Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

braid

“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 retried-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.

Advertisements

A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

message-in-a-bottle-633134

I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.” — Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys, The Very Fabric of Time Itself

I was riding the Staten Island Ferry today and it was one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t plugged into my iPod. I had just finished listening to an episode of The Afternoon Drama (a daily BBC radio play series) and as I was letting the weight of the story settle in, I overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about the five messages they would include in a letter if they were able to have it delivered to their younger selves.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own letter and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed

  1. the letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. that his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the notion of sending five messages because that seemed a bit much to me. No one follows all five pieces of advice they receive. Humans just aren’t built that way. I’d either have to settle on offering Li’l Madd three pieces of advice, hoping that at least one of them stuck, or offer one simple, yet key, bit of advice with a unifying thread. Most likely I’d go with the second option.

The next problem is offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.

The Island of Misfit Posts #2: No Enemy But Time

Like its predecessor, Discouraged by Discouragement, this pesky fella here is another one of those posts that didn’t quite turn out as expected and ended up on the cutting room floor (though a part of its sentiment made its way into You’re Where You Are). Caught somewhere between my musings of growing older while still struggling with the craft and my intent of advising impatient writers to slow down, the post started taking the shape of something neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring:

“Do you think, I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable!” — Julius Caesar

When you reach a certain age, you become acutely aware of time, how much you’ve squandered on things you swore were important at the moment, and how little you still have left in your account. Whenever I get the time brain bug, I’m always brought back to the line from Delmore Schwartz’s poem, Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day (quoted in that horrendous film Star Trek: Generations), “Time is the fire in which we burn.” I love that line. It resonates within me.

But I digress.

Many aspiring authors feel the pressures of time, either believing because of their age that they’ve gotten a late start in the writing process and need to play catch up, or simply haven’t got the proper time to devote to a writing regime, so they attempt to bang out herculean writing tasks without bothering to first learn the rules. They assume because they’ve taken on board the advice to write everyday that their skill set automatically improves and mistakes auto-correct themselves. They read, as instructed, but fail to apply storytelling rules–plotting, story goals, scenes and sequences, the purpose of characters, effective use of dialogue–to their own work.

That’s not to say their writing is bad, it simply lacks a consistent quality. A beautiful bit of prose or a dynamic character can easily get lost in the quagmire of weak grammar, poor pacing, and a meandering plot. Recognizing it can sometimes be hard to turn an objective eye on your own writing, here are a few questions to ask yourself, to see if you need to go back to writers boot camp:

1. Do you tell a story?

I assume you’re familiar with the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This applies to your writing as well, especially when you’re concentrating on your piece at the word choice and sentence structure level. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and get a big picture view of what you’re attempting to do, what it is you’re really trying to write about. The answer isn’t always as clear cut as you’d imagine.

2. Is your writing concise?

This one’s a toughie, because it calls on you to chuck out everything you learned in school about the proper way to write an essay. Well, this ain’t about writing essays, bub (or bubette, no gender discrimination here) and the rules of pacing language are different in fiction. The first rule you need to learn is: Never use a long sentence when a short one does the same job.

3. Are you addicted to adjectives and adverbs?

Adjectives and adverbs are among the more hotly debated issues in the writing community, and while opinions vary, the common rule of thumb is less is more. It can be hard to spot over usage while writing so when you’re done with your piece, look for chains–a string of adjective and adverb two or greater–and whittle it down until you’re left with one or two essential ones. Also worth bearing in mind, when you feel the need to modify a noun or a verb, make sure they need to be modified. If they do, select the best word to convey your meaning.

4. Are you familiar with the word “subtle?”

Your audience is smarter than you realize. There’s no need for you to spell everything out in exacting detail. And, believe it or not, some folks actually enjoy interpreting things for themselves.

5. Should you be shifting viewpoints?

Hopping from one character’s head to another without causing audience confusion requires a certain level of skill, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be doing it (and if I told you not to, you’d rush out and do it anyway) but why not baby step your way towards it? Work on mastering the one character viewpoint first.

6. Do you show too much?

Yes, the standard rule is “show, don’t tell” but you don’t need to show everything. When in doubt, refer to Elmore Leonard’s rule,”Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

7. Do you create apathetic characters?

You’re an artist, your work is all about the truth, even in fiction. I get it. I’ve been there. But creating a realistic character based on your current bout of apathy, depression, or (heaven forbid) suicidal thoughts, often doesn’t make for good reading. Your characters must have wants and needs to push the plot forward. Audiences have no need to read stories where the characters have no desire to live or accomplish something.

8. Is your antagonist one dimensional?

Villains that are evil for evil’s sake are boring. Flesh them out with wants and needs like you would your main character. And remember, every villain is a hero in their own mind.

9. Does your dialogue matter?

Yes, leaving white on the page is a good thing as no one like slogging through dense blocks of description, but are you breaking up paragraphs with bits of meaningless chatter? Dialogue should be used as a communication between characters that evokes reaction. One characters says something that another character reacts to, which sparks a reaction, and so on, until the scene concludes. If you have no idea what your character has to say, then you don’t know your character well enough.

10. Can you write an ending?

Some people excel at writing beginnings, and that all they’re good at. Each chapter is a new beginning, with no middle to be found and as for an ending? I’m sure you can work out the answer to that. Other people get off to a slow start in the beginning, come into their own in the middle and peter out at the finish line. Let’s face it, endings are tough. Not only must you keep it clear and simple while you deliver on the promise of the premise (without being didactic), but you have to tie up all your story’s loose ends, and if you’re planning to surprise your audience, it shouldn’t be with an inappropriate twist, added for shock value. Keep in mind that writing the words “The End” doesn’t finish a story if it has no resolution.

In truth, I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind at the time. Although it might not be visible in the post, that damned time brain bug kept nagging at me, not with words, but with a feeling – the feeling of being left behind in the race for achievement. Before you say a word, I know better. In fact, one of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from the now famous commencement speech, Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

“The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

But we’re human, aren’t we? And sometimes knowing a truth doesn’t prevent you from feeling the exact opposite.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

19 Habits of Happy Writers (you don’t really want to be miserable all your life, do you?)

http://rhyscorhys.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/b4784-happytypewriter.jpg

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” — Dalai Lama

As writers, it’ll come as no shock to any of you when I say my mood largely affects my writing. When I slide into the dark places, although I attempt to slog my way through the anguish and negativity that gets so thick sometimes as to suffocate me, my writing naturally suffers.

This post stems from an article I read recently on a Swedish study that suggested writers have a higher risk than the general population of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also about twice as likely to commit suicide.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to head this off at the pass. So, below are a few suggestions to help you live a happier existence, broaden your horizons, create a positive environment in which to write, and hopefully bring energy and verve into your projects:

1. Appreciate Life

Be thankful that you beat the odds and woke up alive this morning, some folks weren’t as lucky as you. Develop a childlike sense of wonder towards life and focus on the beauty of things. Learn to make the most of each day, and stop taking things for granted. And definitely don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s small for a reason.

2. Choose Your Friends Wisely

Do your best to surround yourself with happy, positive people who share your values and goals. Friends that have the same ethics as you will encourage you to achieve your writing dreams. They help you to feel good about yourself and are good for a morale boost when needed.

3. Be Considerate

Accept and respect others for who they are as well as where they are in life. With a generous spirit, help when you’re able, without trying to change the person. As a rule, you should try to brighten the day of everyone you come into contact with. Especially the difficult ones.

4. Learn Continuously

Try new and daring things to spark interests, gain experience, and that you can bring back into your writing.

5. Develop Creative Problem Solving Skills

Stop wallowing in self-pity as soon as you face a challenge and instead get busy finding a solution. Don’t let set backs affect your mood, instead see each new obstacle you face as an opportunity to make a positive change. Learn to trust your gut instincts – it’s almost always right.

6. Laugh Lots

Stop taking yourself – or life for that matter — so damned seriously. You can find humor in just about any situation, so learn to laugh at yourself, because, let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. When appropriate, laugh and make light of the circumstances. (Naturally there are times that you should be serious as it would be improper to laugh. Try not to that person.)

7. Forgive!!!

Holding a grudge hurts no one but you. Forgive others for your own peace of mind. When you make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it, and forgive yourself.

8. Be Grateful

Develop an attitude of gratitude by learning to count your blessings; All of them, even the things that seem trivial. Be grateful for your home, your work and most importantly your family and friends.

9. Invest in Relationships

Always make sure your loved ones know you love them even in times of conflict. Nurture and grow your relationships with your family and friends by making the time to spend with them. Don’t break your promises to them. Be supportive.

10. Keep Your Word

Honesty is the best policy. Every action and decision you make should be based on honesty. Be honest with yourself and with your loved ones.

11. Meditate

Meditation gives your very active brain a rest. When it’s rested you will have more writing energy and function at a higher level. Whether it’s yoga, hypnosis, relaxation tapes, affirmations, visualization or just sitting in complete silence, find something you enjoy and make the time to practice daily.

12. Mind Your Own Business

Concentrate on creating your life the way you want it and take care of you and your family. Don’t get overly concerned with what other people are doing or saying. Don’t get caught up with gossip or name calling. Don’t judge. Everyone has a right to live their own life the way they want to – including you.

13. Be Optimistic

See the glass as half full. Find the positive side of any given situation. It’s there – even though it may be hard to find. Know that everything happens for a reason, even though you may never know what the reason is. Steer clear of negative thoughts. If a negative thought creeps in – replace it with a positive thought.

14. Love Unconditionally

Don’t put limitations on your love, even though you may not always like the actions of your loved ones – continue to love them.

15. Be Persistent

Never give up. Face each new challenge with the attitude that it’ll bring you one step closer to your goal. You’ill never fail, as long as you never give up. Focus on what you want, learn the required skills, make a plan to succeed and take action. As humans, we’re always happiest while pursuing something of value to us.

16. Be Proactive

Accept what can’t be changed. Happy writers don’t waste energy on circumstances beyond their control. Accept your limitations as a human being. Determine how you can take control by creating the outcome you desire – rather than waiting to respond.

17. Take Care of Yourself

Take care of your mind, body and health. Get regular medical check ups. Eat healthy and work out. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water. Exercise your mind by continually energizing it with interesting and exciting challenges.

18. Build Self Confidence

Don’t try to be someone you’re not (no one likes a phony). You know who you are on the inside so be confident with that, do the best you can manage and don’t second guess yourself.

19. Take Responsibility

Happy writers know and understand that they are 100% responsible for their life. They take responsibility for their moods, attitude, thoughts, feelings, actions and words. They are the first to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

And there you have it. Simple, common sense suggestions to help you take responsibility for your own happiness. I realize that some of these are easier said than done, but could it really hurt to try to work on developing at least a few of these habits as you own? Who knows, the more you incorporate the above habits into your daily lifestyle, the happier you could be.

Being gifted with creativity comes at a price, but it doesn’t have to be a terrible one.

Sally forth and be true to yourself writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

11 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (More About You and Less About the Writing)

“Write like you’ll live forever — fear is a bad editor. Write like you’ll croak today — death is the best editor. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake. Pick one — fame or delight.” ― Ron Dakron

  1. Writing is a steep, uphill battle but it’s fierce and it’s beautiful and you’ll regret walking away from it before you’ve seen it reach its potential.
  2. New people, experiences and opportunities to write about won’t stop coming into your life but you need to make space for them. Reexamine all your current relationships, obligations and habits and if you find value in them, hold onto them tighter. If their value escapes you, it’s time to let something go.
  3. Resolve to be awesome for the rest of your life, starting right now. Just because.
  4. Writing goals are not reserved for January 1st. Get in the habit of setting them monthly, hell, even weekly. Set them so that you’re moving forward and always trying to progress. Your writing can grow stagnant without them. Beware.
  5. Confidence is an attractive thing. Readers dig it. Non-readers dig it. We all dig it.
  6. Negative people chip away at your spirit. Flush the toxins and get yourself into a better writing head space.
  7. And if you slag off another writer because their abilities fail to impress or interest you, maybe you’re on the road to toxicity. Peer relationships are too valuable to muddy with what you perceive to be the shortcomings of other writers. If you can’t find enjoyment in someone’s writing, don’t read it. Plain and simple.
  8. You’re human and as such you’re going to waste many hours focusing on who you aren’t, or who you want to secretly be. But you won’t ever wake up and magically become that person. You’ve got to embrace what you bring to the table. If you don’t like what that is, have the courage to change it.
  9. Regret is a very real thing. It’s going to happen to you at some point. Don’t hold onto things forever but learn from them and let the past go. The past will be a dictator if you let it.
  10. Yes, when we write we create worlds, but the world doesn’t revolve around us. Turns out we’re just punctuations in a much larger story littered with periods and commas and dashes. How are you helping that story to be better? How are you being the best punctuation you can be?
  11. Tech advancement is coming at us fast and furious and it’s all too easy to let an emoticon laden text do the talking for you, too easy to click a Like or +1 button instead of engaging people in an actual dialogue. Never lose sight of the beauty of a conversation where you can watch a person’s face express actual emotions. Let a person know that they are worth your words. They are worth your presence. They are worth more than just letters on a screen. Face to face connections are fading faster everyday. Please don’t let the machines win.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

You’re Where You Are Because of Who You Are (but that ain’t necessarily a bad thing)

images

This one’s dedicated to the older crowd who aren’t quite sure they’re meant to be a writer, despite the deep down sense that urges them to touch pen to page. Doubt is a bastard of a beast that silently creeps in and builds its nest in your confidence and only rears its ugly head when you look at your writing and whispers, “You aren’t where you should be for someone your age. Maybe you’re just not good at it because a great writer–hell, even a competent one–would be further along by now, don’t you think?

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Writing doesn’t come with a sell by date and it doesn’t give a damn how long in the tooth you are. Don’t believe me? Do your research. In your info gathering you’ll no doubt discover that Laura Ingalls Wilder was 60 when she first published her “Little House” series, Raymond Chandler sold his first pulp crime short story at 45, Richard Adams was 50 when “Watership Down” went to press, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, the question I put to you is, if they can do it, why can’t you as well?

The mere fact that you’re questioning yourself and your abilities probably means you’re meant to be a writer. And who knows, maybe the words you write will help change the world in some small way or impact the lives of your audience. And even if that isn’t the case, should you feel that something is missing and recognize that the world, in spite of its diversity and splendor, simply is not enough and that your dreams are so much bigger than the reality that surrounds you… why not write about it?

If the yearning is gnawing at your sanity, the onus is on you to hang your self-doubt on the coat rack (don’t worry, you can pick it up on your way out), stuff your excuses in an old cigar box, give perfectionism the night off, mine your soul for inspiration and when you hit a gold vein, start writing. And embrace what comes out. If it’s messy, let it be messy, or chaotic, or terrifying, just turn the editor off and keep moving forward. You’ll have plenty of time to edit your piece after you’ve finished writing it.

One last thing before I sign off, whenever I got myself into trouble and grounded as a kid, my mother used to say, “You’re where you are, because of who you are” and maybe that applies to you when it comes to writing. Perhaps you’re meant to be the age you are at this very moment, filled with your own unique life experiences, to start writing that project that’s been pestering you for so long.

So, push the ages of the recent crop of bestselling authors out of your mind and follow your calling. Comparing the fruits of their labor to your current lack of same is ridiculous (and frankly, their success is none of your business). All you can do is your best, so get to writing, will ya?

I wish you nothing but the very best of luck in completing your piece (and enjoy the process while you’re at it).

Sally forth and be agelessly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Savior Complex Part 2

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

…continued from Part 1

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

Gasoline on fire. He lost his mind and no manner of reason calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to get his kids and make her pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could have managed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect skin. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew than and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was sad.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor, punched and kicked me and I had no defense, I put my arms up but they blocked none of his attack.

He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.

I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to me feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy? And I told them to stop that, it wasn’t funny anymore, I’m not their father and the looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. And I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. The pair of us a newborn Lee and later with holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.

I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She tells them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and a something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what that was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things tomorrow, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after he got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

What Dreams May Come — Journaling Your Sleep Inspired Stories

“Even today I keep a Dream Journal. It’s whatever’s going on in my subconscious, or things from dreams or even interesting items that pop into my head. I have thousands of pages of notes which I hope someday will turn into stories, or movies.” — Clive Barker

I had the craziest dream last night—which is why you’re reading this—more lucid than any dream I can remember having for quite a while now. It was strangely reminiscent of World War Z—the Brad Pitt movie, not the far superior book—where I was trying to make my way to Washington, DC to avert a catastrophe brought about by the government shut down and hot on my trail was a dinosaur assassin. And not just any dinosaur assassin, THE dinosaur assassin. Only the best is hired to bring about the expedient demise of yours truly. Yeah, I know… it’s a dream, gimme a break here.

Anyhoo, when I woke up—before the dinosaur pulled the trigger—I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I dusted off the old dream journal.

I’ve been dream journaling for a number of years, mainly to collect source material for future writings but I soon discovered that exploring my dreams in this fashion helped me connect with different dimensions of myself, mainly the way my subconscious communicated with my conscious mind through metaphor and emotion.

And I know at least one of you is going to come at me with, “Well, that’s great for you, but I can’t keep a dream journal because I don’t dream.

That is so not the case.

Everyone dreams—with the exception of those suffering from extreme psychological disorders—even the blind. A good thing, too, as studies show that dreams help prevent psychosis. The bad part is that upon waking, half of your dream evaporates from your memory within 5 minutes and 90% is gone by the 10-minute mark.

Is dream journaling for you? Well, I think it’s an interesting experiment that’ll cost you no more than a few minutes a day, a notebook and a pen. All you need to do is capture the dream when you wake up. Hell, you can even keep a voice recorder by your bed and dictate everything you recall. And if you have a hard time remembering it, one mnemonic trick is to go through the alphabet and assign a word for each letter. You’ll be surprised how many times this will actually jog your memory. And the more you do it, the stronger your intention, the stronger your connection becomes.

If you do decide to explore your dreams and nightmares in order to pull yourself out of a creative rut and get cracking on a brand new piece of writing, you would be in good company. The following famous books were inspired when the authors’ bodies were at rest and their minds were at play:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This horror classic sprang into existence because of Stevenson’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: After the death of her 12 day old daughter, the heartbroken Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin dreamt of her child coming back to life after being massaged near a fire. She wrote about it in the collaborative journal she kept with her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, which grew into one of the most iconic, influential horror novels of all time.

9788172235789

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: This story initially sprung from Richard Bach’s daydreams of a drifting seabird. In fact, he could only finish the original draft following another series of subconscious visions.

Misery by Stephen King: While dozing off on a flight to London, King found inspiration in a chilling nightmare about a crazed woman killing and mutilating a favorite writer and binding a book in his skin.

Stuart Little by E.B. White: The tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse sauntered into White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later.

Twelve Stories and a Dream by H.G. Wells: The title says it all. “A Dream of Armageddon,” sprouted from a dream that speculated on the dangerous directions in which mankind’s technology could ultimately lead it.

“Kubla Khan” from Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Coleridge, woke one morning after having a—-believed to be opium induced—-fantastic dream. He transcribed his vision in a dream in the form of the now famous poem. 54 lines in, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock and when he returned to the poem, he couldn’t remember the rest of his dream and thus the poem was never completed.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Works: Lovecraft pulled much of his inspiration from the vivid nightmares he suffered most nights. A shock to anyone? In particular, the novels and short story featuring the Great Old Ones drew themselves from the more twisted corners of his subconscious.

Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac: A book that does as it says on the tin. Kerouac kept and published a book comprised entirely of his dreams, spanning from 1952 to 1960 and starring characters from many of his other works.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer: In Meyer’s own words, the dream “was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation. The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her,”

Fantasia of the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence: Lawrence so perfectly maps out dream experiences and explains their importance and inspiration in such great detail it edges out any other competing works.

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Reiko Matsuura: Adapted from Matsuura’s most unusual dream, the novel tells the story of a woman who wakes up with a penis for a toe and explores gender identity and relations.

And before the Sandman returns to slip me another Mickey Finn, here are a few additional interesting factoids about dreams:

  • Your mind doesn’t create faces for the strangers in your dreams. Each one is an actual person you’ve encountered, even if only briefly. Your noggin is a mug book filled with hundreds of thousands of faces.
  • You don’t dream when you snore.
  • People who quit smoking have more vivid dreams.
  • While asleep, your body is virtually paralyzed.
  • The real world invades your dreams through sounds, scents, and bodily sensations.
  • Toddlers don’t dream about themselves until they’re at least 3 years old.
  • Children from 3 to 8 years old usually have more nightmares than adults.
  • You’re more likely to remember your dreams vividly if you’re awakened out of REM sleep.

Sally forth and be dream-storyingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Writer Must Be Like God in the Universe

“The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” —- Gustave Flaubert

In your ordinary everyday existence, you’re merely a person, be it lawful, chaotic, neutral, friendly or antisocial. But when you write, you become something far greater than self. You ascend to the highest self possible and become the god of the universe(s) you create. You know all there is to know and have the ability to think anything into being, and being omniscient, you know full well the folly of making a personal appearance to your characters.

On occasion you may opt to visit your world in the form of a raisonneur or Author Avatar—-a fictionalized version of yourself who is called upon to comment on a given situation, deliver your verdict, and possibly break the Fourth Wall in a self-deprecating fashion, but should never influence the plot and should only be loosely tied to events.

Because you’re god of your universe(s), you also work in mysterious ways by playing the role of The Adversary. You are the force that opposes you. With regards to your characters, in this role you are duplicitous, traitorous, hindersome, curmudgeonly, vindictive, mutinous, licentious, and profane. How can that not sound exciting?

What are you waiting for? Sally forth and be god playingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

PS. If you’re experiencing difficulty accessing your inner godhood, perhaps a quick pep talk from Alan Watts will help you on your path:

Speak Boldly of Your Intention to Write

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”  —–Kenneth H. Blanchard

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’s 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’s the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.

So, how committed are you?

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys