Friday, February 12, 2016

Missing Maps and Getting Lost in Fictional Worlds

My map is missing.
I've looked. I've gone through my desk, looked inside books, pulled out loose papers.
And it's not a simple thing to replace, because it was the extant copy.

Years ago, for a NaNoWriMo project, I wrote an adventure novel called "The Life and Many Deaths of Sir Hobbleton of Piffle."  It's a whimsical story about a knight who is cursed to die a thousand deaths. It's the death of a coward described by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. The only way to break the curse is to live and die in the most heroic way possible; self-sacrifice.
It's a tricky thing for a coward to practice sacrifice.
Tricky indeed.
Sir Hobbleton takes place in a mythical land I dreamed up, but I didn't have a full idea of it's complete geography. I also didn't have a full idea of the story, because I came to an end well before the fifty-thousand word limit required for NaNo novels.
I was done. I was spent.
And I didn't know where else to go with the novel.

Enter my daughter Hope, who might have been eight or nine at the time. She listened to me read parts of the story out loud, and I told her I was dedicating this novel to her as a birthday present. At some point early on, I casually asked Hope to draw a map of Piffle that I might include in the story.  When the day came that I was unable to find another way of padding my word count, (I already tried giving one character a three-word name) Hope presented the map to me, her eyes brightly lit with imagination.
It was remarkable.
It wasn't just the map. She also gave me a full explanation of the territories and myths associated with each little burg and village.
It gave me the additional information I needed to complete my word count, since I now had an Appendix of locations, and the stories behind them.
The geographic dynamics of a new world lay open before me, a world that fit not only into my hand,but now made sense in my mind.
I loved that map.
It was one of the most cherished gifts I've ever received.

And now it's gone.

I've looked for it on many occasions through the years. I've ripped through stacks of folders, flipped through binders, and proceed to create disarray in the middle of my office floor. The result is always the same: I'm surrounded by newly found clutter, and very dissapointed that I didn't find the map.
I think I folded it up and put it in a book for safe keeping, and that particular book may have inadvertently ended up in a garage sale, or in a donation box.
It saddens me greatly.

There were other stories on that map, other fanciful places, and so much left to be discovered.
It's like losing a wedding ring, or your birth certificate.
Come to think of it, that map was the birth certificate for Sir Hobbleton's world.

If you happen to have picked up a book from a garage sale in Humble Texas, or bought a used book at Goodwill, or Half-Priced Books, and inside you found a folded map, colored with pencils and crayons, and scribbled out on several sections of printer paper, maybe you can take a picture and send it too me.
It would be so wonderful to find it again.

I really want to edit and have Sir Hobbleton ready for publication before Hope graduates from High School. Several birthdays have already come and gone. She's a junior this year, with only three months to go, and if I know anything for certain, it's that her senior year will be gone in a heartbeat.

I suppose I can finish editing the story, and it'll be a great way of returning the gift to her, but I've really had trouble getting back into the Land of Piffle.  It's like I need a guide.
A direction.
A map.

When you're lost, and can't find your way in a strange land, what better way is there of navigating through bogs of uncertainty, and avenues of procrastination, than a wonderful, carefully folded, full-color map?
Maybe I should look for it again.

Just one more time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review - A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II by Colleen Sell

by Sheryl Tuttle

Check out my book review of A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II by Colleen Sell, WordProverb: Book Review - A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II by Colleen Sell. Our very own Humble Fiction Cafe writer, Susan H. Miller, contributed a moving story not to be missed about a sassy Dachshund named Baron von Muttleheimer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Short Story: Body by Dorlana Vann

I watched as a guy in a dark suit dug up Beatrice Beaumont Virgil, April 5, 1965 – August 19, 1998. Funeral flowers still fresh, dirt still moist, Until we meet again, her epitaph.

I stood in the shadows and dared to watch a moment longer before deciding I would just make note of his car license on my way out. If I had to say, I would guess his height as six feet and give him a generous build of medium. And I would only use this information if there were questions. Otherwise, I’d rather my secret after-hours visits stayed my secret.

As I turned to leave, the moody clouds drifted, allowing the full moon to tattle. I limped away as fast as I could, but my bad knee had started acting up again. I could only hope I was far enough to seem a ghost. Just as I began to breathe, I heard the man shout, “Hey you... stop!”

A gun fired; the bullet ricocheted off the tombstone next to me. I stopped.

“Now get over here,” he said. “Slowly.”

As I approached the gravesite, I could see that he had dug about halfway down into the grave. He held a shovel in his right hand and a gun in his left. “You’re not going to run are you?” he asked. His appearance seemed rather ordinary— until our eyes met. I’m not easily spooked, but his keen stare alarmed the hair on the back of my neck.

“No,” I said.

He tucked the gun in his pants and then threw me the shovel. “Start digging.”

I dropped the shovel down into the thigh-deep hole and grunted as I followed it inside.

“What are you doing out here this time of night?” he said as he sat down and wiped his brow.

“I’m the groundskeeper.”

“That’s strange. I did my homework; there are no employees at night.”

“I’m not supposed to be here either.” The shovel sank into the dirt easily enough, but my muscles complained when I started shoveling it out of the hole.
“Hmm,” he said. “So, what are you doing here?”

“It’s peaceful at night.”

“So you work here... and come here to hang out? Kind of an eerie guy. But I suppose the right kind... if one has to exhume a body.”

I kept digging, and the man kept watching until the shovel caused a clunking noise.

“All right,” he said. He sat with his legs dangling over the side of the hole. “Now start digging on the sides so we can open my treasure chest.”

When I had finished my task, the man jumped in beside me. It took quite a few hard pushes before we finally had the lid all the way open.

I generally have to be content with a mental image of my residents—unless their loved ones are kind enough to leave me a picture—I couldn’t help but comb my hair with my fingers to tidy up a bit before I met her.

Her long blonde hair flowed gracefully over her petite shoulders. Rosy cheeks and ruby lips highlighted powdered fair skin. “Beautiful.”

POW! I felt the deafening discharge from my fingers to my toes. Beatrice received a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. I had stopped breathing.
“Hmm,” the grave robber said. “Grab her arms.”


It took him aiming his weapon at me before I comprehended the instructions.
“Grab her arms. I’ll get her feet.”

Heavier than she looked, the first attempts at getting her out of the grave were grotesque. I wanted to lay her back in her bed, fold her arms back across her body... smooth her hair.

Finally, we had her in a somewhat normal position lying in the grass next to her assumed final resting place.

My dilated eyes absorbed a sudden explosion of light. When I regained my vision, I realized the man was snapping pictures.

I couldn’t withhold my curiosity a moment longer. It had fused together with fear and sympathy for Beatrice and formed a knot in the pit of my stomach. “I do realize that this is none of my business, and I really shouldn’t be asking you anything, but...”

“I don’t off chicks,” he said. His chest heaved in and out, just like mine.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s why I’m doing this. That was your question... right?”

I nodded.

He pulled a flask out of his jacket, put it to his mouth, and took a drink. Surprisingly, he handed it to me. As the unexpected bland taste of the pure water quenched my dry tongue, he spoke, “Some asshole hired me to kill a woman. This is just what I do when I’m put in the situation.”

I swallowed hard. The liquid felt like a tank going down my throat. The man standing beside me murdered people for money. And I was the creepy one. “So you’re going to pretend that Beatrice is the woman you were supposed to kill?”

“Beatrice,” he said and stared down at her. “They don’t want them at their doorstep. All I need is proof. I did a lot of obituary searching to find her. Same facial features, hair color, age.”

“What about the real girl?”

“She’s on a plane as we move our lips.”

We stood there for a moment: the atmosphere thick with the smell of death and the moonlight animating tree shadows across Beatrice’s face.

“So, why did someone want her dead?” I asked.

“Don’t know... didn’t ask.”

I nodded.

“Let’s get her back down,” he said.

The chore of replacing her didn’t take as long as excavating her had, but I hated our method. We just dropped her in.

We climbed in after and put her back in the casket. Except for the bullet hole and the dirt in her hair, she looked like she did before we disturbed her. I said my goodbyes and shut the lid.

When I looked up at the assassin, his jaw was tense and his eyes and gun were focused on me. He said, “You know, I have to kill you now.”

I stopped to inhale the earthy air, to scratch my nose, and to think about my new home with Beatrice Virgil’s address. Until we meet again, my epitaph. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

The End

Body is one of the short stories from the dichotomy/opposites anthology Split -by The Humble Fiction Cafe.
Read the second half of this story here: Hell's Kitchen

Dorlana's website:

Dorlana's blog: Supernatural Fairy Tales

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Episode 85, In Which Donna Chrissa Again Tilts at Twittermills

Manuscripts are eating holes in my peaceful afternoon, like moths in an untended closet. My brother requested that I finish a short story begun several years ago (and that I restrain my language to an 8th grade level--not sure what that would be) and there is always The Novel About The Dog or a poem or the pulp-influenced short story...a nebulous galaxy of work whose gravitational pull has tossed me unexpectedly straight into the 'net, where time approximates work without every actually becoming work. Am I, therefore, being entertained?

And what about you? Are you reading this at a time when you could be reading a novel (or watching TV or training for the Iditarod)? Will the next several minutes at your computer turn into hours down a YouTube/blogosphere/e-mail rabbit hole in which images and ideas flash past and you grow indignant, happy, worried, relieved with every click? Are you entertained or informed or unable to tell whether there might be a difference?

We've discussed New Media somewhat in our group and I'm continually struck by the way we struggle for control of platform and content, both in terms of creation and in use. I'm particularly leery of the ideas promulgated by people who believe that interactivity (e.g. blogs, twitter feeds) is necessary. Really? Do you automatically check the website of potential authors the way you might for plumbers or business contacts? Do you buy the books or read the available chapters and move on? Have you ever purchased a self-published book? Does the unedited blog post or book bother you? What do you 'expect' from the authors you follow and (bonus question) why do you expect anything other than a good story? Have you every read a novel on your computer?

Perhaps I should alter my reading material from cranky essays on the decline of standards and thought and switch to more cheerful fare this afternoon, before I earn the title Resident Humbug. On the other hand, one always felt Statler and Waldorf had the most fun. :)

-- Chrissa

Monday, September 7, 2009

September 11, 2001

It is the time of the year again when we are reminded of that awful day eight years ago that shook all of us old enough to remember to the absolute core.

Even without mention on the television news, "Where They Are Now" articles in magazines and the tragic, heart-wrenching pictures, I would not - could not - forget.

We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the plane hit the first tower. I was driving to work with a colleague and we were laughing about our failed attempt to try a new "short-cut" to downtown Houston.

The announcement broke into our music program, and we both became silent, shocked and saddened by the horrible "accident." It never entered either of our minds that it was anything but a terrible tragedy.

It was on the elevator in our office building that someone told us the second tower had just been struck. That was when a cold chill ran through my entire body. Because I knew now that this was no random happening.

Then came United Flight 93.

As the rest of the day wore on, and the news worstened, I was reminded of the events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assasination from the fatal bullets to the capture of the shooter to his death by an obscure nightclub owner.

Numbness. The T.V. set in the conference room was one, and the entire staff was drawn to it again and again. Finally, it felt like my mind could take in no more horror.

The next few days - the ones in which no sleek, proud jets soared gracefully over our beautiful America - were surreal. Being the wife of a career Air Force flight engineer-turned commerical pilot instructor, flying was an integrel part of my life. I found myself staring into the still blue skies with the feeling that time had somehow become suspended.

Everybody was touched by 9/11. Everybody. I lost a cousin-by-marriage I had never met. Many people suffered far closer pain.

It was a little over two years later when I found myself both at Ground Zero, and the place in Somerset County, Pennsylvania where 93 went down.

Just before Christmas, I was visiting New York and ventured over to the site in blustery cold winds. Severe damage of some neighboring buildings was still evident, like the scars of someone gravely injured but alive. A crude hole had been carved out of the fence surrounding the spot where the twin towers had stood. Inside was a huge gaping hole that bore little semblance to the sights and sounds of that day. Inside an adjacent building were scale models of the proposed memorial. The building itself was full of busy New Yorkers at work. Life had to go on! I applaud those people who continued on with their lives.

It was the next fall when my husband and I were visiting his brother who lived in Somerset County. Of course we wanted to go to the site of Flight 93's crash. As if it could make sense of things when Ground Zero could not.

Again, the wind blew mercilessly but it did not dull the beauty of the place. Soft, green rolling hills were surrounded by the oranges and browns of the turning leaves. The site itself could be seen only from a distance, as befitted the sacred cemetary that it is.

The temporary "mounument" was only a flat space with several stone benches, bearing the names of those who died that September day, facing the final resting place of the brave people on that airplane. The benches silently lure you to sit and remember. The many people who were there that day with us spoke in reverent terms, as if they were in church.

There is a large bulletin board behind the benches which is filled on both sides with every type of memorabilia imaginable. But not one stroke of graffiti. There was military squadron patches, fraternity symbols, photos, notes, crude drawings by school children, poems, religious cards. Some feel this display was tacky. It will be gone when the new, lofty permanent momument is dedicated on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But I like it the way it was. Closure is an overworked word. And who am I, who had only the slightest connection to anybody who died that day, to deserve "closure."

It's just that there, on that breezy hill with the cluttered bulletin board, the silent benches and the peaceful view, I finally feel like some sense that something grand happened that day among the horror.

Sue Miller

Friday, September 4, 2009

An Author Event Not to be Missed!

You are invited!

Members of Humble Fiction Cafe' will be at Good Books in the Woods on Saturday, September 19, from 12:00-3:00 p.m. We hope you will join us for author readings, giveaways, refreshments and more. Plus, we will be signing and selling copies of our books.

Did I mention giveaways??? Hope to see you there!

Split by Humble Fiction Cafe

Come into a world of love-struck fish and super-intelligent bugs; of the ordinary and bizarre; of then and now; of this world and the next; of people you know and folks you hope never to meet. These twenty-seven original stories and poems have but one thing in common: they all show two halves of an idea, two sides of a coin. They show what happens when a concept becomes SPLIT.

Various authors will be on hand to discuss their story contributions and sign copies of the book.

Death by Dorlana Vann

Death is a two-in-one paranormal novel (Jaclyn's Ghost and Passage to Mesentia) which represent the Death Card in Tease Publication's Dark Tarot Series.

Jaclyn's Ghost: After recovering from the shock of seeing her own dead body (still dressed to kill from last night's party), fashion model Jaclyn Jade discovers she has a choice. If she finds the reason she fell short of grace, she will be able to redeem herself and go to Heaven. Since she was murdered, she hopes her killer will lead to the truth behind her fate. With the help of a psychic who can speak to the dead and the ghost of an intriguing man from the roaring twenties, her search for answers initiates a quirky journey of self-discovery. Personalities, eras, and worlds collide as the mismatched trio race to solve the mystery of Jaclyn's death.

Passage to Mesentia: Wade and Bella's lives have been turned upside down since the murder of Bella's archaeologist parents and the arrival of a mysterious stranger named Ben. They decide to form a partnership with Ben in order to search for an ancient Egyptian artifact that they hope will reveal the secret to her parents' deaths. Tension mounts when Ben's supernatural identity and romantically tragic love story begins to lure Bella towards him. Will Wade and Bella's love endure, or will Bella be drawn in by the dangerous quest and find Ben too intense to resist?

A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II
HFC contributing author, Susan H. Miller

Everyone loves a good dog story. In this moving collection, readers will enjoy fifty great dog stories that will have them laughing and crying as they enjoy this tender and touching volume with their own dogs at their feet. Following the success of the original edition, readers will be thrilled with this follow-up edition. In it, they will find new stories that are just waiting to be discovered and adored—from a new puppy bringing renewed energy into his elderly owner’s home to a walk down memory lane for a visit with a dog who made her owner’s childhood an adventure. This story collection will bring love, joy, and a sense of companionship into every reader’s heart.

Pdf versions of the following are available.

Bring Me to Life by Theresa Laws

In certain places, the veil between the living world and the other side is thin, and time means nothing. Hattie has waited for seventy years to be brought to life and set the past straight. Darren fins himself a reluctant partner in her resurrection.

More Than a Lifetime by Theresa Laws

All her life, Brooke has felt out of place, unlucky with men and empty inside except for her very real fear of water. The only place she feels at home is in Old Sacramento, where her love/hate relationship with the river puzzles her.

When she meets the mysterious Evan, her mind begins to reveal images and intimate encounters that are so much more than dreams or imagination. Could they be memories? Is it possible that both she and Evan have lived before? Her journey to find the truth about herself takes her underground and back in time to a lover who has waited more than a lifetime.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reading the book or seeing the movie first?

The Time Traveler’s Wife is coming out and I really want to see the movie. However, as an avid reader, I also want to read the book. My concern is which I should do first: see the movie or read the book. For me doing both is not a problem. The problem is while I prefer to have read the book before the movie; it makes me enjoy the movie less.

I love reading. To me, what makes a good story is when I see the movie play out in my head as I devour each word. I cast characters. I envision locations. I do everything that movie producers do, but in my head. Then, when I go to see the movie I always try to prepare myself. One, I know that the story, in plot and dialogue, will not be told exactly as in the book. Two, the characters will most definitely not look as I have envisioned them. Three, the scenes or moments that I think are critical will not be the same ones the writers and directors see as critical and therefore included in the film. And so on, and so on…

But even with all of my preparations the best reaction I have had to date is, “It wasn’t the fiasco I was expecting (Twilight, Stephenie Meyer).” The worst reaction I have had was, “That was such a horrible adaptation it makes me not want to read the writer again (Needful Things, Stephen King)." But there are some adaptations that differ from the books on which they are based but are still very good. The example for this is the Trueblood series on HBO based on the Southern Vampire series or Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris.

After watching the first season I proceeded to buy and read all of the books she has written. While my feelings about the books actually fluctuate (some I love and some I read just to get to the next one) so far, I do love the TV show better.

And maybe that’s the secret. Part of the problem of adapting a novel into a movie is that you have to force the story into something that’s told in roughly 110 minutes. Therefore many of the small subtleties are left out or butchered. Whereas with television, you have at least twelve to thirteen sixty-minute episodes over which to tell the story on HBO and other pay channels; on network TV you usually have a minimum of twenty episodes.

Well, I guess the verdict is when the adaptation is a movie, watch the movie first to minimize disappointment. If the adaptation is a television series, reading the book first is safe.