Author Archives: writer292

Chalk dust

Chalk dust swirls in the early morning shaft of light, a spiral galaxy forming in empty space. The curtains are closed. The blackboard is empty, smeared with yesterday’s equations half erased.

The door creaks as it opens, again as it shuts. The blinds thump against the window. Rusty’s hand freezes on the knob, reluctant to let go. He’s never seen the classroom empty before, with the light shooting through the window like that. The chair where Rose sits and plays with her crayons is glowing. Joe’s chair is in the shadows, but the engravings on the legs of the desk are lit and look like Alaskan totem poles. Reuben, with his curly black hair, usually sits at the back. His chair is still missing.

Rusty’s cold, damp fingers unclasp from the door. He shuffles across the front of the room, a place forbidden to students. Fumbling with the piece of chalk, he scrawls three words across the blackboard.

“meet me there”

As he writes, the smallest breeze catches the blinds and sends them clinking against the window. Rusty whirls around, shoving the chalk in his pocket.

Nothing.

One more glance at his words, small and squiggly, and he heads for the door. The blinds tap the window as wood meets wood, and the door locks with a metallic clink. Rusty’s day has only begun.

Inspiration & Originality: An Interview

   You’re a writer. What, or who, inspires you most?

The one thing that never fails to pull me out of a writing rut is the magic of a favorite story. These stories have a life of their own—they pick me up and make me forget and make me care, and remind me why I tell stories. Books, movies, plays, even music can do it. And once all that greatness has seeped into my thoughts, it’s bound to come out in my writing.

   Shouldn’t you be worried about originality?

No. You’ve heard that all the great stories have already been told. Take Star Wars, the original Star Wars. That was far from original. George Lucas took a good helping of his storytelling from ancient mythology and The Hero’s journey. C. S. Lewis did that too. These authors were inspired by classics, and created new classics that really aren’t new.

Don’t worry about originality, worry about authenticity.”

The point is, if you’re a writer, you need something to aspire to. That’s inspiring. Stories to remind you why you love stories, that pick you up and blow you away and leave you changed. You’ll absorb elements from them, and I think that’s great. What more could you ask for than having the quality of your writing approach that of your heros?

Worth Waiting For

DSCF5929sThis little plot of soil has every type of wildflower you could think of growing on it. Except, there are no flowers yet. No blossoms. But green leaves and stems and vines are everywhere, sprouts and shoots that soak up the sun and look as if they could grow into towering giants.

DSCF4737sOne bud opened before the mower came. Small and red as rubies, the ragged petals unfurled, the light caught in its throat, and it sang to the sky. This first flower was also the last.

The Gardener mowed down the flower buds, the vines, every last little bit of life was cut down and died in the sun. Everything, gone. Then the surgery happened. The Gardener pulled out the tender living things by the roots, one by one, every last bit. The soil was raw and tender and exposed. There was no more promise of flowers in the sun, of vines curling around susan stems, of new life sprouting from deep dark earth. The future was empty.

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It wasn’t too bad until the hoe started coming down, chopping gaping wounds in the earth, removing every vestige of green that had once been so beautiful. When rain came it stung the soil, pounding hard where droplets had once fallen softly, their path slowed by tender leaves and letting the earth drink slow. Now the rain hurt. It carried away crumbs of black. The soil lay flattened, soggy, and hopeless.

It waited. Waited until the sun began to shine again. Waited to warm up. The Gardener took the hoe that had caused so much damage and fluffed up the dark loam. The soil was ready for something. Ready for anything. What was the world waiting for?

Specks dropping in the wind from a hand high above, landing in the bruised and beaten dirt. Seeds that immediately began to warm and send out fuzzy roots. Seeds without competition, that couldn’t grow in the shade of living things, that wouldn’t have lived among the roots of established life. The seeds sprouted. Grew green and tall and pulled the crumbs of soil together, healed the cracks, softened the rain, and then sprouted buds.

These buds weren’t like the wildflowers. This soil wasn’t like the wild loam. Unsatisfied, it was tender, still waiting for new beginnings until the first shafts of yellow peeked from leaf covers and reflected the sun in all her blazing glory. This is what we were waiting for.

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Richard

The Crow tilted his head towards the clock. Beads of humidity ran down the off-color wall as the thin hand ticked away. “You have 30 seconds,” he said, business-like, “to tell me which of you is leader.”

We stood in a line, hands roped behind our backs, the five of us, and waited. The Crow, so named perhaps for his sharp features or perhaps for his love of carrion, stood steadily looking from one of us to the next. At 33, I was the oldest man in the group. Sweat ran down my back and soaked through the worn shirts of the men. We were losing precious water. We hadn’t eaten right for weeks. We couldn’t hold out forever, and no one knew this better than The Crow.

He’d caught us at the outer fence. Moments before young Richard had the chain links cut and the hole wide enough for us to squeeze through. We were nearly out. A minute more, and we could have made it.

I glanced at my men. They stood straight, all four, though exhaustion would have toppled lesser souls days earlier. The night had not been easy on us. The Crow made sure of that.

He glanced once more at the clock, ticking towards 30 seconds past. Reached it. He gave an impatient huff of a sigh, and stepped toward Richard.

Blue ice met grey metal as their eyes locked. “Tell me,” The Crow said evenly.

Richard made no movement. I watched him, heart pounding in my ears. The Crow’s gaze fell on me, then back to Richard. The boy was barely 18.

The Crow lifted his hand, flicked it towards Richard in a small gesture, and stepped back. Immediately the man by the door took Richard by the arm and led him into the room on the other side. The room with the bar on the inside, with one chair, and one small window, and old blood left to stink in the heat.

He didn’t look back. Not one glance to me, who lead him to that fence, who convinced him to try to leave this wretched place. Who should spoken, had the courage to say something when he had the nerve to remain silent. The door closed behind him with a sickening thud.

I realized then that he took my place. And I let him.

When the rescue party came that afternoon, Richard should have been in the room. He couldn’t be found. He never was, these past three years.

Bodies are buried without markers everywhere in that place. It’s not uncommon. But The Crow wouldn’t have killed him. Richard won’t give, and neither will his tormentor. The Crow took the youngest of us, thinking him the weakest. But Richard has a braver heart than anyone.

I know he’s alive. He’s enduring hell, because of me. I’ve barely the guts to go back and take him out. If I can keep up only half his grit, I’ll make it.

The End of the Old Barn

It was apparent that the barn was unsalvageable. Flames licked up into the humid August twilight; billowing smoke obstructed the stars and flickered eerily in the dark. On the ground near the building, lumbering shapes moved toward shelter. The old mare and the hogs were far enough from the flames to be safe. The hens couldn’t be seen.

Standing in the shrubs and thorns to the north, a boy and a girl stood watching the fire. The girl’s dress was torn and blackened, and her hands badly scratched. There was blood on the cast on the boy’s arm, and one side of his face was red where the heat had seared it.

I’m sorry,” he said, barely audible.

The girl said nothing.

Leave the Camera Rolling

I’ve heard some filmmakers advise to keep your shots short, under 30 seconds ideally or even under 10 seconds. This is supposed to make the footage easier to edit, and I can see how it would. However, I strongly disagree with this mentality, and speak from experience when I say:

There’s no reason to end a shot hastily. Ever.

It’s true there are times when you should grab your camera and run in order to protect your equipment and/or avoid certain death. In fact, there are plenty of these times. But if you’re ever tempted to press the button and end the shot in a rush, have some compassion for the editor. It’s so much easier to chop out shaky sections in post rather than magically make lost footage appear.

For example, during my filming of a video for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, I intentionally took a shot of two people working with a camera and unintentionally picked up the dialogue of train folk in the background. When a conductor shouted, “All Aboard!” I immediately ended the shot, since I had plenty of footage of the two people I intended to film.

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What I didn’t realize is how desirable the background dialogue was going to be. My trigger-happy habits caused me to lose the iconic “All Aboard!” audio, which I cut in the middle of the phrase.

Lesson of the day: When in doubt, leave the camera rolling!

Why You Should Write When There’s No Time

If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.” ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

When I became busy with college, I didn’t like this quote. First of all, as a homeschooled high schooler I’d had plenty of time to write, and write I did. Poems, novels, far-fetched tales of adventure in Africa, and letters—so many letters. Take that, Katerina. I wrote even when I had time.

Then college started. I valued grades over words on the page. All of a sudden, college ended and a career began. I start to see that I’ll never have time to write, at least not in the foreseeable future. What’s a writer to do?

Write when there’s no time. Up to 15 minutes of creative free-writing a day, just to get words on the page and a blog post out. I’ve finally learned that practice makes better, no matter how much raw talent you do or don’t have. Through practice, you can better understand your craft and yourself. No practice, and you’re a seed without soil.

I’ve noticed something interesting about writing when there’s no time. Katerina’s right. After a busy weekday, it’s easier for me to write than on a free weekend. The pressure is a motivator. And, against all indications to the contrary, writers aren’t hermits. A big part of the job is spending time out in the world with other people, interacting with them, exchanging ideas, getting to know the readers.

Even when there’s no time, if you want to write, write. For five minutes. Maybe just ten words. If you love it like I do, this will be enough. It’ll remind you what writing’s like. And if you ever get the time to write more, you’ll be ready.