You can hear rotten ice.

Smell it even, if the wind isn’t too thick above the water.

There’s a shifting, moaning noise where the ice is wearing thin and breaking loose. There’s a taste of running water and dead things, being pushed up from under the sterile frost.

If you’re looking for rotten ice, you’re already in over your neck.

People keep looking.

The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions, hoping for a different result.

But it’s hard to break out of patterns, break out of the familiar way of approaching the world. It’s hard to break out even if it can, and will, prove deadly to our purpose.

We trust our eyes, even when we know our eyes deceive us.

I see it too much in what I read, that blind acceptance of what is visible.

If writers challenged that perception more often, it would be a useful shortcut, but too many lakes sit solidly icebound, no treachery visible or apparent.

I went through once as a child.

Not deep, not enough to damage, but I’ve never forgotten that sickened swoop of betrayal as my solid, icy footing vanished beneath me, crumbling like so much rotten wood.

Maybe that’s what it takes to use the other senses.

A cold lake, a deceptive surface, and, as the water meets your flesh, the realization that you have never been the one in control.

IMG_1359So which step here will take you under?

The consequences of where we place our feet are a vital part of telling our stories.

Watching where we walk is something I enjoy incorporating into my writing. Feel free to try my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor here.


Survival of the Fittest

Once, when I was very ill, I went hiking and was nearly eaten by eagles.

I was undergoing the slow, torturous process of re-building my muscles from a long illness. When I reached the limits of my endurance, I let my group go on ahead while I curled up by a pile of driftwood and fell asleep.

Animals recognize weakness.

My hiking partners called me the animal whisperer that year because we have never, before or since, seen that many predators at that close of range.

I knew better.

I woke, leaning against the burl of a large piece of driftwood, to find two eagles less than five feet above my head.

As I moved, trying to look larger and healthier than I was, I could see them debate whether I was worth the effort.

They left.

I have never been able to hear eagles since without remembering that moment, where I could so easily have crossed the line from threat to prey.

I love the wilderness, but I have no illusions as to how quickly roles shift, how easy it is to transition from control to chaos.

Threat is a difficult concept to provide in writing.

It is easy enough to create characters who have no real challenges, who face no real losses at any point in their path.

It is easy enough to forget that even the strongest can be laid low by single misstep and that those missteps are a vital part of any journey.

We are not always predator, not always prey.

Sometimes the survival of the fittest is the survival of an ill woman pretending to be larger than the predators above her.

IMGP0298It is easy to move from traveler to flotsam

I find it interesting to think about how quickly our fortunes can change.

For my own take on threats, fantastical and otherwise, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor is available here.


Their Day in the Sun

I amĀ  fascinated by background characters in stories. Often I use the treatment of these characters as a measure of how much I am going to enjoy the story itself.

There is a fine balance in writing stories and characters that sit to the side of the main action.

It is easy enough to make a story feel as though it is set in a diorama. It is easy enough to create the feeling that if you push hard enough on the surrounding scenery, the entire world will collapse into a pile of two-dimensional cardboard.

It is also easy to become distracted, to create side stories that become more engaging than the main story, that suck all the oxygen out of the plot and the conflict.

Like most spectra in writing, I prefer a balance between the two extremes.

But I also have a secret, guilty, contradict-myself pleasure.

I love seeing a secondary character get a moment to be fully, completely human.

While there is a real pleasure in being fully absorbed in the main character’s life and troubles, it can start to feel as if the world around them exists only to lead to their ultimate goal. Characters appear and disappear, acting as sounding boards or villains. After awhile, it becomes difficult to connect to anything outside of the main character.

This is why moments that connect me to the characters who aren’t telling their story can often be the most powerful points in a book.

In real life, it is easy to become entirely self-focused, allowing the world to spin around us without registering its other occupants.

Moments where we are forced to connect to others, to be reminded of a thousand other stories intersecting with ours, are vital.

When I am reading a story, I look, not just for a main character worth following, but for those in the background who will remind us that the sun shines on others as well.

IMG_1220Even a humble stalk of chard deserves its day in the sun

I am the kind of person who is always looking at the backgrounds of pictures.

If you are interested in my treatment of the background, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor is available here.

A Frozen Moment

We pass quickly from not-winter to winter here.

The trees, the air, the movement of the clouds all provide warning, but the last traces of fall will vanish from night to morning.

Not all parts of my world are well-prepared for the transition.

On the first winter morning, I search for casualties.

A rosebud, half-opened, forever frozen in place.

The wagon, forgotten in the field, and now mired in frozen mud.

A small butterfly, too late in the transition, its wings become a crystallized work of art.

Change is not easy.

In stories, we see the best moments of those rising to the challenges before them, facing the oncoming cold with determination and understanding.

Seldom do we see those caught out by the wind, futilely trying to understand when the air passed from welcoming to dangerous.

Not all survive those transition points.

But even in those who lose, who pass out of the ongoing cycle, there is a beauty.

The leaves are frozen, unable to withstand the force of winter.

Still they stand, forever reaching towards the sun.

IMG_6822The delicacy of the ice crystals belie the strength of their destruction

I am a fan of persistence. Even, or especially, in the face of failure.

If you would like to see my other writing on persistence, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor over here.