Tag Archives: K.B. Wagers

26 Random Things I Love About Writing

  • My characters.
  • Endless career possibilities.
  • Excuse to stare off into space under the guise of “plot construction.”
  • Whiteboards.
  • Coffee.
  • Dialogue that would never happen in real life.
  • Exercising sadistic tendencies without all the mess.
  • That moment when everything falls into place in a novel.
  • Heartbreak.
  • Unexpected events that make you laugh out loud.
  • Windows into fantastical worlds.
  • Anything that involves the rule “when in doubt, blow something up” has to be awesome, right?
  • The sound of fingers on keys.
  • Editing, as frustrating as it can be there’s nothing quite as satisfying as making a story better.

K.B.

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The Call

I bought myself a fountain pen today. Haven’t owned one in years. As much of a tech-geek as I am, there is still something satisfying about the tactile sensation of pen in hand. Or book, for that matter.

I printed out my manuscript today also, in between helping my step-son clean his room. (He’s a sock hoarder and just came into my office wearing an exposed brain and his Captain America mask – he’s going as zombie Cap for Halloween.) Anyway, I printed out my manuscript because as much as I love computers, it’s damn difficult to do an extensive rewrite without being able to see the whole thing laid out before you.

The reason for the rewrite? Two and a half weeks ago I got “the call” … you know, that thing that most serious aspiring authors wait for.

As a friend pointed out, I handled that call – from Andrew Zack at The Zack Company – as I have handled other important phone calls from men in my life.

I hung up on him.

*laughs* To be fair, I didn’t know it was him when I hung up the phone and I hadn’t meant to answer it at all. I was at work, in the middle of a rather frantic day and trying to figure something out with a co-worker about a customer when my phone rang. I reached over and thought that I swiped to decline. I didn’t and half a second later realized I’d answered the call, so I hung up. I didn’t recognize the number after all.

Thankfully, Andy called me back and left a message. A message I retrieved once the excitement at work had been dealt with and I had a free moment. Of course, I sat in shock for a few minutes, flailed around, called one of my CPs (Lisa, of course, wanted to know what I was doing calling her instead of Andy. *laughs*) and then finally collected myself enough to go into the back of the office and call Andy back.

We chatted a bit, I mentioned I was at work and that I could talk more after I got home.

I’m not even going to play this cool, folks. After we got off the phone I punched the air and did a celebratory dance in my boss’s office. I have wanted this for years, have been working toward it for close to ten years. I have been through ten complete novels and just as many partials. I have written close to two million words in my lifetime. I have suffered through rejections on six novels, turned down an offer on one because as much as I loved the story I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to start my career. I have queried and subbed and WAITED. I have been this close *holds fingers apart* and had the devastating news pounce on me from my mailbox.

I took my hits. I shelved stories I loved because I knew they just weren’t going to work right now. I listened to the rejections to see what I could learn from them. I was patient. I was determined. I recognized the value of listening to what others had to say about my work and used that to be better. I killed my darlings – ripped my latest work to pieces after Andrew rejected my original version of  Behind The Throne and made it better.

And it worked. It took two years and a train ride, but it worked. I got the call from an agent I had decided I wanted to work with when I started this book. I still have a lot of work to do and yet another rewrite in the works, but I am optimistic and I think in the end it will make the story so much better. It will make it into the story I’ve wanted to tell along and share with you.

So what should you take from all of this? The road to publication is different for everyone. I have very dear friends who’ve made it look easy, but even I know that looks can be deceiving and they had struggles of their own and moments when they thought it would never happen.

It’s not always fast and it’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s a slog through the mud, brutal and exhausting and you never think you’re going to see the light of day again. Lucky for me, I like playing in the mud. *smiles* But even I hit points where I wondered just why I was doing this and if I’d ever get the chance to move forward. Now I have that chance and I’m ridiculously excited and grateful to Andy for giving it to me.

K.B.

The End – Part 3 of 3

You’ve done it, or rather you’ve almost done it. You’re almost done with your book. But here’s the most important part – the end.

This is the make or break, your readers have been engaged this far and you really don’t want to let them down. But what to do? How do you get through to the end? I’ve heard this referred to as the “writer’s event horizon”, the “long-slog”, that place where everything can either come together or completely fall apart on you.

Welcome to the beginning of the end.

K.B.

Oh the end, the glorious end! The rush! That headlong slide toward the final epic battle. Or the big reveal. Or the cliffhanger. Or-

*laughs sheepishly*

The end is where Lisa usually yanks on my chain, bringing me up short like an out-of-control puppy. *grins* I am notorious for rushing through the end of my novel, crazy and wild-eyed, desperate to finish. I tend to forget about the details, the important wrap-up of loose ends, and little things like grammar.

When I hit the “end” of the book, I tend toward extremes. I’ll either have to just write the hell out of it and hope I can fix things in edits because the story is screaming at me to write it down. Or I come to a screeching halt and stare warily at the end of my novel like a poisonous snake, unsure about how to take it down without getting killed in the process.

The rush option obviously doesn’t have much of a plan other than to throw myself in headfirst and hope for the best. *laughs*

When I do the other path though, I:

1)    Revisit the outline – I like to make sure that I’ve got things in order, that all my loose ends are wrapped up and the readers aren’t going to have a “what the hell?” moment after they read the last word.

2)    Revisit my character motivations – to make sure that everyone is behaving the way they would and not just doing what I want to make the ending fit.

3)    Explore my options – I’m not always locked into an ending for a novel. I learned early on that it’s a good idea to be fluid with your resolution because trying to write toward a specific ending can really mess you up. If I’m not sure how it should end I’ll sometimes sketch out two or three endings and see which one fits the best.

Kate:

Over the years, I’ve probably written somewhere around a two hundred stories, novellas, and novels. And it took maybe half of those before I figured out how The End worked for me.

You’ll know already from our earlier blogs on this topic that I’m a complete fogwalker. I don’t know what the next sentence or chapter is going to be, let alone The End. But there is a place in every single story—from the shortest to the longest—where a decision has to be made about what will happen at The End.

That spot happens despite the fact that I still don’t know the ending, but when I first started writing, I could get stuck at that spot for weeks. And it truly is a spot. It might be as small a spot as a single sentence or as big a spot as a paragraph.

But once that sentence or paragraph is written, The End is implicit in those few words. I don’t know what it is, I only know that I’m rushing toward it.

So this is what happens to me at The Damn Spot (which I what I call it), which, oddly enough, is what constitutes The End for me. Because once I get through The Damn Spot, The End is easy.

1.   First, and most importantly, I have to figure out that I’ve reached The Damn Spot. Occasionally, I figure that out very quickly. Mostly, I don’t. I’ll just keep writing, unhappy and uncomfortable with what’s happening and not knowing why.

2.   Eventually, I do figure it out because it’s not often I get stuck like that anywhere else. Once I figure it out, the next step is easy. I will rewrite the sentence (or paragraph) until it feels right. Occasionally, that takes me three or four tries. More often, it takes me ten or twenty or even fifty tries and I’ve learned to stop fretting about that because it works.

3.   When I get The Damn Spot right, I just keep writing until I reach The End. And how do I know it’s The End?

4.   The End comes to me and I’m there. Right there. No waiting. No worrying. No fretting. The End is The End. I don’t see it coming, I don’t plan for it, it just arrives. Full blown like the richest, most aromatic rose of summer. It’s a miracle.

Lisa:

As usual, I’m somewhere between Kate and Katy on the spectrum. I almost always know how I want the story to end when I first start writing, and I almost always realize – typically about two-thirds of the way through – that I’m not far enough along in the story to have the original ending I envisioned actually BE the ending. (It’s a good thing I write series, as the “original ending” generally works its way in somewhere else in the arc.)

Once the realization hits me – usually with a loud oh shit – I have two choices. A) Rework things so that I can use that original ending or B) Acknowledge that my subconscious knows what it’s doing, let that scene go and move along, trusting myself to find the way to the Real Ending.

I never take option A. 🙂

So how do I get from Oh Shit to The End?

1)  Like Katy, I sit with my characters for a bit and make sure their choices and motivations are in line with their authentic (albeit fictional) selves. Then I check for stray threads, messy plotlines and unresolved questions that need to be answered.

2)  I keep writing, keep moving forward in blind faith that at some point, the Last Line will manifest. It may materialize in the middle of the night or when I’m driving or taking a shower, but suddenly, it’s just there. I may not understand it completely (since I’m not tuned in to all that will precede it) but I recognize it for what it is. I write it down and set it aside, but I never forget it. It hovers around me like an aura, whispering its delicious secrets, urging me on – and making me a little nervous.

3)  Now there is a plan, something I must work toward, so  at that point, I do something I rarely do throughout the rest of the book: I start vaguely mapping out the remaining chapters in terms of What I Think Must Happen. This knowing is partly based on my notes from step one, but gut instincts play a big part in it, too. (Gut instincts always play a big part in my writing process; I’ve learned to trust them implicitly over the years.)

4)  Once I have my “skeleton” outline, I make like Kate and just keep writing until one day, my fingers are on the keys, typing away and the Last Line appears on the page. Then the cork popping ensues!

 Your turn, peeps. Tell us how you wrangle the monster named The End.

Ten Things I Learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1)  Life as a superhero is exhausting.

2)  The proper application of humor can go a long way towards diffusing a situation

3)  You can’t solve all your problems with magic, but sometimes it’s helpful to be able to move a soda machine and keep creepy floating guys from cutting your heart out.

4)  Bad guys can do good things, and good guys can do bad things.

5)  Sometimes the most dangerous monsters aren’t monsters at all.

6)  Intelligence is just as useful as super powers.

7)  Everything is better with a Scooby Gang.

8)  Be forgiving.

9)  Look for the good in things.

10)  “Life isn’t bliss. Life is just this – it’s living.”

K.B.

The Sagging Middle

And, no, we’re not talking about the change that arrives with middle age. Last week, Lisa, K.B., and I talked about the things each of us needed to begin a new book. Now we’re going to talk about how we get through—and what we need—for that sagging middle.

The part of the novel between the beginning (which might be as much as five or seven chapters) and the end (which might be as little as a single chapter and as much as four or five chapters) is called all kinds of names: the tricky middle, the sagging middle, the middle-of-the-novel mud, the great expanse. But for almost everyone, the middle (also the longest part of the book) is the hardest part.

Here’s a list of each of our techniques for dealing with the mud in the middle.

KATE:

The middle for me is a great expanse of mud. It’s where I get stuck in the dirty muck of routine—or at least that’s how it feels to me. The beginning is pure joy, making me feel as if I’m flying and everything is going right. The end, while sometimes complicated, is so satisfying that the complications don’t seem to matter. But the middle?

It’s hell.

I’m a fogwalker, so I don’t have anything to fall back on when I get stuck. I don’t have an outline, don’t have character sketches, don’t have a page count or the slightest idea of what’s going to happen next. So what do I do?

I fall back on faith. I’ve gotten through that mud dozens and dozens of times, finished dozens and dozens of stories and novels and novellas, so I believe I can do it. Mostly.

When faith in the process isn’t enough, I try:

1.         Going for a walk. That often jogs loose the thing—that all important thing—I need to carry on. Walking on the beach is best, but any long walk might work. I can’t be thinking about the thing, that just makes it harder. So I think about grocery shopping or what I have to do for the rest of the week or what movie I want to see or book I want to read.

2.         Talking to a friend, usually a writer, though not always. Sometimes talking is enough of a distraction that when I sit back down to write again, the next line, the line, is there.

3.         Reading the previous three or four chapters out loud. This gets me solidly into the voice and the rhythm and then I just keep on keeping on. Or at least I hope I do.

4.         The one thing that always works? I sit down with my yellow lined newsprint pad and my perfect pen and I start writing by hand. That physicality seems to funnel the words through a different part of my brain and out the end of my fingertips. I might have to do this once, or twice, or when it’s really muddy, a dozen times before I come out at the end of it.
LISA:

Like Kate, I’m a fogwalker, though I tend to have somewhat better visibility. I usually have a sense of what’s coming in the next chapter or two, and I generally have two or three scenes or events in mind when I start a book, though I don’t have a clue about when they’ll happen. I’ve tried reading through from the beginning of the book when I get stuck, but that tends to throw me into editing mode, never a good thing for me in the initial writing phase.

And, really, I don’t get stuck as often as I get lost; the trees get so thick I lose sight of the forest. It’s not unusual for me to hit the 45K mark (or thereabouts) and panic, thinking OMG, nothing’s happening, this isn’t even a book! What the hell is this mess?

So for me, that squishy middle ground is the place where I turn to my trusty companions, the cherished few who read along as I create. When they tell me “the pacing is great” or “yes, this is a book”, or “tons of stuff is happening”, I believe them. Because, chances are, they remember what I’ve written better than I do at that point, and they’ve always been able to talk me down off the ledge.

When I do feel stuck somewhere along the way, when I can’t make a scene work or figure out what comes next, I’ll try the following:

  1. Go for a walk or a drive, or take a trip to the grocery store. I’ll put my playlist on my iPod or the car stereo and turn it low, letting it feed the back of my brain where the story lives. I’ll endeavour not to think directly about the work, but I’ll let it play around the edges of my mind until something bubbles up – or shakes out – and triggers the great Ah hah!
  2. Brainstorm. Sometimes, I think my mouth uplinks directly to the Muse and talking things through with someone is often the best way for me to get unstuck.
  3. Take a creative break. Go to a museum, get out the paints, mess with some clay, read a bunch of poetry, watch a play or a good movie. When the story isn’t driving me to the computer at every free minute, it usually means I’ve derailed myself and need some perspective (which only comes with time away from the screen) or that I’m running on empty and need some kind of inspirational recharge.
  4. Talk to my characters. Yes, I talk to them, often aloud. And they talk back, usually in the middle of the night when the cat wakes me up to be let outside. Story, for me, arises from character, so it pays to trust them, to listen to them and let their choices, thoughts, actions and reactions drive the plot. If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m not listening, not trusting, not allowing their stories to unfold organically. And that never ends well.

 

K.B.

I’m apparently the oddball of the group. (I’m sure you’re all surprised by this.) I do not have a lot of issues with sagging middle. *shows off writerly six-pack*

Ha! I’m kidding, sort of. I really don’t have a huge issue with writing the middle of stories. Those are the points where I usually hit my stride and power my way through. My issues are more often found in the beginning or about three quarters of the way through the book.

However, I do hit the occasional stumbling block, and when I do here’s what works best for me.

  1. Outline! Normally I’m a fogwalker. I let the characters take the lead and run the show. But I do have a habit when I hit mid-book (stuck or not) of going back to reread everything I’ve written. I’ve found this doesn’t slow me up, but rather helps me solidify the plot and various sub-plots, clear out any messes, take note of loose threads that have to be woven back in, and to do some foreshadowing.
  2. Brainstorm! Talking to my CPs or other trusted friends about what’s going on in the story. Normally that will knock something loose in my brain, but if it doesn’t I turn to…
  3. Fight Club! *laughs* Or more accurately hitting the heavy bag, hitting the trail, or anything involving a lot of effort and sweat. I turn the music up loud and put my body on autopilot so my brain can work through the problem.

Of course, sometimes none of those things will help and I still can’t figure out a way out of the mudslog that can be the middle of a manuscript. That’s when I pull out my secret weapon.

  1. Explosions! That’s right, when in doubt blow something up. Shoot someone, kill off a trusted character, have your MC’s life/plans/brain fall completely apart. Cause a little conflict. Have a plan go horribly awry. Have the pit viper in your characters’ midst strike. Anything to further the plot of your story and to get your reader to say: “Augh! Crap! I was gonna go to bed but now I have to find out if they’re going to survive this volcano.”

*grins* Trust me, nothing helps like an explosion.

In The Beginning

I’m a lucky woman. Kate and K.B. aren’t just two of my best friends. I have close working relationships with both of them and, therefore, I just so happen to know that all three of us are starting new projects right now. Beginning new books. It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? The blank page, the first word, the abyss of 90K stretching out endlessly before you, it can all feel so overwhelming, so thrilling but scary. But fears are easier to manage once they’re shared (or so I’ve heard).

So here it is: Our take on getting started. How we do it. What we need in order for it to happen. How we feel when we’re sitting at our computers, hands hovering over the keyboard, waiting to write the first few words. How/when we know we’ve hit a project that will last past the first ten pages and carry us off on a grand adventure.

We hope it helps you with your beginnings. And we hope you’ll share a bit about your process, too.

Lisa, Kate and K.B.

LISA:

Naturally, it begins with an idea, though in my case, “kick upside the head” is more to the point. My ideas don’t creep in softly; they gobsmack me, often right when I wake up from a deep, seemingly dreamless sleep. The ideas are vague things, concepts really, though sometimes there are characters lurking at the edges, holding up those signs you see limo drivers flashing at airports. They want me to climb in, go for a ride, let them take me where they will, and who am I to argue?

This leads to me scribbling a half-page or so of random notes and shooting off e-mails to Kate and K.B. (I won’t read those notes again until after I’ve written the book. So why bother writing them down? Because it’s funny to read them afterwards; they so rarely have anything to do with the final project.) Then I brush off my hands and file the idea in the back of my brain to let it percolate, since I’m always in the middle of some other project when the Muse strikes.

Sometimes, the ideas fade quietly in the interim. That’s a good thing, a writer’s version of natural selection. Other ideas stick, pestering me like a deep splinter, working their way to the surface until they simply won’t be ignored any longer. How do I know when I’m onto something good? I get a strange, tingly sensation on the top of my head whenever I think about/talk about a new project. (No really. My crown chakra buzzes, the same way it does when I have a profound spiritual or emotional realization.) I’m not one to disregard my intuition, so when that starts to happen, when the characters wake up and start whispering (or shouting) in my head, I take a deep breath, clear the desk, roll my sleeves and get myself geared up.

Things I Need to Begin a New Book:

1)      Whiteboard space. I’m a huge scribbler and I never use notebooks. I like to see the writing on the wall, preferably in colorful, fruit-scented dry-erase ink.

2)      Faces. It’s a trick I learned in Screenwriting 101. Cast your script before you write it. It makes visualizing your characters – and describing them – so much easier. You can use Pinterest to keep track of your cast if you like; I prefer pinning pictures on corkboard.

3)      A skeleton playlist. This will undoubtedly grow and expand as I work; most of my playlists shoot past the hundred song mark, especially if I’m writing a series. But to begin, I need a handful of songs that set the tone and capture the mood I’m hoping to set with the story.

4)      A title. I really hate starting without one. I can do it – and I have – but it bugs me.

5)      Location. I can’t write a story without knowing where it will take place. Ideally, the setting is a place I’ve actually visited, but if it isn’t, I’ll spend a day or two surfing travel blogs, reading official city web pages, studying maps, looking at photos on the web, trying to get a sense of the flavor of the place because for me, as a writer and a reader, setting always informs the story on some level.

6)      The first line. Obviously, I can’t begin without it and I’m not one for writing a false start and then going back to insert the real beginning during edits. I know that works for some folks, but not for me.

KATE:

It’s difficult to follow Lisa because my process is so different and yet, in some ways, so much the same. I spend a whole lot of time envying her because she’s so clear about what she needs, how it works, and articulating it to others. That’s much more difficult for me, for a whole bunch of reasons.

But the first and most important reason is this.

I am the ultimate fogwalker and, because it’s worked for many years, I hate to do anything that might change it. So I’m uncomfortable—and more than a bit superstitious—when talking about my process. But I’m going to do it.

I’ll begin with the concept of fogwalking. For me, that means I have absolutely NO idea of what’s going to happen next. I don’t know what the next sentence is going to be, or where it’s going to lead me, let alone where the next paragraph or chapter will take me. I simply sit down and start writing. I might do that with a pen and paper or on my computer, but the process is the same. Get myself into the Zone and write. I can’t tell you what the Zone is, or even how I get there, but it’s important. It’s the only thing that is and it’s miserable—both for me at times and for you—that I’m unable to tell you what it is or how I get there. But I can’t. Or perhaps it’s more that I won’t. I’m scared that if I figure those things out, if I intellectualize them, they won’t work for me anymore. So I don’t.

So there are no notes for me, not even the vaguest of outlines. That would stop me from writing, and has done so many times. My process, if you can call it that, seems to be fixed in stone. And it’s a stone big and heavy enough that I can’t shift it.

Things I Need to Begin a New Story (I’m not saying book because I write a lot of short stories and novellas, as well as novels):

1)      Words. Everything begins for me with words; generally a phrase or a short sentence. I don’t know why this is, but it is. I have many directories in my computer that are simply that—a phrase or a couple of words that will one day turn into a story. I find these everywhere. Sometimes I make them up, sometimes I see them in a magazine, a story, or written on a wall as graffiti. It’s all about the rhythm, I think.

2)      Pen and paper: I begin every story by hand because, in the beginning, it takes time to get into it and I type too fast and get bored too easily when my hands are on the keyboard and I’m waiting for something to happen. I use, mostly, a very specific type of pen and paper—the pen is a uniball that flows easily (blue, never black) and a pad of yellow lined newsprint.

3)      Title: This goes back to the first point. My title is often, though not always, that phrase or those couple of words that have fascinated me. When that’s not true, I might write a big piece of the story without a title, because I’m waiting for it to come to me as I write.

4)      A feeling:  I know, I know, this doesn’t make any sense but I think it’s a big part of the Zone. Whatever the feeling is—and no, I can’t articulate it, even to myself—I sink into it when I’m writing well. Oh, and to make matters more complicated, it’s different for each story.

5)      Characters:  They come with the words, with the voice that begins the story (notice I don’t say I begin the story)– and now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the words are simply a way for my fingers to translate whatever it is in my subconscious?

6)      A Deadline:  This isn’t crucial, but it helps. If I have a deadline, I find it easier to get into the Zone because I write more consistently and don’t walk away when I’m stuck.

7)      First line:  My first line is always the words I begin with or a slight variation of them. I can’t begin without it and I rarely change it.

K.B.:

Gobsmacked. Ha! *laughs* Yeah, that’s pretty much how I get new ideas. Most often in the form of a “vision” or a character kicking me in the head and announcing their presence. (The best ones happen at 3am, or so they’ll claim.) I get story ideas from songs, random poetry, one-liners, seeing someone smile, even from Christmas tree ornaments. Used to be that I’d start scribbling madly on whatever I could find…and yes, before you ask I have written down ideas on my hand before. *sticks out tongue* You use what you’ve got. Man, the invention of smart phones was a godsend though!

I also used to let story ideas take me wherever (and whenever) they happened on the wild ride that was normally promised to me. Now I don’t have that luxury and I have to be a little more discerning about what I choose to focus on. So, much like Lisa, I let myself mull it over for a while. If it’s still at the forefront of my brain then it’s a go. If not, it gets relegated to the dust bin. *shrugs* Not gone forever, sometimes I scavenge bits of stories, characters, plots for other ideas. Sometimes I even resurrect them in their entirety.

My list is really close to Lisa’s. *laughs* Probably one of the reasons we’re such good CPs. But it does differ in a few key ways.

Things I Need to Begin a New Book:

1)      Voices.  I don’t make any bones about the fact that my characters talk to me. (Sometimes loudly and at great length.) Or that I’m not so much “making up” a story as I am telling it. This is, for me, just one piece of my characters’ lives. They all come with histories and futures – that sometimes they share with me, sometimes not – and I’m really just getting a glimpse of this moment in time. Without these voices the stories inevitably end up in that dustbin, if I can’t hear a character then I figure my readers aren’t going to either.

2)      Scenes. I “see” my books as I write them. For me, this process is pretty much like going to the movies. Because of this I do a lot of the same things that Lisa mentioned in her “Faces” category. I make collages (either on paper or on Pinterest) with people who resemble my characters. I’ll also often reenact scenes before I sit down to write them to help me get the feel for what needs to happen in writing.

3)      Music.  All my books end up with soundtracks. Sometimes (often) they evolve as the project does, but there are usually one or five core songs that will hold true for the whole book.

4)      My CPs/Readers. In the early stages of a project I bounce a lot of ideas off those closest to me. I’ve found the feedback to be extremely valuable, especially in the formation of a plot – something that’s often elusive in those first heady days of story creation.

*grins* If some of that seems paradoxical that’s because it is. No one claimed this business was either linear or sane. I have found that I don’t really have the tried and true method like Kate does, my process changes with every story I write and every world I am invited to visit.

Your turn, folks. The comment thread awaits your input. Tell us how you begin…

Ribbons in Her Hair

I love watching Castle because Nathon Fillion does such a good job playing a writer. Right down to those moments when some little thing – a seemingly inconsequential piece of information – sparks a firestorm underneath him.

I was sitting at my desk on Saturday the 25th trying to figure out what to write this blog post about. I’ve had several ideas over the last few weeks but nothing stuck well enough to motivate me to sit down and write it out.

Until now.

Drinking coffee and reading poems from Jane Hirshfield’s “Come, Thief” I came across a poem about endings, and almost instantaneously … “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.” … popped into  my head.

It’s the third time in a week that something about LOTR has popped up on my radar. Which to me is clearly an indication I need to watch it again.

***

It’s been a hard summer here. We’re all looking forward to autumn. Today we’re going apple picking at a local orchard and will come home loaded down with more apples than I probably know what to do with. (Thankfully the boy eats them like candy.) There will be pie and muffins and bread. But these apples – these aren’t your gigantic, tasteless, grocery-store monstrosities. These are small, filled with juice and flavor. They will last for longer than you’d think possible.

Last year we didn’t get to do this. A late freeze killed off the blossoms and there were no apples to be had. Such is the way of nature. As with life there are little guarantees.

***

A few weekends ago I got to go to a “Time Traveler’s Circus” up on the mountains. A collection of music, magic, dance, and mountain sunshine. I heard some fantastic performers – folks who truly love what they do and that joy shows in their faces and their movement.

I kept ruminating afterward about how “normal” society tends to look down on people like this. They are the fringes, the weirdos, the misfits, the hippies. They play rock, the accordion, sing raucous songs, dance to baudy ones. They eat fire and make balloon animals, do magic for children and adults alike. Some might hold “normal” jobs, but for others this is their life. They are following their bliss and it’s such a sight to behold. A pointed reminder that in all this day to day drudgery we sometimes put ourselves through it’s still important to find that one bright spot of fire inside and keep it lit.

***

I have started writing and reading again. I can’t find enough music to listen to even at 55GB and counting. 😀 I love the 21st Century – YouYube and iTunes, Facebook and websites provides indy musicians with a platform that was denied to them in the MTV days. Now I can have a friend post a video for a band I’ve never heard of on FB and when I go to check it out I may or may not like them … but I get lost in the endless suggestions that pop up on the sidebar and oftentimes will find someone new with a sound I love. Someone I never would have heard of otherwise.

Autumn is my favorite time anyway, but it seems like this season provides more relief than just the normal transition into winter. This is a new breath of life for me and for many of the people I know and love. It was a hard summer, one we weren’t sure we’d get clear of unscathed. One that sadly many people didn’t. We were lucky and I’m grateful for it every day.

K.B.

But now the air is cooler in the mornings. Now there is a rustle of wind through leaves that are starting to die. I’m seeing flowers bloom in my garden for the second time. I just bought new boots (and sandals on clearance 😛 ), am looking around for sweaters and pulling out my long-sleeved running shirts. The time for tank tops and shorts is almost over, though Colorado has a way of letting us stretch those things out into October sometimes.

 

The year is sliding to a close and I am looking forward to running through leaves, apple cider, frost on the car, firepits in the backyard, costumes, hats and gloves, and reasons to snuggle under blankets.

Falling, Rising

It’s been a rough summer for Colorado. The fires of June left their mark, a burn scar stretching up and over the mountainside looming above Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon fire was only one of several fires that burned throughout the state, yet it’s the one that garnered national attention because of the firestorm that swept down the mountainside on June 26th and into parts of the city. We are recovering from that. Some are rebuilding, others will not. We continue on with grim determination and the knowledge that sometimes this is the price you pay for having the views we do.

And then in mid-July, what should have been a fun and exciting night at the movies ended in the loss of 12 lives and the shattering of many more. The long awaited final piece to the Batman trilogy – The Dark Knight Rises – is now as scarred as the Rocky Mountains.

Oddly enough, if it were going to happen to any movie, this was the one best suited for it. Not because of the violence, or the dark and gritty texture of this incarnation of the Batman, but because if anything Batman teaches us how to pick ourselves up.

“Why do we fall, Master Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

I’m not going to talk about gun control, or what could have been done to prevent this. I’m not going to talk about children at midnight showings except to mention my niece – who will be seven this November – is the same age as Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the youngest victim of the shootings, and a huge Batman fan. I’m not even going to mention the name of the shooter, because I think it is best if we start a trend in this country where we immortalize the victims of such horrible acts rather than the perpetrators.

In fact, I want to talk about Batman. (bear with me though *laughs* I’m not an expert on this.)

As a hero, Batman is set apart from the other superheroes of comic book fame. He has no special powers, no unique ability. He is human. His strengths are his money and his intelligence. His passion is vengeance.
Or justice, depending on how you look at it.

Bruce Wayne, as Batman forces us to look at the darker side of heroism. He is both worshiped and reviled by the citizens of Gotham. Needed for doing the things they can’t bring themselves to, but feared for the exact same reason. He is the dark knight, without a doubt, his conviction sometimes blurred by his past.
However turned off some might be by the idea of vigilantism, Batman remains one of the most popular comic book heroes. Because we still feel, somewhere deep inside, that the law doesn’t always deliver the justice we seek.

This is real life though, not a comic book and we don’t have Batman.

We do have heroes. Who change this world in a thousand and one simple ways. Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alex Teves changed their girlfriend’s worlds – saving their lives at the cost of their own. Carli Richards saved her boyfriend’s life and her own by listening to her instincts and moving the second she smelled the tear gas.

First responders changed lives by their quick thinking, training, and self-sacrificing decisions. Christian Bale, who has done such a stunning job playing Batman in this trilogy, came to visit survivors and stand at the memorial. Even our Hollywood idols can be heroes.

“A hero can be anyone,” Bruce Wayne says toward the end of Dark Knight Rises, “Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.”

You can read more about the heroes here.

K.B.

Unburned Community

We often long for community, creating it out of thin air if it seems lacking in real life. I’ve spent a great deal of my life being outside of it – first when I grew up in a small town, but not really. Growing up 20 miles outside of a small town means I didn’t have neighbors (though there were the kids from the dairy farm down the road) in the traditional sense. I had friends in school but there weren’t a lot of after-school play dates or sleepovers. Those things had to be carefully planned out and organized.

So most of my life I’ve managed to live just on the edge of community. Feeling like I’ve never quite fit in, never quite knew my neighbors, was never quite there.

Almost a year ago, we bought a house in a quiet little place in Colorado Springs just south of Garden of the Gods. There is joy here. There is beauty. There is silence. And there is community.

The events of the past two weeks, when a wildfire sparked in one of my favorite running spots, was driven by scorching temperatures and fierce winds, came sweeping down on the homes of my friends and fellow neighbors just a few miles to the north of us has shown me community.

Homes and lives were lost – a heartbreaking swath of black and gray now blankets the mountainside. Homes and lives were spared thanks to the dedication of some of the bravest people I will never meet. Firefighters from all over came to Colorado to help: Washington State, Oregon, Montana, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada. The Hot Shots from California came, chasing down the fire as though, in the words of a Colorado Springs Fire Department official, “they wanted the fire to be afraid of them.”

I know, without a doubt, that I owe these men and women my home. In the early days of the fire they protected the Garden that stands between the fire and my home, and on the 26th of June they stood again between it and the fire that had surged out of Queen’s Canyon and burned buildings not two and a half miles north of my house.

Colorado Springs can be a divisive place. We have polar opposites from the political spectrum at work here. We’re stubborn, sharp-tongued, Westerners out here and if we don’t like the look of you we’ll be sure to let you know.

But we take care of our own, and we know – somehow – when it’s important to lay aside all our differences and come together. I’ve hear people all over the country comment with awe on how swiftly Colorado Springs gathered to help those affected by the fire. It’s something we did without any thought at all. Even in the midst of economic hardship we have people volunteering their time, people donating items and money, people standing ceaselessly on the corners day in and day out to cheer on the firefighters during the twice daily shift changes without fail – even in the pouring (and long-awaited) rain.

This is community. This is Colorado Springs and I am grateful to have the chance to be a part of it.

K.B.

Bare Essentials

Photo from the midway point of the Waldo Canyon Trail, taken 3/17/12

As I write up this post on Monday morning the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs has consumed 3,600 acres, is at 0% containment, and has displaced more than 6,000 residents from their homes.

My family and I, thankfully, are still at home. It was a close call though, as we missed the mandatory evacuation zone by a half-mile. This was both good and bad news. The good being – obviously – that we didn’t have to pick up and move myself, my husband, my step-son, my roommate, and five cats as well as whatever worldly possessions we deemed essential. The bad news was, we were still really close to a fire that had the potential to change direction and come our way at a moment’s notice.

The fire started on Pyramid Mountain in Waldo Canyon (the site of one of my favorite hiking/running trails – a challenging mile and a half hike to a 3.5 mile loop and then back to the parking lot for close to seven miles of gorgeous scenery) about noonish on Saturday. Less than an hour later the evacuations began as the fire spread at an alarming rate thanks to the high temps, the dry forest, and the difficult terrain.

My roomie and I cut our errands short and headed back to the house just in case we ended up having to bug out. Then we spent the rest of the weekend keeping track of the fire on the internet and waiting. By nightfall you could see the glow of the flames behind the mountain.

Standing in the path of a forest fire is one of those things that makes you feel very small and insignificant. It also makes you evaluate the important things in life. In those early hours our focus was on getting ourselves and our animals out of danger as quickly and safely as possible if it became necessary. We are so lucky to have such good friends. My phone was going off constantly with messages/calls checking on us and offering us places to stay should it become necessary.

As the weekend wore on and the “essentials” had already been packed up, I caught myself wandering through the house and looking at things thinking: I should put that in the bag. Most of the time it was for stuff that was easily replaceable, and on the rare occasion it wasn’t I did actually put it into a bag or move it to a place where it was easily accessible. (The inevitable consequence of this is that our house is a total mess now.) The reality is though, because of the way we’ve chosen to live, there’s really not a lot of material things we can’t do without. All our photos are either digital to begin with or have been scanned into the computer so it’s as simple as grabbing the external hard drive and going.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t things I would cry over or that we’d make every effort to save what we could if we had the time. I’d just scored a patio set on clearance on Friday *laughs* and was pretty upset over the idea that I’d never get to use it.

More upsetting though is the thought of my beloved canyon trail. Waldo has been my training spot through two Tough Mudders, a Spartan race, and probably my absolute favorite choice for hiking. (I was even tempted to go up there Saturday morning, but choose sleep over running. Now part of me wishes I’d gotten one last run in there before it burned.) Now it’s ground zero for a fire that will hopefully be contained by the time you read this. It will recover, of course, the sad fact is these fires are a long time coming and not totally unexpected. It still hurts though, and I’m gearing up to help with whatever trail reconstruction will be necessary when the time comes.

Hopefully by the time you all get to read this, the fire will be contained and we’ll have gotten some rain to help out the firefighters. If you’re interested in donating, you can send contributions to the Red Cross or the Pikes Peak Human Society. Additionally, you can consider contacting Fire Rehab which is a support organization for emergency situations that provides firefighters with essential supplies like water and food.