Friday, July 30, 2010

Challenge results - The Aviaries

Okay... no poetry for me this Friday. My adventure muse was in for this Challenge. But see below for the Poetry Friday link and other creative offerings based on this image.

* * *

I crept through the trees, stepping carefully to keep the noise down. Surprise was the only thing working in my favor.

I peered around a tree. He was there: still as a stone, propped against a tree, legs splayed out in front of him. His camouflage hid his features, though it didn’t hide him in the forest.

The Hunter faced the path into the woods. This was his third day of watching the entrance to the Aviaries.

The Aviaries housed the kingdom’s greatest treasures—rare birds found nowhere else. The newest hybrid was the glittering ruby of its mother with its father’s gossamer feathers and a great train of a tail that flashed purple and gold in the sunlight. The crown jewel of any collection.

The King planned to present it at his daughter’s wedding; an auspicious gift with which to begin her new life and a symbol of trust in the peace treaty.

But the Hunter clearly had other plans. He had been watching the path for the last three days. I suspected that he was waiting for an opportunity to steal the bird.

I couldn’t let that happen. My life was at stake—it was my job to keep the birds safe. The King tolerated no mistakes.

I knew today was the day he would make his move. The wedding was tomorrow. Today was the Hunter’s only chance.

I settled down behind the Hunter, ready to track him when he moved.

I didn’t have to wait long. As the sun got low in the sky, I saw the scientists and caretakers leaving for the day. The Hunter twitched.

As the voices faded away and the sky grew pink, the Hunter got to his feet. He stretched and looked around him. I watched. My camouflage was perfect—unless I moved, he couldn’t possibly see me. He glanced in my direction but continued to scan and turned away to retrieve a cage hidden in the brush. I stood and followed.

The Hunter moved quietly through the trees, but I could still hear his footsteps and his labored breath as he carried the cage toward the Aviaries.

At the gate, he set the cage on the ground and looked around again. He pulled a small set of tools from a pocket and began to pick the lock.

I cursed myself for letting the King insist on such a paltry lock, but he had demanded free access to the collection, and he would have nothing to do with high-tech security measures.

Within moments, the gate swung open. The Hunter picked up the cage and stepped inside.

Looming before the Hunter was a large, free-standing structure. Inside, I caught flashes of the gem-colored birds that lived there. They were flitting about in the fiery sunset, light reflecting off of their feathers. The Hunter stopped to stare, and I slipped into the Aviaries behind him.

I was weaponless—one of the King’s rules about working in the Aviaries. He didn’t want someone accidentally killing one of the birds. The Hunter, on the other hand, carried a shotgun, so I had to choose my position with care.

I darted behind an observation post—one from which the researchers watched the birds. The hybrid was kept in its own glass-walled enclosure about fifty feet away. I stood near a path of small stones. Thinking they might be of use, I scooped up a handful and shoved them in my pocket.

The Hunter pulled his eyes away from the birds. With a glance to either side, he headed for the glass cage. He set the cage on the ground and inspected the hybrid’s enclosure before he started to pick the lock.

As he knelt before the cage door, I climbed the ladder into the observation tower. From here a catwalk ran to a second flight cage, on the far side of the glass one. The catwalk ran directly over the top of the smaller enclosure.

I crawled along the catwalk, trying to keep a low profile. The setting sun threw an immense shadow on the wall of the Aviaries. I could see my shadow moving and hoped the Hunter didn’t turn around.

When I reached the glass cage, I swung my feet over the side of the catwalk. I lowered myself until my feet hung mere inches from the metal roof. I couldn’t get any closer without dropping.

I heard the click of the lock and a satisfied grunt from the Hunter. The cage door was open.

I dropped to the roof with a clang.

“What the—?” the Hunter said below me.

I threw some stones onto the path behind him, and he whirled around, pulling his shotgun to his shoulder.

He spotted my shadow on the orange-lit wall. He dropped to one knee and fired. But my shadow disappeared as the shot created clouds of dust in the wall.

I threw myself onto his back and wrestled for the shotgun. I was actually more worried that he would shoot a bird than me. Peace in the kingdoms depended on a successful wedding and gift-giving ceremony tomorrow. Dead birds tonight would derail the King’s peace negotiations.

The Hunter rolled to his side, trapping my left arm. I grunted at the impact and a sharp pain shot through my arm, but I held on. I slammed my right foot against his hand. The gun was now pointing at the distant flight cage. Nervous birds were flying in circles, and I knew one would be hit if the gun fired again.

I kicked a second time and heard the gratifying crunch of bone. The Hunter howled, and the birds erupted in alarm calls. The noise was deafening.

I yanked the gun from his injured hand and swung it out of his reach. Then I shoved the end of the barrel against his side. He arched away from it and stopped moving.

“You’re done,” I growled in his ear. I yanked my bruised arm from under his body and kept the gun trained on him as I backed away. Cradling his broken hand, he shifted to a sitting position and gazed past me.

“No,” he said. A slight smile played on his lips despite his grimace of pain. “You are.”

I turned to see that the door to the glass cage stood open, and I caught a glimpse of red as the hybrid flew away.

* * *
 Post a link to your challenge results in the comments below. And comments on my challenge offering are also welcome.

If you're looking for poetry, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live, Love, Explore!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creative efforts

Today I must play the samurai with my story for Friday's Creativity Challenge (it's a bit long and requires some cutting). But I have been following the creative efforts of others and thought this would be a great opportunity to share them with you.

The FaBo Story is scheduled to continue with chapter 2 (what was outside Remy's tent?)...

Simon and Mercedes are trying to figure out how to kill each other...

Christie has begun a story challenge....

Toby has some original poetry (as do other Poetry Friday participants)...

Roland continues his online story Ghost of a Chance...

and Tahereh continues the Querypolitan fun.

Go see what others are writing, and be sure to write up your post for the Creativity Challenge. Posts should be up by Friday, and you will be able to leave links in the comments of my post to share with others.

And if there are other great stories or original creative work that should be added to the list, please let me know.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Eight years

Today is not about writing or creativity. It's about gratitude. It's about celebrating eight years with Beloved Husband: the man who helps me through tragedies, keeps me sane, and makes me laugh. I could not have asked for a more supportive, loving, or better mate. Yes, he's a tremendous smart-ass, but that one of the things I love about him.

When the birds I studied for my master's thesis were stolen in the middle of the night, BH was there. When a new flock came down with avian malaria and my Ph.D. research went belly-up, he was there. When my Ph.D. advisor died of a heart attack (not three hours after we figured out what to do about the whole belly-up research issue), BH actually flew home from his research several states away. He was there the next day.

And with him, I have been given extraordinary opportunities. We have lived in new and exciting places, we have explored 12 countries, and we have had two amazing children. We have seen the eye of a hurricane (Ike on  Sept. 13th, 2008) and dug out from three feet of snow. Life with BH is an adventure, and I have loved every minute of it.

But the thing for which I am most grateful is BH's support. It was easy for him to help me through the challenges of academia; he is part of that world. But when I decided to start writing fiction, something he loves to read but would never dream of writing, he was my biggest critic... and my biggest champion. He wants me to write the best stories out there. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to be happy, and I want the same for him. And that's really all that matters. So happy anniversary, my dear. I love you.

Who helps you through the rough times and cheers on your successes?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: What a rush

My poetry muse decided to stop by again. It's been a while, so it was nice to enjoy a cup of coffee and a little poetry-writing. The muse has apparently been visiting amusement parks while I've been working with my mystery muse, because this is what she gave me...

What a  Rush

We take our seats and hold the bar
though we're not going very far.

Off we go, with greater speed.
My hat flies off, my hair's been freed
to whip around my neck and ears...
wind's in my eyes, I blink back tears.

Up and down, around we go...
faster... faster... then we slow.

Click. Click. Click. We climb the hill.
Higher up we go, until...
car by car we clear the top.
Down we rush, my stomach drops.

We scream and yell and fly through space
then round a bend at break-neck pace.

And then we stop, the ride is done.
The roller coaster's so much fun!

This week's Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Language, Literacy, Love.

And don't forget the current Creativity Challenge—get your creative work posted one week from today (Friday, 30 July).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Window of Insight #3: Maureen Crisp

Last week, I mentioned the FaBo collaborative storytelling project created by a collection of New Zealand authors. Today it goes live, and to celebrate, I have some insight into the creative process of one of the authors, Maureen Crisp. Maureen's book Bones, is a story about twins who must solve the mystery of the human bones their dog buries in their garden.

1. What got you interested in writing Bones? What other kinds of stories do you write?

I have always had a quirky mind. Short little scenes play themselves out in my mind. One day in my mind popped a dog carrying a large bone. He trotted through my mind and disappeared. I asked myself what kind of bone was that...and the answer Human popped in.

Well I had to write the story to find out all about it. Sometimes ideas can be shelved or forgotten, sometimes you know that if you don’t tease them out they will give you nightmares or nag at you. Bones was one of those. I didn’t want any nightmares. (lol)

I started writing 50 word readers to teach myself to write. They are the hardest to write because you have limited vocabulary and you need to make them funny. Then I started writing short plays so I could learn dialogue. Then I began to write longer pieces. Bones was originally 6000 words. It went to 10,000 for a competition then I had to rip 4000 words out before it was accepted for publication.

2. How does the creative process fit into your work?

Starter ideas pop in at any time. However when I’m in the middle of a project I find that if I can get a period of sustained quiet I can get back into the project and put myself into the scene and then I find out what happens next. The same thing happens in teaching, I need a period of quiet to plan what I am going to do...then into the craziness of teaching and learning with big bunches of children we go...

3. Where do you find sources of inspiration?

I am always imagining the next scene in my mind in anything I witness as I go through my daily life...sometimes they are cartoonish happenings...sometimes they are dialogue tags...I eves drop and file away ideas and situations in my mind. I find these come back to me when I am in the middle of a sustained period of writing.

4. What role do you feel that creativity plays in your life (teaching, parenting)?

I find it a release. It acts as a weather vein for my mental well being. I find that if I am feeling low I can’t get myself motivated to sit down and write. When I am working with children I borrow their creative energy using it in a theatrical way which then feeds back to them. This means that in our house occasionally there is silliness on the part of the mother...every day you must is good for the soul. So I do my part to make sure that there are opportunities for my children to laugh.

5. What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?

Sitting down and concentrating. I have to force myself some days to block out distractions.
Some days there are just too many distractions...I have heard from writer friends that the letting yourself be distracted means that you aren’t ready to write the scene... Of course that is a great excuse for procrastination...My inner self just says lazy lazy lazy....

6. What is the most rewarding part of the creative process?

There are two answers I think to this question. Putting in the effort and knowing that you have done a good job on the project. This gives a personal feeling of satisfaction an ‘all’s right with world.’ The second answer is when someone else not connected with the project turns around and says “by the way you did a great job on xyz.’ That sets you up to walk on air; especially if they are children... it’s like winning a lottery.

7. At what point do you feel that you have succeeded with a creative endeavour?

When I am still happy with what I have written after three months of not working on it at all. If I find myself wanting to change things, after putting it aside to clear my head, I know that I need to work harder on what I am doing.

8. Anything else you would like to add?

At the moment a team of us are writing a fiction book, each of us taking a chapter each. We don’t know where the story will go, we don’t know what will happen next until we get to our own chapter, where we can do what we like in solitude, then add it to book. The collaboration has sparked amazing ideas and a feeling of flying high on the creativity scale. The group are laughing and joking and feeding lines backwards and forwards as we write the story. This is unlike our usual work habit but it is highly stimulating and we are all relishing the freedom of not worrying about the big picture...time will tell if the work we are doing is any is fun though, combining the best of both solitude and collaboration.

This questionnaire has had me thinking about my own process of creativity throughout the month. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

My pleasure, Maureen. Thanks for taking the time to give us such wonderful insight. I can't wait to see how the FaBo Story unfolds.

If you are interested in following the story, check it out at

Monday, July 19, 2010

Unexpected inspiration

I was doing some mending over the weekend... one of those pile-of-clothes-is-so-high-it's-about-to-topple-over-so-I-have-to-do-it chores. The benefit of menial tasks like mending is that they provide time to think. I sat, pondering my current WIP: a mystery that takes place (at least in part) just after World War II. I had a problem with the plot, and I was coming at it from various angles to see if I couldn't straighten things out.

After stabbing myself a few times (the hazard of writing in your head while sewing), I put on a thimble that used to belong to my great-grandmother. And the most unusual thing happened: I immediately felt connected to her, despite having never met her. Grace died 50 years before I was born.

She died when my grandmother was two. She caught scarlet fever and, in the isolation hospital, developed spinal meningitis. Her death left my grandmother an orphan. She (my grandmother) was raised by her grandparents. What a traumatic event, to lose the center of your world at such a tender age.

As I pondered those events of long ago, I quite suddenly resolved the problem with the plot of my mystery. It's all clear now. Thanks, Grace, for the visit. I'll try to keep up with the mending, so you can visit again soon.

What makes you feel connected to others? 
What gives you creative inspiration?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creativity Challenge #3

Toby and Roland had good suggestions for the timing of the Creativity Challenges. And, actually, Roland's every-two-weeks suggestion solves a problem for me. You see, I came across some really great photos that I thought would make terrific writing prompts. But I still like the word prompt format, too. So we'll make this a biweekly event, alternating between word and image prompts.

So... the newest challenge is to write something (whatever suits your fancy) based on this photo.

Post your finished product on your blog by Friday, 30 July. If you don't have a blog, email it to me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com and I will post it for you. I'll post my written piece then, too, and I'll round up the links for others to check out.

I recently read something that said not to tell people to "be creative" because it tends to stifle creativity. So instead, I'll tell you to come up with something your friends and family wouldn't.  And please spread the word!

If you're looking for some great poetry, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup hosted by Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe.

And if you're looking for some free books, check out Simon's SHTMCIHHAHTGSA Contest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creativity challenge - thoughts or suggestions?

I have been thinking (it happens sometimes... not often, but on occasion). It usually makes Beloved Husband a little nervous, but he's getting good at hiding it.

I have been wondering what the optimal time frame would be for the creativity challenges.  Putting up the word prompts at the beginning of the month and posting at the end is simply too long of a delay. Should I post them at the beginning of the month, with the first posts due that day? The end of the first week? Have everything at the end of the month?

What do you think? I want you to participate. It's only fun if you participate, too. So... please let me know your thoughts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Striking a balance

Balancing Rocks in Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe, by Susan Adams
Okay, writer-friends... how do you do it? How do you strike a balance between being a parent (if you are one), working, and finding the energy, desire, and inspiration to do the writing that makes you whole?

Why do I ask? Snuggle Monkey was sick all last week. August is officially our vacation time, so I have designated July as writing time. Except that doesn't happen when the kids are at home. I don't try to write with them here, but sometimes little things pop into my head and I want to be sure I'll remember them later... when things are quiet.

Unfortunately, my boys have the unerring ability to sense the exact moment when I need two minutes of peace and quiet to get an idea down. They pounce (quite literally), and the ideas fly out of my head. It is, to put it mildly, frustrating.

So... I'm wondering how others deal with such problems. I know that writers write (I am, I really am!). But is there any way to make the experience less... maddening?

How do you strike a balance?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Collaborative storytelling

Maureen Crisp is one of those wonderfully knowledgeable, supportive people who help you over the hurdles (thanks to her encouragement, I started this blog). She has a great marketing blog, so if you're a writer, you should check it out at Craic-er.

I interviewed Maureen for the Windows of Insight series (her interview will be up soon), and she alluded to a collaborative writing project she was involved in.  I have been waiting anxiously to hear what she and her co-conspirators have been up to. And now they have shared it with the world!

Maureen and eight other New Zealand children's authors are creating a story. They will take turns writing chapters, and they have invited New Zealand children to join in by submitting their own chapters. How friggin' cool is that?

The story should be extraordinarily fun to read, both from the authors' perspectives and from those of the children. In fact, the activity mirrors the improvisational storytelling described by Adele Diamond: what better way to get creative, listen to the ideas of others, and have a great time doing it?

You may not live in New Zealand, but the FaBo Story will be a lot of fun to follow, and it should encourage similar collaborative efforts by other writers. See Fifi Colston's press release for details. (Image above from Fifi's blog.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Celebrating diversity

Tonight is a big night: Germany vs. Spain in the World Cup Semifinals. As I type, Germans are biting their nails, trying not to think too hard about Paul the Octopus's dire prediction. After all, Paul has been right on every game thus far.

One of the wonderful perks of living in a foreign country is that we have met and become friends with people from all over the world. We count among our friends, coworkers, and acquaintances people from the vast majority of the nations who have played in the World Cup. Knowing people from each country makes it easy to cheer for other teams when ours get knocked out of play.

I have been truly amazed by the way the World Cup has brought people together. Unlike the rowdy soccer fans I had come to expect, the fans (at least in Berlin) are watching the games together, children from a variety of nations are playing soccer together, and the nation seems to be celebrating the diversity of their team.

Regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, we, and the people we know, will be cheering during the World Cup finals. Because the beauty of the World Cup is the way it showcases and celebrates the diversity of nations through something common to them all.

Besides, if we're lucky, Paul will be wrong this time. After all, an octopus can only pick the correct mussel so many times in a row.

What is your favorite experience that brought people together and/or celebrated diversity?

Friday, July 2, 2010


Okay, summer is officially here. Like, in the 90s (30s if you're not American) here. No air conditioning, just open windows and fans to keep the air moving.  Not ideal weather for sleeping.

I've become a major insomniac of late. Partly due to the heat, partly due to the fact that I'm a light sleeper (as soon as one of the kids coughs or says something in his sleep, I'm awake), and partly due to the fact that the sun officially clears the horizon at 4:45, but dawn begins around 3. Birds don't have clocks. They don't care that it is FAR TOO EARLY to be singing (or that nesting is over and done with, therefore they have no reason to sing). There is a hint of light, so they sing. Right outside our bedroom window. Close the window... stifling air... insomnia.

My problem is that my head is full of ideas. This sounds like it should be a good thing, but all it takes is a little cough to wake me, and then CLICK the gears start to turn. It's as though my muse perches on the pillow next to my head, waiting for me to come to the surface long enough to dive in through my ear and get to work. Suddenly, my head is full of story ideas, characters (had a little girl with glasses pop up the other night), plot lines, and even what to write about in the blog.

I get up and write things down, but it doesn't help. My brain just won't shut down. Even though it means I can't write as well the next day (when it's even hotter and all I want to do is take a nap), my muse brain refuses to listen to reason.

So I comfort myself by making use of the time by playing "what if". I think up all of the crazy directions a story could go, and (for the most part) clear out the ones that just won't work. Sadly (sad because I like to sleep), I'm usually awake long enough to get to my 20th idea (thanks to Maureen Crisp for the link).

My goal is to put all of those wonderful nocturnal ideas to good use over the rest of the summer, before classes (i.e. teaching duties) resume in the fall. If only I could write as quickly as the ideas come. We shall see what comes of it.

What about you? What do you do when you can't sleep?