Wednesday, April 16, 2014

M is for Metis Sash

For the A to Z Blogger Challenge, the letter M is brought to you by the Métis sash. It was an integral part of Métis life on the Red River trails back in the mid 1800s. Originally called a L'Assumption sash (named for the town in Quebec in which it was first created) it;s made of wool and typically 3 meters long (about 10 feet) and as you can see in the picture below, quite beautiful. I learned about these while doing research for my YA historical novel Ox Cart Angel.

Métis sash - my folks bought this for me in Winnipeg 

It looks simple, like a long scarf, yet it had many uses. Here are ten of them.

1 - Belt. It was often worn around the waist to hold a Métis coat - known as a capote - closed. A capote, by the way, was usually made from a Hudson Bay blanket.

A capote coat. See the sash in the middle?

2 - Oven mitt. Of course, there weren't necessarily ovens on the ox cart trails, but if they needed to pull a hot pan or pot of coffee off of the fire, they could use their sash like we use an oven mitt today.

3 - Sewing repair. See the threads dangling on the end of the sash in the picture below? They were more than mere decoration. If a thread was needed for mending something, one of them could be pulled off and used for stitching.

4 - Key, knife, fire-kit holder. Those threads could also be used to attach items like keys. When wrapped around the waist, it often also held a knife on one side and a bag with fire-starting equipment on the other side.

5 - Buffalo marker. While on a buffalo hunt, the Métis sash could be used to mark a buffalo. Each sash had its unique qualities, and a Métis hunter could identify his from other sashes. If he killed a buffalo, he could place his sash on it, so that other hunters would know it was his.

6 - A tumpline. Tumplines were used by voyageurs and the Métis to carry heavy loads over portages or uneven terrain. They would place the middle of the sash over the top of their head and use the two free ends to tie a pack to their back.

7 - Bridle or saddle blanket. 

8 - Tourniquet. In a life-threatening emergency where heavy bleeding was involved, a Métis sash could be used as a tourniquet. It would be tied above an injury to stop or slow the flow of blood, turned tight by a stick or other baton-shaped object.

9 - A rope. 

10 - A scarf. A Métis sash does make a nice scarf!

Here's a closeup of the Métis sash so that you can see the detail:

The colors have meaning. The red and white represent the mixing of the American Indian and European nations. The blue represents sky and water. Green represents fertility and growth. Yellows represents the sun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

L is for Lethonomia

For the A to Z Challenge's letter L, I'm going with lethonomia, which I will admit I had never heard of until a few minutes ago. But it is something I certainly suffer from. Lethonomia is the tendency to forget names. I am embarrassingly bad at remembering names. There have been so many times when I'm introduced to someone, and then like that, poof - it's gone...

I know there are tricks to remembering names, like how you keep saying their name when you talk to them. But maybe it's because as a writer, when writing dialog, that comes across as so phony, so I mentally block myself from doing it.

"Jim, how is the meth lab coming today?" Bob asked.
"Why would I tell you, Bob?" Jim countered.
"Because I'm holding your hamster, Henry, hostage, Jim," Bob counter-countered.
"Henry? My hamster? Hostage? You bastard, Bob!" Jim jammered.
"When you're done spilling your guts about the meth lab, Jim, then maybe I can help you with your alliteration problem," Bob offered.
"Brilliant, Bob - you're the best!" Jim alliterated. "Bob?"

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah - lethonomia. I need to make more of an effort to remember people's names.

K is for Kingdom of the Spiders

For the letter K, I'm going with a movie that I've seen only once when I was a kid (maybe 10? 11?) but it left an impression on me, and I'd love to see it again if I can find it. It's the made for TV movie Kingdom of the Spiders, starring William Shatner.
I saw it on a lazy day in my youth - caught it on TV - and could not stop watching it. It's about a town overrun by tarantulas (and for a long time, while trying to track this movie down, I assumed it was called Tarantula). It was first broadcast in November of 1977, but I'm guessing I saw a rerun - I feel like I saw it on a Saturday afternoon..

I'm guessing that if I see the movie today all these years later, I'll find it on the cheesy side - well okay, the really cheesy, sharpest damn cheddar you can find - but sometimes cheesy is good.
"Spock - you've got something on your back."
It's even got the typical crazy-old-coot character.

"I'm givin' all she's got, Jim!"
I clearly remember the ending, too, which I won't give away, but at the time, it sent goosebumps down my spine.
"Set flashlights on stun!"
So c'mon Netflix - get on it!

A to Z Blogging Challenge

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Junk Drawer

It's J-day in the 2014 A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Seems like everybody has a junk drawer; a place to put the detritus of life that accumulates over time and doesn't necessarily go with anything else. So it ends up in a drawer. Here's our junk drawer:

It's in our kitchen, and among other things, it contains an extra door-stopper, some felt pads, slides, tape, various nails and screws, pencils, a cigar-cutter, a paint swatch, lanyard, etc, etc. Every so often, we might look through it and try to organize it, but it's so far down on our priority list that we're lucky if we get to it once a year.

A writer's mind can often be like a junk drawer. It's full of bits of plot, characters, scenes that you haven't found a home for yet and don't really fit anywhere else. So they're stored in the junk drawer of your mind, waiting for a chance to be put to use. But this junk drawer is helpful. It's necessary. Every once in a while, when you're looking for just the right word or scenario or memory to cull, there it is, waiting for you in that mental junk drawer, looking for a good home.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Incubation

Today's letter for April's A to Z Challenge is I. And for I, I'd like to talk about Incubation

Okay, not that kind of incubation. I'm talking about creative incubation. 

Um, well - that's not what I meant, either.

For writers, sometimes we have to allow our ideas time to incubate. You might have a great idea for a story, but as you plot it out or write it, you get stuck. You realize that point A doesn't transition into point B. Or maybe point C doesn't jive with point D. 

What's your point?
So what many of us do, instead of just throwing the whole idea out the window, is we let the story sit in our mind - we let it incubate in our subconscious. Maybe we sleep on it for a day or two. Maybe a month or more. The great thing is that many times when we're not expecting it, the solution to the problem pops into our head. The problem has boiled around in our grey matter, played ping-pong with our neurons, and suddenly, with a dash of cerebellum and a soupcon of parietal lobe, our problem is solved.

For me, that's one of the funnest things about the writing process; how problems often resolve themselves if we just give them enough time and let them incubate.

Like this, but with less chicken.
Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Honesty

Today's letter in the A to Z Challenge is H.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give any writer out there no matter what they write, is that the most important quality they can put into their writing is honesty. Honesty is what makes your writing yours. It makes it personal. I think when people say that writers need to find their voice, they are basically saying that writers need to peel away all the bullshit in their writing, and let their truth out onto the page.

Here's an example. Say you have a character in a mystery story. Say it's your main character, your private eye or detective or whatever. There are preconceived notions as to what a detective might be. Maybe a hard-boiled gumshoe like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe or a sweet, yet clever elderly sleuth like Agatha Christie's Jane Marple. These are great characters. I love them! But they're not your characters, and I believe you'd be doing yourself a disservice to imitate them.

Still, say you want a hard-boiled gumshoe. That's fine. But use your own truths, your own hard-fought wisdoms to infuse into your character. Think about your own experiences, your own way of seeing the world. Maybe it's quite different than how Raymond Chandler sees the world. Even if it's not, there's still a lot of you that you can draw out and put into your character that makes him or her unique.

Don't be timid in your writing. That's another part of being honest. You can have timid characters, sure, but don't be timid with their truths.

I think this is also another way of saying 'write what you know.'

Hemingway once said, "It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed."

It's difficult to pull those emotional truths from our souls. It's difficult to be vulnerable on the page.

But that's what will make your writing memorable. That's what will make your writing unique. And that's what will make readers want to come back for more.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for German Exchange Student

Now for our next installment of the A to Z Challenge!

Our letter for the day is G, so I'm going to tell you a little about Alexandra (Alex) Lang, our German exchange student. She stayed with my family when I was in the 9th grade - this would've been in 1983/84. She was from Kerpen, Germany (still West Germany at the time) - a city near Cologne. 

Alex was 16 when she arrived - a year older than me - and she attended tenth grade at John Marshall High School. I was still in Jr. High. My friends and I had crushes on her, as adolescent boys are wont to do, but in the end, it was like she was a sister to me. She was very independent and made some good friends in high school. There were times when we couldn't stand each other, and other times when we had good long talks. We played a lot of ping-pong together. She spoke English very well (and also French) and when she'd talk in German to some of the other exchange students from Germany or Austria, I liked listening to the lilt of her accent.

She liked to play tricks on some of her teachers. She liked to make her health teacher blush by asking lots of pointed questions during sex ed, feigning ignorance of the language. For example, she'd ask, "What is this word, 'masturbate'?"

Anyway, we kept in touch for a few years after she headed back to Germany, but eventually we lost touch. It would be good to visit her after all these years, or at least exchange letters. I wonder what she's been up to.

Because of her, I joined AFS (American Field Service) in high school and met a lot of great people, as well as went on week-long high-school exchanges with other U.S. cities; 10th grade I went to Tempe, Arizona, and 11th grade Salt Lake City, Utah. I learned that the best way to get to know a place is to stay with the locals.

Here's to ya, Alex! I hope the world has been treating you well.