Blogiversary V, Part III

Yaaaay, another short story! This is the last one for the week, and it’s been a lovely week to have a blogiversary. We’re on spring break up here and, while I was a little sad that none of the kids in our school district had the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights this week, it’s been very nice to have the week off. I literally spent the entire day yesterday in a bathrobe, packing my laptop around the house with me like a baby. It’s been a good week.

I did a lot of hemming and hawing trying to decide which short to end with this week. The one I settled on isn’t as silly as the first one, nor as academic as the last one.  And unlike the other two, this one isn’t set in the real world either. And finally, it isn’t prose either- it’s a poem! Whee!

I wrote this up (with editing help from my hubby and his parents) for a writing contest and, as it’s one of my less embarrassing attempts at poetry, I give you…

 

Water

(this is obviously a working title, haha)

 

On storm-tossed coasts, a young girl lived,

Lost in misery.

It drove her to the water’s edge,

Bearing these items three:

A bud of rose, an egg of blue,

A spool of sewing thread.

She took a breath and took a step

And brine closed o’er her head.

 

The water folk, they found her fast,

Drawn by the rose’s scent.

She bartered it for passage safe,

And off her escort went.

They led her past the sandy coast,

Down where the kelp beds furl.

They took her to the castle deep

With halls of gold and pearl.

 

The gate keeper, he barred her path,

And would not let her in

For she was daughter of the drylands

And no aquatic kin.

She offered him the egg of blue,

Which thing he’d never seen

So he let her with such wonders

Within to meet the Queen.

 

The Ocean Queen with coral crown

Welcomed her to her court

But bade her leave the watery depths

Back to the humans’ port.

The girl gave her the spool of thread,

A tribute to the Queen,

But the royal mer just smiled

With kindly eyes of green.

 

“A bud of rose, an egg of blue,

A spool of sewing thread.

You offer us mementos of

The very world you’ve fled.

You won’t find what you look for here,

For all the world is bound:

Above, beneath, and in between,

Lives are built, not found.”

 

And so the girl returned again

To step upon the shore

She left her gifts within the sea

And sought for something more:

Instead of rose, a bloom of hope,

A bud’s blind reach for spring;

Instead of eggs, a new life gained,

With joy in each small thing;

 

 

Instead of thread, the ties that bind

People heart to heart.

And so she slowly learned the things

The Queen knew from the start-

The love she sought so far and wide

Was not beneath the waves

She only had to learn that one

Received just what one gave.

 

I hope you enjoyed this year’s blogiversary. We’ll get back to our normal schedule next Monday. Until then, happy writing!

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Blogiversary V, Part II

The party continues! For today’s short story, I give you a piece of creative nonfiction about a murder that took place in Fairbanks Alaska (or at least a patch of wilderness that would later become absorbed in the then infant town of Fairbanks). It’s quite a bit more serious than Monday’s piece (which is unfathomably stupid), but is still kind of a work in progress as I continue digging around for more information and documentation. I’ll think I have everything settled, and then find something new! Sometimes I feel like I could write a whole book about this case, but I’d need a heck of a lot more sources than I’ve currently been able to scrounge up. Nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting story that you might enjoy, fine internetfolk. Cheers!

Dead Man’s Slough

Clouds rolled over the sun in a murky eclipse, and Mark Skorlich shivered in the sudden shadow, glaring up at the sky. It was dark enough in October without this.
Skorlich huddled down tighter in his sweater and trudged on to his friend’s cabin, four low walls with a sheet of canvas for a roof. He’d known Jacob Jaconi since the two of them came to the Klondike together, and been partners off and on in the four years since, hopping back and forth between Dawson and Fairbanks, between fishing and panning and river-poling. Both immigrants, both struggling to scrape a living from the unforgiving landscape, they took care of one another. Now, with Jaconi settled on the bank of the Noyse Slough four miles between Fairbanks and Chena for the winter, Skorlich popped in for a visit every few days with news from town. And this time, an invitation to join him hunting.

The noon whistle shrilled back in Fairbanks, and Skorlich trudged along the bank of the partially frozen Chena River, his boots squeaking in the snow. Three men on dog sleds swept down the opposite shore toward town, the dogs baying happily. They disappeared around the bend, but Skorlich could still hear the dogs.

It took him a moment to realize that the sound was coming from before him. And that instead of barking, the dogs were howling.

Skorlich caught the scent of smoke in the cold air and froze.

Something was wrong.

He ran up the river, turning onto the slough, and finally saw the cabin through the trees.

Smoke bled up into the clouds, the canvas burned away. The front of the cabin was merely scorched, the damage worse toward the back, and the dogs were scattered around the remains, mourning. Skorlich ran to the cabin, clutching his rifle, and stepped inside. The back wall was nearly gone, and a burnt hide was draped across the crumbling remains of the bunk, all of it still smoldering. He fell back a disbelieving step, staring around the home he had stayed in countless days and nights.

Jaconi might not even know yet.

Skorlich leaned his rifle against the blackened wall and ran back out into the woods, calling wildly, “Jacob! Jacob!” He paused, panting.

How much of the cabin could they possibly salvage at this point?

And how long had Jaconi been out that he hadn’t noticed? Where was he?

Heart pounding, Skorlich turned back to the cabin. Jaconi’s biggest dog watched him with mournful eyes as he returned on stiff legs.

Skorlich picked up a stick and stepped back into the smoldering cabin, his eyes locked on the bunk. He started slowly toward the scorched hide, and finally realized just what he was looking at.

To read the full story (or at least what I’ve dredged up about it so far), go here!

Camp and Class Updates

Chore BearWhew! This month is seriously kicking my butt!  I’m slogging through Camp NaNo- waaaay behind schedule- and barely keeping up with this class I’m teaching at the school and I’ve upped my (admittedly small amount of) hours at work by 50%. Yikes!

Still, it’s been a good month. I feel like I’m doing reasonably well, and I hope to play a little more catch up later in the month.  I’ve put my submissions stuff on the back burner until May, and I haven’t been able to do as much reading as I’d like, but I’m actually keeping up in all my other regular chores.  (For example, not every pan in the house is dirty.) For now, that’s gonna have to do.

Next week, we’ll have a reblog from the ever amazing Madison Dusome, but for now, enjoy a super unedited bit of weirdness that I thought was kind of fun regarding the plight of a low-tier camp counselor. Enjoy!

 

Bear Attacks: How Not to Die

Alright kids, you have so far done an excellent job of not dying. And in the interest of not getting sued by your parents, we’re gonna talk about how to keep that winning streak going.

Atticus! Put that down and get over here. Pay attention.

Now. Who here’s seen a bear? Wow, all of you? Wait, no, Zoo Boise doesn’t count. I mean, like, you and some big ball of teeth and fur, and nothing between you but like a few thorn bushes and an outhouse. Okay, that’s what I thought.

Me? No, I’ve never seen one either. But we’re gonna learn about it today anyway because this is a summer camp and Smokey doesn’t care if you’re a moose or a third grader.

So who can tell me the two kinds of bears they have here in the Alaskan Interior?

That’s right! Brown bears. What else?

Gummy bears will not kill you in your tent for a granola bar, so no, Sophie, not gummy bears. Try to take this seriously.

Come on, Alex, do you really think they have panda bears here?

Seriously, guys? It’s the same two we have back in Idaho.  Didn’t your parents ever take you camping?

Thank you! Black bears!

Okay, yes, Alaska does have polar bears, but they don’t come this far south and if one of those starts hunting you, you’re pretty screwed anyway.

Okay, so black bears and brown bears. If you-

No, grizzlies are just another name for brown bears.

I don’t know; they just call them that.

No, those are just-

No.

N-

Sun bears? Where do you think we are?

Atticus, sit down.

Okay, guys, we’ve got black bears and brown bears, also known as grizzly bears. Who knows how to tell them apart?

Well, because you have to do different things when you encounter different bears.

Just don’t get them mixed up, okay? Now pay attention.

Sophie, put your gummy bears away.

Okay, how do you tell brown bears and black bears apart?

Okay, good! Color. What else can you look for?

No, Alex, don’t be silly.

Come on, guys.

Okay, which one’s smaller?

And one more guess.

Yes! Black bears are smaller. So brown bears are…

Yes. Thank you.

Black bears are only like five feet tall standing up, but brown bears are like eight feet tall.

Well, yeah, they’re both taller than you kids. But brown bears are a lot taller. Black bears also have a kind of straighter face and curvier claws.

Alex, come one. Would you seriously walk up and check its claws?

Well don’t, okay?

Yes, I’m checking the paper, I don’t want to mix this up.

Of course I know what I’m talking about. I’m just making sure.

Atticus- Sit. Down.

Okay. So say you want to go down to the waterfront, but you want to be bear safe. What do you do?

Okay, sure, but you’re not riding in a car, you’re walking.

Sophie. Leave her alone.

Sophie, you! You’re going to the waterfront. How should you get down there?

Um. Alright. But would you go alone?

Okay, but don’t, okay? If you walk in groups, it’s a lot safer. And if you make a lot of…

Make a lot of…

Come on, guys, you’re doing it right now.

Noise! Yes! Make a lot of noise. Bears don’t like to be surprised.

So you’re heading down to the waterfront and you’re in a group and you’re making noise, but there’s a bear on the trail ahead of you.

Well, okay, for this part it doesn’t matter. Black or brown, there’s a bear. What should you do?

That’s a good idea. Just heading back the way you came can’t hurt. Slowly back up, and don’t put your back to it. Always give bears a lot of space, and never-

Atticus! Do you want to spend the afternoon cleaning outhouses?

Thank you.

Alright, guys, let’s just get through this so we can go make bead necklaces or something. Give bears space. Never run. If you run, it’ll chase you and it’ll be a heck of a lot faster. What else?

No, please don’t try to climb a tree. Bears can climb, and they’re way better at it than you.

Yes, you too, Lily.

Lily, seriously, you cannot outclimb a bear.

I don’t care if your cousin is Tom Brady; beating some punk cousin in a tree climbing race doesn’t qualify you to escape a bear up a tree. And even if you did beat it to the top, it can just keep climbing up after you.

No climbing.

Okay, so say you haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said and you snuck up on a bear and now you’re in for it. So it decides to attack and it’s a black bear. What should you do?

Eh, screaming won’t help.

Okay, someone might come help you, but mostly you’re just telling the bear, ‘Sure, I’m prey! Easy pickin’s!’ Screaming isn’t gonna help.

No, it’s a black bear. You play dead for a brown bear. For black bears, you…

Yes. You fight back. Beat it around the nose as much as possible, they have sensitive noses.

And what if it’s a brown bear?

Come on, guys, I just said it.

Play dead. Thank you. Lay on your belly like this…

And then cover your neck with yours hands like this…

And spread your feet like this.

So you’re harder to flip over.

Well, I guess your back’s got more bones to protect you if it starts clawing you open.

No, I mean, it won’t. Probably.

No, no, seriously, the odds of a bear actually attacking are like really really small.

No, honestly. Look, it says right here.

Oh, Alex, don’t cry, honey. This’ll seriously never happen.

Well, because there’s a really really small chance that it might happen so you should know what to do just in-

I don’t know. It just says ‘rare’.

I really don’t know.

Because whoever wrote this pamphlet didn’t think percentages were important. It’s just rare, okay?

Oh, Alex. Nobody’s gonna eat you.

Atticus, sit down!

You know what? Let’s just… review this later. Who wants to run up to the obstacle course?

Yeah. Me too.

Designing Graphic Novels Class

ColorHello, internet! Would you believe that the good folks at Pearl Creek Elementary School have once again trusted me to teach a writing class to the impressionable younglings they’ve sworn to instruct and protect?  Because they have!

Two quarters ago, I did a NaNoWriMo group as part of the after school program.  And I’m at it again this quarter, with a class about designing graphic novels.  The idea is to help the kids design their own story, art, and layout style, which they can then spend the summer turning into a full graphic novel.  (Haha, we’ll see if the lazy imps actually carry through with that part.)

And now, with this handy dandy post, you can follow along too!

Week One (last Tuesday): Story

We briefly talked about the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, and then about what makes a story.  We did a little bit of brainstorming- talking about building a story based around a cool character, or a what if question, or whatever- and then set them loose.  This group of twenty kids ranges in age from five to twelve, so there’s quite the skill span, but the beautiful thing about art is that it’s adaptable to all levels.  They did great, and had fun decorating the covers of their workbooks.

Week Two (tomorrow! into the future!): Characters

Outline in hand, the kids will begin sketching their characters.  Ideally, they’ll do sketches of their main cast from a few different angles, and do at least one sketch of any secondary characters, recurring pets, or whatever other livey-movey bits they plan to include.  This will be their chance to decide how much detail they want in their art, and give them an idea of how much time that will take.

Week Three: Setting

Sketching the characters should give them a better idea of their art style, and so this week, we’ll hop into setting.  I want them to sketch out at least two scenes in detail, and then do a couple smaller sketches of maybe the buildings or trees or whatever that will be populating their backgrounds.

Week Four:  Layout

For this week, the students will begin thumbnailing the first few pages of their graphic novels, to get a feel for the amount of dialog, people, movement, panels, etc that will fit on a single page.  We’ll also work on the visual pacing of their story, what style of panels/sound effects/speech bubbles/all the things they want to use, and how much action they want to leave in the gutter between the panels.

Week Five: First page, rough

The kids will start working on their actual first page this week.  They’ll pencil in their panels, their characters, and the background, making sure to leave space for appropriate speech/thought bubbles, sound effects, etc.

Week Six: First page, final

In this the final week, students will ink their comics and put in all the finishing touches of color, text, whatever they’re going with.  At the end of class, each student will be sent home with their workbook, containing all the outlining and sketching we worked on for the first four weeks, and a (hopefully) complete first page.  And I’ll probably offer some kind of extravagant bribery to try to get them to come show me a completed graphic novel at the start of the next school year.  They’ll all be really excited about it, but maybe one will actually take me up on it.  We’ll see.

So that’s the plan!

The kids seem to be enjoying it so far (you know, one session in), and I am too.  I plan to write about an Alaska Native girl who joins her middle school’s Pre-Pre-Med Club (someone on the internet should seriously give me a better name for this) and has to struggle through the prejudices and expectations of her primarily white peers and teachers to prove herself.  Maybe I’ll throw up my first page at the end of the class for you all to admire!

In completely unrelated news, it’s another NaNo month! Yay, Camp!  Between a few submission deadlines, the graphic novel class, and a month unusually full of obligations, I decided to go easy on myself and set a low goal; I’ll be writing at least ten short stories, weighing in at at least 30k.  Totally do-able.

How about you fine internet folk?  Anyone else out there doing camp?  Lemme know your goals for the month so I can cheer you on!

Happy writing!

Writing Events!

I wanted to recap on a couple writing events I participated in earlier this year, but they were both small enough that they didn’t quite merit a full length post.  So rather than taking the time to expound meaningfully on each one and really dig into it, I’ve decided to be lazy and crowbar them together!  (Plus this is my last full week before we take off for our three-month-long roadtrip through the Lower 48.  Oy, so much to dooooo.)

Panel Poster

 

SCBWI Panel

Earlier this year, I helped to organize an author panel and workshop in Fairbanks Alaska, riding on the coattails of the statewide librarian’s conference taking place that same week.  The panel featured Carole Estby Dagg, author of The Year We Were Famous and Sweet Home Alaska, and local authors Cindy Aillaud, Lynn Lovegreen, Jen Funk Weber, and Marie Osburn Reid.

The turnout was pretty small, so we all managed to wedge in around a few large conference tables, and it was all very snug and casual.  The panel was more of a round robin, with the authors- or anyone else present with writing or publishing experience- sharing tips and advice.

Here I’ve picked out the best advice for you!  (Ain’t I sweet?)  Common core, at least in Alaskan school districts, has upped the need for informational stories for children, so there is a high demand for fic-informational (also known as faction).  National SCBWI conferences are awesome, and check out savvyauthors.com for even more networking opportunities.  SCBWI itself is very helpful for non-agented writers, but agents can get a much better deal than an unrepped writer can.  Take your time, and write what you love.

Following the panel, I ate too much candy and then Carole Estby Dagg presented about the stages of writing, from selecting an audience through writing and editing, and on to publication and marketing.  She approached the topic through the lens of her own work as a writer of historical fiction.

While I love a gal who plugs research so heavily (because research! I love it!), I think the most relevant thing that I pulled out of her presentation was the Shrunken Manuscript technique.

Shrink your manuscript to the tiniest print you can read.  Cut out all the open spaces: paragraphs, section breaks, everything, until it’s crammed onto as few pages as possible.  Then get three highlighters.  Everything with high emotion, highlight in red (or whatever).  Everything with high conflict, highlight in blue.  Every major plot point, highlight in green.  Then lay your whole manuscript out.  No matter how much you love them, any spots without color need to be either cut out or amped up.

 

AWG Reading

Just a few days after the SCBWI stuff, I attended an AWG meeting.  It was actually one of the meetings I usually skip- a chance to read some of your own work and get feedback.  But I had a short story competition coming up and I wanted a test audience for the piece I was planning to submit.  So why not?

I’d never done a critique group thing like this before, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect.  I managed to position myself in the seating circle so that I went dead last, which afforded me the perfect opportunity to chicken out, or for the meeting to run out of time, or all kinds of exciting possibilities.

None of which materialized.

I took my turn in the hotseat and read a short story I’d been prepping for a writing competition.  Historically, I have always been a terrible reader when it comes to my own works.  I stumble on words, read too fast, too quiet.  I get nervous.  But I knew this going in, so I had read it through several times out loud.  I find it’s harder to suck at reading when you memorize the piece instead. 😛  So the reading didn’t go as terribly as I’d been anticipating.

After I finished my reading, I whipped out my notebook.  The others in the group had lots of excellent questions and suggestions that really helped me zero in on what was working in the story, and what could use a bit more tweaking.  It was great to get some alternative perspectives on the piece, since I’d so thoroughly exhausted my own.  But on top of that, they were all very encouraging, and meaningful encouragement is sometimes had to come by in this line of work.

In the end, though, the critique must have done something right, because the piece took first place in the competition, leading to many a happy squeal.  So maybe consider trying a live critique some time, even if you never have before.

Until next time, happy packing writing!

Gates, p.2

Gates2

Things I cannot draw:

  • forearms and hands
  • faces
  • hair
  • armor
  • anything with any degree of consistency

And that water splash kind of looks like she’s being attacked by an exploding octopus, but frankly, it’s better than I thought it would be, so it was spared the list.

This concludes this year’s blogiversary celebration!  I hope you’ve enjoyed these few peeks at Gates. Maybe I’ll slip you another page here and there for future monthly comics. (And if you’re part of my Saturday crowd, this week saw three- three!- posts, so remember to check the previous updates.)

Happy writing!