Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

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“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retired-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

Text and audio ©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

More Words Than You Need – Some Darlings Ain’t Long For This World

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss

No better moment exists than when you first get hit with that brand spanking new premise for a story. There will be those of you who disagree, citing the signing of a contract and being handed a check for your work as a better moment, but I beg to differ. When a story first bursts to life in your mind, you are in the superposition of optimism. The story will be great, the best thing you’ve ever written and will be well-received by the washed and unwashed masses alike. No reality lurking about to place limitations on your spectacular vision at this point.

So, you do your prep work—outlining, research, character development, etc.—and pound out your first draft. And you’re happy with yourself. Real happy. Your first instinct is to share it with the world, but before you slap your baby in the mail or post it online, I need to break some bad news to you. Your story isn’t perfect. Not only is it filled with mistakes but it’s a tad overweight.

Since you most likely don’t have access to an editor at this stage in your writing career, the onus is on you to sharpen the edge of your blue-pencil blade to fix typos and cull clumsy or ambiguous phrasing.

If you’ve ever handed a story to someone to read, a story you were sure was error-free, you quickly learned that spotting mistakes in your own writing is difficult. The problem with self-editing is your mind glosses over errors because it knows what you meant to write and sometimes reads that instead of what you actually wrote. Fortunately, self-editing is a skill you can learn to hone in order to eliminate mistakes and improve the quality of your writing:

1. Don’t edit on the fly

I know this is a hard thing to do, but when you’re writing why not concentrate on getting your idea down on paper first? Sure, if you spot a typo it’s okay to correct it or to approach a sentence from a different angle in order to keep flow going, but when you begin deleting sections of your work or get caught in the dreaded rewrite loop—reworking the same paragraph over and over again—you’re placing road blocks between you and the forward progression of your story.

One solution to help break you out of this bad habit may be to try a distraction-free writing program like OmmWriter, Write or Die, Freedom, Grandview, and Don’t Look Back.

2. Set it and forget it

Once you’ve finished your latest magnum opus, stuff it in a drawer and go about your business before you even think about attempting to edit it. Concentrate instead on one of the many things you had to put aside in order to make time to write. What you’re doing here is stepping out from among the trees so you can see the entire forest.

You’ll find when you eventually return to your work, you’re approaching it with a new set of eyes that are better equipped to spot things you’ve missed, things that don’t work as well as you initially thought they did, inconsistencies, etc.

3. Big picture editing before sentence micromanagement

I know, I know, you’re eager to jump in and fine tooth comb your work sentence by sentence, and good on you for being that keen, but before you get into the detail work, I need you to consider examining your content and overall structure. Is there important information missing from the piece? Or a section that’s either irrelevant or seems out of place? How about scenes in desperate need of drastic revision?

Focus on the major issues before you begin tweaking words and sentences.

4. Put your work on a diet

You’ve over-written the piece. Uh-uh, don’t argue. You’re a writer who’s in love with the notion of stringing words together to convey ideas that plant images your audience’s mind, which means you over-write. Don’t be ashamed, most writers use more words than are absolutely necessary.

It’s time to get your piece into fighting shape by cutting its body mass index by ten percent. It’s easier to drop this excess poundage than you think, by simply losing mediocre phrases, unnecessary adjectives, and repeated points.

5. Don’t rely solely on spell-check

A spell-checking program can be your friend, but we all know from experience that it isn’t foolproof. The human eye is still the best tool for catching those sneaky homophone imposter stand-ins (to, too, two; it’s, its; yaw, yore, your, you’re; there, their, they’re), the ever-elusive missing words, auto-correct mishaps, etc.

6. Be backwards in your reading

Mistakes love sliding past you because they realize how tough it is proofing your own work. One of the ways to flip the script and catch them at their diabolical game is to start at the very end of your story and read it backwards. Sounds silly, but it works.

7. Push your darlings out of the nest

One of the awful things about being a writer is that you’re never one hundred percent completely satisfied with your work. But no matter how determined you are to touch the face of perfection, the hard fact is your writing will never be flawless. Accept it. You’re just going to have to settle for the best you can humanly manage. You’ll know when you’ve reached that point when you begin making slight adjustments, then reverting it back to its original form.

It’s time to stop, kiss your darlings on the forehead and push them out of the nest and let them fly into the world.

***

Actually, there are a plethora of editing tips that you can utilize before you get to this stage and instead of listing them all, I’ve decided to post the links below and allow you to browse them at your leisure and cherry pick the ones that work best for you.

30 Quick Editing Tips Every Content Creator Needs to Know

10 Tips For Effective Editing

Editing Tips for Effective Writing

21 Proofreading and Editing Tips for Writers

And just for kicks I decided to link a list of homophones. Ya never know, might come in handy:

A List of English homophones

Sally forth and be writeful.

Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” ― Jennifer Salaiz

Rejection is: a bitter pill to swallow, tough to handle, a serious downer, like getting sucker punched in the gut, blah-blah-blah. You get the picture, chiefly because you’ve experienced it in one form or another. We all have. Even with this blog, as harmless as it is, I sometimes receive emails that take issue with or flat out reject things I’ve posted. Hey, it happens. You can’t fault people for having opinions that differ from your own.

While it’s no big secret that we all seek acceptance, rejection—impossible to avoid once you step out of your comfort zone and into society—is a part of growth. That’s right, you need it in order to develop as a person and grow as a writer.

Here are a few ways that can help you cope during the initial rough patch of receiving a written or verbal rejection:

1. Take yourself out of the equation

Your written piece is your baby, forever tethered to you by an unseen and intangible umbilical cord, and although it will always be a part of you, when someone disapproves of your work, they’re not necessarily rejecting you, the person.

Yes, I’m well aware it’s impossible to completely divorce yourself from something you’ve created. Especially when that sly critter Self-Doubt sidles up beside you and makes you question if there’s something wrong with you or your talent. But instead of taking this to heart and allowing it to consume you, you need to adjust your thinking.

When your work is rejected it’s usually more a reflection of the viewpoint, needs or requirements of the person making the decision. The thoughts in your work may not align themselves with the thoughts of the audience, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, it’s simply not a piece that fits into their jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, if they offer you a reason why your work was rejected, you shouldn’t rush to dismiss it. Take a step back, look at the critique objectively and if it has merit, consider using it in your next draft.

2. Anticipate rejection

It’s coming whether you like it or not, so why not bake a Bundt cake, put the kettle on and have yourself a little nosh when it arrives.

When writing, if you expect rejection, what it should do is make you up your game by challenging you to raise the yardstick, push the envelope and send your best work out into the world. And before you mistake my meaning, I’m not asking you to get down on your work and take the negative view that your writing isn’t good enough and never will be. I just want you to adjust your mental outlook. It’s like the saying goes, “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” It cuts down on the disappointment that may come later on.

Also, don’t let a rejection kill your drive and lead you down the path of procrastination. Use it to become a better, stronger writer.

3. Stay focused

You can’t control your peers, society or the world at large, so why not concentrate on your own thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors? Just because you’re not gifted with the inhuman ability to alter reality, doesn’t mean you’re powerless to alter your personal reality. By turning your focus inward, you acknowledge what you want and realize you have the power to set events in motion to achieve your goals.

How does this apply to rejection? You may be able to avoid the downward spiral of self-doubt by accepting there will always be cynics who are entitled to their opinions, be they informed or otherwise, and said opinions do not—and I repeat do not—have power over you. Instead of focusing on their negativity, turn your attention to what you can control, applying what you’ve learned from their comments and moving forward to produce more powerful work.

4. Spot the merit in rejection

I know I’ve taken an “it’s them, not you” approach in this post but honestly, not all rejection is unfounded. We’ve all produced work that exists on different levels. Some writings strike the right chord with the majority of your audience and others miss the mark by scant inches and even a mile. This is when you let slip your inner critic and examine your work for uninspiring ideas, a poor approach, confusing views, unclear writing, etc.

It also helps to learn to self-question, which is far and way different from self-doubt. Turning detective and analyzing why the person in question didn’t accept the story, what were they looking for and what you could have done differently to meet their needs, may help you decipher learning points of which you were previous unaware.

A word of cautious: Unless you have a personal connection with an editor or publisher, I would advise against contacting them directly to ask why your work was rejected. While you may see it as a means to improve your craft, your intent may be misconstrued. You never want to gain the reputation of being that person. Or, perhaps you do. In that case, have at it. Who am I to tell you what to do?

5. Understand that rejection is growth

You’ve heard the saying, “One step forward, two steps back,” and you might believe receiving a rejection is taking those two soul-crushing backward steps, but you, my friend, are absolutely 100% incorrect. It’s the one step forward to understanding what people are looking for in the real world and how you can progress your writing to accomplish your objectives.

And if you have a piece of writing that has received more than a few rejections, instead of chucking it in the drawer of misfit tales, why not give it the once-over one more time, taking all the rejection information into account while you do it. You just might find that you can spot and understand the weak points in your story’s structure and fortify them with the experience you’ve gained from learning how to cope with, deconstruct and master the lessons within the criticism you’ve received.

As I said from the start, you’re not the only person who’s dealt with rejection. Click this link and view some of the rejection letters received by bestselling authors. If they can handle it and move on, so can you.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Don’t Be A Chump, Don’t Infodump

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Finding balance in your life isn’t simple. Balancing life and writing is even harder. Finding balance in your writing? That’s something you’ll be working on for the rest of your natural writing life, because a well-written story balances exposition, description, action and dialogue, but not in equal measure. You need to keep a watchful eye on exposition.

In its basic form, exposition is the part of a story that sets the stage for the drama to follow, introducing the theme, setting, characters, and circumstances, usually at the beginning of the story. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, writing good exposition that flows with the story and continues to draw the audience in, isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, many writers misuse exposition as an illegal dumping ground for information that not only causes a distraction that breaks the flow of a story, but also decreases interest.

And you don’t have to be an expert to spot the exposition dump (aka infodump) because we’ve all experienced and recognized it while reading a novel or watching a movie or television program. It’s that speed bump or sometimes roadblock in the story where the writer unloads a ton of information at once as a means of explaining things like backstory, characters, and the rules of the story world. If you’re a culprit of this, stop it now. We’ll forgive your ignorance in past works (go back and cull the exposition, if at all possible) but it’s a bad exposition technique and the line must be drawn here. This far, no further.

Typically, infodumping occurs when a character, new to the scene, is introduced to a foreign setting and is force-fed all the knowledge of the various individuals at play, the rules of the micro society, and the overall big picture of the story world. You’ll find this a lot in science fiction and fantasy tales.

Other bad/lazy infodumping techniques include “The Lecture,” where a speaker over-explains information the writer discovered during their research period of the writing process and thought would show their faux expertise in the subject. The other offender is commonly known in the sci-fi writing community as the “As You Know, Bob,” conversation, where one character tells another character information they already know. Please don’t do this. Not only is it lazy, but it comes across as unrealistic.

This isn’t to say that all exposition is bad, in fact, properly executed, it takes up roughly 10% of a well-balanced written piece (the other 90%, of course, being the description, action and dialogue that make up the scenes). Some of the information embedded within expository text is actually relevant, it simply requires a little finesse to fit it in seamlessly and not disrupt the story’s flow.

Of course, if you handle your description, action and dialogue properly, you can whittle that 10% down and most people won’t notice or care about the missing exposition.

Well, that’s enough infodumping for me today. I’m off to tear a story down and rebuild it.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Be Violent And Original (in your writing, naturally)

Image“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Live a good life. This isn’t something I should have to tell you. As you make your way through the workaday world, you should strive to do no harm, treasure your relationships with family and friends, seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind, and live in harmony and balance.

Your written life? That’s a different creature all together.

Safe, tame, bland, and sometimes “it’s good” (with the unspoken “but…” attached on the end like a phantom limb) are among the worst things someone can say about your work. Whenever you write, your goal should be to provide elements that hook your audience and reels them in and after the story has been told, leaves them with an emotional takeaway.

Writing is about risk-taking, about snapping off the handbrakes, about shrugging off restraint, about leaving your internal censor bound and gagged in a tiny room, allowing your words and imagination to run amuck and wreak havoc in the world you’ve created.

If you’re not currently writing this way, what’s holding you back? What’s bridling your passion? What’s preventing you from creating bold characters, powerful phrases and dangerous situations? If not yours, then whose hand is on the lever that controls the sluice gates holding back the churning anxiety, obsession and peril your story desperately needs?

Are you trapped within the safe zone because of fear? Then allow me to geek out a moment as I quote the litany of fear, an incantation used by the religious/political sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fear is also an art-killer. It’s typically the fear of being judged by professionals, critics and peers, of not being admired by the audience for taking a controversial stance or doing horrible things to characters. But the possible opinions and tastes of everyone outside yourself shouldn’t factor in while you’re creating your story. The transfer of ownership hasn’t taken place at this point. It isn’t the reader’s story yet, it’s still yours, so why not write fiercely?

Give your characters barbed tongues and let them spit venom. Give them the courage to do all the things you would never dream of attempting, even on your most adventurous or foolhardy day. Tear their hearts out and make them suffer as you place them smack dab in the center of conflict and tension-filled drama.

Basically, I’m asking you to fish out that key that you’ve hidden in the back of a junk drawer within the deep recesses of your mind and open the door to your wildest imaginings.

You’ll come to discover that if you’re open, honest and free in your writing, yes, you will have your critics and people who won’t either like or understand your work, but you’ll also attract an audience that will come back for more.

What’s that? You need more incentive? Okay, well I didn’t want to break out the big guns but here goes:

I dare you to become more engaging and intriguing with your writing. I double-dog dare you.

See what you made me do? Happy now?

Sally forth and be writeful.

21 Writing Lessons A Wise Man Would Share (and no, I’m not calling myself wise)

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  1. Commitment is what transforms an idea floating around in your head into reality. Putting pen to paper speaks boldly of your intentions and are the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to shape ethereal things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.
  2. No one is perfect. The quicker this is realized the faster you can get on with being excellent. Start every morning ready to write harder than you did the day before and plot further than you ever imagine.
  3. Avoid over explaining yourself in writing. Be confident that your audience is intelligent enough to understand.
  4. Write down what’s most important to you in your writing career and the steps to accomplish that goal and show up. Sometimes we tend to do the things that are most important to us when it’s written down.
  5. Play the hand you’re dealt. Stop envying someone else’s talent or success. Have the courage to face your own writing challenges head on. It builds character. Start looking for a way through instead of a way out.
  6. Become a student of life. Learn something new every day. The day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete so keep learning and keep writing.
  7. No excuses. Stop making excuses for not writing and replace them with ways to do better writing. Excuses are a waste of time and energy.
  8. Never be ashamed to tell anyone you’re a writer, whether you’re published or not. The definition of a writer is a person who writes or is able to write. Being ashamed to acknowledge this fact to people speaks to self-doubt, which is a desire killer.
  9. Never be afraid of a writing challenge. If you never strive to be more than what you are, you’ll never truly know what you can become.
  10. Service to others. Pointing people in the right direction is such a small thing. Give advice to those who ask for it. Offer support to those who want it. We’re all here to teach as well as learn.
  11. Work like hell. If you want to earn a living as a writer, that is. Treat it like a profession, put your absolute best foot forward and be thorough. Cross every “T” and dot every “I”.
  12. Discover you. Find your passion, life purpose, and pursue them… then write about them.
  13. Don’t take it personally. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and laugh at something that you’ve written in the past that’s just plain awful. Self-awareness and self-confidence shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin.
  14. Manage your time. Our situation and environment is ever changing so be careful not to confuse the things that are urgent with the things that are important. Look for time wasters and eliminate them.
  15. Ask for help. Writing can be tough and although you do a majority of it alone, you should never write in a total vacuum and there’s no shame in seeking advice when you’re stuck.
  16. Do your homework. Know what you’re getting into before you start writing in a particular field, format or genre. Doing your homework reduces uncertainty and fear.
  17. Daydream often. Your imagination is a muscle that requires exercise and daydreaming is an excellent way to flex. Embrace and preserve your daydreams at all cost.
  18. Forgive and set free. Freeing your mind to write is almost as important as actually sitting down to write, so cultivate a healthy dose of forgiveness and set someone free. Learn to forgive others and stop carrying those bags of hate, guilt or regret.
  19. Stay one step ahead. Avoid big fish/small pond thinking if at all possible. If you’ve mastered a particular style of writing, why not be proactive, take the initiative, and see what other types of writing challenges are out there for you?
  20. Self-love. Become your own priority. Strive to be the you, you want to be. Once you accomplish this, it will show in your writing, trust me.
  21. Finish what you started. Avoid the urge to stray. Distractions are the writer’s most fearsome adversary. Avoid jumping off a project because a better idea has come along. Jot the better idea down, set it aside, and come back to it when you’re done with your current project.

Sally forth and be wisely writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Three Simple Facts Of Writing

 

Today’s entry is a shortie because I’m busy wrestling with a wordy bastard of a story that refuses to be tamed but I’m in a particularly stubborn mood, so challenge met!

That said, I offer you my three simple facts of writing:

  1. If you do not write the story you truly want to write, it will never be read. You can’t have the unwashed masses confirm your greatness when you haven’t given them anything to be in awe of.
  2. If you don’t submit your work—–for review, publication, employment, or whatever—–the answer will always be no. The cruelest rejection you can ever receive is from yourself, the toughest critic you’ll ever know. If you never show your work, you never give an editor, publisher, prodco, or whatever, the chance to say yes (exercise caution, of course, and protect your writing before letting it fly out into the world).
  3. If you don’t write, you’ll never be a writer. Plain and simple. Also, many, many, many years from now, when you’re lying on your deathbed, do you really want a box of regret—–filled with all the unwritten stories of your life—–hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles? I think not.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

50 Questions That Can Help Free Your Mind (to concentrate on writing… hopefully)

 

The common advice for freeing your mind to write is to create a journal. I’m fairly certain that most of you have either 1) created a journal that you may or may not keep current, or 2) heard the advice and decided journaling isn’t for you (hey, it happens).

So, what other options do you have when you’ve lost your self in a quagmire of self-pity, mundane daily obligations and insurmountable life woes and can’t quite seem to maintain your true identify or nurture your creative center?

Why, you slap on your pith helmet, turn your gaze inward, and explore that largely ignored country of your core self, naturally. And the best way to accomplish this is with the list below. Why a list? Because you’re a writer and writers love lists.

Be advised that there are no right or wrong answers because sometimes simply asking the right questions is the answer.

  1. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
  2. Which is worse, failing or never trying?
  3. If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
  4. When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?
  5. What is the one thing you would most like to change about the world?
  6. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
  7. Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?
  8. If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
  9. To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?
  10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?
  11. You are having lunch with three people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do?
  12. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
  13. Would you break the law to save a loved one?
  14. Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity?
  15. What is something you know you do differently than most people?
  16. How come the things that make you happy don’t make everyone happy?
  17. What is one thing have you not done that you really want to do? What’s holding you back?
  18. Are you holding onto something you need to let go of?
  19. If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?
  20. Do you push the elevator button more than once? Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?
  21. Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
  22. Why are you, you?
  23. Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?
  24. Which is worse, when a good friend moves away, or losing touch with a good friend who lives right near you?
  25. What are you most grateful for?
  26. Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones?
  27. Is it possible to know the truth without challenging it first?
  28. Has your greatest fear ever come true?
  29. Do you remember that time 5 years ago when you were extremely upset? Does it really matter now?
  30. What is your happiest childhood memory? What makes it so special?
  31. At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?
  32. If not now, then when?
  33. If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose?
  34. Have you ever been with someone, said nothing, and walked away feeling like you just had the best conversation ever?
  35. Why do religions that support love cause so many wars?
  36. Is it possible to know, without a doubt, what is good and what is evil?
  37. If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?
  38. Would you rather have less work to do, or more work you actually enjoy doing?
  39. Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?
  40. When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?
  41. If you knew that everyone you know was going to die tomorrow, who would you visit today?
  42. Would you be willing to reduce your life expectancy by 10 years to become extremely attractive or famous?
  43. What is the difference between being alive and truly living?
  44. When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just go ahead and do what you know is right?
  45. If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake?
  46. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
  47. When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing?
  48. What do you love? Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love?
  49. In 5 years from now, will you remember what you did yesterday? What about the day before that? Or the day before that?
  50. Decisions are being made right now. The question is: Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?

Sally forth and be free-mindedly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

One Hell Of An Offer

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Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.

“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.

“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and, yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Love’s Love Lost

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Once, in the gloomy and perpetually rainy City of Alphabet, there was born a girl who was said to be the living embodiment of love. From the doctor’s first slap, the girl giggled instead of crying and flushed the neighborhood of all its gray. Her smile was a bottomless thing, its roots branching up from her soul, and it beamed so brightly as to cause blindness if it caught you unawares. Her large jade eyes radiated an innocence so pure it momentarily took your breath away. Given her birthright, she was destined to have but one mate throughout her lifetime and that person would live a charmed life ever after.

Or so the story went.

An urban legend to most, Tyrone, son of William, believed the girl existed and based on the age of the story’s telling, surely had to be an adult now. He also was convinced it was his mission to locate the girl and put an end to love, once and for all.

Tyrone worked fingers to the bone for years and all the wealth he amassed was spent on all the matchmakers who claimed to have an in with the living embodiment of love. Most were scammers, of course, the rest were simply delusional and bestowed the honor upon the wrong women. Only one woman was genuine. She knew the embodiment’s true identity and so deep was her jealousy that she gladly agreed to arrange a match if it meant obliterating the anomaly from the face of the planet.

When Tyrone met the matchmaker in a single occupancy room off Delancey Street, he thought of all the people he had ever encountered, this woman was the flipside of the living embodiment of love’s coin. Emaciated with a rat’s nest for hair, her features were packed together tightly as if God had pinched her face when she was born and left it to set that way.

“Your fee has been paid in full. Why have you not set up the introduction?” Tyrone asked.

“You are not ready.” the matchmaker spat the words like a cawing crow. “As long as you wear your true intentions like armor, she will dismiss you outright.”

“If I pretend, she will spot the ruse instantly. I am sure she has developed the ability to detect friendly facades. I will approach her as a man scorned, which is the truth, and win her over from there.”

“Interesting. And how do you mean to kill her?”

“Those were not my words. I mean to put an end to love.”

“The difference being?”

“I intend to woo her, make her love me, and when she is at her happiest moment, I will argue with her, break her heart with harsh words and hurtful actions. And I will not let her leave, and I will not stop, not until the shine dulls in her eyes and the smile becomes a rootless tree, and even then I will continue until she withdraws, from our relationship, from her happiness, from the world.”

“That will take years if it ever happens at all.”

“It will. I am patient.” Tyrone said.

“But I doubt you are strong enough.”

“Then refund my money. I will find her on my own.”

The matchmaker leaned in closer and eyed Tyrone head to toe. His nose was full of her scent, decaying food left to stew in its own rancid juices.

“A deal is a deal,” she said. “So we are clear, I will make the introduction and my part will be done. Should you fail in your attempts, there will be no returning of the fee paid, understood?”

Tyrone nodded and she led the way out of the room on Delancey. Under the cloak of night, they dipped down into a subway station marked, Closed For Restoration. Past the turnstile and empty platform onto the train tracks. Tyrone masked his apprehension as he gave the third rail a wide berth and occasionally peered over his shoulder at the sound of distant train rumblings.

Between stations, they encountered a society of people, homeless and long abandoned by the surface world, who barred their path. Tyrone thought he would have to fight his way through, but the matchmaker had things well in hand. She mumbled something at the leader, a password perhaps, and pulled a tin of potted meat from her handbag and placed it in his hand. They carefully waded through a field of displaced people’s bedding and cooking stations until they finally reached the service passageway that led to a room not much larger than the one they just left.

In the room were two chairs that faced each other. The matchmaker sat in one and gestured for Tyrone to sit across from her.

“If this is some sort of trick…”

The matchmaker waived off the threat. “She will be here, I promise.”

“Why here?” Tyrone asked.

“There is an interesting story behind that.” The matchmaker cleared her throat and spat a gob of phlegm to the side. “It seems the gift of unconditional love that Arianna was born with — that is the name of the woman you seek, Arianna — the gift that flowed freely from her, the gift that touched everyone within her sphere of influence and filled them with ecstasy, proved too much to bear for most people.”

“Are you telling me people fell too much in love?” Tyrone asked.

“To the point of delirium. It drove them mad. Imagine the feeling when you have loved someone or something in your life, more than anything else in the world, loved it so much that it hurt. Now multiply that by ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, even. Never any hatred, or indifference, only a love for everything that increases exponentially the longer you remain in Arianna’s presence.”

“I never considered that.”

“Most do not.”

“So what happened?” Tyrone leaned forward in his seat.

“Nothing like a good story, eh?” The corners of the matchmaker’s mouth curled slightly. “Arianna’s parents, immune to her gift, fearing for their daughter’s safety as well as their own, moved in the small of the night to parts unknown, somewhere far removed from society at large, and remained in seclusion.”

The matchmaker stopped talking. Tyrone waited, thinking she paused for dramatic effect, but after nearly ten minutes of silence, asked, “Is that it?”

“All the true bits. The rest is apocrypha. I figured that would not interest you.”

Tyrone shrugged, his disinterest unconvincing, “Since we are here…”

“Well, the way I heard it, the family managed to get along fine. True they were isolated but they were also together and safe and Arianna’s constant state of happiness helped the situation be less stressful. Their lives remained uneventful… until the day their daughter reached puberty.

“On the twenty-second day of the seventh month of her fourteenth year, Arianna began growing distant, her once innocent eyes darkened and the luster faded from her smile. The gift once thought to be good was slowly transforming from its former sham and ruse into the corrupt curse it truly was.”

Tyrone’s brow knotted. “So she is not actually a child of love?”

“Why would you think that? Arianna is the physical embodiment of love. At birth, she was the love that was new and innocent and when she entered womanhood, she became the other side of love, the dark side none of us admit to feeling or acting upon.”

“Whichever side she represents when I make her mine, I will cause it to wilt away to nothingness.”

“Do you have an alternate plan?”

“A what?”

“Should she find out what you are attempting, is there a fallback?”

“The only way she would find out is if you tell her…”

“Oh, I will not have to tell her anything… you already have.”

It took Tyrone a few moments to piece together her meaning. “You are… ?”

The matchmaker spread her arms wide. “The genuine article.”

“But you are…”

“A hag? Not at all what you expected? It is the only bit the urban legend got wrong. I was born an ugly child, but people viewed me through the eyes of unconditional love, so my looks did not matter.”

“You tricked me!”

“How? Hello, Tyrone, I am Arianna, pleased to meet you. Consider yourself introduced. Now, live up to your word.” Arianna said as she moved from her chair and sat on Tyrone’s lap. “Woo me and put an end to love. I dare you.”

Tyrone wanted to push her off, but perhaps he hadn’t really wanted that at all. Up close, Arianna wasn’t that horrible to look at. Her mottled skin was actually clear and smooth. Her nose once bent and crooked, appeared aquiline now. Her lips, full and delicious. Her build, athletic.

“Something the matter?” Arianna asked.

Tyrone’s heart beat in his throat. “What are you doing to me?”

“Giving you a taste. I can control the power now. Love, hate, passion, jealousy, to greater and lesser degrees.”

Tyrone tried to scowl but his face wouldn’t cooperate. “What are you going to do to me?”

“Offer you the opportunity to become my mate,” said Arianna. She climbed off his lap and drew her power back into herself, allowing Tyrone to see her in her true form again. “If legend is to be believed, a charmed life awaits you.”

“And if I decline?”

“Then you join the loveless.” Arianna gestured toward the door.

“You mean the people we passed… ?”

“Men and women, not much different than yourself, unable to deal with heartbreak or rejection. Selfish people who, being denied love, sought to prevent others from experiencing it.”

“Why do they mill about below ground so lost?” Tyrone asked.

“They were unable to fulfill their supposed heart’s desire of removing my influence from the world and refused my offer of companionship. Once you turn your back on love, what else is there?” Arianna drained the dark room entirely of love and let him ponder the notion as he sank deep into loneliness and wallowed in abandon and despair.

After an eternity of brooding silence, Tyrone spoke up, “I… accept your offer. I will become your mate.”

“And will you woo me, make me love you, and when I am at my happiest, will you break my heart and make me withdraw from the world?”

“That I will indeed, even if it takes the rest of my life.”

“Challenge accepted.” Arianna shook the man’s hand firmly.

Contract sealed, he put his plan into effect by telling the living embodiment of love his story. Of the woman he loved, that he did nothing to deserve but was blessed with nonetheless. Of their happiness together. Of the sharp knife of cruel fate that cut their time short. Of the anguish that swallowed him whole the instant her body was committed to the ground.

And when his tale was through, Tyrone, son of William, pulled her into his embrace and kissed her with every ounce of his intent and Arianna was forced to admit she felt a slight tingle. They battled for years in this game of hearts, each giving as good as they got, and if he actually succeeded putting an end to her, it was with kindness. Despite the competition that continued to their dying days, the couple wound up living happily ever after.

Oh, and they had one child, who was said to be the living embodiment of peace… but that’s a story for another day.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys