Welcome to our March 2022 edition.
In this issue, we write about the Phoenix.
May the flames burn bright.
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: I’m Gonna Change You Like a Remix, Then I’ll Raise You Like a Phoenix (or Burning Your Work Down to Build it Up) (A.P. Miller) Essay
No WIP Left Behind: Bringing Life into Your Old, Trunked Stories (Crystal L. Kirkham) Fiction
Finding Joy (D. W. Hitz) Fiction
Rekindled Flames (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Phoenix (Louise Sorensen) Essay
Do you want a long term career as a writer? (Melissa Yuan-Innes) Essay
March Team Showcase
FEATURE: I’m Gonna Change You Like a Remix, Then I’ll Raise You Like a Phoenix (or Burning Your Work Down to Build it Up)
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
I had to swallow an incredibly difficult truth a little while ago. A manuscript I had a lot of hope for required a complete rewrite. I would go so far as to say that I experienced the five stages of grief after coming to this realization. I was angry that my work wasn’t perfect, I was in denial of the necessities, I bargained with myself hoping that I could salvage the manuscript with partial rewrites, I was depressed because I felt like a hack writer, and I finally accepted that the rewrite was necessary. Drafts are numbered for a reason, right?
Like any time something difficult has fallen into my lap, I approach it the same way:
- Stop & breathe
- Think about the reality of the situation as objectively as I can
- Take inventory of the needs of the situation
- Develop a plan
- Hope like hell for the best
Acknowledging that I had to redo all of my hard work on that manuscript is what inspired this month’s piece. This is the first time I’ve ever had to do a top-to-bottom rewrite and it would be remarkably easy to be discouraged by having to do so. Instead of being defeated by the situation, I’ve decided to turn it into a positive, and I’m hoping my approach may guide you through something similar if you ever find yourself there.
Step One: I created a SWOT Matrix. SWOT stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats.”
- What was strong about my story? Can I salvage anything from it?
- What was weak? This is very important — authors don’t rewrite strong stories, do they? This is where I had to do a lot of critical thinking about where my opportunities for improvement as a storyteller exist.
- Opportunities — what concepts of the story were unique and still could be a competitive differentiation to what is already on the market for independent authors?
- Finally, Threats. What are other authors doing that I am either ignorant to, or refusing to do?
The SWOT Matrix is an excellent tool to objectively think about something — writing or otherwise. Once you actually put the words on paper, you can think about your creative work a lot easier.
Step Two: Inventory the times I wasn’t supremely satisfied while writing the draft. Did I make notes about the story? Can I remember a time in the manuscript where I was scratching my head without a single clue about where the story was going? I did this because those moments may have been correlated to the weaknesses in the SWOT Matrix. Objectively understanding where my creative process broke down may help me identify opportunities to write a stronger story.
Step Three: I gave myself permission to be excited again! I took out a fresh sheet of paper and I thought out the plot, the character development, and I did it with the enthusiasm of a child scribbling on notebook paper. If the story was a chore for me to write, or understand, it would be absolutely painful for my readers to read. If I had to go back to formula, I might as well have fun with it, right?
The result of those three steps was a plot and concept I was much happier with after I did the retooling. It wasn’t easy to be told the story needed to be rewritten, but I’m glad for the experience. In every perceived failure, there is an opportunity to improve. That’s how I’ve made it this far in life, trying to not trip on the same rock twice.
There are so many euphemisms for how artists relate to their work — one of my favorite is the order to kill your darlings — to strike out phrases no matter how much you love them. What I want you to take away from this piece is that sometimes you need to massacre your own work. Like the phoenix of myth, sometimes you need to set that work & effort ablaze in order for the phoenix of potential to rise.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for joining us for this month’s issue of A Muse Bouchge Review!
*The title is a line from the song “the Phoenix” by Fall Out Boy.
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canucklick)
A few years ago, fellow Canadian author, Stephen Coghlan, told me about a concept of his: ‘No WIP Left Behind’. Stephen explained to me that he believes every story has a kernel of greatness in it. There is potential there that, if we give it a chance, it can emerge as something far better than the story we were tempted to leave behind.
It’s a concept that has stuck with me since. My own belief in the idea of ‘No WIP Left Behind’ has always been plagued by the question: does every old story have the ability to rise from the ashes and become something new and wonderful? To become something worthy of submitting for publication?
As an editor, to consider every story out there as redeemable seems mad, but the writer in me believes the concept to border on genius.
When I first tried to apply this idea to an old story that really needed work, a novelette called ‘Memory Lane’, it failed epically. While the writing itself was tighter, the story plot seemed no better than before despite the changes made. What I had thought would be a good idea round out the story turned flat and I set it back in virtual trunk of unfinished stories.
That was also a few years ago.
While I haven’t gone back to the story, distance and experience has taught me that the fault wasn’t in the story. It was my own limited vision and inexperience that had held me back. I haven’t forgotten about it, but I do want to come back to it one day when I have a clear vision of how to nudge, poke, and prod into a place that makes the story something worthwhile.
However, I have another story, ‘Memoirs of an Unlikely Assassin’ that requires a complete and total rewrite. There were some great lines and scenes that may well be given new life in a new version of this story, but does a complete rewrite and revamped plot for this story mean that I’ve left the old WIP behind or is this my way of not leaving it behind? By giving it the chance it deserves, in the hands of the better writer I will one day become.
On the surface, ‘No WIP Left Behind’ can seem as though it would lead to disaster. If taken as the idea that the story as written has merit and just needs to be edited to perfect then it could leave a writer working on a story that will never be good enough. However, when you dig deeper into the concept, it can mean finding the pieces of the story that have a potential to be more.
Sometimes, ‘No WIP Left Behind’ means leaving behind what doesn’t serve the characters, the ideas, or the story it self. Leaving behind the things that your growth and experience as a writer now tell you are not worth carry. These are the ashes. Let your story rise from there. Born in a new form, if that’s what it takes.
Don’t leave the good of your WIPs behind.
by D. W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)
It wasn’t that long ago that she was human.
In the old days, when her boyfriend cooked dinner on Mondays, and every Tuesday was Taco Bell, and every Thursday was drinks with her small group of girls, Joy thought she had a life she loved. Now, whether from the changes in the world or in her brain, she stared across the grasping mob, realizing this could be a better life. No distractions. No meaningless clutter. Just her and Brett.
Brett pulled back the plastic top on his cup of peaches, licked it, and tossed it aside. He raised the tiny cup to his cracked lips and drank, wondering if this would be the extent of his liquid intake for the day.
The sky was gray, but that didn’t mean rain. It meant fallout. Even so, cups, pots, anything that could hold a drop of water, had been spread across the roof on the off chance that some tiny bit of moisture might fall from the sky. And if it did, it would likely add to his radiation level—but what do you do? Drink nothing and die or drink what you know will eventually kill you? The last rain was two weeks ago.
He ate a peach slice and glanced at the empty shelves they had been using as a pantry. When they got there, those shelves were full—nine human beings and right around thirty full shelves of food. Now he was the last one, and this single peach cup, meant for a snack for a small child, was possibly his last meal.
There was something Zen about that, some kind of harmony. It was a wiping of the slate, all the food, check; all the people, check. All he had to do was die now. He wasn’t ready for that, even if the rest of humanity had already led the way.
He carried his cup to the window and looked down. From the second floor of the old furniture factory, the death below was remarkably thick. He would have never done this while eating in the past, but at this point, there was so much rot, you couldn’t escape the smell. It was woven into every molecule of air; like the radiation, it was an inescapable element of reality now. The dead stares, the empty swipes at the air, the groans, they were a sea on which the edge of humanity drifted. Even in their desiccated state, they were now life.
He swallowed his last slice of peach and picked up his bag. He checked inside it one last time: clothes, mess kit, fire building stuff, first aid, knives, flashlight, an old ratty copy of I Am Legend. This was what his life had become. This was what had turned into his normal existence.
He pulled the ties and sealed his bag, exhaustion setting in. It wasn’t from lack of sleep, it was from living.
He glanced outside again.
There she was. She watched him from the shade as if her status of being an outsider had transcended her death.
Brett remembered the day they met. She was hidden way inside her cubicle. Her bobbles and toys of black dragons and witches adorned her space, warning oncomers to stay away as much as her glare did when anyone approached. It was in the middle of their conversation when he realized it was all just a barrier, a protective layer, like a wall or a moat around a castle. She wasn’t the angry vicious thing she portrayed herself as, and now, even as she rotted, she was wary of the crowd, making her own way.
Her screams still rang in his ears. All of theirs did.
He slid the pack on his back and picked up his machete. He walked down to the office and unlocked the door.
It swung open, and an arm reached inside.
Brett jumped back and readied himself.
The creature stumbled in, and Brett swung. His machete drove halfway through its head and stuck. It dropped to the ground, taking the weapon with it.
“Shit.” He grabbed the handle and yanked. Why didn’t he aim at the neck? The wound slurped, emitting a smell that was worse than the thing’s outer rot.
A groan. Shuffling feet near the door.
Brett glanced up. It was Bess and Donnie, both stretching their mouths wide and moving toward him. He yanked harder and huffed.
The blade slipped free, the force of its release sending him staggering backward. Something touched his rear and he screamed, spun around, and saw it was the desk. He spun back around. Bess’s fingers swiped, scratching his nose.
Brett jumped to the side.
Another moan at the door. It was one he didn’t know; it must have been called during the last day or so by the noises of the others.
He sliced at Bess, chopping into her arm at the elbow. It swung from her, barely attached. She grabbed at him with her free hand. Donnie reached over her, his fingers curling.
“Gah!” He leaped over the desk.
Another entered the room.
“Goddammit!” He banged on the desk and waved his machete. “Come on, you bastards!”
Another came in. Another was just outside. Moans and groans filled the room.
“Fuck you!” He banged again.
Two more came inside.
Brett spun. He ran out of the office and into the factory floor, across the field of routers, saws, industrial lathes, past the hand tools and workbenches, to the exit on the far side of the building.
He unlocked the door and swung it open. He stepped outside, and Joy ripped into his neck with her teeth. He smelled the odious stench from wounds on her arms and back. He felt her cold waist pressed against him, now absent its organs. Searing pain in his neck made him howl, and blood loss made him sink.
She kneeled over him and ate, and a light breeze guided the faint scent of her perfume to his nose. It almost put a smile on his face as the world turned black.
The sun set, and Brett opened his eyes. He stood and found the crowd had moved on.
He walked to the corner of the building as the hunger scratched at the insides of his skull with steel claws. He rounded the corner and followed the sounds in the distance. After a few steps, Joy walked by his side.
by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)
Teodoro del Rosario swiped open the app for the taxi company. A vehicle icon moved along the map, and the countdown clock indicated fewer than three minutes.
Paloma paced the entrance of their condo in a designer tennis top and matching shorts. The elegant gold chain he had bought her for their twentieth anniversary hung from her neck. In a tennis skirt or ten thousand Starlink credit suit, she could make into any inter-system mega-corporation boardroom and own it. “I called for a cab an hour ago. Why are they late?”
The pinhole of light in his mind held out hope this anniversary would be different, extinguished.
“It’s only three minutes.” He sat on her set of matching dark-pink luggage.
“Three minutes here, ten minutes there, and we’ll miss our flight.”
“There’s still time.” His voice was serene, calm, the way it always was during a brewing catastrophe.
A sleek hover cab pulled into the drive of their condo.
“There, see. The taxi’s arrived.” Teodoro stood, in part because his lower back was stiff, in larger part because he needed distance from Paloma.
A portly woman got out of the hovercar, and helped Paloma with her luggage, then reached for Teodoro’s, but he ignored her and placed it in the back. He opened the passenger door for Paloma, and she climbed into the backseat.
“The space dock.” Paloma fastened her harness. “Get us there in fifteen minutes, and you’ll get a bonus.”
The driver looked at her through the rearview mirror. “What time’s your flight?”
“We should already be boarding.”
“Think of your heart.” Teodoro leaned against the armrest, already tired.
“I exercise daily, Chef makes nutritional meals, and I sleep nine hours a day.” Paloma’s voice was guarded.
“The doctor said you needed to reduce stress.”
“We’re going on vacation.”
He sighed, the sigh of the long-suffering, too-quiet, neglected spouse. Marriage was a tapestry woven by years of give and take. Marriage frayed at the neglected edges of no kisses good morning or good night, missed family meals, forgotten anniversaries, and endless sour moods.
Their fortieth anniversary was the time to find a strong enough thread to stitch things back together or watch two-thirds of his life unravel.
“Breathe.” He opened the window.
The wisdom lines around Paloma’s mouth tightened. “I was…”
“I know you where you were. And that’s nowhere useful.” He leaned his head against her temple and released the breath lodged in his throat.
“Where are you two going?” The driver merged into an onramp leading to a third-tier lane. The craft gained altitude, and Teodoro’s ears popped.
“We’re heading out to Santil Prime,” Teodoro said.
The driver whistled. “That’s quite the vacation spot. What’s the occasion?”
“We’ve been married forty years.” Paloma’s tone was both proud and distant.
His hand founds her, and their fingers interlaced.
The driver merged into a fourth-tier lane, zoomed past the tolls, cut off three cars, dove the craft under a garbage truck spilling debris, and pulled into the departures lane of the space dock.
Teodoro felt a slight whiplash.
Paloma alighted from the hovercar and strode ahead. Travellers snatched luggage out of her way, held running children back, and space dock staff pulled their carts to the side.
Teodoro grumbled. Thirty seconds. The woman had to wait thirty seconds for him to pay and get out of the cab.
Not his laser-focused, hyper-concentrated, the-galaxy-isn’t-big-enough-for-me wife.
A four-letter word that required a large diamond ring.
Teodoro tipped the driver thirty per cent, grabbed their luggage from the back, and headed for the check-in.
He couldn’t recally why he had married her.
His gaze found her frame and followed those long legs up.
Toned legs for parsecs.
The space dock was packed with colonists from the outer systems. Some wore their traditional dark-grey tunics and trousers, others pushed trollies stacked high with suitcases with stickers bearing the initials of space docks of departure. All had a haggard look about them, mumbling to their travelling companions, yelling at harried clerks, hair unkempt, cheeks unshaved for weeks, with some sort of limp or droop in their shoulders that suggested fatigue.
The entire place smelled of recycled air, sweat, and spicy foods.
Paloma stood at the end of the queue for their flight. Her shoulders were pulled back like a scaled desert hound ready to pounce.
Teodoro stopped next to her and released his grip on the luggage handles. “Don’t be like that.”
“I’m not grouchy. I like to keep to schedule.”
Public transport companies kept to a routine. Firefighters were punctual. The Imperial Armed Forces eyed the clock. Paloma del Rosario grabbed the world by the ovaries and ensured they kept to Schedule.
He swiped his tickets across the flight attendant monitor and placed their luggage on the conveyor belt. “We’re almost checked in. We can have cocktails in the first-class lounge, and we can enjoy the journey.”
“I thought we were supposed to enjoy the destination. Isn’t that the point of booking a five-star hotel?” The meat-cleaver edge of her tone had dialled her comment almost to humourous.
Checked in and baggage-free, he led them to the lounge. She ordered a Dry-Dock, and he ordered a whiskey neat. Two drinks later, the PA called the boarding for first-class passengers on their flight.
Teodoro rose, extended his hand to Paloma, and helped her rise. She held his arm, and they went to the check-in.
A flight attendant showed them to their seats. “Is there anything I can get for you? A warm towel, a drink, a pillow?” His words were infused with liquid cheeriness, nauseating, liquid cheeriness.
Paloma shook her head, and Teodoro declined. He reclined his chair, settled in for the flight, and fell asleep.
“We’re here,” Paloma whispered and kissed his forehead.
He mumbled something and turned to his wife’s sweet voice. His lips found hers, and he pressed a kiss to her mouth. “Sleep well?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
He opened his eyes. Bright light assaulted him, and he closed his eyes again. “When are we landing?”
“We’ve already landed?”
“What?” He sat up and blinked away the stars in his vision.
The spaceship was empty. The over-the-top cheery flight attendant stood next to three other flight attendants and flashed a gummy smile at Teodoro.
“How long have I been asleep?” He scrubbed his face against the grain of his beard. “When did we land?”
“The last passenger left the plane less than a minute ago.” Paloma rose, collected her handbag from the overhead compartment, and smoothed her hair. “You needed the rest.”
Groggy, he rose and collected their carry-on from the overhead compartment. Stiff muscles loosened, he stood and followed his wife off the spaceship.
“What do you mean our bags were lost?” Paloma’s voice was cold, in the perpetual darkness of an ice moon, cold.
The clerk tugged at the paisley scarf around her neck. “They were tagged incorrectly when you boarded. They’re on a non-stop flight across the system.” Her features were placid, her tone sympathetic but cool.
Pressure built in Teodoro’s chest. This was not how he wanted to spend his four-week second honeymoon. He blew out a long breath.
The attendant provided complimentary credits to purchase toiletries and clothes until their luggage arrived.
Paloma plastered on her fake polite smile, the one she used to greet rival CEOs on the tennis court.
The band around Teodoro’s chest tightened, and he reached into his inside jacket pocket for Paloma’s heart medication. Crimson painted the tips of Paloma’s ears the way they did when she was near an attack.
The overhead speaker blared arrival and departure times. Someone walked by wearing a strong perfume that dizzied Teodoro.
His stomach clenched.
Paloma inclined her head to the clerk, mumbled a ‘Thank you’, and walked away.
Teodoro blinked away his astonishment and caught up with her.
She adjusted the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “We’re here on vacation to celebrate our anniversary.”
“Schedules are flexible.”
Crap. The planet might have flipped on its axis, or was that Teodoro’s world?
They walked outside of the space dock in silence.
The air on Santil Prime was purified but not artificial and sweet with hints of jasmine and lavender. Tall juniper trees sculpted into busts of famous residents lined the exit of the space dock. Porters in livery lined the walkway, helping passengers load into taxis and directing traffic.
Teodoro jogged ahead, passing an intercepting porter and raised his hand to flag down a taxi, but the last hover cab sped away. Mother Creator certainly was punished him today.
He turned on his heel to face the brunt of Paloma’s glare, but she stood off the side next to a porter. “The porter’s called another taxi. It won’t be long.” She strolled to a bench under a juniper and sat down.
He sat next to her and stretched out his legs. He flexed and unflexed his feet, then stretched his toes. He smacked his lips, and Paloma reached into her handbag and produced a water bottle. He pressed a kiss to her lips, tender and soft, pouring thirty years of happy times into it.
The kiss was a bit stale, and a bit reserved and had a healthy dose of hesitation.
A taxi pulled up, and the driver got out to open the rear passenger side door. She collected the luggage, placed them in the trunk, and climbed into the driver’s seat.
Paloma climbed into the back seat, followed by Teodoro.
“The Ambassador Hotel.” Paloma shifted in his seat but remained quiet.
Large retail conglomerates dominated the streets. Flashing lights advertised travel tours, taxi stands, and hotel reservations. One billboard announced companionship for the opera, or annual shareholder meeting, or sporting event, provided tickets were box seats.
The hover cab stopped in front of the hotel. In the front, a two-storey marble Pegasus reared on its hind legs. Its majestic wings spread wide, its head pointed at the sun, and a torrent of water ran from its mouth. It was impressive and inspiring, and immortalised.
Paloma settled the bill, got out of the car, and marched into the hotel like someone ready to deliver a hostile takeover bid.
Teodoro sucked on the inside of his cheek. Three weeks of this. Not one day more. He thanked the driver, acknowledged the porter unloading their suitcases, and walked into the lobby, not chasing after his wife but enjoying the grand hotel’s view.
Trees grew in the lobby, their branches grazing the top of the atrium’s glass. Shafts of golden sunlight bathed the lobby and warmed the people sitting on plush high-backed chairs sipping pink champagne.
He strolled to the counter.
“What do you mean you’ve lost our reservations?” Paloma’s sharp tone poked a hole in a damn of forty years of memories.
“It’s not in the system, ma’am.” The clerk avoided her gaze.
“We reserved the Imperial Suite last year.”
“I’m sorry. There’s no record of it.”
“Check the reservation number.” Paloma swiped through her cellphone and produced a reservation number.
“Again, ma’am. I’m sorry. It’s not here.”
“What’s the second-best room?”
“We’re fully booked for the week.”
Paloma raised her proud chin.
One day into Teodoro’s second honeymoon and forty years were wasted. He drew in a long breath, not that it eased his frustration, removed the percolating resentment, or did anything to soothe his ulcer.
He stared at Paloma. Fine lines were bunched around her mouth, and the angle of her chin, the way she squared her shoulders showed ready to deliver a knock-out blow.
Paloma’s dark brown eyes met his. Anger burned to ash, and the stress in her jaw relaxed. “What’s the second-best hotel in town?” she asked the clerk.
“The Odyssey. I’ll see if they have rooms available.”
“The penthouse.” Paloma’s gaze never left Teodoro’s.
“Thank you for your patience, ma’am,” the clerk said. “I’ve found you a penthouse at The Lilian. It’s a six-bedroom penthouse overlooking the Hanuli Cascade with a private pool and elevator.”
“The penthouse won’t be ready for some hours. I can have your luggage sent ahead of you and book a restaurant or other excursion.”
“No, thank you. We have plans.” Her voice was flat like she was angry and trying to control herself.
Not one more spoiled outing, not one more rotten vacation, not one more day rendered fetid because of her noxious ways. Teodoro speared his fingers through his hair and walked to the lobby’s front door.
He breathed in warm, sweet air and exhaled bitterness. Another inhalation, yet the frustration remained lodged in his throat. He looped around the front gardens and came to stand in front of Paloma, who waited at the entrance.
“We have five hours to kill.” She flagged a taxi.
Fan-tas-tic. Five hours to kill with her in a sour mood. There wasn’t enough liquor on the planet.
A taxi pulled up, and Paloma got in. She leaned across the back passenger seat and opened the door for him. “Coming?”
He waited for the insult, the curse, the horrid comment that she always made, sourer than curdled milk.
“I know where we can go.”
“A surprise.” Her tone was lighter like she was holding a secret.
Divorce papers. Would it be wrong to toast to those? He got into the car and closed the door.
Paloma swiped her phone, and their destination address appeared on a screen beside the driver. The driver grunted and drove away.
“You’re not going to tell me?” Teodoro lowered the window. Paloma’s sweet scent of rosewater didn’t fit his mood.
“You get three guesses.”
First stop divorce lawyer. Second stop champagne fountain. Third stop anywhere away from her. “A restaurant.”
“Afterwards. What’s your second guess?”
The firing squad.
Santil Prime was the only planet in the sector to practice the death penalty on the grounds it made high-income tourists feel safe.
“An art gallery,” he said.
“Wrong again. Third and last guess.”
They passed row upon row of exclusive resorts. Some with grand archways near the front doors, others with all-glass ground floors. Behind the buildings, sunlight shimmered against purple lagoons. Tourists strolled in designer loungewear and golf trousers. Dozens of porters followed them, carrying colourful bags.
He closed his eyes and rubbed his temple. “You’re visiting a corporate client before the vacation officially starts?”
Paloma hmmed, the way she did when she had a little secret but didn’t want to share. She had used the same tone a few minutes before she told him she was pregnant. Three times. She used the same tone when she was furious with him and refused to tell him why.
The sound ground into his bones.
“Wrong again,” she said.
Snap went the last of his patience. “Where are we going?”
“It’s five minutes away.”
Busy boulevards lined with expensive town cars, resorts, and luxury shops gave way to roads canopied with palm trees. Their dark bluish-green leaves swayed in the breeze. Tree trunks the colour of dark chocolate were juxtaposed with the beige asphalt in a wash of luxurious colours.
The taxi came to a stop in front of a rose-covered archway.
“I’m too tired for this,” Teodoro said. “Where are we?”
Paloma paid the driver and got out of the cab.
Teodoro thanked the driver, rallied his battered patience, and stepped out of the car. He kept his distance but followed Paloma down the rose bush lined path. The fragrances of fruity teas and flora scents and musky undertones blended into an all-out assault on his senses, and he sneezed.
The path opened to a glass-domed building. Cement walls lined the ground floor, and an unremarkable front door was painted black.
He jogged ahead and opened the door for Paloma, more to catch her expression than to be chivalrous.
Her jaw was free of tension, her brow free of creases. No gotcha-corporate-lawyer-shark-grin. Dark-brown eyes held a hint of amusement or perhaps mischief or some combination of the two that caused his breath to shorten.
She led him down a darkened hallway. The scuff of her tennis shoes echoed against cement. Decorative sconces cast silver light into the gloom.
He tasted yesterday’s breakfast.
The corridor opened to a series of concentric benches. Soft light bathed a circular ring.
Paloma sat on a velvet cushion and tipped her head towards the cushion next to hers.
“I don’t get it.” He sat. “We can’t be so early for a show. There’s no marquee outside, and no one’s here.”
The word sounded ridiculous on her lips.
The lights brightened over the arena. A sharp-chinned woman strode towards the centre of the arena, her gait easy with the confidence of a ringmaster in her element. Dressed in black with elbow-length white gloves, she was a symbol of strength wrapped in elegance. She inclined her head to Paloma, then Teodoro and held her arm out to the side parallel to her shoulder. She gripped the silver whistle dangling over her chest and blew it once.
“What’s going on?” Teodoro asked, more wary than curious.
Paloma inclined her head to the lady in the arena. “It won’t be long.”
A shriek filled the arena, high-pitched and pained and all-consuming. A flapping noise came from behind, and the air pressure around Teodoro changed.
Teodoro looked right, left, ready to duck under the bench.
A hawk sized bird with the head and chest of a woman flew past. Gold and amber feathers shimmered in the light, and flowing brown hair trailed down to her tail. She flapped her wings twice, gaining height and circling the arena.
Teodoro’s jaw slackened. He was six-year-old again, bursting with inspiration and imagination. “A Harpie?” The awe in his voice reverberated through him.
The falconer in the arena gave three short whistles, and the Harpie swooped down and landed on the woman’s outstretched hand. The woman stroked the Harpie’s head and turned to Teodoro. “Would you like to see a trick?”
He rose, his knees unsteady, his pulse thready, his undivided attention on the falconer. “Absolutely.”
She raised her hand, and the Harpie took flight, circling the arena. The falconer took something out of her pocket and threw it in the air. The Harpie tucked her wings in and dove, snatching the item a foot from the ground, straightening to brace her impact with her toes, and then launching back into the air.
The movement was graceful and powerful, and heart-stopping.
“Spectacular.” He clapped. Fast and loud, the excitement of what he’d witnessed was still raw and powerful in his veins.
The Harpie performed the trick twice more with precise and fluid motion.
A second falconer appeared at the far end of the area and whistled once. The Harpie landed on the second falconer’s outstretched arm and was taken away.
“Bravo.” Teodoro clapped louder, his palms mashing together. His throat closed in part from thirst, sentiment, and shock that she remembered something from forty years ago. “You remembered?”
“Hard to forget what you said to me over Halo-Halo on our first date,” Paloma said.
“By the time we had the money to travel to Hanik, the birds were extinct.”
“Not all of them.”
“Apparently.” He looked over onto the area.
The two falconers stood at the far end in quiet conversation.
“But how?” Teodoro asked. “The Harpies are extinct.”
Paloma smiled, not a sweet smile, not a knowing smile, but the kind of smile she got when she didn’t want to divulge her strategy.
“I didn’t take any photos,” he said.
“We’ll take them after.”
A high-pitched whistling came from in front of Teodoro, followed by a second. The first from the lead falconer’s whistle, the second from some creature, raptor-like. Something scratched against the floor, the sound like a dog’s claws against hardwood floors but heavier.
The white feathered head of an eagle emerged from around the stands, its talons gouging the floor. The beast strode forward, its full body coming into view, revealing the head and wings of an eagle with the body of a lion.
A triple shot of adrenaline jumpstarted Teodoro’s heart. He stood, motionless, in awe of a terrific beast.
The second falconer wheeled a series of large hoops and arranged them in a series of three. The lead falconer whistled twice, and the Griffin leapt through the series of hoops, turned sharply, and jumped through them again.
The lead falconer tossed the Griffin something, and the animal snatched it out of the air, flying past in a graceful arc.
Someone lowered hoops from the ceiling, and the lead falconer whistled twice. The Griffin flapped its broad wings and took flight, soaring through the five flaming hoops, swooshing to the left, looping through and over and back through a second ring. A powerful clap of its wings propelled it through narrowing fire rings, emerging unburned and triumphant. It gained altitude, then dove to the series of hoops on the arena floor landed its bulk weightlessly, and then sprang through the hoops.
Its swirls and sharp turns, and graceful movements were the stuff that inspired interstellar legends. The Griffin repeated this circuit three times, each time faster with narrower hoops.
Teodoro was tiny, puny, barely worthy of drawing breath in the presence of such a creature. A crick formed in his neck, but he ignored it. He gawked at the spectacle, mesmerised.
The lead falconer whistled once, and the Griffin trotted to her. She patted his head, gave it a treat, and the second falconer led the Griffin away.
Teodoro shifted his weight, giving a little bounce to his locked knees. “How’s this possible? They’re extinct?”
“A few breeding pairs were found and preserved,” Paloma said.
“How do you know this?”
Teodoro narrowed his eyes at her. “Since when do you read conservationist articles?”
“Since it was my idea to start the program.”
“What?” He turned to Paloma. One eyebrow was raised slightly more than the other, the only thing she couldn’t mask to hide her amusement.
“I know they mean a lot to you.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” He sat, not trusting his knees or ears. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We had to make sure the program was a success. With so few mating pairs left, the scientists weren’t sure if there was enough genetic variation to ensure a viable species.”
“Still.” He ran his tongue along his lower lip, but there was not enough saliva left in his mouth. “This … this is … historic, monumental … and so important to me.”
“I wanted it to be your thirtieth wedding anniversary present.”
“Ten years ago? You’ve kept this secret for ten years?”
“Twenty, but who’s counting.”
Questions logjammed in his mind. “You didn’t trust me?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
He shook his head, unable to sort through his emotions. Anger. Resentment. Excitement. Gratitude. Everything balled into a giant mess. “Twenty years, Paloma. Twenty years and you kept me in the dark. What other secrets are you hiding?”
She rested her hand on top of his. “Fifteen years ago, the Harpies caught a lung infection. It killed half of the mating pairs. The scientists rebuilt the cages with new ventilation. Still, the lung infections were pervasive, but only in the mating pairs. They suspended breeding for three years to figure out the cause.”
“And the Griffins?”
“They’re picky eaters. It took the scientists some time to find synthetics to match their natural diet. A Griffin won’t mate if they don’t have their regular diet.”
“Why not collect the food from their natural habitat?”
Paloma gave him you-know-this-look. “It was destroyed when the meteorite hit.”
The lead falconer walked to the centre of the ring wearing a firefighter’s protective equipment.
Teodoro frowned. “Why’s she—” His body temperature increased, and his cheeks felt hot. “It can’t be.”
“Never say can’t.”
Orange light brightened the arena, and a plume of tiger and carrot orange floated across the sky. The Phoenix circled, its plumage emitting radiance.
The lead falconer whistled four times, and the Phoenix rolled head over tail three times before straightening. The lead falconer whistled once, long and low. The wingtips and tail tip of the Phoenix burst into flames, and the bird traced the pattern of a heart. It repeated the pattern five times, with more and more of its sleek body crackling with flames.
The hearts grew larger and larger and larger, encompassing the breadth of the dome.
The lead falconer signalled two long, high-pitched tones, and the Phoenix was engulfed in flames.
Sweat rolled down Teodoro’s temples. His cheeks were aflame, the tips of his ears scorched, and still, he stood with his face angled to the dome’s roof, speechless, brimming with wonder.
The bird grew brighter, emitting more heat until it burst into a shower of sparks that rained down on the area. The sparks, hot and bright, fell in the shape of an umbrella, drifting to the area floor, leaving behind exquisite trails of smoke.
Thirty seconds of silence filled with soot and fear, and suspense. Teodoro ran the tip of his tongue along with his lower lip, tasting ash and anticipating.
Rise. Rise. Rise.
A tight swirl of flames rose from the ashes, gathering speed and size, until the Phoenix rose from its ashes and landed on the lead falconer’s outstretched arm, ate its treat, and preened its feathers.
Teodoro clapped, more enthralled sports fan screaming a slogan than a gentleman at the opera. “Magnificent.” He turned to Paloma, who now stood next to him. “This is a perfect present.” Mist and smoke clouded his vision.
“I remember you. I remember your dreams, ambition, kindness, and those little secrets you shared with me decades ago. The Phoenix can rise from the ashes, and so can our marriage.” She kissed him, and his heart sang for the first time in years.
By Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
A writer’s goal is to tell a story that first of all entertains, otherwise people won’t read it and it won’t be any fun to write. A story that people can relate to, that evokes emotion, reveals human nature in the face of conflict, and gives people solutions to their own problems in life. All stories teach something. In the teaching and the quality of the storytelling, the writer is satisfied. In the learning, the reader is satisfied.
In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is an immortal bird that self immolates in a fiery death, and then rises alive from the ashes of its predecessor. The process sounds spectacularly painful.
Rebirth and new directions apply to real life, myths, and fiction. In fiction, the characters grow and change over time. The Phoenix can be an actual character in your story, as in Harry Potter and many others, or it can be a theme. As a theme it shows how a character grows. Bad old habits and attitudes die in the fire of experience and revelation, good new habits rise from the ashes.
When we write a story, we write about conflict. How? By giving our Main Character, aka the MC, the star of our story, a goal. Having done that, we then throw everything we can think of at them to prevent them from achieving their goal. Sort of like Real Life.
A ‘standalone’ story covers that journey in one book. A ‘series’ takes as long as possible. A cautionary note. I have read four series that although beautifully written, were so long that I got reader fatigue and couldn’t stand to read the ending. Maybe I’m unusual in that way, I don’t know.
Series end in constant cliff hangers. These leave the story finished in some ways, but also with a big question mark that tickles the reader’s curiosity and makes them go for the next book. I do know that at some point, regardless of what your publisher, your wallet, or your brain says, you have to wrap up that series and give the reader a satisfactory ending.
Despite its torment, the rebirth of the Phoenix is a happy ending. Although the bird undergoes a painful death, it is reborn to live another life. It’s symbolic of the changes that characters go through in stories, and that people sometimes go through in Real Life.
Some people say that stories are like snowflakes. The Snowflake Method of writing starts with a one sentence summary of your story. The next step is to expand it to a one paragraph summary. Then, after you’ve expanded your view of the plot, you start small with your characters. And then you expand your one paragraph summary into a single page.
Rinse and repeat, repeatedly, until you have the whole story, like rolling a snowball into a snowman.
I liken a story to a tree. The roots are the beginning. They’re the back story, the history that led up to the one you’re telling. They spread out all over the place, but you don’t tell each and every detail of the back story that led up to your characters’ present situation. Those details are in the writer’s mind, and can be told throughout the story, as applicable. Too many details at the beginning of the story, when the writer’s trying to explain everything at once so the reader will understand what’s going on, is called an information dump. It’s the sign of an inexperienced writer, or one who doesn’t have good feedback from critique, beta readers, or an editor. It can cause a reader to skim through these details, if they’re a dedicated soul, or dump the book entirely, if they’re not.
The main trunk is the middle of your story. The inciting incident, the conflict of your story begins at or near the bottom of the trunk. Sometimes after a brief period of normal happy life, sometimes right in the middle of the conflict. I prefer to tune in on my own story characters, when they’re looking a dragon in the eye, or their village is on fire, or to borrow from Star Wars, there’s ‘a disturbance in the force.’
After you’ve written your characters through hell in the main trunk, and there’s a joy to doing that, the top of the main trunk sprouts branches. These are the parts of the story that lead to the ending. The branches divide, and divide, and keep on dividing, until you have a full grown story, and the uppermost tips of the farthest branches are the ending. There are endless possible endings to your story.
The Phoenix is a rebirth plot. You can start your story with fire, with the whole tree on fire and burning down to ash, or you can start your story at the main trunk, knowing your back story, and ratcheting up the tension through the telling of the story, until you reach the middle branches, when the whole tree will catch fire. Then from the ashes your tree and your MC emerge perfectly whole and glorious.
Basically, all stories are rebirth stories, as all stories revolve around conflict, and conflict brings change.
But there is a type of plot known as Rebirth. These stories have specific elements. A good example of a Rebirth story is A Christmas Carol. Scrooge goes from villain to hero, and the three ghosts spur his journey and redemption. A good reference book with an outline of the Rebirth story is Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker, available on Amazon.
‘Plotters,’ writers who know the whole story from beginning to end, see the whole tree clearly and plan out their story methodically. ‘Pantsers,’ like me, have a blurry picture of the tree. We might have an idea of the direction it’s growing, the beginning roots and the middle trunk, but often, when we get near the ending, the possibilities have branched out so enthusiastically that we might have a hard time picking the best one right away.
I have at least two short stories, Miri, and Remorsals, that each went through three endings (over three years) until I was sure I’d found the best one. Once I’d found the best ending, I didn’t feel the need to pick away at the story anymore. It was finished, and the story stopped bugging me.
A recent conversation on Twitter began, ‘Endings are hard.’ Yes they are. Ask any Phoenix.
You can have the most terrifically written, spectacular, wonderful story that ever was. But if its ending is weak, if that Phoenix didn’t burn to ash in a magnificent, dazzling, sensational bonfire and then reappear alive again in all its perfect glory, the writer, and especially the reader, is left unsatisfied.
Similarly, in my opinion, you can have weakness in the beginning and middle of your story, but if you get that ending right, if you give it the best ending out of all the myriad endings possible, you will satisfy your reader. For me, there is no greater high than nailing that ending.
Nurture your Phoenix. Give it time to grow and spread its wings. Then light that match and stand back, so you and your reader can thrill at the heat.
In the end, that’s a writer’s goal.
By Melissa Yuan-Innes (@dr_sassy)
Let me tell you a secret. Life is going to grab you by the tail, shake you around like a dead rat, and toss you into the landfill.
Not all the time, and ideally not often. But someone you love will get sick. Someone will die. You will lose a job. Someone poisonous will get elected.
You will feel like you’re going to die. Or that dying is preferable to living.
I know. Believe me, I know.
And when this happens, you will not feel like writing. You will not feel like getting rejected, whether it’s by an editor or by readers bypassing your book.
So what’s a writer to do?
Hunker down and take care of yourself as best you can. If you’re getting bombed right now, survival has to be your first priority. Taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
It may feel like you’re stuck on survival mode forever.
But then eventually, something will happen. For me, I started off by baking a cake and putting wax paper-wrapped treats inside to surprise the eater: star anise, a whole pepper, a ring. I gave the cake to my friend, who froze it and offered slices to people who renovated her house. One poor roofer was very surprised to find the ring.
“You didn’t tell him about the treats?” I laughed afterward. The man left the ring on her counter without a word. So my creation wasn’t too successful. But it was still a creation.
Then I started drawing a little. Shyly, not expertly. But doing something.
One day, the words started to flow again.
Life happens. Good and bad.
You will rise again.
Seven Points of Contact, Renée Gendron
White Lightening, Melissa Yi
Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions, Book 1 by Aedyn Brooks
Ready or Not, Grave Intentions, Book 2 by Aedyn Brooks
Devil’s Due, Grave Intentions, Book 3 by Aedyn Brooks – August 2021
Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series, by Renée Gendron to be released October 14, 2021
Seven Points of Contact, by Renée Gendron to be released fall/winter 2021-2022
Heads and Tales A supernatural / mythological anthology. Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Amazon.