Archive for the ‘edit, publish, fiction, non-fiction’ category

Lobo and the Future of Mankind

August 31, 2009

SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS
The following is an excerpt from the new back-to-the-Earth spiritual novel by MARIAN YOUNGBLOOD

A video presentation of the novel’s story and setting can be seen on YouTube here.

… or a shadow over my grave…

The wolf pack had been gathering all day under the watchful eye of Tawnia, the mother, and were about ready to head out. Her mate Lobo, the tribe’s great white alpha male, experienced in the ways of Men and the natural world, would lead them. If they walked all evening and most of the night, they would travel beyond the perimeter and out of danger. In the Park they were protected; out there their lives were not safe because Man and they didn’t always get along, It was a risk they had to take. Staying behind was for the aged or sick. The young were hitching rides with cousins, allowing aunts to carry them in their mouths. Never in Tawnia’s time had she seen such cohesion and trust within the pack: young warriors were cowtowing, behaving like wise old beasts, just this once. They knew something big was afoot.

Lobo’s instinct was pure; his decision contained wisdom beyond their own limited view. They trusted him to lead them to safety. He called the Elders together and they agreed.

They had to leave the camouflage and protection of their Yellowstone home and take their chances in desert night temperatures because Lobo had read the signs and Yellowstone was telling them to leave: west across the desert, through the badlands lay sanctuary. There a new home beckoned. Lobo knew. Now the young had practiced and could imitate and howl the name of their destination.

Three Sisters.

Back at daybreak, Lobo called together and addressed a conclave of Elder wolves, experienced in the ways of canis lupus. They all agreed. Craters of the Moon was close, but barren; lava beds had a familiar smell but supported little wildlife. They would have to go farther to find the perfect place.

 

Lobo's wisdom would guide them

Lobo's wisdom would guide them

They may be of Wyoming stock, their strength in their connection to volcanic timber slopes and grassland, but their experience was gained in richer territory. Expert and lethal at trapping niche animals in a familiar shared habitat. Specialists in foraging as a posse. Community skills handed down, kept their tribe alive and strong for ten generations. Lobo’s direct ancestor founded the dynasty. Nine-times-great grandfather had been a traveler, himself: descended from New Mexico’s original and celebrated Lobo, the great wolf emulated by teenagers; one of whom even human beings had heard. He, a son of the Great Wolf Spirit, inspired respect.

 

Much had changed since Man created the first National Park in their hunting grounds; some Elders believed and hoped that ethos of the original parks was alive and active in the human young.

More senior Elders felt Man had not yet learned to put aside his ancient fear of Wolf. It was even said their Ranger friends in the old homeland were persecuted in their stead for allowing Wolf to return.

Elsewhere in this great country, canis lupus was, if not extinct, definitely rare and there were few areas where they and domestic animals shared territory. But Yellowstone was a milestone park, even if it was about to die, and there was talk among humans of giving wildlife a fairer portion, a more sensitive sharing of habitat, of a new kind of park where the lion might lie down with the lamb.

Even Abuela had heard such talk and encouraged Lobo before departure to head for the most dreamed-of location because dreams come true. Oregon had volcanoes, people there were also descended from original pioneer stock and a place would be found.

After Lobo patiently explained her words, they listened thoughtfully to her opinion and came to a consensus. There was no doubt about the Elders’ decision. They were agreed their aim was for Three Sisters. There the Great Wolf Spirit would provide a place for them.

A couple of hours later, the pack was on the move.

Only Abuela, the old grandmother, stayed in her den. If Lobo’s guidance proved less than accurate or the crisis was somehow averted, they would return to her. Age gave her resignation. She watched without blinking from her rock ledge, head between outstretched paws. As she saw the last straggler leave, her eyes closed.

LOBO is an excerpt from my forthcoming spiritual novel:
SHASTA: Critical Mass by Marian Youngblood

 

Book cover by Joris Amerlaan for SHASTA: Critical Mass by Marian Youngblood

Update:April 2010
When I wrote this, who would have known that the Bush administration would cancel the US Endangered Species Act and allow wholesale murder of Wyoming and Yellowstone wolves. Wolf killing continues as a ‘sport’ in March and April 2010-2012 in Wyoming and Idaho.

I entered SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS in James Twyman and Robert Evans’ 2010 spiritual author competition, Nexttopauthor.com. The video presentation was created at that time. Another excerpt –which gives more of the novel’s volcanic flavor– can be accessed here.

‘SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS’ has been picked up by AllThingsThatMatterPress for publication during 2012. I continue to encourage all genuine interest from agents who may wish to represent the novel with its déjà vu scenario and may feel its publication is prescient. I may be contacted via this page. Thank you.

Dabbling in the Quantum Field

July 10, 2009

Spiritual novel 'SHASTA: Critical Mass'

 

In quantum physics, the act of Observation changes the object observed.  

 

Writers, especially novelists, beware. 

 

It is a truth worth remembering when knuckling down to the synopsis.  A necessary evil, some say;  but it is really important to remind yourself, when you lift your head up again after you’ve sent the ‘hook’ off to your editor/publisher/reading group that it was an exercise in stepping into the quantum field.  That’s all.  It isn’t really you.  You were acting as a mere observer presenting an object as you saw it to an outside agency.  The real you in still in there, champing at the bit, ready and waiting to get back to REAL writing.

 

I’ve been asked a few times: ‘So, what is your novel about?’  an open-ended – but natural – question from a reader.  The answer varies with the mood of the request.  Which got me thinking about queries in general and query letters in particular: oh, no, not again, sounds the imaginary chorus of rejected authors in the agent/publisher debate.

 

Any excuse will do.

 

There IS a case to be made for the poor, maligned, ever-hopeful, endless optimist writer; she does have to lay down all tools of the scribe and pick up tools of the adman to get her subject noticed.  Her query letter, synopsis and an impeccable first chapter are all she’s got.

 

But not today.   If she’s a trooper, then her Muse will return, the pen or keyboard will beckon and the wild ride will begin once more.

 

So what is my novel about?  The thing is: I didn’t think I was writing a fantasy adventure; I thought it would turn out to be an historical romance with some realtime spiritual insights; a kind of James Redfield-style handbook set in both past and present Scotland with a respectful nod to the New Age, California style.  I spent my childhood in Scotland, some early adult years in California and now swing between the two.  It made sense that I should draw on my own history to create an authentic atmosphere; I spent 20 years writing and giving lectures on the suppressed, unwritten history of my country. It wants to be told.

 

But my spirit soars when I step into the wild country of the Pacific Northwest and I guess my Muse knows that at her core.  So, let’s face it, after setting the romantic framework of ancient Scotland, my Muse was itching to get in there and change it all around.

 

As I began to relax and allow my characters to speak, Muse Girl (MG for short, thanks to S.King for his male version) wasn’t standing for any nonsense.  If it was authenticity I wanted, she would show me what the real message was in the book:  I am the instrument and she directs as the movie unfolds.  Drop the dry historical facts, castle interiors, ancient hunting forests, family lineages;  enter a succession of vivid past lives intermingled with a present day drama of a family caught up in cataclysmic events precipitated by a planet in environmental crisis.   

 

Even my title got changed:  it became SHASTA. You don’t want to know what it was before.  That got relegated to short-story-dom.

 

In some awesome way I could not (didn’t want to) control,  the 14,000-ft mountain colluded with MG to become the dominant presence.   And, gradually the historical corridor of my original vision morphed into a capsule which faded in and out, while a dormant volcano in the present-day Cascades proceeded to take over; create a tectonic miracle, and develop a scenario with potential to disrupt national and international communications. 

 

All right.  It’s true: a lot of writers see their novels as movies in their heads: it’s the way the right hemisphere transmits information.  Yet I was carried along on this visual current like a swollen river of ash and mud within a backdrop that was more than real. Daily reports issued by NOAA and the Global Volcanism Program were mirroring my scenes: Yellowstone, Mauna Loa, Kamchatka, Vesuvius.  There was no way I could put this down.

 

When each morning I went back to edit what I’d written the day before, the left hemisphere often had punctuation and grammar to correct, but the right hemisphere was right there (along with MG), ready to pick up where we left off.

 

Naturally Shasta saw to it that I learned Native American respect for her, researched her early history, became immersed in her volcanic past.  In process I discovered the difficulty humans faced constructing highways and railroads  in trying to tame her; her influence on local tradition, myths and legends surrounding her, filtered through New Age groups and sects that inhabit the valley at her feet. 

 

She is a rumbling giant; she never sleeps.   With or without a volcanic murmur, northern California suffers annual forest fires and spring deluge.   It’s what people live with all the time.  What I was being asked to do was to give it a little tweak to up the ante.  It all fit.  I had to move with the story.  It was telling itself.  And by setting the scene over one long weekend I simply brought the elements together to make it believable – in a fantastic sort of way. 

 

Ancient Scotland plays a part.  It has to.  In a quasi-science fiction way it becomes a timeline thread, interjected into the future-present narrative, meshing the background of the principal characters with a deeper element – I like to think.  Past meets present creates future earth where all is possible… of course I’m an idealist.   

 

So what is it about?  We should be grateful for the gentle reader, the well-meaning questioner.  It makes us look at genre (the agent/publisher’s tool) and in observing, perhaps changes us the writer from quantum instrument to quantum fly on the wall.

 

SHASTA made the decision for me: molded my characters, attached me to the project, wouldn’t let me go.  My historical journeys became woven through and around her, creating more substance than I originally planned.  But what story is not improved by a mystery weaving a web to pull one in, to keep up the pace, to NOT give away the ending?   

 

Quantum field? Personal movies or Images of this scale are beyond quantum physics, in my humble opinion.  A project guided from beyond? A spiritual adventure? Particle or wave, it chose me to put it into print, and I am the first to say that I, the observer, was changed by it. Not the other way around.  

The Timeless Art of Getting Back on the Horse

July 3, 2009

We’ve all been there.

I got rejected by a BIG publishing house editor around 10 days ago and I haven’t really been able to share the information until now.

Some of us use the dear joan letter as a springboard for our next plunge into an alien world and rebound with a kitbag of ideas; others take rejection (from an agent, a publisher, an editor – they all hit hard) very personally and never surface again.

But there is part of me that uses the kick of the mule of rejection – timelapse included – as a way of getting back up on the animal; I think I come to terms with my own vulnerability, start to look at the wounded soft centre as a way through, as a tool to create a gentler version of a particularly difficult character, or to be ruthless and throw out a superfluous scene.

For me that’s a better way  than to allow the rejection process to gag and bind me into hardening and toughening and ‘becoming the adversary’.

Been there; done that.  And it doesn’t work because I’m still me inside. I live with me and my characters, my story are part of me.  Something phenomenal came from my keyboard and I’m not going to let it go.

It’s not easy to say this.  But I have slept on it.

Writers are traditionally loners by definition.  I think the part of this writer who feels most miffed is the invisible self-critic, the one on alert all the time; so being told by the ‘expert’ what I already know: that’s a little of a let-down. 

The thing is, the other comments were really helpful, constructive, even complimentary.  I liked having my writing style compared with Sheri Tepper; Barbara Kingsolver;  and yet sustaining a ‘fast pace which manages to stay just the right side of chaotic’ (?)

 I like chaotic.

But putting it out there, stretching out the young shoot and having it nipped by frost – again:  that is the hardest to handle.  It implies not good enough. Compromise, adaptation, tailoring required.

There are those who react to a negative response by thinking their work is somehow mediocre, not complete; needs re-grouping, splitting into two separate books; compromising the original idea which was to write a great big exciting blockbuster to end all blockbusters.  

Why then let the dream die?

Why shouldn’t the original dream  be more real than the  ultimate short story mini-format adaptation the publishing industry thinks it wants?  We know it’s the reader who counts : s/he’s the one with desire to read our book in the mindset we originally conceived it: holed up in the imagination, carried along by the story, wanting to see what happens next.

It’s the reader that keeps us in the novel business.  The publisher is incidental.  Heavens, don’t let them know I said that.  I might get rejected – again.

I don’t intend to offend the big publishing houses – if indeed there are personalities left to offend.  They are necessary to the whole works.  There are, however, one or two little things they should know: people have, do, and will continue to read. The book business isn’t going to die.

Like the rest of us it’s currently going through a process of change.  

One thing a new-age spiritual discipline teaches me is change can make or break me: make or break any enterprise. It’s up to the individual to see change (in this instance, rejection) as failure or potential success. And no outside critic is more valid than my own fierce inner censor.  

But a writer has to lay down his tools when it comes to the query letter  because it requires a different mindset to write, a commercial approach that’s usually foreign to the novelist, the romance author, the passionate thriller-writer.  Unlike the industry:  they have the edge on us. They get to use tools – like arbitrary filtering, rejection – that have kept them in business: it allows them to do what they do best: publish books. They get to shut out the best, the middling and the bad at the first hurdle, just because that’s what they have to do.

I like what Randy Pausch says in The Last Lecture

‘The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.’

I agree.  I’m not other people.  I’m going to make this one work.

The Waiting Room of the Mind: web-longings of a Writer

June 13, 2009

Blogging should probably  be blonging: web-longing to be writing real stuff while relegated to waiting (in the waiting room of the mind) to hear from publisher/s-agent/s- editor/s to whom our precious words were submitted.  Even the tiniest spark of encouragement,  the smallest interim ‘sorry still reading the in-pile’ is taken as Big Time Hope that our three-year Magnum Opus has received a moment’s notice; that the publishing world is understandably going through a lot of stuff lately and they’ll finally realize what a gem they have ready to roll.  

Writers have to be tough. It goes with the territory: loners at best; communing with our computers; social outcasts at worst – unless or until our talents are recognized and we are inundated with chatter and praise and, worst of all, false friendship.  We have to recognize it all, because the mind devises every scenario (didn’t we just give one of those attributes to a character in chapter 42? its opposite to the antagonist in chapter 6?)  

Inside, if we are true to ourselves, in the interim waiting room of the mind we are above the wrangling, above the pressures that drive an editor to tackle the daily mound of MSS she knows she has to get through. We are guided by an inner equilibrium; sometimes by a need to express something – anything – in print; on a good day, we are in thrall to our Muse.

Ah, that elusive entity, the Muse.

S/he is the keeper of the Stargate: it is s/he who decides what comes out and what stays inside.  If we are really honest with ourselves, it is s/he who not only inspires, but dictates. 

And on days when s/he doesn’t, the poor earthbound writer sits at the computer anyway – never too far from the email inbox or the internet search engine, just in case an idea pops; a thought which needs to be ‘researched’.  

Naturally there are other days when the mind doesn’t even say hello to the Muse: those are days of the rewrite, the ruthless self-editor at work, preening and primping and heartlessly chopping whole chunks of dialogue, along with necessary adverbs and future conditionals.  On those days the writer is just that; no room to be the ‘other’, the author, the celebrated creator, Muse-instrument.  

They say it takes two to tango.  In the case of writing, it takes something in the order of 52 and those personalities are all within.  It’s a miracle some of them ever get out: but that’s what writing is all about.

Successful authors, screenplay-writers, budding novelists, dramatists, wannabe magazine contributors: we are all alike in our self-doubt when we are stuck in the waiting room of the mind.  Maybe that’s why we decorate it with figments and pigments – to cheer the place up till the real stuff comes along.

Are you a frustrated author? a self-disciplined writer of a daily quota? or simply another patient ? (pun intended).  Whichever it is, you are most welcome to join the rest of us here in the waiting room of the mind.


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