Burial and Other Literary Plots

By Karen Wills

Respecting the last wishes of the dying, our cultural norms surrounding the preparation and disposal of the dead, the circumstances that determine what is possible…all of these may become part of our literary endeavors. They show much of how we want to depict our characters and their feelings and attitudes.

This can be done in poetry, too. Robinson Jeffers wrote the following after the death of his beloved wife, Una.

poem of death

But what about working the handling of the dead into mythology or fiction? In Homer’s Iliad, civilization itself takes a step forward. Achilles, grieving for his friend who’s been killed by the Trojan warrior Hector, slays Hector. He then drags Hector on the beach before the great Priam, the dead man’s grieving father. But in the end, compassion and respect overtake Achilles vengeful madness. He returns Hector’s remains to  Priam as a gesture of pity and honor in a time of incivility.

Let’s journey from the realms of Troy to the American West and the love of mortal men, close as brothers: Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, the former Texas Rangers of Larry McMurtry’s classic Lonesome Dove. lonesome doveWhen Augustus lies dying of a gangrenous wound in a town in Montana, he makes an outlandish request of his friend. He wants Call to take his body back to Texas and bury him in a pecan grove where he’d once courted Clara, the love of his life.

Gus tells his friend that he is assigning him this task, a Herculean one in violent frontier days of primitive travel, in order to bestow the gift of one last great adventure. It is a sign of the unbending, proud, Call’s loyalty to Gus that he does fulfill the last wish of his longtime friend.

Set in more modern times we have Unsheltered, UnshelteredBarbara Kingsolver’s novel of lives of ordinary people in economically and socially precarious times. The protagonist, Willa, is beset by family and financial insecurity. She struggles to take care of everyone in her family, including her husband’s Greek immigrant father, Nick, a man of rigid, racist views. With her daughter, Tig’s, help she cares for him as he is dying. Then there is the matter of his ashes. He wanted to be buried in the Greek section of a lovely local cemetery. The problem is the cost of a plot there. They do what others have done before them in real life. (I know of at least one instance.) They bury him in secret where he wished to be laid to rest.

As authors, we should remember that death and dying are inevitable in real life, so can be great sources of drama in fiction. Everyone dies. Sympathetic characters are those who behave as readers would have their loved ones do. They behave with compassion and respect. The best try to follow the last wishes of their loved ones.

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When Change Comes is it Man that Counts? The Wild? Or Both?

by Mary Frances Erler

Today I ran across a book of poetry and quotes about wilderness that I made in response to a canoe trek I took in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters back in 1970.  Nearly 50 years ago–hard to believe so much time has passed in my life since then.  It was a very formative time in my life, influencing much of what I have become.  As I was reading the quotes I chose from Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Theodore Roosevelt, and others, I was surprised to find one unsigned poem.  I have a feeling I wrote it–otherwise it would be identified with the author’s name. It was a long time ago, 1970, but as I re-read it, I could tell the words had originally come from within me. And I was surprised to find that my 18-year-old mind had thought such deep things.  But then, maybe not so surprising, for I was a very philosophical person back then.  Maybe still am.  So here it is.

Its original title was “Is It Man That Counts?”

‘How can you be so no-caring?’ a boy demanded,
Staring into the old man’s eyes;
‘Do you want all our life to die
And leave nothing to show our lives ranged?’

‘Every animal dies,’ the old chief would say
And gaze with deep-seeing silent eyes
About the village around them.
‘Timeless is not changeless,’ he would repeat.

But a boy’s heart-strength is different
And his restless feet thus wandered,
Searching over forest-depth and countryside,
His mind straining with searches just as deep.

He drank in the wildness ’round him,
Knowing in his animal-part
It had no time, no beginning,
And no end?  Their village

Already was shrinking, the forest depths
Pricked by hard, cold disruption,
A steeling chill so unlike winter–
More senseless–as rape or pillage.

And as the Wild spread its winter
Blanket, with its natural death,
He prayed that this might be
The end–to die as wild things died.

Then as the cold and steel creeping in
On them increased its breath to a roar,
He knew it wasn’t death that was coming–
Just as the old man had tried

To tell.  It was what the Wild was really
Made of; so though their villages–
And all men–passed; the Wild would
Sustain itself–timeless because it changed.

Tally the Writing Dog

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By Kathy Dunnehoff

I have a writing friend who calls his muse Becky. Sure, it made us all smile when he said it, but whatever works for a writer is nothing but good!

I thought what worked for me was silence. It was in very short supply when I began writing novels. My daughters were young and fun and noisy. I would set a timer when I needed to go into my home office, and when it was about to go off, I would hear them breathing at the door. Needless to say, I did my most productive writing away from the house. On Saturday mornings, for years, my husband Thom would shoo me out the door to a nearby café, and I would get several productive hours in.

When our girls were older, there was less need for leaving the house to write and wonderful silence during the day to get my work done. So, when the idea of getting a puppy was raised, I was reluctant, to say the least. Sure, I wanted one, but I was afraid the “company” during the day would slow me down.

What I found when that little Yorkie came into my life, was a muse, a writing companion. Tally would sit at my feet when I wrote, and her warmth and quiet sleep made me feel like I had just the right kind of company for the lone work of writing.

Five years later, we’ve gotten into the habit of writing first thing in the morning in bed. As soon as Thom leaves for work, I fire up the laptop, and Tally moves from my lap to curl up beside the computer screen.

My muse isn’t named Becky, but I have been thinking about getting another puppy…

 

March Book News

The quirkiest of quirky holidays in March

Here are a few of the whackiest special days, but be sure to check out the full list on HolidayInsights.com.

*March 1 Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day
              *March 2 Old Stuff Day                              *March 3 If Pets Had Thumbs Day
*March 6 National Frozen Food Day                          *March 9 Panic Day     
*March 10 Middle Name Pride Day                 *March 11 Worship of Tools Day
                 *March 13 Ear Muff Day            *March 15 Dumbstruck Day       
*March 16 Everything You Do is Right Day            *March 18 Supreme Sacrifice Day
         *March 20 Extraterrestrial Abductions Day          *March 20 Proposal Day  
*March 25 Waffle Day                    *March 27 National “Joe” Day
*March 22 National Goof Off Day                    *March 23 Melba Toast Day
*March 28 Something on a Stick Day                 *March 28 Weed Appreciation Day

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

 

 

WRITING WITH FEELING

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Author: Betty Kuffel

Through the Lens of a Writer

Writers have a special way of looking at things. Envisioned scenes are painted with feelings, smells, sounds and touch. Delving into a character’s thoughts with interior dialogue adds depth, revealing desires and motivation.

Smells are a strong part of memory storage. A recalled odor conjures up acute memories of time and place. If the wind blows from the wrong direction across a Montana landscape, the smell of a nearby feedlot might drift to a beautiful outdoor wedding and overwhelm the sweet smell of flowers carried by the bride. When her marriage turns bad, she may recall the smell of manure on that fateful day. Or the sweet smell of pipe tobacco may instantly bring to mind the image of your loving grandfather.

Using comparisons and stark contrasts enhance description:

+My pet rat’s sandpaper tail wrapped beneath my chin as her silky body snuggled against my neck like a miniature kitty.

+Moonrise inched over the Rocky Mountains slashing the black slate of Flathead Lake.

Coloring your writing:

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Cinnamon hair

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A fiery sunrise

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Pomegranate jewels

Unique colors descriptions produce immediate images in the reader’s mind.

Using background music when you write adds to setting and feeling:

Many writers use music to set mood when writing scenes. Free internet sites allow you to choose specific songs, genres and themes to write by (Pandora, Spotify). Novels set in a certain era bring popular songs to mind and can be used to solidify and enhance a setting. Playing the songs can get you in the mood to write about the period in your novel.

“Without music and dance, life is a journey through a desert.” ― Pat Conroy

Additional quotes from Beach Music written by Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors:

Touch and feelings:

“The water was pure and cold and came out of the Apennines tasting like snow melted in the hands of a pretty girl.” ― Pat Conroy

“My own tears seemed landlocked and frozen in a glacier I could not reach or touch within me.” ― Pat Conroy

 

Write scenes as if painting a picture. Happy reading and writing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Betty

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