Privilege in a time of chaos and injustice

I live in a Minneapolis suburb, though I am far enough away that I cannot see the smoke. I cannot hear the protests. My sleep is not disturbed by the sounds of gunfire and sirens. While the murder of George Floyd has angered me, I have been separated from the cacophony of a world aflame.

I have felt helpless and rooted in place, and it has forced some introspection. I know I do not truly understand the emotions or thoughts of the communities affected by this murder. So I have been listening. As I hear the anguish, the powerlessness, the frustration, and as I read what it’s like to fear a similar fate as George Floyd, I have been reminded that I have lived a privilege life compared to many people in my country.

A decision lay before me: to live within the comfort and protection of my privilege or to use it for something positive. I chose the latter.

I took what I heard and wrote this.

***********************

I am not black.

I am not of eastern Asian descent, nor Slavic or Middle Eastern, nor a member of most of the other wonderful ancestries that humans are blessed to have.

I am not Muslim, nor a member of any of the non-Christian religions that bring people comfort across the world.

I am not female, nor any of the other genders we are discovering in our DNA.

I am not gay, and I do not fit into any of the sexual orientations that close-minded people refuse to acknowledge.

I am not missing any of my five senses or four limbs. My brain doesn’t process the world in a way that requires additional interpretation.

I’ve never been impoverished or homeless.

I am a straight white male living in America and there are very few words that we use to modify that description. We live in a country that must label people to remind them they are different than a particular type of person – that they are other. That they do not have my privilege.

I recognize that in the United States, I have more privilege than all of these wonderfully different ways to be human.

Continue reading

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.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

Organic growth in your story

I’m spending a quiet Saturday afternoon writing and playing around with some scenes in Project Two. I was struck by how one thought led to another, and before I knew it, I had connections to two different scenes and to Tildy’s book (Project One).

Stephen King's On WritingIt reminded me of a section in Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’m reading for the fifteen time. In the first part, entitled C.V. (section 28 for those of you who own it), he talks about the genesis of Carrie. He wasn’t actively writing a story; he wasn’t even working on an idea. A memory led to a thought, which led to the recollection of a magazine article. “Pow!” he writes, “Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.”

The following example isn’t the lightning that Mr. King caught in a bottle for Carrie, but I think it’s a nice look at how organically this stuff happens sometimes. You’re not steering toward something; you’re just holding on to see what happens. Suddenly, you discover that two unconnected scenes have a common thread. It’s new to you, but it’s the kind of revelation that makes you feel like it already existed, you just finally uncovered it.

  1. Tildy celebrates her birthday in The Starfall Omen, so I have a similar scene with Samor, her brother and the hero of Project Two. Contrary to her experience, his is a disappointing day. He receives three gifts from his father: the first is books, and to contrast with Tildy, he isn’t happy. The other two gifts are TBD.
  2. Tildy has a scene in which she prepares to sneak out, and I describe the items she’s wearing and packing. Samor goes through the same, buckling a traveling belt that he’d received as a gift. At the time, he grumbles because he was never allowed to leave the castle.
  3. Pow! A convergence of scenes that are several thousand words apart. Gift + birthday = now I have a second disappointing gift for my birthday scene. Expanding upon it, both Samor and his father, the Steward of Empyrelia, realize that it will be some time before he can travel with it – they must keep the Steward’s son safe, after all.
  4. Finally, I go back to Samor’s dressing scene in which he’s preparing to sneak out. Instead of recalling his disappointment in the gift, he’s smug about being able to use the traveling belt much sooner than his father intended.

Part of this change happened because I set myself a mystery. Not a whodunit, just an unanswered detail (Samor’s birthday gifts) that I knew I’d fill in later. It sat their, lurking, until I remembered its presence when I had good use for it. If you’re counting along, you know there’s one last gift to discover. I can’t wait to learn what it is.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

What else have you written? #1

Since I post regularly on social media about my writing, people often ask me variations of the question, “What else have you written?” Unbeknownst to most people who know me, I’ve tried my hands at a number of projects. As I was perusing some old files today, I came across a comic book I pitched to Marvel in 2007. Yes, that Marvel. And while it was rejected, I still love the concept. There might even be a theme or two that I loan to The Lost Royals…we’ll see.

The historical origins of this story are true. Fifteen hundred years ago, Attila the Hun was poised to ransack the unguarded city of Rome when he was met in Northern Italy by Pope Leo I. Catholic legend says the image of St. Peter threatened Attila, and the great Hun fled westward away from Rome.

The following memorandum from one of my main characters suggests otherwise. Without further ado…

BLACK MEMORANDUM:

For the eyes of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

Transcript of the audio diary of Jonathan Harper, Vatican Order of the Adherents. Demon Hunter.

Diary recovered in Vatican City, in the ruins of the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini, which was destroyed by demons and Hellfire escaping the lost Porta de Infernus.

The fifth century A.D. The once-great Roman Empire is divided in two and disintegrating. But with one great empire dying in Rome, another was rising to take its place.

The Church began to solidify its power under Pope Leo I. Halfway through his reign he would turn back one of the most fearsome conquerors Europe has ever seen. His name is Attila, leader of the Huns. Enemies and tribesmen alike name him ‘the Scourge of God’.

Pope Leo met the horde with a few advisors, some gold, and the Word of God.

The Pope pleaded with Attila, asking that the Huns spare Rome. And for some reason, they did. Church scribes say the spirit of St. Peter appeared to Attila. Fearing his holy blade, the Hun then turned his men westward and away from Rome.

But history is often recorded by those who can favorably rewrite it. My research indicates Attila first accompanied Leo to Rome where Leo revealed a dark and terrifying secret. A secret that frightened the fearless Hun. A secret that required the building of Vatican City to hide it.

And I am about to unlock this secret, though I know not what it is. Jonathan Harper, April 18.

End Transcript.

Cardinal Emanuel Esperanza

(EE / ff)


That’s the teaser I included with the script and query letter. Man, it takes me back. I had so much fun creating the story and bringing the characters of Jonathan Harper, Grace Chang, and their supporting cast to life. Not only did it combine two of my passions – history and writing, which were my college majors – it was a project that took full advantage of the comic book medium. I hope to get back to it one day.

I share it as an example of something a writer put their heart, blood, and sweat into, but hasn’t yet found additional life in publication. It happens, we’re crushed, we move on and live to write another day.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

Author’s Journal – 11-25-19

Journal Entry #3. The Muse is withholding all inspiration until I write another update.

It was a tough writing weekend. Not that I didn’t know what to write. I knew what I had to write; I just didn’t know which words to pick.

1. I spent time on Saturday and Sunday working on a query submission for a local agent. It requires a pitch, synopsis, and other pertinent info. The challenge is in the distilling of 188,000 words into a couple hundred. It’s a great exercise, tbh. It forces you to hone in on the core idea of your story. But…..it’s damn hard, perfectionist desires aside. I’ve spent my adult life editing, dabbled in the restrictive word count of flash fiction, and write with the “Murder your darlings” philosophy. And still I struggle to rein in the information overload.

It comes down to the old saying, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one.” Being succinct is tough, and I get why agents push for it.

Prince Super Bowl performance

2. Monday night, I tinkered with the finished manuscript, like a naughty author. 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


Appreciate what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, November 2019

Take Joy In Your Craft #1

I was recently re-familiarizing myself with the music of Velvet Underground, and “Run Run Run” on YouTube led me to “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid. I’d missed the song in 2013, which isn’t surprising since I was no longer in the music business and I don’t hear a lot of French artists on the radio.

From the tolling bell that opened the song, I knew I was going to like it. But after three-and-a-half minutes, I felt like I’d just watched a video of my childhood fantasies.

If there was any other kid, aside from Luke Skywalker, that I’d pretended to be, it was Max from Where The Wild Things Are. And so this video, showing a kid playing fantasy and running with monsters? Heck yeah – I’ve watched it ten times in the last week.

OK, that was mostly an aside, but the video is too fun not to share.

Anyway, my enjoyment led me to a live version of the song, and this brings me to the point of the post. Continue reading

Set Yourself Mysteries

epiphany

Epiphany

from Merriam-Webster

As happens to most of us, something profound occurred to me in the shower this morning. For me, I was thinking about my story. Not the first book I am writing, but the entire story. It was the kind of thought that made me end my shower, towel off quickly, and open my computer to write it down.

Here’s some context first, though I’ll be generic to prevent spoilers: I have a scene between two characters that is the genesis of their friendship. I like the scene because it imparts important information to both the reader and my protagonist, Tildy.

But there’s something else in the scene, a catalyst. It’s the thing that brings these two together, yet it also returns later with significant results. One of the characters even warns against it. Three books later, it fulfills this apparent destiny, devastating both Empyrelia and Tildy in the process.

How did I get there? Am I more architect than gardener, a writer who has a perfect plan in which all things are connected? No.

I set myself a mystery.

It wasn’t something I did consciously, yet I’m aware that I do it all the time. That was my epiphany: I had identified one key element of my writing style. I throw out interesting details, predictions, or other tidbits, which forces me to find a creative solution to explain why these things are important to the story. It also makes writing more fun because I love a good mystery.

I’m not talking about the main plot, however. This isn’t, Tildy needs to journey into the world, fight a heroic battle, and return triumphant – what does she fight? No, this is about smaller details, such as the witch wearing a pearl in her flyaway hair or Tildy not getting along with the birds in Dappledown (the first, I’ve solved, but not the second).

I’m certain this isn’t unique to me, though I can’t recall reading about other writers that do this. If this is new to you – cool! If you’ve read something similar elsewhere, I’d love to get a link to the story.

We can’t wait for inspiration, but if we put in enough time at the keyboard, I think we can find ways to summon it. If I can have fun doing it, too, then that’s a process that works for me. Hopefully, you can find those things that work for you.

Good luck with your writing!

–Mike

Postscript: What I also like about this epiphany is that it prepares me to give more satisfactory answers when people ask about my writing process. In my experience, “I just, uh, write?” is usually met with confusion or disappointment because people think I’ve discovered an ancient secret or something. I’ve just found some tools that work for me, and this is one of the better ones.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, August 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

 


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, August 2019

Music and the Muse

This post is approximately 900 words, most of them song titles and artists.

Writers want to evoke specific emotions within the reader, which sometimes means you have to feel them yourself as you write. On those days when the Muse is with you, and She’s of generous mood, it’s easy. You’re typing as fast as thought, and you laugh or you cry as you experience those terrible, wonderful, breathtaking moments with your characters.

It can be draining. There’s an emotional, and often physical toll. It might even make you reconsider your next venture to the keyboard because you just don’t have the strength.

Sometimes, you need a little help. Or, Muse forgive me, other inspiration. For me, it’s music, although it can also be art, books, or even a stick. Heck, I write about it all the time – click for more posts that discuss inspiration.

But I digress. I often listen to music as I write, generally preferring songs without lyrics (i.e. movie soundtracks). However, when I need a stronger emotional inspiration, I put on some of these songs. I might even listen to one track on repeat, letting my mind drift into the story. Maybe I’m in the car; maybe I’m taking a walk. When I’m finally in the right frame of mind, I start writing. When it works, oh man, it works. When it doesn’t, well, it’s gotten me to the keyboard, and even a bad day of writing is better than one without any writing at all!

Without further preface, here’s a partial list. You’ll find love and loss, sadness and melancholy, anger, hope, and heroism. Maybe you’ll discover some new tunes, too!

Continue reading