A Tide Come May

My dear Scribes,
Today marks the fourth birthday of my blog. I don’t typically ascribe to the sentimentality of anniversaries — it’s only one day, after all (and everyone knows that time is a social construct!). But when I saw the notification this morning, I was temporarily lifted from the fog of my undergraduate life. I ascended from my literary analyses and anthropological articles and was reminded of myself at sixteen years old. I was a sophomore in high school who had accumulated too many poems, and I needed a place to put them. Since then, Stellular Scribe has been a constant writing refuge for me from my over-scheduled life. One day, I hope to settle here more permanently, to share my first, most precious passion more consistently. 
To commemorate four years on the internet, I want to share with you a recent piece I wrote for a fiction workshop, entitled “A Tide Come May.”
Thank you, all, for your support. For your attentive reading. For your inspiration.

Finding the way out to sea too cryogenic in salt, she sunk into the sand at the shore. Here was an exit too vague and cold to cross, where eels of foam avoided her toes and sizzled under the sun. Here was the spoke in the sand and the angled footprints of the fisherman and the silvery dust of mishandled scales. A man too tanned, too thick haired and black eyed, to be mistaken for her father stood knee-deep in the surf and repealed his line from the sea.

The Rooster’s shadow overcast her.

“…already knew about historicist nihilism, but Hegel still changed my life. I feel, huh, like I’ve evolved as a thinker, you know?”

Her inner ear prickled at his voice. Here was the Hawaiian-shirt clad tourist, who, while strolling the beach with idealism under his arm, had spied her reading in the dunes and taken it upon himself to question her taste in literature. He wore a squat hat — a hat that she thought new mothers might stuff over toddler ears. He had told her his name, but all she could remember of the exchange was the way he scratched his sunburnt neck, like a preening rooster. He went on roosting in her sun, following her from the beachgrass to the minefield of broken shells at the bank to where she sat now, blockaded at the water’s edge.

Fly away, she wanted to say. Go find a nice hen to squawk at.

The too-tanned man, who would never have been picked out as her blood against a beach of pale, sunbathing flesh, took pride in his cast. She saw it in the way his eyes longed after the lure whipping into invisibility across the waves. The satisfying latch of the lead sinker, the taut reflection of the line as the reel snapped against his hands — his mechanics exhaled an intertidal joy. She envied that clarity, that sense of belonging in the space between low and high tide.

The Rooster cawed for attention.

You should read Phenomenology of Spirit, if you want something more substantial. I’ll say, though, it’s not exactly a light beach read, ha! You know, when I saw you I thought that not a lot of girls…”

Finally, the water stretched its invisible hands to her feet. She thanked it with her fingers, with her palms filled with wet sand. The Rooster’s own knobby toes slipped under the tide.

“Jesus, that’s cold!” He hopped out of the water’s way.

She blinked at him. “To be honest, Roo—”

“Roger.”

“I’ll be honest.” She cleared her throat. “You have good intentions, I’m sure. Great. The best. So you might not realize —”

That you’re emitting potent stalker vibes and I’ve never in my life cared about Hegel and also I don’t know you.

She didn’t say anything else, because the too-tanned man’s arm locked. His rod bowed. Old ladies wearing floppy sun hats stopped on their waterside stroll to gasp at something in between the waves.

“Realize?” The Rooster cocked his head, and his toddler hat almost slid off the side of his head.

A saline breeze brought her to her feet. “Shark.”

“What?”

She tossed her book up into the dry sand and pointed towards the crowd gathering around the too-tanned man. “Shark!”

***

The too-tanned man, who was her father, would compose poetry to the shark if he knew the right words. But he was the crease in the white collar of America and had been sewn into the silence of masculine pride. He could only express his devotion in the act of drawing, by pooling his strength into removing the shark from his power. Though she did not look like him — she was too sallow in complexion and prone to angularities — she always sensed that she thought like him. Where he did not speak for the shark, he manifested. It was in his intensity on the thrill of the catch, the meditation of extraction, the worship of an ancient aquatic foe. They shared in their longing on the cusp of two worlds.

The Rooster followed her, predictably, to the scene. She left his clucking behind her, uninterested in his inevitable attempts to philosophize a shark.

She splashed out to her father and saw, quite clearly, that Hollywood-hailed triangle of gray. As the clear belly of the wave stretched vertically, a dorsal fin sliced into view. A crowd of Vineyard Vines spokesladies and geriatric men fiddling with their croakies gathered on the side of the earthbound. A man in patriotic swim trunks hollered, “Thas a big boy!”

She imagined it as an invaded moment of privacy, as if all of Middle America had peered through the hospital door to watch the sea, splayed on its back, give thrashing, tearful birth. She wanted to shoo them back into the white enamel corridor, back to their terrestrial existences, and tell them, “Family only, please.”

The Rooster’s voice rose from the sand. “Hey, you should stay back! Sharks have layers of teeth, fifty teeth, sharp as knives. I can remember a time —”

“How is she?” Her voice was a whisper at her father’s side.

“Four feet, brown shark, only a juvenile.” With one hand he shifted his cigar to the corner of his mouth and clamped it between his teeth. With the other hand, he reeled. And reeled. And reeled.

The line sung a high-pitched note in the wind. There was no need to say anything else; she knew what lyrics were being transposed in their thoughts. There was a solemnity that accompanied reeling in a shark. The goal of fishing, as they understood, was to sustain a dinner table, to tie the biblical knot between family and the kingdom of oceanic offerings. The shark did not fulfill that goal; but still they must drag it in, despite its violent desperation, so that they could discharge it.

She was reminded of five years ago when she stood knee-deep in the sea on this same bank with her own skinny pole. Fishing was all there was to do on a May afternoon when the water was too cold to swim in — and she had been praying, just loud enough that she could hear her own words mingle in the grumble of the waves. She prayed to the current that spiraled the bloodworm at the end of her hook, to the curiosity of schools of kingfish, to the enthusiasm of crabs reaching through the murky soup of seaweed for her bait.

It was a self-contained ritual that her father carried out now, mumbling under his breath. Only here was the shark, the antithesis to Christ’s Galilean tilapia, flipping its powerful tail over the break of white water. Here was the sea, weeping to lose her eldest daughter. She joined in her father’s prayer, that they may come quietly. Peacefully.

Of course, the crowd soaked up the drama of the display.

“I didn’t know there were sharks here!” a woman exclaimed.

“That’s it, I’m never going in the water again.”

God forbid there are sharks in the Atlantic.

A stream of sweat slipped parallel to the vein straining in her father’s neck. She knew how it felt — like pulling a sack of bricks by a thread. Soon his arm would go numb; his thumb would blister.

“Now!” he said.

***

She grabbed the line as it slackened and pulled it backwards towards the sand. Like elastic, the waves retracted, offering up the shark. Its skin glistened as the sun, foreign and forceful, seeped into it. Jaw agape, finely pointed teeth lined in its own blood, eyes yellow with liquid terror, gills begging against the air. It swung out its tail like a whip and the crowd took a collective breath.

Her father held out his arm as he sloshed towards the bank. “Stay back. She’s scared.”

“Is that a real shark?” someone asked.

Her father didn’t answer. He knelt beside the creature and pulled a set of pliers out of his pocket.

She staked her knees in the wet sand and placed her palm on the back of the shark’s skull. It felt like suede beholding flexible cartilage as the nerves in its vertebrae fired, retired, and fired again. With her other hand she pinned the tail, and felt its livid life force punch against her bony matter. The shark’s musculature seized and released as it volleyed between twisting out of her grip and resigning to her weight.

The process of removing the hook involved a coordination between her and her father. An exchange, if it were, of poetics. His plier hovered in the space between the shark’s upper and lower rows of teeth as she wrangled the body and splashed water onto its back. The white inner flesh suctioned, the unseen steel bent into submission, a bubble of blood popped in the back of its throat.

The hook emerged as a crumpled thing, and the shark reared its head.

She stroked a line down its dorsal fin, and she marvelled at her distinctness. “Can I…can I take her back?”

Her father wiped his bloody hands off in the sand and nodded. “Be careful with her tail.”

Before the sea could lap around her ankles, she wrapped her arms around the belly of the shark. One hand encircled the base of the caudal fin. She slid its pectoral into the crook of her elbow. Its belly heaved, strangely prickly and cool, against her own, and she had to enclose the heavy-set body within the physical space between her forearms and ribs.

She glanced back at the crowd, suddenly self-conscious of her appearance as an awkward redeemer — but rather than the Messiah cradling his lamb, she teetered to clutch sixty pounds of jagged shark, of anxious, sharp-jawed brawn.

The Rooster was gone. And she found it fitting, somehow, that as she had maneuvered his abstractions she now held tight to a most certain reality, an extraction of that vague, cold sea. A sea too cryogenic for her to know. But this shark, this poetic actor that her father had accepted at the end of his line, could transcend the suspended animation of the water’s surface. Could out-swim the dialectical crud of sea-sand-surf, thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

She turned her back to the lingering spectators and walked out to sea. As shells crunched beneath her feet, she knew that she had to go deeper, further, until she became numb to the cold. Until the intertidal zone was crossed, and the shark could feel again.

© 2018 Stellular Scribe

Advertisements

Music Remembers

Baseem split the cherry between his fingers. Red juice stained the grooves of his thumb and dripped off the end of his fingernail. He rubbed the pads of his fingers together, mashing the berry into a raw, bloody pulp. When he was finished, he flicked the mangled remains off the side of the deck and held his hand up for me to see.

Ya amar, do you hear it?” he asked.

My flute felt cold between my fingers, and I lowered it to my lap. “Hear? Don’t you mean see?

“No, hear. I have wondered if you can hear it too, the way I can. If when you press your lips to your reed and blow you can hear the colors, or at least imagine them before they erupt like spitting embers from your instrument.” He rotated his wrist in front of his face, studying the red seeping down his palm. “When you played the friscalleto, I heard this precise shade. Cherry red. Like the wine we acquired from Donnalucata. Like the poppies that covered the hills beyond the beach. Like the fire that —”

I turned my head away, and I hated myself for the bitterness that glassed my eyes. “I hear no colors, signore. I am afraid that the visual arts are not my area of expertise.”

“Ah, but music is the highest of all visual arts,” Baseem said, his eyes smiling. “You know better than anyone, Ludovica, that music remembers. Music is memory. And what is memory if not visual?” He crossed the deck towards me, taking heavy, deliberate steps with the heels of his boots. “There is an aching in your compositions. A red. A remembrance. You must hear it.”

Mama’s ribbon. Papà’s steamed crab. Cosima’s rosary beads. Orazio’s blood.

I flooded my face of expression.


An excerpt from a work-in-progress.

How To Describe Characters Like A Boss

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Blech. That has got to be the most disgusting, shallow character introduction I have ever written because that, my fellow scribes, is an example of everything you should not do if you want to describe characters like a boss.

The above paragraph showcases what I consider to be the five venial sins of writing description. I call them venial because while it is very easy to lean on these tactics as a crutch, you are not doomed to a fiery pit where all bad writers go for using them. Hark, the Stellular Scribe sings, for I bring you glad tidings! There is hope after all, so long as you refrain from the following:


1. Describing Inactively

 

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair.

Even if your sole goal is to write a piece without narrative or plot, simply slapping on any ol’ description out of context won’t give an accurate portrayal of the character. Remember, describing looks should serve to enhance the reader’s image of the physical, mental, and practical aspects of the character. A character isn’t her appearance. A character is active and engaged in the story. The way the above sentence sits, Jasmine seems like more of a storefront display than an actual person.

Also, hourglass figure is a horrid cliché and it should be discarded immediately.

Solution: Describe Actively

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage.


2. Writing Vaguely

 

She was beautiful.

There’s nothing wrong with calling a character beautiful or ugly or old or young. But that’s only in the subjective sense — perhaps when another character is describing her or she is being observed on the basis of beauty alone. Here in this introduction of her character, “beautiful” is too general. A bird can be beautiful. A couch can be beautiful. What determines her beauty?

Solution: Write Specifically

She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him.

(Ha! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Remember, physical characterizations don’t reveal everything.)


3. Overstuffing Adjectives

 

She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul.

You’re introducing a character. Not playing thesaurus bingo. Tacking on adjective after adjective can make the description feel forced and unrealistic, and it will quickly cause the reader to lose interest. You are no longer writing about a person — you are writing a laundry list.

In the end, you’ve got to pick the most important traits and stick with them. In our example, describing Jasmine’s “eyes” makes much more contextual sense than informing the reader on her “smooth, flawless skin.”

Solution: Less is More

It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement.


4. Abusing Clichés

 

She had an hourglass figure […].

She had […] eyes that were a window to her soul.

Clichés are the devil. Ok. Maybe they’re not that bad, but it can begin to feel like torture for a reader to read the same recycled, thrown-up, washed-out descriptions over and over and over again.

Solution: Avoid Clichés At All Costs.

That’s right. Just don’t even touch them. Not. A. One.


5. Characterizing Flatly

 

She stood in the doorframe like a model.

And we’re back to describing a storefront display. Try to reveal some emotion in your descriptions. These are people you’re writing about, and most people aren’t very hard to read. Everyone reveals emotion in some way or another.

Solution: Characterize Emotionally

She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.


And thus we go from

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

to

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage. She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him. It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement. She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.

Voila! Now we have a character who the reader can care about, someone he will want to know more about.


Go forth and spread the good news, dear scribes — so that everyone can describe characters like a boss!

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Godspeed and Gunfire

Bang.

“Godspeed and gunfire, my friend,” he says, wiping his wet hands down the front of his shirt. “Or is it…hellfire? Hell, does it matter? There’s no hope for us now, so if the devil smites us so be it.”

He gives you a sideways look, his hooded eyes bright and provoking. “You don’t honestly believe in that crap, do you? In hell? The devil?” His eyebrows lift as he tucks the pistol into his suspenders. “Oh, look at your face. You do. God damn, then this must be awkward. Sorry — gosh damn.

You think of something to say. You can’t. Everything’s still fuzzy.

Shit.” He only now seems to realize the mess on the front of his shirt. “This is a new shirt. Freshly pressed, too. Think this can come out? Always heard cold salt water did the trick. Anyway — I wouldn’t worry about all that eternal damnation stuff if I were you. You know what they say: hell’s a party.”

You don’t know who says that.

He’s rambling now, in that off-center, manic way of his. “Hell’s one hell of a time. It’s where all the fun people are at. And if not, hell is empty and all the devils are here. So it can’t be too bad.” He shakes his leg out, like a dog, and turns away, away from you, away from the mess. “Godspeed and gunfire,” he whispers, moving a hand through his unkempt hair. “Bang, bang, bang.”

You reach after him. He can’t be like this. Not now.

He twists on his heels, and you are suddenly reminded of just how tall he is, how impressive and sharp-edged and outlined by shadows. “What? You’re not going cold on me, are you? Remember, you wanted this too. This isn’t all on me. If I’m going, I’m dragging you down into hell with me. Godspeed my fucking foot. You signed off on that pipe dream the second you came to me, eyes bleary, acting all broken and shit. Oh, help me. God, help me. It needs to end. Make it end. Well, Hallelujah, you got what you wanted. It ended at the end of my pistol, and now all I’ve got is a stained shirt to show for it.”

This isn’t what you wanted. This isn’t what you agreed to. This is ugly and wrong.

His eyeteeth glisten when he smiles. “If you think about it, I’m kind of like your guardian angel. What’s the prayer? Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Well, here I am. At your side. To light — ” His suspenders snap against his chest as he extracts his gun. “– and guard –” He lifts the pistol, index finger rubbing the trigger, teasing it. He laughs. “To rule –” The gun is now in front of him, pointing at his own face. “– and guide.”

He turns the pistol directly on you.

“Godspeed and gunfire, my friend. I hear hell’s a party.”

Bang.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

 

Writing Kindling #8

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today I bring you a list of ten 1-2 sentence writing prompts that will help build up your white blood cells and give writer’s block a good kick in the pants. Copy them, tweak them, consider them, leave them. It’s up to you!


  1. The audience gasps as one.
  2. I stir the tea leaves furiously.
  3. My old house looks haunted tonight.
  4. That night, I slept under the dead tree.
  5. The steamboat’s engine shuddered to a halt.
  6. My voice rings against the ceiling beams of the church.
  7. I don’t remember the impact, but I remember the pain. And then I remember the black.
  8. He planted a light kiss on the urn, and hid it away under his bed.
  9. “Hail Gary, full of paste,” the little boy prayed fervently into his steepled hands.
  10. I squished the spider in the bathtub with my shampoo bottle, and I’m quite proud of myself.

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Happy writing!:)

We Must Be Like Song Writers

I’m a bit of an instrumental music junkie, but as a writer, I can’t help but admire a song with really well written lyrics.

There’s more to writing than simply finding the right words for the right context. A well crafted paragraph must contain fluidity, musicality, melody. The sound a word makes must be taken into account when judging how it will flow in your sentence; the syllables and consonance and assonance are subconsciously noted when listening to a beautiful word. I’ve heard it said that the most aesthetically pleasing phrase in the English language is not “love” or “compassion” or “mother” — it’s “cellar door.”

Say it out loud now, without attaching any context or meaning to it. Cellar door.

Of course, we can’t disregard connotation when writing a piece of fiction or non-fiction, so we must be like song writers  — deliberate in our meaning, yet fluent in our presentation.

I’ll throw to the wind an old favorite of mine.

Like faithful oxen through the chalk,
With dragging tails of history walk.
We soon confuse the compass and the cross.
Carefully and cursively we fill our traveling diaries with loss.

The above are lyrics from “History Book,” a song by the (now broken up) band Dry the River. It’s a song about young lovers growing up and carrying the past with them.

Let’s take it apart, shall we?

The Technical: The very first line — Like faithful oxen through the chalk — is iambic tetrameter with consonance on the repeated th– and f- sounds. The second line — With dragging tails of history walk. — follows near suit. We soon confuse the compass and the cross. Carefully and cursively we fill our traveling diaries with loss. — these lines are ripe with alliteration, repeated s- and c- consonants, careful stressing of syllables, and all around listening pleasure. Seriously. Listen to the lead singer open with these lines, and your ears will melt down your neck.

The Connotation: The image of oxen dragging tails through chalk as they migrate for days upon days is a powerful one. Like faithful oxen, the lead singer croons, because he and his lover are akin to those ancient, nomadic beasts. They have travelled far; they have learned much in the ways of love and individuality and life. They have gone on so long, that they can’t tell the difference between the compass and the cross. What is guiding them anymore? Religion or their own intuitions?

I’m not saying you have to make everything a symbol (please don’t do that) or fling alliteration about all willy-nilly (the absolute worst), but writing and thinking like a song writer can help you feel present in your work. By weighing sound and subject, you can tell a story while setting a melody.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Writing Kindling #5

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today we have Francois Schuiten’s depiction of “Pélléas et Mélisande.”

099d0346a4016a56127aab16f9646d5a.jpg

Ask yourself: Who is she? Where is she going? What is she feeling? Write about who she is, what situation she is in, and what she will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!