Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brief Respite

I shall not be around the blogosphere for a few days. See all of you when I return--hopefully in a better frame of mind, with something more substantial to say than I have had of late, and with good news regarding the progress on the novel.

* * *

Those Times Between

Thank You, God, for mild spring
and autumn,
those times between when we can catch our breath
and stand
unhindered by extremes of cold or heat,
and recall
there is a rest waiting
for us
if we will but let go those things we clutch
so tightly
their spring colors transform to autumn hue.
Life is
only truly lived free.

c. March 25, 2007
K. Brand

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Customer Service?

For those of you who must work with the public, here's a sign a friend gave me for Christmas this past year:

Suppose We Refund Your Money,
Send You Another One Without Charge,
Close The Store And Have
The Manager Shot...


Makes you want to quit the day job and hibernate with your occupation of choice, doesn't it? I'd rather be writing about jer--uhm, difficult people--than having to work with any.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Here's a plug for some of my favorite authors. I may have listed some of these books in the past, but I've been on a reading binge, and have been revisiting old friends while adding new ones to the bookshelves. If you're looking for something good to read, try some of these.

For those who like history with their mystery (pardon the rhyme), check out these excellent series:

Inspector Ian Rutledge, Scotland Yard detective immediately after WW I, by Charles Todd.

Barker & Llewellyn, private enquiry agents, in late 19th century London, by Will Thomas.

Hawkenlye Abbey, set in late 12th century England, by Alys Clare.

Jane Austen as a sleuth, in a series by Stephanie Barron.

* * *

For the science fiction, thriller, or fantasy crowd, check out these books:

Strong-Arm Tactics by Jody Lynn Nye (a bit of fun and unexpectedness in outer space).

The Reckoning by James Byron Huggins (conspiracies, commandos, and stuff).

The Return of the Sword, an anthology of short sword-and-sorcery tales, featuring one by Jeff Draper of Scriptorius Rex blog.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay (a "fantasy historical" novel set during the time of the Vikings).

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (an interesting, intelligent, creepy "history" of the "real" Dracula).

The Briar King (and the entire Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series) by Greg Keyes.

* * *

Miscellaneous genres:

Rora by James Byron Huggins (probably Huggins' best work, a true story of a fight for religious freedom during the time of the Spanish Inquisition).

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (a book I didn't expect to read or like; a retelling of the Book of Hosea set during the California Gold Rush; good for romance readers).

Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem (excellent historical novel set at Hadrian's Wall during the last days of the Roman Empire).

Silence and Shadows by James Long (archeology and a former rock star--what's not to like?).

The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain (set during the last days of Attila the Hun).

Possession by A.S. Byatt (scholarly sleuthing by two modern academics concerning the lives of two poets who lived 100 years earlier).
* * *

I've also been revisiting movies and television series on DVD. Currently, I'm watching the Western series "Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years" from 1995.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paper Mountains

Today marks the Greek Orthodox Easter--check out Lavinia Ladyslipper's blog.

* * *

This may seem out of place for a Sunday post, but the following essay entitled "Paper Mountains" was written a couple years ago, in the middle of an angst-ridden rant that I finally committed to paper. Maybe it'll mean something to someone else; maybe it'll just read like a temper tantrum (a good spleen-venting sometimes helps, though). For what it's worth, here it is:

I believe many things, but what I am seeing clearer each year is this: life is too short to be blunted by the notion that what is difficult should not be done; that only what is easy should be attempted; that even noble ends, if they cannot be achieved instantly or with minimal discomfort, must be set aside and replaced by what requires little sweat, little patience, little sacrifice of any kind.

I am a writer. My publishing accomplishments are few: essays, articles, short stories, poems. However, I want to be a novelist, and to that end I put one word at a time on paper until I have a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a manuscript. Some of my fellow writers tell me I am creating stories no one wants to read. I am doing what cannot be done.

But how does anyone know what the end will be? I am still climbing the mountain, and have not yet seen the view from the top. If others cannot see the mountain, is the mountain no longer there? Because others are weary, must I be content to sit beside them? If they seek another way, must I go with them? Must I convince myself – as some have – that half a journey is the entire trip?

Life so rarely happens as we would wish it. My teachers and friends were convinced that I would publish my first novel by age sixteen. That might have made me a novelty – no pun intended – but it might also have made a shallow book.

Now more than twice sixteen, I still have moments of doubt, of youthful uncertainty that anything I write is worth reading. Greater than my insecurity, however, is the knowledge that what makes me a writer is not measured by how I compare to others or how much money I make or how many people know my name, but by the fiery words that blister my brain and boil my dreams until the only way to cool my burning fingertips is to write. I am a writer because not writing is not an option.

Artists draw simulations of life. Photographers capture time. Sculptors push clay into action. Writers create movies for the mind.

The characters that people my thoughts are alive and very real, but they will remain in my imagination – unseen, unheard, unread – until I do the hard work and mold imagination into words on a page.

So the journey will pass – one word at a time, one page at a time – until the day I stand on top of the mountain and see that it is made of paper: reams and reams of it covered with words; wads of it tossed in to wastebaskets; some of it retrieved and smoothed out again and found to be not so bad after all.

This I believe: my greatest challenge is my greatest joy, and I would not have it otherwise.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More Views From the Back Yard

This shot looks a bit like the screen saver on my Mac.

The following photo is of a bird that I tracked through the neighbor's fence. I took several shots of it, but deleted all but three. The darn critter wouldn't sit still for his portrait. (Or her portrait, as the case may be; I'm not an orthinologist.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sir Gallivant and the Dragon

I told Tex that I would uncover my two or three story poems, and post the most recent one.

A bit of backstory first.

The following poem is stilted and old fashioned, the endpiece to a book of fairy tales written in 2005 by kids where I work. They illustrated their stories, wrote poems about themselves, and short biographies, and I took their photos and put everything together in a chapbook format. (A thick chapbook!)

Since there were stories of dragons, knights, and assorted creatures--there were also a few more modern tales, or ones including unexpected combinations of characters--I decided to write a different take on the typical dragonslayer tale. So, if you can look past the contrived rhyming, here's the result:

Sir Gallivant and the Dragon

In ancient time when dragons roamed,
there lived a knight without a home.
He rode a horse bold, black and fleet,
and dragons slew for silver fee.
One day into a vale he rode
to find a dragon said so bold
it neither hid nor made its home
in mountains high and made of stone
nor caverns deep and dark and cold,
but on a hill ‘mid trees of gold.

He came upon a village small
and asked the people, one and all,
to show to him the dragon’s lair,
and thus help him their lives to spare.
They turned their heads and closed their doors,
and to the knight they spake no more.
Puzzled, Sir Gallivant set forth
with dented shield and gleaming sword,
and ventured to the golden wood.
Under its leafy shade there stood

a warning courteous and strong:
“No peddlers, please, or lookers-on.
“Passers, take heed: Beware the dog.”
Leaving the horse, a path he trod
‘neath pleasant trees, through ribboned mist,
and the cavern he almost missed,
for grass grew green up to its mouth.
Sir Gallivant began to doubt
a dragon roved the quiet dell—
no bones nor smoke nor bitter smell

gave proof it was the creature’s lair,
but then before his eyes appeared
a dragon wond’rous to behold
with scales of blue and claws of gold.
Hidden, crouched low, in vain he sought
the creature’s subtle, fatal flaw.
A passing merchant’s cart o’erturned;
the dragon gathered all the urns
and set the cart aright again,
and sent the merchant on his way.

Sir Gallivant saw people come
and pay the beast for favors done:
for metal pierced, for meals cooked through,
for boulders moved and trees down-hewn.
Now understood the gallant knight
why in the valley people might
refuse to help him find the place
where dwelt one of the dragon race
who was so peaceful, kind, and rare
that folk approached without a care.

His gleaming sword he set aside,
his dented shield the knight let lie,
and to the dragon did he go,
and there Sir Gallivant bowed low.
“I never knew goodness could be
within a creature such as thee.”
The dragon smiled and did forgive
the humble knight and bade him live
in the cavern and help sustain
all lowly folk who sought his aid.

He found at last a place to dwell,
within a secret gilded vale,
and there he lived to great old age,
he and the dragon, Cera Mage.
Even the horse—bold, black, and fleet—
some people say can still be seen
bearing Sir Gallivant’s pale shade
to help the weak and render aid
to anyone who yet may dream
of magic, myth, and make-believe.

c. Keanan Brand, May 2005

Stolen Words

Don't be too harsh to these poems until they're typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. ~Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Waiting for the Weekend

It's a couple hours past midnight here, and I'm finally finished with the work I brought home. I'm not a workaholic, but I find it's often easier to get work done if I can get away from constant interruption.

The kids at the Club are always coming up with something to distract me. Today, it was a science project involving caterpillars. I blunted an X-acto knife cutting air holes in a couple plastic containers.

After that, it was books that needed to be turned in for Reading Quest, a literacy program in which the kids read books from January to May, and report on them to me. The children with the most books win prizes.

Then there were miscellaneous, unexpected tasks. By the time the Club closed, I had only checked off three items on the day's "to do" list.

Some folks thrive in the busy-ness. I am not one of them. I jealously guard my weekends, my solitude. Tugged so much by other people's urgency, by their "emergencies" and needs, I need the quiet in order to remain sane.

That's part of what draws me to photography and writing, I suppose: a chance to focus my mind utterly on something other than all those literal and figurative grasping hands.

Monday, April 21, 2008

For the Truly Strange and Out-of-This-World

I "slush read" for an online horror magazine. If you have a creepy, bizarre, surreal, or downright frightening poem or short story (the shorter, the tauter, the better), or you're an artist with some weird artwork, check out the guidelines at Fear & Trembling.
(cover art by E.J. Mickels, II)

If you have some speculative
(science fiction, fantasy, surreal)
short fiction, poetry, or artwork, try out MindFlights.
(cover artwork by Michelle J.A. McIntyre)

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Didn't write a lick yesterday -- just thought about it.

It's Sunday, so that means more reading of my "Sunday books". Still working my way through one about Job and another about giving.

After that, a swipe at the yard with the lawnmower (assuming it works today).

And then maybe -- maybe -- more writing. To borrow from something I heard as a kid, "Sometimes, I sits and thinks. Sometimes, I just sits."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life

Discussion in comments on the previous post are prompting some thinking on my part.

I am not of a particularly monastic bent, but I live alone and like it that way. Solitude, though it is a state of aloneness, does not mean loneliness.

I've often wondered what kind of person I'd be now if I'd actually gotten married either of the two times I was engaged in the distant past. I don't think I'd be particularly happy. Neither of those people nor I was ready for the commitment required of a truly successful marriage.

Each time, I thought I was in love. With distance, clarity, and honesty, I now know I never really was. Nor were they. Ex-Fiance Number One said that getting married was the only way to get sex and still remain true to our faith. There had been nothing like that between us; I was true to that faith, the other person was not--nor felt any need to be true to me, either, as I discovered.

Went through an emotional and spiritual tailspin after that, righted myself a little, tried to go forward, made many mistakes while trying to regain my footing.

(November 2007, Little Portion Hermitage prayer garden)

Some people can take their troubles and turn them into artwork, can paint or dramatize or write them down. Until the past several years, I've made a habit of trying to forget them. Problem was, I couldn't live my life forward if I was chained by bitterness, anger, fear. When I finally started facing those demons, then the characters in my fiction could face theirs, and that's when the stories started coming alive.

I am now at a critical juncture in the current Dragon manuscript, when Gaerbith must send away Yanamari. These are two strong characters, each with their own demons--his the necessity of doing something for the good of others though at great personal cost, and hers the desire to live brave and free--but they are also bound to one another. Not, perhaps, mirrors of each other, they nonetheless recognize and admire the strength they see. They fit.

I am at a loss as to how to proceed. This scene needs to be as strong as they are, and full of the power of as-yet-unspoken emotion, but not sappy. It is my vow to avoid sap at all costs.

She asks him--twice, at different times--if his is a task that must be accomplished alone. He sidesteps the questions, giving her advice instead, and telling her what she should do for her own protection once she reaches the place where he is sending her. He does not have to go alone, but he thinks it best. This would anger her, I'm pretty sure. How dare he think for her? Decide for her?

His men slap her on the back and treat her with an odd mix of the respect due one of their own and the formal courtesy due a king's daughter. He, however, has a push/pull sort of relationship with her, each having rescued the other in their flight from the king.

Companionship and solitude--both have a place. How to reconcile them? That is the question.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Woeful Tale of Dental Disaster

Due to an exploding tooth--he doesn't know how it happened, but the dentist was drilling to fill a cavity, and the tooth flew to pieces--there's been a gap in my teeth for several months. Not a noticeable one, since the tooth was on the bottom and off to the side, but a gap nonetheless.

After a couple attempts to find a quick and economical way to fill said gap, both attempts having included excavations of the gum that were neither pretty nor painless, the dentist settled yesterday on a method involving electrical currents to shrink the gum back and make room for a crown; but, in order for there to be a crown, there must be something to build it on.

Thus the little piece of metal currently screwed into my gum.

Thus the Lorcet currently messing with my head, stomach, and work schedule.

I went to work yesterday all drugged up, and functioned enough to complete several tasks and to provide inadvertent entertainment to the Club kids. Had to stay three hours past closing, though, so the medication could wear off enough that I could drive safely. Those three hours were well spent, but they were also accomplished in a fog.

Ah, the joys of modern medicine, and drugs that remove the pain and the brain.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The gathering has begun. Tonight, I hope to bring together at least two groups of characters, which will set in motion other events that will propel the story forward to the end of this book, and launch right into Book Three:

First, one of the main characters--Gaerbith--must take an oath. As a result, he will be granted immortality, and a secret will be unlocked in his memory. That secret will reveal where something is hidden. However, he cannot go find it, because only descendants of a certain bloodline can touch the lost item. Even immortals will suffer if they disregard the rules.

Second, the character who can actually bring out the lost item is the dude who's just fought a Dragon, and is even now recovering from serious wounds and lost blood. He is several days away from Gaerbith. They've never met.

Third, the mad king's only living child, a daughter, will be kidnapped from Gaerbith's group and taken back to her mother's tower for "questioning." (She thinks dear ol' Mom is dead, and wishes she could remember her; what a surprise it will be to find out Mom is her worst enemy.)

There's more, but why give everything away? (smile)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stole this quote from Jessy Ferguson's blog:

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

Q & A, Part 2

Continuing with Eamon's questions--his last, in fact--from a couple days ago:

Q) What useful things have you learned about creative writing in general from writing this book?
(from someone looking to be inspired/learn new things for his own book)

Though I've learned much from writing this book, I've also gleaned much from other sources. Below are a few things I've gathered along the journey.

I copyedited manuscripts for a publisher. My job was to find spelling, punctuation, usage, and subject/verb agreement errors--all the boring stuff--but I also found paragraphs that should be rearranged, or sentences that were awkwardly structured or misplaced. Once phrases or entire sentences were given new homes, the writing flowed. It read well.

LESSON ONE: The boring stuff matters. Who cares how creative your stories are if you can't tell them coherently?

I also edit manuscripts writers are preparing to send to agents or editors. Some writers have already been published, but for most this is their first manuscript to be sent out into the world. They want "the works" when it comes to editing/critiquing. From reading these manuscripts, I've often learned what not to do in my own writing.

LESSON TWO: Read someone else's manuscript. Sometimes we are blind to our own words, and need the mirror of others to see our mistakes.

LESSON THREE: The adage "show, don't tell" is valid. Sometimes, we need to tell the reader some information because we need to condense time or space on the page, and move on to the next scene. However, those times should be rare. Never miss an opportunity to dramatize the story, make it come to life. Don't report dialogue; let us hear it. Don't tell us how characters feel; show emotion in their actions, words, expressions, silences.

For more along this line, check out Rebecca Miller's blog for a discussion of Scene vs. Narrative.

LESSON FOUR: Silence is golden. Sometimes, we writers fall so in love with our own words that we disgorge them onto the page with abandon, without consideration to whether or not they belong there. If we subject the reader to long passages of poetic prose describing the countryside, he may give up on the story altogether, or he may skip ahead to the good stuff, to where something is actually happening. Interweave description with action. Learn when to shut up.

Learn what to leave out. There is power in a character's pause, in the implied words he never says, in the actions she almost takes. Go ahead, and lead the reader toward a certain conclusion, but also leave something to the reader's imagination; it will often be more powerful than any words we might use to fill the gap.

LESSON FIVE: Daydreaming is an active pursuit. To the untrained eye, you're lollygagging. You're sitting and staring at the ceiling, out the window, into oblivion. You're watching paint dry. No. Your mind is active. In your mind, warriors are scaling cliffs, serial killers are stalking their next victims, a lover is desperately trying to capture the girl's attention, the gunfight is about to commence. Writers need time apart and alone in which to daydream. That's part of telling the story.

LESSON SIX: Patience is also an active pursuit. Sometimes, the words won't arrive when we need them. Sometimes characters dig in their heels, stick out their chins, and refuse to cooperate. They say things that raise our eyebrows or do things that startle the rest of the fictional populace. When this happens, don't scrap the work. Stop. Reflect. Consider the alternatives. Go with it--see where this leads. Go backward--see if you took a wrong turn. Most often, I see where the new road takes me, and I am rarely sorry.

Sometimes, you realize you've taken on a task bigger than you expected. (Ahem. That's what happened to me with this current project). It expands like some sort of alien goo. How are you going to tell a story that's so big you stagger under its weight?

You can only do what you can do. You start. Perhaps you produce a timeline so that you know what happens next, who enters the story and where. Perhaps you outline the plot--as a whole, or chapter by chapter, or scene by scene. Perhaps you just wing it (my most-used strategy), and you write about this group of characters and their problems and desires, then you bring in other groups or events, and so on, and weave the tangled threads as you go. Perhaps you adopt an eclectic approach: seat-of-the-pants mixed with a little outlining here and there, and sometimes a timeline to help orient yourself.

However you approach it, don't give up. I've been with the basic kernel of this story for about twelve years, wrote other stuff and tinkered with this one, but didn't get serious for a long time because it was hard work. The story, however, wouldn't let me go. January 1, 2008, the first manuscript in the cycle was completed, and now I'm three-fourths of the way through the second one. Patience is an active verb.

LESSON SEVEN: Be true to the story.

Don't let others write it for you. Sometimes, we ask for the opinions of other writers, and their version of an edit or a critique is to rewrite the story in their image. Help is one thing; control is another. A good editor will hunker down inside your story, get a feel for it, try to look at the story's world through your eyes, then help you tell that story and reveal that world as best as possible. He won't take over and turn the tale into something it was never intended to be.

Go ahead, have a theme, but don't turn your fiction into a pulpit. This goes back to Lessons Three and Four: "Show, don't tell" and "Silence is golden." You may want to dramatize a family breaking apart, or a person being lured into an abusive relationship, or maybe you're going for a broader effect, such as nations at war, the politics of poverty, and so on. Perhaps you have experienced something similar, and the idea about which you write is a personal thing. You have strong feelings about it, or strong beliefs. Tell us a story, but don't tell us what to think, believe, or feel. A reader's imagination, personal experiences, and beliefs will do that job. He may disagree. That's okay. But, if you do your job well, he may keep reading until the end. What more can a storyteller ask?

Lastly, don't let others tell you it can't be done, it won't sell, you'll never finish, it's no good, whatever. If you--the author--believe in your story, if it grabs you by the collar and drags you to the finish, then it must be written, even if it won't sell or it's not good. You need to ask yourself why you're writing it in the first place. Perhaps it's not intended for the world. Perhaps it's the thing you must write before you can write something else. Many bestselling authors have years of work hidden in a filing cabinet or a cardboard box, piles of pages, thousands of words, that the world will never see. Those are the training manuscripts. Don't be afraid to write a few.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tornado Weather

Storm sirens are wailing, a strong wind is blowing, hail is pounding the city where I work (about thirty minutes from my house), and we have flash flood warnings, but the rain hasn't hit my town yet.

The old cliche of wind roaring in the trees--it's the real deal. Between the wind and the siren, and the howling dogs, it's hard to hear the television reports.

Q & A, Part 1

Eamon of Creative Think Juice asked several questions in a recent comment on this blog, and as they were good questions that required more space than a comment box for a reply, I decided to write a post instead.

Q) How far are you in the book at the moment?

I'm in the second half (to be more precise, about three-fourths into) of the first draft. There is a lot going on in the story, a lot of characters to track and plot elements to fit into the puzzle, and as those various things come together--literally--in this part of the story, I'm writing slower and slower.

This is the second book in what may become a cycle. I say "may" because I never intended this story to extend beyond a single book. However, stories are what they are, and this one seems to keep spawning. In the current scheme, there will be three books in this particular storyline, and then at least one or two books set in the same world but in different eras i.e. a story set several generations in the future, and another story set in the distant past, the genesis of the current tale.

As for the three-book run, the first manuscript is circulating among readers who are making notes--suggestions, questions, comments--and sending those back to me. However, I am not editing that manuscript again until this current one is complete. I had hoped to have it finished by the end of March, but it may not be complete until May or June.

Q) What have you enjoyed most about writing this book so far?

I like it when connections are made that I did not plan. I like it when characters speak in ways I did not intend, or act in a manner that fits them so much better than anything I thought I knew about them.

In recent weeks, the most fun I've had in the writing process has been the death scene of an ancient villain. I talked about it with my brother, he and his wife read a rough draft of it and pointed out some weaknesses, and I fixed the trouble spots. Then I set it aside and continued on with the rest of the story. Last night, I had to re-read a portion of the manuscript to orient myself on a particular point, and so read the death scene again. I laughed--not because I'm sadistic, but because it was good writing.

I enjoy it when things just fit, and the words come easy, not necessarily because they were planned, but because they are right.

Q) What have you found most difficult to do?

The most difficult thing? To keep going. The easiest thing? To keep going.

Time is an obstacle, as are ideas. Sometimes, I've been so fixated on one idea that I've wasted time following a particular story thread to a dead end, and had to go back and find out where I went wrong. A writer has to see the details as well as the big picture, and sometimes I get off track. It's hard to stay on the trail when there are so many interesting things wandering through the trees.

Also, I'm writing something other writers have told me not to write. They think my skills better suited for other topics, other genres. They don't understand, and for a while I resented their lack of encouragement. Sometimes, to be quite honest, I still get riled about what I perceive to be an attitude of superiority, as if fantasy or science fiction is beneath the notice of "real" literature.

However, there are a handful of other writers who produce similar stories and are encouraging, and the few trusted readers are, too. (By readers, I mean individuals who get to preview the material and provide much needed feedback before the writing goes out into the great wide world.)

I write whatever grabs my attention, but this story has been with me, in one form or another, for over a decade. It's time I finished it.

To Be Continued

Monday, April 7, 2008

Man v. Dragon

So, I've just finished re-editing the man-with-dagger-fights-invincible-dragon scene.

And he wins.

The way it unfolds makes sense, and our hero does not walk away from the encounter. He's wounded, the grassland is ablaze, and he can't walk, much less run. I'm leaving him there until I can figure out an escape.

No deus ex machina stuff. No magic or coincidental rescues. And if there is a rescue, it's gotta be as real as fantasy can allow.

Maybe he can MacGyver his way out. Maybe use his fancy dagger, a Dragon scale, maybe a claw or a tooth, cauterize the pulsing wound and drag himself through the flames to--where?

This is a re-write. Haven't thought it through yet.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Just finished watching Apocalypto. Disgusting. Gentle. Bloody. Brotherhood. Sacrifice, willing and otherwise. Courage. Brutality. Family. Raw. Beautiful.

Strange, to consider all those words for the same film.

Hard to watch, and hard to look away. Other films that have hit me like that include Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ, Schindler's List, and parts of The Hiding Place, The End of the Spear, Saints and Soldiers, and a few others.

Films like that engage the mind, make a person think, but they also elicit a visceral, elemental reaction. Survival instinct. And yet--despite the desire for characters to survive--such stories can also turn instinct on its head, especially when one character lays down his life for another, either giving it up or putting it in danger in order to rescue someone else. Those stories, though difficult, stick with the viewer or the reader long after "the end" has been flashed on the screen or read at the bottom of a page.

I want to write one of those.

(picture courtesy of Icon Productions / Touchstone Pictures)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Further Adventures in Keanan's Yard

Last night, I watched another movie that just happened to star Steve Carrell--Evan Almighty--and then Mom came over to watch it before I turned it in, so I've seen it twice in less than 24 hours. That's okay. It's a good movie, and its presentation of God and His character is, well, in character. Well done.

As for the rest of the day, I've been in the yard, wielding rake and shovel and the occasional trash bag, but no lawn mower. Dad traded mine for his. It doesn't work, either.

For 20-25 years, I've been holding on to some seeds my grandmother gave me. My paternal grandparents were great gardeners, and they tried to teach all of us numerous grandchildren to love it, too. My brother and I once grew a patch of red-skin potatoes about the size of golf balls. Tiny, but tasty. Over the years, I've killed my share of plants of several varieties. However, if it can be planted in the yard, chances are it will survive.

Back to the story: When I was a kid, Grandma gave me a handful of hollyhock seeds, and I rolled them in a piece of plastic wrap, put them away in a box, and forgot about them. A while back, kids were selling seeds and bulbs as a fundraiser for band or choir or 4H or something, so I bought a small box, and soon afterward found the old hollyhock seeds. They went into the new box; it, too, was set aside and forgotten.

This afternoon, in the process of setting out some hand-me-down plants in the front yard (my attempt at helping the neighborhood beautification, and hopefully distracting attention from the unmown yard), I found the box.

So, among the other things planted around the front and side of the house are scattered Grandma's hollyhock seeds. They need be planted later in the year--gotta endure winter before they can bloom--so it'll be a while before I see any results. Don't know if they'll grow, but I have strong suspicion they will.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Morning Drive

I've always wondered what happened to this post. And the chicken wire used for the fencing is decades old; the old stone-and-wood building behind it was built in the 1940s, I think. Much more interesting than a picket fence.

I don't recommend writing while driving, but I do it all the time. After my whining (see previous post) about interruptions to the writing process, some very cool--and obvious--ideas came while I drove to work this morning. Since most of the year's work is done in the evenings, maybe this morning gig is just off-kilter enough to jog a tired mind into the imagination zone.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pancakes. Gotta Love 'Em.

Okay. I have a new flick to add to the list of favorites: Dan in Real Life.

I said a few things about August Rush, but kept it simple about The Water Horse, and I'm not gonna say much about this one, either.

Ya just gotta watch it.

(image courtesy of


Uh, Tex? Easy. Put down the pen. And the pencil. Threatening me with multiple shallow paper cuts won't stop me.

I promise: This is the last poetry post. At least for a while. (For a point of reference, read the comments for the previous post, or visit his blog here.)

This poem received something at a contest four years ago, but I can't remember if it was in the money or only an honorable mention. (I keep very good records. Can you tell?)

The person who inspired it has read it, but doesn't know she is the subject, and many other people--men and women--have thought I tinkered with gender or circumstances, and that the poem's about them. Uh, okay. Guilty consciences?

Last year, I wrote a poem about trying to grab for our dreams before they are ready, and used the metaphor of harvesting grapes that are still green, and the writers group thought I was writing about sex. I told you poetry was subjective.


She is a choking vine,
twining my limbs,
wrapping my throat,
squeezing my strength
as if I am the soil that succors her roots.

I was, at first,
a sympathetic willing trellis,
thinking my role temporary,
like a stake to guide a sapling,
but she will not let go.

Sun and shade equally strike,
yet she claims the lesser share,
complaining her weakness, her lack,
her compromise—
shadowing me as she seeks more light.

I am dying,
throttled by her need.
Freeing my hand, I tear at her tendrils,
feeling the sticky wetness of broken stems.
Remnants of her cling to my clothes.

She cries her shock and anger,
pleas the length of friendship,
but I reck not her arguments,
turn from her tilting form,
and say, “Stand.”

KB, 2000