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The Legend of the Four Winds Butte by DT Krippene

October 31, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , , ,

The conclusion of The Legend of the Four Winds Butte.


Utter disappointment at Monroe’s no-show didn’t describe Mary’s mood. She regarded the footholds carved in the reddish stone and sighed to realize he wasn’t coming. 

The debate to press forward without him took but a few moments. She shouldered her Nikon digital SLR and exhaled a deep breath. “Make sure I don’t touch the petroglyphs,” she said, needing the sound of her voice to summon courage. 

With the rock surface pitched inward at thirty degrees, the climb was easier than expected. Good thing heights don’t bother me. 

She pulled herself up and knelt on the edge of the flat peak roughly eighteen to twenty feet in diameter, shivering in the stiff breeze. The four-foot-tall monument of smooth reddish stone jutted from the peak’s center. 

Mary’s first impression was its perfect cylindrical shape. She estimated its circumference at roughly ten-feet. The characters on its unmarred surface encircled the stone in a straight line. Unlike primitive animals and shapes typical of petroglyphs throughout the state, these had the complexity of ancient runes or hieroglyphics.

She carefully circled the outer edge of the rim to view all sides of the cylindrical stone, taking pictures and making notes as she went. A glint caught her eye from rocky gravel piled several inches high around the monument’s base. She got on her knees to squint. A fragment of a different marking peeked from beneath the pebbles. 

Mary crawled closer until she was a foot from the monument. To prevent her fingers from touching it, she used the notebook to scrape away the gravel and expose what appeared to be a humanlike stick figure. She scuffed more pebbles to uncover a second alongside it. Then a third. She unearthed fifteen figures before it ended. 

One etching per known person who disappeared. Monroe’s grandmother was right. Excited at discovering new evidence, she squatted to take pictures. 

Leaning forward for a close up, a loose rock wobbled beneath her boot, and she lost balance. The momentum pitched her forward—until her palms slapped against the etchings. Retracting her hands as if burned, Mary slowly backpedaled toward the peak’s edge with a sickening sensation burbling in her gut. 

The petroglyphs glowed with a silver light. Mary sank to her knees when the sky and surroundings darkened like a full eclipse. Get off the peak, her mind screamed. She scrambled to find the footholds when a gale-like wind pushed her away from the edge. Loose pebbles flailed her body. The wind shifted from different directions, carrying many ethereal voices chanting in an ancient native tongue. A funnel of dust corkscrewed above the monument. The tornadic spiral rose skyward. 

“No, no,” Mary shrieked. “I didn’t mean to. I tripped. I’m sorry. It was an accident.” 

She jerked when an invisible force clamped around her body and pulled her toward the monument. Prickles of static danced on her skin. Dust melded with her tears to form muddy rivulets on her cheeks. “Please don’t take me,” she wailed. 

Suddenly, a strong male voice behind her sang in a native dialect. The song rose and fell in timbre. The static prickling lessened. The winds abated. A few moments later, the invisible force released her body. 

She collapsed in a heap, choking. Dizzy and nauseous, she vomited until nothing but bile drooled from her lips. Strong hands gently helped her to a sitting position. John Monroe’s face appeared when her vision cleared. Mary fell against his chest and bawled like a terrified child. 

“I’m sorry,” she wailed between gasping hiccups. “I didn’t mean to touch it.”

“Easy now,” Monroe comforted. “It’s over now. Just breathe.” 

Monroe rocked her until she cried it out. He handed Mary a handkerchief when she lifted her head.  

She blew her nose. “I should have waited, but I didn’t think you were coming.”

“I was held up by slow-moving campers on the way here. Let’s get off this rock.” 

Monroe went first, staying two footholds below while Mary descended on wobbly legs. He handed her a water bottle when they reached the ground. 

“That song of yours,” Mary said. “What was it?” 

“A little native prayer my grandmother taught me should I ever find myself at odds with spirits.” 

“Do all guides know it?” 

“I doubt it. Most of them are younger and don’t care much for the old ways.” 

“It saved my life.” Mary honked again into the damp handkerchief. “Your grandmother was right. There are fifteen stick people etched on the rock. I almost became number sixteen.” She dabbed her eyes. “What would have happened to me?” 

“The legend claims the life essence becomes one with the winds.” 

My soul scattered to the four winds. She swallowed hard. “Is there any clue to who carved the petroglyphs?” 

Monroe shook his head. “There are some out-of-the-box thinkers who theorize it may have otherworldly roots from before mankind walked these lands.” 

Alien or not, the petroglyphs of Four Winds Butte contained a sinister, lethal power.

Monroe scrutinized lengthening shadows. “We’ve got a good hour hike down to my jeep. We should get back before dark.” 

After stashing their gear, Mary climbed into the jeep’s passenger seat, still quivering from shock. 

Before starting the engine, Monroe turned to her. “You understand now why we don’t allow people there. You were very lucky. So, I’d like to ask a favor.” 

Mary lowered her head with shame and remorse. “Yes. Anything.” 

“If you publish what you’ve experienced here, it will likely renew attraction of other adventure seekers. I don’t think you want their possible disappearances hanging on your conscious. I know of few other petroglyphs hidden from view, and not well known. Nothing as dangerous as Four Winds, but have stories of their own, some of them quite unique. How about you redirect your studies to that.”

Mary swallowed. If Professor Wilkins learned of her transgression and near fatal result, he’d probably kick her out of the master’s program. “Can we—keep what happened between us?” 

“Deal.” Monroe patted her arm. “I think you’re going to be pleased with Three Hands Chasm.” He winked. “No curses. I promise.”   

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The Legend of the Four Winds Butte by DT Krippene

October 13, 2022 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , ,

The year 1905

Sam Buchanan and Jack Smalley tied their mules to a bush at the base of a tall butte. 

“Hey, Sammy,” Jack asked out of breath. “Can I bum some of your tobacco?” 

Sam finished wiping his brow in the high elevation sun and tossed him a palm-sized leather pouch. “All I got. Nearest provision is several days’ ride from here.”

Jack rolled a cigarette the length of his pinky finger and went into a coughing fit after the first drag. He took in the valley floor thousands of feet below. “Why are we here again?” 

Sam looked upward. “Heard from an old Indian the top of this rock is a holy place. Sometimes the natives leave offerings. Precious stones. Maybe some gold too. We could use it for a new grub stake.” 

“Damned thing must be two-hundred feet or more straight up. I ain’t no mountaineer.”

Sam walked several yards along the base and stopped at a clump of scrub bushes. He pushed aside dry thorny branches to find footholds leading upward. “Just like he said. Come on. Day is wasting.”

Jack took a final drag and tossed the cigarette butt to the wind. “Better be worth it.” 

The butte sloped inward, which made it like climbing a ladder. They pulled themselves onto a flat, pebble-strewn peak about six yards in diameter. Jutting in the center was a circular, chest-high stone monument etched with Indian symbols wrapped around its circumference. A bed of loose stones buried the lower quarter.

They both inhaled lungs full of air in disappointment to find nothing else. Jack spit off the rim. “Looks like that ole injun spun a tall tale.”

Sam ambled toward the petroglyphs for a closer look. He crouched to brush aside stones banked along its base. “Nothin.” He staggered to his feet and kicked the stone monument. 

The wind suddenly shifted and blew from the south. In the span of several heartbeats, it shifted again, this time from the east, then from the north a few moments later. It changed again and gusted from the west. A ghostly whisper of many voices chanted in a native language.

“What in tarnation?” Sam spun about in search of its source. 

Jack scrambled over the edge. “I’m gettin outta here.” With his boots on the top two footholds, he froze when the sky darkened. The winds gusted in a circle, drawing dust and pebbles in a cyclonic spin. Sam’s body went rigid.

A dust devil whirlwind formed above the monument. “Sam. Get away from that stone,” Jack shouted. The vortex twisted skyward. 

Terrified and partially blinded by grit, Jack clambered down, frantically feeling for footholds. He almost made it but lost his footing and tumbled down the angled wall. 

The year 2015

 Mary Aguilera propped her backpack against a rock at the base of Four Winds Butte. Butterflies tickled inside her tummy when she studied a posted warning with bold red letters in all caps. “Dangerous area susceptible to sudden high winds.” A smaller sign beside it bore the Bureau of Land Management symbol. “No Trespassing. Protected Native American Heritage Site. Permit required to access from the Western Shoshone Tribal Council.”

She sat on a boulder to catch her breath. Though born and raised in Denver, living four years at sea level to get her psychology degree from UCLA killed her elevation tolerance at eight-thousand feet, with another couple hundred to reach the top. 

“Where are you?” she muttered, impatient that her guide hadn’t shown up yet. With nothing else to do but wait, she let her mind drift to her master’s thesis progress at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. 


Mary, fascinated by paranormal legends, found Nevada was considered second or third of the most haunted states in the country fostered by the plethora of ghost towns. Most of its reputation centered on the many deserted mining sites, abandoned graveyards, and hotels dating to the early twentieth-century gold rush. 

The popular haunting histories had been written about Ad Infinitum. But mysteries behind the paranormal legends of local Native Americans were passed down by word of mouth and remained elusive through the generations. Mary decided to direct her research to a unique, little-known subject by exploring the origins of such tales and how the stories changed over time. To do that, she’d need some advice from her graduate school mentor, Professor Peter Wilkins. 

“You might consider western Native American petroglyphs,” Wilkins said.  

“Cave man drawings?” she asked.

“Not caves,” Professor Wilkins chuckled. “Drawn figures or etchings on cliffs or stone ledges.” 

“But still. Aren’t petroglyphs basically primitive rock art. Stick figure animals and such? Where’s the paranormal connection?” 

“Some are quite old, a few dating back thousands of years and believed to be a direct conduit to the spirits.” 

Mary took the next few days to research it. Most petroglyphs proved her doubts that most were simple pictographs and already well documented. About to give up and reconsider a new thesis subject, her eye caught an obscure footnote referencing a little-known petroglyph monument Native Americans called Four Winds Butte, located in the remote uninhabited ranges of East-Central Nevada. 

Its discovery began with a 1905 prospector who wandered into a mining camp after days of hiking with a bloody cloth wrapped around his head. He collapsed on the ground and began ranting of a native curse that killed his partner before dying on the spot from his injuries. No one paid much heed to it until the early sixties, when a naturist hippie couple stumbled onto the site and disappeared. The only evidence left behind was backpacks and camping gear scattered in a chasm thousands of feet below the ridge. 

The BLM declared the site off-limits after the local tribal council took umbrage of any non-natives trespassing on a sacred place. Still, it didn’t stop the occasional curious hiker from climbing to see the petroglyphs, only to vanish like the others. The last interloper to disappear was over a decade ago. Including the prospector from over a century ago, fifteen people disappeared in total. 


Professor Wilkins hemmed and hawed when she mentioned Four Winds Butte. “I’ve heard of the monument. Given the history of disappearances, approval to visit the butte requires a permit from the BLM and the tribal council whose land it’s located.”

“So, it’s possible to get approval?” 

Wilkins sighed. “I doubt you’ll get it. But I know how dogged you are when you set your mind to it.” He flipped through a personal address book, then penned a name and phone number on a sheet of paper. “This a retired BLM agent I got to know years ago. He also happens to be a member of the Newe Western Shoshone.”

Mary gushed with excitement. “He’ll help me get access?” 

“I wouldn’t count on it. But he’s been to the site several times and will be the best source of information.”

Mary arrived a couple weeks later at John ‘Redfeather’ Monroe’s office in a brown paint-peeling double-wide where he volunteered on the edge of a wilderness area. She wrinkled her nose at the pervasive presence of desert dust and metallic taste of Monroe’s rusting file cabinets. 

Monroe scratched an ear and set aside Professor Wilkins recommendation. “Pete must either be jerking your chain or thinks you’re something special.” 

“I’m hoping the latter.” Mary recited her notes to verify accuracy. “According to archived data you provided the BLM, the monument is estimated to be at least three thousand years old, but the patterned lines and shapes are more complex than simple pictographs. Do you think it’s a language of some kind?”

“There isn’t anything in the form of a native written language, especially that far back in time.”

“What can you tell me about the origins of the curse?”

 He scratched the stubble on his chin. “I was a lad when my grandmother told me a story of powerful wind spirits who resided inside the butte and took offense of anyone who defiled the land.” 

“Like those who disappeared.” 

“Our elders assume most who are ‘not of the people’ to be disrespectful of the land.”

Ouch. “Did your grandmother say anything about who created these complex petroglyphs? A particular time or inciting event that led to a spiritual presence?” 

Monroe smiled. “Now therein lies a fundamental difference of interpretation. To you, a spiritual presence is believed grounded by historical events. To us, the land fosters the spirits, not a specific incident.” 

“Was there any legend passed down of others who disappeared before the prospector in 1905?” 

“Possibly, but I think if so, the stories would certainly survive through the generations as a warning to the peoples. It’s only speculation, but we think the prospector was the first non-native to enact the curse. All the subsequent disappearances left no smoking gun as to what they saw. We can only assume they suffered a similar fate.”

Non-natives. “I’ve read varying hypothesis of what became of them, the more popular one being their bodies torn apart and scattered to the four winds.”  

Monroe pursed his lips in thought a moment. “That may be true. Any bodily remains would likely disappear beneath desert sand, if not eaten by wildlife first, leaving only nondegradable items as evidence.” 

Gross. Mary scribbled in her notebook. “You mentioned non-natives, or those ‘not of the people.’ Dr. Wilkins said you and others of the local tribes have been on the butte a few times.  Have any your people touched the monument?” 

“Shamans were known for many generations to climb there and honor the wind spirits. Not so much anymore. I doubt anyone has been up there in recent years.”

“Most of what we know of the site is based on your accounts.” Mary tapped the tip of her pen on her lip. “Have you—placed your hands on the monument?”  

“As part of my work with the BLM, I volunteered to take pictures and sketch the symbols. But I never touched the monument itself.” He chuckled with a wink. “I’m only part Shoshoni. European blood has diluted my heritage, so I didn’t care to test the theory.” 

“But you believe the curse is real.” 

“Most of what I know came from my maternal grandmother, passed down through the generations. Embellishments tend to taint a story over time, but the evidence strongly suggests that something haunts the butte.” 

“Anything else you can share?”

He scratched his chin in thought. “Well, it’s not common knowledge, but when my grandmother spoke of the curse, the legend claimed a new petroglyph etching would appear on the stone monument representing a soul taken by the wind spirits.” 

That’s new information. 

Monroe opened a drawer, extracted a moth-eaten folder, and spread photographs of the monument on his desk. “When I compare archived photos against pictures I took when I went there, I didn’t see any additional etchings.” 

Like the archived photos she’d studied earlier, these were somewhat blurry, as if slightly out of focus. “These the best pictures you have?” 

“Unfortunately, yes. After the last person disappeared, the BLM had a couple of scientists scan the butte for anything unusual. They weren’t permitted beyond the base for safety reasons, but they registered a strong electromagnetic field emanating from the peak above, which may have affected the quality of the negatives.” 

A factor straight out of an episode of The Twilight Zone. “As part of my research, would it be possible to visit the site to get a first-hand impression? See if new digital photos are affected?” 

“You need a permit from both the Shoshone tribal council and BLM. You’ll have to hire a qualified native guide to supervise, and they won’t let you climb to the monument itself.” 

That wasn’t going to yield much of a perspective. Unless – “You wouldn’t happen to be qualified, would you?” 

Monroe palm washed his face and chuckled. “Pete warned me you’d probably ask that.” He stared in thought out the only window opaqued by crusted dust. “Damn you, Pete. You owe me for this,” he mumbled. He extended his hand. “Next week Tuesday, pending permit approval. Meet me at the base of the butte .”

To be continued on October 31st.

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Happy Hallothanksgivingmas by D. T. Krippene

November 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , , ,

In case you missed it, Halloween was the starting gun for blubber season. Nothing like ingesting bags of candy to get things rolling. If you were diet-conscious, bars of hyperactive-inducing sugar were available in “mini” sizes – an oxymoron if ever there was.  Local stores stocked shelves in August, but those who waited until the first of October to purchase might have been disappointed. Space was needed to make room for Christmas decorations. 

What happened to Thanksgiving?  People already have their Christmas trees up before the turkey is bought. When did it become the norm to play holiday music before we’ve had a chance to scrape egg off the front door because we left the lights off on Halloween? I feel as if all three holidays have been smooshed together, with Thanksgiving wedged between the others as a wannabe. 

Thanksgiving is the day we’re expected to watch a New York City parade with inane commentary and vintage cartoon characters nobody remembers. We see relatives that hadn’t graced our door for a year, then remember later why. It’s a sacred celebration where the arrangement of food on an individual plate becomes a science, and we gorge like our prehistoric forbearers when they felled a mammoth.  Would you like leg meat or trunk?  

Food offerings are as varied and quirky as our relatives. What is left on the plate when finished, like Aunt Mildred’s cranberry-scrapple gelatin mold, returns every year so everyone can hate it all over again.  The meal is often mid-day, to allow for slumbering digestion to the spa-like sounds of slamming athletic helmets on TV, followed by an encore visit to the kitchen.  Always lots of cranberry-scrapple gelatin left. 

I put some of the blame on conscientious health fanatics who chagrin our tendency for culinary excess. We live in a time of Paleo diets and CrossFit training.  Paleo is defined as what our prehistoric ancestors foraged before animal husbandry and agriculture, which to me, suggests anything that moved was fair game.  CrossFit is defined as a conditioning program that employs “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad modal and time domains.” I’ve always thought of the annual gorge as a high-intensity workout, but since it doesn’t occur across broad time and modal domains, I’m guessing it doesn’t count. 

Maybe what we need is a different kind of Thanksgiving event that appeals to people like me whose exercise regimen consists of rolling out of bed. Let’s call it the Blubber Trot. Participants hop about with flabs of steel barely contained by Kevlar reinforced spandex. The first hundred finishers get to be first in line at the communal Horn-of-Plenty table. Those who don’t finish have to watch Hunger Games without popcorn. Paying spectators will be allowed to wander the leftover carnage and ask, “Are you going to eat that?”

As always, I’ll be flexing my Thanksgiving consumption with extreme prejudice. Once I’m done filling my gastrointestinal cistern with enough calories to heat a small city, I’ll need a solid concrete cap on that toxic well.  I’m going for the pumpkin cheesecake. 

Hats off to the intrepid writers immersed in NaNoWriMo. I hope your hard-working efforts don’t result in a take-out Thanksgiving meal or relegated to turkey sandwiches with a side order of cranberry sauce that retains the shape of the can it came in. 

Happy Hallothanksgivingmas to one and all. 

Anthologies with D. T. Krippene’s Stories

DT Krippene

A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, DT Krippene deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family. After six homes, a ten-year stint in Asia, and an imagination that never slept, his annoying muse refuses to be hobbled as a mere dream. Dan writes dystopia, paranormal, and science fiction. His current project is about a young man struggling to understand why he was born in a time when humans are unable to procreate and knocking on extinction’s door.

You can find DT on his website and his social media links.

Other books from Bethlehem Writers Group

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Eating–A Writer’s Humanizing Element in Stories Ancient and New

June 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , ,

I remember a National Geographic article from a few years ago, The Joy of Food, by Victoria Pope, offered an interesting observation.

“The sharing of food has always been part of the human story . . . ‘To break bread together’, a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, and provoke laughter.”

In creating contemporary fictional scenes, epic fantasy moments, or science fiction settings, food and the act of eating, humanizes a story. Our mouth waters with tantalizing narrative of baked goods and braised stew. Romance tickles when someone gently hand-feeds a morsel of food to a love interest. Intrigue is piqued while supping at the table of a wealthy nineteenth-century Duke. Warmth ebbs in our bones when characters share spit-roasted game around a campfire in the dead of winter. We smile when a normally dysfunctional family banters happily around a holiday feast, setting aside for a moment, that which keeps them apart.

Food can be a defining backdrop with apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Driven back to our hunter-gatherer forbearers, societies are demoralized with heart-wrenching memories of how abundant food once was. Haves and have-nots when food is scarce, polarize villages, communities, entire nations. Food as common currency is reborn. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is an excellent example of this. S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire serialized life when the power went out—permanently. Christopher Nolen’s movie Interstellar, painted somberness from food-blighted, agrarian collapse.

Food weighs heavily when portraying communal tables, customs, folklore, and regional diversity. George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series is rich with culinary indulgence and subsistence living. Tolkien’s Hobbits are quiet, yet passionate diners. Elves are vegans, and dwarves—well—they’ll eat anything that isn’t green. Robert Jordan’s fourteen book Wheel of Time series has more eating scenes than grains of sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass. Vampire feeding is a genre unto itself. Opinions vary on what Zombies find nutritious.

Science fiction poses a stronger challenge with respect to otherworldly beings, especially when writers have to define characteristics of sentient alien life. Babylon 5 was a jewel of multiple alien interactions, all with unique culinary customs. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow did a masterful job of characterizing alien beings by what they shared with pioneering visitors from earth. Hard-core Star Trek fans can cite Klingon fare as if reading from a menu. One of my favorite movies was The Matrix where human “copper-tops” dreamed of real food, but the few humans outside the matrix subsisted on something resembling watery eggs. Has all the body needs, amino acids, proteins . . .” The very sight of it made me gag.

Eating is the ultimate show versus tell enhancer. Here’s one in an old story I wrote that attempts to capture all five senses. A pungent smokiness wafted from the meat offering that resembled a hairless, mummified rat carcass. The skin crackled between her teeth and her eyes watered from its unsalted, campfire bitterness. It was like trying to eat a botched taxidermy job, or an Amazonian shrunken beast stolen from a museum.

A story lacking a good eating scene falls short in illustrating a fundamental anthropological trait, not to mention missing out on a lot of fun writing.

What’s my favorite eating scene? Have to turn the clock back to the 1963 movie adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel set in the British eighteenth-century, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, where the handsome Tom and his dining partner wordlessly consume an enormous meal while lustfully gazing at each other.

That’s what I call eating.

A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, DT Krippene deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family.  After six homes, a ten-year stint in Asia, and an imagination that never slept, his annoying muse refuses to be hobbled as a mere dream.  Dan writes dystopia, paranormal, and science fiction. His current project is about a young man struggling to understand why he was born in a time when humans are unable to procreate and knocking on extinction’s door.

You can find DT on his website and his social media links.




Some of DT Krippene short stories appear in the following anthologies

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Pantser in Need of a Serious Intervention by DT Krippene

March 13, 2019 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , ,

From a Cabin in the Wood featured author is DT Krippene. DT is a contributing author in the recent BWG’s paranormal anthology, Untethered.  A man buys a house for a price that is too good to be true, until he discovers the bizarre strings attached in “Hell of a Deal”. He’s also contributed articles for the Bethlehem Round Table Magazine with “Snowbelt Sanctuary”, and “In Simple Terms”.

A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, DT deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family.  After six homes, a ten-year stint in Asia, and an imagination that never slept, his annoying muse refuses to be hobbled as a mere dream.  DT writes dystopia, paranormal, and science fiction. His current project is about a young man struggling to understand why he was born in a time when humans are unable to procreate and knocking on extinction’s door.

You can find DT on his website and his social media links.

Pantser in Need of a Serious Intervention
by DT Krippene

If you’re a writer, you’ll recognize the term pantser, defined as writing by the seat of your pants, or someone who writes without an outline, without plotting, and without a clue. Smart writers are plotters. I’m a hardcore pantser, which suggests I’m not very smart. It’s that irking process of plotting chapters that eludes me.

Have you ever tried to organize one those squirrel folks who is easily diverted by the slightest interruption? Yeah, I’m one of those. Hell, I can’t fart and not get sidelined.

Trust me, I’ve tried to plot. I possess a veritable library of files for the books I write. Even downloaded one of those cheat-sheets to systemize the chaotic asylum of my story-writing brain. So, what the heck is my problem? I’m a meticulous note-taker by habit, but that voluminous archive is a realm I rarely ever revisit. I often forget I made notes. Too busy writing.

We have a real nice office on the first floor, with great views of the garden. I let my wife use it. Last thing I need is to settle into a hypnotic stare at house wrens warbling for a mate. I can ponder a barren tree in winter for no reason at all. Why? Because it’s there. My office is in a windowless basement room painted grade school green; just me and the radon (I didn’t choose the color).

And music? Forget it. Writers love to share what music feeds the muse when writing. Stephen King claimed in his early years, he wrote best when listening to ear-blistering rock tunes. I’d never been one of those kids who did homework with an album playing and the TV on. Who can concentrate with all that racket? Don’t get me started on the internet, and that infernal necessity for all budding authors, Social Media.

Many of my author buddies advocate programs like Scrivener. I gave it a shot and found myself managing the program rather than actual writing. Ever see the movie A Beautiful Mind, and the scene where concerned friends stumbled upon a place wallpapered with Dr. John Nash’s schizophrenic notes? I don’t claim to have a beautiful mind, but my desk looks a lot like that setting.

Write a synopsis first, experts say. Been there, done that. I’ve spent hours, days, crafting the perfect outline for a story. For ease of reference, let’s say the original premise was to create a bird. By the time I finish–behold–I have a monkey.

For me, I have it all in my head, and what a meandering gauntlet it is. I always know how a story starts and how it ends. Tying the two together is where the real work is. Think of it like planting a tree many miles away, then planning the shortest distance between two points to get home. I’m a curious Bill Nye trapped in the Mad Hatter’s head. I don’t take the simplest route. It’s like taking a trip to visit relatives in Philadelphia–via Canada.

When I begin a new scene, I read the previous chapters to get in the groove, jot-down a few notes, then start ‘dem engines. Four to six hours later, I’ve got a mishmash of narrative, dialogue, and action that bears no resemblance to the original idea.

How did the train end up at a different station? I fall deep into a scene, fully embody the character, and speak aloud the dialogue. You talkin’ to me? I go one way, maybe say “Nah”, do a heel-spin and meander in an alternate direction. I experiment and sift through what fits best. Next day, I re-read the new material, and either modify it, or toss it completely. I swear, some days, I read the result of a prior session and wonder if I’d forgotten to take my meds before I wrote it. Believe me when I say that I can write 10K words, and trash seven. It’s not very productive. My process is like rinsing chia seeds in a colander and losing half the seeds.

It’s not like I can’t reach the goal line. I work at it like a job and write almost every day. I’ve finished several books. Believe it or not, I completed one in less than six months (boy, did that one suck). Good thing I don’t get job reviews.

What I needed was an intervention. It came in the most unexpected way.

My wife visiting relatives, the house to myself, I took a yellow pad, handwrote chapter bullet points of what I’d already created. Then I entangled the knotted string of scenes (actually, it was more like taking a scissors to it). Suddenly, it made sense.

How could such a simple exercise work when it hadn’t before? When handwriting, I grip the pen with the force of a hydraulic car crusher, and Sumerian cuneiform is easier to read than my handwriting. Therefore, I type everything to prevent creating blisters. I have the ability to type as fast as I think, generating all my notes and storyboards on the word processor. The V8 clue–type as fast as I think, where all I’m doing is transcribing the spaghetti grid of my creative mind that has worse synaptic traffic than Atlanta’s notorious Tom Moreland Interchange.

Writing legibly switched off the lottery ball spin of disordered thoughts. It wasn’t easy at first. The creative muse was halfway to Alaska on the first page and I had to yank it back to the here and now.

Bullet points–slow–maybe an occasional note in the margins, decelerated brainwaves to a lower frequency and presented a visual handwritten storyboard. It revealed stray tangents which act like background noise. Tuning out useless plot chatter, a path forward magically appeared.
Lesson learned? It took a physical blackboard to see the flaws by forcing my thoughts to slow down.

The story I’m now writing has a clear horizon ahead. The muse may still want to go by way of Sweden, but it’s up to me to revoke the passport and keep its feet firmly on the ground where it belongs.

Author’s Note: If you wish to visually experience what it’s like to be an easily distracted pantser, check out the article: The Perils of Captain Tangent, a Pantser’s Writing Journey with Pictures.

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