Thursday, November 11, 2010


When he leaves me
in his thundering stride,
I watch in very awe,
For he is a black javelin soaring, racing,
Flung from ages past.
On and on and up, he flies,
Until reaching the top, where he turns,
Eyes golden and fever-bright,
And a discussion is had:
“Move, I command thee.”
“Why should we, fanged beast?”
“Because this is the order of things,” he replies.
And the ewes turn and flow towards me,
Little round women in woolen skirts
And their knees flash in sunlight as they come.
I am almost loath to intrude
With my shrill human commands,
For he heeds the call of his blood,
Which whispers from windy hills and fells half a world away.
But when we are done and I whistle him to me,
He comes loping, galloping, joyous
For love of me and what we are together.
And from the long, cool shadows of time,
His forbears watch,
Red tongues lolling in approval.

© G. M. Atwater

11 Nov 2010
Mountain House, Nevada


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reflections on the Me I Used to Be

The date stamped on the photo is January 1969, but the summer setting tells us it's 1968. This is the most perfect snapshot of my childhood I have ever seen.

In the photo are my brother, my mom and me. Dad is the one behind the camera. In the background is our 1961 Ford Fairlane and the house we rented at Lake Tapps in Washington State. Mom is wearing one of her favorite sleeveless dresses and I'm in Sunday clothes, so we're either going to or have just come back from church. You can see my shiny black shoes that, if I struck my heels down hard enough, went "click-clack" on linoleum floors like the grownup ladies' shoes. The only thing missing is my dad's old dog, Suzy, who's probably in the house.

My brother looks like he's ready for a nap. I look like I want to get in my play clothes so I can go skin my other knee. He's three and I am six.

In those days, the scattered houses around Lake Tapps were mainly summer homes, though there were a few year-round residents like us. Our place wasn't really built for winters, evidenced by the "poink-poink" of water dripping into mom's Revere Ware pans during heavy rains. The couch in the living room faced those big windows, and when storms boomed and lashed outside, mom would sit with my brother and I snuggled safe to each side.

Behind the house are the woods where I played and my imagination took wings. Mom and dad used to bring us on guided nature walks in the national parks and forests, and I took those lessons to heart. In these woods, I spent hours foraging for things to eat. Blackberries, salal berries, Oregon grapes, wild huckleberries, thimble berries and also wild hazelnuts. Mom would wonder why I came in for dinner and had little appetite. I collected rocks and sticks and snail shells, and kept chunks of moss on styrofoam meat trays, because the moss looked like little green lawns in a miniature world. I still recall the spice of fallen leaves and the warm, herbal fragrance of bracken ferns.

In the summers, we'd pile into that Ford Fairlane (licence plate OSC 712) and the back seat was as big as a ball field. My brother and I would jostle and elbow, amuse ourselves with books and games, and play "slug-bug" on the long drives to see Grandma and Grandpa, or to visit some train depot my model-railroading dad wanted to see. Mom packed picnic lunches of cold chicken, pressed ham sandwiches, jello salad and apples.

1968 was a period of tumult, but I knew nothing of the times, of the Tet Offensive, the Chicago riots or the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Still, I think kids sense a world in upheaval. My dad had left the Methodist ministry a year before, moving us out of the little Victorian parsonage in Orting (the one with the slippery oak banister on the stairs) to this house. Dad struggled to find work, for a time selling Fuller Brush products door-to-door. I loved his sample case, with its exotic soapy scents and gizmos for grooming the well-dressed man.

Here I also remember my mom and dad first arguing over money worries. Then old Suzy dog became ill and dad took her down to the vet. He returned home later that day, alone. Mom and I were shattered. I don't think she ever forgave dad for that. Some while after Suzy died, I acquired two imaginary dogs, redbone hounds whose names I forget. (Whether I precociously read "Where the Red Fern Grows" at age seven, I can't recall. Maybe dad read it to me.)

We were only in this house two or three years, but somehow living here left an indelible mark in me. For years after we left, I had nightmares of returning to find my woods cut down, replaced by modern houses. Of course those dreams have decades since come true. Today, my brother is a deeply troubled soul, estranged and divorced from us. Mom and dad are in assisted living and dad will be 90, soon. I am for all purposes an only child.

To find this photo in storage almost 42 years later has been bittersweet and a little disconcerting. I hold in my hands a near-perfect window back in time. I'm happy where I stand today. Life is good. But I can't help the pang of melancholy this image brings. Where, indeed, do the days go? It is well we cannot look into the face of a child and see where the storms of life may blow them.

Pax ~


Friday, May 28, 2010

Musings on that Authonomy experiment

So, away back in December I posted about joining an online writers' group called Authonomy. Hosted by Harper Collins, the idea seemed to be that aspiring new authors could share their works, get feedback and offer con-crit, and together vote the most worthy works up the ranks to reach the HC "Editors Desk." Each month, a top few - I never kept track of how many - got a professional review from the editors.

Pretty nice, I reckon. The thing is, I found the game has to be played a certain, rather aggressive way. In short, the people whose books made it up the rankings are those who can read and "back" (i.e. vote for) a bazillion books, themselves, and thus earn a bazillion reciprocal backings in return. If one does as I do and merely reads the books that grabs them, backs/supports the books that seem exceptional and goes along at a sedate and sensible pace ... they will see the ambitious rank-climbers whiz right on by.

I got my book up to the mid-400s over several weeks' time only to watch another young writer, I think her book was called "Relics," rocket right past me as if I were sitting on my thumbs. Her writing was good. Her book was worthy. But I watched in chagrin as she managed to back enough books to entice others to back/vote for hers by the dozen, and she made it look effortless. Unfortunately for me, I'm just not able to read and back a squillion books a day, because that's apparently what it took. Quantity mattered, and I just can't read that way. I can't support a book that way, because it would either mean I backed a book on little or no consideration other than whether the author had backed my own, or I just backed books, willy-nilly, at a manic pace and hoped the authors would reciprocate.

I'm too pedantic, too exacting, or maybe just too un-ambitious to play the game. Or maybe getting to the Editors' Desk failed to mean that much to me. What I REALLY wanted was good, honest, constructive criticism that would help me shape my book into marketable form. And ... I got that. I did. I met some lovely people of keen and discerning tastes who offered invaluable critique. I'm grateful for that.

I think what I'm sad about is that a point came where it seemed the people looking at my book, however nice and generous, were only looking at the first three chapters. They'd glance at it, back it and that was that. I'd hit a ceiling on the con-crit and found it all boiling back down to that race for the Editors' Desk.

Well, I had to give it up. Bottom line is, whatever the system's flaws, I simply could not be as invested in the place as "success" there seems to require. Authonomy started off a different animal and just in the time I was active there, I saw things change. Sock puppet accounts, blind reciprocal backing, spamming to get votes/backing ... the site may have once been more of an honest con-crit site, but newcomers changed it and not in a way I could accept.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of nice people there and some extremely talented writers. People whose books I hope to see on a bookstore shelf one day, because I'd buy those suckers in a heartbeat. There's talent there, quality and class. But the system itself was subject to abuse and there is a facet of humanity that will always look for the main chance.

So, I'll take the kindnesses I received, the critiques I got, the encouragement that blessed my endeavors there and count it as part of my learning experience as a writer.

But I won't count it as any measure of how things work in the "real" world of writing towards publication. There's no way to cheat a literary agent's slush pile and no way to fudge the submission process. I've still got all my hard work ahead of me.

However, I've at least got the lovely assurance that people out there, strangers, did find my writing of merit. And that's no small thing. It's no small thing at all. I'll hope it will sustain me when I take that deep breath and slip off into the sea of manuscript submissions once more. It's gonna be a long solo swim. ;-)