Thursday, February 19, 2015

Empty Arms

Empty Arms

By Diana Hunter
inspired by Steve Duprey’s painting of the same name


The hard edges scraped against the tin roof, squealing like fingernails on a chalkboard. Not the newer boards found in today’s classrooms. What a progression there. You could trace it backwards. SmartBoards replaced whiteboards replaced green boards of luan. You had to go back a long way to get to real slate. Heavy, but good for drawing on. And for truly driving your teacher crazy if you skipped cutting your fingernails one week.
Emma’s shoulders hunched as the scrape came again. “That damn tree,” she muttered. “Should’ve cut it down years ago.”
Rain, fat drops of it, splattered against the window and she swore again. She’d closed all the windows at the first sign of darkness on the horizon, but got up to check them again. Each was tightly shut and latched. ‘Course that didn’t mean the curtains didn’t make little dances in the breeze that squeezed its way through the cracks.
A flash of light startled her, but her mind counted automatically. “One alligator, two alligator…” She made it to seven before the roll of thunder reached her. There was time.
She wasn’t alone. Barnaby was around somewhere. Probably hiding under the big bed upstairs. Scaredy-cat. Literally.
But George wasn’t home and she paced, worried he might’ve left the store early, trying to get home before the bad weather struck. Her hand hovered over the phone, tempted to call and tell him to stay put.
But that would let him know she was worried. Scared to stay in the house during a thunderstorm and she didn’t want to hear his gentle teasing. She was an adult. No need to be worried over things that she couldn’t control.
Another flash, another screech across the tin roof, another jump of her nerves.
Definitely time to take that tree down.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Stone Mountains


The Stone Mountains have existed in my imagination for decades. They are a central location of The Companion, an as-yet-unpublished fantasy story and, the moment I first saw this painting of Steven’s, it was as if he’d gone inside my head and pulled the picture from my imagination.

 The story’s two protagonists, Martin and Kiera, both have heard fables about the dangers of going up into the mountains. These two excerpts from the novel describe their concerns about this mysterious mountain range.


From Kiera’s story:

A small fence separated the garden from the rest of the farmyard, the gate currently open and inviting. Kiera couldn’t resist stepping onto the garden’s teeming earth, feeling the tendrils of power curl around her bare feet. She lifted the hem of her robe and dug her toes in deep.
“How do you keep your feet warm when you go into the snows?”
Kiera turned to see Ham the younger hanging over the top of the fence, the pail of water he’d been sent to get sitting beside him, only half full. The path to the well showed where the rest of the water had gone to…a trail of wet splotches led right to Ham’s feet.
“Earth Mothers don’t go up into the mountains, Ham. ‘An Earth Mother who crosses the Mountain’s Foot is lost forever,’” Kiera quoted. How she’d hated those lessons with Mother Abbess. Until being accepted by the One and sent to study at Earthhome, Kiera really hadn’t given geography much thought. All right, so she sometimes had wondered what lay beyond her own town’s flat fields and small woods, but really, curiosity had never been her curse.
But at school, learning more about the land they called Splithome gave her a desire to see the places drilled into them as forbidden. Repeating the lesson now as much as for Ham as for herself, she told him, “The Stone Mountains support no life, sapping the power of the Earth Mother until even our Companions cannot save us.”
“I won’t let the mountains hurt you, Earth Mother. I’m gonna go there when I’m bigger. I’m gonna climb the tallest one and stand up on top of it and look at the whoooole world!”
His mother had other plans for him. “Yes, well, you can do that after you’ve delivered the water to the Companion. He’ll need it to rinse. Get going.”

 From Martin’s story:   

 Martin had heard the legends about the Stone Mountains, of course. Every first year Candidate knew the warnings by heart, though Martin discounted the stories of ghosts and haunting screams, knowing those were just tales to frighten children. He was more concerned with the tales that spoke of Sky Fathers who had made the attempt to cross and who had gone mad. Upon their return, they gibbered of a “great emptiness” and “wasteland like no other.” Their insanity, however, made it difficult to understand. The few who came back died not long after their return.
Martin, however, was fully Renewed and determined to discover what lay on the other side. The tales had been full of stories on that account, too, filled with wild savages and unholy beasts who roamed the far side of the mountains.
Taking his horse by the reins, Martin turned toward the road leading upwards. Path, really. The old Stone Road that started at the western shore and wound its way through Renthom theoretically continued up and over the Stone Mountains and down into the land on the other side. Years of neglect, however, had narrowed it considerably after it left Anre’s farm. What lay before him now would permit two men walking side-by-side in comfort, three at a squeeze. Too steep to ride a horse, however.
Squaring his shoulders for what might lay ahead, he stepped up the path -- and stopped dead.
His powers were gone.

Paintings by Steven Duprey (www.dupreyart.com)


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Painting-Inspired Writing - or is that Writing Inspired Painting?

The Franklin Street Gallery, located in Watkins Glen, NY (yes, they have more than NASCAR racing there!) is an art gallery that promotes local artists. My husband has shown pieces there several times. For their spring show, however, they're doing something a little different: each painting needs to be accompanied by a story or poem inspired by the painting.

What a cool idea! My painter husband, of course, turned to his writer wife and and said, "So, have any of my paintings inspired you?"

Please understand, he primarily paints landscapes, I write mostly character-driven stories. The two subject matters are very different. So I had to answer no, with a caveat.

Early on in his painting career, he painted a small picture (12x12 Acrylic on Canvas) of small mountain range in winter. I took one look at it and told him he couldn't sell it. It was going in my study. Why?

For several decades now I've been working on a fantasy. Without going into too much detail, there is a mountain range that extends the width of the border between two countries. Nothing grows there and no one who ventures along the Stone Road into the mountains ever returns. From either side. As a result, these mountains serve as a very definitive divider to keep the two peoples apart.

My husband had painted the Stone Mountains.

Of course, he didn't know that he had. He was just painting what was in his imagination. Scary that it was in mine, too. Or a sign that we've been married for a long time (34 years coming up in June!). :)

I brought down the painting to show him and he sighed. It was an early painting and he's a better painter than that now. I don't see anything wrong with the painting as it is, but then again, I'm no art critic. I just know what I like. And I like this painting.

Another problem arose as we talked about it. All paintings shown in the gallery have to be available for sale, and I want to keep this one.

Solution? He'd paint another painting of the same set of mountains and put that one in the show so I could keep the one that spoke to me. Is it any wonder I love him?

He can submit three paintings and their accompanying written piece to this show. "Stone Mountains" will be one of them. The second one is a painting my daughter wrote to. The third? I chose a painting of his and used it to inspire a short scene of a brand-new piece. His painting is entitled "Empty Arms."

Almost two years ago I wrote a writing workshop on using paintings as inspiration, and here I am, putting my workshop into practice. Whether we're talking photos (See the stories inspired by James McAvoy and Chris Pratt), or paintings, other media can inspire some fun writing.

I'll post the paintings and their companion writings in a separate post. Watch for them coming soon. And, if you're in Watkins Glen, stop in at the Franklin Street Gallery on the main drag. The opening reception is this Friday night and the show runs for a few weeks.

Play safe,
Diana

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Being Dyslexic

Preface: I teach Freshman Composition at Finger Lakes Community College. The first term paper the students do is a reflection on an issue. In the course of our discussion on Tuesday, I mentioned my dyslexia and the resulting coping strategies I've developed over the years. One of my students asked if I had ever written about my experiences and I realized, I never had. Not sure why I haven't, but she got me to thinking and I decided to do the assignment right along with them. 

I wrote the below as a blog post, since that's the form most of my essays take these days. I then did a "Save As" and made a formal term paper out of it to show the differences in formatting. It was a fun exercise. :)

So here is my essay, On Being Dyslexic. Enjoy!

I’ve always had trouble with phone numbers. People would tell me their number, I’d write it down, and invariably, get it wrong. Repeating the number back to them until I’d memorized it seemed a safer venture, but mostly, all I got out of this was a fear of dialing numbers.

Seriously. I hate making phone calls. Even in this age of digital everything, if I have to key in a number, I have tremendous anxiety issues. Will I get the person I actually meant to dial? Have I keyed the number correctly? What if it’s a wrong number? I have to psych myself up just to dial the phone.

Today we’d call it a “learning disability” but back then (the 60’s and 70’s), you were just quirky. And no one caught on. Why? Because spelling was easy – I had no trouble with letters except for words that contained both a “b” and a “p”. If I had to write the words “but put” in the same sentence, invariably I got them wrong the first time and had to erase or cross out and rewrite them. Which I did, so no one noticed a problem. In math, it was only 9’s and 6’s that gave my any trouble and again, I could usually spot the mistake quickly and fix it before it got to being graded by the teacher.

There was one trait, however, that often frustrated me: I’d say “spring” when I meant “fall” or “winter” when I meant “summer.” For some odd reason, I’d say “purple” when it was clearly “orange”. “Hot/cold”, “up/down” and “right/left” were other mix-ups that made no sense to me. I clearly could see that fruit was orange, so why would the word “purple” come out of my mouth? My parents would always just look at me funny and correct me. It seemed to be a problem to no one but me, so I just accepted it as part of my nature and moved on.

Until I saw a TV program about a boy who told the cops he was 81, when he was 18. He often got opposites mixed up and couldn’t read or write well. The actor who played the role was Kurt Russell and I was madly in love with him (still am!), which is probably why we were watching the show in the first place. The Storefront Lawyers ran only a single season and played opposite The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which we watched all the time.

(NOTE: It took me a LOT of web-searching to find that information out. All I could remember was Kurt Russell playing the part of a dyslexic teenager. Two hours later, I found the obscure show listings that match my memory. You can find the TV listing for Wednesday, November 18, 1970 here, and a longer description of the series here.)

Anyway, in that episode, Russell plays Jerry, a kid the cops think is being disrespectful. The lawyers realize he’s dyslexic. I’d never heard the word before. But the character of Jerry and the resultant description of dyslexia fit me perfectly. I wasn’t quirky – I was dyslexic!

And I wasn’t alone.

It wasn’t just me, this switching of words and having troubles with certain letters.

Not that it changed much. Special Education at that time didn’t exist in the way it does now. No one diagnosed me and life continued much as it had. The only difference was my own attitude about myself. I wasn’t alone. There were others like me. There was no “cure” but I could adapt. That last part I figured out on my own.

By the time I got to college in the late 70’s, a great deal of work had been done on learning disabilities, dyslexia among them. Since my degree included certification in English (Theatre Major, Education minor), several of these disabilities were discussed in class – from the viewpoint of a teacher trying to teach material to students who have them. Listening and learning, I applied the coping strategies we were given to teach our students to my own situation.

Later, as a teacher, I recognized my own dyslexia was mild. I mix up a few words and hate phone numbers. When typing, I have a few words that will always come out wrong (“studnets” instead of “students” is my particular burden to bear), but I have had kids in my classroom who cannot read at all because the letters dance about on the page for them. They look once and the letters are in one order, they look again, the letters are now arranged differently in the word.

Those are the kids I feel the most for and it puts my own quirkiness into perspective. I never felt I had a disability, only a difficulty. While I was thrilled beyond measure to discover I wasn’t alone, I obviously didn’t need resource time or any test modifications. I used my coping strategies (a term I picked up in my first years of teaching, by the way) and got on with life.

And it was that attitude I tried to impart to my students. Just accept it and move on. Having a learning problem doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just means you have to find the way around or through it. For me, that meant going public. I mixed up letters on the board on occasion and rather than get flustered by it, I confessed my slight dyslexia to my students (all of whom knew what that meant by the 80’s). I told them they were my coping strategy. I counted on them to point out a mistake like that so I could correct it. I also tried to impart to them that a learning disability shouldn’t hold them back.

I have dyslexia. I’m also a writer. I’m an English teacher, a blogger and a writer of essays. I like words. My vocabulary is extensive because I read as much as I can as often as I can. I drive my husband and kids crazy because I still grab the opposite word from the one I want but it’s okay. They’ve learned to just translate in their heads. My future daughters-in-law are learning the same thing.

Several years ago, a counselor confronted me and told me to stop telling my students I was dyslexic when I clearly wasn’t. I was a teacher, for crying out loud. Teachers didn’t have learning disabilities. She asked me who made my diagnosis. I couldn’t very well say, “A TV series”, so I brushed off her question. I wish I could remember the rest of the conversation so I could tell you I took her to task for her biased statements, but I probably didn’t. I was still a young teacher then and a little afraid of those in power. The incident, however, made me realize all the more how important it was for kids to see a person who had become successful despite having a learning disability. In her attempt to get me to stop, that counselor did all my students a favor – I became even more of a champion of their successes.


So don’t ask me to make phone calls, and if you hear me grab the opposite word from the one that makes sense, don’t panic. Correct me in your head or correct me out loud, it doesn’t matter. I know my dyslexia and I’m fine with it.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Bar Fight

You may remember a challenge Wendi Zwaduk threw down in January? She posted black and white pictures and then challenged us to write something from it. I posted the first one I wrote and promised to post the other one here as well. Sorry it took so long, but this one has the picture with it. Gotta love some Chris Pratt fisticuffs! This story first appeared on my Facebook profile.

BAR FIGHT
by Diana Hunter
January 2014
All Rights Reserved

What was it people didn’t get about him? Did he send out some sort of vibe that said, “hit me? Come on and fight me?”
Colin stood, taking his time as his mind raced for a way out. But one look in the asshole’s eyes and he knew he was going home with bloody knuckles.
Blocking the first roundhouse wasn’t hard. The guy’s alcohol content had to be approaching a hundred proof. A block, a duck under, a step back. Still safe. He held up his hands, palms open. “You really don’t want to do this. Go home, sober up and tomorrow you won’t even remember this little...”
A sucker punch from the side and his head snapped as the stars danced before his eyes. Damn, he thought. Where the hell had that come from? A blow to the solar plexus and he gasped for air even as his training kicked in.
The asshole had friends. Of course he did. Colin slammed his fist to the opponent on his side without even standing up. The guy flew back, temporarily out of the fight. With any luck, bar patrons would hold him down until the cops came.
The chair he’d vacated was under his hand and he brought it up, just in time to fend off another roundhouse from the asshole. Maybe it was the only move the guy had. Shrugging, he swung the chair down, breaking both the chair and the arm. With a howl, the asshole fell to the ground, stupidly staring from Colin to his broken arm and back to Colin as if he couldn’t quite connect the two.
The bar patrons tossed the asshole’s friend in his direction, loving the fight. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw money changing hands. They were betting on this? He’d better get his share for giving them a good show. No way was he getting beaten up and not getting paid for it.
The friend, only two sheets to the proverbial wind, saw the remains of the chair in Colin’s hand and armed himself with a heavy beer mug. Colin sighed. That upped the ante. He smashed that on anything, let alone his head, and glass would shatter everywhere. People could get really hurt. He couldn’t have that. Using the chair back as a bat, he swung and the mug sailed through the smoky air to smash against the rows of hard liquor behind the bar.
There went his profit. Time to end this. He tossed the broken chair to the side and, with a one-two punch to the stomach and a single uppercut to the chin, the guy went down. Hard. Colin stepped back just as the police stepped through the door.
Damn.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Don't shoot me!

I need to preface this post by saying stories about vampires have never really been my “thing”. Dracula was okay, but Frankenstein was better. I read the Twilight series only because my daughter wanted to be able to talk about it and my neighbor loves it. I don’t even watch vampire movies. Just never got into them.

For the past two or three Christmases, I’ve asked my family for the same thing: get me a book you think I’d like to read. Doesn’t matter if they’ve read it or only read reviews, or got recommendations off my Amazon wish list, just put a little thought into what I like and find me a good book.

This December, my husband went reading the bestseller’s lists and found a fantasy series that made several of them. He bought me all three in the series and I was thrilled he spent the time finding something I’d like. The only thing is, he didn’t know about my lack of enthusiasm for vampires (and no, I never even read Interview with a Vampire – and didn’t see the movie until only a few years ago).

He bought me the All Soul’s Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The three books: A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life, were well-written, if a little pedantic. The author is a history professor by day and she occasionally falls into the historical fiction trap: knowing so much about a time period that you can’t help but throw in more information than is really necessary, just because you found it interesting.

(Sidenote: This is exactly the same trap I had to watch out for in THE REVOLUTION OF CLARA SIMPSON. I tried not to wallow in the history too much, but boy, it is tempting!)

Anyway, the book deals with witches and vampires and I read all three books because I did like the plot line, even if I was about ready to throttle the male protagonist by the middle of the second book. The author kept letting him grow...then yanking him back to a more animal-like state over and over. A setback or two I can understand, but there were far too many times he ran away from the female protagonist because he was afraid he was going to hurt her. It got redundant. And predictable.

But, as I said, I’m not a fan of the genre, so maybe this is par for the course. If you like vampires and witches, these books may be right for you. For me, they were just okay. Not keepers.

I read a couple of other books in January and will record those here soon.

Play safe,
Diana


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Taboo subjects

Like everyone else, I have the aches and pains that come with growing older. Just after Thanksgiving I went to get a cortisone shot in my bad knee (it’s been my “bad knee” since I was 20 and banged it on the corner of a concrete wall jumping from one platform to the next. You know, the way one does when one is 20 and invincible.). My doc said he had good news and bad news. Good news? It wasn’t so far gone as to need replacement. Bad news? It was too far gone for a shot of cortisone to have any effect. Only arthroscopy was going to take care of the arthritic buildup.

So, a week before Christmas, in I went for the surgery. I’ve had it done before. Twice. Once on each knee. So I knew what I was in for and wasn’t worried much. He found a small rip in my meniscus while he was in there and took care of that as well. Gave me pain meds and sent me home to heal.

Now, I hate taking pills. Passionately. Not because I’m against modern medicine (I LOVE modern medicine…it’s what makes me grateful to be born now and not a hundred years ago) but because it’s physically difficult for me to swallow them. I never got the hang of it. My husband and I made a pact: when it came time for the kids to learn how to take pills, he’d teach them. I suck at it.

As a result, I got off the pain meds as fast as I could. More because I hate taking pills than because I have some deep-seated need to be a martyr.

That surgery was another reason I worked so hard to finish THE REVOLUTION OF CLARA SIMPSON (formerly known by the working title: Revolution). I wanted a good, clean draft out to my beta readers to work on during the holidays—time I knew I’d be using for recuperation.

And then came the second surgery. I’ve not posted much about it because I was embarrassed. It involves a part of the anatomy no one talks about. Even with all the erotica that’s moved mainstream, this one part of our bodies still remains taboo: the ass. Yes, I had a hemorrhoidectomy.

My doc told me it was the most painful surgery that he knew of. I didn’t bother reading anything about it on the web ‘cause I didn’t want the horror stories. My parents both told me it was going to hurt, based on their knowledge of people who had been through it.

But I have a high pain tolerance. I’d been through two childbirths—one of which was induced (petocin makes for VERY painful contractions). I wasn’t scared.

Okay, I was a little scared.

But determined. Those same childbirths that gave me beautiful children, also gave me hemorrhoids. Lots of them. Told you this was still a taboo subject.

The surgery was January 14th and the first week, I relied heavily on the drugs to keep the pain under control. I have a marvelous husband who has put up with not one but two recoveries back-to-back and he hasn’t gotten impatient with me even once. I’m nominating him for sainthood. The second week was better and I’m down to one pain pill a day, plus a ton of ibuprofen. Even that, I’m starting to wean myself from. Remember, it isn’t the pills I hate, it’s taking them that gives me grief.

So why am I sharing all this now? To explain why I’ve been mostly absent from all social media, from this blog…from everything. Life got in the way of writing for a few weeks. It’s also my excuse for not getting many new words written this month, when my goal is pretty lofty for the year.
 
CLARA is back from the beta readers and I’m getting the mss ready. Still haven’t decided if I want to self-publish it or send it out to other publishers. I’m leaning toward the latter, but am open to suggestions (email or put them in the comments). By the way, Lynn LaFleur came up with the ultimate title for the book and will be getting a free copy of it when it’s published. Thank you, Lynn!
 
I’ve also gone back to my fantasy story—the one I’ve been working on for years. Did some work on it today, weaving together the hero and heroine’s stories. I’d originally planned it to be two books: one for her story and one for his. As I’m going through this, however, I’ve decided to tell both at the same time. I created a timeline back in October and today pulled in the last piece of what I had written for Martin’s story. From here on out for him, it’s all new writing (Kiera has another section finished, so it’ll be a while before I write new for her).

Basically, I told you all this to explain why, at the end of January, I have only 2743 words written so far (that’s blog writing and new/editing combined). That includes two short scenes I wrote as part of a writer’s challenge. I posted one of those scenes; will post the other here soon.

Let the healing and the writing commence for February!

Play safe,

Diana