Hours passed as I followed Kida through the forest. She walked quickly on the paths she knew so well, and I was surprised she didn't get tired. If I were in my world, I'd be panting by now. I was never really the athletic type. Kida's face turned a bit flushed as the sun grew hotter, and wisps of black hair stuck to her face and neck, but she didn't slow until we were just outside of the burning village. She stayed in the forest and took her time entering it, making sure it was safe.
"You know, you could ask me to do that," I said. Kida shushed me.
"The others might be able to hear you, so stay quiet." Creeping like a cat, she entered the village and looked around. Everything was burned and smoldering. Gardens were torn up, wells were destroyed, and bits of burnt clothing lay everywhere. My eyes widened. Had the government done all this, just to find Kida?
Kida stood in the center of the village. "I come to mend what is broken," she shouted, "and to restore what has been taken!"
A little girl, maybe five years old, ran out from a tumbledown shack and jumped straight into Kida's arms. "I knew you'd come," she said.
Slowly, people came out from broken buildings. First the child's parents and siblings, then others. Soon, we were surrounded by people.
Kida unshouldered her pack and rummaged through it. It was full of vegetables, but not enough for so many hungry people. I glanced around and saw a large pot, large enough to make soup in. "Do you know what stone soup is?" I whispered. She shook her head. "It's where everyone brings a little bit of food, and you dump it all in a pot and make soup out of it. I had some at a Halloween party once. It was really good."
Kida looked at her own pack, then at the villagers. "Is there food to be found here?" she asked.
"Yes," said an old man--probably the village leader. "But not much. We will be glad for your relief."
Kida held up a head of broccoli. "Bring a bag of rice, and whatever meat is about to spoil. We will make soup."
Suddenly, the village was abuzz again. Women went about finding food, and men fashioned bowls out of the wrecked buildings, and I wandered off to the nearest garden. I closed my eyes and imagined that it was whole again and full of large, growing vegetables. I opened my eyes, and it was. I grinned and ran off to the rice fields.
While Kida coordinated the soup-making efforts, I ran around making gardens grow again. I wanted to fix the buildings, too, but I figured it would raise too many suspicions. So instead, I thought a stack of blankets into existence.
I wandered back to the center of town. The soup was done, and everyone was eating. Even Kida had a small bowl of soup.
Suddenly, Kida jumped, and her hand flew out. She'd caught an arrow in midair.
The government had found her.
Hello, dear readers! If you've read Where the Clouds Catch Fire, you're probably familiar with Captain Tamlane McMahon. He is a wonderful person, a skilled sea captain, and a good friend of Alynn's father. Although his fate is uncertain after the storm that sank the Circlehawk and presumably the Darting Swallow as well, I found some old correspondences we'd had via carrier pigeon. I've recreated the conversation as best as I could:
M.J.: It's quite an honor to speak with you, Captain. Where are you right now?
Tamlane McMahon: We're on our way back from Francia. We had to stop in England for supplies, but we stopped in three towns before we found one that wasn't having a smallpox epidemic. I'll be glad to return to Scotland.
M.J.: I thought you lived in Ireland.
T.M.: I was raised in Ireland, aye, but born in Scotland. Now that I'm a captain, I live all over the place. I spend some winters in Mount Shannon with my mum, and others in Dumfries with my cousins.
M.J.: Where did you meet the McNeil family?
T.M.: I grew up with Rowan--we lived next door to each other in Mount Shannon when we were lads. He was a sight--this tall, scrawny thing, and he could never get his hair to lay right. He was fifteen before he grew into himself.
M.J.: And how well have you kept in touch with him?
T.M.: I ran into him a couple months after I signed onto my first ship--just as a deckhand. After that, I'd see him every few months. He didn't stay in one spot for long. I was glad when he settled down in Limerick City. I was having a hard time keeping track of him.
M.J.: So you're close?
T.M.: We're brothers in all but name and blood. You ought to be talking to him yourself. He's a fierce important character.
M.J.: You may not realize this, Captain, but you're a very important character as well. You're what filmmakers call a MacGuffin.
T.M.: I thought I was a McMahon.
M.J.: You are. But a MacGuffin is a literary device that propels the plot forward. Without you, there would be no Where the Clouds Catch Fire.
T.M.: (humbly smug) I'm a bit of wind in your sails, aye? Much obliged. How do I manage to do this in the first two chapters?
M.J.: Without you, the McNeils wouldn't be leaving for Scotland. And if they didn't leave for Scotland, there would be no plot.
T.M.: Anyone could have brought the McNeils to Scotland. Ye could have just made a run-of-the-mill ship, and a nameless captain, and done the job just as well.
M.J.: I could have. But since I'm the author, I'm not limited by your perspective. I see everything that happens in this story, and in the stories to come, and I can plan things accordingly. You're doing precisely what I need you to be doing.
T.M.: Just by sailing my ship, aye?
M.J.: Yes, just by sailing your ship. By doing the job you were designed to do.
T.M.: If ye're writing another story, milady, ye might consider putting me in more than two chapters.
M.J.: I'll put you where I need you. Don't worry.
T.M.: My men just found the supplies we're needing. I'd best leave. We sail at dawn and I've yet to find a decent place for the night. It's always a treat to sleep in a bed that doesn't move.
M.J.: I trust it is, Captain. Thank you for your time, and be sure to reward your carrier pigeon. It does good work.
*Here the correspondences end. Either Captain McMahon didn't send another letter, or something happened to the pigeon.*
Do you want to read more about Captain McMahon? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
We spent the night in a cave. Well, Kida slept, and I kept watch. It felt strange staying awake all night and not even feeling tired. I knew that the wind blew colder on the mountaintop, and I saw the frost that formed on the edge of the cave, but I wasn't cold. And for the first time since I'd come to Kida's world, I wanted to go home.
I didn't know how to.
Suddenly, a thought struck me. Kida's world was in my imagination, wasn't it? Did that mean I could make it whatever I wanted to? Smiling, I ran outside the cave and found a bare patch of ground. I closed my eyes and thought. Kida didn't need to sleep in a cave. She could have a nice, cozy little house, with a bed and a fireplace. There would be a trapdoor that led to a cellar, just in case the government people came looking for her there. The cellar would have a secret door to the outside, too. And the cellar would be stocked with enough supplies to last a long time.
I opened my eyes. Everything was there, just as I imagined it.
I grinned. I ran through the door of the tiny house to see a fire blazing. A low cot was against one wall, and there was a cupboard with supplies against another. I moved the cot to find the trapdoor under it, but before I could enter, Kida summoned me.
She stretched. "Thanks for keeping watch."
"I made you something."
Kida looked surprised. "How?"
"I imagined it. I want to make sure you can see it too, come on!"
I ran outside, and in the early morning light, the house was just barely visible. Kida stared at it, then at me, then back at the house.
"Thank you," she said incredulously. She hurried inside, and came out in a moment and hugged me. Well, she didn't really hug me--her arms went right through me--but it was still a hug. "You thought of everything. Well done, Mandy."
I smiled, and I squirmed a bit, but something nagged the pit of my stomach. "Kida, can I ask a question?"
"When you're in my world, how do you get back in this one?"
Kida was silent for a while. "Do you understand willpower?"
My mind raced for a bit. "Is it power that will happen, someday?"
"Not at all. It is the power exerted by your mind and your spirit, rather than your body."
I brightened. "Like the time in karate class we were having a wall squat competition, and it was just me and Lisa left, and I won because I didn't want her to beat me?"
"Exactly," said Kida, with a faint smile. "That is how you return to your own world. Through an act of your will."
"Is it okay if I try to go home now?" I asked. "I want to help you, but I feel like I need to go home. Do you feel that way sometimes?"
"Yes." Kida stared into the distance, at the sky that was starting to turn colors even though the sun wasn't visible yet. "Go."
I closed my eyes and, with all my might, I wished I was home.
Suddenly, everything hurt. I opened my eyes, but my vision was blurred. There were books everywhere, and something heavy on my legs, and my neck was twisted in a strange position. I screamed, but Nick and Mom were still screaming at one another, and I had a soft voice.
Everything went black again, and before I knew it, I was back with Kida. She'd left the mountain and was heading towards the smoke-covered village we'd seen the night before. I must have looked different, because her eyes widened when she saw me.
"In your world, you've been injured," she said.
"I know. That's why I'm back."
Kida was grim. "You are here to rest, for you will need your strength when you return to your own world."
I nodded. "But can I help you while I'm here?"
"You may," Kida said, "and I will be glad for it."
I'm officially part of the workforce now.
I work or I die--it runs in my family. I've spent a good majority of my life working on things, be they books or crafts or school projects. But now, I officially have a job. I work in fast food--not bad, I guess, considering the fact that I could be doing yard work or walking dogs in the 108-degree weather we had today. I feel bad for the people working on our neighbor's roof.
And since I'm already running late for work, this is going to be a short post.
I don't plan on working in fast food forever. When I tell people I'm majoring in English, nearly everyone assumes I'm going to teach English. Teaching is a respectable job, but it's not what I'm after. When I tell people I want to be a writer, most of them look at me and ask, "Do you have a backup plan?"
Which I really don't. My main goal in life is to be a homeschool mom, author, and worship team volunteer. If I end up being two out of three of those things, such is life. I just need to find a guy with a job. People don't realize that writing, when done properly, is in fact work. Let's look at it this way.
Imagine you're writing an essay for school. Now imagine that essay has to be at least 70,000 words--around 150 single-spaced pages on the average word processor--or you aren't likely to get a grade. But you can't just pull that essay out of thin air. You have to research. For an optimum grade, you have to research every single tiny detail.
On top of that, you have to be creative. But you can't steal other people's ideas--that's plagiarism. And you can't be too creative, or no one will want to read your essay. Oh, by the way, you have to literally create people and worlds and places and things and, on occasion, languages and governments and cultures and even types of animals that don't exist in the real world. That's almost like thinking of a color that doesn't exist.
And all those people and worlds and places you create? You have to name them.
When I tell people I'm a writer, they might assume I'm just a self-absorbed nerd who sits procrastinating, staring at pictures of cats on Pinterest with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. Part of that's true. But what they don't know is that I'm a creator and destroyer of worlds. I take people to worlds that don't exist. I make you cry and laugh and sweat all by arranging letters, one after the other. And it's not always easy. I've spend the past two days researching the Norse financial system. It's not easy writing a barter economy, especially since I don't happen to live in one. But I know I'll get through it. I just need a library, the internet, and some help from God.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to play origami with pizza boxes and learn how many pieces of peperoni go on a large two-topping thin-crust. And also feed my dog, go to the post office, and maybe eat something if I have time...….
I followed Kida through the forest until we came to a village at the base of a mountain. It was a small village, but there was a marketplace. Kida went shopping while I explored a bit. Apparently, no one could see me, just like no one would see Kida in my world.
All of a sudden, I was back next to Kida again.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I can summon you at will, just as you can summon me in your world." Kida stood from the low table and shouldered the pack of supplies she'd bought. "Come with me."
"What do you do in my world, when you're not with me?"
"I watch over you. I learn about your family and your world. Your world is small, Mandy, but I have no doubt that it will grow."
"My world isn't small," I insisted. "There are seven continents and billions of people, and each country has their own kind of food. My family's German. We make our own coleslaw. And there's a Chinese place down the street, but I don't like it. When Mom and Dad and Nick eat Chinese food, I always eat McDonald's."
Kida smiled. "I meant your world--the places you live and spend time. You don't leave the house much."
I shook my head. "No, I'm homeschooled. But I go to church twice a week, and on Tuesdays, Mom takes me to Nana and Papa's house so she can go shopping."
"Then that is your world," Kida said. "Your house, and your church, and your Nana and Papa's house. And, in a small way, the McDonald's."
"And the library," I said. I looked up at Kida. She wasn't exactly smiling--she never really smiled--but her face was pleasant, and that was about as close as she ever got to a smile. "How big is your world?"
Kida's eyes gleamed. "I will show you. Come with me."
Kida began to walk up the mountain, and I followed her. For some reason, I didn't get tired. My feet didn't get sore, and as we climbed higher and higher, I didn't notice the air get thinner or colder. I supposed it was because I didn't really exist in Kida's world. Being an imaginary friend was a strange feeling. It was like being a ghost or having a dream.
Finally, Kida motioned towards the forest below us, and said, "This is my world."
The sun was beginning to set, but it insisted on giving one last show before it did. Its dying gleams illuminated the most beautiful view I'd ever seen. It was treetops. Hills and valleys melted into each other like a beautiful, peaceful sheet of the purest green. It was vast and uninterrupted, stretching from one horizon to the other. But at one corner the view was marred by a column of smoke.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's the government." Kida was grim again, her face seemingly made of stone. "They're looking for me. They overturn villages in their search. They don't kill, but they destroy."
I took half a step closer to Kida. "You're not supposed to let them do that."
"I know. I'm a Samurai, a protector of the people. As long as I live, as long as I appear and disappear every few months, they know there's hope. Hope for a better government, a better tomorrow, a better future for their children. But I'm only one person. The future rests on me, and I fear I am too weak to carry that burden."
Kida was stronger than that. I knew she was. But she was afraid, and I knew how badly fear could cripple people.
"That's why I'm here," I said. "To help you."
I always aim to write the occasional blog post full of writing tips. Usually, this looks like character development. Character development, in my opinion, is what I'm good at. There's no use in creating worlds and plots and actions if you don't have interesting people to inhabit those worlds and complete those actions. But most people, when they hear the words "writing advice," think less about content and more about style.
A person's writing style is what makes them unique. It sets them apart from every other writer and author who's put a pen to a page. So does content, of course--you wouldn't expect a romance novel out of C.S. Lewis or a toddler's board book from Stephen King--but style is something special.
One way to think about writing style is to compare it to clothing style. Some people wear country clothing--jeans, plaid shirts, large-buckled belts, ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots. Some people wear athletic clothing everywhere they go--my sister, for instance, is so in love with basketball shorts that she does not own a pair of jeans. Others only wear brand-name crop tops with short shorts and lots of jewelry. Some people don't give a crap what they look like and wear a hodgepodge assortment of thrift store clothes, stuff off the Kohl's clearance rack, and the occasional nice shirt that was probably a Christmas gift from Grandma.
Outside of personal preferences and modesty guidelines that vary from person to person, there's really nothing to say what makes a 'good' or 'cute' outfit. Personally, I find most high-end red-carpet fashion to be hideous. I'm much more simple in my clothing style. Right now, for example, I'm wearing Bermuda jean shorts with a bleach stain and a plain, pill-covered salmon pink T-shirt.
Writing style is similar. Cressida Cowell uses frequent humor, including quirky exclamations of surprise, in her How to Train Your Dragon series. C.S. Lewis is witty and knowledgeable. Laura Ingalls Wilder is simple and straightforward, though lavish in her descriptions, especially of outfits. But whose style is better? Or by what standard is a 'good' writing style measured?
I once received the fourth edition of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, one of the foremost books on writing in existence. The first page of Chapter Five explains the problem of style quite well: "Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?...There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which writers may shape their course. Writers will often find themselves steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion."
Writing style is a matter of taste. Sure, there's 'good' taste--no one likes a writing style that's ridiculously grand and uptight any more than they'd like a dress covered head to toe with lace, beads, and bows. And writing style, just like fashion, changes with time. I tried reading Shakespeare's The Tempest once. Emphasis on 'tried.' I got maybe a page and a half into it before I gave up.
Nowadays, writing style is almost oversimplified. Words are losing their power because no one quite knows how to wield them. We have the old masters. We've heard about the path less traveled. We've seen Pearl Prynne come to know her heavenly Father, for she never knew her earthly one. We've even watched the bolt of Tash fall from above yet get stuck on a hook halfway down. But must values change simply because times do? We strive for progressive, modern styles, and yet we sacrifice culture and oftentimes genuinely good writing to do so.
This week, dear readers, I challenge you to find a good book that was written before 1990. It can be anything from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to War and Peace or Macbeth. But when you come back next week, tell me what you think: do you prefer older works or modern ones? And what are your favorite elements of writing style? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
I looked around. I was in a beautiful forest, lush and green, with mountains in the distance and the songs of birds everywhere. A river meandered past me, and an animal that looked rather like a squirrel the size of a smallish cat was drinking from it.
I recognized that animal. It was a marten.
"Marty?" I asked.
The marten looked at me, shrieked, and scampered up a tree. I leapt up and chased after it.
"Marty, come back!"
I ran across a log that spanned the river and looked up at Marty. He wasn't alone. A figure with two dark braids and a Samurai sword glinting in her hand was in the tree with him.
"Shh." Kida glances around, then beckons me to ascend the tree. "We aren't alone."
"But I can't climb trees," I said before Kida sighed and pulled me up herself. I never realized how strong she was.
But Kida's my imaginary friend. She's not supposed to be able to pull me up trees. She's not supposed to be able to do anything, at least not in the real world. "Where am I?" I asked.
"You're in my world."
I opened my mouth, but a rustling in the vegetation below silenced my voice before it left me. I looked down to see three men on horseback, dressed in the dark colors of a government agency, scanning the forest for signs of life.
"I told you, we're wasting our time. No one can travel fifty miles in two days, on foot, in this terrain."
"I think it would actually be easier without the horses."
"Shut up, both of you," a third voice said. He was tall and spoke with authority, obviously the leader of the group. "Someone find us a road back to civilization. I want a hot meal and a warm bath before nightfall."
The ferns rustled again, and soon I could hear the beating of hooves on a path as the horses galloped away. Kida leapt down from the tree, and I followed her. "What do you know about them?" Kida asked me. "You invented them."
"I didn't put much thought into them," I admitted. "The tall one's in charge. He's smart, but he thinks about himself a lot. His name's Minoru. The other ones are Tashi and Kiyoshi. They follow orders really well, but they don't do much else."
"Where do they come from?"
"They were all born in the same town, but now they don't really have homes. They live wherever the government needs them to." I looked around the splendid forest, then back at Kida. "Am I your imaginary friend? Because I'm not supposed to be in this world."
"You are here for a reason," Kida insisted. She walked back to the river and drank from it. I tried to do the same, but my hands couldn't hold water. They didn't even cause a ripple. It was as if I didn't exist.
"What if I get thirsty?"
"You won't. Your physical needs will be met in your own world, just as mine are."
"I like you better in my world. You make more sense when you talk." I crossed my arms and sat down on the riverbank. "Can other people see me?"
Kida looked at me, then through me, then at me again. She smiled. "No."
"Am I dreaming?"
"In a way."
I leaned back against a tree and looked up. There was so much green that I could hardly see the sky, but I did notice a few blue patches. "How long will I stay here for?" I asked.
Kida looks at me intently. "I'm not sure, Mandy. That decision is yours to make when the time comes."
"A later time." Kida stands and looks at the sky. "For now, you must come with me."
I was once reading an article that had the nerve to call Texas the most arrogant state in America. The author of that article has apparently never been to Texas. With the exception of the businessmen in the big cities and everyone behind the wheel of a car, Texans are the sweetest, kindest, most down-to-earth people I've ever met. I think what the author of that article meant by "arrogant" was "patriotic."
For example, we have two nights of fireworks. Two. The town I live in always shoots off fireworks on July 3. They take a large park, hire a band (last year they had Three Dog Night, which I only knew of because VeggieTales once referenced them), and set up food trucks and kids' activities. The town next to us does fireworks on July 4, but it's a 20-minute drive there and attending both nights is the easiest thing in the world.
When we lived in Illinois, things were different. None of the cities we lived near threw parties like that. There were fireworks, of course. We would always drive to the lumber yard next to Arby's and watch the fireworks. They were amazing, or at least I thought so because I was little. But I never knew of a party. We wouldn't even get anything from Arby's. To this day, I've never had a meal at Arby's.
I'm not saying that I've been to every state, evaluated its patriotism, and judged Texas to be the best. Alaska comes close thanks to its bald eagle population. And I've been to Florida a couple of times, and they seem to appreciate their veterans. I'm just saying that the only thing most Texans complain about when it comes to Texas is the weather. And the mosquitos and the stickers and the condition of the roads, because there are potholes everywhere and everything is always under construction. But besides that, Texas is awesome.
Patriotism isn't just an American thing. My church had a weeklong event last week that was attended by literally thousands of people, with up to five thousand joining in online. There were people there from at least four states and three countries, including Scotland (yay!) and South Africa. I was speaking to the Scottish pastor who called his home country "the promised land" and hoped I could visit him there someday. I hope so, too, but I'm glad I live in a land where the metric system is a foreign language and we drive on the right side of the road.
Remember the four states I mentioned? Those states were Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Colorado. One evening, a pastor came onstage and asked, "How many Oklahomans do we have here?" There was cheering. Then, he asked, "Who's from Texas?" More cheering. We were competing like boys against girls at a summer camp to see who could cheer the loudest. Prove one state was better than the other. A person can be patriotic for their state every bit as much as they can be patriotic about their country.
I'm just glad that the Fourth of July is a great time of year to forget which state you're from, dress up in red, white, and blue, and be glad you're an American. It's also a great time to eat baked beans and watch Liberty's Kids. My first crush was from Liberty's Kids, but that's a story for another day.
What state do you live in, and what do you like best about it? What did you do this Fourth of July? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
My world went quiet when Nick took his naps. Mom insisted that my closet backed up to the nursery, and so I'd always shut my closet doors and let Nick sleep. Mom had made me take naps until I was five. I resented it, especially when I stopped sleeping through them. I remembered reading a board book under my covers until Dad found out and scolded me for it in his vociferous Greek way. Now, though, I was able to take pleasure in the fact that four-year-old Nick still napped, and I didn't have to. I played quietly with my Polly Pockets, and Kida sat next to me, polishing her Samurai sword.
"It must be nice, never having to be quiet," I said.
"I have to be quiet more often than you think I do," Kida said. "You know all the times when the government's trying to hunt me down? I'll hide for days at a time."
I changed one of my Polly Pockets into a short skirt--which, for some reason, was the only thing they could sit down in. "Hiding's fun, especially when you're good at it. I'm better than Nick because he's littler than me, but he can get into smaller spaces. Yesterday, he hid in a cabinet."
"And you hid in your parents' laundry basket," Kida reminded me.
I grinned. I was tall for a nine-year-old, but I was skinny, so I was able to get into tight spaces. Our house didn't have many good hiding places, so we'd use the same ones over and over again. Dad liked to hide in the shower when he played with us. He'd always jump out and scare us when we found him, so I always hated checking behind the shower curtain.
Turning back to my Polly Pockets, I set one in a chair and picked up two more. "Let's go on vacation!" one said. "Yes, let's go!" said another, and I set them both in their little car. I pushed it around the carpeted floor before returning it to the general area I'd been playing in before. "Where's the hotel?"
I looked over at the giant bookshelf against my wall. Books made good buildings; you could stack them to make a room with a roof, or just open them and set them down to make an A-frame tent. A good Polly Pocket hotel required three thin hardcover books--the Henrietta Bix series was a good bet. It was on the top shelf, and even though I was tall for my age, I wasn't quite tall enough to reach it.
I opened my door to ask Mom for help, but it seemed that Nick had woken up from his nap, and he was screaming. Nick screamed a lot. He screamed when he wanted something to eat, or when his shoes didn't fit just right, or when his clothes were 'too tight' even though they were a size too big for him. At the moment, he was probably screaming because he got his shirt twisted around while he was asleep.
I turned back to my bookshelf and took a deep breath. I wasn't stupid enough to climb it like a ladder--I'd seen Home Alone too many times, anyway--so I stood on my bed and reached. One book--two books--three....
My feet slipped on my pink floral comforter. My fingers grabbed at the bookshelf, perhaps a little too well. The whole shelf leaned forward. An avalanche of books pelted me, and suddenly, everything went black.
And then everything became beautiful.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.