How to Write What You Want to Say.

Though I’ve started a new book, a chapter book tentatively entitled Space Junk, I’m still having to mull it over in my brain. I am drawing some images for it. I mean if you’re writing a book about traveling into space you have to put in at least ONE alien. But what does the alien look like? And what does the human who’s interacting the said alien look like? Well, Keandra Maria Diaz came to me all by her curly headed self, full of curiosity and determination, but her new friend, Shellorba, is shy about appearing in my head. And since he is capable of mind traveling around the universe, I’ve got to figure that part out as well.

However, while I’m cogitating on that, I can’t not write. Which prompted me to write something to submit to the nature magazine, “Terrain.”  It’ got interesting stories in it and allows the writer a max of 6000 words. My short stories tend to be very short, so I’m thrilled to have this extra number of words to play around with.

The plot line is based on an incident that happened when I was out for a trail ride with a friend and we got caught in the edges of a grass fire roaring up from the Patapsco River on the grass covering a gas pipeline. We had heard a helicopter flying above us while we were in the woods almost as it was tracking our movements. When we got close to where we’d come out onto the pipeline, which was fortunately buried fairly deep, we thought we heard to the helicopter land off to our left.

We emerged from the woods and did see the helicopter on the ground and two men—presumably the pilot and co-pilot—walking toward us. We stopped to figure out how we were going to get by the whumping machine without spooking the horses, and my horse, Gemini, casually turned his head to the right to look down the pipeline. The area was quite hilly. When I turned to see what he was looking at I saw a wall of almost black smoke rising up from the hill. A fire! A big fire! Gemini’s reaction was ho hum. Not what one hears a horse doing in a fire. The pilots realized we were not in danger and when I signaled that we would ride past where the helicopter was, they got back in and lifted off the ground. I figure that at least one of them had some experience with horses because they raised that machine straight up into the air until they were tree-top high before they flew in our direction.

Well, that’s not much of a story to tell! I mean where’s the danger? Where’s the heart-throbbing action? When I wrote the story the first time, I added spice to it and named it “Trust,” because horse and rider do have to trust each other or somebody’s going to get hurt.

It turned out the fire was a case of arson and I don’t remember hearing if the culprit was caught. Again, not very exciting in a story. Enter the bad guy, who really is just pissed off that the state had bought the family farm many years early to make the state park. And this man, the surviving would be heir, never got over the assault on his family’s land.  

Since the magazine likes the stories they buy to have a lot of environmental description in them, I am adding a lot about the Patapsco State Park, which, BTW, is a spectacular place to hike or bike or ride through and the river is quite navigable at that point either by canoe, row boat, or kayak. So if you ever get a chance to see a bit of it, head to the border between Howard and Baltimore Counties, Maryland. There are several places to park in the area and there is a more cultivated area called the McKeldin State Park.

Anyway, the story is progressing and at the urging of a critique group partner I am putting in the bit about another time I was riding in the park and the horse I was riding that day wanted to go a different way home. We turned left off the pipeline to ride between an over-grown pasture and a small stand of oak trees. Out of the woods, again tree top high, flew a red-tail hawk carrying what appeared to be a six-foot-long black snake twisting and turning in the hawk’s talons as if to say, “Hey, you can put down any time now.” The hawk had babies to feed so she just kept on flying. Another wonderful memory from my time with horses.

As you can see, writing any story is more complex than the reader ever understands, but what else is a writer going to do? The stories just keep popping up in a writer’s head and must be put down. I’ll end up finishing my space story. In the meantime, I’m toying with doing the illustrations for it myself. What would your space alien look like?

Seeing Reality Is Hard

As you know, I usually review three books each week on my blog, but this book of short stories deserves its own post. Do find a copy of this book to read.

I See Reality: Twelve Short Stories about Real Life

Compiled by Grace Kendall

It’s hard enough to break up with someone you’ve been dating, but when the boyfriend threatens to commit suicide or convinces you to stay together just for one more year until he graduates from high school or uses equally debilitating arguments, what is a person to do? “Three Imaginary Conversations with You,” by Heather Demetrios, drags a bit, but gets the point across that the boyfriend is obnoxious and manipulative.

The Downside of Fabulous,” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, brings in to sharp focus trying to connect with a boyfriend when you’re gay, with well fleshed out characters are and gentle humor. And how does the main character, Chris, deal with the rejection by his heart throb, Tom? Chris owns up to his mistakes and to his being gay.

Skittles, the black cat, keeps the reader guessing as he tells “The Night of the Living Creeper,” by Stephen Emond, about a group of kids talking about who might a “creeper” in their group, looking for someone to sexually assault. When the party breaks up, the creeper makes himself known to the hostess, but she doesn’t take any of his nonsense.

Kekla Magoon’s entry is “Makeshift,” about a mixed-race girl, which focuses on the boxes we put people in. Her father beats her mother one time too many and so Kayse and her mom leave their nice suburban house for a cheap apartment in the heart of Harlem. Kayse’s mom is black and her biological dad is white, as is the man she calls Dad. But Kayse doesn’t like being called “Blanca” or white even though she never much thought about her race before. In Harlem, being white is bad.

Things You Get Over, Things You Don’t,” by Jason Schmidt, is a very powerful story about a school shooting, told from the viewpoint of Caleb who tries to help his gravely wounded girlfriend. When he does save her only discover she’ll probably be a paraplegic for the rest of her life, he thinks it’s all his fault. That he did the wrong thing by moving her to stop the bleeding from the exit wound in her back.

In the end, they are able to tell each other their true feelings.

The message of “Coffee Chameleon,” by Jay Clark, is that recovering from addictions of any kind is hard, but probably the hardest is the addiction to love, especially if it’s commingled with an addiction to prescription drugs is concisely told with good use of humor. Matt was introduced to prescription medication pills by his girlfriend Andi, but got so hooked on them he got his own prescription. Then Andi dumps him and he has to detox himself all alone. But he ends up going to a local coffee shop to get himself out of his head and meets a girl there who helps him recover.

Marcella Pixley’s “Hush,” is the story of a girl and her mother dealing with the death of the father/husband’s from AIDS. This story of the misguided lengths we go to in keeping loved ones safe from our fears and grief is crisply told. June ends up being the grown up when her mother becomes obsessed with keeping her daughter safe.

Can you imagine having to face the world knowing they know your brother took a gun to school and shot students to death? So Lily’s parents move to a new town to start a new life, but Lily is sure everyone will learn about the truth. Rather than try for the leading role in the school musical, Lily hides behind the stage curtain until a new guy in school won’t let her stay hide her talents in Trisha Leaver’s “Blackbird.”

Gone from this Place,” by Faith Erin Hicks, deals, in a graphic story format, with acknowledging one’s sexuality. A boy and girl have made it through high school by being the perfect couple, only now that they’re heading off the different colleges breaking up. They figure in college they can come out and be accepted for who they really are. It’s a good plan except for one detail. It never occurred to them there might be other homosexual kids in their high school and it’s only at the last minute they discover they’ve missing out on real love.

You know the girl or boy you’ve always had a crush on, but didn’t know how to approach and when you do finally get together, you both mess it up? That’s what Jordan Sonnenblick’s “The Sweeter the Sin” is about. The girl has a saying that the sweeter the sin the better the taste. Unfortunately, David and Elizabeth discover that “t’aint necessarily so.”

But the strongest story is simply called “Mistake” and tells the story of a teen couple having to deal with an abortion. Malcolm supports Angela when she makes the decision to abort and at first he doesn’t feel anything one way or another. Then he goes with her to the abortion clinic and begins to think about the baby. A part of him regrets their decision and he wonders if Angela can actually have the procedure.

The last story is about Jose, an illegal immigrant whose twin brother, Javier, switches places with him to save him from deportation. “The Good Brother” is written by Patrick Flores-Scott and will make you want to find a solution to the immigration problems this country is facing.

This book is a keeper.

BIBLIO: 2016, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $ 17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-374-30258-0

ISBN: 978-0-374-30259-7