In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 6

The last lesson, finally.

***

Dusk is my favourite time of day. Usually.

When I watch the sky darken from pale orange to cerulean blue, I feel as if the earth is taking a deep breath before night begins. This vision mesmerises me; fills me with serenity. Apparently, this is a trait all manangs share.

Tonight though, serenity is far from me.

Colin and I are trudging through the cemetery of St. Alban’s church; crushing the fallen flowers of the Jacaranda tree. Like most old cemeteries and this one was over a century old, judging from some of the headstones around me, broken headstones scatter throughout the overgrown grass and the ground is uneven. I stumble and Colin grabs my elbow, righting me.

“Watch where you’re going, Jess! I don’t want you getting a sprained ankle before we even begin!”

I jerk my arm from his grasp and reach down to rub my ankle which was beginning to throb. “Thanks.” I mutter.

Dried leaves and twigs crunch under our feet as we venture deeper into the cemetery. I have no idea what we are here for and Colin refuses to answer when I ask him.

Trailing behind, I take a deep breath and immediately I sputter. “Gross, this place smells like -“

Colin turns and grabs my chin hard and hisses “Don’t…”

Twice in one night. This is a record.

I start to tell him to stop with the manhandling when a memory flashes through me – Grandfather’s voice telling me that fragrances encountered after dark and especially in unfamiliar surroundings must not be acknowledged for these fragrances are traps set by mischievous spirits to lure unsuspecting travellers into the spiritual realm. Indicating aloud that a fragrance is noticed is akin to walking into the trap from which returning may be impossible.

Colin’s hand is still on me; his eyes locks with mine. Heat creeps up my neck and again I jerk myself loose. I’m such a fool. What kind of a manang am I?

He lets go and we resume walking until we reach a mound with a worn wooden headstone to mark its location. I remove the flashlight from my pocket; it is almost full dark and read the text inscribed.

Clare Stevens
9/ 1/ 1925 – 25/ 9/ 1943

I do the math. So young.

“So, since we’ve stopped, are you finally going to tell me what we’re doing here?” I ask Colin.

We’re not doing anything,” he starts, “you are.” He crosses his thick arms across his broad chest and I try not to ogle. Or drool. “Manang 101 – summoning spirits,” he finally elaborates.

“Summoning? You mean now? Spirit? Hers?” My eyes go wide as I point at the headstone. “I’m not ready!”

Typical Colin, he ignores my protests. “We practiced this. Remember. Search for the Source, tap into it and focus on calling Clare’s spirit. Only her spirit. Ground yourself – “

“- and push against the Veil. My memory is fine, Colin. That’s beside the point! I’m not ready!” And frankly, freaking scared but I keep this thought to myself.

Colin just glares at me and I know that there’s no getting into bed with a warm glass of milk and a racy romance novel anytime soon until I get this done.

The sun has set completely now and the night feels thick. The hair on the back of my neck prickles. I ignore the neck-prickling and close my eyes as I reach for my connection to Menjaya Raja Manang, the Witchdoctor King. The connection is tenuous so I exert my will until I feel the psychic snap that tells me the Source, the well of power recognises me.

I call Clare.

Spirits have always shown themselves to me. When I was a child, they did this because they sensed that I wasmanang and assumed that I would be able to pass on messages to their loved ones for them. They come when they want something. Calling a spirit that does not seek anything was another matter altogether and requires more effort. I feel the Veil and reach in to find Clare’s spirit.

I am in shock because almost immediately Clare comes to me in a rush and I gasp. Something’s wrong. This doesn’t feel right. I hear buzzing around me which intensifies. I start to say Colin’s name but I can’t speak.
The spirit stumbles and twists in my direction. “It’s beginning,” she hisses and I almost pass out from the stench of her breath. Wait, do spirits breathe?

I hear Colin’s voice as if through molasses – garbled, unintelligible “Jess …not Clare… dismiss … before… touches you… order!”

Tendrils emerge from the spirit and reach out for me. It looks like a deformed squid now. I fall on my behind and push myself backwards with my hands and legs on the ground like a crab. I try to pull more power from the Source so that I can shove this whatever-it-is back into the Veil.

But nothing.

My hands and legs are tiring and the thought of just lying there on the slightly damp ground sounds enticing. I begin to slow my retreat when I feel a sharp pain on my right hand. OUCH! I hold my hand up close to my face and see blood gushing from where a rusty needle has pierced the fleshy part of my palm. Great, just great. Pursued by an unknown spirit, abandoned by my Guard, found a rusty needle – all in all, a perfect night.

I try one last time, before the wooziness of seeing my own blood claims me, to shove the spirit-that-is-not-Clare back where it belongs. I hold my bleeding right hand up and pull on the Source as I push. The spirit screeches and claws at me but doesn’t quite reach as an invisible force drags it backwards into a point that can only be the Veil. With an inaudible pop, the menacing spirit is gone and silence surrounds me. It’s the blood…

I shut my eyes and let my head fall back onto the ground. I can’t move my limbs. So tired.

“Jess! Jess! Are you okay?” I feel Colin lift my head onto his lap. Hmmm…such strong thighs. I resist the urge to purr. Now, he appears, that darn man.

And the stars fill my vision, plunging me into night.

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 5 Characterisation

Even during the last F2K session, I dragged my feet with this lesson. It was no different this time. The lesson felt very constricting for me. I did eventually write something but left it to the absolutely last, last minute aka last night.

Lesson Five is the Characterization Interview. In other words, dialogue between your character and an interviewer. Or if you prefer, dialogue between two of your characters, as long as they promote the main character and reveal things about he or she.

You can use any character from your own writing –short story, novel, poem, etc. Do a simple interview with him/her. We need to think the character is alive; tell us something interesting about him/her. Why do they think they should be a character in your story?

Give us a character interview in 500 words or less. This is to be a dialogue only interview. No he said/she said tags, no explanations such as, she tossed her hair or he frowned, and no intro before the interview. Remember, each speaker starts a new paragraph – use spaces between them.

There’s already some feedback and my classmates got confused between the characters 😦

***

“Gerald, you might as well show yourself. The room reeks of the clove cigarette you’re disgustingly fond of inhaling.”

“It’s an acquired taste, Colin, and I’ll appear when it pleases me.”

“So…to what do I owe the displeasure of this untimely and unwelcome visit?”

Tsk…tsk…manners, young man, I’m here to find out from the Guard the Council assigned to my granddaughter about the progress of her training.”

“You insult my abilities by checking up on me. There isn’t a need. Jess’ training is progressing exactly how I expect it to progress.”

“Your generic response doesn’t tell me anything. I want to know if she’s able to control her abilities and if she’s…hang on, you said Jess. She allows you to call her that? She hates being called Jess.”

“You’re right, she detests the name but it pleases me to call her whatever I feel like calling her. I am her Guard, after all.”

“Well, sounds like the both of you are getting along real fine then. Anyway, is she able to call spirits yet?”

“Not quite.”

“Interpret her dreams?”

“We haven’t gotten that far.”

“Tell me you’ve at least taught her to make basic herbal remedies? Every manang needs to be able to do that.”

“That’s coming up soon.”

“What exactly have been going on during these sessions, Colin! It’s been 6 weeks! She should’ve been able to access all those abilities by now. I’ll have to report this to the Council, you know that.”

“Go ahead, old man. And when you see the Council you can also let them know that Jess has been skipping her sessions. And THAT’s the reason why she’s not as far along as she should be.”

“Well? Why didn’t you just say so! You said progressing exactly how you expect it to progress! And why haven’t YOU reported her absences? Well? Say something!”

“This is not something I’m proud of but I haven’t reported her absences because I’ve been trying to track her and she’s slick, this granddaughter of yours. She’s managed to elude me every single time.”

“Ha ha ha! That’s rich! My dear Jess has managed to escape her Guard, the one Guard who always manages to find his quarry! A Wilde indeed.”

(WC 370)

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 4 Conflict

During the last F2K session, this lesson was the one that really shone for me. I learned to be more aware of introducing the element of conflict in my writing when I realised through this session that with conflict, the characters became more three-dimensional.

This time however, I struggle with writing a scene with a minor conflict in it. For me, conflict has always tended to be romantically-based – those are the types of conflicts I’m most familiar with. This session though, I didn’t want it to be a romantic-driven conflict and that stumped me. In the end though, I decided to use this lesson to explore Jessana as an elder sister and I think I could’ve done better but I’m sort of happy with what I’ve got.

***

Jess grinned as she watched her younger sister Cassandra race down the stairs in her customary the-world-is-too-slow-for-her-magnificence flair. Her untied midnight hair streamed behind her like a superhero’s cape and her ear glued to her mobile while she spoke into it at a million miles a minute. Jess shook her head at the sight of her sister who was likely going to be late for school that day as the aroma of coffee and burnt waffles filled the kitchen.

Jess began to turn away from her younger sister’s exuberance but her gaze caught a familiar accessory which dangled from Cassandra’s right wrist – a leather bracelet with three blue and white porcelain circlets in a row; a gift from Grandpa. To Jessana.

When Cass reached the kitchen, Jess asked in the most neutral tone that she had in her “Is that my bracelet, Cass?”

“Yep.” Cass tossed the reply towards Jess and walked to the island in the kitchen and filled a mug with coffee flavoured with chicory.

Jess winced at the reply. “I don’t mind that you borrow my things but I’d appreciate if you just ask me beforehand.”

“Well, I’m wearing it now. Take it that I’ve asked you, ‘kay? Besides, it was the only accessory that matched my outfit today. What do you think?” Cass twirled showing off her trim figure draped in a light blue sundress that showcased her tan.

“Cass…” Jess continued, “Can you just give me the bracelet?”

“Seriously! Why are you harping on this?! It’s just a darn bracelet!”

“Grandpa gave it to me, it’s kind of important…” Jess reached out towards Cass. The bracelet had been given to her by their grandfather’s estate. There were rules that came with it. Many rules. Among which were that only the eldest of the eldest could possess it; wear it. And Cass was not an eldest of an eldest.

“Well, I’m sick and tired of you getting the best stuff from the tribe! You want your bracelet – here!” Cass wrenched the bracelet from her wrist and flung it towards Jess. Jess felt the cool porcelain of the bracelet meet her right cheek, felt the welt that it would become and watched the bracelet slide down and laid prone on the kitchen tile; innocent.

(WC 377)

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 3 POV

Woo hoo! This is another favourite lesson from F2K (ok, ok…all the lessons are favourites) about writing from different POVs.

From your own writings, pick out a paragraph you like; then tell it from a different POV.

This session, I wanted to try my hand at the 2nd person POV so I used a piece of writing from my WIP which I had written as a stand-alone story about Colin and Angie which I realised could actually be incorporated into my Manang story. I rewrote the original piece and made it tighter and I’m pretty happy for how my 2nd person POV came out.

***

3rd person POV

Colin watched, perplexed, as Jess stood unmoving on the uncovered sidewalk outside her apartment building. Rain pummelled her lithe form and plastered her long, wavy black tresses to the sides of her face and down her back. Mascara stained the flesh beneath her eyes. He called out her name as he moved towards her but she barely twitched. He tried a second time, shouting out “Hey!” This time, she turned and when his eyes met hers, blankness stared back. Colin faltered. He’d seen her shy around him, avert her eyes whenever he spoke to her but he’d never seen her look at him with nothing in her gaze. Chillness filled him and he continued to stalk towards her. Eyes still locked together, she took a tentative step back, fear replaced her vacant stare and she held her hand out as if to ward him away. If he didn’t hurry, he was sure she’d bolt.

2nd person POV

You find yourself outside, in the rain but you can’t remember how you got there. Did you walk along the broken sidewalk which had weeds erupting from the cracks? Or did you come out of the warmly lit building behind you? The uniformed man within its doors is smiling at you. You feel cold seep through your wet garments. You glance down and see you’re wearing a pale yellow dress. You think it’s pretty. Oh yes, you’re in the rain. Somehow, you know that you should look for cover or else you’d catch a cold. Did your mother tell you that? Or did you read about it in a magazine? You try to remember but all you encounter is wool and pain irradiates from deep within your skull. You stop remembering and the pain recedes. You hear a voice shout “Hey!” and you turn. Your eyes meet eyes of light toffee that belongs to a large man who is coming your way. His forehead is creased with worry but you don’t really care. You stare at this person whose right arm is encased in swirling ink and am momentarily hypnotised by the pattern on tanned skin. Your brain shouts at you that he is coming FOR you. Your body goes stiff and your heart starts pounding erratically; fear fills you. Your brain instructs you to step back and RUN!

(WC 383)

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 2 Activating the Senses

This lesson in F2K will always be one of my favourites. And also the one that will cause me to pull out my hair. It’s a lesson in 3 parts – the first part is to write 8 sentences for each of the 8 senses, the second part is to write a cohesive paragraph which has all 8 senses in them and the final part is to read the text provided and to pick up the sentences that depicts the 8 senses. Part 3 is my least favourite.

This is my Part 2 sentence. I re-imagined it from a story that I started writing for Sharon’s class. It’s tentatively titled Oubliette.

***

I covered my ears to the roars and slurps which leaked through the doorway above me of men devouring fellow-men. It seemed as if the feasting was occurring right outside the door of the underground hurricane shelter I’d stumbled into. Copper tinged the air, assailing my olfactory glands. As if on cue, my stomach growled and I willed it to be silent. I realised then that I hadn’t had anything to eat since…gosh, since early yesterday. My hands still covering my ears, I stepped away from the door slowly, turned and took in my refuge. My eyes met dusty and cobweb-covered furnishings. I opened the wooden cabinet nearest to me and shrieked as my finger snagged on a protruding rusty nail. Blood bloomed from the injury and instinctively I placed the wounded finger into my mouth and sucked. Sweet.

RAT-TAT-TAT!

The wooden door of the shelter shook, startling me.

(WC 149)

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Lesson 1 Character Introduction

This is one of my favourite lessons but also one of the most tricky ones. I say this because firstly, I have to decide which character to use to introduce me and at the same time, to ensure that the character’s voice is clear, consistent and unique.

Lesson 1: Have a character you have created tell us a little about you. Have them give us a view of you that we wouldn’t normally see (why they think you created them, how they feel about you, what you put them through in your writing, etc.) If you haven’t already created a character, then go ahead and create one for this assignment. 

I had to go with Jessana the Manang-to-be for this Lesson because obviously she’s a character that I want to develop further and the F2K would be the perfect opportunity to do that. I’ve also consciously tried to differentiate the lesson from the last time I did this lesson (In the Madeleine L’Engle Room (F2K): Lesson 1 Character Introduction)

I hope I did the lesson justice!

***

Amelia squirms and mumbles in her sleep. It’s been like this for most of her life. I try to comfort her but I suppose she’s not aware that I’m there; hovering at the edge of her subconscious. To her, I’m only one of the characters she’s birthed and among all the characters she’s written about, I’m one of the newest. Perhaps some of you may even remember me. She first introduced me in her Lesson 6 story from the last F2K session. I’m Jessana.

Since then, she’s written about me, in bits and pieces, but none of the stories, unfortunately, are complete.

The reason why she hasn’t been writing was that she’s been hard at work. She was quite used to racking up more than 50 hours a week; toiling away at reports. As she did this, stories raced across her brain but when she got home, she couldn’t even bear to look at the computer screen anymore and so the stories stayed in her head and in her heart.

But change is on the horizon. She recently switched from being in a full-time job to working as a freelancer and though her friends told her that she was brave to take that step, she felt anything but brave. Truth be told, she had never felt so afraid in her entire life. In fact, this is probably why her sleep is a disturbed one. She worries a lot; my creator. Elise, another character that Amelia wrote about before (and who is slowly becoming one of my best friends) mentioned this to me too.

Amelia alternates between being a night owl and someone who wakes up hours before dawn. She writes best when she’s surrounded by silence. And her best writing pieces have always been about something she’s experienced personally.

Which is probably why she created me.

You see, Amelia is descended from a witch doctor on her father’s side and has always found herself in unexplained situations of the paranormal bent though she underplays this as often as she can. Being a scientist, she’s often at war with herself about the existence of beings that can’t be explained by science which she encounters from time to time. Through me, she’s able to write about these experiences which have helped her understand her own reactions to these `unique’ happenstances.

She’s shared with me that she wants to complete my story before the year ends. I’m excited and look forward to having my tale told. She’s also discreetly mentioned that I will have a love interest, Colin. I remember blushing when she mentioned this to me. I’m indescribably shy and will probably have no idea how to behave like a rational human being in the presence of the muscled, tattooed biker named Colin.

Until my entire story is told, I’ll guard her as she dreams and keep her safe there.

WC 478

In the Colin R Onstad Room (F2K): Optional Prompt #1

The first week of F2K, the mentor gives us an optional prompt to get our `engines running’, so to speak.

Write about nature. Include the following words: hard drive, stapler, phone, car, billboard.

It was a toughie, this time, I tell ya’ and I had issues with it. I wasn’t inspired in the least but eventually had a kernel of inspiration:

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

There were leaves in my mouth; dried and earthy. It felt like there were ants too. I hoped it was ants, not other creepy crawlies. Immediately, I spat the foliage out and used my fingers to clear out the rest of my mouth.

I was on my stomach, my head was pounding, my elbows and knees felt bruised and scratched-up. I reached up and touched the back of my head and found a bump the size of an ostrich egg. I sighed and continued lying there, wherever there was.

All I could remember up to that point was that I’d gone running as I usually do in the evenings. I was training for a 5km run at the end of June and was behind on my running mileage so I had taken a new route that day. A longer route that meandered through the secondary forest behind the local sawmill. I also remembered running past the billboard that the local council had put up informing residents that the popular running trail would be closed in 2 weeks for maintenance. I quickly noted that bit of information on my phone that I carried with me whenever I ran.

I must’ve fallen back to sleep because when I opened my eyes next, the light from the vertical tunnel above me was dim. It was probably late evening. I wondered how long I had been in that hole. I could hear leaves rustling, birds chirping and the faint sound of cars. I moved to stand, holding myself up with my hands then instantaneously buckled. My knee’s busted, I thought. I took out my phone, hoping that it wasn’t broken from the fall. No reception. Great, just great.

I could feel myself start to hyperventilate. I was claustrophobic and I was in a small space. Monitors, hard drives, CD players, ring binders, staplers, sharpeners, markers. I took a deep breath and repeated the calming mantra my therapist came up for me – Monitors, hard drives, CD players, ring binders, staplers, sharpeners, markers. After almost ten repetitions, I felt my breathing go back to normal and my heart had slowed down.

My ears perked when I heard the faint sound of scurrying from behind me. I jumped and moved away and just in time because from exactly beneath where I sat, the earth exploded and a snout emerged. I held in a shriek that was eager to burst from my lips and clamped my hands over my mouth not wanting to attract any attention from the thing that burrowed through the ground. It looked like a mole and its nose was lifted to the air, sniffing. Then to my surprise, it said “Come here, come here wherever you are…its dinner time…” and moved towards me, beady eyes and gleaming fangs. I was poised to defend myself. Me and one mole, easy peasy. As I thought it, more moles emerged from the fresh hole.

“Yumsss…” I heard them rasped.

(WC 493)

F2K-ing again plus other writing updates

F2K

I’m beyond excited that another F2K session has resumed.

This time I’m in the Colin R. Onstad room. I know, Colin, ironic. Hardy har har.

I looked the writer up and found out that he used to be one of the F2K classroom mentors who passed away in 1999 (if I’m not mistaken).

I’m itching for the first assignment already!

MINIfiction.my

I’m also tweeting 140-character stories as part of MINIfiction.my. So far, I’ve submitted 19 tweets. My reasons are selfish ones, I want to win the iPAD that will be given out to weekly winners! My strategy is deluge the site with quantity (and quality) minifiction.

Reading the Short Story/ Dragon-themed anthology

I’m in Week 5 of Sharon’s class Reading the Short Story which will end with workshopping our own short stories. The last bit is optional though but of course, I’m going to take advantage of it. I was thinking of workshopping the dragon story I have yet to write for Linda Field’s anthology which has a September 1st deadline (EEK!) aka two more months (EEK! EEK!)

Calistro Prize

And there’s this – a contest for children or YA fiction of at least 6000 words. I was thinking my manang story which I’ll develop throughout the F2K session. Deadline for this is September 30th (EEK! EEK! EEK!)

…more writing for the star and other publications (paid, preferably)

Now that I have the time, I’m trying to get into the groove of writing and getting published in local newspapers, magazines and anthologies. I’ve unfortunately missed out on the deadlines of some locally published anthologies which is quite disappointing but I’m still going to go forth and write, write, write. And submit, submit, submit!

Blog everyday in May

Sadly, it ended for me on May18th 😦 Maybe next year.