Great Things Come in Small Packages
Greetings fellow story lovers!
Shortly after my young daughters and I began taking riding lessons, I dreamed of buying a horse of our own. In order to save money, I considered bidding for a wild horse at a Bureau of Land Management auction. I read many books and articles, and attended an auction where I wistfully stared at a pregnant mare. For only $125 I’d be able to get a mother and her foal. But I’d done enough research to know the many regulations about owning a wild horse. Furthermore, a horse newly captured from the Nevada range would take extensive training.
I never did buy a wild horse. It’s just as well since Candy, the quarter horse I ultimately purchased, turned out to be wild enough for me. But my research on wild horses gave me something else. The background which inspired my first novel, WHINNY OF THE WILD HORSES.
Great Things Come in Small Packages
Animals can be great teachers, and my horse Candy was one of the best. The first time we brought her and Shaton, our recently purchased Arabian, to our northern Wisconsin cabin, we enjoyed playing games such as jogging while trying to keep an egg on a spoon. The most fun, though, was exploring the woods. My daughter and I must have looked curious to the deer, because they stood mesmerized, trying to figure out these new six-legged species. One afternoon we rounded a bend to see a mother bear and her cub. Afraid the horses would spook, I tensed, ready for a buck, but the horses simply watched as the bears hurried into the brush.
Feeling pretty smug that we’d survived the week without major incidents, the time came to go home. Shaton walked right into the trailer, but Candy put two feet in, then backed out. She planted her hooves on the ground and wouldn’t move.
I tried sweet talking and tempting her with carrots. No luck. My husband tried using his strength, pulling her in, but there was no muscling a 1500-pound quarter horse. “Ride her until she’s so tired she’ll want to get in the trailer,” my husband said. (These were not his exact words, by the way, but this is a family blog.) I was skeptical but spent the next two hours galloping her down the trails. My butt and back were so sore I would have gladly ridden home in the trailer myself. Candy, however, was as spunky and stubborn as ever.
Desperate, I called a trainer in the area. Tina, who must have weighed 110 pounds, stepped out of her pickup along with her young daughter. My husband and I raised our eyebrows at one another. Tina pulled out a simple chain, attached it to a lead line, fastened it around Candy’s muzzle, rattled it so she’d know it was there, then walked her forward. Candy refused to move. Tina barked, “That’s enough!” She yanked down on the chain. Candy’s eyes widened. So did mine. “Back!” Candy backed and I think I caught sight of my husband taking a step back as well.
Tina called to her daughter, “Wave the whip.” She tugged on the chain and walked Candy toward the trailer. Candy promptly stepped ahead, then just like a uniformed soldier, stepped smartly into the trailer. The entire operation had taken less than five minutes.
As I shelled over Tina’s modest fee, she said, “Get yourself a bit of chain and you’ll be fine. It doesn’t hurt her. She just wants to know who’s in charge.”
As Tina walked toward her pickup, I once again took stock of the petite woman who had ended our six-hour nightmare. Great things come in small packages.
Storysharer would love to hear horse tales from you. Bring them on!
As a child, and okay, as an adult, too, I happily read Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books. His ability to describe his characters such as Soup’s nemesis, Janice Riker, is peachy. “She was the biggest and strongest and meanest kid that the world ever knew. She had the body of a hunched-back, bowlegged ape and the brain power of a fully ripened bean.” I could visualize her so easily. Along with physical descriptions, speech patterns or a character’s colloquialisms can add to our understanding of characters. My use of “peachy” above made you form judgements about me.
Bridget Birdsall, http://www.bridgetbirdsall.com, author of ORDINARY ANGELS, is a master at using colloquial dialogue, sensory language, and description to create memorable characters. The story is told through second-person, making it easy for the reader to picture herself as a character. You pull on your favorite frog-print pajamas as Helen barges through the door. ‘I”m not changing in front of him,” she says. She spots your church dress all bunched up in a ball on the radiator. “Better hang that up before you have to sleep in the pee-bed.” Words such as radiator and church dress ground us in the setting. Pee-bed not only characterizes but conjures up the sensory experiences of smell and sight, leaving lasting impressions. How can a writer achieve this?
Inspiration can be found through watching people and eavesdropping. This overheard conversation between an older nurse trainee with a thick accent speaking to a patient whose daughter held her hand could become a memorable character in one of my stories.
“I know you can’t make caca,” Lily said. She had flaming red hair, as if she needed anything more to set her apart. “I know you can’t make caca,” she told the patient. “I have same problem. I help you.” She rubbed the woman’s abdomen. “Oh,” the patient squealed after a few minutes. “I think I should go to the bathroom. I think something’s coming out.”
Lily winked at the woman. “You poop in bed. I clean up. Don’t worry. Poop, poop, poop. Mmmm, is that a fart I smell? Good, good. You fart. Later we take a walk. That will make you caca.”
The elderly woman lifted herself up. “I think I could use the bathroom. Close the door please”.
“This is your daughter,” Lily said. “Why close the door? You’ve smelled her poop. She poops. You poop. That’s what we do. We poop.”
Someday the spirit of Lily will end up in a story of mine. As storysharers, we read and write, striving to find just the right heartbeat of our characters. That’s what we do. Storysharer would love to hear about the ways you bring your characters to life.
The beauty of the world of literature is that it allows you to live other lives. I’ve been an attractive 17-year-old red-head whose many adventures include solving the mystery of who’s trying to harm Fortune, the racehorse on my aunt’s ranch. In the same story, I had the chance to brood (as only a teenager can brood) then choose between one of the two young men who drew my eye. Now that’s living.
I’ve also been nine years old again, trying to earn enough money to go to Adventureland, and discovering, after a thief breaks in and steals Mom’s electronics, that there’s plenty of adventure right at home.
Just last week I became a photographer for National Geographic. It’s been so exciting. I’ve taken pictures of such fascinating creatures as the Goliath Tarantula, which can propel hairs from its body to scare off predators. Not a big hairy deal, you say? I’d like to see you try it.
And in the case of my WIP, I’ve transformed into a CELEST, a Creature of Essence Living under Sky and Trees. I’m only 3 5/8 inches tall and my adventures include needing to escape from a nine-year-old by the name of Cliff. In order to help me enter this world, I looked to Tatiana Katara’s (tatiana@ faeriefactory.com) fairy house creations for inspiration.
Writing enables us to live other lives, and so does reading. While reading Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN, I took a break to ride my horse in the woods. I caught myself peering through foliage, readying myself to slay the dragon threatening my village.
I estimate that in a given year, keeping in mind all the manuscripts I create or revise, and including minor characters, I’ve been able to live over 100 lives. Ah, the power of stories.
Storysharer would love to join you as you live another life, so share your stories.
Greetings fellow story lovers,
A friend who wrote and illustrated children’s books, Marsha Dunlap, died after a long battle with cancer. One of the first times I met Marsha was during a blinding snowstorm. A small group of us had rented a bed and breakfast and hired an award winning author, Marion Dane Bauer, to critique our work and share writing techniques. Despite the weather, we were not going to miss this opportunity.
My friend Eileen and I drove together, peering through the whiteout at the unfamiliar roads. We shook our heads. We’re crazy, we both agreed. Schools had closed early, the radio reported the state patrol had shut down the interstate, and the author’s plane was delayed. Our writing was important, but was it worth risking our lives? I squinted to help Eileen figure out what was a road and what was a ditch. We kept going, bucking through mounting drifts.
We pulled into the bed and breakfast’s driveway, white-knuckled and shaken. We found out Marsha had called and was also struggling to plow through the drifts.
Throughout history, many people have felt a powerful drive to pursue their art, whether it’s dance, music, painting, or writing. Native Americans sometimes worked eighteen-hour days just to survive, yet managed to grab a moment to create beautiful beadwork or baskets. Pioneer women, with work-worn hands, squinted in the candlelight stealing moments to cut leftover fabric and design a kaleidoscope of colors for their quilts. Why?
Is it that we long to set ourselves apart by our individual gifts? Or do we hope to bring joy to others? Maybe it’s our desire to pass something of ours onto the next generation. Or is it our longing to find beauty in an imperfect world?
Back at the bed and breakfast, the phone rang. Marsha was lost and the owner ventured out to help. After a tense fifteen minutes, we heard the cars pull in. Marsha flung the door open, snow dusting her colorful cap and scarf. “I made it!” Like a tiger’s eye gem, her eyes sparked with warmth and fire. I would notice that same vibrancy in all the years I was privileged to know her.
The last time I saw Marsha she looked shrunken, but the spark and passion were still there. She told the writing group who met at her home that she’d spent a few minutes painting. I know my mouth dropped. Here she was, having to deal with all the pain and grief of preparing to leave this world, and she had spent time in her studio.
Why do people go to such extraordinary lengths to create? Marsha’s work was an essential part of who she was, as necessary as water, breath, and sunshine. Her memory lives on as a testament of a person’s drive to create lasting beauty.
Storysharer would love to hear testaments about other people who have gone to great lengths for their art.
Greetings fellow story lovers,
I felt it again yesterday while hiking–the heartbeat of the woods. Does the pulse I feel come from all the creatures watching as I walk down their sun-dappled trails, or from all the past creatures that have lived here? Did they, too, enjoy watching the woods change with the seasons?
In the winter, icicles hang frozen as if time stopped the instant they formed. I imagine Ho-Chunk villagers gathered in a crude cave near the fire telling stories. Two sisters huddle together to stay warm and laugh as a boisterous man animately tells about nearly stepping on a hibernating bear. On the longest night of the year, they would have hours for storytelling.
In the spring, the Dogtooth violets come out. I pick them and envision a girl stooping to do the same. She weaves them into a crown, then laughs at something her raven-haired friend says. The violet-laden girl places the crown on her friend’s head and they dance in the sunshine.
In the summer, I look up toward the ridge. There, in the trunk of that pine tree, I visualize the face of a Ho-Chunk hunter. I imagine him preparing arrowheads while his wife weaves a basket. Two children chase one another around the trees and up and down the slopes, laughing.
In autumn, I listen to the geese migrating overhead and wonder if the hunter’s arrow could bring one of them down. A fast-moving stream evokes the picture of a young boy tying a hook made from a goose’s wishbone onto a string of sinew. He baits the hook, then throws it out where it’s swept downstream. He doesn’t have to wait long before there’s a tug and he pulls in a shiny trout.
Silent Rock is misnamed. The aura surrounding the place speaks volumes to me. Storysharer would love to hear about places that speaks to you.