Tell Me a Story: Part 3

For those who have been following along, the question at the end of Part 2 was whether a third character should narrate the story.

And the story so far: King Felipe promised to marry the Duchess Josefa if she bore him a son. But he betrays her and marries another. Josefa, duchess and witch, stays pregnant for nine years, maliciously keeping the King’s son from him. But when the Queen dies and the King once again plans to marry another, Josefa gives birth to a magical, evil child. Prince of the Black Heart.

To revenge his mother’s honor, Prince Severiano travels to the capital where Felipe’s wedding to the foreign princess is taking place. Accompanying him is my potential narrator, the giant Marquez.

If Marquez is to tell this story, he has to have some stake in how it ends. He also needs his own character arc.

As a young giant, he promised the Duke of Fontanár that he’d guard Josefa, then a child, with his body and soul. To keep that promise, he’s committed all sorts of heinous acts, including the murders of the king’s messengers. The story might begin with Marquez murdering the ninth of nine messengers, cleaving him from crown to groin with his broadsword.

He’s a giant, after all.

It’s the end that’s giving me fits. Josefa has a change of heart and arrives at the wedding in time to–what? Save the king? Or would it be better if Severiano kills the king? Save the foreign princess? That unfortunate young woman’s only purpose in the story is to die.

No, for this to work, Josefa arrives in time to destroy her son before he murders the sole remaining royal, the king’s daughter by his first wife. The princess becomes Queen of Talavera.

In destroying Severiano, Josefa destroys herself.

I dunno. It seems a bit of a snarl to me. Marquez as observer-narrator doesn’t really work. He may be horrified by events, but does he change?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Bagworms and Cottonwood Borers Begone

I stumbled on Environmental Tree and Pest Solutions via Next Door. Looking at their website, I especially liked their focus on protecting the planet.

Here is Lauren, spraying the cottonwoods for borers on a day with little wind, and therefore not a lot of overspray. She’ll be back later this evening to help with the evergreen bagworms–I have one tree affected. She’ll also be treating my apple trees for leaf rust.

Sadly, in the last storm, one of the Granny Smith trees fell over. When I looked at the roots I found it had virtually none. Something’s been eating it, and so onto the burn pile it went. It’s hard to give up on a two-year old tree, but in this case, I think it’s better to just start over.

Here’s hoping our pests are a thing of the past–or at least till next spring–with little impact on the birds and the bees.

Partly Cloudy Sunday

Early Sunday morning. Found this leaf in the yard and asked, “Is it fall?”

Well no, technically not. Fall is arriving in approximately thirty-four days. It’s still summer, still August, and supposed to be still hot. But it’s not. We’ve had storms every night of the past three, and mornings have been cloudy and cool.

Once the sun burns through the clouds, though, it’s summer again, hot and steamy. So while fall garden clean-up has started, I work only early and retreat to air-conditioned comfort in the afternoon.

Those readers who follow my Monday gardening posts will be saddened to know that I do indeed have both bag worms and cottonwood borers. I’ll be posting the “fix” on Monday, weather permitting. And if the weather is bad, the blog will be delayed.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying this foretaste of my favorite season and sitting on my hands to avoid pulling out the Halloween decorations. Hope it doesn’t turn unseasonably warm in September.


Tell Me a Story-Part 2

Last week, I started thinking about Duchess Josefa of Fontanár, betrayed by King Felipe of Talavera. He promised her marriage. She slept with him and is pregnant with a son. He married another. Oops. That’s the beginning of the story.

The duchess is also a witch—bruja—and for revenge, she stays pregnant for nine years, withholding Felipe’s son. This is officially the start of the story’s middle. For things to move forward, someone has to act to change the status quo.

Felipe has been married to the wrong woman—in other words, someone not Josefa—for nine years. He has a nine-year-old daughter but no sons.  His queen dies and Josefa thinks, “Aha, now he will marry me, and I’ll give him his son.” She prepares to give birth.

But no. Felipe—let’s say for political reasons—has decided to marry the much younger princess of a foreign land. Do we need to know her name? Hmm. Depends on the length of the story and the princess’ role in it. For now, let’s call her the princess. As part of the wedding preparations, Felipe sends to Fontanár with a message. “My son must attend my wedding.”

Now, Josefa has a choice. She can continue the pregnancy or go through with the birth. This nine-year pregnancy, like all magic, has a cost. The baby is eating Josefa’s life force. She can’t live and stay pregnant. So she has the child, and what a hateful, awful, terrifying child he is.

Not surprisingly since it’s magic, Severiano goes from birth to nine-years old within a few weeks. Learning about his mother’s desire for revenge against his father, Severiano decides to go to the wedding and kill his father the King.

Rush to the end. Josefa realizes the evil she’s done. She has a change of heart. Hastening to follow Severiano to the palace, she arrives just in time.

The wedding is in progress. Severiano has already killed the princess, her bloody body is draped over the chancel rail. He has his arrow pointed at Felipe, ready to do the deed.

But here’s my quandary. Does Josefa destroy Severiano and save Felipe? Does Josefa arrive that single moment too late and Felipe is already dead? Does Josefa destroy Severiano and in killing her own son, destroy herself?

It seems inevitable to me that Josefa and Severiano die together. But then, whose story is this? Certainly not Felipe’s. First he’s unlikeable as the betrayer of an innocent woman. Second, he doesn’t appear in the story at all until his life is in danger.

No. The transformative moment belongs to Josefa. She is the main character.

Except. There’s that old adage: dead men tell no tales. Okay, in this case, dead women.

Maybe what I need is another character, someone sympathetic, someone who always tries to do what’s right, someone with enough skin in the game that it matters what happens to him. Or her.

Sigh. I have another week of thinking in front of me. Meanwhile, all comments welcome.

Cottonwood Borers

Do I/don’t I have borers in this cottonwood tree?

According to my Google research, the cottonwood borer is a longhorn beetle, Plectrodera scalator found east of the Rocky Mountains. Well, that’s Kansas. Problem is, looking at the photos of this beetle, it’s both large (inch and a half long) and distinctive, having a white body with black striations. I’ve never seen one. Promise.

Meanwhile, between the caterpillar chewing on my sweet gum tree, this cottonwood, and a Eastern Red Cedar that looks to have bagworms, I’ve called in an expert tree pest person. Arriving Friday to give me a bid. So it’s another cliffhanger today.

But here’s the backstory on this cottonwood. Seven years ago, I planted five cotton-less cottonwood trees. I needed a nice-enough tree that was also a fast grower. And for the first five years, all was well.

And then, one dark and stormy night, a deer stomped through my yard, stopping to rub itself against the bark of one of the cottonwoods. Resulting in damage to the bark, shown in the following photo.

Wowzer. I think this damage gave invitation to the borers, a little like inviting a vampire into one’s home. Please come in and drink my blood, said the tree.

If I lose this cottonwood to borers, I’ll plant a slow-growing, hardwood tree instead. A white oak or a sawtooth oak. What’s the saying? Planting a tree is a gift to future generations.

Rainy Sunday

The morning started with rain and thunder, and so far, we’ve had a quarter inch of rain. Lucky, Jim mowed yesterday, so the yard at least looks good.

If it would rain an inch every weekend from now until–say–October 1, I wouldn’t have to haul hose and buckets. That’d be good.

The chrysanthemums and Autumn Joy sedum are in bloom. It looks like I’ve successfully eliminated the balsam that reseeded every year. Now, all I have to worry about are the trees, one of which looks like it has borers. More on that tomorrow.

Just hanging out, waiting for Fall.

Tell Me a Story

For me, stories start with a premise. It might be a concept or an image or even a title. The premise might be compelling or intriguing or even stunning. But I know that the premise–no matter how intriguing–is a necessary but insufficient ingredient in telling a story.

I’ve been reading about “how to write stories” for most of my life. The first thing I ever read–sitting in the middle of the Montclair Public Library at age twelve–was this. Stories need a beginning, a middle and an end.

Okay, but what exactly does that mean? I had no clue at age twelve. I have a better idea today, although it’s still–always–a struggle.

For example. I have this great idea about a witch betrayed by a king. He promised her marriage. She’s pregnant with his son, so when he marries another, she stays pregnant. For nine years.

But where’s the story? Maybe the beginning is implied in the premise, but then what? There’s not much story (conflict, try-fail, transformation) in staying pregnant for nine years.

But what if the king sends an annual “give me my son” message? And what if every year, the witch kills the messenger? The witch hates and someone has to pay. There’s conflict in that. And the king is surely in a try-fail cycle.

But then, whose story is this? The witch? And yes, let’s give her a name. Writing “witch” and using pronouns is likely to lead to problems, including way too much narrative distance. She’s Josefa, the Duchess of Fontanár, and once she was beautiful enough to attract the King Felipe of Talavera. The names give me both characters and setting.

If this is Josefa’s story, maybe the question is when–and why–does she decide to give birth? What is the trigger to move the story forward?

King Felipe’s first wife has died and he’s marrying again. Josefa’s angry and awfully uncomfortable after nine pregnant years. The little bastard prince–call him Severiano–is born with teeth and hair and knowing how to talk, saying, “I am my mother’s black heart.” Actually, there might be a good title in that bit of dialog. Prince of the Black Heart.

Okay, but here’s that pesky question again. Whose story is this? Josefa’s or Felipe’s or Severiano’s? Where does it start? What happens in the middle? And most important, where will it end?

I’m still not sure I know. So really, all I have is a premise, some names, a tiny bit of plot, maybe a title. I’ll have to let the rest percolate in my unconsciousness until I know whose story this is. Once I know, the rest may follow.

I’ll think about it this week and will try to let you know–in true cliffhanger fashion– next Thursday. Comments and fresh ideas are always welcome!