Monday, August 24, 2015

About to Erupt

Mt Mcloughlin Oregon
On August 24, in the year 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius awoke and the town of Pompeii died.  It wasn't the first time it erupted and surely won't be the last.

Today marks that anniversary and once again I am sitting at my computer, writing on the second book in my middle grade novel series with a historical, time twist, Double Time: About to Erupt will tell the story of a boy and his brother living in Pompeii in the months before the eruption.  It will also tell the story of a boy and his brother, living in Portland, Oregon in the months leading up to Mt. St. Helens eruption.  As in the Double Time: On the Oregon Trail book, the past and future will have a chance to intermingle and influence the fate of the stories characters.  My basic premise for this series is that there is an old Egyptian lap desk, and that as various people have owned it over its 3,000 year lifespan, if they are in similar situations, sometimes what they see when they open it is not their possessions but those of the other person.

Here is what I have for the beginning:

Chapter 1

     Thirteen year old Bryan Gregory sometimes felt like he should have been born with gills and webbed feet.  With all the rain that they got here in Oregon, he felt like the inside of his lungs had started to rust. Whatever the truth of the matter was, he was home and ill with another fever and cough and a chest congestion which had been lingering for days.  Mom had taken him to the Dr. who had prescribed antibiotics and diagnosed Bronchitis again.
     It wasn't so bad to be sick on a school day, and sleep in, and have Dad brew him a cup of hot tea with honey when he finally crawled from bed and walked out to flop on the couch with his blanket still around his shoulders. 
     It was not so fun to be inside, coughing until his ribs screamed in pain and it felt like his lungs were bing chewed into pieces by some giant mouth, clamping down on his chest with vice like jaws if he dared to try to inhale. Especially miserable to feel so bad yesterday, a Saturday when the plan had been to take his younger brother, Mark, and his best friend to go hiking in the fall beauty of the Columbia River Gorge with Mom and Dad.  No-one had gone then, hoping that another day on antibiotics and Bryan would be feeling up to going Sunday instead.
     Bryan loved to be outdoors, rain or shine. Although lately it was more, heavy rain or misty rain or light drizzle.  So he was home on the couch and the rain was pounding the roof. Mom and Dad had opted for an indoor day in Portland this Sunday.  They were taking his brother to OMSI to see a display on the very thing his class happened to be studying, prehistoric mammals. After the Science museum they were planning on going to a large, indoor fund-raising flea Market.  His parents loved to search old treasures from among other people's leftovers. He didn't mind being left out on that but he suspected that he would be on their mind and that they might end up bringing him back some kind of treat simply because they felt guilty about being out having fun while he was home sick.
     He sighed and rolled over on the couch and was almost asleep when the cough erupted from his lungs again.  It felt like a giant hand in his chest, squeezing the air from his lungs. He gasped for air and tears rolled down his cheeks as the muscles in his abdomen screamed in pain.  He tried to tighten them so the coughing couldn't do any more damage but his belly still heaved and shook like he were the earth and a terrible quake had just been unleashed along a major fault-line.
    When he woke up later that evening it was to the sound of a key in the doorknob and the chatter of his returning family.  As he had expected, they all had their hands full. There were paper bags and cardboard boxes stuffed with newspaper wrapped treasures.
     The silence of the house ended as Dad strolled over to the TV and pulled out the knob to turn it on, and then turned it to raise the volume. He clicked the large dial through the channels until he found his Sunday evening station, NBC and muttered under his breath as a news broadcast came on instead. Sunday November 4th and a story of more than 50 Americans taken hostage at an American embassy in Tehran by students was replacing the family tradition of watching the Wonderful World of Disney  while eating a “dinner” of pie or cake since their big Sunday meal was usually eaten about 2 in the afternoon after church.
     Bryan started coughing again, and Mom left the packages on the coffee table as she went to the kitchen to make him hot tea and get his medicine.
     Dad snapped the TV off in disgust. “Those hostages will be out of there and home tomorrow, why are they interrupting the regular schedule.”
      Later, after they had devoured a cherry pie and vanilla ice cream and Bryan was back on the couch,  the family decided to start unwrapping the days treasures.  Mom sat down on the floor by the coffee table and the dog crawled over and rested his head on her knee on the green shag carpeting.
     The first several things revealed as the paper was pulled away had the family laughing and Mom defending her purchase of the goofy ceramic Christmas tree and its light bright peg style decorations. There were other hand painted ceramic decorations as well and Bryan had just about drifted into a comfortable, sugar stuffed doze when Dad lifted a large rectangular package onto Bryan's lap.
     He looked up curiously and his brother Mark said, “Don't get all excited. It's nothing fun.”
     Bryan felt the weight on his lap, solid but not heavy.  He reached for the package and knocked on the surface, not a cardboard box.
     The newspaper unwrapped easily revealing a  weathered, dark wooden surface. It was not fancy but the way the smooth wood glowed in the lamplight made him have to reach out and run his fingers over the satiny surface,  It wasn't varnished, but so smooth that it still reflected light.
     The box top was smooth and sloped down toward him, but there was no hinge to lift the lid.  Instead it appeared to be a hollow block.  He looked questioningly at his Dad, who reached over and slid the lid down long two grooved tracks.  A subtle scent of cedar rose from the box and Marc mumbled about girlie perfume, but Bryan was too congested to smell anything.  Looking into the desk he saw that it was basically empty.  There were some ink stains and a couple fragments of paper but nothing else.
     “What is it?”
     “I think it is an antique writing desk.” Dad slid the lid back into place and rested his hand on the slanted surface. With this on your lap, writing could be comfortable done anywhere, but I thought it would make a good treasure chest for a teenager to keep things away from the prying eyes of younger brothers.” 
     Mark snorted in disgust.  Bryan laughed and then wished he hadn't as his protesting lungs began coughing again.

   The rented snowshoes were ugly compared to the round, woven ones in pictures of old trappers, but they were a lot of fun.  Bryan and Mark were racing each other across the snowy meadow and walking wasn't difficult.  When they had started, before they put the snowshoes on, they were wading through knee deep snow or stepping on a crusted surface that would suddenly drop them a few inches or a couple of feet and leave them sprawling face first into the drifts.  The meadow edged up on a wall of evergreen trees and their branches where sagging beneath a heavy load of snow.  Mark walked up next to a tree and poked his snowshoe pole as high up overhead as he could reach. The branches released their heavy, wet burden and an avalanche of snow hit him in the face and shoulders.  
     Bryan hooted in delight, “That was dumb, little brother.”
    The sun was brilliant as it sparkled of the snow, and as Mark shook himself clear, Bryan turned to survey the view.  It was a contrast in light and darkness.  Where the sun shone, the light reflected white and icy brightness, but the shadows of the trees, and his own shadow stretched long and black across the waves of white.
     Everything stretched to the tall mountain gleaming under its own white mantle.  “No Wonder they call Mt. St. Helens the Mt. Fuji of the west” His parents caught up with the boys there.  
     “It does look like those Japanese paintings, especially if you visualize the rolling snowdrifts as a stormy sea” His Dad agreed with his mom's earlier comment and both boys looked again at the inverted “V” of the mountain.  Mom pulled out her camera and snapped a picture of the two brothers with snow on their shoulders and snow on the shoulders of the peak rising in the distance.
     While they were taking a break, Bryan looked longingly at the Summit.  “Someday I am going to stand on the very top.”
     “And I will be right beside you!” Mark was quick to promise.
     “Well, I won't be.” Mom assured them.  My legs are starting to shake  already and there are at least another 4,000 feet of elevation gain between where we are and that peak.”
     Then, listening to her body's signals, she pulled of her gloves and pulled out a snack pouch and began to eat.  Bryan elbowed his brother and pointed at mom to remind him that they both needed to eat and drink as well.
    A short time later the gloves were back on and scarves were wrapping their wind chapped faces.  “time to get moving again,” As they started walking they came across the first other people they had seen in a couple hours. They waved as they crossed paths and kept going.  It wasn't long before they came out above the trees and turned to view the panorama.  The white everywhere about them matched the clouds on the horizon, but the blue sky above them matched the blue of rolling hills and trees below, in between there were dark grey areas of evergreen forest which matched the grey stones poking out of the snow randomly in the otherwise unbroken snow.  Blue, grey and white, and nothing else except the brightness of their own clothing.


Verus Cosmus Salvius was born on the day The Mountain shook and Nero came to perform in Naples.  His name was given to mean that the world was ordered and safe, and in his Roman family, even with the ground shaking frequently, he grew up knowing that there was little that could threaten him.  His life had felt secure even though his mother had died two years ago, when he was thirteen. Both his father and the master artisan he was apprenticed to had given him stability and confidence.  He had in turn tried to pass some of that on to his younger brother, Marcus,  who was only 4 when their mother died.
     His father set the box upon the table and gestured for him to come over.  “See This, Verus?  It is a simple box but the craftmanship is good.  I think that it will be useful to you for storing your tools in.”
     Verus glanced at his father's hands as they stroked the silky grain on the lid of the box.  He knew that his father was telling him that he was proud of his work and glad of the good reports he had heard during Verus's apprenticeship. The gift of a tool chest was simply his father's way of expressing himself as words had never come easily for the man whose own talent lay in creating great visual masterpieces.
    “Your mother was given this when we married and used it to write letters and to keep the household accounts. I thought at first to decorate the lid with a mosaic, but the wood is beautiful and I wanted you to be able to use it, as your mother did, as a smooth surface for writing.”
     His father's face pinched in sorrow and his eyes squeezed shut for a moment as thoughts of his lost wife distracted him, them he looked up at their son.  “Your mother and I loved you from the day we knew you were to be born.”
     Verus caught his breath, never before had he heard those words from his father's mouth.
    “When you leave to go to study in Naples, it is my hope that this box will contain those things which you can use to provide for yourself when I am not beside you to help. But also that it will hold a memory in your mind that you were always loved and wanted.”

I like the beginning and it isn't all I have managed, there are several chapters.  So well begun is supposed to be half done but it hasn't quite worked out that way.  Begun a couple years ago and interrupted is more how this book has gone. Still, not forgotten or abandoned and at last I'm back on track to find out who will survive the double eruption to come.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Not Needing Fertile Soil

 Sometimes, writers act like writing needs to flow in an effortless way from the fertile soil of their Muse's garden.  It is as if the only truly creative writing can be done without planting any seeds, or weeding out the imperfect attempts, or toiling under the hot sun, or fighting off the attacking locusts.
 Some of my writing has bloomed like that. Then I am as surprised by the words that flow through my fingertips onto the screen as if they really were written by Duffy Barkley and his friends, telling me as they travel through Uhrlin, what is occurring. Sometimes, I feel like Della, opening her Desk expecting to see her journal, and instead discovering one from 102 years in the future.  I love it when my characters make it easy on me.

 These last few years have not progressed like that.  I find myself on facebook, muttering apologetic words in writing groups, or at school, explaining to readers that, no, The new book isn't done yet.  I blame Writer's block.  But when I don't want to teach and I'm not motivated, I don't blame "teacher's Block."  I don't stay in bed and whimper that I have no motivation.  I get up, go to school, and act out the routine until suddenly one or more of my students inspires me.  I fake it until we all make it, and the students rarely know which days I wanted to be there, and which I dreaded.

This summer there were a lot of excuses not to write, from broken computers to long road trips, to illness and family crisis.  Life wasn't giving me a lot of nitrogen rich soil and water and sunlight.  Then I went on a small day hike. The light was orange because of forest fires burning here in the CA/OR border, it made my aching lungs spasm even more but gave me delightful pictures of the serpentine bogs where Darlingtonia grows in soil rich in metals like copper and nickel and almost without the minerals plants need. No calcium or Nitrogen.  These plants thrive because they live in symbiosis with tiny things that break down the insects they trap, and give the Darlingtonia (also known as Cobra Lily) the nutrients they need to reach their knee high beauty.

 so these little carnivores have reminded me, that it is critical to bloom where you are planted, and if you are not getting what you need, then you need to find a way to create it.  So I'm back in the game again. Writing matters to me. I love sharing my stories and the beauty I find in this world.
Amazon's Dixie Dawn Miller Goode Page! You can view it at: