#FlashFictionFriday: The Drunken Sasquatch

I used to shoot pool down at the Drunken Sasquatch, the local watering-hole over on 15th  frequented by those of us who travel in…different…circles.

But not anymore.  I’m no longer welcome there, and it’s not my fault. I warned Alfredo that I don’t handle certain substances well.

But no, he just had to see if I was truthin’ when I said that…which I was.

But how is it only my responsibility?

When a person says they can’t handle a certain substance, don’t sneak it into their glass. I spit it out as soon as I recognized the tongue-tingling zing, but it was too late—I’d swallowed some.

So now I’m liable for a table and several chairs, the burn marks on the floor, and Sylvia Wannamaker’s new coat.

That’s okay, I do have a bit of gold stashed. But the embarrassment—to say nothing of being no longer allowed to play in November’s pool tournament—

I may not get over that anytime soon.

I’m just going to say it once.

If a dragon tells you he can’t handle carbonated beverages, believe him.796px-Louis_Ducros_(circle)_Pifferari_in_einer_römischen_Taverne

The Unfairness of Life © Connie J Jasperson 2016, All Rights Reserved

Originally published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy Oct.9, 2015 under the title, The Unfairness of Life

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#amwriting: when writing becomes work

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

Winter is approaching, here in the great Northwest.  It’s still warm now, but soon we will enjoy endless days of rainy grey darkness interspersed with brief moments of frozen hysteria. Yes, we who live in the rural parts of the Northwest dread those clear, cold nights when, just before dawn, the temperature hovers at 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and a fine glaze of ice encases the county roads, keeping things interesting.

In my part of the Northwest, the months of November through March are famous for the phenomenon known as Black Ice. The drive to the freeway is a white-knuckle experience: tightly controlled panic interspersed with moments of sheer terror. But I rarely have to drive in it, so it’s mostly my husband who gets the adrenaline rush of having survived yet another commute.

The dark days are sometimes depressing. I force myself to write, because to go a day without writing is to let the demons win. And even though I am not as inspired as I wish I was at this moment, I am getting the nuts and bolts out of the way, doing work that needs to be done, but isn’t that fun.

  • Plotting
  • Developing the theme.
  • Getting to know the characters.
  • Building the world.
  • Designing the magic system.

My boots sit damply near the door, and the umbrella rests near them. Soon the retention-pond in the front yard will be full, and puddles will dot the landscape.  I will walk the neighborhood, swathed in fleece and Gortex, dry and warm in the midst of side-ways rain storms, but not because I want to.  I will do it because its “good for me.”

I will walk and consider my work in progress. Am I remaining faithful to my theme? How can I show the disintegration of a relationship without resorting to the same arguments and spats that are the cliché tropes of badly crafted romance novels? I decide that what I need to do is continue crafting the allegories, and build the layers of tension.

And once I have brainstormed my block into submission, I will stop in at the diner, order a coffee, and pull out my android tablet. I will write for an hour putting those thoughts together. It will be a productive hour, just because I have walked in the fresh air, and changed my writing environment.

Everyone suffers from stalled creativity. For me, the only solution is to force my way through it. Once I have a hole punched through the wall, new ideas crystallize and I am fired with the knowledge of what has to be done next.


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#amwriting: using allegory to underscore theme

the Matrix PosterGreat novels, like great movies, are built of many layers. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, and often it’s a moral. Love, honor, family, redemption, and revenge are all common, underlying themes.

Allegory is an essential tool of the author who wants to convey important ideas with the least amount of words. One of my works-in-progress is a contemporary novel. I need to convey a Gothic atmosphere in this piece and yet maintain the setting and time-frame of a novel set squarely in the  21st century. The way I am doing this is through the use of allegory. With symbolism in mind, I try to approach writing a scene as it would be portrayed in a movie. Each conversation is an event and must advance the story.

Consider this scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Matrix. The films of The Matrix trilogy pit man against machine in a clearly drawn battle, but they also reveal that the humans are more machine-like than they think, and that the machines possess human qualities as well. These are the obvious themes, but there are several underlying concepts going at the same time.

The movies in this series are famous for the action, and rightfully so.  But great choreographed martial arts sequences can’t convey the concepts the authors needed to express. The advancement of the plot hinges on dialogue. Dialogue drives the action and connects the fundamental ideas of the story through the intentional use of allegory. The authors never lost the way, because every aspect of that script is steeped in symbolism that directly points to the overall theme(s).

Quotes from the matrix


The conversation concerns a drug deal, but the overarching idea of the blurred line between humans and machines is never lost.

The key words are in the first line, written on Neo’s computer:

  1. The Matrix has you,
  2. the third line,follow the white rabbit,
  3. and in that very last line, telling Neo to unplug.

The obvious plot of The Matrix series of films details a questioning of what reality is and portrays Neo as the potential savior of the world, which has been enslaved by a virtual reality program. Dig slightly deeper, and you see that it is about escaping that program, at which point the audience sees that a larger theme is in play: fate vs. free will.

Even before that larger concept is made clear, the conversations that happen in the course of the film all advance that theme, even the minor interactions, from the first conversation to the last.

The storytelling in The Matrix movies is a brilliant example of employing heavy allegory in both the setting and conversations to drive home the motifs of man, machine, fate, and free will.

The themes are represented with heavy symbolism in the names of the characters, the words used in conversations, and even the androgynous clothes they wear. Everything on the set or mentioned in conversation underscores those themes, including the lighting. Inside The Matrix the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens. In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.

In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen is symbolic and supports one of the underlying concepts. When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.

Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will can be unpleasant. Cypher regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix.

The creators of the movie even used the lighting as an allegory showing that Neo’s world is filtered through something else: The Matrix.

The arc of the story is driven by

  1. who has the information,
  2. when they learned it, (and when the audience learns it)
  3. what they did on learning that information.

In our own work, if we don’t keep the arc of the story moving toward the final conclusion with each scene, we will lose our reader. To that end, we disseminate information in small increments, with the reader learning what she must know at the same time our protagonist does. Using symbolism and allegory is a way to get the most information out there in the least amount of words, but it requires intention on the part of the author. Words, phrases, and setting must be chosen and the narrative’s prose must be crafted.

Crafted prose does not mean flowery prose. If you reexamine the above excerpt from The Matrix, you see lean dialogue, spare and to the point. It is in the symbolism of the setting, their names, their attire, and the authors’ choice of words that we get the most information. When Neo answers the door and is invited to the party, he at first declines. But then he notices that Du Jour, the woman with Choi, bears a tattoo of a white rabbit. He remembers seeing the words: follow the white rabbit, on his computer. Curious and slightly fearful of what it all means, he changes his mind and goes to the party, setting a sequence of events in motion.

We build the overall arc of the story from scenes, each of which is a small arc, in the same way a gothic cathedral is constructed of many arches that all build toward the top.  The underlying arches strengthen the overall construction. Without arches, the cathedral wouldn’t remain standing for very long.

Theme is a thread that winds through the story and supports the plot. Using allegory and symbolism in the environment to subtly underscore your themes allows you to show more without resorting to info dumps.

Picture conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie, and consider how you can use allegory to support your story arc. When we are immersed in reading it, we don’t notice the heavy symbolism on a conscious level, but on closer examination it is all there, making the imaginary real, solid and concrete.

By using allegory and conversations to create many layers, we can build memorable stories that will stand out in the reader’s mind.

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#flashfictionfriday: Frost at Midnight, Samuel Taylor Coleridge


The Frost performs its secret ministry,

Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.


Continue reading  Frost at Midnight  at

Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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#amwriting: trust your readers

Stardust, Neil GaimanSome hard-core fantasy qualifies as literary fiction because of the way in which the story is delivered. Because of the style in which they’re written, these books appeal to a broader fan base than work pigeonholed into either the “genre fantasy category” or the “literary fiction category.”

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairy tale told with beautiful prose in an unhurried fashion.

Among the burgeoning population of authors who are just learning the craft, opinions regarding style and voice run high and loud.

According to those critique groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge, in the very first sentence of chapter one, Gaiman commits the most heinous crime an author can: he tells the story with leisurely, poetic prose.

Quote: There once was a young man who wished to gain his heart’s desire. 

OMG!  He did he really write “There once was” in a genre fantasy novel?  Passive Voice! Passive Voice!

Well, guess what? Neil Gaiman knows what he is doing when he sits down to tell a story, and his rabid fans and best-selling novels are a testament to that.

Those megalomaniacal gurus armed with tattered copies of Strunk and White, limited talent of their own, and who believe themselves the fount of writerly knowledge really lose their minds over what he does after that first sentence:

  1. He sets the scene: In a style reminiscent of traditional fairy-tales, he explains how our hero, Tristam, lives in the village of Wall. It’s a tiny town about a night’s drive from London. A giant wall stands next to the town, giving the place its name.
  2. He goes on to explain that there’s only one spot to pass through this huge grey rock wall, and it’s always guarded by two villagers at a time, and they are vigilant at their task.
  3. Gaiman comments that this guarding of the gap is peculiar because all one can see through the break in the wall is meadows and trees. It looks as if nothing frightening or strange could be happening there, and yet no one is allowed to go through the break in the wall.
  4. Only then does he bring us to the point: Once every nine years, always on May Day, a unique, traveling fair comes to the meadow. That is the only day the guards ever take a break from their posts on the gap in the wall.

I can hear the group’s de facto emperor pontificating now. What was Gaiman thinking, starting a fantasy novel with a TELLING, PASSIVE sentence followed by an info dump? Why, everyone knows real authors only use active prose and never, ever, offer information up front.

To that breathless expert, I say “not true, my less-than-widely-read friend.” Lean prose can be leisurely and poetic, and still pack a punch. That is what true writing is all about, conveying a story in a style that is crafted and has a voice that is uniquely that of the author.

In Stardust, each character is given a certain amount of importance, and even minor players are clearly drawn. The circumstances and events gradually pick up speed, and in the end, the reader is left pondering what might have happened after the final words on the last page.

stardust_promo_posterIf you saw the movie that is loosely based on the book, you might be surprised at how different the book is from the movie. There are no cross-dressing sky pirates in the book, although Robert De Niro was awesome in that role in the movie. The movie is excellent but bears little resemblance to the book, and, like The Hobbit movie, should be looked at as a different entity entirely.

Neil Gaiman trusts his readers. That is something we all need to do. Sometimes a story needs to emerge slowly and be told with beautiful, immersive prose, and we need to trust that our readers will enjoy it if we craft it well.

There is room in the bookstore for books with a less urgent story to tell as well as those that ambush the reader and beat them bloody with non-stop action.

When we write, we are writing because we have a story to tell. (Yes, I said tell.) To that end, every word must count, every idea must be conveyed with meaningful words, and sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

In the opening lines of Gaiman’s Stardust, nothing unimportant is mentioned although the prose meanders in a literary way. Yes, he takes the long way, but the attitudes, mores, and personalities of Tristam’s village are conveyed with humor, and the journey is the best part of this fairy tale. He never devolves into florid, overblown purple prose, yet it has a poetic feel.

True authors are driven to learn the craft of writing, and it is a quest that can take a lifetime. It is a journey that involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Those are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study how they crafted the sentences that moved you.

Let their works show you how to use words to form the moods and emotions that drive the plot.

Learn from the masters how to show the true character of a protagonist, or the smell of an alley by the wharves, painting pictures with words.

Read widely, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.


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#amwriting: November is National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo2016


Dragon_Fangirl’s home-made nanowrimo-2016 “kick-it-in-gear “desktop

Every year starting on November 1st several million people sit down and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, most while holding down jobs and raising kids.

Four years running, 2010 – 2014, I used the month of November to lay down the rough draft of an intended novel. I made an outline in October and drew maps and such so that on November 1st I could hit the ground running. Most of the time, once I have that foundation down, I can write off the cuff, and that is how three of my books came into existence.

However, last year I already had two novels in the final stages and one simmering on the back burner.  What I lacked was short stories. I had the brilliant idea to write a short story collection, because I knew I had to build my backlog of submittable work. As a result, and despite having a viral plague during the entire month of November, I wrote 42 short stories for a total of 105,000 words.

That’s not counting the blog posts I also wrote. NaNoWroMo 2015 was a prolific year despite the plague!

For many participants, the challenge of sitting down and using the “seat of your pants” style of creative writing is what draws them to sign up.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

In 2011, the year I wrote Huw the Bard, I spewed the basic rough draft in the most unlinear way possible.  I had the plot outline and followed it, sort of.  With that as my guide, no matter how off track I found poor Huw (pronounced Hew), I still managed to get him to the end I had originally envisioned.

The next year, my novel didn’t go quite as smoothly, and I had a few hiccups.

But that novel was really only a writing exercise for me, just to see if I could write in that particular genre and I fell out of love with it. Since it didn’t have a grip on my heart, and by November 15th I had written 50,000 words of a story I hated, I began a different story.

I kept the work I had already done, as that book was as done as it was ever going to get. But I’m not silly – I had no intention of wasting that word count, so at the bottom of the last page, I began a new novel, which eventually became The Wayward Son, and was just published last month. At the end of that November, I had written 115,000 words total and had 2 completely different novels to show for my efforts.



This year my book has the working title of November Tales 2016: 30 days of Madness and Pot Pies by Dragon_Fangirl: The literary ranting of an author on the edge.

Once again I am embarking on a binge of writing short stories and essays.

Many authors are unwilling to commit to NaNoWriMo because it takes discipline to write 1667 words a day.

Also, they fear having to recoup any perceived losses should they find themselves in the middle of NaNoWriMo when they suddenly realize they’ve gone terribly astray. Or they fear writers’ block.

It happens. Not to me usually, because I know the secret: If you can’t write on the subject you intended, write about what you are experiencing and what interests you at that moment. Yes, it’s not that fabulous fantasy novel you began but are stuck on, and no epic dragons will be in it. (Unless you are Stephen Swartz. His real life has epic dragons. And bunnies.)

The key here is you will be writing, and that is what is important.

Rule 1 of NaNoWriMo: write.

Rule 2: Write 1667 words every day.

Rule 3: Every time you rewrite the scene with a slightly different outcome, it counts toward your word count. Don’t delete – just change the font color to red in that section, and begin rewriting the scene the way it SHOULD have been written in the first place, using the usual black font.

In December, cut the offending scene out of the ms, paste it into a separate document and save it in a ‘Background File’ in the same folder as the main manuscript. By doing that, you don’t lose prose you may need later.

During National Novel Writing Month, every word in my manuscript over and above 50,000 counts toward my region’s total word count. So if that means I have a lo-o-o-o-ong, multicolored manuscript for a few weeks, so be it.

For me, if I don’t begin to make those changes when I first realize they need to be done, I might forget until Dave Cantrell, my first reader and structural genius, points it out. (I daily thank God for Dave, and am grateful the internet connects to California.) (♥)

As one of the Municipal Liaisons for the Olympia Washington Region, I am required to attend most of the write-ins, which happen at different coffee shops or libraries. I handle the daylight hours, as I don’t drive after dark. It does eat into my day, which is why my husband thinks of it as National Pot-Pie Month. But I do get a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing done at these events and I have made life-long friends among the writing community of Olympia and the surrounding area.

If you want to sign up for this year’s month of madness and mayhem, get on the internet and go to:


Sign up, pick a NaNo name – mine is Dragon_Fangirl, and you are in business. Look me up and make me one of your writing buddies. Spend the rest of October organizing what you think you will need to begin you story on November first. Then, on the first day of November you begin writing. If you apply yourself, and write (AT the minimum) 1667 words every day, on the 30th of November you should have a novel…or something.

nanowrimo-yodaIn reality, if you set aside one or two hours a day, and pound out the words as fast as you can during that time, you will get your word count. Never delete, and do not self-edit as you go along. Just spew words, misspelled and awkward as they may be. They all count, misspelled or not, and it is the discipline of writing that we are working on here, not the nuts and bolts of good manuscript.

Revising and correcting gross mistakes will come in the second draft, when you have time to look at it with a critical eye. What you are doing now is getting the ideas down.

Never discard your work no matter how much your first reader says it stinks. Even if what you wrote is the worst drivel she ever read, some of it will be worth saving and reusing later.

Spending a month immersed in stream-of-consciousness writing is not a waste of time. You will definitely have something to show for your efforts, and you will have developed the most import skill a writer must have: self-discipline.


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#flashfictionfriday: When You are Old, by W. B. Yeats


Maude Gonne, by Sarah Purser, 1898

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;


How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;


And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

When You Are Old,  by W.B. Yeats, first appeared in The Rose, a collection of twenty-two poems published by William Butler Yeats in 1893. His works entered the public domain in 2010, 70 years after his death.

Many poems in the collection, The Rose, express Yeats’ unrequited love for Maude Gonne. Though she had resisted his courtship at the time  The Rose was published, it is understood that her rejection of him was not complete, and during those years he did have some small glimmer of hope.

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