The Final Last Word

Posted in Creativity and Chaos, Working magic on November 8, 2022 by coyotescribe

I have figured out how to fiber-optically plug my subconscious mind into the world wide web. Consciously. 

In my search for meaning, I scour internet dictionaries, thesauruses, idiom finders, and rhyming zones to exhume long-forgotten words crypted inside my subconscious: compartmentalized rooms divided by stacks of old books filled with life experience and emotions, all inventoried in hefty card catalogs scattered about the main floor. 

And then there’s the forbidden zone, where implicit instructions were given—by me earlier in my life—during times of greatest pain: Hide this, and never let me go near it again. Sometimes, the thing we want to hide from the most is love. If I can locate this forbidden zone, words might reveal themselves, glitter inside encapsulated treasure troves, and help me get down to being a good writer.

Why embark on such an intensive task? Because one memory can lead to layers of insight, and one word can make all the difference.

This offshoot post sprouts from a hopefully-soon-to-be-published: Home Stretch: Birth of a New Ending. Since I’m working on the last chapter of my novel right now, I’m trying to keep up with my sometimes-stalled, sometimes-accelerated advancement. But the blog post in question—which I started way back in August—had gotten way too comprehensive. In the contractions of giving birth to a revelation, I’d gone crazy—even more than usual. Ideas cut loose and crossed synapses, travelling along sensory neurons to my fingertips, prodding them to type. In the middle of the frenzy, I started to write about my pursuit of the final last word. It dawned on me that this search was like anticipating the toy surprise inside a Cracker Jack box—buried in a haystack of caramel-coated, popped corn and peanuts.

To avoid yet another blog post pouring into a tangential spillover, I’m only reporting on one compulsive treasure hunt for a word that couldn’t have surfaced without my subconscious igniting a little spark—the clue that steers me in a general direction toward a possible epiphany. In the dark, I suit up for the journey, and the signal light appears as I plug in my subconscious. Without that initial spark, the road ahead would otherwise be an ill-fated, exhaustive, and unfruitful rumination leading to excessive burn-out.

It was late September. I’d received some professional notes—which I paid for—on my novel’s first 5000 words, courtesy of Coverfly analyst #CCB8D. Unsurprisingly, chapter five got the most attention. In truth, the chapter had been—maybe not my biggest, but—a challenge that I especially avoided and was forced to revisit more than once as it begged for an overhaul. Chapter five is the first detour off my main storyline, and introduces a Montana otherworld—not an overlay of a past or future, but merely an occupation of a different space of the now.

Crafting a chapter to be a roadmap into the unknown is a delicate operation. It requires leaving breadcrumbs for the reader—but not too many. I’d left too many. Fifty-seven chapters later I had to face the music. So I decided to pause the turtle race to the finish line and do the repair work. If a publisher can’t get past this, no sense in the rest of it mattering. And thus, chapter sixty-one was moved to the back burner.

Okay. The word in question was needed for a particular line of thought for one of two unearthly women characters who reside in this Montana otherworld. Emma, whose POV was narrating the mystical goings-on, was once a famous—thought-to-have-died-years-earlier—movie star who’d been a closeted reader of books in her other life. Being smart wasn’t sexy in the 1950s.

I went looking for the adjective to complete Emma’s observance of her friend as they rummage through an old, mahogany trunk that occasionally produces items from their former lives. This time they are in a desperate search for an object that could be teleported through the ether to the main character—a soul-wounded Vietnam Veteran—who needs saving from himself. In the writing of the sentence, I heard the adjective rhythmically in my head as three syllables, already knowing what I needed essence-wise.

And here’s the little spark my subconscious gave me—don’t ask me how: the word starts with the letters l-u-c. Did you know that you can search for a word on the internet like that? It’s brilliant! All I did was type into google: words that begin with luc. I somehow understood: luc rode tandem with the word lucid, only it contained more light. (You see how my brain works.)

Point Dume, Malibu, California

The hunting expedition across the cyber terrain first brought me to the word luculent, which I thought had to be it. But it was wrong for two reasons: 1) the “c” didn’t have the “s” sound, which is how I heard it fuzzily in my head; and 2) it still didn’t have the light I was looking for. Luculent was lucid—clear—but with no inference of light. What is that damn word? I went back again, and I found it. Not three syllables like I’d thought—the subconscious is also a trickster—but four.

Luciferous was the word. It had the soft “c” and the light, and it was lodged there in my subconscious but couldn’t be brought through the thick veil of my limited conscious perception. I may have never used the word before, but my subconscious had read/heard it somewhere. And Emma, my Einstein-loving-closeted-book-reading movie star definitely had experience with it. She used it to describe her friend’s aha moment: Beth giggled, her face showing a mixture of fright and luciferous awe.

Whatever one might think of the word, it is the word that fits Emma’s thought. The word also gave me something extra: Lucifer. Before lucifer became a proper name for Satan in a grindingly rough translation, it originally meant “light-bringing.” I discovered in Adam Aleksic’s The Etymology Nerd blog that lucifer was also defined as “morning star” or “light on the horizon”—which could mean, in one sense, an aha moment. Right? And guess what, I have a morning star rising at the very get-go of chapter five. So YEAH, in a chapter that had thrown me for a loop, there’s this little inspired word that could possibly keep future readers engrossed in the fantastical luminous world of these two women characters. Like, who are they really?

Well, it didn’t engross everyone. At the completion of my revision, I was lighted up, triumphant. I submitted chapter five to my writers critique group, and the word got side-whacked, one of the women flat-out calling it ostentatious. Ouch! Humorously speaking, the word ostentatious is one of those words that—by its own self-image, its audible voice and disruptive flow—clearly defines itself better than a lot of words out there. Kinda like the way namby pamby does. I prefer to think of luciferous as luxurious, or—even better—the light on the horizon.

Post-notes:

Sometimes I look for a word by figuring out its least-ambiguous opposite, and then follow the path in reverse by looking at that contrary word’s antonyms. Can you dig it?

Sometimes a word is just wrong: in its lack of flow with the sentence, in its commonplace overuse, or in its visual and audible pretense and/or presentation in general. I try not to overthink it as I wend through my elaborate word searches. But, because I’ve gotten particularly brilliant at it, words are getting easier to recognize in all the noise.

My toughest nut to crack is when I look for a word that resides somewhere in the between of two other words, which are often incomparable. Sometimes, it just isn’t there. When there are no words, as a writer, I just have to do the best I can to unpack the stuff streaming into my head via the vast portal of my imagination. I try to give the reader as much accuracy as possible without beating them over the head with it. Being given a story is a tremendous gift, and a great responsibility. It has been my honor to write this epic novel that soon will find its conclusion.

The final last word is the word that goes to the printer when your novel is published. Make it a good one. And have a luciferous day.

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Six Words to Sixteen Hundred: Published Again

Posted in Creativity and Chaos, Working magic on April 1, 2022 by coyotescribe

During the first year of the pandemic, I took three weeks off from my novel to craft a 1600-word story for an up-and-coming anthology: Voices of Magic. Two years later and eight days ago—March 23, 2022—the book was officially launched on Amazon.

It was one thing to read my story over and over again in a word document on a laptop screen—during COVID—making edits until I ran out. And quite another to see the words in print, and then watch the anthology take a leap in the categories of New Age Channeling and Personal Transformation Self-Help. I am proud to be a contributing author for this enchanted collection of personal stories of magic.

My story “Time Passages” weaves in and out of timelines like my novel has for 500+ pages, but only for about as long as half a chapter. A friend and fellow writer told me that my story read like a condensed novel. That’s about how it felt, writing it, the hop-skipping timeline that covered a lot of territory. Thus, why I gave it the title I did—no other way to put it.

I am including the first paragraph of “Time Passages” below, to demonstrate my point:

An atmospheric hush rolled in around the jewelry counter, disguised in feminine chatter freewheeling over clearance tables. On the far side where he stood, the air came alive, like how it does before a thunderstorm, deceptively still. I hadn’t noticed his presence, at least not by my usual measuring sticks—my five senses—the real stuff of my existence, like being inside my body with its all-too-familiar cushiness since the pregnancy. Here on the first floor of Columbus, Ohio’s preeminent downtown department store, a glimmer of light was about to arrive at the end of a very long dark tunnel, wherein dwelt the interminable quagmire (i.q.) that followed high school graduation and delayed my first day of college by two—and one-quarter—years.

This is not my first foray into authorship. It began with a mere six words back in 2008. A contest was issued, and thousands of concise life stories poured into Smith Magazine for its debut six-word anthology, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure. I was over the moon when I found out my tiny memoir had been selected for the publication. In no time at all, the book became a New York Times Bestseller.

Perhaps one day I’ll go from obscure to famous, and up the ante on those six words. 🙂

Two years following that publication, I won a flash fiction contest that had very specific criteria. My 101-word story “Tarragon” was published in an issuu chapbook online, entitled Dog Days of Summer: Not From Here Are You? The funny thing about this little fictional story is—and I only connected the dots about this recently—it relates storywise tp my just-published memoir/nonfiction in Voices of Magic.

The criteria for the flash fiction submissions were: 1) The story had to be exactly one hundred and one words (not including the title); 2) it had to contain both words heat and summer. And that’s all I have to say about that.

A Gathering of Human and Faerie Magicians in Maui

The “What’s in it for Me?” Moment

Posted in Creativity and Chaos on March 16, 2022 by coyotescribe

Everyone knows about the “all is lost” moment in storytelling, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s that critical juncture, the unanswerable question, the impossible choice. It’s the lowest point of the hero’s journey, where he or she is out on a limb without hope of deliverance, the farthest distance from achieving the goal.

Hollywood knows it well, and likes to pump up the pressure around it, sometimes to tire-blowing extremes—tacitly or explicitly notching up the audience’s capacity to suspend belief and be seduced into riding the magic carpet higher and higher, above the mundane and too close to the sun.

But what about a more elusory What’s in it for Me? moment—when the character goes all-selfish on the situation, having otherwise spent most of the story in selfless acts and courageous—and/or—foolish obedience to the mystical promise that sent him/her/they on the journey in the first place?

The What’s in it for Me? moment might piggyback on the “all is lost” moment—perhaps while standing out there at the edge of the abyss. Maybe not: “Hmmm, don’t think I want to case this joint and handcuff the dark knight.”

Perhaps instead, What’s in it for Me? dilly-dallies until there is some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with the possibility of revelation. This could be in close proximity to the climax, when the story stands to make good on its initial promise. And in that hopeful moment, in traipses the final resistance rearing its selfish head, rubber-banded back to an old paradigm, just as the ultimate payoff is around the corner.

When I completed my novel’s fifty-sixth chapter—don’t drop your jaw—I took a break. Sometimes I get weary of being ball-and-chained to online dictionaries, thesauruses, and rhyme zones, searching for words my brain only partly envision. Sometimes I sense just the first letter, or hear a syllable, or syllables, a suffix, what it means—my search for meaning—or maybe what a word sounds like, as in charades. All in deference to decoding the restless phantoms roaming my subconscious. Even in the midst of writing this post, it took me several minutes to figure out the word denouement. It wafted, audibly, through my cerebral cortex, unhitched to even the remotest semblance of spelling.

Nevertheless, my much-needed break took place in front of the TV, where I decided to experience Field of Dreams for the umpteenth time, the same movie I’d watched on my VCR in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake—once the electricity came back on and I hoisted the TV back on its stand. When I’d gotten to the end of the film’s closing credits, I rewound the tape and hit play, immersing myself all over again.

That day feels like yesterday, the day when I—temporarily unemployed due to earth-shaking reasons—was sprawled out on the couch inside my little one-bedroom, Dickens Street apartment in Sherman Oaks, the building so old that its structure cracked and creaked amenably with the rattle and roll. The place next door didn’t fare so well.


Can you believe someone made a picture postcard of the earthquake damage in Sherman Oaks? However, they missed the red-tagged building on Moorpark where someone had spray-painted The fat lady has sung on one slab of a severed wall.

During the much-later March 2022 viewing of my favorite movie, I got something new out of it. I had my own revelation, a flash of insight. I realized that I had just written my own version of the “What’s in it for Me?” moment in chapter fifty-six—given to one of my prominent characters. Her dialog is not on-the-nose, but still, the moment was exactly what it was, the What am I getting out of this journey? moment. In other words, What’s in it for me?

Here you can watch the Field of Dreams’ What’s in it for me? moment, but if you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and experience the story from beginning to end first.

And now the excerpt from Chapter Fifty-Six of my novel, Path of TotalityWhat’s in it for Me?:

“The falsehoods I told Colliers magazine back in 1952—well—” She slapped her leg. “Well THAT, they could believe. So if the world wants to take a gander at the white embroidered initials, they can just keep guessing what E.E. stands for.” Emma stood, a flush of color rising to her cheeks. “Don’t worry, I’m not signing my name in any book.” She turned back to Beth and said, “And they’ll never fucking know who I was, inside or out, will they?”
This was followed by a run to the closet and grabbing her coat. Beth asked, “Where are you going?”
“Taking a walk.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No,” Emma shouted. “Where are those cigarettes?”
“In the drawer of the end table. I’m coming with you.”
“Why should you? You don’t have anything to lose, Beth. You’re going to see John. And who am I gonna see?” Emma huffed over to the end table and grabbed the cigarettes and a matchbook, then slammed the drawer with such a fury that it tipped over her precious Vladimir Kagan table lamp. It crashed to the floor. “The Grim Reaper, that’s who!”

And the denouement? [SPOILER ALERT] In Field of Dreams it’s the game of catch that Kevin Costner’s character has with his deceased father, who’d come back to life as a younger man on Iowa’s field of dreams. He was the he in If you build it, he will come.

And my denouement? The realization that my as-yet-to-be-written chapter fifty-seven will spill out the climax of the novel. I’ve been waiting for years to write that scene. My novel is almost done!

Novel Writing: Worst Fears Coming to Light

Posted in Creativity and Chaos on February 18, 2022 by coyotescribe

This day I came to 500 pages

In almost every chapter so far, I’ve had a meltdown:

What am I doing?

I’m a fool

Not just a temporary fool

But for permanent—

A permanent fool

*

I revised my fifty-fifth chapter and— 

I’m lagging behind my better judgment

Shoulda ended this thing ten months ago

What am I going to do now?

Honestly, more scared of mediocrity than really, really bad 

After devoting time in counted years

Spreading like an oil spill upon the page

*

This is the story my characters are telling

If I got it right

Will they see the light at the end of the prolonged, dark tunnel?

And now it’s my responsibility to write the final pages?

Do I even have the right?

Kinda feelin’ low down

Maybe they should’ve picked someone else

What were they thinking?

The Care and Feeding of the Sex Scene

Posted in Creativity and Chaos, Working magic on December 26, 2021 by coyotescribe

I needed several days to nourish and shape the narrative. During which I had in-body experiences.

The debate with myself—over whether to write the scene full-blown or not—didn’t take long. I wouldn’t even call it a debate, to tell you the truth. The story needed a candid encounter, and so did my characters, and—dare I say?—so does the reader. I anticipated the sexy landing a few chapters back, so I started leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.

Once the scene finally arrived—in chapter fifty-one—if I hadn’t given it the detail it craved—and deserved—the ensuing unravel of the novel’s climax (pardon the pun) would’ve seemed too far off. How I calculated this, I couldn’t exactly tell you. It’s one of those beyond-logic things that happens—as implied by coyotescribe’s blog logline. 

For a while I’d been worried, because the story kept pushing farther out, on a high-hanging limb. However, any drag on forward motion was not boring. At least not to me. This novel has grabbed me by the orbs and taken me on a magic carpet ride—with the notable exceptions of periodic freak-outs, plummets into sinkholes, and hard-hitting bouts of self-doubt… and worst of all, my erroneous thinking that I know better how to write the story than my characters.

View from Greeley Square Park, New York City

I’ve experienced a lot of background noise, especially after exceeding 110,000 words. While hammering away and racking up a bodacious word count, I thought if I wrote faster, I’d have less words to contend with. The opposite is actually true. But—finally—the sex scene was on the page, and the turning of the story opened a straight shot to The End—with maybe only four more chapters to write, and maybe two to three more mystical bombs going off.

Note here: I just started writing Chapter Fifty-Four, and maybe I was a bit premature in thinking the tail-end narrative would aim itself like an arrow. The past three chapters were straighter, but also took a detour. On this Christmas day—2021—The End is near.

It wasn’t sexual tension that turned a detailed erotic encounter into a necessity—well, maybe in part—but more correctly, it was resistance-to-love tension. My main character is a wounded Vietnam Veteran. The first chapter begins ten years after his return from the war. It would take him time to trust love. What also needed to play out in the narrative was the his-and-her backstory: 1962 – when John and Cindy knew each other for seven days, at 12 and 9 years old.

Their childhood adventure is dispersed throughout the current story timeline—a map that unfolds their past friendship, and details the abrupt departure from it. Sixteen years later, they need to acclimate, not only to the circumstances by which they find themselves together again—a mystical materialization of Cindy’s old photos from her long lost camera, returned on a light beam through the ether into their world—but to come to terms with each other as adults. As sexual beings. All of that takes time and a few chapters. It’s one of the many things which make this story a swirling roadmap, only partially tethered to space-time.

The sex scene takes place in the middle of night—not for the writer—but for her characters. The writer sits at her computer sipping a cup of white tea with honey and goat milk, midmorning, her usual writing-start-time.

Tysa at the computer writing.

The writer sees everything and has to decide which details are enough, or too much. I had to do it in a way that felt like I wasn’t invading my characters’ privacy. But I also couldn’t just stay on other side of a closed door. Of course, I had to know everything, and be as involved in the intimacy as they were.

After I did a final edit of the chapter, I searched online for some advice about writing sex scenes, and stumbled onto a good article posted on the NY Book Editors site, entitled, “Make It Sexy: How to Write Sex Scenes.”

It seems I’d inadvertently checked all but one box in their list of dos & don’ts, plus one they didn’t mention, which to me underscores the main reason why or why not: Does the sex scene provide an important component in character development? Here is my checklist:

  • Having sex is a move my characters would actually make, they needed to make. And I did not force the issue.
  • The scene definitely catapults the story forward.
  • My motivation was not to disappoint the reader—by not including (or including) the scene. Though, I do think about giving the reader the best ingredients to bake their cake and eat it too.
  • My characters are in their thoughts many times throughout the novel, but during the sex scene—written in my main character’s POV—he’s not thinking much.
  • Yes, I think this scene is beautiful and soulful. A memory begins it, and a poem is read by its author, just as he’d written it to her—in her diary—in 1962 when he was a boy. When he finishes reading it out loud, the scene begins: The air hung still as John closed the diary, resting it between his palms—the echo of his words swallowed in silence.
  • I was gutsy, not cutesy, with my word choices. Certain words are best left to the dime romances, like bulge or member.
  • This was a suggestion, but I didn’t study other sex scenes—either in R-rated movies or novels—other than what was in my memory. This scene was the experience of my two main characters. So, my imagination bridged whatever gap I might’ve widened without research.
  • No-No-No—I did not write the scene in public. The only thing I do as a writer in public is listen, and on occasion get an idea that will be developed—yes, that’s right—in the solitude of my writing space.
  • Editing furiously is like my middle name, and it wasn’t any different during the writing of my sex scene.

When I impose my will on my characters, it doesn’t go well in my writing. When I let them impose their will on me, it’s one revelation after another.

The Soundtrack of Prose and Other Story Timeline Anchors

Posted in Creativity and Chaos on September 27, 2021 by coyotescribe

CaveatThis is some crazy shit, writing a 2400-word blog post when I’m only three chapters away from the end of my novel.
If it wasn’t for the massive road block in Chapter 50, this word spillage would’ve never happened. Take it as you will. It’s okay to just look at the pictures. I’m no expert on any of this stuff. But here it is, another clambake celebrating my writing process.

Just for fun I thought I’d go foraging through my novel for musical treasures. One of the fringe benefits of writing a story like mine—historical 20th century epic fantasy with no rev limiter—is I get to be my own music supervisor. I’m responsible for the interludes that underscore, reflect, and juxtapose emotional states of my characters. I decide when and how to lyrically and musically emboss the printed word and lingual atmosphere. Excellent!

My song delivery devices are often automobiles. The ones in my novel would now be considered très vintage. Chapter one begins on Sunday morning, August 13, 1978. By the end of the first paragraph, my main character is turning up the volume on his 8-track player while driving his 1966 blue Chevy Impala down a Southern Minnesota highway:
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

I’m sidewinding a bit into ancillary sound tricks: emotional sound effects in the words. One way to describe it is: listening to the tone of the sentences. Is my character sinking deep into soul (feminine energy—earth—sorrow, beautiful sadness, gentle, tender, courageous), or lifting high to access spirit (masculine energy—sky—inspired, protective, determined, and standing on that watchtower)? What about writing an unremitting ostinato to build tension? Or, what does a gentle breeze sound like when it causes ripples over the surface water?

Often I read aloud, to see if a sentence flows musically. Though, in writing, it is not preferable to have a string of sentences with a repetitive cadence. There are exceptions. For example: writing a chase scene, where cropped sentences with similar rhythmic patterns can stimulate speed or urgency. Flow in writing is mostly not the same as flow in music, and maybe a connecting bridge might be the flow of poetry. However, the poet boundary dweller is not how all writers function. Sometimes writers are painters, spilling words like liquid color over canvas. Sometimes they are philosophers, thoughtful in delivery, seekers of love and truth. And then sometimes the writer is a musician boundary dweller, striking a balance between the dark and light, soul and spirit, dissonance and consonance.

To read more: poet boundary dweller.

I do think about—or overthink—sentence arrangement, like words as railway carriages on a passenger train. The delivery of story information is obviously important, but the vista-dome lounge car needs to be nestled between coach seating and the dining car. At the rear of the train, is there another observation car before the sleeping cars? Does the engine come first? Is the real gem of the scene pulling the train? Maybe. Maybe not. Which arrangement best unfolds the mystery, or suits the character’s POV?

And then there are the in-between narratives that—if a novel were to be scripted for a TV series, let’s say—would need a music soundtrack to underpin these interconnecting components of story. And since I am the music supervisor for my novel, maybe I’d be consulted for any expatiation of these undocumented storylines. I’m just doing a little fantasizing here. Dreaming is the only way I’m going to be published in the first place—with fifty chapters and 120,000 words and counting. (That’s for another post.)

What is she talking about? What does she mean by in-between narratives??

There is plenty of backstory and forward story, and tangential story, which doesn’t get included in a completed work of fiction, except where the author decides she must aim the arrow for clarification—walking a thin tightrope. On one side is the danger of falling into the dreaded reader feeder that brings the story to a screeching halt. On the other side: if something becomes unclear, the reader is gonna invariably ask questions that would also stop the flow.

The overall goal is: revealing only what is needed to unfold and keep the mystery alive while advancing the story and enticing your book devourers into wanting more. Basically—doing everything possible to prevent readers from surfacing out of your world and back into theirs. And that is no small feat!

Some of what the author knows about her characters and events remains on the cutting room floor. That deeper connection is a sumptuous component of intimacy. These forays and abandoned tidbits might be fodder for those additional episodes for that TV series. You see? 🙂

As the selector of songs for my novel, it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a pro musician since 1969—well, until I fell off that moonlit hayride at the onset of the pandemic, leaving me to walk home by the silvery glow, right back into my novel, which I’d shelved in 2011.

photo credit: Primrose Farm, Illinois—moonlit hayrides begin October 5

As a musician and songwriter, choosing songs to include in the narrative is particularly fun, especially since the main storyline is set in the late 1970s—at the height of my touring days as a rock keyboardist. However, the novel’s not about musicians—except one secondary character who doesn’t appear until the end of chapter forty. The story’s main thoroughfare crosses through Southern Minnesota in August of 1978—same location as the prominent backstory in August of 1962. In between is Vietnam, important to my main character and two other important Veterans in the story. The reader gets glimpses into some of what they experienced as soldiers, but it is not where the story resides.

1979-Tysa with Blue Max
Tysa – 1979, with Blue Max at Lou & Jerry’s, Lafayette, Indiana

I don’t ever want my readers to be pulled forward in time, so not only is the language I use a barometer for the story’s time period, but also the music selections—all being anchors to the timeline.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie Somewhere in Time, DON’T READ the next two paragraphs UNTIL you do—which I highly recommend.]

To say it in a different way: I don’t want my book readers to be a casualty of the 1979 penny from the great film narrative Somewhere In Time. Christopher Reeve’s character is a successful playwright who has writer’s block, so he sets out on a road trip in search of inspiration. He is led to the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and is then drawn into a photograph of a famous actress from sixty years prior. He finds a way to go back in time from 1980 to 1912 to find her. But he must wear the proper clothing of the time, use the correct coinage, have the appropriate haircut, and remove all evidence of the current time period—including anything in the pockets of his vintage suit. As he goes to sleep in the hotel, he listens to a recording he’d made on a General Electric P-ST cassette recorder—his own voice repeating truisms: that he’s lying in his bed at the Grand Hotel, and it is six o’clock in the evening on June 27, 1912.

After an unsuccessful restless night, he ends up hiding that current-day machine under the bed. He repeats the mantras as he goes to sleep and wakes up in 1912, meets her, falls in love, and in a merry morning-after, she teases him about his old suit. He overshot his backward in time clothing. As he teases her back, showing off all the wonderful hidden pockets, he pulls out the 1979 penny. And the rest, as they say, is history. He is sucked back into 1980 and basically dies of heartbreak.

Moral of the story (the writing of): Check all the freaking pockets of your vintage clothing if you’re gonna go back in time!!

So yeah, language, music, historical references, and all timeline anchors must be authentic to the story’s time period. Good note to end on. Here are my musical anchors:

Chapter One (August 13, 1978): Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” In my story, someone is looking out for this Vietnam Veteran. But who?

Chapter Three (July 30, 1962): Brian Hyland’s “Sealed with a Kiss,” played by radio DJ Chuck Friendly on KDWB, Minneapolis, wafting from the radio of a 1958 Plymouth Station Wagon.

Chapter Five (late summer, 1960), The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” song playing on the radio inside Crosby’s Coffee Shop and Bar on the shore of Pyramid Lake, NV.

Chapter Six (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” car radio of a beige 1973 Dodge Dart.

Chapter Seven (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): “What Now My Love” – a song being sung by a rest area janitor as he cleans the bathrooms, his unrestrained tenor streaming out through waffled air-holes under the facility roof, reminding my main character—who waits inside his 1966 Chevy Impala—of his first day in Vietnam (November 10, 1967), when Mitch Ryder’s voice drifted from the officer’s tent as John stood before his new lieutenant, wearing crisp new fatigues.

Chapter Nine (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): My secondary character bursts into song while driving her 1973 Dodge Dart—the Fritos jingle: Munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a, Fritos go with lunch.

Chapter Thirteen – a story between time, before time, as told by my main character (who is half Ojibwe American Indian) to his childhood friend on the fourth day of their knowing each other—Thursday, August 2, 1962. In the story, the song is sung by a dashing memegwesi (hairy-faced nature spirit) on the fourth day of the boy being trapped inside thunder mountain. When the song is over, the mountain opens up. Between narratives are flashforwards to Vietnam.

Chapter Fifteen (reference to “I’m a little Teapot” children’s song)

Chapter Nineteen (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road.” Cindy wanted to lose time, stop time, hold time back, study his face like an album cover, first song to last, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Goodbye Emma June. Time was moving too fast. The Flintstones glasses were empty, and now she was helping John lift the object out of the fishing box.

Chapter Nineteen – Her thoughts descended like glitter in water, until they landed as an epiphany: she had already come right to it. She said it so fast, “Three days after you made me sing ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,’ she hadn’t noticed him summoning those memories out of her. Not until she took a breath.

Chapter Nineteen (Sunday, August 5, 1962): Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” played by radio DJ Chuck Friendly on KDWB, Minneapolis, wafting into a 1958 Plymouth Station Wagon. The song on the radio was fading out, but Cindy kept singing along with Little Eva, to distract her dad from the I-Spy-John game.

Chapter Twenty-Seven (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Barry Manilow’s “Even Now,” played on a transistor radio on top of filing cabinets against the wall of a bare-basic park recreation office in Waterville, Minnesota. Station: 830 AM WCCO, Minneapolis. Cindy tried to ignore it, but the song’s languid tempo agitated her. The words too close, clinging like saran wrap

Chapter Twenty-Seven (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me,” still on that transistor radio atop filing cabinets. The song ignited her free-spirited spark and changed everything, the way music does, reminding her of what a soul wants, and what a soul needs. And what Cindy needed were some answers, just like Carly.

Chapter Thirty (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Cream’s “White Room,” a song blaring from John’s 1966 blue Chevy Impala’s radio – The lyrics were poetic, more than in other rock songs. John never talked about his poetry, or about the stash of hand-written poems in his old knapsack, some of which had survived through Vietnam.

Chapter Thirty (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): The Romantics’s “Talking in Your Sleep,” another song playing on the ‘66 Chevy Impala’s radio, after being punched to 830 AM by its passenger wanting to get the Minnesota Twins’ game time. An unfortunate song dribbled out like a leaky faucet with a happy beat, something about talking in your sleep. “I’m not listening to that shit.”

Chapter Thirty-Five (Wednesday, August 16, 1978 – A memory of one of two women who reside in a Montana Otherworld. Elizabeth closed her eyes, and let the dancing flames take her back to the little girl with the long black braids, to the laughter that knew no bounds echoing across the Canadian countryside, to her father circling the campfire, holding his daughter, splashes of color and jingles ringing everywhere on the people as the drums played and songs sung to the evening sky.

Chapter Thirty-Eight (Thursday, August 17, 1978): They stood around the Dodge’s trunk, feasting on a spread of scrambled eggs, sausage links, biscuits and gravy, and home fried potatoes. The moment was wordless except for Eric Clapton’s voice singing “I Shot the Sheriff,” wafting out from John’s 8-track player into the morning air.

Chapter Thirty-Eight (Thursday, August 17, 1978): Again, Eric Clapton. Silence hung in the balance, a space between songs on the 8-track. Then the atmosphere filled with the opening blues guitar riff for “I Can’t Hold Out,” dismantling John’s last line of defense. It was Marty’s favorite song.

Chapter Forty-One (Sunday, August 20, 1978): Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a song being performed live at a soldier’s funeral, by his little sister, Sarah. Quote from this scene below the dove photo. 

Chapter Forty-Four (Sunday, August 20, 1978): Original song, music written by Sarah, to the lyrics of one of John’s poems. “One Less Soldier.” I have yet to finish the poetry and the music for this song. It’s different channeling my character through poetry and music, rather than prose. An interesting challenge, but one I am honored to take on. 

Chapter Forty-One excerpt:

I’m ready to go anywhere. I’m ready for to fade, into my own parade. Cast your dancing spell my way. I promise I’ll go under it.

Suddenly, a sound resembling a fluttering flute crossed the space in a blur, until the mourning dove landed on the ground between Sarah and John, and started to bob its head and walk in a circle. Sarah kept playing, looking at the dove, her voice holding steady. The soft-feathered spirit seemed content to have her serenade him. Then his mate cooed from a distant tree branch, until another flutter of wings brought them together in the grass, an implausible spectacle.

Sarah was a trooper, even as she kept it together to the last refrain: Hey Mister Tambourine man, play a song for me, in the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following

The last word was never sung. Silence swallowed the void. Sarah stood up, and the doves flew away.

* * *

My Characters

Posted in Creativity and Chaos with tags , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2021 by coyotescribe

I enter their world every day, and come back with new revelations. Sometimes those revelations tell me to stop, to breathe, and to let in what just happened in the writing. So, I take a break. And eat. Which means I have to wash the dishes first. Unless I make a smoothie. Then I’m good for a while. Today, instead of eating or washing dishes, I took my exhalation to a blog post. Hello.

My novel is coming along—currently in the thick of chapter forty-five. I continually edit earlier chapters, too, via bi-monthly writers critique group zoom meetings. This week was chapter thirty-four. I am reasonably polished, with one-hundred-ten-thousand words and counting.

I’m not saying I’m Diana Gabaldon, but after reading all the books of her Outlander series, I do understand why her shortest was a mere 743 pages. I’m only at 400, and I figure I’ll be done before I reach 500. I’m close to the end… almost sure of it.

My story travels through time, weaves in and out of realities, and is a mix of fantasy and 20th Century historical—1978 being the main thread. The lion’s share of backstory takes place in 1949, 1960, 1962 and 1968. So, yeah. Talk about research. I’m doing mine all the while. But the fantasy part is all in my imagination, which is wild and vivid, and full of grace.

This is my first novel, so maybe with my word count I haven’t given myself a fighting chance to be published. But it is what it is, and I can’t stop now. I have mulled over pages and pages, all over the damn pages, a perennial nature of chapter tweaking. I leave no stone unturned. As far as I can tell, there’s not much more I can cut—unfortunately or not.

With my main character—and his love opponent, plus two additional characters living a Montana otherworld orchestrating their reunion—divergent paths all lead to Totality, including all their backstories, which sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t. It’s a 10,000-piece puzzle. And there are only a few pieces left to insert—landscape and sky pieces, heretofore undetectable shadowy pieces, and the crowning-glory pieces.

I have always known where the story ends, but the long and winding road that gets me there has been the most incredible journey, traversing timelines and worlds, people and history, some of it earthbound, some of it out of this world.

And I’m in there every day just waiting for the miracles, not because I’m desperate, but because I know they’re somewhere down that inward highway. And I’m going to find them—inside my characters.

Update on My Long-Awaited Debut Novel…

Posted in Creativity and Chaos on June 5, 2021 by coyotescribe

I’m working on chapter forty-four. The novel keeps getting longer, the ending farther out… but I swear I’m close! Here is an excerpt: the opening to chapter thirty-seven:

Through the windshield, John watched the clouds dissipate in the night sky. Behind their wispy veils, black velvet and diamonds, to earth fell a fiery turmoil, scattered, wet, soundless, but for one coyote’s howl… In his head, he was cogitating poetic verse. Everything he imagined led him back to her. They’d ridden in silence for a little while, just seemed right somehow. The familiar rumble of his Chevy on the highway sounded different with Cindy driving it. He wanted to tell her everything, but held back. There was so much to say, and no place to begin. The blanket he’d retrieved from the trunk was now draped over his legs as he leaned back in the passenger seat. The blasting defroster had transformed their cold wet clothes into warm wet clothes—no more shivers from Cindy, far less pain in his knee. He wanted it to stay like this forever, but would settle for however long it lasted.

A Crazy Four Months

Posted in Creativity and Chaos with tags on July 14, 2020 by coyotescribe

I couldn’t have imagined working this fervently on a novel, the one I started in 2008 and shelved in 2011. I’m sharing some of the fun with a sampling of vintage photos and postcards relevant to the storyline, which had numerous incarnations dating back to the early 2000s—versions that weren’t right. But now I’m rounding the bend to the finish line. Each chapter takes time to get right, and each chapter is a victory. Loose ends are flowing back into the main plot, ball bearings rolling into their round slots. The whole thing is way too epic for my expertise. But still, I can’t get enough. Amid chaos of COVID, creativity has burgeoned. There’s no going back.

Link to novel research page with vintage images

1970s-Lyndale Motel-wcT

The Poet Boundary Dweller

Posted in Creativity and Chaos, Working magic with tags on June 11, 2020 by coyotescribe

Is it bad that I labor over sentences before I can move on in my writing? I don’t think so. My boundary dweller is the poet, not the painter. The painter pours out words. I labor. It has to sound right. Because, for me, somewhere in the midst of the quagmire, I find the flow and discover little gems, sometimes unbeknownst to me and only to my characters. These little gems are setups (or upsets), and happen through the efficiency of magic. And I desire to make them happen in no less than once every couple of paragraphs—gems that fuel mystery, or gems that are just plain awe-striking. Maybe this is why it has taken me over ten years to write twenty-eight chapters. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel: in my novel, and in my life.

Point Dume-mystery

I will write about the four boundary dwellers later. I just had to post this, along with a very cool photo I took back in 2004, when the idea for my novel was beginning to brew, and years of research initiated.

p.s. Be sure to read my previous essay about navigating self-doubt… … … if you’d like.