On Writing: Stopping and Noticing

Damaris Coulter Photo-of-photo: Taken by W. Alexander

The lights this morning beam bright. I cozy myself into, what I think is a pine desk, in the furthermost corner of the WPL—Wolfeboro Public Library. My closest neighbor is a beautiful artwork, really a fine-art-esque, professional photograph, named “Service.” In the picture, a strong woman poses. She’s proud, she’s tattooed, she’s in bibs, and she wears big, gold hoop earrings. She’s my dream! Granted, if I wasn’t already married to my dream girl. Her eyes reveal her wisdom, courage, and the tough story that gave her both of these very obvious powers.

I didn’t expect when I sat down this morning and began hacking out the next phase in my latest novel, I would be interrupted. However, it’s her words, not her photo, which are responsible for holding my attention.

Damaris Coulter: "Rather than being focused on money or pretense, our family was more focused on asking, 'Are you being a good friend and sibling? Are you kind? Are you generous?'"

Ms. Coulter owns a restaurant, along with her sister, called Coco’s Cantina, and every Friday, they offer a meal to the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective.

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On Stopping and Noticing

When’s the last time you stopped and noticed what’s around you? When’s the last time a stranger’s photograph and short bio wrestled your attention from the day’s insurmountable tasks? The masters teach all true and good artists are versed and proficient in our abilities to observe. I admit it: I’m great at finding, thinking about, and weaving the tiniest, nearly invisible, sliver of details and ideas stemming from everything I see and experience into my writing. Of course, artists like me, like you, still miss more than we catch. It means we’re human and other clichés.

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Trust me when I tell you that stopping and noticing the details around you is life’s most generative experience, not only will your writing improve, but so will your mental health. You don’t have to go to your local library to get inspired to notice. Stopping and noticing is not something a person just-knows-how-to-do, but it’s the easiest philosophy to pick-up, and will generatively fill your life with gratitude and empathy.

What’s Her Story got To Do with Me?

I’m writing a historical fiction novel that takes place in the fifth century B.C.E., Egypt. So what’s a woman who owns a restaurant outside of Auckland, NZ, have to do with me as a writer and Egypt? I’m glad you asked. Here me out:

One of my main character’s is a prostitute. She didn’t choose the life god(s) set out before her, and everyone in her world keeps their strides wide and their noses upturned. Nobody ever reaches out to help her. This was, is, and I fear, will always be the plight of our world’s most vulnerable. It’s called Neighbor Apathy. Okay, I just made that term up. Neighbor Apathy is when we believe we can’t help someone so different, in such a foreign reality, living a lifestyle we can never be seen to walk next, so we choose not to offer a hand, and we choose our own pride and judgement over another’s brokeness. That’s Neighbor Apathy.

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Here’s the literary theme of my character’s arc: culture creates its own evils. Neighbor apathy is disagreeing with someone, someone in your community, someone’s story you know nothing about, and judging you won’t have anything to do with them. In other words: ‘I don’t like them, so I don’t care what they think or do or believe.’

W. Alexander, 2022

The Bible teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, so when we think a stranger’s problems aren’t ours, then we think we know better than God and his desire for human harmony. He says to help the breaking, to shut up and listen to the hurting, and do something, anything at your disposal, that He’s blessed you with, to change the lives of the flailing. Not for your joy, but because God holds each of us responsible for what we do, and for what we choose not to do.

A wise man once said: It’s not what I believe, but what I do that defines me. That man was Batman, so you know he’s right.

So, when I took my seat this morning, in a library I don’t normally work from, and I noticed Damaris Coulter’s photo called Service, and I read her short bio, clicked and followed the QR link to her youtube, and I learned about her work, I engaged in the generative experience of learning how at least one-human, in this case Coulter, is making a difference in a world tired of being asked to make a difference.

I know nothing about Ms. Coulter, but I know art, and therefore I know the eyes of empathy and strength, and hers aren’t swimming in empty platitudes. She shields the broken or breaking from life’s universal, but horrible lie: we are alone in our struggles. She’s a hero. Her legacy helps my own story.

She Helps my Story

My second-leading character’s name is Satipy. She’s the prostitute, and her background comes straight from academic and contemporary research. Satipy was stolen as a young girl. She was robbed from a healthy home and forced into sex-slavery. She’s forced to work outside various Egyptian gods’ temples. She’s seen as meat, not as a person. People avoid her on the streets; mothers warn daughters not to be like her, father’s lust in secret, but are harsh with her in the square. Satipy, par-ably, represents the misrepresentation of struggles. Until this morning, and my encounter with Ms. Coulter, I wasn’t confident about how her story ends. That changed.

W. Alexander’s Published Poetry

I know how she ends now. Satipy is a positive arc. She starts from somewhere low and hopeless, and she ends somewhere better-off, but most importantly, and convicted by her experience to keep other girls, and boys, from ending up trafficked slaves in the Ancient-Near-East. Now, I think, no I know, her ending will have her generatively reaching out and helping others at great personal risk. Like her, everyone she knows is forgotten by the world’s prudes —majority of populations.

Stopping and Noticing Works

On the other side of a globe, unique to her own vision, and for her own reasons, Ms. Coulter began feeding the prostitutes in her area, giving them one less need to have to perform-their-services. She is serving them with love not judgement. She could have, and probably never will have, any idea that her photo and story hangs in the Wolfeboro Public Library, in rural Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, USA. She might never know how her legacy, which I happened to stop and notice, will influence and help me write and flesh-out the The day god Died. But, that fact is encouraging, because you never know how your own actions can cross the globe and inspire others. None of us are doing any of this life alone; we’re all in this together, so stop and notice the life around you, and your life will grow.

The power of stopping and noticing is paramount to honest writing. You cannot write what you do not know, and you will never learn the complexities of the human condition by not taking interest in strangers. Empathy is a practice, not an ideal.

So, I say all true and good artists are proficient in empathy, because they stop and notice and refrain from Neighbor Apathy.

—Happy Writing.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open

Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye Open.

Inspiration for A Nod To Derry’s Son

Do you love Robert Frost? Do you love living in rural, picturesque New Hampshire? Well, I can say yes to both questions. However, Frost’s faithful are found anywhere-but-local; his admirers span the globe. This is credit for writing poems which painted and printed specific images of a noble New England countryside. He wrote about a land hard and untamed, but where solitude is easily found. He showed us inside beautiful and brief moments of times fleeting and mortalities remembered.

There was a time when all I ever knew of New Hampshire was Robert Frost. Now that I live here, I experience her, this state, through his voice. These leaves and lakes, rivers and mountains, still sing for anyone who will listen.

Before I met my wife, Frost’s lines were the only images I had for reference. I compare this experience to what I imagine it would feel like discovering Rivendell is a real place. Wink!

And that’s what this poem is about: it’s not just an ode to Robert Frost, but an ode to his Muse —New England herself. Derry is a town, it exists today, and it takes me about an hour-and-a-half drive from my home in Wolfeboro, NH, to get there. This whole state is a beautiful, even magical place. No wonder New Hampshire is considered an artist’s paradise.

How To Read The Poem

You’ll read my poem online on The Closed Eye Open’s website. A Nod To Derry’s Son, by W. Alexander.

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Portrait of _________, by W. Alexander

I clocked thirty-nine-hours creating this piece. Not one minute of time counted was paint drying. Nope! I made this on my new iPad with the apple pencil in photoshop. You can view this piece and other creations on my gallery page. Soon, you will be able to visit view my entire portfolio in Virtual Reality. Follow to stay-in-touch.

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More from W. Alexander

The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

My wife featured in SKATING Magazine

Most of you don’t know that I married a celebrity (Olympian and professional ice-dancer) and that we, now, abode in picturesque New Hampshire. Recently, she interviewed for SKATING Magazine. I will brag on my wife every chance I get.

Revision, Start Learning to Love It

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“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written”

Eudora Welty

Anyone can write. Few revise well. Revision is essential. It is much more than spell-check and grammar adjustments. Revision is ensuring the story you are telling is clear. Rarely is misinterpretation the mistake of a reader. The job of writers is to ensure readers do not do any heavy lifting. Any skewed reading, comes from bad writing. How does the writer ensure the message they are conveying is interpreted clearly? You guessed it; revision. No one sits down and writes a novel by the seat of their pants in one long first and final draft. If they do, the writing will be garbage, regardless of talent. I would not count on being the exception.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Revision is where the real magic happens.

Starting over sucks. I dread it. All who write dread it. My stomach turns at the thought. But understand this, the rewards of revising will outweigh the pains. You will be shocked. Learn to enjoy the process. Here are some questions you can ask about your work:

  • Why should my reader turn the first page to the second? Does the first sentence, paragraph, page introduce tension? If not, red alarm.
  • Is there unnecessary summary? Cut. Cut. Cut! I too often have the impulse to cover too much ground. It destroys energy and I find, I tell more than show. This is a bad thing. The whole premise of writing prose, is to show not tell. A concept I will elaborate on with a later post.
  • Is it original? Stereotypes are lazy. A good writer will extract any cliches and make a point to show the exact and honest.
  • Is it clear? Ambiguity and mystery are one of the pleasures of literature. But there is a fine line between mystery and sloppiness. I love characters rich with contradictions. That is the human condition. But I often have to start off with a more simple reality. Then I can build out the imaginative. Have your character answer these: Where are we? When are we? Who are they? How do things look? What time of day or night is it? Weather? What is happening? On how to create captivating characters, check out: Create Captivating Characters
  • Is it self-conscious? Just tell the story. Your style will follow of itself. But you have to just tell the story. If you get carried away dressing your prose with all your wit and insight, there is a good chance you are having more fun writing that the reader will have reading. Good writing is easy reading! Just tell the story.
  • Where is it too long? In fiction, you want sharpness, economy, and vivid details in telling. With every sentence, say what you mean to say and get out. Hit it and quit it. Use the fewest possible words. What does this look like? My advice, read the poets. Trust me, the poets will teach you everything.
  • Are there too many scenes? Try and tell your story with the fewest possible scenes. It is tempting to give each turn of plot or change of setting a new scene when fusing several together would proffer better effect.
  • Where is it too general? Look for general and vague terms. Write instead a particular thing, an exact size and degree. In fact, my short tip, cut the words very and really out of your work entirely. You are welcome!

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Writing

I’m starting 2022 intending to grow. Help me grow as an artist and influencer and follow.

Revision, revision, revision. Originality, economy, and clarity all come from thorough revision. These questions are just the start and short of taking a creative writing class, they will serve you well.

Remember in fiction, the goal is to show characters doing things. Never tell what you mean. I promise if the prose is clear and concise, the reader will not misinterpret. You write for the reader. If you forget that, you have lost your way.

Writing

Writing is Business

I am not overthinking; I am self-reckoning.

Me.

This article is uncomfortable to write, because I’m not pretending artsy-pompous, pennings of self-indulgence, or bleeding on display my deep personal wrestlings. I’m writing you in the nude—naked in spirit. It’s important that you read me. I have to admit something embarrassing.

I confess too many of my posts have been half-assed written. I blame my self-sabotage’s grip on my life, and how it’s crushing my dreams, squeezing the life out of me. My blog is my brand; my train-ticket destined for you to end up reading. Don’t be alarmed. Where you are is where I’m safe. 2022, is my year for both professional and personal growth. I share my strategy for growth. I’m concentrating on quality. I might even end up paying for a web designer. I want a flawless image. I’m twice published now. I got own this accomplishment. I think it’s okay to indulge in a win right? I worry I’m not worthy of accomplishment all the time.

It’s nice to get that off my chest. Thank you. 😊

I sobered to the cold-water-truth: making myself into a successful writer will be hard work. I’ll be thirty-three-years-old this summer. It’s time I win the fight against self-sabotage. So I’m going to do my blog right: each post gets equal attention to what I write in my prose and poetry. I want to be tomorrow’s next class act and sophisticated New England writer. We all have our ambitions, and you now know this one is mine. My dream is to publish a novel. Starting today, I will start performing like the writer I want to be, and I hope to attract more readers like you on my journey. It’s time I step out into the world; the primetime hour of my ambition nears. The time has come to put everything learned to test and work it.

I graduate with my english degree in a few months. I’ve been all in; I’m living everything I’ve learned. I looked into literatures deep waters, and she shared with me how she sailed over the currents flowing times passed, ideas and theory churned and crashed. She often whispers to me, I am your religion.

art, by W. Alexander

I try to never forget God is first-and-foremost worshipped as the creator. He’s the artist sculpting the cosmos. So, yes, I guess literature is right whispering she’s my religion. I am convinced it must have been the early artists, those who first looked inside themselves to color-in and seed perspective for the world outside, who first discovered God’s presence.

Creatives like us understand lightning can strike the artist anytime. It’s even more likely when the writer’s pen is spent and hot. My blog’s goal is to steal as much of that fire as I can and give it back to you. I’m starting 2022 intending to grow. Help me grow as an artist and influencer and follow.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Keep reading

The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

Chapter I: Necessity Breeds Destiny

We were poor, almost destitute. I remember pretending to sleep through my father’s weeping himself into exhaustion, day after day, from scratching a scanty living gathering and selling fish to our neighbors. The Nile sustained both of us, until, that is, I became a thief. Father was once a holy man, so the first day I stepped through the door with a handful of silver and laid the coins before his feet, he didn’t ask where my bounty came from. Instead, he sighed. Then, he kissed me and hurried out to trade for wheat and barley. Though necessity drove me to steal my daily bread, I soon found, Ra forgive me, that I was good at it. In fact, I loved the thrill of following fat patricians, as they waded through the agora’s crowds. I became their shadows, and when the moment was ripe, I jostled them, pretending accident, before I slipped my knife into their robes and sauntered into the crowd before they knew their purse was gone.

            That day, thievery and destiny entangled. Forever after, my previous insignificant life was insnared in a role far larger, and far worser than what fates befall the gods. I had been stupid, even overconfident. It was a ruse I used often: I hid behind some drunkard poking the barrels of beer imported from upper Egypt grumbling about their price. Senselessly, I lobbed a small stone at the next merchant’s stall, if I am remembering right, hitting him full on the chin. At once, the stall holders clamored at each other’s throats allotting their recriminations. In the upheaval, I grabbed a basket, believing it stuffed with bread, from behind the beer seller’s stall.

            But a woman caught me in the act. She emerged from the encirclement of barrels stored behind the stall just as I scooped up my prize and shouted: “Thief!” The entire agora turned. A cacophony of voices followed her, “Stop that thief!” and “Somebody, grab that boy!” I squirmed through the crowding press of the rich and poor alike until—crack—a soldier supplied a cudgel to the forehead. When I came ‘round, the soldier had dug his heel into my chest, pinning me to the ground in the center of the jabbering, malicious crowd. I struggled, but he picked me up by the neck and punched me full in the face with his battle-hardened knuckles. My legs went limp.

            “That boy is Ishaq,” I heard someone cry. Another yelled, “have pity on him. His father once served Horus.”

            The crowd’s expressions whirled and meshed with the blue liveries donning Pharoah’s guard, and I knew I was caught.

            I spit out a single tooth, and feared my own blood threatened to drown me. The soldier dropped me, and I sat up dazed and trembling. Onlookers craned forward to see the incriminating evidence the soldier was about to pull out the basket. I’ll never forget his smirk.

            “Why lose an ear for papyrus, boy?” he asked.

            “It’s not bread?” I replied.

            He laughed, “Scribbles make poor excuses for bread.”

            Then, a wave of jostling and shouting, and the crowd parted for six seven-foot-tall spearmen. Into the clearing stepped a figure outfitted entirely in scarlet. Though, I had never seen him before, I knew this was Imhotep: the first prince of Egypt, husband to Pharaoh’s daughter, regent of Alexandria, and, as such, held the power of life and death over all peoples for a hundred leagues. The agora fell silent, and I gawped at him, frightened, as his eyes scanned serenely up and down my starved body, taking in my unshaved scalp, bloody face, and tattered clothes. Prince Imhotep was a slight man, not tall like his guards but handsome. He had a body sharpened from heavy use clad in a scarlet kaftan, and a black satchel, fixed with a turquoise clasp at his hip. In his left hand, he fingered a black leather riding whip a yard long. His face was clean-shaven, carved and framed underneath his nemes. His eyes were cold and inhuman, and he pursed his lips while he studied me.

            Suddenly, somehow, in that moment my fear retreated. I discovered I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority. I concentrated my disgust in my stare. He must have recognized my repulsion in the instant our eyes locked, for he simpered.

            “What is his crime?” Imhotep asked.

Writing

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            The soldier bowed and handed over several papyruses, “My Lord, he stole this thinking it bread.”

            Prince Imhotep undid the thread tying one of the rolls. I could feel blood running down my chin. I resisted the urge to lick at it. Imhotep signaled he wanted silence. He began to read.

            “Can you read this,” Imhotep asked me. Instead, I pressed my lips shut, trembling underneath. “Boy! Answer me.”

I stayed silent.

“You do as your prince commands, or I will—” threatened the soldier who caught me before Imhotep cut him short.

“Silence!” Imhotep thundered.

He stared at me with contempt and then spoke, “You’re brave. I can see that much, but you’re stupid.”

He snapped his fingers, and the soldier grabbed me by the arm, lifted me to my feet and started to drag me away when we all heard a man cry:

“That’s my son. Please, my prince, have pity on him, he’s only a foolish boy.”

Both Prince Imhotep and the soldier turned toward the man’s voice. As he looked, the soldier detained my left arm with only one of his fists. I twisted my body against his grip, ripped free, fell to the ground, and crawled through the prince’s legs and missing, by inches, his fast-closing grip. I took to my heels and dashed through the crowd.

Behind me, hell itself erupted; the soldier shoved and cursed the people impeding his path. A woman threw a pottered vase. I ducked just in time, avoiding my brains becoming entangled with the falling shards which crashed above me. I juked left and right; I slid through the crowd’s legs; I shoved past stout tradesmen and skirted unsuspecting slaves and the livestock they drove. Men and women, slaves and soldiers, sellers and buyers, all rounded quickly, furious at being so roughly shoved. I dared to look behind me. Only the soldier who caught me earlier pursued me. Prince Imhotep and his bodyguards walked, absentmindedly, the opposite direction. I stopped stunned still. That’s when I caught a fist with my left cheek and toppled into the dirt. I pushed my heel into the man’s kneecap. He screamed. Then, I rolled out of the soldier’s path as he dived to tackle me. I got to my feet again and squirmed through another fast-pressing crowd. I sent carts flying. I shoved an elderly man to the ground busy tying his empty cart to his donkey, seizing it, and then, with all my strength, pushing it into the nearby sheep hurdles. The animals let loose, and the ensuing tumult was chaos.

The soldier’s legs were taken out from under him by the stampede of darting sheep. That’s when I raced down a side alley, bursting, to my surprise, through our city’s great library, and into a crowd of philosophers and wealthy patrons. Then, out the other side, up a wide street, passing between noble houses, I ran until the noise behind me subsided. I turned left into another alley.

 I stopped in the doorway of a brothel, recovering my breath. No one was behind me. I leaned my back against the door, struggling to calm my hammering heart. The pain emanating from my jaw threatened my ability to stay conscious. In a flash, a hand wearing three gold rings closed around my mouth and dragged me through the door. I landed on my ass, coughing through a pounding head. My stomach churned. I struggled to stand, but a woman’s heel fixed my hand to a dirty clay floor covered in ragged yellow and green carpets.

A voice whispered, “Stop yelling, you fool.”

Outside the door, a troop of footsteps charged down the alley. Their voices commanding bystanders to stop me. The woman let off my hand and held a single finger over her mouth. I crept to the door and peered through one of its cracks. The soldier I ripped myself from in the agora was leading the others.

“Damn, he has help now,” I said.

“Whatever you did, you won’t be escaping today,” she said.

“Who are you?”

She frowned. “I wouldn’t expect you to recognize me as I—,” she hesitated. “As I am now.”

Keep Reading! Chapter II here: page 2

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Continue reading The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

Deconstructing and Writing

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The truth is simple: art demands honesty. We can only create what we know, and what we know depends on what we have experienced, witnessed, and researched.

A Nod To Derry’s Son

Derry, New Hampshire was the longtime home of Robert Frost. This poem is in dedication to my favorite poetry book: North of Boston, and his poem October.

I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open

Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye … Continue reading I’m Published in The Closed Eye Open