The View

When Out in the Blue released as part of Dreamspinner’s “Never Too Late” Daily Dose collection, I planned to write a post about the trail Jared and Fin hike during the story. Well, a part of the trail—my favourite part: The hike up to the summit of Mt. Tammany. In many ways, the short hike is a perfect metaphor not only for life, but for writing, and for Jared, for whom I wrote Out in the Blue. I didn’t get to the post then, as I wasn’t able to tackle the hike for a number of reasons. Thankfully, this year I’m back on my feet and fighting fit.

It’s a short hike, just over a mile and a half each way, but the elevation gain is twelve hundred feet. That’s a lot over a mile and a half and, appropriately, the trail is marked as difficult. It’s steep, it’s a definite hike, it’s hard work. This trail is not a walk in the woods. But the climb is so worth it, which is why this trail is one of the most popular in the Northeast. You do get a glimpse of success early on; a view through the trees of the Delaware River winding south, shouldered on each side by the Gap—Mt Tammany on one side, Mt. Minsi on the other.

The Gap

The trail wanders a little after that, steep, but we’re not climbing Everest here. Then we sort of are, without the snow. There are several sections where you’re on your hands and knees and you’re wondering why the heck you decided to climb a mountain today. You’re crawling, not hiking, and your thighs are burning, and you left your bottle of water in the car. It’s not feeling like fun. And all you can see ahead are more rocks and more trees.

The Trail

Where’s the view?

That’s life, isn’t it? We’re always looking for the view. We work toward goals, lured forward by the promise of a view at the end. The first sight of our finished project, or the pleasure it brings others. Financial reward, satisfaction, a job well done. They’re all the ‘view’. And the trail is rough. There are easy sections, but they’re never long enough to make up for the steep climbs.

Writing feels like that sometimes. I think any creative process can feel like that. Life is just so much like that, until we get to the view…and the climb is worth it.

The Summit

For Jared, it’s different. He’s stopped looking for the view. His life has flat lined. For uncounted years, he’s been walking the woods without looking beyond the trees. He hasn’t climbed, he hasn’t caught a glimpse of what’s around the next corner, or up the next slope. What drives him up Mt. Tammany (and along the Appalachian trail for two days before then) is something else. He knows he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what it is. So I wrote a story to help him find it.

He climbs a mountain:

After an hour of huffing and puffing, and two false summits, they finally reached the peak of Mount Tammany. While the elevation barely scraped a thousand and a half feet—a thousand feet more than the town they’d spent the night in—the view was spectacular. Jared could see the interstate snaking into New Jersey, the river curving south. Though he’d probably see more from the window of a plane, he preferred being on the ground. The scent of old mulched leaves filled his senses, as did the pride of having accomplished something, even if it had been a relatively tame ascent. He’d climbed a hill. He’d walked for two and a half days without collapsing in a heap, and he’d climbed a mountain.

Feeling the warmth of Fin beside him, Jared turned to study the other man’s face. Fin’s expression echoed his.

“Never gets old?” Jared asked.

Fin shook his head. “Nope. Doesn’t matter how high or how far, it’s just being out here.” His lower lip disappeared beneath his teeth a moment. “Being out here is part of the essential human experience.”

Rather than ask him to qualify the statement, Jared simply nodded. He got it. He felt it.

 

Then he takes a chance with Fin:

“I want to kiss you.” He’d kissed so few men. None after Brian.

“That’s a good thing.” Fin’s breath tickled his lips.

Jared opened his eyes, sought the clear blue of Fin’s, and found only an indistinct blur pressed close. “I’m not good at this. What if—”

Fin’s lips touched his in a brief caress. “Shh. If the sex sucks, we’ll laugh about it when we get together to watch a game on Sundays.”

Oh, God. They were really going to do this.

The pressure landed, pushing air from Jared’s lungs. He didn’t understand it, his panic. He just knew it had been getting worse over the past couple of months. Since the company had grounded him, since he’d turned forty-five. Every time he contemplated being stuck in one place, his lungs locked and his ribs dug into his sides. He wouldn’t be able to ignore life when it no longer passed by the window of a plane, constrained to a view of six inches by twelve, cornered in soft angles, obscured by clouds. He’d be out there in the blue, trapped in one place. Trapped in a vastness. An emptiness. His loneliness would be real.

Canting forward, he claimed Fin’s mouth in a rough kiss. His lips were hard, stiff, teeth in the way. Jared pulled away with a gasp. He reached up to frame Fin’s face, thumbs sifting through sideburns to rest against his ears, fingers spearing into dark hair. He sucked in a quick breath, one scented by all Fin was, then kissed him again, this time with less need. Lips softened and parted beneath his.

Spoiler alert, the sex doesn’t suck. 😉 But what I loved about writing this particular scene was the promise of friendship between these guys. Because this is a love story, and the best lovers should also be best friends.

Out in the Blue is one of my favourite stories. I loved writing an older character and Jared’s journey is proof that it’s never too late to start looking for the view, or to simply learn to appreciate it for what it is.

OutintheBlueLGOut in the Blue

At forty-five, Jared Tailler suddenly feels old. When his employer grounds him, he starts thinking in terms of measuring his coffin. Well, not quite, but he’s creakier and hairier than he was ten years ago, and his closest relationship is the one he has with his frequent-flyer card.

It’s time to get out there.

On the first day of a five-day hiking trip, he meets Finley Macrae, a younger, seemingly brighter man. As they inch together in halting steps, Jared learns he’s not the only one lost out in the blue—Fin’s good cheer hides a turbulence deeper than Jared’s midlife crisis. Maybe together they can find the trail to happiness.

 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Daily Dose package “Never Too Late.”

Amazon | ARe | Dreamspinner Press

Unearthly Places

Photographs of unearthly places nearly always capture my attention—especially when they’re of earthly places. It’s not hard to understand why storytelling is such an integral part of our culture when you see pictures like these. Even the names of these places evoke tales of wonder.

The Door to Hell

"Darvasa gas crater panorama" by Tormod Sandtorv - Flickr: Darvasa gas crater panorama. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
“Darvasa gas crater panorama” by Tormod Sandtorv – Flickr: Darvasa gas crater panorama. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Also known as the Gates of Hell and the Crater of Fire, Darvaza Crater is located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Darvasa doesn’t have a great story…yet. It’s a natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern in the early 1970s and was set alight to prevent the spread of methane. It’s still burning today and serves as a popular tourist attraction. The name, however, inspires all sorts of stories. This place has been burning for over forty years. Who knows what changes have been wrought within? Perhaps it really is a path to the underworld.

Broken Teeth

Moonrise over Evanston, Illinois by James Jordan
Moonrise over Evanston, Illinois by James Jordan

I named this one. Photographer James Jordan calls it Moonrise over Evanstan, Illinois. Apparently he doesn’t see the broken pylons as the remains of a mountain top fort or what’s left of a forest after a drive of dragons has passed. This could be the sight that greets our adventurers when they crest the last hill. Or, it could be the promontory sailors warned them about. The home of sirens and sea serpents.  Or, maybe he does. 🙂

Night and Day

Night and Day by Nick Venton on 500px.com
Night and Day by Nick Venton

Nick Venton takes gorgeous photographs and obviously has a vision and a story to tell with each one. What I love about this is the juxtaposition of night and day. Taken at sunset, it shows the last part of the day with the night taking over (to paraphrase the photographer’s words). When I look at this photo, I see a planet with two suns. One is setting and the second is rising. The scenery in the foreground is full of stories too. It’s another lake shrouded in mist, but with a little squint or a bit of imagination, that could all be clouds. What lurks below? Or, if that is water, is this an ocean planet? Perhaps it’s a rare thing for the inhabitants to venture above the surface, so sit on those rocks and look at the light of two suns.

Tessellated Pavement

"Tessellated Pavement Sunrise Landscape" by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
“Tessellated Pavement Sunrise Landscape” by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons

There is a science fiction novel about a planet with mysterious lines crisscrossing a vast plane. The story follows the investigation of these lines. I wish I could remember the book. I thought it was by Stanislaw Lem, but I can’t find anything like that in his bibliography. Anyway! That’s what I see when I look at photos of the Tessellated Pavement. I didn’t always see an alien landscape, but I have always been fascinated by this place. It’s at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania and it was one of my favourite places to visit as a kid. Even then, my imagination was tickled. The formation of tessellations can be explained by fairly simple geology. It’s no great mystery. But it is nice to picture the pathway to a hidden destination or perhaps a city that no longer exists.

To check out my other posts on otherworldly landscapes and photographs that inspire the imagination, look under the photography tag.

Stories Waiting to Be Told

Have you ever browsed stock photo sites? There are some ridiculous pictures posted there and I often wonder what the photographer was thinking. Obviously, they were setting a scene with the hope it matched a story waiting to be told – probably by an advertising company or a journalist. Because nuns praying to fish is a thing, right?

But when I’m not giggling over implausible scenarios, I’m collecting another type of stock photo. These ones are, well… They’re book covers for the stories I haven’t told yet. It’s kind of annoying, to be honest. Because as just about any writer will tell you, ideas aren’t hard to come by. We have notebooks and files full of them. The stories that come from these ideas are less abundant. The time to write these stories? At a premium. I’ll never get to a quarter of my list.

But, hopefully, I’ll get to at least one of these:

the-hand-1172231The Hand

The door has just been closed, but whoever is on the other side with her has given them a moment. He’s let her touch the window, just once. Is it because he knows it’s the last time they’ll see each other? Is the gesture cruel or kind?

Where is she going? Why? That’s the story I don’t have yet, but this photo suggests something sinister. Interrogation? Experimental gene therapy? Prison?

Maybe she’s going willingly. Maybe she asked for this moment, knowing it would be the last one. Or, maybe the shape of her hand is a symbol.

 Here, Now

This stock photo is tagged passion. I…don’t see it. I can see the tension. This kiss is a spur of the moment thing, but it’s more meaningful than hormonal, in my opinion. It might just be that the models were asked to pause before their lips connected, but in that pause is the story. The distance between their faces and the stillness of their pose. They’re in a public location, but their posture is fairly relaxed. They don’t fear being caught out in this kiss. Their connected at several intimate points – the hand on the thigh, a hand around the back of the head. There is a possessiveness to both gestures, and familiarity. This is a couple, but maybe not one well established.

So, maybe this kiss began as a passionate impulse. Then, as they drew close, something else intruded. A realisation that this moment was about more than the kiss. It was about them telling the world they’re together. That they’re intimate. That their feelings are something they want to acknowledge and share.

Footsteps

It took me a while to figure out that wasn’t snow. Before I did, though, this picture begged for a story. Why is this woman out there without the proper gear? Has she been abandoned? Or has she escaped from a remote facility. Once thing is clear: she isn’t going to get far. The shadows are long and with the night, any lent by the sun will disappear, as will her compass.

Any stir of wind will erase her footprints, hiding her trail. This is good and bad. In the event someone is following her, it’s a good thing. But it also makes it hard for the good guys to find her, and if she can’t look back along her trail, how will she find her way in the dark. She has to keep moving, remember? It’s cold. Even if that is sand, it’s going to be cold – but traveling at night will protect her from the heat of the day.

Where did she come from and where is she going? I don’t know, because I’m probably never going to write this story.

I Heart LA

I nearly bought this image to use for “Graduation”, the short story Jenn and I wrote for our Chaos Station series. The clothing wasn’t right, though, and my Photoshop skills aren’t up to all the other changes I wanted to make, such as modernizing the city skyline and changing the letters. Adding another figure.

But there is a story here. It’s separate from the letters this guy is writing in this picture. Change those words and this could be about anything. Is he writing a name? Is he giving a clue to the code? Maybe he’s been possessed by aliens and he’s writing equations against the night sky as if it were a blackboard. He could be solving the theory of everything.

Or, he could be pointing to a bird, a plane…Superman. Or a UFO. He could just be really, really drunk and imaging there’s something there.

I really like the idea this picture is a celebration, though. It just has that vibe. Maybe he has just graduated and he’s writing his new name in the sky. Or maybe he’s dancing and what he’s writing isn’t important at all.

I have close to a hundred other stock photos saved to favourites folders, though, and some of them…some of them are calling. They’re weaving their stories for me, even as I write this post. I just hope that when I get around to writing one of them, the image hasn’t already been used by Stephen King or something. Or in a Buzzfeed quiz.

I Should Hate Spring (but I don’t)

The latter half of April and sometimes the first half of May often pass in a haze of antihistamines. As seasonal allergies go, losing two to four weeks isn’t bad. I know many people who are much worse off, and over the years, I’ve learned to plan for this semi-down time. I clear my schedule as much as I can, and I have a routine for the days which includes some Benadryl-free hours for reasonably lucid writing and revising.

Still, it kinda sucks to watch spring happen through half-slitted eyes. Spring is such a lovely time of year. The grass greens, the trees bud, and flowers bloom. Makes me itchy just thinking about it. Also welcome is the warmer weather and just as winter smells like wood smoke (to me), spring smells of honey suckle and jasmine.

Little really says spring like a blooming magnolia tree. Magnolia blossoms are among my favourite flowers. They remind me of, well, my childhood. I spent a good portion of it near D.C., in Maryland, where magnolia trees thrive.

The Washington Monument, viewed from the Tidal Basin.
The Washington Monument, viewed from the Tidal Basin.

Washington D.C. is probably better known for its cherry trees, however.

We spent last weekend in Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival. I’ve been many times and I always find it charming. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced better weather or blossoms than I did this year, though. The temperature grazed seventy, with enough of a breeze to soften the spring sunshine, and the blossoms were undisturbed by rain, sleet, hail or hurricanes. Really, it was quite perfect.

Random blossomage.
One of several hundred such pictures on my camera roll…

Cherry blossoms don’t have a strong scent and I’m not one for sticking my face into a budding stalk for long enough to decipher it, but the slight perfume they do have really suits their delicacy. What really amazes me about them is their profusion. Some look like great puffballs while others sleeve a branch like a bale of cotton wool. The trees are thick with blossoms and when they finally begin to fall, they look like snow. It’s really very pretty. We took dozens of pictures. It’s silly, really, to have so many pictures of the same flowers, but we weren’t the only ones happy snapping—and that was one of the better parts of the weekend. The sunny faces of everyone else who had flocked to D.C. to celebrate spring.

Here are a couple more pictures from our stroll around the Tidal Basin. Happy Spring!

The kite-stealing tree.
The kite-stealing tree.
Not all the blossoms are on the branches.
Not all the blossoms are on the branches.
pinkongreen
Pink and green are complementary colours, which is why I love this picture.

 

Location: Imagination

Mir Diamond Mine, Mirny, Eastern Siberia.
Mir Diamond Mine, Mirny, Eastern Siberia.

I have a series of posts about Earthly locations that look quite alien. While the photographer responsible for the images I use may not have always been inspired by the same thoughts, I think there is something in all of us that responds to the “alien”. Not many of us get to travel, and so we spend our lives surrounded by the familiar. Images that expose us to the unfamiliar can elicit a variety of responses ranging from fear to wonder.

When I look at these images, I almost always imagine a location—either for a story I have read, written, or the one I have to immediately sit down and make notes for.

Continue reading

Forgotten Landscapes and Imaginary Settings

From an abstract perspective, photographs of abandoned places hold a lot of appeal. Compositions of light and shadow have always fascinated me. Light and dark intersected by fallen beams and vines or framed by ruined archways are visually interesting. High contrast and muted tones lend ambience to these forgotten landscapes. But are the images attractive? Not always, or not to me. I’m not fascinated by abandoned places. Continue reading

Post-apocalyptic Gardening

You know what someone needs to invent? Grass that grows to a certain length and then stops to provide a lawn of perfectly trimmed and perfectly green beauty. I’d buy it.

One of my irises, with my lovely lawn in the background.
One of my irises, with my lovely lawn in the background.

Not that I hate mowing; I don’t, not really. That hour twice a week (one hour out front and another for the curb, side yard and back) is when I do a lot of my thinking. Sometimes I listen to audio books, which has the odd effect of assigning locational memory to portions of the yard. Elizabeth Bear owns the playground. The tower and swings bring to mind Undertow, Carnival and Dust. The underside of my deck, framed by pillars, belong to Michael Swanwick. The lions from The Dragons of Babel dwell under there. Will sometimes flies over the lawn, directly over Elizabeth Bear’s territory. The slope from the playground to the forest is Stross territory. All of the singularity books have rolled down there. The strip by the creek is Halting State and part of the driveway belongs to Rule 34.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I listen to a lot of books while mowing the lawn and they’re mostly speculative—which is my approach to gardening, as well. As posted last fall, I’m what I call a Darwinian gardener. It’s all about what survives me and the elements. I’m not sure which is more harsh. Probably me. But my garden does survive from year to year and it does bring me a lot of joy.

I don't know where my black irises come from, but I love them.
I don’t know where my black irises come from, but I love them.

Early this spring, it resembled a graveyard. Lumps of dirt with twiggy bushes that could be homemade crosses or tumbleweeds blown up from Texas. It was a harsh winter. I actually wondered if Mother Nature had out done me and decimated my garden. Turned it into the post-apocalyptic environment I so often read about. It’s fun in fiction—not so much outside my front door. As an aside, when I mentioned my perfect lawn idea to Husband, he told me that that’s how the zombie apocalypse would get started—with the invention of a product that halted lawn growth. Apparently that would get into our water supply and tamper with our brains.

Anyway, as the days warmed, green things popped out of the soil and my garden stirred to life again. I was amazed. Now that my irises and lilies are actually blooming, I’m properly stunned.

The first lily.
The first lily.

I did go in and trim everything back. I dutifully weeded and I finally dug out the Mums that should have been dug out last year, sparse and woody things they’d become. So I have a couple of bare patches that need to be filled—with something other than another split lily or iris. I’m thinking daisies. Daisy bushes are lovely and big and the flowers very pretty. But I don’t know if they’ll survive the winter. I could look it up. I could research a plant that lives from year to year, but then I wouldn’t have the fun of digging out a dead carcass next spring.

Yeah, I did say fun.

Back to the lawn. It’s been raining on and off for close to a month now and the grass that looked dead at the beginning of April, no matter how many stories tracked through, is now so lush and green, I’ve been walking around with my nose in the air. Who has the prettiest lawn on the street? I do. Absolutely. I also have to mow it more often, though, as it won’t look pretty for long if I neglect it.

The herb garden. We put flowers in the front. Not sure what that purple thing is.
The herb garden. We put flowers in the front. Not sure what that purple thing is.

Behind the house I have a herb garden. There is a carpet of cilantro across the patch at the moment. It’s a good thing we like cilantro. The thyme and oregano are well enough established that the newcomer has grown around them. And in the middle I have a hibiscus bush that is taller than I am. We planted that on a whim a couple of years ago and the thing won’t die. Not that I want it to? But it just seems so out of place in my northern yard. I am looking forward to it flowering. Under that I have a blueberry bush that produces one berry a year. I’ll try and get a picture of this year’s prize fruit.

Up on the deck we have our tomatoes and peppers in. I fenced them before the cats decided I have set up outdoor litter trays. Now I just have to remember to remind my daughter to water them regularly. We both tend to forget. We do get fruit, and quite a lot of it, but tomatoes that aren’t watered regularly tend to be ugly things. Striped and split.

And that’s my gardening report (ramble) for this spring. I’ll leave you with this picture (below) I found yesterday which inspired my imagination. I have two creeks in my yard, one at the edge of the forest and one at the edge of the property. None of them are as pretty or mysterious as this one. This one is all secret and I want to write a story about what’s going on in this crack in the earth. Maybe I’ll plot that one out next time I mow the lawn.

Moss Creek, Desert Island, Maine.
Moss Creek, Desert Island, Maine.

Is it live or is it Memorex?

Sunrise

A portion of the internet was stunned and disturbed last week by the image above, which features a televised sunrise at Tiananmen Square. News sites reported the fact that the smog in Beijing had become so dense, this was the only way people could watch the sun rise. The story made me sad. As a writer who favours speculative and post apocalyptic settings, I could feel words crawling across my head. Or, that creeping sensation might have been something like fear. I couldn’t imagine living in a cloud of smog, relying on a screen to tell me the sun had risen and set. But I could imagine writing about it. In fact, I already was. My current project is a short story with an eerily similar theme.

The image stayed with me all weekend, poking and prodding. I recalled a recent read: Wool by Hugh Howey. Residents of a giant silo sunk into the earth watch the sunrise on a screen and take it as truth that the shining orb actually does arise from the toxic horizon. When they start to question that truth, their society falls apart.

Disturbed, I wondered if the sunrise televised to the viewers in Tiananmen Square was real. Were they looking at the sun as it rose that day, or the sun as it rose a month ago? Had someone recorded a perfect display of colour that would come to define the beginning of every day in Beijing? How many people actually, actively watch the sun rise? Could I tell the difference between a real and a fake?

This morning, I watched the sun rise through the trees crowding my back yard. It looked like a line of fire along the horizon, burning its way up and across. I took several pictures. Then I came inside and checked my morning news feeds, which generally consist of geeky concerns. If the world disappears one day, well, I’m done for. No preparation will save me. I do like to know what’s up with the next Superman movie, however, and if Gearbox has released any new Shift Codes.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an article on Kotaku calling bullshit on the televised sunrise story. With a sense of relief, I clicked through. The screens are advertisements–not of a dystopian future, but of China, today. There is a tourism logo in the corner and the sunrise picture appears all day, every day, as part of a montage of images aimed at tourists.

Still, I find myself reluctant to breathe out and start plotting the story inspired by the original report. The idea of a televised sunrise obviously touched a nerve, and I doubt I’m the only person left disturbed. Probably because it could have been true. It almost felt true, and it was a sad, sad reminder of what we’re doing to this beautiful planet of ours.

My own sunrise this morning.
My own sunrise this morning.