Bunkie [Short Story]

By: E.E. Blackwood

“Sitting here, thinking about it – talking about it – with you … I dunno, it – it makes me wanna go back. Try it again. Maybe this time, I dunno, maybe this time I could do it. Things were different back then, you know? I dunno. Maybe now it’s something I could do. I mean, it’s right there. Looming. Every time I drive by, there it is, looming at me in the near distance. Like it’s laughing at me, or – I dunno – daring me, or something.”

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears. Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with my beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for a response.

Aunt Dorothy just kinda sat there like, with squinting eyes and an oval mouth, a wilting cigarette at her ear,  like the question of the universe was bashing at her front door. It was something to ponder, all right. Something I pondered, and have still been pondering ever since, ten maybe twelve years now. And now it was something ol’ Aunt Dorothy pondered as we sat in our fold-up camping chairs at the open threshold of her two-car garage, filled not with cars, but with decades’ worth of trash and junk she and Rick had been collecting since marriage.

“But it’s just right there, ain’t it?” she asked.

“Every single day, yeah.”

“Every single day.” She took a drag off her dart, eyes squinting deeper than before, and took a good minute for the dragon smoke to rise forth from her forward-jutted lower lip. Aunt Dorothy leaned back in her chair and went for another beer from the cooler between us. “You’re a grown man, now. It’s just a kid’s thing. Does it really bother you that much?”

“Some days, sure. Other days, not so much. But it’s always there with me, hangin’ there. More so now, than ever before.”

“It means that much to you.”

“It does.”

Then that was it. Silence now, for us to imbibe the blessed taste of ice cold beer on a day hotter than the devil’s Sabbath. My pain was out in the open with it, just floating, the echoes a long-forgotten thing.

“Summers make these things feel kind of worse. Thinking about it, yearning for it, makes me want what I could have had back then. The innocent summer, the carefree summer. Yearning for the feeling I once held so easily back then. The butterflies in my stomach, the glow in my heart whenever I think back, ten or twelve years ago. People say sappy things about going back with the wisdom of today’s experiences, but all I want is to go back, way back, and know what it may have been like to climb that Bunkie.”

“Nothing’s stopping you now, you know,” said Aunt Dorothy.

“But I’m an adult now. You said so, yourself.”

“A foolish thing for an adult to do, but who’s going to stop you? Let’s go.”

Aunt Dorothy was giving me this gesture, an excitable little motion as she half-lifted off her chair, a master calling her dog towards an open minivan door.

“Let’s go!”

“Wait, but we’re going to walk?”

“It’s not too far from here.”

“But what about our beer?”

“Where’s it gonna go? Chug what you got and come on.”

I didn’t want to, didn’t feel there was much of a point in it now, I mean, how’d it look, a grown man climbing up a Bunkie – a few beers and maybe a joint in him, especially. But Aunt Dorothy, the adamant thing she is, had herself shuffling down along the drive and into the setting afternoon light, bent over with her left snapping at me to follow, drunk to be had by any of the neighbours around her.

But I dunno, it was one of those things where you regret saying shit to people, like they lord it over you or something, family especially, and I mean, Aunt Dorothy is the only one I have right now – Rick too, I guess, when he’s not swingin’ ‘em back while the Jays and Leafs swing ‘em forward. But I mean, having someone who believes in you more than you do, yourself, that’s a damn thing, in and of itself, and embarrassing.

I sort of felt sorry for her, to be honest, and in spite of myself, rose to scuffle along to satiate this sense of rogue responsibility she likes to have for me so much. Maybe it was kind of exciting, I dunno, thinking about that Bunkie, and climbing up there with someone alongside me, believing I could be a kid again, so long as I aimed for it, myself.

It sounds so stupid, really, but it was happening, and the walk across town felt like a breeze in and of itself. And the closer we got to the Bay, the more it sort of made sense, that climbing that Bunkie was just the right thing to do, no matter the age, and with that came a sense of fear and hopefulness, I guess. A silly thing to admit, I know, but ten or twelve years is a long time to sit on something you wish you did back when those ten or twelve years were available at your disposal.

The dying sun was peeking around a tip of the Spirit Catcher’s wing when we crossed Kempenfelt Drive into Centennial Park. Couldn’t help but think: hey, there’s nothing quite like the setting sun. Many beautiful things in the world, but the setting sun? Eighth wonder of the world.

Then again, if the sun setting over Kempenfelt Bay was the eighth wonder of the world, the Bunkie, standing there just off the playground, had to be no better than the Ninth – as far as I could be concerned, no doubt.

The Bunkie is the tallest thing you’ll see in the playground, I guess apart from the cedar trees,  I guess you can say it resembles more of a tree house, but when you’re kid without much of a grasp on the English language yet, it’s expected to call a tree house a “Bunkie” because “Bunkie” is a word that makes you sound like a grownup. To us, it’d always and only ever had been known as the Bunkie.

Or, maybe, I guess it’s more akin to a giant-sized birdhouse. Yeah. You know the ones, they’re made of wood, painted up all folkart-like, and they stick in your garden on tall dowels or pipe. The Bunkie looks just like one of those, except with a ladder up its shaft, and a proper door and windows enclosed by a little wrap-around porch.

“Well there it is,” said Aunt Dorothy. It were like she were in as much awe as any kid seeing it the first time over. And really, I couldn’t blame her.

The Bunkie’s been a thing that’s awed me for years: nothing like it existed except for the littler bird houses I just described, and just gazing up at it with her brought all the excitement and horror and anxious feeling that crept through me back in those ten or twelve years was flooding through me like something I thought I’d long forgotten.

The only thing that kept me from climbing up that ladder back all those years ago was the rickety rungs, no better than flat slabs of splintered wood nailed into the shaft, all the way up, up, up, until the sizable-square-shaped gap directly above allowed for a kid to pull themselves up over the edge of the wrap-around porch.

And damn, I’d not thought in a long, long, time until now just how high up that porch looked.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Aunt Dorothy sent a hard shove against my shoulder. It was one of those urgings, like she was excited for me to chase after my dreams, but to hurry it up, because the beer back home was getting warm.

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Why? There’s no one around. All you have to do is climb right up that ladder, and you can finally say, I’ve been to the Bunkie. That’s all there is to it, so get going! Go on.”

“I don’t think I can.”

She gave me an astounded look of frustration, but nothing could be helped. I was right. And I proved this by pointing her glowering attention over to a signpost neither of us had noticed upon initial inspection of the Bunkie. It was one of those waist-high black aluminum chalk board signs. You know the ones, they sit outside classy restaurants with the daily specials tied to clever, but forgettable, food puns. This one had white frilly lace that enunciated a cursive-written prohibition written on the rectangular board:

Use for Children Only. Height Restriction  4’8. – Thanks, Mgt.

“Who’s going to stop you?” Aunt Dorothy protested. “Someone gonna call the cops because you’re climbing a tree house? Climbing a tree house that’s smack-dab in the centre of a public park grounds? How is that against the law?”

The sky was dark and brown now, the sun almost completely vanished across the edge of the Kempenfelt Bay. Any daylight left crept with it across the golden sea, leaving all away from it a husk of what daylight kissed.

“It’s too dark now. I don’t want to fall.”

“You don’t want to fall? You don’t want to fall, it can’t be more than a ten foot drop. If you fall, you’ll hit the grass, great big deal?”

“I could break my ankle. What if the rungs are all splintery? What if my pants cuff catches on the edge of some bark, and I lose my balance?”

“So what if it happens? You fall and you get back up and try again. What are you so afraid of?”

Aunt Dorothy didn’t understand. She just didn’t get it. I mean, this was something haunting me for years now, not her, and I mean how could a person like Aunt Dorothy understand so easily from a single conversation?

“I wanna climb it,” I said, “But I don’t know that I can.”

And even if I could climb that Bunkie, the fact was, I wasn’t a kid – I was a grown adult, well past the height requirements, and who’s to say there weren’t cameras set up around the place to ward off your typical A-grade hooligans?

There was a parks grounds office just off the edge of the playground. I thought bathrooms were supposed to be there, and you know, I’m sure that building was, at one point, bathrooms, but it since looked remodelled to suit the needs of a groundskeeper. I headed that way without any kind of hesitation, and Aunt Dorothy was shouting at me from behind about the place being closed up for the night, but I saw lights were on in the windows, and I knew if I wanted to climb that Bunkie tonight, I’d have to talk to whoever ran the park this time of night, so there’d be no mix-ups and possible accusations of trespassings, or what-have-you. I mean, it’s an open park, I’m sure people taller than kids try to climb the Bunkie every night. What’s the trouble in seeking solace for just another stranger wishing to do the same?

So I went into the office expecting to enter into a lobby of some kind, but first step in, and I come face to face with a woman in dark business wear, whose size rivals that of the Buddah, both in girth and height. She’s there behind a desk, her whole body looking like it could spill out over the top of her work area if she took a breath the wrong way. And like, it was clear to me that the bathrooms were renovated to become this office, but for whatever reason, the size of the building itself remained the same, so the walls are so tight that the woman behind that desk looked like her shoulders could reach wall-to-wall easily, and the top of her neatly-tied hair bun nearly brushed the dust off the ceiling’s stucco.

“Can I help you?” She was gazing down at me behind menacing spectacles, like she had more important things to do.

“Yes you can!” Aunt Dorothy was calling out from behind me then. I didn’t even get a word in edge wise, she was so to the point. “We want to climb the Bunkie.”

The Groundskeeper gave us this look, like what the hell. “Why do you want to climb the Bunkie for?”

“Do we need a reason to climb the Bunkie?” Aunt Dorothy sidled up beside me, ready for a gun duel. She was being so stubborn now, and God bless her soul for it, but at the same time if you go in, guns blazing, right out the gate, who knew if I’d ever get a chance like this ever again?

The Groundskeeper thought this whole display was amusing, because she burst out laughing, a wicked and wild sound that shook the walls and made me, for one, almost deaf in one ear.

“What makes you think you can climb my Bunkie? The Bunkie is made for children. Childhood is a thing that has long-since left you in its tracks. So, what gives you the right to try to reclaim it now? If other adults see you climbing the Bunkie, then other adults will try to climb the Bunkie, too. That’s not why the Bunkie is here. What kind of image would I be projecting if I let you go and do that?”

“Because it’s something we’d like to do!” Aunt Dorothy protested.

“And so you come here, seeking approval, seeking permission when you could have gone and done so before?”

“It was the right thing to do,” I finally said. “Every day I pass the Bunkie by, and every day I think about that time when I could have climbed it, but was too scared to. And today, just talking about that fear and desire helped me come back to this place, and now I’d like to climb that Bunkie, just so I can say that I did, and feel proud of myself.”

The Groundskeeper was listening to me, she was nodding away like she completely somehow understood. It became obvious that what I was saying to her – she’d heard this spiel all before. That this hadn’t been the first time someone in my position went to her and told her their woes of regret and desire to climb that Bunkie. The Groundskeeper looked like she really, truly, understood.

But then she let out another wicked laugh and said, “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” asked Aunt Dorothy.

“I have an image to uphold,” said the Groundskeeper. “A reputation, don’t you see? As I said before, if I let you climb the Bunkie, then everyone else will want to climb the Bunkie. And then the Bunkie will be crowded at all hours of the day – no space left for the children to go. Where do you suggest that the brave children, who wish to climb the Bunkie themselves – where do they go? What do they do? Do they grow up, regretting the fact that they could not climb the Bunkie themselves, and come to the next Groundskeeper after me, and beg him or her to climb the Bunkie then?

You see the unfair position you corner me into, don’t you? The never-ending cycle of entitlement and regret. All because you weren’t brave enough to climb the Bunkie when you had every opportunity to. That’s not my problem. It’s yours, and yours alone. Do what you were meant to, and grow up. Move on. Get a hobby, for the sake of your pathetic self. A hobby that does not include climbing Bunkies, that is.”

Aunt Dorothy, she started to protest loud and angry now, but what else could be done? That was it. There was nothing left of it. We left the Groundskeeper’s office with her maniacal cackle in our ringing ears.

As soon as we stepped back outside, a door locked behind us, and when we looked back at the office, a closed sign flipped into view over the sidelight. Then all windows went dark, and there was only silence between us.

When we turned back to face the Bunkie, it was no longer there among the swing sets, and the jungle gym, and the tetherball court, or the picnic grounds, beyond. It was like the Bunkie was never there to start with. But I could see its outline, burned so deeply into the folds of my memory there. But it wasn’t there.

Not anymore.

There was just Centennial Park now, and the outline of the Dream Catcher looming in the distant night. It was staring at us as we trod the grass, all alone with nothing to show for doing the right thing. The Dream Catcher just loomed at us. And with it came the lull of the distant waves against the ringing in my ears.

“Oh well,” I said.

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears.

We crossed Kempentfelt Drive out of Centennial Park, and headed back to Aunt Dorothy’s place. The walk was long and quiet between us. What else was there to talk about? Our beer was probably bugger warm now. We’d left the garage door wide open for people to snoop and pick at the ten-or-twelve years’ worth of trash and knickknacks horded away like emotional safety blankets. But what could be done about it now?

Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with a beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for tomorrow to come.

 

The End

 

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Emotional Investment: Writing Characters Who Matter

Work on The Quest for the Crystals #2: The Book of Earth is going pretty steadily. The core novel’s been done for a while, since 2014 with a basic rewrite in 2016. I’m ears-deep into further second draft revisions now (yay!) and there’s a lot of fleshing out to do (naaaaay!) in terms of story beats, character development, and overall flow/continuity.

What’s fascinating about this whole process – editing and revising – is just how much the characters are affected. When we discuss good writing, and the classic structure of “The Hero’s Journey”, it’s natural to expect our characters – especially the protagonist – to go through arcs of personal development. They’re different people by the end of the story from who they initially were on page one.

 

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A page out of  the “Book of Earth” section of “The Quest for the Crystals” production log

 

Sure, as a reader, this developmental journey is and should be apparent. It’s expected. All good stories revolve around challenge, struggle, triumph, and failure. All physical things in life are temporary, except for change. Change is constant. But what’s interesting to me as a writer and world-builder is just how much these characters grow and change behind the scenes; how they become different people by the story’s publication from who they initially were in the first draft.

At the risk of coming across patronizing, let me be real. If you’re not an author, writing a book sometimes looks as easy as spitting over a bridge. Coming up with all these great ideas and characters, the flowery sentence structure and (sometimes) perfect dialogue – it’s like we think it up and, snap!, magic happens on the page. A lot of really great authors make it look that easy! And there are some who do pull it off. Lawrence Block, Stephen King, those guys can bang out first drafts like instant Pulitzer winners, and then another three in the same year. It’s crazy amazing. But for the average writer, it’s not that simple.

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth with a pair of rusty pliers.

Writing relatable, “human”, characters can be a real pain in the ass. Any amateur can write a story about a dystopian future where impoverished kids are forced to kill each other to entertain the rich minority, or a story about a secret magical society where fledgling witches and wizards attend a far-away boarding school of sorcery. But if the characters are flat, speak like they’re completely out of touch with believability, or carry on through the plot without flaw nor obstacle – then, well, no matter how amazing the overall story potential is, the reader is gonna check out and move on to something else hopefully more satisfying. We’ve all done it.

Good stories are made great by fully-fleshed characters. It’s the characters that carry the story, not the other way around. Very rarely does that actually work, and when it does, it’s been achieved in a more visual medium, like film (But that’s a whole other blog post).

I’m what’s called a “pantser”. I write by the seat of my pants. No outline, no story bible, no deep knowledge of who my characters are, or their motives. Just a vague idea, a phoneful of brief notes, and a tall mother fucker of a steeping tea. I generally have the title first. I sort of know where the plot will go and how the story might end. But everything else is up for grabs. Production logs are developed all throughout the drafting/revision process.

If you’re following Regina’s adventures in The Book of Wind over on Wattpad, it’s clear she’s a skunk who’s been dragged through hell to where she currently is – and that journey still isn’t over. Regina is severely flawed in some fundamental psychological ways. She’s sensitive and intrinsically nurturing; she’s got a brilliant mind, and isn’t afraid to voice her opinions —  however, she’s held back by post-traumatic stress. She watched her parents die. Her village burned to the ground. Canines slaughtered her friends and neighbours and Regina was left buried beneath piles of the dead and dying. This all happened her,  a seven-year-old previously sheltered from the dangers of reality, who doesn’t quite understand the world as it truly is. Regina’s fucked up for life.

 

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“Well, you don’t have to be so rude about it.”

 

My biggest struggle writing Regina’s character, however, was getting her to act and respond to the events and environments around her. Things would happen and Regina would react, while the characters standing by would pick up the slack. The world made its decisions for Regina, and she simply went along for the ride, despite how much she protested.

That’s not how a strong protagonist is written, and it’s obviously stated. But at the time, Regina was that way because she was a character struggling to find herself in a world that did her no favours.

She was afraid of change and afraid of standing up for herself. So she became reactionary and stood at the sidelines quivering while the secondary protagonists stole the spotlight out from over her. Yes, in a way Regina’s character was a semi-accurate portrayal of someone who’s never been able to really overcome trauma, and ended up letting it define them. She was passive and afraid, but too afraid to do anything to change her situation.

But Regina is supposed to be the heroine, right?

In retrospect, I feel Regina’s inability to find herself in the world was my own projection of insecurity – what the heck do I do with her?? Every other character felt grounded, going through the motions of their own stories and subplots, and Regina is quite literally dropped into the middle of the overarching narrative. It was like – emptying out a box of jigsaws, nabbing a random piece, and trying to force it into place within an entirely different puzzle board. Even in the initial drafts for Book of Wind, Regina’s story began with her stumbling into someone else’s story. That scene is still in the final book, mind you. It just happens much later.

Regina Lepue wasn’t a fractured skunk who was fully developed, and because of this flaw in writing, The Book of Wind suffered. Beta readers and my editor Jeannette maintained it was still a good book – but without that extra kick – without Regina being forced to make decisions and take action – The Book of Wind fell flat in the places where it needed to take off in order to resonate with readers.

Forcing Regina to step up and take responsibility for herself forced the other characters to meet her halfway and respond, causing a chain reaction that strengthened everyone’s overall personalities and development.

Book of Wind was a novella I wrote and initially e-published in 2012, and subsequent revisions (and drafts including Book of Earth and Book of Water – as well as trying to stay afloat and sane during the final year of college) delayed an updated publication. The “final version” of Wind was supposed to be released in December 2015. Revising Regina’s character (and subsequently adding a number of new scenes and chapters to explore and accommodate her needs and growth) delayed Book of Wind’s publication by another year.

Due to pantsing, I’m kind of a slow writer as it is. I tend to blow through the first draft, and all the really great ideas and jigsaw pieces come together little-by-little during the revision stages. And that takes forever because I’m an over-thinking perfectionist who happens to lack discipline and motivation, and takes constructive criticism and feedback very seriously.

All of Wind’s delays and revisions naturally brought on depression, frustration, resentment – all that fun stuff creative people go through when their WiPs are uncooperative and out to kill them. But the long and daunting slog that was Book of Wind was worth it, because Book of Earth is coming together at a slicker pace.

Because of the extra time and effort, I know the characters better. I have a greater understanding of their personal stories, their motives and desires – who they are and who they are not. I have a greater grasp of the overall plot and the beats the narrative must take in order to get to the end. The characters interact far more naturally than they did in initial drafts, and they carry the plot and unfold new subplots and consequences from their own actions – not because the story needs them to these things.

 

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Artist’s rendition of struggling with delays, circa 2017

 

Lots of folks equate being an author to being godlike – that it’s the author who’s in control of the story at all times. But being an author is more akin to parenthood. As a good parent, you lay the groundwork for your kids, and they hit the ground running, scuffing their knees in the process. You stand by, watching proud and worried as your kids take responsibility for their new lives, carving monumental victories and making damning mistakes along the way. You’re there for your kids when they come back to you needing guidance and advice – when things are dark and start to stall, when everything’s a mess and nothing makes much sense.

And if you’re a good author, you confer with your fellow writers, your beta readers, and your editor, before going back to your kids with the help they’re looking for. Because as parents, we’re too close to the problem at hand. Sometimes we can’t see it from all sides and figure out what our kids really need. Despite the rumours, writing isn’t a solo job. The right advice will set things in motion again, get the wheels back on track.

And when the right advice sticks, we have to step back and let our kids go off to figure out how to use this new information, waiting for the next time they need our help. A good parent guides their children without interfering. Ultimately, this story we give to our kids is theirs alone to tell.

When a good author puts in the extra effort to write good characters, the characters take over. That’s just how it is. Ask any fiction writer, and most of them will tell you the same.

That’s because despite the massive ego trip writing a whole novel or series provides, the truth is it’s the author who’s along for the ride, not the characters. And when an author is impacted by the stories told by their characters – you can be sure the readers who matter will feel emotionally invested the same way.

 

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The Quest for the Crystals: The Book of Wind

Hey, Ghost & Ghouls!

So, over the last couple of months I’ve been busy over at Wattpad, showing off my latest YA fantasy adventure serial, The Quest for the Crystals: The Book of Wind.

It’s about a skunk named Regina, and her hedgehog friend, Dwain. They’re orphans, no thanks to some jerk-ass canines who took it upon themselves to slaughter everyone in the kids’ village. Now Regina and Dwain are looking for answers — and revenge.

In a nutshell? Wind in the Willows meets A Song of Ice & Fire. That’s right. No messing around.

This first novel in the Quest for the Crystals saga a tale that’s been in the works for well over five years now. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of, and feel a liiiiiiittle selfish just keeping this tale of political intrigue and high fantasy all to one little corner of the Internet.

So, if you’re not already following me on Wattpad to take part in this weekly-serialized adventure, you’re in luck. Starting today, I’ll let you in on the action too – every single Tuesday.

Chapter 10 just dropped today. But hey, that’s no fair to you, my dear reader! Click here to start reading from the beginning.

‘Til next time, Ghosts & Ghouls!

Stay creepy. 😉

 

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Art is Pain

Someone I once knew in my old life pushed away friendships that weren’t “emotionally easy”, because she was too afraid to share herself deeper than skin-level. She was quiet and awkward, and intelligent and confident, and caring and angry.

I knew her as well as she’d let me, but at one time I considered her a best friend. We’d met in college and spent the first two years of our friendship getting stoned or drunk and bonding over cheesy ’80s movies, midnight adventures with our dorm-mates out in the campus arboretum, or sitting quietly around her kitchen table, gleefully roasting toothpicks over an open scented candle flame.

She was a person who protected her heart behind sky-cutting walls, but wrote beautiful agony inside her notebooks. Her poems spoke of deep and cryptic musings that flowed from the sorrow of her heart. Death. Love. Hurt. Confusion. Pain.

Very few people were granted access to her poetry. Not even her lovers were allowed inside. Distant and guarded face-to-face, it was clear to me that what she wrote was what helped her heal and to sort things out and try to find perspective in life.

The reason I bring her up now is for the simple fact that she’d come to mind recently.  Thinking of her brought on feelings of pain for myself, grief for what once had been. Thinking of my friend caused me to reflect on my own life up to now, how much pain I’ve faced in thirty-one years. How much pain I’ve run away from in thirty-one years.

Nobody enjoys the experience of pain. Real, heart-wrenching pain.

Loss.

Regret.

Embarrassment.

When given the option, we run from pain like it were a sickness – a common cold, the flu. We mask it with alcohol and drugs, with a bright smile and a gregarious nature – sometimes helping others feel good about themselves. Sometimes, we mask our pain with arrogance, overcompensation in our achievements to attempt to showcase a false perception of emotional perfection, that we have our “shit” together.

Many times, we mask our pain with our credit cards and bank accounts.

We do everything in our power to maintain a fleeting sense of happiness. To not be happy means that there is something wrong with us. That something deep within the woodwork has malfunctioned. And instead of putting on our work gloves and hard hats, ready to search within ourselves to fix the problem, we are expected to be stoic. “Pain is weakness,” people with bravado complexes say. Visual vulnerability within a person is taboo. To be genuine with ourselves is almost blasphemy, invokes feelings of shame and guilt.

But pain is a part of life, as natural as all positive emotion we share on the contrary – even if pain is unpleasant and messy, and sometimes shows us harsh and honest truths we would rather not be privy to.

The fact of the matter is that pain shows us who we really are. If we let it, pain can help us to grow and to help others who are in search for a guiding light.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

~ Brené Brown

As artists, it is our duty to peel away the flesh that keeps all that is safe and secure. Emotion is the birthright of humanity, and our exploration of the deeper self – while in no way an easy task – is what allows us to speak to our audiences. This is because artists are obligated to express themselves honestly. Most of us have something evocative to say, we stand for something that resonates with other people. Therefor, it is our responsibility to speak from a place of soulfulness, worldly experience gleaned from the experience of pain.

Whether or not our audiences realize it, we relate to their pain through our own pain. As my friend displayed, art in and of itself is healing. Music resonates with the teenager going through a world-ending breakup. Television, movies, and video games offer cathartic release to wound up adults after a rough day at the office. Books and comics fuel hungry imaginations, and often inspire change.

Art heals, because art is art is pain – and pain is honesty. This is how some of the greatest works in the world, including our own, are created. [Tweet this!]

I started writing this article out of a sense of pain. Grief has been heavy on my heart over the last year, and thoughts of anger, regret, sadness, and ultimate confusion and loss threw me headlong into a hurricane of wavering depression. Some days I have an all right grasp – others, not so much.

Truth of the matter is, the friend from my old life is no longer my friend. We were too different. Needed different things than what the other was willing to offer or compromise for.

We always said our friendship was the type that “you could go years without speaking, and reconnect like nothing separated us.” I believed that.

But I had to move on.

A lot of mistakes were made on both sides. A lot of regret. It hurts like a son of a bitch, even a year later, but when I’m being honest with myself, I know letting  go and thinking on the good memories was the best decision – for the both of us. I hold no anger. No animosity. She was good to me, the best she could be. I am grateful for what we had.

But it still hurts. A fuck ton. I sat down and started to write this article in an attempt to help aid my pain to heal. And this soon became an article about developing your inner pain into art.

It’s important to do something creative and constructive when you’re feeling emotional. It’s healthy. It’s therapeutic. My friend knew this, and so do many artistic geniuses. What I especially love about this process that I feel like the reins are being given back. The emotions have relinquished their control and something tangible, shareable, is carved and fired into existence.

Our emotions are part of who we are as living, breathing, entities of this universe. When we push away our emotions and try to mask our pain with distraction, nothing is solved. On the contrary, our pain will only manifest deeper within our souls, and over time – if we don’t release it somehow – our bodies and mind will be caught in the crossfire and will pay the price in the end.

grumblegrumble

QUEST FOR THE CRYSTALS Behind the Scenes #1: Sgt. Rudolph Aruto

So, as promised in my last post, I wanted to show off some of the production work that has gone into the creation of my upcoming YA fantasy series. Here’s a sketch I did a while ago of one of the characters, Rudolph Aruto.

Aruto
Aruto is a sergeant within the ranks of “Quest” ‘s in-world army, called “The Alliance”. He is one of four hand-picked platoon commanders sent off to find Elemental Crystals used to keep the planet’s controlled climate state in check. Not going to spoil what the Alliance wants to do with the Crystals – but I can assure you, it’s not for what you think.

I’m really happy with how this piece turned out. Admittedly, Aruto’s design is vaguely inspired by the art of Troy Howell, who illustrated the U.S. publication covers for Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels. I’ve never actually read the Redwall series (on purpose. Don’t want to be unconsciously inspired, out of respect to the legacy of Mr. Jacques), but I was a fan of the cartoon, growing up. I don’t remember much of it, except for some throw away line, “I’ll use your skull for skittles”, which always baffled my 11-year-old self who enjoyed the candy of the same name.

I didn’t want these characters to be “animals with human proportions” which is often seen in the world of “furry fandom”. I really wanted to challenge myself as an artist and work towards allowing the characters to retain as much of their “real-world” attributes and proportions as possible, which is why I researched Howell’s art (and subsequent R.W. fan art on Deviantart).

Overall, I think I did a pretty good job with Aruto. I’m looking forward to drawing him again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into the novel’s visual-artistic side. If there is anything in particular you as a reader, follower, and fan, would love to see in regards to the “behind the scenes” of Quest for the Crystals, please feel free to drop a request in the comments section. There is plenty of art, history, and inspiration with this series, and I’d love to share.