A Writer's Journey · My Stories and Poems · Our World

Lessons from Gatlin

Dear Friends,

I don’t have any profound offerings of wisdom, just gratitude that you’re here. If you’ve been along for a while or are just joining me, then thank you. And as weird as it is to be publishing a book right now, I am excited to say that A Land of Light and Shadow is almost ready to hit the (virtual) shelves!

Last month I shared a few lessons I learned from Ardin. As promised, it’s Gatlin’s turn. He’s certainly more easy-going than his cousin. But Gatlin has more depth to him than some people might guess when they first meet him, and here’s what he’s shown me:

~You can always find a different angle.

~Never give up on the people you care about. 

~Don’t forget to have fun!

Fun can seem frivolous, especially during times of crisis. But I think the gift of playfulness reminds us that we are moving, dynamic beings, both bodies and spirits. Playfulness can help us experience wholeness and healing. I’m grateful for all the people like Gatlin who have demonstrated or reminded me of this.

I hope you can move in meaningful, healing ways. 

With you in the journey,

Stephanie  

From top left:
Princess Ardin of Sedonia, her parents Queen Maris and King Orien, and her cousin, Prince Gatlin of Alvar.
A Writer's Journey · My Stories and Poems · Our World

Things my MC Reminds Me of: Ardin from A Land of Light and Shadow

This post is reaching you amid a global pandemic—not words I ever thought I’d write. Chances are, life is very different for you too. Jobs, health, and the economy are just a few things severely affected by the virus. So much remains uncertain.

We all experience change, but a change of this magnitude is unprecedented for generations. Writing is one of my favorite coping mechanisms. As I’ve mentioned on Instagram, I’m a mom suddenly homeschooling my children, and there’s a fine line between coping and escaping. Sometimes I don’t toe the line, I jump over it like my life depends on it. But reviewing edits for A Land of Light and Shadow has given my characters the chance to remind me of many gems that have helped me in this strange, mundane, often anxiety-ridden time. I’d like to share them with you.

Ardin, too, experiences great turmoil in her story. She’s wrestling with big changes that she didn’t ask for, changes that demand a lot from her, and she’s not always sure she can deliver. There are her inner fears and doubts as well as outer pressure to fill the role of Princess of Sedonia. But through the story, she learns, grows, and even flourishes.

Through encountering mystery and old secrets long forgotten, she learns not to fear what she doesn’t know, but instead, to embrace it.

Through the actions of others and her own reflecting, she learns that she can allow trusted friends into her journey.

And through everything, she learns there is so much more to her than she ever imagined.

May Ardin’s journey inspire yours, friend.

 

P.S. This is an excerpt from my newsletter. If you’d like to sign up for it, you may do so here.

 

A Writer's Journey · Our World

Ordinary Enchanted Escalators

Could there be anything more magical than an escalator leading to books?
(Image courtesy of WordPress)

Do you ever notice the escalators?


I’ve found a new podcast (more on that below) that takes a close look at the Harry Potter books. Yes, it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. One thing the hosts do every episode is examine one random line from the story. The line from the last episode I listened to was this one: 

“Up another escalator, out into Paddington station; Harry only realized where they were when Hagrid tapped him on the shoulder.” *

There were so many excellent things the hosts pulled from this one line, but I kept going back to that escalator. We don’t often think of escalators as a transport from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Well, maybe we did as kids. As adults, it’s easy for us to become focused on the mundane things before us. But how often do we notice the escalators?


At this point in Harry’s story, he’s just seen amazing things in Diagon Alley with Hagrid, who is probably his first real friend, and now he’s back in a familiar station. He’s probably ridden escalators before. But maybe he’d never thought of an escalator taking him to someplace new.


Sometimes for me, my escalator looks like reaching the end of a rough draft and discovering a hidden theme. The theme was there all along, waiting for me to notice it, and even though it means more rewriting, it’ll be worth it. Sometimes my escalator is the dirt road by my house. Instead of Hagrid tapping me on the shoulder asking if I’d like a bite to eat, there is a three-year-old calling me to look at the 50th stone he’s found, his little voice full of excitement and urgency. The question is, will I pay attention?

How about you? What are your escalators? If you’d like, leave a comment and tell me about them. I’d love to hear from you, as always.

*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chapter 5, if you’re interested.

Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Currently Reading

I only finished reareading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last month. I’m still reading Beads and Strands, which I’m finding very rich and stirring spiritually. Below is a quote that really stood out to me. 

“Ideologies that capture people’s being and lead them to believe that ideas are more important than people, become idols, and where an idol reigns there is no room for God and therefore no room for that shalom, that wholeness of life that occurs and recurs in contemporary African theology as a prayer and a hope.”

~ Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa.

May we see where we hold ideas above people and change, and may we speak out when we see systems that use ideologies to keep people trapped.

Speaking of reading, since it is Black History Month, I wanted to share links to two of my favorite short stories from the anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora edited by Sheree R. Thomas. The first story is The Comet by W.E.B Du Bois, about a black man and a white woman who survive a natural disaster. The second is Chicago 1927 by Jewelle Gomez, a story of a remarkable woman with special powers. I highly recommend Thomas’s anthology too; it includes essays on race and speculative fiction as well as a variety of stories. Read and enjoy!

The Comet by W.E.B. Du Bois. This is an e-book of his entire book Darkwater with links to each individual short story.

Chicago 1927 by Jewelle Gomez. This is an excerpt from Gomez’s short story. It’s so amazing, I hope you can find and read the rest of it.

P.S. I shared more about Beads and Strands on Instagram, too.
A Writer's Journey · My Stories and Poems

In the Wee Hours of the New Year

January’s full moon. What a beauty.

I don’t know about you, but January was a full month here. My oldest son turned 11. He hasn’t gotten his letter from Hogwarts yet, but when he does, I’m stowing away in his trunk.

I finally put away Christmas decor, including that dratted Elf on the Shelf about a week ago. Yes, we have one. No, I did not plan to buy one and thought it was a dumb idea for a long time. Add it to my list of “things I’ll never do as a parent that I now have done”. P.S. I still kind of think it’s dumb…but to my daughter, it’s magic. Even though I forgot to move it for half the month of December.

Writing news: I finished my manuscript and sent it off to my editor! Actually, when I posted that news on Instagram last Saturday, I spoke hastily. I was SO excited to be done with self edits that I immediately shared about it and then realized, oh, I’d better check with her first. Sure enough, she is finishing up a project and will begin with my novel in a few days. This turned out to be a good thing, because I woke up the next morning realizing I’d forgotten to return some misplaced dialogue. As one does. 🙂

This means that, as edits will likely be done early March, I hope to release my book A Land of Light and Shadow by the summer! I can hardly believe I can work with an actual, if necessarily flexible, timeline. Stay tuned for more news…

 

I’m starting to share some of my monthly newsletter content as blog posts spread throughout the month. Use what you’ve got, right? And if you’d like to sign up for this newsletter and get the whole inside scoop, including the latest news on my upcoming upper middle grade fantasy novel A Land of Light and Shadow, you can do so here. Cheers! 

My Stories and Poems

Sunrise

Happy New Year, my friends. May you know you are not alone, and may you find true strength and joy to sustain you in the times to come. 

We ascend the rise and look out over the valley. The sun is just a thread of gold on the horizon, leaving the valley below a well of the unknown, full of adventure and surprises.

I squeeze the hand of the little girl next to me and inhale the newness of it all. My heart fills with anticipation.

“What’s it going to be like?” She asks, pointing to the valley.

I shrug. “There will be joy and pain,” I answer. “We’ll overcome some things and experience set backs.” I swallow a lump in my throat, fearing to say out loud what else there might be: loss, heartbreak, any number of things. The little girl squeezes my hand.

“You’ve done this a lot of times,” she says to me. I smile at her.

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” I kneel down and look into her eyes. She is full of playfulness and sadness, imagination and horrors, and she is strong. The rising sun casts a fiery glow on her face, illuminating the tiny golden hairs frizzing up from her ponytail. Then her face lights up in a smile, and she points over my shoulder.

I turn to see someone walking towards us. Her face is lined with wisdom and boldness; the memory of laughter and tears sit at her eyes. She wears her grey hair like a crown. When she takes both our hands, her gaze is fierce and loving, deep and wild. A shock of hope runs up my arm and warms my whole body.

“I’m so proud of you both.” She releases our hands to touch our cheeks. “Don’t give up. You’ve never been alone. And you’ve only begun to discover the strength within you. I’ll see you soon.”

She gives us a final smile and descends the valley ahead of us. The little girl squeezes my hand one more time.

The sun illuminates the first few steps into the valley, just enough for me to start my way down.

A Writer's Journey

Misplaced Keys and Verbal Missteps

Laughing at ourselves is good for us, right? Wanna laugh at me? Our writer’s group often writes for fifteen minutes based on a prompt. This prompt read, “write about a time you got yourself into an undesirable situation.” I think in this case I managed two. Enjoy!

 

Class was over, but my car keys were nowhere to be found in my bag. Instead, I found them sitting in my locked car. Again. I slouched against the door, sighing, and reached for my phone. Three AAA phone calls already this month. I dialed my dad instead and explained the situation to him. Thankfully, he said he was able to come by. There was nothing to do but wait for him to arrive. Again.

Students began filing into the parking lot. Cars started and drove off. West Campus wasn’t big, and it wasn’t too long before I saw someone I knew from French II.

He was driving a very large truck. This struck me because he was about my height, which isn’t very tall. But then, my taste in cars wasn’t exactly developed, either. He slowed and waved when he caught sight of me. I waved back and smiled sheepishly in the miasma of gasoline radiating off the rumbling vehicle.

“Waiting for class?” He shouted down.

“Uh…locked the keys in my car.”

“Need a hand?”

I shook my head. “No, thanks. Someone’s coming.”

“Ok.” He kept the car in park, I guessed because no one blared their horn at him to move. I cast about for any conversation piece to fill the awkward lull. Unfortunately, I latched onto something quicker than I could thoughtfully consider. A friend from the same class had told me that he was an atheist, while his wife was Catholic. In typical Stephanie fashion, I blurted out something I’d regret only moments later.

“So…how do you and your wife get along?”

Yep. I said that. My words hit my ears like tires screeching down the road. He burst out laughing.

“Hey now, I like you, but not like that.”

I must have turned 20 shades of red. “No-that’s not what I meant.”

I have no idea how the conversation, such as it was, ended. Long after he’d driven his rumbling truck away, I wanted to crawl under my car-and stay there for the rest of the semester.

Misplaced keys and a verbal misstep? It had been a busy day. Just one more incident to file away in an already bulging, if imaginary, folder of social faux pas.

A Writer's Journey · The World We Live In

Creative Avenues

 

Hi friends! It’s been six months at least since my last post. I’ve been lost in the world of novel revisions, and, more recently, world building in a new project. Today, I’m writing about other creative expressions besides writing.

You probably have several: those things we do to express creativity that don’t necessarily involve putting words on paper or screen. The other day I picked up (literally) a creative form I hadn’t practiced in about four years: my guitar.

Twenty years ago, my aunt gave me her guitar, and I started lessons. When my tiny hands made certain chords difficult, my mom took me to a pawn shop, and I traded the guitar for a 3/4 size. It was the start of a tense, painful, and beautiful relationship. (Haha…not joking.)

I took lessons all during high school. Coordination has never been my strong suite. Building callouses is incredibly painful, especially with steel strings. My perfectionism made practice harder than it needed to be. Despite hours of practice, I never really became much more skillful after high school, though I continued to play and practice new songs and chords, and I taught one student everything I had learned during those four years in the course of one. Yeah, that was humbling.

But you know what?

When I picked up my guitar last week, I had no callouses. After about thirty minutes, my left hand was shaking from the pain. I had to relearn several chords. I’d forgotten my scales. The strings buzzed and my chord transitions were shaky at best, at least the first couple of days.

But the sheer joy of making music again outweighed it all.

I thanked my perfectionistic younger self, who cried in her bedroom over chords that just wouldn’t sound right and hands that took what felt like too long to learn the movements even remotely well and fingers that hurt like nothing else. I thanked her for not giving up. There are chords I may never be able to perform (looking at you, B chord). (Ok, looking at you, pretty much every bar chord ever.) But I’m kinder to myself now. I don’t play guitar to be a stellar performer, and not just because I *hate* being in the spotlight; I play because music is a gift, and my ability is a reflection of my hard work and my love for it and the sheer joy of producing pleasing vibrations that have the power to lift the spirits of both listeners and player.

Maybe you have a creative endeavor you need to return to. Maybe it’s been a while since you spread paint on a canvas or mixed flour and butter or spoke your poetry aloud in a trembling voice. Whatever it is, I encourage you to try. You just might find that you are returning to a part of yourself that never left, but only needed to be remembered.

 

P.S. The guitar pictured is from Pixabay, because, sadly, I dropped my dear little guitar the day I wrote this and BROKE the neck. Tears! But if it can’t be fixed, and there’s a good chance it can’t be, I am able to purchase a new one. (Thank you, Papa.) And soon, I hope. I’m going through withdrawals.

 

The World We Live In

To My White Friends On Whitesplaining

Dear white friends, a few years ago, I wrote this post about Adichie’s TED Talk called, “The Danger of a Single Story”.  In the middle of my post, I shared this paragraph:

 

Now, I’m not Nigerian. I’m not from Africa (of course, we all began there…that’s another blog post). I’m not from a country that suffered prolonged Colonialism, genocides, or other man-created tragedies, ones that all but eradicated the narratives of my nation or people. (Well, not my Caucasian narratives, anyway.) So it’s with some hesitation that I say I can relate, a little, to Adichie’s feeling of not belonging as she read stories of blond-haired children. 

 

Later I discovered this is a prime example of whitesplaining.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s where we as white people take a person of color’s narrative and insert ourselves into the center. We can do it by saying things like, “black people aren’t the only ones who experience this”, or by comparing our experiences to theirs, like I did above. Those are just a few examples. It steps in and enforces a white-centric world view. It’s patronizing, displacing, and entitled.

If I’m going to share (via blog post) the experience of a woman of color who faces different challenges than I do because of systems that assign value based on skin color, then I want to elevate her, not insert myself into her narrative. It’s her story. Finding ourselves in stories, while a universal theme, becomes a very different blog post/conversation/etc when POC share their experiences because white people cannot relate to the race-related hindrances they face. We need to let them speak and to listen respectfully. Acknowledge their space is theirs. Our particular ‘danger of a single story’ is white centeredness, where white is better and black is worse. It has been reinforced for centuries. We should not jump in and reinforce the privilege systems that hurt POC. We need to hold each other accountable for this.

White friends, it’s the air we breathe. When we discover our whitesplaining, or any of the other forms our privilege can take, we can go to a place of shame and defensiveness. Or we can trust that our value isn’t under assault, but that instead, we are being invited to listen and open our eyes.

I share this old post because we don’t have to give into the tendency to cover up old ignorance in shame. Shame says I’m a bad person and better act like this never happened. Shame doesn’t bring real change or repentance.  We are going to be learning and making mistakes our whole lives; what have we got to hide?

I share this post for you, dear white friends. May our eyes continue to open, and may we grow in love and listening.

And may we hold each other accountable for our words and actions. That’s how we can use our privilege for good.

 

I encourage you to read this article  from the Seattle Times.

img_7929-1
I shared this picture in my original post. Symbolic in more ways than one, no?

My Stories and Poems · Uncategorized

The Book of Knells

Knell: A bell toll, usually for death or a funeral; a lament; signaling the end of something.

I thought, why not create a play on words associated with the Book of Kells? This could easily be developed into something longer. Maybe one day…*adds to list of projects*

 

They fear the gruesome spectre

should she appear nearby;

a book within her withered hand,

the sight will raise a cry.

What most don’t know when she appears,

she comes to take, not spread;

the fears she gathers in this book

are things that all men dread.

 

 

copyright Stephanie Ascough