Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Early Morning Revelations

I present to you, the third place winning essay of the 2011 Bo Carter Memorial Writing Contest.

Early Morning Revelations
by D.L. Marriott

I dip my foot into the water. I expect it to be chilly this early in the morning. I'm surprised by its warmth. I turn the canoe over, put a book encased in a plastic zip-top bag, a travel mug full of coffee, and a life-preserver in the bottom. I paddle my way through the channel and onto the lake. The sun has just begun its rise over the horizon. The sky is painted with hues of pink and orange. There is no one else out here. I expected to run into a fisherman or two, it seems impossible that this morning they are absent.

Once I'm in a place where I have the most room to drift, I slide down into the bottom of the canoe, and take out my book. There is nothing to interrupt me from my story. There is a highway not too far away, but at five A.M. on a Sunday morning there is little traffic. The muffled sound of the occasional car only barely gets my notice.

But then I hear a rumble that gets louder and louder, disturbing my peace. It's a train on a not too distant set of tracks. On such a quiet morning, its clattering is intrusive, disturbing. I stop reading and cringe at how it dispels my ideal of relaxing, drifting aimlessly on the water. Before long the rumbling fades away; my solitude returns.

Now that my attention has been torn away from the book in my hand, I take notice of what's around me. The lake is still, not a ripple on it other than those created by a family of ducks swimming by. My ears pick up the serenade of frogs, early morning birds, and the occasional splash of a jumping fish. There is a heron standing on the shore. His profile is majestic. At first he is so still that I'm not sure if he is real or a garden ornament. Just when I have convinced myself he cannot be real, he moves his head, turning it towards me.

I start thinking about how I would have missed him had the train not caused me to look up from my book. How sometimes we don't realize what's around us because we're too busy doing something else. How much sitting in this boat, floating along, is so much like life.

It starts out with the trip up the channel. Paddling is work. It's not horrible work. In a way, I enjoyed the challenge of working to get where I wanted to go. It's very much like when we were young, working hard to raise a family. It was work, sometimes hard work. But we were heading in the direction we wanted to go. It didn't all go smoothly. We occasionally had to shake the weeds from our paddles.

But then as our children grew up, we got to a place where we thought we could relax and enjoy life. Drift along, instead of working so hard. We thought we were coming to our perfect destination. We knew and accepted the mild disturbance of the car whizzing by, but it was so fleeting it barely registered. It isn't until something really shatters our silence that we take notice. Something big and intrusive like a freight train comes barreling into our world. Momentarily we wonder why. Why, when we finally have what we were dreaming of, does something big and ugly have to ruin it?

Like the train that disrupts my peaceful morning in my canoe, the things that disrupt our lives eventually pass. They rumble off into the distance. In their wake, we realize that there was beauty and peace all around us. It had been there all along, but we had been too preoccupied to appreciate it. Now in the deafening silence of the train's absence, it is wondrous. It's a lesson in appreciating all we have and realizing that bad things will come along, but they will pass, and we will still be here drifting on an unseen current. If by chance we are not happy with where the current is taking us, all we have to do is work up some muscle and paddle in another direction, and remember to take stock in the beauty around us. 

We can't banish the weeds, the cars and the freight trains of life. We can just close our eyes and wait for them to pass, then keep on paddling to our destination, never forgetting that there are always ducks and frogs, sunrises and herons, if we just take the time to recognize them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The End

No, I haven't finished the novel yet, although I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's getting bigger and brighter by the day. But today, I woke up with words flowing through my head. That happens to me a lot, I wake up with a story running along all by itself. It makes me wonder if I'm actually the writer, or if there's some other entity doing all the work who, once in a while, interrupts my sleep and forces me to put it to paper.

For some, starting a story is the difficult part. Putting those first words down on the page. For some, it's all the middle stuff. Making sure point A connects to point B. For me, the hardest part is always the end. Generally when I start a story, I have no clue what the ending will be. It's somewhat unnerving to start writing not knowing where it's going when the story starts telling itself. I've made the joke several times that I just take transcription for the voices in my head, but often that's exactly what it feels like.

Even when I finally get an idea of what the ending should be, writing it is the most difficult part of the process for me. Once I've built up all the drama, bringing it to a conclusion that brings the reader back down without leaving them feel disappointed is an incredibly difficult thing. I've known the ending of my novel for a while now, but had no idea how to tell it with just the right amount of tension, emotion, and completion to leave the reader feeling satisfied.

As a reader, the ending can make or break a story for me. I can be totally entranced by a book, but if the ending doesn't deliver, it frustrates me. The ending is the last thing the reader is left with. To me, it's critical to make it memorable. Unfortunately, the ending is also generally the most controversial. Some love “happily ever after” endings, some hate them, some like the story to hang, without a clear ending, others not. No matter what ending you come up with, there will be people who will sing its praises and some who will criticize every word.

I've talked about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter before. The epilogue is probably the most controversial part of the seven books. Harry Potter fans are divided, some loved it, some hated it. I myself liked it. I didn't love it. Not because I didn't like the way the story ended, just the way it was written. I like it enough, and it's grown on me some since I first read it, but I felt it could have been stronger. I give Jo kudos though. I can't imagine how difficult it was to wrap up seven books of storyline.

One of my other favorite children's/young adult authors, D.J. MacHale, had to wrap up ten books and years of the main character's life in his Pendragon series. I actually sent him a message to tell him I thought it was the best ending I've ever read. I have read other reviews from readers who hated it. To me it was perfect.

So I guess in the end, the end has to be what the writer feels is necessary. We just have to hope that not too many people are disappointed. I'm hoping there's some fate that's telling me that the ending I wrote is the right one. An hour after I woke up with my ending in my head, my husband awoke to tell me he'd just had the weirdest dream. He dreamed that I finally came to the end of my book. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

The End.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A friend of a friend?

You know the saying, a friend of a friend of a friend... Or how about the adage that there is only six degrees of separation?  If you really think about it, it just might be true. I've certainly had this phenomenon present itself before. Somehow it's just a bit exciting to think you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone famous.

This week I met the sister of a friend. (That would be only one degree of separation. Or would that be two?)  My friend mentioned that her sister came from Maine, Stephen King land as she put it.

"Really?" I replied.  "I'm a huge fan!" Nothing new or earth shattering in that exchange. I followed that up with "Actually he's influenced my writing quite a bit."

I've been reading Stephen King's books since my teens. I love the way his stories keep me at the edge of my seat, not knowing what's going to happen next. His descriptive style pulls me right into his stories.

In addition, although I've read several good books on the craft of writing, I count his book "On Writing" as the one that taught me the most. One of the greatest compliments I can get is when someone tells me one of my stories is Stephen Kingish.

So I really did mean it when I told this sister of a friend that Stephen King has influenced me.

Her response was not what I was expecting.  She told me he was one of her neighbors and sometimes saw him out and about.  My response? "Wow, cool."  For a writer, sometimes words can escape me. (By the way we would be up to TWO degrees of separation, or maybe that's three, still respectable either way.)

My friend turned to her sister and said, "Dody here is an author also."

Okay, so we were talking Stephen King.  I don't think I could ever comprehend the idea of mentioning my name as an author in conjunction with Stephen King. I laughed and pulled out a bookmark that has all the information for Finding Hope, my website and this blog.

My friend told her I was good. I blushed and told her she could check my book out if she wanted. Then, in what had to be a moment of incredible bravery, or insanity, I handed her a second bookmark and said, "Here, if you bump into your buddy Steve, you can tell him to check me out."

I know, I can hear you laughing. Me too. But you never know. Just maybe this friend's sister will actually take that bookmark back to Maine with her, and maybe instead of it getting lost in her suitcase or on her counter she'll actually have it on her, and just maybe she'll bump into Mr. King himself.

Maybe, just maybe, she'll remember the bookmark and give it to him.  And if all the stars align and the world stops rotating on it's axis, he won't toss it in the nearest trashcan, or crumple it up and stuff it in his pocket to get destroyed in his washing machine.  And just maybe he'll decide to check me out and not laugh his butt off at this little author actually doing something so bold as handing one of his neighbors my info.

IF, by chance he gets that far, and actually reads my story, and finds that I may have some future in writing, and takes the time to drop me a note and tell me so, It will all be for naught because I'd probably die on the spot!

But you just never know. Maybe that sister of a friend, who lives in the same neighborhood as Stephen King just might change my life. Or maybe I'll win the lottery.  I'm somehow thinking the lottery is more likely, but a girl can dream can't she?