. One is setting and the second is rising. The scenery in the foreground is full of stories too. It’s another lake shrouded in mist, but with a little squint or a bit of imagination, that could all be clouds. What lurks below? Or, if that is water, is this an ocean planet? Perhaps it’s a rare thing for the inhabitants to venture above the surface, so sit on those rocks and look at the light of two suns.

Tessellated Pavement

"Tessellated Pavement Sunrise Landscape" by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
“Tessellated Pavement Sunrise Landscape” by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons

There is a science fiction novel about a planet with mysterious lines crisscrossing a vast plane. The story follows the investigation of these lines. I wish I could remember the book. I thought it was by Stanislaw Lem, but I can’t find anything like that in his bibliography. Anyway! That’s what I see when I look at photos of the Tessellated Pavement. I didn’t always see an alien landscape, but I have always been fascinated by this place. It’s at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania and it was one of my favourite places to visit as a kid. Even then, my imagination was tickled. The formation of tessellations can be explained by fairly simple geology. It’s no great mystery. But it is nice to picture the pathway to a hidden destination or perhaps a city that no longer exists.

To check out my other posts on otherworldly landscapes and photographs that inspire the imagination, look under the photography tag.

Stories Waiting to Be Told

Have you ever browsed stock photo sites? There are some ridiculous pictures posted there and I often wonder what the photographer was thinking. Obviously, they were setting a scene with the hope it matched a story waiting to be told – probably by an advertising company or a journalist. Because nuns praying to fish is a thing, right?

But when I’m not giggling over implausible scenarios, I’m collecting another type of stock photo. These ones are, well… They’re book covers for the stories I haven’t told yet. It’s kind of annoying, to be honest. Because as just about any writer will tell you, ideas aren’t hard to come by. We have notebooks and files full of them. The stories that come from these ideas are less abundant. The time to write these stories? At a premium. I’ll never get to a quarter of my list.

But, hopefully, I’ll get to at least one of these:

the-hand-1172231The Hand

The door has just been closed, but whoever is on the other side with her has given them a moment. He’s let her touch the window, just once. Is it because he knows it’s the last time they’ll see each other? Is the gesture cruel or kind?

Where is she going? Why? That’s the story I don’t have yet, but this photo suggests something sinister. Interrogation? Experimental gene therapy? Prison?

Maybe she’s going willingly. Maybe she asked for this moment, knowing it would be the last one. Or, maybe the shape of her hand is a symbol.

 Here, Now

This stock photo is tagged passion. I…don’t see it. I can see the tension. This kiss is a spur of the moment thing, but it’s more meaningful than hormonal, in my opinion. It might just be that the models were asked to pause before their lips connected, but in that pause is the story. The distance between their faces and the stillness of their pose. They’re in a public location, but their posture is fairly relaxed. They don’t fear being caught out in this kiss. Their connected at several intimate points – the hand on the thigh, a hand around the back of the head. There is a possessiveness to both gestures, and familiarity. This is a couple, but maybe not one well established.

So, maybe this kiss began as a passionate impulse. Then, as they drew close, something else intruded. A realisation that this moment was about more than the kiss. It was about them telling the world they’re together. That they’re intimate. That their feelings are something they want to acknowledge and share.

Footsteps

It took me a while to figure out that wasn’t snow. Before I did, though, this picture begged for a story. Why is this woman out there without the proper gear? Has she been abandoned? Or has she escaped from a remote facility. Once thing is clear: she isn’t going to get far. The shadows are long and with the night, any lent by the sun will disappear, as will her compass.

Any stir of wind will erase her footprints, hiding her trail. This is good and bad. In the event someone is following her, it’s a good thing. But it also makes it hard for the good guys to find her, and if she can’t look back along her trail, how will she find her way in the dark. She has to keep moving, remember? It’s cold. Even if that is sand, it’s going to be cold – but traveling at night will protect her from the heat of the day.

Where did she come from and where is she going? I don’t know, because I’m probably never going to write this story.

I Heart LA

I nearly bought this image to use for “Graduation”, the short story Jenn and I wrote for our Chaos Station series. The clothing wasn’t right, though, and my Photoshop skills aren’t up to all the other changes I wanted to make, such as modernizing the city skyline and changing the letters. Adding another figure.

But there is a story here. It’s separate from the letters this guy is writing in this picture. Change those words and this could be about anything. Is he writing a name? Is he giving a clue to the code? Maybe he’s been possessed by aliens and he’s writing equations against the night sky as if it were a blackboard. He could be solving the theory of everything.

Or, he could be pointing to a bird, a plane…Superman. Or a UFO. He could just be really, really drunk and imaging there’s something there.

I really like the idea this picture is a celebration, though. It just has that vibe. Maybe he has just graduated and he’s writing his new name in the sky. Or maybe he’s dancing and what he’s writing isn’t important at all.

I have close to a hundred other stock photos saved to favourites folders, though, and some of them…some of them are calling. They’re weaving their stories for me, even as I write this post. I just hope that when I get around to writing one of them, the image hasn’t already been used by Stephen King or something. Or in a Buzzfeed quiz.

I Should Hate Spring (but I don’t)

The latter half of April and sometimes the first half of May often pass in a haze of antihistamines. As seasonal allergies go, losing two to four weeks isn’t bad. I know many people who are much worse off, and over the years, I’ve learned to plan for this semi-down time. I clear my schedule as much as I can, and I have a routine for the days which includes some Benadryl-free hours for reasonably lucid writing and revising.

Still, it kinda sucks to watch spring happen through half-slitted eyes. Spring is such a lovely time of year. The grass greens, the trees bud, and flowers bloom. Makes me itchy just thinking about it. Also welcome is the warmer weather and just as winter smells like wood smoke (to me), spring smells of honey suckle and jasmine.

Little really says spring like a blooming magnolia tree. Magnolia blossoms are among my favourite flowers. They remind me of, well, my childhood. I spent a good portion of it near D.C., in Maryland, where magnolia trees thrive.

The Washington Monument, viewed from the Tidal Basin.
The Washington Monument, viewed from the Tidal Basin.

Washington D.C. is probably better known for its cherry trees, however.

We spent last weekend in Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival. I’ve been many times and I always find it charming. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced better weather or blossoms than I did this year, though. The temperature grazed seventy, with enough of a breeze to soften the spring sunshine, and the blossoms were undisturbed by rain, sleet, hail or hurricanes. Really, it was quite perfect.

Random blossomage.
One of several hundred such pictures on my camera roll…

Cherry blossoms don’t have a strong scent and I’m not one for sticking my face into a budding stalk for long enough to decipher it, but the slight perfume they do have really suits their delicacy. What really amazes me about them is their profusion. Some look like great puffballs while others sleeve a branch like a bale of cotton wool. The trees are thick with blossoms and when they finally begin to fall, they look like snow. It’s really very pretty. We took dozens of pictures. It’s silly, really, to have so many pictures of the same flowers, but we weren’t the only ones happy snapping—and that was one of the better parts of the weekend. The sunny faces of everyone else who had flocked to D.C. to celebrate spring.

Here are a couple more pictures from our stroll around the Tidal Basin. Happy Spring!

The kite-stealing tree.
The kite-stealing tree.
Not all the blossoms are on the branches.
Not all the blossoms are on the branches.
pinkongreen
Pink and green are complementary colours, which is why I love this picture.