Waking up to something better… picking up where I left off

morning fog over a pondI love when this happens. I woke up this morning with the solution to the sticky problem I’ve been having with a manuscript I’d all but given up on.

I started a novel back in 2015. This was for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) during that November. And I was making good progress with what I felt was a really interesting storyline. It’s basically the tale of a woman who meet one of her college friends after 30 years of almost no contact, and notices some striking difference in the way she behaves and interacts with everybody around her. It’s about how we connect (ha – no surprises there) and how we perceive others (and ourselves), when we learn new things about them.

Of course, I had to throw in some technology too… so the main character is one of the founders of a startup that’s struggling to finalize it working proof of concept for investors.  There’s tension there, too — generational tension, programming languages conflict, even a bit of Emacs vs. Vi contention. How could I resist? 😉

Anyway, I was making really good progress with manuscript some four years ago, and I was sure I was going to be able to get it done by the end of November.

But, of course, life had other ideas, and I ended up getting stalled during the last third of the book. Actually, it wasn’t just life that stalled me, it was the technology piece that I was writing about. At the time, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the company’s fictional approach. I thought I understood the underlying issues the company was aiming to solve. But the more I got into it, the more I realized I didn’t know. And the less confident I felt writing about that whole piece of it.

It wasn’t something I could fake, without undermining the whole premise of the book.

It’s tricky, right? If you’re going to write about something, you’d better know more than a thing or two about it. You can’t write a novel about dogs if you really aren’t familiar with canine characteristics, behaviors, and all the things that make dogs… dogs. Likewise, you can’t really write about technology if you don’t understand it, especially if you’re writing about a company that’s developing an innovative product that’s going to solve a sticky problem for an entire industry.

That derailed me pretty well, so I tucked the manuscript and my notes into a couple of manila folders and put them on a book shelf where I wouldn’t lose sight of them, but they wouldn’t get in my way. Every now and then, I’d look over at the shelf with a sense of longing… and then get back to what I was doing.

But this morning when I woke up, I found a way through. I realized I could write much better about a completely different type of technology that’s much more familiar to me, and which I really do know inside and out. I understand the ins and outs, the persistent issues, as well as the opportunities a better solution would provide. Heck, I even built a similar solution over 10 years ago, when I was noodling around with some ideas I had.

So now I can take a step back, rewrite the technical pieces, and really flesh out that part of the story in a much more satisfying manner.

The main thing is that I do justice to the story, as well as readers. The last thing I want to do is insult anybody‘s intelligence, and I also don’t want to overreach if I don’t know what I’m talking about it. Some people can fake it, but I’m a terrible liar, and anyway, I’d just as soon write about something I’m intimately familiar with.

So, now I can go back to work on my novel. I’m probably a lot closer to finishing it than I think I am.

We shall see.

Strange Bedfellows – Foreword to the 2nd Edition

strange-bedfellows-cover-klIt’s now been over 20 years, since I had this dream in the upstairs loft of a pink house built not so far from my ancestral home. The story at first alarmed me with its scope and detail – who has dreams that are that vivid, that cohesive?

Then it intrigued me.

Then it annoyed me, as I tried to put it down on paper, only to find the pictures defying the use of words.

It took me years to finally get the story told. And all the while, it taught me many valuable lessons.

At first glance, this story might seem like a finger-wagging eco-warrior rant about the excesses of our toxic modern lives… our lust for luxury, our craving for comfort, and all the harm it does to Planet Earth. Indeed, when I awoke from this dream, all those years ago, that’s exactly what I thought it was: A wake-up call to alert us to Change Our Ways Before It’s Too Late… before our last chance to save the earth – and the human race – is gone forever.

And you wouldn’t be wrong to think that’s so. In a way, on the surface, it is very much about exactly that. We say we want to help the earth, but we make poor choices. We say we’re committed to change, but we set unrealistic and unwise priorities, and abandon them when we realize we can’t do it easily. We do things without thinking, and the world around us pays the price for our oblivion.

And yet, there’s something more to this story – something more enduring, something more global. It’s not just about a couple of spoiled, upwardly-mobile professionals who will stop at nothing to satiate their desires for success and luxury. It’s about much more than that. As you read the story in the coming pages, think beyond what’s on the surface. Look deeper into the behaviors and the choices that Paul and Christina make… and if you dare, look for signs of yourself in their shoes, making the same sorts of choices, for the same sorts of reasons, with the resulting consequences.

Your choices – our choices – needn’t only be about upward mobility, status, and prestige, to get us in trouble. They can be as seemingly innocuous as the decision to order takeout, instead of warming up leftovers. And abandoning our commitment to lasting change can be as casual as dismissing a set of New Year’s resolutions, because in February they’re just not as realistic (or fun) as they seemed back in December.

None of our choices are simple, these days. So many of them send ripples we cannot see into the world far beyond us. And it’s difficult to know how best to change course, and why. So, what better time to really think our choices through, really weigh the costs of committing to (or abandoning) them, than at this point in history?

Some say we’ve passed the turning point. I say we still have some turning left in us. But we have to be willing to turn – and stick with it.

The Voice of Night – I dreamed I was in a circus troupe…

circus-performanceI dreamed I was the administrative director of a traveling circus show with all the standard talents – the buxom blonde tightrope artiste/wild horse rider; the heavily muscled power lifter; the debonair lion tamer; the countless dwarfs and clowns and jugglers and acrobats. A hodge-podge group – a standard circus band.

And I dreamed that we had a huge show to put on somewhere. But we had to get there first. It was quite a prestigious thing – performing in front of all the right people – kings, queens, diplomats, socialites. If we could get there, we could put on quite a show. How to get there? I suggested a plane or a bus. But on one else would hear of it. A motor vehicle of some kind – any kind. To get us there in time. It was an important performance, and we didn’t dare miss it.

But they said, “No – camel caravan will do much better. The equipment is too bulky and we can’t stand being cooped up in there for so long – all of us together, when we drive each other crazy, as it is. We enjoy each other’s company, but…”

“It was an important engagement, though,” I countered. “We can’t afford to take any chances.” And I arranged for a plane to take us to our performance.

We herded onto the plane. The lady, the muscleman, the lion-tamer, the clowns, the dwarfs, the bearded lady, the elephant, the horses, the chickens… the works.

We were not in the air ten minutes when the pandemonium that had been mounting broke loose – the dwarfs were doing back-flips over the seats, the lady was laughing hysterically, the muscleman and lion-tamer were wrestling, the elephant was roaring and tossing plastic champagne glasses around, the clowns were chasing each other up and down the aisle. All hell had broken loose, and up in the cockpit, two dwarfs were bothering the pilot.

The pilot came on the intercom and said he was touching down. He couldn’t fly like this, and he was landing the plane. No one but I heard a word he said, and when we came to a standstill in the middle of a desert, the troupe rolled off the plane looking bewildered.

“Are we there yet?” somebody asked.

“No, we’re not there yet,” I shot back sarcastically. I was frazzled from the short ride, nonplussed, had a bug up my ass that wouldn’t quit. I wanted everything neat, clean, orderly, and on time. At this rate, we would never get to our performance.

“Now what do we do?” someone asked.

I didn’t respond, only turned my back on the fucked-up mess of them and went to sit on a rock.

Some of the dwarfs disappeared for a few hours, then came back, leading about five camels. Not enough for all to ride on, but enough to carry the luggage and some of us. There were two horses, too.

We loaded up. We knew we were headed east, so we couldn’t go wrong, if we kept our eye on the sun. “Don’t worry,” one of the dwarfs said to me kindly, “if they really want us, it won’t matter when we get there.” I snorted and climbed onto one of the horses they’d given me, as the brains (however unheeded) of the group.

For days we wandered. Under the hot sun we dragged. For weeks. For months. The desert was endless. The sun was unbearable. When we stared, there were shenanigans and lots of hopping from camel to camel among the dwarfs.

But after a week or so, that stopped. It was all we could do, to keep on. The lady, the muscleman, the lion-tamer each carried a number of dwarfs in their arms, and the acrobats and jugglers trudged wearily beside the camels, holding themselves up by the harness. Water was low and we were weary. But with no tents to stay in, and a show scheduled to put on, we would not stop.

Then we reached an oasis. From a distance, it looked like just another mirage. But as we drew nearer, we realized it was real. If we’d had the strength, we would each of us have jumped down from our camels and hurled ourselves at the pool of water. But the most we could do, was to keep the camels headed in the right direction.

I was relieved. Now we could replenish our supplies and move on. Now we could reach that appointment, however late, and live up to all those kings’ and queens’ expectations. It was about time, and I was secretly elated. We stayed the night, then decided to stay another. We’d been wandering too long, we reasoned, to push ourselves that much again, prematurely. I wanted to get on the road again. The city couldn’t be that far. We had a duty to fulfill, and the last thing we should be doing, was waste precious time.

I tried convincing the troupe to move on, but they would hear nothing of it. The days stretched into weeks, dragged into months, and still no sign of any wanderlust. I talked things up over meals, clandestinely trying to sway the most influential members of the group to my way of thinking. But they wouldn’t hear of it. They only smiled and patted me on the back. “Relax,” they said.

Our days were lazy. Filled in with little more than eating, sleeping, sewing and mending tents, and playing board games. The rest of the troupe seemed content with our broken engagement. The others eyed me with some amusement and did not hide their remarks and jokes about me. I withdrew from the group, lived on the outskirts, and read the three books I brought with me over and over again.

Then one night we had a meeting. Once a week we had these meetings, gathering in our mess tent, sitting on folding chairs, swapping stories and ideas. Each week was different – a different topic, a different bent to the conversation. That night, someone had come up with the idea that we could put on a show for ourselves. That drove me mad. Because we were so close to the city – I knew it. We were within striking distance, and none of the performers showed any interest in moving on. And now they were talking about putting on a show… for themselves.

“What do you think of this?” was the question and everyone had their say, going around the makeshift room. Most babbled gibberish and the dwarfs started running and jumping and doing back-flips under, over, onto people. As we went around the room, it was obvious that none of them had a clue why we were where we were, and that most of them didn’t care.

I listened with muted anger, as these fools babbled on about the most pointless of subjects. I could see what was going on. I had seen it coming from the start. But not a soul had listened. And now, months on down the line, they were finally asking, what do you think of this? It came my turn. I began to speak. I started from the beginning, pointing out what had gone wrong, dwelling on each detail and sparing them no I-told-you-so‘s.

At first they listened politely, then rapidly grew bored and turned to amusing themselves. I was unsparing in my analysis, but as my voice raised, so did their noise level. I knew the situation in side and out. I understood perfectly the finest of aspects of our situation. My hindsight was 20-20, and my prophesies were as accurate.

But no one listened. They paid me no mind whatsoever. And non one understood a word I said. No one, that is, — except the tall, thin, dark man sitting beside me. He had been there all the time.

The Voice of Night – Reclaiming the Castle

woods-clearingI had a remarkable dream, one night. I dreamed I was attending an herbalist convention, held at a camp in the middle of a northeastern forest. There were both men and women there, all of us deeply committed to the healing arts. The main lectures took place in a medium-sized camp hall, where about nine rows of folding chairs were set up in front of a podium. There were other workshops and classes on the schedule, in other small buildings around the camp. But the main discussions and speeches took place in that main hall.

I had been listening to lectures about herbs all day, and I was tired of so many words. So, I got up and took a walk in the woods to stretch my legs. I walked a long way, through the hardwood forest, the ground soft with many seasons of fallen leaves, as well as the ferns and moss common on the Eastern Seaboard. I walked farther than I realized, though, and soon I found I was lost. I stopped and looked around, but could see nothing but trees, could hear nothing but the wind stirring in the leaves, as well as little creatures scampering across the forest floor.

As I turned and looked around, I suddenly caught sight of a part of the ground that seemed to be dug up, off at a distance of some 100 yards. I walked closer to it, wary, but I could see or hear no other humans or sign of danger. As I came closer, I realized it was a huge pit dug in the forest floor — rectangular and stone-lined, it reminded me of an immense swimming pool, or an inverted castle submerged in the ground. The top of the pit was flush with the forest floor, and it went down many feet into the earth. The stones that lined it were perfectly cut and set together, and the whole structure was about 20×30 yards in size. I crept closer and closer to it, still not certain what this was. As I came to the edge, I looked down, and saw it had water sitting in it. I couldn’t tell how much, but there was a good deal — brown, almost brackish, but surprisingly inviting.

For some reason, I thought it would be refreshing to take a dip in this pool in the middle of the woods. I wasn’t sure why, but it beckoned to me. I was hot and sweaty and stiff from sitting all day in that camp hall, and a swim seemed like just the thing. If I got dirty from the water, I thought, I could always go back and wash off. I jumped in with my clothes on.

The moment I hit the water, I was flooded with an intense sensation of wholeness. It wasn’t just a sense of well-being — it was intense and almost overwhelming sense of oneness, of fullness and no awareness of lack or limitation of any kind at all. I was free. I splashed around in the water, did backstrokes and somersaults, and paddled around, filled with a sense unlike anything I’d ever had before. My whole being was suffused with a sense of peace, safety, well-being — a Divine sense of consummate satisfaction that calmed every irritation and smoothed every wrinkle of worry from my being. I could hardly believe it. This brackish water, which at first sight looked tainted with rotting leaves, filled me with joy beyond any expression.

I swam from one end of the pool to the other, testing the depth of the water. In one place, it would be six inches deep, in another it would be too deep for me to reach the bottom. Every square yard of the pool had a slightly different bottom, and I tested the depths with serene pleasure. I splashed and dove and played for almost an hour.

Then I decided it was time to get out. It was getting dark, and I thought I’d better get back to my conference and finish out the day’s lectures. I pulled myself out of the pool, dripping, blissful, and amazed at the experience. I could hardly believe this had happened to me, and I thanked whatever or whoever had led me there, for allowing me to experience this bliss.

I looked up, then, and saw two women watching me. They were middle-aged, with long, grey-streaked hair filled with twigs, leaves, and moss. Their faces were smudged, and they wore long burlap-like dresses that were tattered around the edges. Their skin was weathered and dark, but their eyes were clear and bright. They introduced themselves to me as the ones who were excavating this ‘site’. They said they were anthropologists who had been searching for Camelot all their lives, and they finally located it here. “That pool you were swimming in,” they said, “is Camelot. It’s always been here, and it’s still here for anyone who needs it.”

I was flabbergasted, speechless. I didn’t know what to say. They told me that they’d been working on this dig for years, now, and it was finally ready for others to experience. It was time to start telling people about it. They said I should go back to my workshop and not hide what I’d found. At the same time, though, I shouldn’t tell just anyone about this place. “Not everybody is ready for this,” they said. “Not everybody will want it, either.” I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting what I’d found here, but they insisted I be selective in whom I told, while not being reluctant to discuss Camelot with those who were genuinely interested. Then they told me to go back, and I bid them good-bye. I said I would see them later, and they said, perhaps I would.

I returned to the camp, my clothes dry from walking briskly. When I got back, I could hardly wait to tell people about my experience — yet I wasn’t sure whom to approach. Besides, it was time for the keynote speaker, Patrick Stewart, the actor who plays Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the television show, “Star Trek – The Next Generation”. My head was in a whirl the whole time he spoke, but I picked up some of what he said.

He told us that although he played a starship captain on television, we herbalists were actually doing the same work as his co-players on the show — making inroads in whole new areas of life, and making it possible for humanity to expand beyond its own limitations. “You are the real thing,” he said, “and your work is as vital as my role on television seems.” His words sent a thrill through the audience, and we knew he was right — we were doing important work. Yet all the while he was speaking, he seemed distracted, tired, weary, and frightened. He seemed totally depleted, and although his words had the ring of truth, they came from a taxed and worn soul.

When he was finished speaking, we jumped to our feet, applauding. He stepped back from the podium, drawn and pale, and the audience broke up. Some gathered together in groups around the room to discuss the conference, while others of us went up to Patrick to shake his hand or ask him questions. He was polite to everyone, yet distant.

I stayed at the edge of the crowd surrounding him, waiting my turn to speak with him. When most of his admirers had praised him and moved on, I approached him and thanked him for his talk. “But I want to give you something back,” I said. “I just want you to know that Camelot is here. It’s not far away in some star system, it’s not halfway around the world. It’s here. I’ve been there just today, and I can show you where it is. We can go anytime.”

At that, Patrick fixed an intent gaze on me, disbelieving. “It’s here,” I said again. “We can go to it anytime you like. Right now, if you want.” All the hardness and tired lines faded from his face, and he broke down and began to cry. He cried very hard, like a little baby, holding his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking, while people around the room looked over at him, surprised and wondering. Some came over to see what was going on. After a few minutes, he collected himself and looked up at me and asked me where it was. He appeared hopeful for the first time all evening. Others around the room said, “Yes, where is it?” and came over to hear the answer. I told them where, and they all looked at each other with wonder. They couldn’t believe Camelot was so close, but I assured them that I had been there.

Some in the room heard what we were saying and turned away. They had no interest in going to see the place or experiencing it, and they said as much. They just wanted to discuss what they’d learned that day in their classes. They were hungry, or they were tired, or they just weren’t interested. They didn’t begrudge us our enthusiasm, just moved off in their little groups to get an evening snack in the cafeteria, or get ready for bed.

Those of us who did want to go to Camelot began to move out in clusters. I gave instructions on how to get there, and in small groups, we moved out — some racing at top speed, some going at a measured pace, others stopping to get their swimming suits or talk some more. I went with Patrick Stewart and a small group of women. As we approached the place in the woods where the pool was, we could hear laughing and splashing. Patrick’s demeanor was becoming lighter all the time, he had a spring in his step, and he was now talking animatedly, joking with the women in our group. We came near the pool and could see through the trees a luminous shining surrounding the pool, as some of my fellow students leaped and dashed and splashed into the water in hilarious ecstasy. Others stood around the edge of the pool, watching and enjoying themselves at the sight. Off to the side, I saw the two women who had unearthed this treasure. They nodded to me as I came near and smiled appreciation and approval to me.

I knew then, I had done the right thing. I ran to join the others in the pool, just as Patrick dove into the water that would renew him.


An epic tale of change – what drives it… and more

Strange Bedfellows - get your copy here
Strange Bedfellows – get your copy here

Everything is going great for Paul and Christina. Their careers are fast-tracking them to success, and their future prospects are excellent. They take what they desire and live life to the fullest. Everyone and everything around them reinforces their entitlement, and they have no reason to question their right to do what they please, when they please, to whomever they please.

But in the blink of an eye, everything they’ve worked so hard for is at risk. What will they do, when a grisly guest appears out of nowhere? Will they have the courage to make the changes necessary to save themselves from a horrible fate they have helped to create?

Strange Bedfellows is a cautionary tale for our times, a retelling of an epic, intricately detailed dream I received in 1992. This is a story of truth and consequence… entitlement and impoverishment… conscious choice and change… and the hazards of being motivated solely by self-centered fear and short-sighted ignorance.

>> Get your copy here  <<

Novels, poetry, essays

… From the artist formerly known as Kay Stoner.

Lots of people change their names. For one reason or another. To turn a new page in their life… to step into a different future. Or just to refine their “personal brand”.

I’m now writing under the name Kay Lorraine. When I used to travel to Paris for work, my name on my hotel reservation always got changed to Kay-Lorraine Stoner, and I liked the sound of it. So, here’s to a new chapter – and an ongoing process of updating my existing books in print to reflect the new change.