Oracle Night by Paul Auster

If you’ve never read Paul Auster, be warned that his work is always a little surreal.  His novels read like a mixture of fantasy, mystery, and a ghost story.  Pay attention to the details because some of them will weave their way deeply into the story and some are loose threads.  The random encounters are rarely random, and even if a character seems like he hasn’t changed and/or made any kind of journey, you as the reader certainly will.

Such was my experience as I read Oracle Night.  I could tell you the jacket flap details, but it would be much more fun to tell you it’s about a writer who writes a story about a man reading the work of a long dead writer who wrote about a man who has the ability to predict the future.  If it sounds crazy, that’s because it’s a Paul Auster novel.

Still, don’t allow that to deter you from reading about writer Sidney Orr and his mysterious blue notebook purchased from M.R. Chang’s Paper Palace or about Sidney’s wife, Grace, and the nature of their relationship versus hers with fellow writer John Trause.  Factor in Jacob, John’s drug addict son, and Nick Bowen who manages to lock himself into Ed Victory’s underground bunker (The Bureau of Historical Preservation), and Lemuel Flagg, a British lieutenant blinded in World War I who has the gift of prophecy, and you’re in the multi-layered world of Paul Auster.

Some of my thoughts as I read Oracle Night included:

Every writer’s nightmare and every writer’s dream:  to write words that actually come true or at least predict the future.

What are these worlds that writers create?

Do we live in the present with the future inside us?

Are we creating futures as we write?

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword?

Such are the questions Auster’s work provokes every time I read it.  I can also recommend Travels in the Scriptorium, The Book of Illusions, Augie Wren’s Christmas Story, and Man in the Dark.  If you need a point of reference, readers of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind will probably enjoy Auster’s novels as long as they keep in mind that he will take it to the next level of wonderfully bizarre.

Amphibious Fantasy

The rainforest is his favorite. A small slice of Heaven plunked down in the middle of his urban existence. The big cats are impressive, and everyone goes crazy over the elephants, but for Zach, the rainforest display at the zoo trumps them all.

He stands before the glass-fronted cage holding blue poison dart frogs. Three of them. Their shiny skin, unrealistic in royal blue, renders them plastic replicas of themselves. Until one moves. The frogs are active during the day unlike the lazy wolves that refused to cooperate. Zach really couldn’t blame them; he wouldn’t have left the safety of his cave to be gawked at by a bunch of fourth graders.

He understands the sleeping wolves. Even now he can feel his eyelids descending as he watches the frogs. Sounds of the rainforest are piped throughout the building: calling birds, buzzing insects, chattering monkeys, flowing water, growling leopards. It’s enough to make anyone want to take a nap. That’s exactly what Zach would do if he could pass through the glass and curl up in the window box display with his beloved frogs.

He has no fear of the poison on their skin. Somehow, he would become one of them. A superhero, of sorts, who uses the poison to get rid of the bad guys. The little frogs would help him like the bats do when Batman needs them. Besides, blue poison dart frogs bred in captivity aren’t poisonous like those living in the wild.

Zach continues to stare past his reflection in the glass. He chews the pull string on his hoodie, soaking it and gnarling the plastic end. Maybe he Blue Dart Frogscould be The Blue Dart. His outfit could be the same shade of blue as the frogs but without the speckles. And no capes. Capes are dumb. He would have a mask, though. A black one across his eyes. He imagines his face above a well-muscled, adult body wearing just such a getup.

A tap to his shoulder signals that it’s time to move on. He nods and smiles at his teacher, Ms. Schaeffer, allowing the whole class to drift past. Then he resumes staring at the frogs. Ms. Schaeffer doesn’t notice; she’s too busy flirting with the security guard trailing the class. And the tour guide, aware of her tenuous hold on the kids’ attention, doesn’t stop spewing rainforest facts or she’ll lose control. Zach already knows everything she’s telling them. He slips back to daydreaming.

A little blue dart frog poison on the breading of the corndogs Jaxson Michaels favors would put an end to the bullying. He’s pretty sure the whole school would be grateful when the sixth grader gasped and fell off his chair. He almost laughs at the image of Jaxson flailing on the floor. His grandma’s face surfaces before his eyes, scowling and shaking her head.

Zach’s breathing quickens. The thoughts of killing upset him. He scowls at his reflection then taps the glass to make the frogs move, a major taboo. No one witnesses his transgression, but he looks around all the same. The people milling about are parents with children. His class is nowhere in sight.

Like poisonous blue magnets, the frogs draw Zach’s attention once more. He considers sitting beneath the cage, leaning against the wall, to fall asleep to the rumble of thunder that has joined the other rainforest sounds. The clicking of heels speeding in his direction means Ms. Schaeffer has discovered his absence. Zach will tune her out when she scolds.

Blame it on the frogs, he thinks, but just don’t mess with The Blue Dart, lady.

~~~~~

Thank you to Michelle Smith of Just4FunPhotography for providing the beautiful picture of blue poison dart frogs.

Cryzzk’s Journey

I do not write fantasy.  I repeat: I DO NOT WRITE FANTASY.  And yet, when I saw the picture below, a visual writing prompt from the writing circle to which I belong, a fantasy story popped into my head.  Go figure.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to ‘world-build’ because I used good ole Earth as is for my setting.  My main character was also somewhat created for me.  His story is all mine though.  Enjoy!

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Cryzzk’s Journey

Yeti, Sasquatch, Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, Offspring of Fallen Angels, Marked of Cain–all the stupid names Humans have attached to his kind. Their own unfounded fears put fangs in his mouth and claws on his hands. Their so-called encounters were nothing more than staged hoaxes. Occasionally the drunken fools would tangle with an ape or bear and blame it on him. Him, the last of his kind for at least five hundred years.

Cryzzk cannot keep the angry thoughts from tormenting his mind as he walks through the frozen land to which he has exiled himself. No longer can he tolerate foolish Humans. They were never really a threat to anyone but themselves. In their ignorance and superiority, they denied what his people had to offer. Gifts of healing and knowledge on how to preserve the Earth could have been theirs.

He continues to trudge through the waist-deep snow, never looking back, always pressing forward. The drifts yield to his strength like dust before a breath of wind. He drags his fingertips, the only part of him devoid of fur. Ten even trails flank the ruts made by his powerful legs.

“Let them figure that one out,” he says to hear the sound of his own voice in a land free from the pollution of noise.

He doesn’t break stride when he reaches the slushy river, plowing through to the other side. Ice and water are shaken from his fur as he keeps on walking. The elements are unable to penetrate the many layers. Cryzzk is warm despite the freezing temperature. Loneliness is the only thing he cannot keep at bay. It penetrates his very being the way the icy winds burn his lungs, an indication that he is getting older. It was his choice to remain alone after Moerge died. He still misses his mate, knowing she would scorn his solitary life.

“It is our responsibility, Cryzzk, to ensure the Earth goes on. Keep reaching out to Humans. One day they will accept us and our gifts.”

It was Moerge’s mantra until the day she died from mercury poisoning. Cryzzk blames Humans. It is why he must continue his journey alone.

Ruby & Jonathan

Ay, ay, ay – these visual writing prompts are taking me in a direction I never thought I would go unless it was kicking and screaming.  I’ll leave it to you to see where this story goes.  Not my usual style, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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Ruby & Jonathan

“Why do I suddenly feel like Little Red Riding Hood?”

“I don’t know,” Jonathan replied. “Why do you feel like Red?”

“Oh, are the two of you on a first name basis now?”

Jonathan glanced at me sideways, flashed his beautiful smile. He took my hand and pressed it to his lips. Along with his toothy grin, these little romantic gestures were another thing I loved about him. And don’t even get me started on those dark gold eyes.

“You’re going to love this trail, Ruby,” he said. “It meanders with no steep inclines, no rocks to climb.”

“Sounds perfect.”

In the short time we’ve dated, I learned that Jonathan has three passions: Hiking, running, and hunting. He may have been twenty years older than me, but he was as fit as a man half his age. We’d hiked and run countless miles. The only activity I didn’t join him in was hunting.

“There’s a place just ahead where the path veers sharply to the right. The trail almost turns back on itself,” he said.

“Are we done hiking already?”

“I mentioned it because it creates a little nook completely hidden from view. No prying eyes.”

I looked behind us and craned my neck to see up ahead.

“I’m pretty sure we’re all alone,” I laughed.

Jonathan blushed and ran his hand through shaggy, salt and pepper gray hair.

“Well, I don’t want our twilight walk to be disturbed,” he said.

“Is this place special to you?”

“It’s private in this particular grove of trees. The branches make the perfect canopy for a secret rendezvous.”

“And what, exactly, do you think is going to happen there, Mr. Wolfe?”

My secretive boyfriend pulled me into a tight embrace, roguishly kissed my temple. His teeth lightly grazed my skin.

“I’ll race you there,” he said.

“I don’t know where it is.”

“You can’t get lost, Ruby. Just follow this big root-like thing on the path.”

I feigned reluctance with hands on hips.

“Ready, set– Hey!” he called as I took off running.

I could hardly run I was laughing so hard. Jonathan’s feet pounded the ground behind me. It would only be a matter of moments before he caught up to me on powerful, sinewy legs. I imagined him tackling me, rolling on the ground, laughing, and kissing. Instead, I heard his footsteps grow faint. A cold wind rushed past me as I ran.

I reached the secluded area first sure I had won. With hands on knees, I stood there panting.

“Hello darling.”

My head popped up at the sound of his voice.

“How– how did you get here? You cheater,” I said between ragged breaths. Pointing at his bare feet, I asked, “Where are your boots?”

“I run faster without them.”

A wicked smile spread across his face, not quite reaching his eyes.

“Didn’t you feel me pass you?” he asked.

I shivered at his question.

“No, but whatever. You won. Can we go home now?”

Laughter growled in his throat. Jonathan dropped into a runner’s stance, fingers and toes pressed lightly into the leaf litter. His muscles tensed, ready to spring.

“Wanna race again, Red? You run, I chase?”

“My name is Ruby, Jonathan.”

“That’s what I meant.”

I couldn’t tear my gaze away from his glowing gold eyes.

“I don’t want to play this game anymore.”

“Ready–”

“No, Jonathan.”

“Set–”

“Cut it out!”

“Go!”

Mira Contemplates Her Choices

The visual writing prompts I receive in my writing circle are making a liar out of me!  I said I wasn’t a writer of fantasy stories, but this picture also generated a fantasy tale.  What is going on inside my writer’s brain?

Anyhow, this story is the flashiest of flash fiction.  Very short but receiving appreciation among my peers.  Enjoy!

Mira Contemplates Her Choices

whitby-89225_1280Mira wrapped her arms around herself, the tail ends of her shawl grasped in each fist. She longed to dive head first into the cold, black water, disappear from this life she used to wish for. The idea of a husband and baby once dominated her every waking moment. She could have had both at any time. There was no shortage of males who would have obliged her. Only Mira’s desires didn’t run along normal conventions. Now here she was, trying to decide whether or not to return to the world of merfolk or walk up the hill to the abandoned castle where Sean was waiting for her. It would have been such a release to tell him the truth about her origins and that she’s carrying his child.

Dripping Ink – Questions for Self-critique

The Writer Has the Last Word

It is my very great pleasure to share an article by Caroline Totten of The Greater Canton Writers’ Guild, Inc.  The following article was featured in the September newsletter.  Information regarding the Guild can be found at:  http://cantonwritersguild.org/

Dripping Ink by Caroline Totten

Questions for Self-critique

Do your demons imitate the gods by grabbing and holding attention? (Your demons are ideas that keep poking you in the eye. If the idea arouses laughter, tears, paranoia, fright, curiosity or indignation, etc., you have acquired a point of view, which may boil into a plot.)

Does the plot offer an opportunity to provide fresh insight into the theme? (Ideally, the plot begins with a distress signal in the middle of the story. The action is already in progress and tinged with an emotional element in the main character. Usually, the setting fits the character and supports the viewpoint.)

Is the character(s) consistent in the context of the plot? (Draw the emotional tone from your personal experience and place it in the persona of the protagonist, the main character. The conflict may be psychological, physical, or ideological, or a combination of these elements.)

Here are a few aspects of the reader/author relationship to keep in mind. By being a writer, or hoping to become one, your entire self becomes an instrument to observe and record human experience. When you extrapolate heartache, joy, fear, whatever, and put them into your character, you are actually putting the reader in touch with his emotions. (Numbness, repression, or suppression are emotional factors.)

Psychologically, mystery, or suspense stories excite the mind of the reader.

Horror stories, by a circuitous route, help the reader release his fear.

Adventure stories encourage bravery.

Love stories release hormones that tenderize the heart.

Fantasy encourages imagination by offering another way of perceiving the resolution of conflict even though at the outset, the reader may be looking for escape.

Humor may release attitudes that might otherwise be socially rude or crude.

Actually, stories that contain violence, corruption, and greed may contribute to the reduction of these elements and/or act as a catharsis for the reader.

Reading fiction is not an idle past time. Its factual component may differ from nonfiction, but the result is similar. The point of view alters the reader’s perceptions.   Effective writing heightens awareness of the subject by allowing the reader to participate in the physical and mental experience of the character. Most effective stories show the character in action. In some cases, “thinking” by the character rather than dialogue or confrontation may be the entrance into a story. The approach depends on the genre, your style, and editorial desires. (At times, magazine and book editors don’t know what they want until they see it.)

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