Writing Exercise: Memorial Day tribute

I planned to delve into writing this weekend, mixing those responsibilities with other chores around the house. I needed to regain momentum on Project Two, which had stalled during the pandemic; ironically, I was also fighting the lingering effects of my own bout with Covid. I knew I would have plenty of optimism when I finally sat at the keyboard, even if I had no idea where to begin.

That’s when Serendipity paid a visit.

Goodnight, Saigon by Billy Joel came up on my playlist, and his lyrics drew me in like I was watching a movie. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but your mind’s eye takes over, even as your body goes through the motions of dressing and pouring coffee. I’m not even sure of the sequence of events: my mind connected the song to Memorial Day and a scene where Samor rejoins his companions after they’ve lost someone. There was nothing; then there was something.

I grabbed the computer, put the song on repeat, and 30 minutes later, I had this.

Samor greeted his companions as they gathered to him. Their welcome was genuine, their words warm. But he read something else on their faces that he hadn’t seen before. Or rather, he realized he hadn’t had the skills to interpret the tragedies that lay there. The worry that creased Hochness’s brow; the crow’s feet that used to merrily step away from the corners of Oafsson’s eyes. Even the betrayer Chork, addled as his mind remained, seemed more sedate against the bonds that held him to the litter. A weight drug at them all, anchoring them to the battle where they’d lost their friend and compatriot. The look of survivors, a mix of gratitude and guilt, made worse by each condemning beat of their living hearts.

His past naiveté angered him, but mostly it saddened him. No words seemed important enough, nor considerate or meaningful enough to break the silence of the moment. And so, he took his cue from his friends, yes, that is what they were now, and he embraced them silently and exchanged knowing looks that would have been inscrutable to the person he used to be. In the strength he gave, he felt more returned. They knew he knew. They accepted him and were grateful that he offered to share the burden.

Samor recognized this understanding wouldn’t have come from a lifetime of study. Simple words upon the page were shallow, going no deeper than the ink that sank into the paper – practically lies for their misinterpretation of the awful reality. The knowledge was horrible, and he wished he’d never acquired it. A small voice between his ears reminded him it was a necessary experience for the future leader of Empyrelia, a land destined for war, but he could derive no comfort from that. He hoped he never would.

I’ve never been in a war, nor lost someone in combat. I will never be able to fully replicate those experiences on the written page, but that is not my intent. Long ago, I realized there were things expressed by my father’s face that I would never be able to read; there was context in his words I would never comprehend. One of my jobs as a writer is to help others understand that they cannot understand, and that is the goal of a piece like this, with Samor being the conduit. On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed an important thing to share.

Thanks for indulging me and for remembering those who have fallen in defense of America. If you’re interested in the writing stuff, read on.

Alright, let’s pause a second to breathe and let go of some of that weight. Warm up your coffee and we’ll take a look at the other purpose of this post: what are my observations or comments as a writer?

It’s a first pass, lightly edited after a rewritten sentence or two. The organization is largely unchanged, though what I expected to be a simple paragraph grew into three. I’m pretty happy with the language and variety of words. I’m going to review this for overuse of know/understand/comprehend, which is a habit I recognized during the editing of Project One. Additionally, I would argue that “important enough” and “meaningful enough” in the same sentence is redundant, though I’m keeping it for now because I like the rhythm and flow of the sentence and its place in the paragraph.

It’s heavy, yeah, one of the heaviest things I’ve written. I wonder about its inclusion in a YA fantasy novel that includes lighter fare, such as dragons, threadwolves, and ice demons. It’s too fresh for me to be objective, but I don’t think I’ll tone it down. One of my writing principles is to be truthful to my characters’ situations. In books and movies, I feel that the weight of the grief and survivor’s guilt is often glossed over so we can get to the celebration of life, the raising of goblets, if you will. This pain is important for Samor and The Reader to recognize on this journey together. There will be time later to toast to their companion’s memory, and that’s a fun scene I also look forward to sharing.

As I mentioned above, it took about 30 minutes to write those three paragraphs. The writing is tighter and more polished than it often is after that short a time, so I’m pleased. I’m also grateful to have written something with personal meeting; it’s been a few years since Only Some Came Back, which I wrote for Veterans’ Day.

Some writing days are like that – everything just comes together. You sit back and go, “Huh. I like how that came out, even if it’s different than I anticipated.” It’s funny, as easy as that was, this post took about two additional hours to write. That’s just how it goes. Good luck with your writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, May 2022

Writing Exercise: Sometimes You Climb

A note to our son Sam, as he’s training to be a climbing instructor at Scout camp. I share it here because it was too long to text. Pfft, writers.

Sam,

I know you had your eyes set on the aquatics director role and how you were disappointed when circumstances beyond your control prevented it from happening this year. However, when I heard you were moving to the rock wall, I thought, ”Now THERE is a role that perfectly suits Sam.”

And so, if you’ve forgotten how much you loved climbing as a kid, I wanted to share three climbing-related moments from your life.

The first happened when you were three, which would have been the Summer of 2003. You were playing in the backyard, and me, still a relatively new parent, assumed you were safely contained by our six-foot stockade fence.

You weren’t. When I opened the front door in response to a tiny knock, you stood there, smiling and oblivious to any of the thousand perils my worried parent’s mind instantly conjured, not least of which were the dangers of traffic or falling onto the concrete pad. To your mind, an obstacle three times your height was a trifle. And a fun one.

Feel free to share that story at camp. 🙂

The second happened at a water park at the Wisconsin Dells. You weren’t so much climbing up, as climbing off a slippery waterslide. This time you did meet concrete, and painfully so. Alright, alright, this isn’t quite a climbing memory like the first one, but this is my post and I make the rules. However, I think you learned an important lesson about balance and I don’t think you’ve taken a spill like that since.

And that brings me to the third memory. You were a regular chimpanzee on playground equipment. It wasn’t unusual to find you scaling the frame of the swings, crawling across the top of the monkey bars (instead of swinging across from bar to bar), or sitting on the roof of the fort. It became clear that you were sure-footed enough that you wouldn’t fall. No amount of raised adult hands or sharp inhalations of breath was enough to stop you.

If there is one other reason for making three points, it’s this: in climbing, there is a rule called ‘three points of contact’ for which you always have two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand in contact with the climbing surface.

You have been climbing, always climbing, your entire life. It doesn’t matter if the thing was made for it. Oh no. It could happen so quickly, it was like magic, and no adult had enough eyes in their head to prevent it. More than once, I found myself thinking, “There’s a thing he won’t climb” only to find myself soon proven wrong.

Come full circle to your new role at Scout camp, I think of your lifelong connection. How you have climbed across rope courses, down into caves, and up onto mountains, and you have also scaled the ranks from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout, earning achievements like Arrow of Light and Order of the Arrow along the way. Always forward, always up, always reaching the top.

Similarly in life, we are making forward progress, even when it feels like the opposite. Sometimes we sink or swim. Sometimes, we get knocked down, only to return to our feet.

Sometimes you climb.

And we’ll always be here to encourage you to climb higher. Love, Dad

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© Michael Wallevand, May 22, 2022

Enticed by Pepper – Writing Exercise

I was going to shut myself away in a quiet room, but my wife’s making homemade chicken noodle soup and the enticing smell is irresistible. It’s the smell of home, but a nostalgic kind. A place where hungry people come in from a wintry outdoors and suddenly find themselves ravenous in a warm, aromatic kitchen.

And so, with no preparation, I sat down and wrote a little about it. I don’t know what this is. Just stream-of-consciousness stuff. I provide it as an unedited example of how easy it is to get writing momentum some days, especially when you’re not overly concerned with structure or other grammatical rules.

I’m writing at the kitchen table

with headphones in.

It keeps out the distractions of home life

Yet allows me to stay within my family’s presence.

I sit here so I can smell my wife’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

As it bubbles on the stove

Its pepper enticing, the rich broth,

the concoction of ingredients that dance merrily in a savory swirl

“Pepper makes me sneeze,” I said as a kid.

It no longer has the effect I pretended it had back then.

Now, it’s an enticement, I want to bask in its aroma

and be inspired by cauldron thoughts

and salivating mouths,

of cooking herbs found near the camp

fresh-picked and green,

their earth nourished by a nearby brook that delights in its passage.

I cannot hear the roiling water as it swirls upon the stove.

It waits for noodles, thick and grand, pleasures each to taste.

And so I type, I write.

I take white pages and darken them with hope.

With no planning save that which can be done in preparation to sit

and bask within a kitchen breeze

its peppered breath a kiss,

A promise,

An inspiration.

Perhaps it will be worth editing later, or pieces will be borrowed for something else. At the very least, it got my mind ready for the other writing I intended to complete. And it got me hungrier.

It’s time for a luncheon interruption.

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots, onions, celery, and big thick noodles.

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© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – Writing Exercise

As I prepared to write about hitting 100-post mark, I stumbled upon this other post from three years ago: Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing. If you’re unfamiliar with the style, the post will give you a quick understanding. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait here.

In the post – which you may or may not have just read – I’d promised to share an example. Now, three years later, here it is. It’s about 550 words and a quick read.

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – 2009

Tom opened his eyes. He saw the top of the skyscraper falling away from him as he plummeted backwards toward the street below.

He was falling. Falling! He only had a few seconds to figure out why. He wouldn’t have time to be angry. Or regret the things he hadn’t done. He wouldn’t even have time to panic, though somehow he didn’t feel like he could if he wanted to.

He was always logical, figuring things out. His brain told him to sort this out. He needed to know why this was happening. It mattered. For some reason, it mattered. And it was mattered that he knew who was responsible.

Continue reading

Only Some Came Back – Writing Exercise

I find it easier to write when I’m speaking from the heart. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, I believe it’s important to acknowledge Veterans’ Day, so I always feel an obligation to say something meaningful.

This year, it started with a simple thought: “some came back”. It came to me while contemplating the difference between today and Memorial Day, but was also inspired by sentiments my father has shared.

As often happens, a simple idea blossomed into something greater, a working piece entitled, “Only Some Came Back”.


Some came back, wondering why they returned so all alone.
Some came back, their bodies hardly whole.
Some came back, prisoners lately freed.
Some came back, with so many healing needs.

Heroes all, whether wounded, captured, tortured, or flesh unscathed.
Heroes all, though they would never, ever think themselves as brave
Or worthy to have lived when so many others fell in foreign lands.
Or worthy to continue in a world that cannot understand.

Backs bent, carrying the weight of comrades lost, of life post-war.
Hearts pierced by steel, by loss, by unfathomable gore.
Minds burdened by nightmares, grief, and shattered innocence.
Souls broken upon the fields of demarked happenstance.

It’s not a day for politics
Or the whims of money’s end.
It’s a day for remembering veterans,
The women and the men.


 

This piece took about 30 minutes to write. While it’s a work-in-progress, I’ll let this one sit for a time. It’s more personal than it might seem, and there are current political things that cut deeper than I care to discuss.

I share it as an example of writing outside my manuscript. Sometimes the work can be a drag, and creating things that bring you joy can help you get past them. And sometimes, it’s cathartic, too.

Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, November 2019

Human Illumination – Writing Exercise

This post is approximately 450 words. Just a little something I wrote to see if I could capture my ideas.

In the city, there are lights to illuminate you

A thousand, a million

They cast you in their glows.

Others see you; you see yourself:

A combination of flaws and perfection,

Truths, and the lies that we tell ourselves,

That others interpret.

And while some lights go out, they are but few.

There are always more.

The darkness that falls upon you is scant,

If you are ever shadowed at all.

People never see themselves by the light of a single source.

And they never truly disappear;

Though perhaps they are never truly seen.

In the country, where there are fewer lights

A handful, a dozen,

Few and far between.

Defined as much by the darkness between them,

As by their shine.

Each precious in its illumination,

Though less stark in contrast,

And we all are deemed the same

In the same light

A single one extinguished has a meaningful impact

In what people see; how people see you.

You might lose yourself in the night,

Or reveal only those parts of yourself you wish didn’t exist.

And yet, when there is naught but darkness around you

You can see the brighter universe.

Take comfort knowing that light can never be extinguished,

And you will never truly disappear into the black,

Though it remains a reminder

That there are never enough stars to conquer the night.

 

Closer still, the horizon glow:

A welcome promise of light still existing.

Few or many, free to embrace.

They will shine upon us,

And we will be grateful to be seen,

Even if we do not always accept what we show.

This sprang up from the simple idea of using lights as a metaphor for people. We often see ourselves differently because of others. We might be surrounded by people, yet alone. The loss of people in your life could be more impactful, depending on where you live.

As a person who’s lived in rural America and her suburbs, I’ve experienced many of the things described above. If I may be so bold, read the text again and see if you recognize similar events in your own life.

The purpose of this post is not about wowing you with artistic imagery or showing off my poetry skills, diminutive as they are. I’m sure similar things have been created before. It’s an example of what can be done in about thirty minutes (including some minor editing and re-organization). Thirty minutes to exercise your writing brain. We all have time for that.

–Mike

PS: Click for more examples of writing exercises

 


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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019

Writing Exercise #8 – Whimsical Horror

This is post is approximately 650 words, many of them silly nonsense, but limned with a sinister tone, I hope.

I like fun and I like whimsy, and I like them mixed with horror. In the appropriate proportions, of course. Without the proper balance, a story is either too dark or too goofy. It’s something I’m managing in certain parts of my current manuscript.

I think this penchant comes from fairy tales I read in childhood. They’re cautionary stories, of course: stay in bed, eat your peas, don’t lie! They all promise horrible fates to children who fail in some regard. Take Little Red Riding Hood, who was devoured by a slavering wolf before a woodcutter sliced open the beast’s belly to free her.

In deliberate contrast to the horrors of the story, the pages often featured colorful illustrations of cherubic tots venturing obliviously into danger. After a few similar stories, we all knew something bad was coming, despite the innocence of the art. And we loved it. As kids, we were practically watching them through half-covered eyes, gleefully anticipating their demise as we imagined their chubby little legs carrying them toward certain doom.  Continue reading

Wonder – Discovery – Adventure

I started this post in June, but set it aside as part of the writing break I described in my last post. The title comes from three words I wrote as they came to me. Behind my office desk, I might refer to them as ‘guiding principles’ or ‘fundamental values’. But we’re talking about writing today, so no stuffy corporate phrases allowed!

macbook pro beside white cup and saucer on table

Here’s what they really are. They are the heart of Tildy’s character, and therefore, the heart of her story. Of all the words in the English language that I could use to describe her, these three are all I need. Everything I have written so far – and everything I will write – needs to convey this or I haven’t adequately transported the reader.

The amount of thought writers put into their works might surprise people. Using a scientific measuring tool known as ‘my gut’, I’d estimate nearly half of my time is spent thinking about the story. Yeah, it’s not all butt-in-chair, typing away like a half-crazed hermit. Whether I’m walking in to work, driving, or waiting in line for coffee, I’m thinking about where the story is going. What happens beyond the first book? Am I doing my female protagonist justice? Is it marketable? There are myriad questions, and if a writer isn’t focused, it’s easy to deviate the story too far from your original intent.

Continue reading

Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

Shine a flashlight in the dark

This post is approximately 550 words and deals with the topic of sexual assault. This isn’t some lame attempt to drive traffic to my blog by tapping into a popular social movement. That’s why I’m not using the hashtag or any other tactic to increase the visibility of the post. It’s just me, writing about something I care about, which is the entire point of this website.

On Monday, a Facebook friend boldly stated that she had not and would not participate in the “me too” movement. She meant to say that, sometimes, people don’t realize that their words qualify as harassment, and that without specific examples, we can’t correct them. But she also said, “just telling people you’ve been victimized doesn’t raise awareness.”

I disagreed.

And I think she missed the point. This movement isn’t simply about wolf whistles and “c’mere, honey”, though that’s part of it. My response received positive feedback, and so I share it here because I’m proud of what I wrote (lightly edited for this platform).


I write this as a man, and as a person who has never been sexually assaulted.

My opinion is based on women who have confided in me. Like the drunk woman who woke up naked with a man on top of her. Or the woman who lied about being on her period to avoid rape. Or the woman who kept silent for more than 20 years because she knew no one would believe her. Or the woman who blamed the rape on herself because she had a reputation for being easy.

Much like a crowd shining flashlights in the dark, this movement shows people they are not alone. That there are far more people than we ever thought. To show that such a thing might have hurt a person, but they did not let it defeat them.

I particularly disagree with the statement “we all know basically every woman has experienced” this. Regardless of whether “we all know”, the complacency of that argument is part of the problem. We still live in a culture where men and women blame rape on a woman’s attire. Or her job. Or because she is subservient to men. People dismiss “grabbing her by the p****” as locker room talk because his political affiliation says (R), when they’d give a (D) holy hell for saying the same thing.

However, this movement isn’t targeting the small-minded people, not really, because they will never change their minds. Nor is it seeking the blessing of the enlightened. I think there are many people who really aren’t aware of the size of this problem, and for that, I applaud the momentum behind this movement.

I also disagree that writing out the specifics on Facebook is a better approach. We should believe that people have been attacked without having to read the sensational details. There are myriad reasons victims don’t come forward, but recounting the attack shouldn’t be the price for my sympathy or belief.

I would have believed my friends if they had simply said, “Me too.”


It’s only a Facebook comment, and not intended to be high literature. But I believe in writing things that are important, things that connect people, and things that can make the world a better place.

I know you do, too.

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, October 2017