Archive for April, 2010

Fledgling Heron photo Michael C. Hamilton


     My little heron shapeshifter revealed his name to me while I was loading the dishwasher last night. You see, I don’t feel that I create the characters in my stories. It’s more like they reveal themselves to me, as a new friend would.

     My new friend, Tahoma, was born along the Black River in Renton, Washington. His shapeshifting ability is a dormant gene he inherited from his Duwamish ancestors. This made me curious about the Duwamish people. Who are they? What were their lives like on the river banks? All these questions led me to the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in Seattle. www.duwamishtribe.org

     A traditional longhouse is a post and beam structure made of cedar. Cedar was an amazing element used for a variety of items including clothing and baskets and longhouses. The Native peoples lived in harmony with the environment. They didn’t believe that they ruled over the rivers, animals, or forest on the earth. Rather, they knew that everything including the people belonged to the earth. Everything is connected.

photo by Maryellen Brady

     The cultural center has a museum of artifacts, gallery, and the Tribal Office. A map of historical longhouse sites on the wall of the museum caught my eye before I ended my visit. The Duwamish ceded 54,700 acres of land, among them, there was a location named SKY-taw. The name came from a supernatural creature who lived at the bottom of the Black River. Music to a fantasy writer’s ears! But, it makes me wonder, am I creating this story or am I discovering it?


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   Creating a beautiful piece of fiction is like steeping the perfect cup of tea. You need to trust in the blend of tea leaves and have patience as it steeps in the hot water. Non-fiction writing, however, freezes the ink in my pen. Whenever blogs come up in a conversation, I politely smile and nod. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that blogs are wonderful tools for a writer. You can capture a new reader, cultivate a following, and market your new story. But they are non-fiction creations. Not exactly my cup of tea, but my muse insisted that if I wish to gain a reputation as a fantasy writer, I must start to blog.

I signed up on WordPress and gave myself a deadline of April 20th, 2010; a tribute to my grandmother’s birthday. She is the guilty party that began my addiction to books and the art of good storytelling. The next course of action was to make a cup of tea.

A few days passed, and I faced my fear down and wrote a few first drafts on paper. Unfortunately, they each sounded like a stiff 4th grade essay on ‘What I did on my Summer Vacation’. It was like pulling teeth. In fact, at this point, a trip to the dentist sounded like more fun. The first drafts were shoved into my top desk drawer and I moved on to a fiction project. I was aware I need to trust the words would flow for the blog.

My friend, Beth, invited me to visit a wetlands that hosted a group of nesting herons nearby. The prospect of hiking in the fresh air and using my camera energized me. The writer in me hopped on the internet to research the area and the herons. I poured over a beautiful website that values and honors the Great Blue Herons and The Black River Riparian Forest. http://heronsforever.org.

Great Blue Herons are magnificent birds standing 4 feet tall with a wing span up to 6 feet. Surprisingly they weigh less than 8 pounds. Long graceful legs are used to wade through the wetlands to fish. Frogs and snakes are on the summer menu as well. My research also revealed that the Native Americans, Duwamish peoples, lived along the Black River for centuries until around 1916. This is when the Lake Washington Ship Canal was opened and the Black River dried up. I bundled up all this research, secured it with a silk ribbon and tucked it away in the corners of my mind

Sunshine warmed the day of our trip to the Black River site. Cedar chips lined the path through the brush and down towards the wetlands. I moved towards a clearing and glanced over the water. At the water’s edge I found a blue heron perched on a log. His blue-gray plumage mingled with the muted shade of gray-green lowland brush. My eyes scanned the trees until I spotted another a few feet higher. The cottonwoods towering above us had just started to leaf, concealing the nests. A few wood ducks and Canadian geese lazily swam by as I continued to be mesmerized by the herons. Bonnie and Clyde, a pair of nesting bald eagles circled high above the cottonwoods. It was difficult to believe I was standing moments away from a crowded shopping mall and a business park. Fresh spring air and silence enveloped me as I soaked it all in. The reality of the moment mingled with the research I had bundled in my mind.

The following day I attempted to write another draft of my first blog post. I wanted to convey the heron’s beauty and all the emotions dancing in my heart. The words remained stiff. Trust and Patience.

Hopefully the words would flow in my writing meditation group hosted by Linda Zeppa. Her group meets on Tuesday evenings. Linda begins each session with a guided relaxation and meditation. Afterwards, the members begin to free write. That evening, Linda’s voice instructed me to zip up all my worries and concerns in a backpack and leave it by a large tree and then enter the forest. Her voice faded as I entered a vivid dream state. I was falling from a nest, tumbling down. I could feel the air skid over my body. Linda’s voice found me in the forest and invited me back into the meditation room. Had 20 minutes passed already? The group slowly reached for pens and paper to begin writing. My hands couldn’t move fast enough. When everyone in the group had finished writing, we took turns reading whatever spilled out on our papers. This is what my pen spilled.

Tail over head, falling. Air zipping by. Tuck and roll, tuck and roll. Splash. I’m head first into muddy water. I shake it off and gasp for a breath but the air is stalled. Eagle talons hurtling straight for me. I hold my breath and squeeze my eyes shut in terror. I see a bright white light but no pain. Am I in shock? Dead? There isn’t any pain, but my body is tingly.  I open my eyes and see thousands of stars in the sky. Straight up in the towering cottonwoods I see my nest. The nest my bully big brother pushed me out of. I looked down and scanned my body for injury. Why do I have 10 talons? Why are they fat and pudgy? Hold on, this is wrong. I wiggled my talons. Yep, those pudgy things are mine. I scanned further up and my legs appeared thick and pink. Very thick and whoa…Holy fluff and feathers! Is that mine too? Guess I’m not the littlest brother in the nest any longer. I tried to preen my feathers but I was bald and shivering in the cold air. Can my day get any worse?


These meditation sessions always bring me amazing gems for fiction writing. I adore getting consumed in my character’s life. I unconsciously added my vision to my bundle and re-secured the silk ribbon. I made another attempt at non fiction that evening when I got home. Not even a heavenly cup of jasmine tea would coax the words to flow so I went to bed.

2 A. M. and the bundle with the silk ribbon jostles me from my dreams. It has steeped long enough and is ready to reveal its special brew; the hook for a magical young adult fantasy. The baby bird falling from the nest is a heron fledgling. The fear as the eagle approaches triggers a dormant shape shifting ability inherited from the Native Americans. A morsel of information simmers to the surface. This heron colony is special. They do not migrate. In fact they have a new group name, Coastal or Pacific Heron, the fannini subspecies . My mind shouts out, Duh! They are Native American shape shifters. Why would they migrate? Details are nestling into place. My shapeshifting heron is now a 15-year-old boy. Another morsel bubbles up to the surface. My friend Elaine, made a comment in a conversation about Young Adult Fantasy being a hot ticket for a fantasy writer. I hadn’t even realized I had tucked that into my bundle.

This story has me buzzing with energy. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

April 20th has arrived and the trust and patience I had in the word flow brought me a new fantasy story and somehow to the end to my first blog post. Now I think I will celebrate with a cup of tea.

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