Friday, October 28, 2011

"Books I Will Never Write" ... by Michael Little

"Writers write." This should be engraved on every writer's computer keyboard and legal pad. Not only is this two-word sentence true, it's terse. "Writers write." Subject. Verb. It's a tight little sentence, a constant reminder that less is more.

Writers also cook. Apparently. They talk about their writing projects as if they are pots on the stove. One writing project is on the front burner. It may be boiling. It may be simmering. It's cooking. And for every project on the front burner, there are several on the back burners, waiting their turn.

Above my writer's stove there resides a list of stories that will never even make it to a back burner. They don't have to wait to be rejected by an agent or editor, for I myself have rejected them.

They begin as vague ideas for stories. At some point in the early dawn of their creation, before the sun rises in the islands, before a single word of the story appears on the computer screen, I leave them behind. Only one small task remains for these rejected story ideas, to give each a title, so that they may take their place on the list.

It's a long list, but here are the top ten titles of books I will never write. Others, of course, may have already written these books. I wouldn't be surprised.

Please feel free to add your own titles. Why should I have all the fun?
1. Teenage Vampires in Love
2. Teenage Zombies in Love
3. Zombie Cowboys from Outer Space
4. Jane Austen's Vampire Secret
5. The Girl With the Zombie Tattoo
6. The Girl Who Kicked the Vampire's Nest
7. Charlie and the Zombie Factory
8. Fear and Loathing and Zombies in Las Vegas
9. The Vampire Also Rises
10. A Farewell to Zombies

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Stone Cold Inspiration" ... by Sally Sorenson

Recently I’ve gone to wrack and ruin. Just for a visit. It’s been good for my creative spirit. Ruins dot the hills and countryside all over Austria and Hungary, perched on craggy peaks above sleepy villages, overlooking trade routes along the Danube, crumbling in meadows now bordered by autobahns. What fodder for imagination!

If stone walls could talk, the stories they would tell. I marvel at the toll of human labor involved in building even an ordinary castle. (Is ordinary castle an oxymoron?) The foundation might be a rocky outcropping, but walls are hand-hewn stones usually carried up to those lofty peaks. No cranes, no cement trucks, front loaders, power tools, log planers or technical device. It often took decades, even generations, to complete the royal abode and its fortifications. But the structures endure. Some survive major fires, sieges, and the relentless passage of time, not intact, but as sketches of their former selves.

I wander through a vaulted entry and climb an uneven chiseled stairway to peer into the shell of a room. Sleeping quarters? Nursery? Walk-in closet for Her Majesty’s gowns? It’s not the open-air rooms that intrigue me, but the people who lived and loved here down through the centuries. Did Her Majesty of the late 1600s mercilessly nag His Majesty to redecorate their personal suite into something with, say, less space for his armor and more for her armoire? Half a century later, would the lady of the realm threaten the lord of same with sleeping in the stable unless he installed a new cockle oven to heat those cold stone walls? Did he mention the fire hazard and get her a new duvet instead?

(not a milkmaid)
And those are just the inhabitants of record. More intriguing than the landed gentry are the commoners, for each castle is a working village unto itself. It took a small army just to feed the army. Masons and millers, cooks and coopers, shepherds and soldiers all paid allegiance to the king. However small the fiefdom, it’s clear that social structure governed their lives. Oh, the conflict inherent in a hierarchy of rich vs. poor. It’s enough to give a writer dreams of lonely knights and dirndl-clad milkmaids.

The personal intrigue could play out against a backdrop of history, real or imagined. What threats were visible through the narrow slats in the exterior walls designed for an archer’s arrow! How many peasants would it take to operate a catapult? Scenes of courage unfold as the siege continues, and the commoners who took refuge inside the walls discover their wells have been poisoned. On the opposing side, what prize would be worthwhile to the invading hordes? The views are spectacular, but surely they missed their hometowns, their families, sleeping in their own hovels.

Later, I pick my way down the path toward town and a shower with hot, running water. Clean linens, electric lights, Wi-Fi, and other creature comforts beyond the wildest fantasies of the castle dwellers await me. My daypack is much lighter, but my mind is full of people and stories yet to take shape.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Chores" ... by Winona Prette

Friday after work I take the bus and make a list in my head of things to do for the weekend. Saturday’s chores are washing, food shopping, and straightening the house. Sunday’s list includes cleaning, cooking, and prepping for the upcoming week. And if there are family or friend functions I fit them into the schedule. Nowhere on my list is there time to relax. Consequently, on Mondays it feels like I've worked a seven-day work week.

Armed with my mental schedule this past Saturday, I made the boo-boo of boo-boo mistakes. I turned on the television.

The tail end of Chopped was showing and it led into highlights for the next show. Damn, a marathon event. I just went through this last week with NCIS. My time is valuable, I can’t waste it all day watching a TV show. I have to turn it off.

Except ... now I’m hooked, wanting to see the winner of ten thousand dollars. I plan my time. Next commercial run downstairs, put a load into Mr. Maytag, run upstairs, watch the rest of the show. When show is done, turn off TV, get clothes from wash, put in dryer, and continue with the rest of my chores. Yes! That’s my plan.

Until ... the next episode highlights are shown. I map out the next hour. Carry dirty load downstairs, pull clothes from dryer and put in empty basket to take upstairs. Transfer washed clothes to dryer. Put dirty clothes into washer. Rush upstairs and hope the same commercial time slot is still on.

I have been sucked into the world of television programming like a vacuum sucking up dirt by pros. I need to break the cycle, but like a junky on drugs I want more.

It’s six o’clock. Dinner time.

What’s for dinner?” my husband yells from downstairs.

I don’t know, buy something,” I yell back. “I’ve washed eight loads of laundry and haven’t had time to do anything else.”

I didn’t know we had that much clothes to wash,” he says.

We didn’t, we had three, but after watching eight episodes of Chopped I am pooped, especially after juggling my precious time between visiting Mr. Maytag and lying down watching Chopped.

See, I told you, there’s no time on my schedule to relax!

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Low Hanging Fruit" ... by Michael Little

"Low hanging fruit."  Easier to pick. There for the taking. Why venture higher when there's good fruit you don't even need a ladder for, or maybe just a short ladder?

I hear that phrase now and then in different contexts, often from some voice on radio or TV. When they use the familiar phrase do they see the image in the metaphor? Do they see a tree with low hanging fruit, and perhaps someone picking?

When I hear "low hanging fruit," an image of a mango tree immediately flashes in my head. Not just any mango tree, although where I live in Kapahulu/Kaimuki, on the island of Oahu, there are beautiful, fantastic Hayden mango trees on every block. I see a mango tree that is no longer there. It's the large old mango tree that used to grace the front yard of a sturdy Japanese-American home built by the family patriarch and his brothers in the 1940s. I came to know the tree because I had met and quickly married the younger daughter.

After a couple of years on Maui, I moved with my homesick honey to Honolulu, where we found an apartment just a couple doors down from that family home, and the tree whose branches gave shade to the whole front yard. We had moved in January, so I enjoyed watching the fruit develop on the great mango tree. On into the spring I anticipated the day when the first red-yellow-green fruit would be ready to eat.

I already knew how ono the mango would be, sliced and juicy, often served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What I didn't know was the whole process of mango picking. One warm Saturday morning my wife invited me to join in the first picking of the season. The older sister was there with her husband and their two kids. The grandparents presided over the ritual--Grandpa perched in the tree and Grandma standing at the command post on the front porch. Bamboo and aluminum poles awaited us, and a child's red wagon to hold the prizes.

The picking began. After standing innocently by as a spectator for a while, I was presented with the longest pole. I gazed into the heavens, trying to see what everyone was pointing at, and there they were, the high mangoes. Now all was made clear, revealed in an instant. My job was to reach the high mangoes. Had the family given the younger daughter (all 4'9" of her) the mission of finding a six-footer for this very day? I was too polite to ask, but I had my suspicions.

Several years later, when I set out to write my first short story to be set in Hawaii, I chose to tell the story of that experience, the mango picking, told from the first-person point of view of the unsuspecting Caucasian man who had married into the short Japanese-American family and then waited two years before moving from Maui to Oahu to fulfill his destiny as the picker of the high mangoes on that magnificent family tree. The result was "Mango Lessons," a story published later on by Bamboo Ridge Press.

Low hanging fruit? Don't talk to me about low hanging fruit. I believe we need to aspire to something higher. Something more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding. That ancient tree still lives in the pages of a book, in the words of a story that reminds me of the long strange trip I took in my life from Texas to Seattle to Maui, and ultimately to my island home on Oahu, where in my mind's eye I can still see the family gathered around the great tree, pointing to the large beauties waiting in the high branches. Someone else can take the low hanging fruit. Hand me the long bamboo pole.