Category Archives: stories

A Vision with a View

Viewing the waters of Green Bay, Wisconsin at Door County's The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer's retreat called The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer’s retreat called The Cliffhouse.

The Muse Will Find You Here

A Vision and a Viewby Amy Laundrie

Where else could you be escorted into a retreat center by a pileated woodpecker who takes you past birch, maple, and cedars toward a friendly lodge with a stunning view of the shimmery waters of Green Bay? Where else but Door County’s The Clearing.
    As soon as I entered The Clearing’s 128-acres, I breathed easier. Named The Clearing for the school’s purpose, to clear away the mind in order to find renewal and enlightenment, I witnessed the miraculous.  As the week progressed, guests gladly abandoned cell phones, the internet and T.V. shows to spend time in the natural world.
    The Clearing is the vision of Danish-born naturalist and landscape architect, Jens Jensen, who established it in 1935 when he was 75 years old. Chicagoans applaud Jens Jensen because of his design work at various parks including Lincoln, Douglas and Columbus.
    Made from native stone and wood, The Clearing’s buildings include the Jens Jensen visitor center, the main lodge, Schoolhouse, Workshop and housing. Visitors revel in hidden spaces such as a star gazing mound where viewers comfortably lay back for a spectacular view, a labyrinth, and even a dance ring.    
    Classes ranging in length from two days to week-long offer instruction in arts, fine crafts, humanities, and natural sciences. Imagine quilting, making fine furniture, journal or memoir writing, bird watching, glass fusing, photography, weaving, wood carving, hiking, rug hooking, yoga, or participating in a class called “Touch the Earth; Love the Earth.”
    I was one of the eleven students lucky enough to attend Marion Moran’s environmental class this past September. Night walks, star gazing, discussions, readings and field trips comprised the week. The highlight was an evening stroll on a remote beach where, under a full moon, Marion read inspirational quotes. We then sang, lit sparklers, and pranced about on the beach like joyous children.
    Guests can stay in cottages for single or double occupancy or the large dorm which accommodates five. When the cook rings the bell, people head to the lodge to enjoy the conversation of like-minded people and the cuisine worthy of any five star restaurant. Beautifully presented, served family style, guests feast on such dishes as huge french toast slices stuffed with cream cheese and cherries, buttery white fish, or the superb butternut squash enchiladas. Favorite treats included chewy chocolate – oat – chip cookies and perfectly ripe strawberries dipped in creamy chocolate.
    As an added adventure, I signed up to stay in The Cliffhouse, a rustic shelter tucked into the limestone rocks. Without running water or a toilet, and with a tiny unseen roommate who squeaked, it took some courage on my part. The bat or mouse stopped its squeaking once it knew it wasn’t going to scare me off, and together we welcomed the night.
    Thunder and wind serenaded us. Lightning lit up the rocky shore of the waters of Green Bay far below. I lit candles, made a fire in the fireplace, and threw sprigs of cedar on the flames to enjoy their crackle and aroma.
    Inspired, I wrote until sleep overtook me, then arose before 4:00 a.m. to write until breakfast. It was during a conversation with director Michael Schneider later that day that I learned Jens Jensen had built The Cliffhouse for himself so he could have a private place to write.
    My stay over, I slowly drove away. I paused before pulling onto the paved road, Jens Jensen’s words echoing in the woods. “A mighty oak, a motherly elm, a poetic birch, a friendly maple all speak to man’s finer senses and helps awaken him to his noble heritage.”
    Thank you, Jens Jensen, for creating a place that heightened my sense of responsibility to the natural world and a connection to all living things.

 

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Colorful, Colloquial Characters (Rated PG for Earthiness)

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.

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Living Other Lives

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.

tarantula

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.

Titiana Katara
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.

If you’re looking for a story starter, a way to enter a different world, try going through your old photos. Here are a few from my albums.

Storysharer would love to join you as you live another life, so share your stories.

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Silent Rock

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.
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Moth Tears

Greetings fellow story lovers,
Poet Ted Kooser inspired my muse with the following poem.
Lobocraspis Griseifusa

    This is the tiny moth who lives on tears, who drinks like a deer at the gleaming pool at the edge of the sleeper’s eyes, the touch of its mouth as light as a cloud’s reflection.  –Ted Kooser
I have seen many wondrous sights in nature.  My first occurred when I was a teenager rabbit hunting with my father.  I glanced up at a nearby snow-covered hill and saw a brilliant red fox.  I took in every strand of his bright fur, his alert ears and moist eyes.  For a second before he darted away, we looked at one another, snapping together a link in the chain of life.
After that moment, I paid closer attention to the mysteries in nature, marveling at all I could see and all that wasn’t revealed.
Blazed in my memory is the time a few years ago when I awoke early, looked out the cabin’s window to the lake, and saw five river otters playing along the shore.  That following winter, while skiing through the woods, I encountered an otter again, this time bounding through the snow like a deer.  On another skiing adventure, I spotted a face appearing to be a mix between a fox and a teddy bear and got my first glimpse of a pine martin.
I’ve observed turkeys strutting and ruffed grouse drumming, a rare Hawaiian goose honking and a mongoose prowling, but I’ve never had a moth, whose mouth is as light as a cloud’s reflection, drink from my tears.
I’ve kayaked next to a beaver, heard it slap its tail sounding like a gun shot, found its lodge, leaned my ear toward the cozy hut made from sticks and mud, and been treated to the sound of the babies inside mewing like newborn kittens.
Several springs ago while hiking alone near our cabin, I spotted a fawn still wet from birth.  I bent down on my knees, and, wonder of wonders, the fawn approached me.  I held out my hands and felt a surge of joy unlike any other as it licked my fingers.  I ran to tell my husband and when we returned, my joy was complete as it tottered toward me and later wanted to follow me home.

This fawn seemed to want to say hello and even licked my hand.

I’ve had a newly born fawn lick my fingers, but I’ve never had a moth uncurl its straw and take life as it licks away my tears.
I’ve seen mint-green luna moths flying in the moonlight and watched hatching painted lady butterflies unfurl their wings.  I’ve spotted mated turkey vultures flying into their cave nesting site.  I’ve witnessed young great horned owls and newly fledged ospreys peer over their nests, as if anxious for their adult life to begin.  Mating eagles and sandhill cranes have performed elaborate courting dances in my presence.
I’ve walked the same hiking paths as moose, elk and buffalo.
Once, I unknowingly shared a blueberry patch with a black bear.
Yet I’ve never had a moth light on my cheek while I slept and drink at the gleaming pool of my tears.
Or have I?
Storysharer would love to hear bewildering questions you ponder.
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What If . . .

Greetings fellow story lovers,

What if . . . are magic words to writers and story tellers. What if an animal attraction with over 100 live reptiles including crocodiles, unusual albino iguanos, and the world’s largest snake caught on fire?

snake

This question led to my interviewing the owner and began the fourth Kayla Montgomery book, LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.

From that question others emerged including a compelling one about love and attraction. What if my main character had to choose between a relationship based on intrique and seduction or one built on mutual interests and companionship?
Free LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
Storysharer would love to hear how compelling “What if…” questions have inspired you.
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Passion

Greetings fellow story lovers,

What makes you grind your teeth, giggle like a hyper kid, or hiss like a panther? What makes the hair on the back of your neck tingle, your fingers dig at your scalp, or your throat ache with sadness? These intense feelings can be the origin of impassioned stories.

Egg

A friend once described to me how concerned she was about a neighbor’s neglected horses. They didn’t have grain, hay, or water. The owner hadn’t trimmed their hooves and they’d grown so long the hooves actually curled around themselves. She reported the neighbor to the humane society. He retaliated by sneaking over and cutting her horses’s hooves so short that all that remained were painful nubbins.
This horrendous story led to the premise for the fourth Kayla Montgomery mystery series book, DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

Kayla must drive past Vern Schafner’s horse farm on her way to college. The horses are starving and can’t walk because of their overgrown hooves.Kayla reports him. The scene describing Vern’s retaliation is one of the most terrifying and emotion-laden scenes I’ve ever written.
The best stories bleed with passion and emotion. As writers and story tellers, dare to go to your dark spaces, even if it’s painful. Draw out your feelings, and you’ll connect with your readers.

Free DELIVER US FROM EVIL teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
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