Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: “Be careful with that one,” she said, “it’s got blood on it.”

In Hiding

By Paige Duke

“Be careful with that one,” the nurse barked, “it’s got blood on it.”

Far from the horror Gen was intended to feel, a little thrill snaked up her arm as she took the crumpled sheet.

She kept her face impassive when she looked down at the bright stains, blooming in one place, splattered in others. “Blood? That’s impossible. Hasn’t everyone gone Anti by now?” She looked pointedly at the faded poster dominating the room’s one blank wall:

No blood. No beast.
Do your part and go Anti-Vamp today!

Her eyes were back on the nurse’s face, but her mind recalled those garish stains, her fingers itching to trace them. A fact that both astonished and terrified her. Going Ex meant giving up the hunt forever, didn’t it? “No going back,” the others had told her, even if they could find blood again. It was the only way to survive in a world of Anti-Vamps. The cowards were so enthralled with their discovery they never considered it might help the beasts they so desperately wanted to eradicate. And they had almost managed it. Almost. But the Ex revolution had come just in time to save a lucky few.

The nurse’s voice tugged her back from her bloodthirst. “You’ll be seeing a lot of impossible things around here. If you want to stick around, you’ll learn not to ask.” She paused and looked hard at Gen, “Double wash after you dump that thing. Can’t be too careful.” Then she was gone, on to the next patient.

Gen sealed the door and set to work. Unfolding the sheet as if it were priceless silk, she let her fingers hover over the blossoms, as fragrant as if freshly spilled. She touched them. And she trembled, the frenzied thirst so long denied racing through her, a pulse of another kind. So alive in a way she thought she could never be again. The nurse was right, she should be careful. She would lose control if she weren’t careful.

Though it pained her, Gen peeled her fingers away. Reason immediately returned, and she took a minute to think. This was crazy. She was risking everything. We can still make a life, but this is the only way, they’d told her. But what if? What if they were wrong and there was blood . . . ? The patient would still be in the building somewhere, whether dead or alive. It would be risky . . . but it would be worth it.

She’d turned a corner in her mind, made her decision.

Gen went to the console on the far wall that housed the instruments. Swiping her badge beside the largest one, the clouded glass yielded to her. In another moment she was standing over the sheet again.
The laser made quick work of the largest spot, cutting a clean line around the blood. Gen held the oval in her hand, light as a feather, red as a garnet. She didn’t dare press it to her face as she wished to do. Not here, not now. She would lose her shit for sure.

Instead, she tucked it into the pocket of her uniform. Instantly she could feel the thing beating there, against her hip, as if it still pumped through a heart, a navel, a neck. She had to get out of here. She was going to get herself into trouble.

Gen forced her legs to move, forced her hands to do what they must. She found the room’s single biohazard bag, blood red, and folded the ruined sheet into it. Then she was out the door, blending into the business-as-usual of the hospital hallway. She slipped unseen to the incinerator shoot and dropped the bag in unnoticed. She smiled at all the busy little Anti-Vamps bustling around her, unaware an Ex-Vamp still lived and breathed among them. Satisfied, she turned to go.

She had prey to hunt.

The Blood Tally

By Dani Nicole

A thin line trickles down, into the pit.

A single drop.

Ripples, ridging towards the edge of the pool.

The Watcher does not flinch. She only tallies the drop on the cave wall. Seventy-four thousand, three hundred and five.

#

Evra has never died before.

All of her friends have. And of course they woke up the next day, with hangovers and migraines. Xen told her it feels like you come back with less of yourself.

But Evra has never truly considered her own death until now, as she stands in the woods hunting on her own for the first time. Not that she has to worry; everyone who dies wakes up the next day.

Except… well there are legends of the Vanished.

But Evra doesn’t believe in fairy tales.

#

The toll drips by the hour now, coming faster than ever before.

The search continues.

With each drop, the Watcher tallies.

#

The bear comes closer, landing on damp earth in front of Evra. He sits on his hind legs and roars into the midnight sky, the whole world shaking in response.

Evra steps backwards, moving slowly and keeping eye contact, the way her father always told her. Hunting the Great Bears is dangerous, but Bearflesh can feed her family for weeks.

Evra’s skin prickles as she reaches for her spear. She grips it in her slick palm and readies her body to throw it. She’ll only get one chance to land it in the bear’s heart, else the bear will land his teeth into Evra’s.

She inhales and starts to launch the spear, just as the bear shows his teeth. Evra freezes.

There between his sharp incisors, is a single speck of blood.

#

The names are whispered.

They are sung.

The Watcher waits for the one she wants.

#

Evra has never seen blood. She has only heard of it in the stories of the Vanished—the fairy tales about people who die and are never reborn.

They are said to bleed before they disappear, just a single drop.

Evra is backed against a wall, and the bear stares at her with ravenous eyes. It will protect its cubs as Evra would protect her family. Her hunt is the bear’s hunt, and the bear’s is hers.

They are still for a moment; then they are moving.

Evra drives the spear into the bear’s heart, but the bear clamps his teeth on her arm.

The single drop of blood travels from the bear’s tooth to her skin, and trickles to the ground.

#

The Watcher counts the next drop —  a large glob of shimmering burgundy. It thuds into the pool and the surface shivers.

The name carries across the Vanished.

And the Watcher stops the tally; for it was the name she’d been wanting.

 

It Takes Balls to Be a Writer

Picture from borderlandswp.wordpress.com

Picture from borderlandswp.wordpress.com

The day I decided to really pursue my dream of becoming a writer was equal parts “You’re a genius” and “Oh god, what if my parents read it?” I can’t even imagine the phase erotic novelists go through, when they decide to put their reputation on the line and let loved ones read their dirty work.

Granted, I don’t write erotica. But there’s a certain amount of fear associated with going public with your writing – a fear that I had no idea existed until I received word that some of my work would be published.

This moment went about the way I imagined.

A squeal. An onslaught of text messages. A Facebook status update. Everything was wonderful and I was up in the clouds until… I realized being published means that people can actually read your work.

My writing has always been private. Since college I have joined several critique groups, but even still, my writing doesn’t make it past 10-15 sets of eyes. My pieces have never gone WORLDWIDE on the Interwebs.

This… this is a whole new level of transparency.

And that’s when I realized that writing takes balls. It’s one thing to write your heart out, it’s another thing to show it to someone.

I started to make a mistake once people congratulated me on my achievement. I started conceding my accomplishments with excuses. I said that my writing wasn’t what I normally wrote. That it was extra snarky and I didn’t know if people would like it.

But what I realized is that apologizing for expressing yourself violates the basic reason to write. It is an art form. I never heard J.K. Rowling apologize for putting witchcraft in her books. And I’m not going to apologize for what comes from me freely, whether it is something raw and gritty and transparent, or something light-hearted and sarcastic.

All of my writing is a facet of me.  And going public just means owning who you are, and what you’re capable of.

-Dani Nicole

Research: An Antidote for Writer’s Block

The dreaded curse of every writer—writer’s block! Though definitions of the term vary and its actual existence is at times hotly debated, the writing community agrees at some level that sometimes a writer is just plain stuck. Your stream of inspiration has run dry, your once-nimble fingers have grown rigid and unwieldy, the solid road along which your characters were walking has become obscured and hazy. So, what do you do?

Sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

Berate yourself for losing your mojo.

Beg, bribe, and cajole your muse.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Well, there are many positive ways of pushing through that rough patch that, for the sake of this post we’ll call writer’s block, but there’s one in particular that’s been immensely helpful for me. When I begin to feel uninspired, unsure, or just totally lost, I often turn to research for help. I know, that sounds boring and academic and not-at-all-inspiring. But stay with me, I’ll give you an example by way of explanation.

My novel is set in a Victorian-inspired fantasy world. Early in the process, I envisioned my protagonist and his love interest meeting in a library where he worked and she visited often (because what’s more romantic than the dusty, silent stacks, right? *sarcasm*) Anyway, I kept bumping into one wall after another until I was at a complete standstill. I just couldn’t see a way forward for these characters. I couldn’t find the right pieces of their backstory that led them to this place in time. In short, it was an unsustainable idea, propped up on a very shaky scaffolding.

And so I went back to the drawing board and did some research. I tried to find out what kinds of employment were available for men of the age and station of my protagonist in historical Victorian society. What educational background usually led up to those positions? Were they available in rural or urban areas? You get the idea. To my surprise and relief, my protagonist’s past, present, and (a portion of his) future magically opened up to me, because . . . drumroll . . . I suddenly KNEW what the possibilities were for a person like him. (The old adage “Write what you know,” turns out to be true in its most literal sense.)

Let me add a caveat: in fiction, fantasy especially, we have the privilege and responsibility of making stuff up!! At times, that’s an ingenious way of getting out of a tough narrative spot. But there are many times when the problem is that you can’t write your way forward in a story simply because you don’t know what is possible or likely or available to your characters. In this sense, knowledge truly is power.

This tool works in so many ways, both big and small, across genre lines and in all kinds of settings. A tiny seed of an idea is sometimes all you need for the character or the city or that piece of authentic dialog to open up for you. And in the age of the Internet, all the knowledge you could ever need is available at your fingertips. So dig deep, get creative, and put on your research cap. Before you know it, you’ll breeze right past that block that was looming so large in your view; it’ll look no bigger than a pebble as you pass by.

 

How has research helped you overcome writer’s block? What other tools do you use to confront similar challenges in your writing process?

 

-Paige Duke

She Said, She Said… Getting Too Into Your Story World

She Said, She Said… posts are actual conversations taken place via instant messenger between authors. All names have been changed to protect identities, keep us out of trouble, and otherwise clear our names.

[On feeling a little loopy while writing]

Dani Nicole: Maniacal laugh.

Dani Nicole: Cackle cackle.

Dani Nicole: DIEEEEE

Dani Nicole: Haha sorry.

Dani Nicole: This book is making me crazy.

Paige Duke: That’s good! You’re getting into it.

Dani Nicole: Yeah but if I start burning blue-taloned birds just give me a talking to.

Paige Duke: Lol. Ok.

Dani Nicole: Dani… I think…

Dani Nicole: You shouldn’t do that….

Dani Nicole: Why do you have a canteen??

Paige Duke: HA

Dani Nicole: Are you wearing a headpiece??

Dani Nicole: STOP KISSING 17 YEAR OLD BOYS!!

One of Them

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

Image from myselfaswritten.blogspot.com

When I was a little girl I used to write stories and give them to my parents as presents. I’m not sure how they felt about getting paper instead of ties or necklaces, but parents usually like that sort of thing.

I guess it was pretty evident from an early age that I was a writer. It’s not really something you can just not be, when you are one. There’s a certain way you think and imagine things. Anyone can learn to write, and anyone can learn language, but I believe that some of us are simply called to it, as if it’s an irresistible force.

I was always meant to write.

And while my career goals shifted as I grew up it eventually came down to the truth that writing is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. I have enough interests to hold a career while I write, but in the end that’s what my existence boils down to: I have to tell my stories.

Having a dream like that isn’t easy, especially when you graduate from school and stop having people that tell you to write. When you don’t have to turn anything in for a grade or read materials that are selected for you. You’re on your own.

Over the past three years I’ve been working my way into the professional writing world. My first step was to start writing and seek out writing buddies like my life depended on it. I befriended a published coworker (shout out to Jennifer August), and found myself constantly lost in conversation with her.

When I found my primary writing group, things started to become more serious. I started growing as a writer and as a person. I started soul searching and observing and constantly staying in contact with my dreams and ambitions.

But for the past few years I have rested in the safety of trusted friends.

Until last week.

I attended two new writing groups last week, making my first true effort at networking with professional writers. I brought my work and had it critiqued. And to my delight, my fellow writers acknowledged my talent and supported me. They offered me constructive feedback, and they inspired me.

What I found is that I was one of them.

I was no longer the little girl who dreamed of being a writer, but the woman who was consciously making an effort to take action toward achieving a lifetime goal.

And that was incredibly rewarding.

 

-Dani Nicole

The Beauty of the Eighteenth Draft

There comes a point in writing, soon after the super excited “I’m going to write a book” phase, that you begin to write yourself into a corner, or into an alleyway you had no intention of venturing into. And at that point when you are backed against a wall you must ask yourself, is it time to start over?

It is very difficult to run the length of the book without having the first few steps in order. I cannot let my creative mind be free when it is focused on how ineffective the beginning of my novel is. And as much as I aspire to completely turn off my inner critic when I write my first draft, sometimes it is worth listening to.

It takes a few wrong beginnings to get the right one. And isn’t that true in life? We are constantly trying, failing and starting over. Just as it takes a beautiful vulnerability to write in the first place, it takes a beautiful humility to admit that something needs work. Something needs another chance. I need another chance.

And that is the beauty of writing. It is completely your own creation and in your own control and you can start over at any point. No one can tell you that you don’t get a second chance, or a third, or a fourth.

Writers do not sit down and write a final draft. They write a first, second, third, eighteenth draft. Nothing in life is perfected on the first try.

I am beginning to think that writing has much to do with grace and persistence, and little to do with perfection.

-Dani Nicole

New Writers: Go to Conference!

When I first started writing, I was writing alone. I worked on my novel in my free time, I researched on my own, I sought out resources to help grow my craft, I kept my work to myself. Then I joined a local writers’ workshop and my whole writing life changed. I started sharing my stories with others—I read out loud (this introvert’s worst nightmare) for feedback—and I took the critique to heart. I met other wonderful and talented writers, I heard about local author events. In short, I wasn’t writing alone anymore. And that felt amazing.

Then I learned about the group’s annual writers’ conference, DFWCon. So I went, and my writing life changed again. Next to joining a writers’ critique group, attending conference is the BEST thing I’ve done for myself as a writer. So, here goes. A few ways a writers’ conference can take your writing and publishing journey (at whatever stage of writing you are, but particularly if you’re a beginner) to the next level:

  • Expand your community. Attending conference expanded my sense of the writing community and my place in it, even more than joining the workshop did. I learned how to come out of my shell and introduce myself to perfect strangers (who happen to be perfectly friendly fellow writers). We talked about our books, where we are in the writing process, what our publishing goals are. We swapped business cards and I followed them on social media and their blogs, and many did the same for me. I still follow them all year long, celebrating and sharing their successes, commiserating with them about their setbacks. It was a wonderful and unexpected part of my writing journey. Now I know I’m not alone, and you don’t have to be either!
  • Fuel your creative writer brain and boost your motivation. Conference is like summer camp on steroids. You get together with a bunch of people who are passionate about the same things you are, and you talk about that stuff all weekend long. You learn new tips and tricks, you’re exposed to new perspectives, and you get ideas about how to use them to improve your own writing. By the time I leave conference, I want to dive headfirst back into my current WIP or write something new altogether.
  • Meet industry experts and publishing professionals. One of the most exciting features of conference is that keynote speakers, agents, and editors attend specifically for YOU. That’s right, notable figures in the industry come to conference to share their insight, inspiration, and success stories with you. Agents and editors from some of the most well-connected literary agencies are there to meet with you in one-on-one pitch sessions to talk about your book. They’re looking for new clients and it’s your chance to make them fall in love with your story. Even if you don’t have a finished manuscript, you can often sign up for a consultation with an agent or editor. I’ve had two such meetings and both ended with invitations to query once my manuscript was finished. You can imagine I walked away feeling great about my prospects and fired up to work hard on my revisions.
  • Start a platform. Do you know what author platform is? If so, you’re ahead of where I was as an new writer. I’d only heard the term once when I attended my first writers’ conference, but by the end of the weekend, I not only knew what it was, but how to take steps to build one even before I was published. In the contemporary publishing world, authors are expected to share responsibility for promoting their books and building a strong readership. And, lucky for you, conference is a great place to learn how!
  • Learn about industry trends and expectations. I had some understanding of the publishing world before I went to conference, but hearing from agents in class and during critique widened my view. Do you know what agents look for in a query letter? Do you know how to research agents before you query them? There were a lot of little nuances about this and other aspects of the business I didn’t know before I went to conference. Now I feel confident that when it’s time to query agents about my novel, I can handle it like a pro.
  • Grow your craft. Personally, this is the number one reason I go to conference. Every class I take gives me insight into new ways to grow my writing. Every person I meet challenges me to push myself as an artist. Every agent and speaker I visit with inspires and encourages me that I do have a future in this industry if I keep working hard, staying positive, making connections, and—most of all—doing the hard, day-in-day-out work of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keys).

 

Have you attended a writers’ conference? I want to hear about it! Are you considering it, but you still have reservations or questions? Leave a comment and we’ll talk.

Lifting the Veil

Writing is like bleeding onto paper–directly translating thoughts to a print medium. People tell me they can’t write. They aren’t good with words… they can’t spell “restaurant”… they don’t know how to rhyme.

And I agree. A large part of writing is practice and study of the craft.

But the other, larger part is sheer expression… the ability to be completely transparent and let the world see what is in your own mind. When someone asks me how I feel, I give them a poem. When someone asks me what’s important to me, I give them my stories.

Words are created for expression. They are the currency of thought. I’ll give you my words for yours. I’ll read your words to create my own words.

Unsuccessful writing is writing that fails to pick up the vulnerability of the author. People want to connect deeply to characters, and that can only be done through exposé — here is my character, here are his flaws. Some of his flaws are things that I quite understand, because they are a facet of my own imperfection.

His hesitancy is my hesitancy.

And his desire to love… that’s mine too.

Our characters are not our carbon copies, but they are part of us nonetheless. They are an accumulation of thought, emotion and desire. They are a creation of what has been created in us.

And to be able to extract something from within us and put it on paper, we have to be willing to be completely exposed.

I think that is what I love about writing.

The wonderful, horrible feeling of letting someone inside your own mind, your own heart, and realizing that the reader is finding something beautiful there.

 

-Dani Nicole

Flash Fiction Friday

Touching Space, coolwallpapers.me

Touching Space, coolwallpapers.me

Ideal Destinations

by Paige Duke

“One last thing, Mr. Fanning . . . can you confirm you’ve opted for cremation?” Al nodded at the woman across the desk, not trusting his voice.

She swiped through the on-screen documentation with a manicured finger before folding her hands primly and announcing, “Very nice. Mr. Fanning, everything is in order. Thanks again for choosing Ideal Destinations, and we sincerely wish you a happy and peaceful departure,” she chimed, her blonde hair swinging with the tilt of her head. He studied her sickly sweet smile, practiced a thousand times over, with unabashed intensity. It was a thing he’d found himself doing ever since the diagnosis, as if being terminally ill meant he didn’t have to go on being polite. He wanted to kiss her perfectly lipsticked mouth, take a woman in his arms one last time. The thought made him sharply self-aware of his balding shiny forehead and the paunch that wouldn’t budge no matter how many beers he gave up. At least that part he could blame on the tumor. How many others had sat in this chair and thought these same thoughts?

The woman cleared her throat with a professional little cough, “Are you ready, then, Mr. Fanning? It’s all up to you now, unless you wanted the default option. Some clients prefer to have their destination chosen for them. But I was under the impression you did have a preference . . .”

Al recovered from his wandering thoughts, “No, you’re right. I’m ready—if you could just walk me through it, you know . . .”

She flashed that smile again, faintly patronizing, “Of course. If you’ll follow me.”

Al walked behind her down a narrow hallway, its walls lined with photos of clients smiling or waving, one man giving a hearty thumbs up. Each stood in front of a white door, their hand poised enthusiastically on the knob. He felt a pull of cynicism and let his eyes wander back to the woman in front of him. What a view; at least she gave him that much.

All too quickly, she was ushering him into a small room with only a wall screen, a chair, and another door; the white door. Al swallowed hard, a sour taste on his tongue.

The blonde turned to him with a smile, those red lips, “It’s simple from here, Mr. Fanning, just review your approved options, make your selection, and then walk through to your destination.” She pointed almost languidly at the white door, as if it were all so routine. And, of course, for her it was.

Al nodded and stuck out his hand, which to his horror trembled visibly, “Thanks so much, you’ve made this process—smooth. I, uh, appreciate it.”

She accepted the handshake, her fingers warm and silky. For the last time, thought Al, stinging and breathless. And then his hand was empty again. She stepped back from him and said, “Take all the time you need, and have a pleasant journey, Mr. Fanning . . . I promise you won’t feel a thing.”

Al was alone then. Strange, how much he hated being alone at this moment; it had never much bothered him before. He took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes and his fists shut once, quickly, to steady himself. Then he took his place before the screen, illuminated instantly by his presence.

“Welcome to Ideal Destinations, Mr. Fanning, I’ll assist you with your selection,” said a soothing voice, not unlike the blonde woman’s. The screen displayed a virtual stack of papers, each with a photo and a short list of bullet points. “Here are your approved destinations, Mr. Fanning. Take your time reviewing each option and let me know if you have any questions. To make your selection, press the green button on your destination page, step through the door to your right, and you’ll be on your way!”

Easy for you to say, he thought bitterly. Al was pleased to see, though, that the small fortune he’d paid had earned him quite a lot of options. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. But as he swiped through page after page of stunning mountain views and pristine beaches promising rarified air or unpolluted waters, the little flicker of hope was extinguished. He’d seen it all before. The one perk of the job that had left him so unattached was that he’d seen nearly every exotic corner of this wide world. Well, what did you expect, asshole? Mars? Heaven? He barked a stupid little laugh.

Escape, that’s what he’d been hoping for. To escape the inevitable oblivion. But of course, there was no amount of money that could buy him that sort of destination.

Al’s finger went on swiping lazily, through one page after another, and he soon grew bored with the seductive brightness. But then he stopped suddenly, his finger hovering above the pane, eyes transfixed. Here it was, a place he hadn’t been before, could not possibly have visited. Across the screen yawned a black expanse sprinkled with stars, with a swirling nebula blossoming in the center. Planets were lined up like billiard balls and a bright star pulsed beneath his fingertip. Al didn’t bother reading the description. It was the one new thing that beckoned him; he didn’t even need to see the other destinations. His finger traced the glowing orb reverently and then he pushed the green button. The screen asked him to verify his selection, which he did without hesitating. The lights dimmed. The white door was shining, drawing him forward; and as he stood before it and grasped the handle, his fear was only a blip. Al opened the door and stepped calmly through into the unknown.

 

The Infinite Pool

by Dani Nicole

I’m not crazy.

I’m just afraid my memory is telling the truth.

Everyone tells me to paint, to keep painting because it’s what I’m good at and they’re tired of me not being good at anything.

“You’re a waste of space,” they say.

“Is that a pun?”

They don’t get me. That’s okay. I don’t really get me either, or this super-freaky ability to create life through paintings. Most people leave paint on canvas, but my paint seeps until it morphs and I can touch the universe with my hands.

Or at least, I did once.

#

I was seven when I got my first set of paints. That was in my planets-are-cool stage where I was obsessed with Mars and aliens and anything in between. I ripped the plastic off the paints, still wearing my paper party hat and ran to my little easel near the window. I dipped the brush, picking up a thick glob of black, and began to draw the vast and infinite space that had kept me so captivated.

I dotted space with white stars, purple planet formations, orange and yellow streaks. It was like a sunset in the night sky. When I looked at my painting I knew I wanted to touch space. I wanted to hold it in my hands like I was God. I wanted to run my fingers on the surface of Neptune and hold the entire Milky Way in my hands. I wanted to feel bigger than space.

My fingers stuck to the wet paint, then sank into the page, past the surface. The world beyond the canvas felt like a pool of water. I pulled back quickly and looked around for my parents. 

But they hadn’t seen. I touched it again, this time putting my whole hand through. I looked around, but I was still alone.

This was my secret.

I was bigger than space.

#                                                                       

I didn’t paint in public anymore, which was problematic for my art teacher. I’d do anything but paint. Her eyes
lit up when I worked with clay or paper mache. But painting? I wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t risk anyone discovering my secret.

Mrs. Applegate put a disapproving hand on her hip. “If you’re not going to paint then clean up the art room.”

I waited until the bell rang and everyone had left to go home. I was about to pick up the paintbrushes and wash them in the sink, but instead I made sure the door was shut and walked over to my canvas.

I painted the stars.

I painted nebula.

I painted the dark sky.

I let it dry and focused my attention on the canvas. I had tried to put my hand in the painting so many times since I turned seven, but it never happened again. I started to question my own sanity. Was I making it up? Did I just like the attention? God, did I
have a God complex?

I exhaled and placed my fingertips against the purple surface. All I felt was hard canvas, and nothing more. No matter how hard I pushed, my fingers never went through.

In science class we’d learned about how a solid cannot take up the space of another solid. My hand was solid and so was my universe.

I washed the paintbrushes and left.

#

I didn’t try again until I was seventeen. I held a form in my right hand to sign up for the military, and my paint set in my left. If I was going to be a man, I needed to put my ridiculous imagination behind me. I needed to stop convincing myself of what I saw that day and accept reality.

War is real.

Playing God is not.

I set the form down on the table and opened my paints. Once again I streaked the canvas with black, white, purple, orange, blue. This painting was my best yet, shaped by years of practice and honing my craft. I might have even been called an artist then.

I breathed in, then out. I prepared my mind to feel the back of the canvas, to accept its solidity this time. My hand would not go through. I would move on with my life.

Before I touched the paint, I added one more thing. I used peach to color her pale skin, red for her lips, and green for her eyes. The woman I painted was floating through space, her brown hair spread out wildly in the anti-gravity vortex. When she was finished, I knew what I had to do.

I touched the paint and it stuck to my fingers. It was wet and cool and familiar. My fingers seeped into it as if it was thirsty for my touch. And then, my fingers went past the canvas, into the infinite pool that laid beyond.

My hand was inside the painting.

Something inside of me rejoiced. The seven-year-old inside of me was redeemed. I put my hand through as far as I could reach, and then a little further.

I strained as my face pressed against the part of the painting I could not pass through – the unpainted part. I stretched and  stretched, longing for my fingers to reach a little further.

And then I felt it. Five long, thin and dainty fingers reaching back toward me.

Wanderlust

It’s such an evocative word, isn’t it? Wanderlust. It sounds so perfectly like it’s meaning that we don’t bother with an English equivalent.

I first learned of wanderlust when I lived in Austria and spoke German as a child. Though we moved back to the U.S. when I was seven, my kinship to the word has always felt stronger for that connection. Modern German usage actually tends away from the word wanderlust when talking about desire for travel, in favor of the word Fernweh. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but I love the translation: “Farsickness.” Farsickness! As in, the antonym to homesickness (Heimweh).

There are moments in my memory that are so fraught with this Fernweh—the longing, the ache, the sheer need to get away into some faraway, unexplored place—that to think of them stirs the feeling in me all over again. With summer so close, I’ve found myself daydreaming of my precious few days of vacation. And as I’ve been listening to Wild (Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail) on my way into the office, I keep fantasizing about quitting my job and taking a hiking trip of my own. I’m forever asking myself, a little impatiently: What is at the root of this compulsion?

To escape the mundane, to explore the unknown, to discover, to uncover secrets. It’s the what, but not the why.

I find, too, that it’s the same feeling driving me to sit and write. I need to know what happens to my characters, I have to get inside their world, explore it, see it for myself, know what it feels like and why. And not just the physical world, but the emotional landscape too. Why is she throwing her life away for a cause she knows is hopeless? Why is he willing to trade family loyalty for a fleeting chance at success? How do they muster such bravery in the face of overwhelmingly bleak odds?

I can feel the seed of an answer when I sit still long enough with the why of it all: Is it possible that I’m trying to plumb the depths of my own spirit? Maybe in exploring the unseen corners of this untamed planet that is my home, and uncovering the hidden motives of my characters’ hearts, I’ll somehow glimpse more deeply inside the hazy, illusive mystery of my own Self.

I think that’s the long way around to answering the question, “Why do you write?”

 

I’ve scrawled Beethoven’s words on the inside of my writing notebook and I linger over them every time I open to a clean page:

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”

 

Are you an adventurer at heart? How does wanderlust manifest itself in your life or your art?

 

–Paige Duke