Crow story, part seven

By Phil & Jack Rosette

My wife is a great organizer, for things important to her, anyway. Twenty-plus years of nursing probably has something to do with that. I find our three honeymoon photo albums on the bookshelf right between the wedding album and the one dated 1990. Boy, we sure took a lot of pictures back then, I think as I take the last of the three honeymoon albums to the desk and start thumbing through it.

Like the albums, the photos are in chronological order. I find that, in fact, we were in Laramie, Wyoming on August 23rd, 1989: the same day Herman Blackclaw (a.k.a. Crow Stalker), died in that same town. A quick thumb to the back of the album and I see we were in Las Vegas three weeks later, on our way home and pregnant.

We were in Laramie three days, but I remember spending only the first night in the tipi. My wife’s notes back me up on this. I look at the pictures. Both the inside and the outside of our tipi were decorated with paintings. Inside, a headdress of eagle feathers and silver, red and yellow beads hangs high on one side. Opposite is painted a large white owl. A metal cooking pot sits in the center of the split-log floor, and skins of animals act as rugs. There is also a small table with a couple of candle holders on it, but not much else. Outside, images of bison, eagles and horses expertly circle around the outside of the tipi. Over the entrance is the image of a brave holding high over his head a hatchet in one hand and a bow in the other. The brave is staring up to the sky, and above him is a black bird in flight.

Weird is fast becoming the new norm.

I take the photo album downstairs to my desk. The Jeremy-Julia charm sits on top of the baggie, right where I left it, and it seems content to stay put if it’s not inside; not ‘bound’ as the legend says. Looking closer, nothing appears to have changed; it still weighs the same and looks the same from what I can tell. If this thing possesses magic, it isn’t clear to the naked eye. It is nothing more than a gift from a crow; a sign of gratitude to me, for effectively providing its murder an easy meal. Or is it?

I did watch the first three of Crow Stalker’s videos a few days ago. I could follow it through subtitles and now know what some of a crow’s basic movements mean, like looking at you with only one eye, and turning their back to you. He explains how crows ask questions with calls and head movement simultaneously. Pitch and repetition indicate important differences that they had to learn. The videos are short so I replay them several times until I think I can hear some of the subtle differences. Now I need a crow to test them on.

Since my mind has mostly gone to the birds in recent days, I look forward to returning to the park the next morning. It is cold outside, unseasonably so for late July. Taking my coffee on the back deck, I had to grab a jacket. The pockets were full of dog treats from the last time I wore it to take Gracie and Joker to the park. Forward thinking.

The chills in my shoulders make me mistake the smoke from my cigarette for the fog of my breath. Is it really this cold, or is it just me? The dogs pawing at the door to be let inside seem to think so. I put the smoke out, gulp down the rest of my coffee, and head back inside. As I approach the door, off in the distance, I hear a familiar, chilling sound.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

I turn around at once. Nervously, my eyes dart from tree to tree, perch to perch. The chills have proliferated; I am trembling all over.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

I turn away from the door, and the dogs follow me. I scan the whole backyard, looking up toward the roof, around the fence, in our bushes, in the neighbors’ yard, yet see nothing.

‘You got something for me, Jeremy?’ I cry out in frustration. It has been a couple of months since the last time I saw him, though I swore he called after us in the park when the dogs burst after that fawn. Despite all my recent research, I feel unprepared to greet this animal again.

Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

Five! Curious. I’ve only ever known him to speak in groups of three. What’s more, these don’t seem like the happy caws I heard when he dropped off his nametag. From Crow Stalker’s videos, I recognize the short bursts of monotone caws as ‘companion’ calls. He wants me to come with him.

‘Where are you?’

Caw! Caw!

‘I can’t follow you if I don’t know where you are! Show yourself!!’

I wait for a reply, but receive none.


I wait for about two minutes, but no response. Exasperated, I finally walk back into the house. ‘Come on, girls,’ I say to the confused but excited dogs. ‘Let’s go to the park.’

At this, they fly inside, whining the whole way. They run circles around me as I attempt to fix their leashes. It takes a couple of the treats in my pocket to get them to sit still for ten seconds. Once I have them on the leashes, we step outside.

I open the door and let go of the whiny dogs. They know the park routine well enough to wait expectantly outside the car for me to open the door for them, instead of sprinting away to get lost in suburbia. I flip the lock and close the door, but instead of dashing to the car, the dogs are frozen in place. I look up and understand why.

Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH!

There he is, perched in the oak tree directly in front of our house. The dogs are both in prone position, waiting. I feel the blood rush from my face. My chills return. The bird repeats himself.

Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH!

This is not a companion call; this is an alarm call. He turns his head to the side and looks at me with one eye – the focused stare of a binocular creature – then does a shimmy motion with his neck. Follow me.

Before I can reply, he spreads his wings and swoops down, flying in the opposite direction. Gracie and Joker dutifully chase him through the front yard and across the street.

‘Gracie! Joker!’ I call after them, but to no avail. ‘Dammit, Fatso!!’ The bird has left me no choice. I hop in the car as fast as I can and try and keep pace with the three flying animals.

Fortunately for me, Jeremy heads straight down the long street, so I am able to catch up with them after about a quarter of a mile. The crow flies low to the ground so the dogs can play catch-up – thankfully, on the sidewalk and not on the road. I pull up side-by-side as the fork in the road ahead approaches. Their tongues flap in the wind, and their leashes drag behind them like broken chains. I momentarily consider the irony of being in a car and chasing dogs, but that thought is cut short when the bird leads us all to the left.

A brief drive down this road leads us to a dead end. Jeremy heads left again, along the fenced-in sidewalk that leads to a wooded area in the back of the neighborhood elementary school. That bird just took three left-turns to get here, I reflect. He easily could have just flown over top. He wanted to make sure I could follow. Recalling the alarm in his voice when he called from my oak tree, I shudder to think what he could be leading us to.

The dogs, by now having sprinted at least a mile, start to slow down to a trot, which gives me time to park in the dead end and try to catch up. Alas, they still have four feet to my two, and are able to run into the woods after the bird faster than I can pursue them. I lose sight of all of the animals as they enter the trees. The cold air rasps in my lungs and exits in clouds of thick haze.

Having lost my eyes, I turn to my ears to guide me. I hear the crow again – Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH! – and expect to hear barks, but instead hear whimpers and whines. Worried, I start to run.

I see Jeremy perched on a branch above a small clearing. The dogs are no longer focused on him, and as I approach I find their rear ends poking out of a structure – a tipi! Perhaps constructed by some elementary kids playing fort defense, or some teenage couple looking to steal away. My dogs are fully engrossed with whatever is inside.

I call the dogs again. They start toward me, but the whimpers continue. They return to the tipi, and I follow them. As I turn the corner to peer inside, I hear Jeremy’s calls behind me – Caw! Caw! Caw! – and the wind from his powerful wings bristles my hair as he flies away. His job is done.

Inside the structure, a white dog lay still: broken, curled up, and whimpering. I gingerly scoop it up and return to the car as fast as the wind could carry me.


Audrey and Jex

Wool. Rows and rows of wool. Everywhere. Audrey Cannon was going to fire the imbecile that screwed up this order.

“Who orders this much wool!”

Her hands flew up in the air and then her fingers dove into her hair and tugged. Hard.

What she wanted to do was cry.

“Jesus.” What was she going to do?

Audrey knew who’d they blame. Her. An intern whose name was Paul Richards demanded to be called Tymber because Paul was too mundane, was probably the one who put the damned order in for the wool. But he had the ear of Cardinal, the Designer. He also had his mouth, ass, and other parts.

Audrey kicked a bolt.

“Ow! Dammit. Stupid Audrey.”

She sat on the nearest pile of wool and covered her face with her hands. She sucked in some breaths and stood up.

“Lemonade out of lemons.”

Next, on Audrey’s list, figure out how to make all this wool disappear.

The studio was empty. It was just Audrey. She went to the office and started to make some phone calls to see what had happened.

Cardinal and Tymber had the crew out at the newly renovated Michigan Central Station. Had it still been dilapidated Cardinals new line would have been spectacular in the space. But now his sparse cuts of fabric he barely pinned together was not appropriate for the venue.

Audrey thought of her classic mid-century modern designs in her look-book, now they would be perfect for the train station’s new interior.

She slammed the phone down. Of course, her name was on the order. Of course, she signed off on it.

“Dammit!” She was so screwed. Audrey might as well quit now. Cardinal would never believe it wasn’t her fault because he was screwing Tymber.

She needed to stop the direction of her thoughts. She didn’t want to be angry at Cardinal. He was a good man, one of the only designers in the industry that was not a snide backstabbing bitch, and he thought she had a lot of talent. But when he was in a relationship he was blind to prissy attentive gay boys and he forgot all the other things that were important to him. Like maybe he should choose boys that had good morals.

Going over to the design side of the space, she switched up what she was doing. Her need to stop thinking about all her troubles led her to pull out the summer line designs she was mocking up.

Audrey sat down at her drafting board and focused on the abstract deconstructed patterns and materials Cardinal wanted to come together with recycled materials.

She sighed. Her sketches weren’t working. Her mind kept going back to the piles of wool in the other room. Cardinal’s theme for the new season was bold and exciting, but it wasn’t her style. She was tired of working on other people’s designs. Audrey liked refined materials and classic lines more like her namesake Audrey Hepburn had worn. Style’s like the actress wore in her movies Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She was gorgeous, and so were the clothes she wore and the designers who transformed her.

Wiggling her cramping fingers, she moved the accessory sketches she wound up working on and replaced them with her sketches from inside the messenger bag stored at her feet. She’d been working on them the previous night. It was a line of business dress that emulated her vision of the past with a contemporary twist on the modern woman.

Her hand put pen to paper without thinking, and she began to draw. Before she knew it, her pen became an extension of her hand, and the clothes she was sketching came to life. Designing clothes was when she was happiest. Everywhere else there were too many responsibilities that rested on her shoulders.

Words pierced through her concentration, and her fingers caused the ink to stutter across the page. She crumpled up the sketch and started a new one.

“If you would just pay more attention to what your sister was doing maybe she wouldn’t have the problem she does.”, “Why can’t you be more like your sister. She’s beautiful, elegant, excels at bringing in donations for the charity’s she’s working. It’s what you should be doing Audrey. Trying to find a husband with a name and means to take care of you. Not this willy-nilly hobby with fashion. And if you’re helping your sister you can keep an eye on her so she stays out of trouble.”, “We do not need any more scandal making your mother and I look bad.”

Audrey squeezed her pen tighter, and it skidded across her paper ruining another sketch. This time of a dress that she just couldn’t get right. She ripped it off the drafting board and threw it aiming for the garbage, but of course, she missed. She was single-handedly the worst person to have on a sports team ever.

She got up and rounded her table bending over it to pick up the discarded sketch.


“Ow!” She was a walking disaster and hit her head when she stood up too quickly.

No one should be here.

She forgot to lock the door. Again. Cardinal was always telling her how she never looked at her safety as important.

She heard the voice coming from the long hallway adjacent to the fabric storage room they used for their runway. She was currently peeking around the archway.

“Anybody here?” The voice shouted.

She sucked in a breath, and her eyes went wide. “Oh, boy.” She whispered. The man’s eyes snapped to hers.

He strutted down the hallway, and she covered her eyes. “Stop!” She yelled.

Her fingers parted letting her eyes see again what she thought she was seeing. A really, really, stunningly hot, naked guy coming right at her.

“Please stop,” she begged.

Because if he didn’t stop and put some clothes on she might embarrass herself by jumping him. She fanned her flushed face.

Audrey couldn’t help it. She had to peek again.

“Isn’t this where the Cardinal photo shoot is?”

“Ahh,” she stammered. “No.”

He reached around as if to go for a phone in a pocket of his non-existent pants and found only ass cheek. She squeaked, pinched her lips together and tried to hold in the moan that gathered deep in her throat. Taking another look-see didn’t seem to help the situation.

He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

“My agent said to be here at ten. Was there a change in location?”

“The shoot is at the Michigan Central Station. The models were scheduled for sunrise this morning.”

The man whipped around facing away from her, and his hands ran through his hair. “What the fuck. What, the, fuck!”

She barely heard his words because she couldn’t focus on anything other than his gorgeous ass that was now front and center. She gave up hiding her view and dropped her hands.

Audrey cleared her throat. “Do you want to put some clothes on,” unfortunately she asked, “and we can sort this out?”

“What I want is for just one fucking thing to go right.”

“Well, if you put some clothes on it would be a lot easier for me to help you do that.”

He turned around, and Audrey looked down to the plank wood floor memorizing its wood grain.

“Yeah,” he said and took a step toward her. She saw him move and knocked her elbow into the wall.

“Yeah.” She squeaked. Pretty soon she’d fit in with the mice that made their home in the studio.

He laughed, and she melted a bit and tingled in a few places that hadn’t tingled in a while.

“Sure. I’ll be back in a minute.” He walked away, and she watched. God what a sight, she thought. He strutted like he was walking into a room full of people to give a speech about world peace. If only she had that much confidence.

The man had zero body fat, a light tan that said he protected his skin and didn’t bake outdoors or get a silly spray on tan. No, that man was perfect.

She went back to her desk, and a few minutes later he was walking toward her fully clothed and on the phone looking a whole lot like a pissed off male.

“Mack, you said ten. I’m here at ten. There’s a woman named,” He was looking at her expectantly while she was still thinking of all the goodness that he’d covered up.

“Oh, right. Audrey Cannon.”

He smiled, and she tingled some more. His eyes flipped down to her lips and she unconsciously couldn’t help but lick her lips to catch the drool that was making a run for it. His eyes became hooded, and he watched every long second of her tongue moving.

“Audrey Cannon,” the man said into his phone.

Audrey smiled and the man watched that too. That was nice she thought.

“Mack, you knew this was a good gig for me, a stepping stone out of the club.”

He waited and his eyes got hard and he looked out the window.

“Yeah. Damn, straight you’ll fix it.”

He hung up.

They both stared at each other.

“So,” Audrey mumbled. “I, ah, guess you don’t need my help to fix things.”

He didn’t say anything but kept his bright autumnal eyes on her. She couldn’t look away. But silence always killed her.

“What’s your name?”

The Adonis turned his head and slowly blinked like he was waking from a spell. Which at this point quite possibly could have happened.


It was her turn to look be-spelled. “Jex?”

“Yeah. Most people call me Jex.”

“That’s not your name?”



Silence again. Ridiculous, she thought. He must think she’s an idiot.

“What’s your real name?”

“You’ll have to get to know me better before I tell you that.”

Audrey blushed. “Um, well, I’ve seen you naked, so that’s something.” She blushed a brighter red this time. She couldn’t believe she was flirting with him. She barely had enough experience to count on one hand. But this man made her nervous but also forward in a way she never felt she was confident enough to try. He seemed so comfortable in his skin that it must be rubbing off on her.

Jex chuckled.

“So, why aren’t you at the shoot, Audrey Cannon?”

He moved and leaned a hip on her desk forcing her to fall into her seat.

She cleared her throat. “I help design and Cardinal wanted me to keep moving on next summers line.”

“Hm.” Jex looked over her shoulder which put his front close to her back because she shifted around to look at her drawings. His nearness was dancing across her skin and her heartbeat was jumping as if she’d just gotten off a treadmill.

He reached around her and tapped the red tapered pantsuit and jacket with the tulip pocket and accidentally brushed the side of her breast. She shivered. His chin dipped, and he hummed right next to her ear. Trying to ignore the luscious way he smelled, the sweet and musky forest scent, she focused on the sketch and quickly shoved it to the side into a folder in her look-book. It was one of Audrey’s favorites. She didn’t want his opinion on them. They weren’t ready to be seen yet.

“Those are my designs.”

She pulled out Cardinal’s designs.

“These are the ones I’ve been working on for Cardinal.”

“I like yours a lot better.” He pulled her work out again and pointed to the lapel in one of the jackets.

“Hey,” she squawked into his ear, but he didn’t step back. Not until he had her designs laid out across her table. She tried to put them away, but he grabbed her hands and set them in her lap. Now she was annoyed.

“Relax,” he said, and he let go and took a step to lean once again on her drafting board. “You shouldn’t hide these. They’re really good.”

“How do you know? You just wear the clothes.” She snapped harsher than she thought possible.

He took another step, and this time it was away from her table. “Sorry. I was just complimenting you.” He raised his hands above his head. “I’ve got to go anyway, straighten things out regarding this shoot.”

He turned away, and she popped out of her chair and grabbed his arm. “Wait! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just frustrated that I haven’t shown them to anyone. Not even Cardinal.” Aubrey sighed. “Things are always going wrong these days, and I didn’t want to take the chance he might reject my ideas.”

“What I’ve heard about him says good things for you. I don’t think he’d shit all over them. You should show him.”

“Maybe.” She whispered. “But not today. Jesus he’d crucify me alone for the wool issue we’re going to be having for a while.”

“That is a lot of wool for such a small lapel,” he flicked a thumb toward the wool, across the hall.

“Yeah. A mistake I have to rectify.”

“You don’t look like someone that makes huge mistakes. Did you really order that much fabric?”

“No. But it might as well have been me since I’ll get blamed for it.”

Jex frowned.

She waved him off and sat on her stool.

“So, what are you going to do about missing the shoot?” Audrey asked to guide the conversation in a new direction.

“Hopefully, my agent will get his shit together and I’ll finally get a gig that’ll get me noticed. In the right way.” He said the last part under his breath. Audrey barely heard him. She wondered what he meant by that.

“I’m surprised you haven’t. You’re stunning.”

He laughed. “Yeah, stunning.”

She tilted her head and looked at him. Did he not think he was gorgeous, she asked herself? He answered.

“Some people think so.” He shrugged. “But apparently not the most important people.”

“I could talk to Cardinal if you want. See if you can catch the next shoot.”

He shrugged again, looked down and away. “Sure, if you think it won’t be too much trouble.”

Where did the confidence go she saw when he was walking down the hallway? This person in front of her seemed to have the light taken right out of him. It didn’t make any sense.

“If he doesn’t fire me over the wool debacle I think he might take my word that you’re worth a second chance.”

He nodded. “That works.”

Jex looked around and then his eyes came back to her.

“Now that we have the nudity portion of the relationship out of the way how about I take you out for lunch.”

Audrey’s words wouldn’t form. She froze. Her life was complicated enough without adding a hot guy to the mix. She should give herself permission enjoy her life. Enjoy an attractive man, find out what was behind the pretty face and the body of a god, because she sensed a lot was going on behind his amber eyes. It would be nice to feel something besides the worry and anxiety over her sister. It followed in her sister’s wake wherever she went, and it was a stifling mass that always hung low and thick in the apartment they shared. Why couldn’t she think of herself for once? There was something about Jex that she liked very much. Very, very, much.

With a deep cleansing breath and a long exhale, she nodded.

“I’d like that, Jex. I’d like that a whole hell of a lot.”

CSI: The Seagull (part 1 of 3)

The acronym, CSI, usually stands for “crime scene investigation.” In the next three posts, I will coin a new meaning for CSI – context, subtext and intertextuality. In Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, action occurs offstage, relying on subtext to convey the dramatic action to the audience. defines subtext as the true meaning of a literary work. adds a character’s feelings and motives. Wikipedia includes the “content beneath the dialogue.” builds on these explanations with examples and distinguishes four types of subtext. Since Chekhov made a name for himself with this literary device, I will use The Seagull by Anton Chekhov to demonstrate each type of subtext.

Privilege Subtext

With privilege, the audience knows more than the characters in the play. The audience’s privilege begins immediately in The Seagull at the introduction of the four protagonists and their relationships to each other. Arkadina, an accomplished actress, is mother to Constantine and lover to Trigorin, a famous writer. Constantine, an emerging and experimental writer, loves young Nina, feels inferior to his mother and her friends and competes artistically with Trigorin. Nina acts in Constantine’s modern play yet is quick to criticize his writing. She is also quick to fall in love with Trigorin, who longs for love and life more than he really wants it. Trigorin and Arkadina share their passion for art above anything and anyone.

Secondary characters add more complication, conflict and love triangles. As each character shares his or her passions and longings, the foundation for both tragic and comedic missteps is laid.  Masha, daughter of the estate manager, longs in silence for Constantine’s affection and spurns the school teacher’s marriage proposal.  Masha’s mother is in a secret affair with the doctor, physician to Sorin. Sorin, Arkadina’s brother, struggles with his health and slumps over in the final scene as if dead.

Revelation Subtext

The themes of a play make an opportunity for a big revelation at the end. The Seagull’s themes and characters from 1895 continue to be relevant over one hundred years later. During the performance, I identified with many of the characters. In fact, it would be difficult not to relate to at least one if not many of the characters.  Any writer, actor and artist will appreciate the themes of art and life. The deeper threads of theme tread on existentialism, meaning of life and existence. Chekhov portrayed characters of varying sensitivity and awareness. Death flirted with these characters.

Subtext through Promise

One aspect of the author’s promise is that characters change and symbols are fitting for the story. The most changed character in The Seagull is Nina. She begins the play describing herself as the carefree seagull drawn to the lake of her childhood. Nina’s future is uncertain because her father’s marriage leaves her without an inheritance. Trigorin shares his note for a writing idea about a young girl who is like a seagull; she falls in love with a famous writer, who uses and destroys her. If that is not enough foreshadowing, a gunshot fires off stage. Constantine appears and presents a dead Seagull to Nina. He says he will be dead like the seagull in Nina’s honor. Chekhov’s promise will be delivered; Nina and Constantine do not fare well in the play’s ending.

Subtext through Questions

A good plot inspires questions. For example, will Nina run away with Trigorin? How will Constantine and Arkadina react? Is the weather preparing the audience for a change?  How can Nina and Constantine recover?  Which character will die?

The Seagull was a new type of play for 1895, introducing subtext to the theatre. Did Chekhov write Constantine’s criticism as an extension of his own? Did he write his own insecurity as Constantine’s? Or was Trigorin the real Chekhov? Did he observe, write and never live? At these points in the play, Chekhov inserted himself (and every other playwright) into The Seagull. The new translation performed by the Michigan Shakespeare Festival made me an instant fan.




Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2017 Part 2

Do you remember why you wanted to become a writer?

Lisa Scottoline, the awesome, informative, and funny keynote speaker at the conference, revealed her reason. As a pregnant trial attorney and soon-to-be divorcee, she wanted to stay home with her baby. Taking an extraordinary gamble, Scottoline left her firm and began to write legal thrillers in hopes of making a living as a writer. Surviving on loans and multiple credit cards, she continued to write despite numerous rejections until she finally sold one of her stories. Since then, she has written dozens of legal thrillers as well as some nonfiction books. She also co-authors books with her daughter.

One of her rejections came from an agent who said to her, “I don’t have time to talk to you.” Years later after her many successes, she was at a conference when that agent approached her. Scottoline’s response was, “I don’t have time to talk to you,” as she turned her back on him and walked away.

That response received lots of laughter and applause from the conference attendees.

Scottoline said, “Success now doesn’t prevent me from feeling inadequate as a writer.” That statement was a frequent comment from several of the presenters even after experiencing success as writers. Many writers lack confidence in their own talent.

She states that what prevents her writer’s block is a mortgage. She writes every day and some days are better than others.

Her advice includes the following:

  1. Write drunk. Edit sober.
  2. Live your life and use it for your stories.
  3. Be willing to say ‘No’ to someone who takes you away from your writing.
  4. Write your story regardless of genre; let someone else decide the category in which it belongs.

On Saturday, I attended “Banishing Doubt: What I Wish Someone Had Told Me about Being an Author” presented by Hank Phillippi Ryan. She said writers can’t get rid of their doubts. Several statements she made resonated with me.

  1. You must power through. If you don’t hit a wall, you’re not working hard enough.
  2. Set a goal that is doable. That success will give you confidence to repeat that goal.
  3. Tell yourself that you’re not a bad writer. You just had a bad day.
  4. Be careful of the internet. It sucks your time from writing.

I enjoyed the next session, Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey! How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Writing Done,” which was presented in an informative and humorous manner. He said the voice in your head is very negative. That voice warns you that writing is too hard and too risky. The voice in your head doesn’t like new things. Worry and fear belong to that voice. Tell yourself, “It’s not my voice.”

Gregory said the medulla in the brain is ready to control us and inject fear into us. It warns you, “Don’t eat that. Don’t wander beyond a certain point.” This keeps us alive and out of danger. Creative people are most susceptible to this fear. Gregory said to draw a monkey face to represent that fear. Then ignore that monkey when he wants you to procrastinate.

Try journaling to move negative dialogue with your monkey out of you head. List your successes and stop focusing on failures. Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Windy Lynn Harris presented, “Crafting a Strong Short Story.” Harris said that a short story is about one person with a goal. A writer starts with an idea, gives her character a goal, and finds a conflict strong enough to drive the story. The pace is different from longer stories. Because stories are only 1,000 to 8,000 words in length, every word must count.

After taking time for lunch and to rest my overwhelmed brain, I attended the last session on Saturday, “Writing from the Senses and Creating Believable Fiction” by Lauren B. Davis. The writer’s job is not to tell, but to create emotions in the reader.

Davis said that emotions are expressed in five ways:

  1. Sensual reactions in our bodies (fast heartbeat, stomach churns)
  2. Sensual response outside our bodies (wind whipping through character’s hair)
  3. Experience of emotion coming as a vivid burst of awakening (mind’s image of a dog attack)
  4. Flashes of the future (imagining your child’s success)
  5. Sensual selectivity (If you’re in a good mood, you see things one way. If you’re in a bad mood, you’ll see things differently.)

On Sunday, Jane K. Cleland presented “The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings to Create Suspense.” Cleland has a short story published in the September/October 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She mentioned that the magazine conducts a contest with a $1,000 prize if your story is published.

“Writers use red herrings to paint the innocent with powers of guilt,” she said. “The red herring also will allow guilt to go free.”

An example of a red herring is when we see the caretaker in the far-off cabin appears to be the killer on the loose. Also, a doctor is believed to be trustworthy except in your story, he is the killer.

“I Hear Voices: The Art of Craft of Distinctive Voice” by Heather Webb was the last session I attended. She said that the voice in a story isn’t necessarily the narrators’. An author’s rhythm is from word choice and word order comes from a writer’s beliefs.

Webb’s suggestions on how to find your voice include the following:

  1. Have confidence in yourself.
  2. Try free writing.
  3. Know your audience.
  4. Use mindful reading to discover what moves you.
  5. Speak differently to different people.

My experience at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2017 was everything I expected. Meeting professional and other amateur writers was exciting and fun. Many of us shared stories of our struggles and successes in writing. I look forward to attending another conference in the future.

Resident Evil: Tangled Web — Evolution of an Idea

My love of the written word is the one thing that rivals my love of video games. I have been reading and writing as far back as I can remember. While I have yet to get anything published, I have spent years honing my storytelling craft.

The majority of my writing has centered around fanfiction, which began when I wrote an extensive – but mediocre and nonsensical – series of stories based off the Nightmare on Elm Street films. I started these works of fiction just after the fifth movie was released and I made it up to part 21 before it fizzled.

My later stories, based off such mediums as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Transformers: Armada, and a lesser known horror film called Phantasm, improved my writing style by leaps and bounds. While I kept coming up with ideas – all-original stories I formulated or fanfiction based on film or TV franchises – I had neither the time or the motivation to put all those ideas on paper. What’s worse, I fell into a serious dry spell sometime between 2011 and 2014; a Transformers fanfiction piece called Sky Dancer I had been writing failed to get an ending as a result. That particular story is still begging for its last ten chapters.

Inspiration found me midway through 2014, but in a way that proved it can sometimes be a fickle creature. Sometime in August 2014, I joined a writing group called Deadwood Writers, and I started a story based off the Resident Evil game series. I had thought that being a part of this group would get me motivated to finish Sky Dancer, but it is possible I needed a change of pace after obsessing over my long-neglected story for several years.

I never intended to write a Resident Evil story despite being an avid fan of the video games. I didn’t have a plan when the idea for the Prologue came to me. I wrote the rough draft of my opening chapter for Tangled Web pretty quickly. I hadn’t even settled on a name for an original character who would serve as one of the leads and a romantic foil for Claire Redfield. I can’t recall why Elliott was the first name that popped into my head before I wrote it down at the end of the Prologue. I imagined I would change it at a later time. Nevertheless, it stuck.

A cover illustration I put together to go with the story. (photo credits at end)

The premise for Tangled Web was fairly straightforward – Claire had been abducted by Wesker, had been held captive for almost two years, and was having a baby when her brother finally found her. Much of the story is filling in what happened during those two years. But for the first few chapters, I was literally making up the narrative as I went along. This resulted in a few tangents that didn’t really have a place in the story. At one point, I planned for Claire’s cat to somehow mutate into a horrific monster. A friend advised me to keep it simple and get to the abduction scene as quick as possible, but a small part of the mutated feline setup still made its way into the story.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to conceptualize the ending, but I gained more of a focus as I was writing the first act. Once I had figured out the basis of my climax, I had to go back and rewrite several of the early chapters. This led to the addition of a character known as RogueChild, a mysterious figure who sent Claire a vague email “warning” her of the upcoming kidnapping. I didn’t have a clear picture of RogueChild’s role in the story when I wrote the chapter where the character first appeared, let alone who RogueChild would turn out to be. Some of my early and downright ridiculous ideas were that RogueChild could be either Claire’s unborn child or Claire herself come back from the future. At one point, the character’s name was going to be The_Immortal_One instead of RogueChild.

When it came to the chapter where Wesker informs Claire she was exposed to a mutagenic virus, my initial idea was quite different. I had thought about having her be infected with the T-Veronica Virus even though I had seen that premise used in a number of other Resident Evil fanfictions. Inspiration struck again when I watched the anime film, Degeneration, and gave quite a lot of thought to it. It helped that I didn’t see any other works of fanfiction where someone was exposed to the G-Virus and immune to the negative effects. The idea of tackling an idea that had never been explored before was exciting and helped me figure out the exact direction to go with Tangled Web. A great portion of the storyline and the ending was built around this idea.

My next hurdle was hammering out exactly how Wesker would behave toward Claire and Elliott during their captivity. Before I determined the best way to spin it, the scene where Claire finds out she has rapid regeneration abilities played out quite differently:

Wesker stepped around the desk, tracing the surface with one gloved hand as he moved. Claire tensed at his approach. “I never would have dreamed that you, Chris’ little sister, would possess such a rare genome,” he said. “Unfortunately, studies of your DNA can only reveal so much. It doesn’t tell us if you reap any of the benefits of the virus. Specifically, rapid healing.”

Claire jerked spasmodically once Wesker’s words sank in. A protest was on her lips, but Wesker moved too fast. The combat knife that Jessica had been holding was in his hand, and he had Claire’s wrist in a viselike grip before the latter could even process it.

Elliott started to rise from his seat, but Raymond surged forward, forcing Elliott to stay put by pushing down on his shoulders. The blade was drawn swiftly across Claire’s outstretched arm in the same instant, eliciting a scream from her.

When Wesker released his hold on her wrist, Claire withdrew her arm, hot tears escaping her eyes. She pressed her other hand to the gash in an instinctive effort to staunch the blood flow. Elliott echoed the foremost thought on her mind. “You son of a bitch!” Elliott said. Claire looked over at her companion. Even though Raymond had let go of him, he didn’t seem inclined to get up.

Wesker passed the knife back to Jessica, who promptly sheathed it. He paid Elliott no heed, his gaze remaining on Claire. “My apologies for causing you harm, Miss Redfield,” Wesker said. If his voice hadn’t lacked inflection, she might have considered forgiving him. “But it was necessary. When you feel ready, allow us to see.”

Claire didn’t move her hand. “Go to hell,” she growled before she could stop herself.

Wesker’s hands half-curled into fists. “Do not test me, Miss Redfield. Your friend’s life depends on it.”

Claire closed her eyes. It took everything she had to calm herself. She slowly uncovered her wound, but couldn’t bring herself to look. The blood on her arm and hand was already feeling sticky and made her nauseous. The smug smile on Wesker’s face intensified the ill feeling.

Excella looked pleased as well. “Not even a scratch,” she said. “You are definitely going to be one of our best investments, dear.”

The above scene as initially written didn’t sit well with me. After several days, I determined that Claire would surely be broken if subjected to two years of this kind of torment. And Wesker’s actions contradicted something he stated in an earlier chapter. The revised scene set a far different tone for the story and was one I was much happier with:

Wesker stepped around the desk, tracing the surface with one gloved hand as he moved. Claire tensed at his approach. “I never would have dreamed that you, Chris’ little sister, would possess such a rare genome,” he said. “Unfortunately, studies of your DNA can only reveal so much. It doesn’t tell us if you reap any of the benefits of the virus. Specifically, rapid healing.”

Claire jerked spasmodically once Wesker’s words sank in. When she saw Jessica holding the knife out toward Wesker, Claire shook her head in a panic. “No!”

Elliott started to rise from his seat, but Raymond surged forward, forcing Elliott to stay put by pushing down on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Wesker cocked his head to one side, looking amused by his captives’ reactions. Though Wesker took the knife, he gave no indication that he would use it. “I thought you would know by now that I always keep my word, Miss Redfield. I stated in our initial meeting that I had no intention of physically harming you.” He rotated the knife so that the hilt was facing her. “I leave the choice in your hands. Just know that if you attempt to attack me or my colleagues, there will be serious consequences.” Wesker’s eyes flicked towards Elliott during this last statement to exemplify who would suffer the consequences.

Claire hesitantly took the knife. “And if I don’t heal immediately?” she asked.

“Then I shall see to it you get the necessary medical attention,” Wesker said smoothly.

Claire paused, wondering at the wisdom of playing with fire. “Will I still be useful to you, if this doesn’t go the way you hope?”

Wesker shifted his stance, looking almost bored. She had to wonder if he was being agreeable only to get her to comply. “I will consider sending you and Mr. Gregory back home if you lack any regenerative capabilities.”

Claire watched him in silence for several seconds before casting her gaze downward. She didn’t like the way he worded it, but even a slim chance was better than nothing.

“Claire, don’t,” Elliott said. She looked over at him briefly. Raymond’s grip on Elliott’s shoulders must have tightened; a wince crossed Elliott’s face.

“I have to,” she answered. Claire positioned the blade next to her forearm, her breath coming out in rapid puffs to prepare herself. Before she could lose her nerve, she drew the knife swiftly across her skin. The anticipation didn’t stop her from hissing in pain; seeing her blood welling from the gash made her nauseous. Don’t heal, she thought. Please don’t heal.

Against her will, the wound knitted itself together within seconds. Claire looked away, feeling sick when she realized Wesker was offering her a disinfectant wipe. “To wash away the blood,” he said as an explanation. The smug smile on his face intensified her ill feeling.

Excella looked pleased as well. “Not even a scratch,” she said. “You are definitely going to be one of our best investments, dear.”

As I continued to surge forward with Tangled Web, I began brainstorming the last eight to ten chapters. I eventually had the ending planned down to the last detail, save for one. The aspect that caused me trouble was related to how Wesker would be defeated at the end. I needed him to venture into the caves below his facility, but I couldn’t think of any logical reason why he would go there. Especially if his intent was to take Claire’s newborn child. I can’t go into detail without spoiling the climax of Tangled Web, but I came up with one wicked plot twist in October 2016 that would make the setup work.

If there is one thing I love about fiction stories, it is being surprised by something that you don’t see coming. Plot twists are my favorite thing to incorporate in my own writing. I have at least four or five in store for the final chapters of Tangled Web, all of which have been subtly hinted at throughout the narrative.

Though I have a clear vision of how the story plays out, I still have a good amount of deleted material for it – ranging from bits of dialogue that didn’t work to entire scenes that got cut. I have been saving the deleted material in a separate file, which is currently thirty pages. My plan is to share it with fans of the story once Tangled Web is completed.

I have also attempted to write a companion story to Tangled Web called Razor’s Edge, though I never made it past four chapters on that one. It would have addressed the same two years, but largely through the perspective of Claire’s older brother, Chris. Ironically, I have a detailed summary for how Razor’s Edge would have gone, but I couldn’t find time to work on both stories simultaneously. I haven’t decided whether I will continue writing the companion story or scrap it altogether.

I have one other thing planned. I would like to make Tangled Web the first book in a trilogy. I have some ideas on where to go with the potential sequels. There might even be a chance for Wesker and Claire to become an item. Even if the additional stories never pan out, I will still be happy with what I’ve written. Tangled Web has definitely been a challenge for me between writing a complex character like Wesker and having Claire and Elliott build a believable romance while being held prisoner. Even though one member of my writing group feels that I’m wasting my time writing fanfiction, I’m glad I was able to pull off this type of story.


photo credits:×350/filters:fixed_height(100,100):origin()/pre00/fd03/th/pre/i/2015/247/2/b/re5_midnight_albert_wesker_by_captain_albertwesker-d47qypg.jpg