Jill and the Beanstalk

When I read old folk tales, particularly ones with a nameless prince, I wonder if these are actually the same characters. Like, is it just the same prince going around rescuing all the distressed princesses? And he has them living in different castles so they don’t know about each other? With Jack and the Beanstalk, I have to think: Is this the same Jack who fell down and broke his crown? If Jill had been with him, she’d have talked some sense into him about not going back up the beanstalk once he stole the goose with the golden egg. You have a goose who lays golden, freakin’ eggs. What more could you want? They’re probably packed with super-protein!

Anyway, here’s my take on Jack and the Beanstalk, inspired by the picture prompt from A Writer’s Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales. Enjoy!


The BeanstalkEvery year, as the head vine weaver of Green Bean Village Lionel was sent on yet another Trek. Every year he hated it. Getting eaten alive by horseflies that defied their name and left alone his raggedy mare, Ginger. Battling dehydration brought on by the intense summer sun that the canyon walls seemed to funnel down to him with glee. Wearing the soles of his shoes so thin that each pebble felt like a dagger between his toes. What a freakin’ honor.

This year, with his little sister Jill tagging along, the Trek was shaping up to be even more miserable.

“Okay, so what’s our game plan?” Jill asked, skipping alongside Ginger as if they didn’t have several hundred miles to walk and she didn’t need to conserve her energy.

“There’s no game plan,” Lionel sighed. “We walk to the next village. We listen to them jabber on about their tactics for growing beanstalks. We teach them ours. We leave the village, everyone knowing that no one has any intention of adopting the same weaving strategy they’ve heard before, and we walk to the next village. Rinse, lather, repeat.”

“Oh come on, that can’t be it,” Jill huffed. She was shuffling backward now, somehow managing to avoid every rock that Lionel clobbered over like a baby learning to walk. “Why go on the Trek if we’re not learning new techniques? Maybe you don’t have a good enough memory. You lecture them and I’ll take notes on their techniques.”

Lionel led Ginger close to the canyon wall where the trees offered small bursts of shade. He made sure to keep her from wandering to close to the jagged rocks. Ginger flicked a tail full of horseflies toward her human and altered her gait so her hooves did not clatter so loud on the overgrown path. Lionel had no need to keep her from wandering. She would hear the canyon crawlers long before he did.

“There’s nothing to take notes on,” Lionel grunted once Jill joined him in the shade. They shuffled over the mossy ground, both eyeing the canyon wall for any sign of movement. “Every village as their own technique for weaving together the vines, each one more ridiculous than the last.”

“You’re our head vine weaver! How can you say that?”

“I do what I have to do to put food on the table, but look around Jill.”

Lionel waved his hand up and down the canyon. What the mile-wide expanse lacked in width, it well made up for in length and height. The North and South ends of the canyon were the stuff of legends. Those who claimed to have reached them invariably carried the air of insanity. Every few miles a village had been founded by intrepid explorers moving farther from the Mother Stalk. Each village specialized in growing a different bean, their strongest, smartest, most creative recruited to cultivate their beans into Daughter Stalks that would grow high over the canyon walls so that one day those living below in the villages crowded by the East-West Walls could climb to freedom in the clouds above!

As for those who attempted to kiss the sky by climbing the infinite height of the walls, only death awaited. And not the kind of merciful death that comes from succumbing to old age or eating a tainted batch of green bean juice or climbing so high that altitude sickness loosened your grip and sent you tumbling to the unforgiving earth below. Death by cave crawlers, the stuff of nightmares. Their nighttime shrieks echoing down the canyon made Jill pray she’d never be unlucky enough to meet one. Those that had and lived also carried with them the air of insanity. As head vine weaver, Lionel was permitted to carry a machete for proper vine shaping. Jill looked that the sharpened, silver blade strapped over his back and gulped. Hopefully it would remain a horticultural tool and not be forced into the arena of weaponry.

“If all the villages put their heads together, we can build a bean stalk that’ll–”

“That’ll go no where!” Lionel snapped. “Look, I know how you feel. When I became head vine weaver, I thought I was going to learn amazing secrets in these other villages, but they never knew anything we didn’t already. There were no secrets to growing the beans any faster or any hardier.”

“But what about all those techniques you brought back?”

“Are the green beans growing better than when we were kids, Jill? No. I make stuff up and hope people don’t catch on and campaign for my dismissal. Although honestly, after I finish the Trek, sometimes I wish I’d get fired.”

“It’ll be different this year!”

“And why will this year be any different than the past ten?”

“Because,” Jill smiled, running ahead of him. “You have me!”

“Hey, not so loud and not so fast! You wanna attract crawlers!”

It was two days before they reached Black Bean Village. Lionel lectured on the Green Bean way. Jill took notes, gushing over how excited she’d be to welcome their head bean keeper again when he set out on his Trek in a month. Lionel rolled his eyes. They moved on.

Azuki Bean Village. Kidney Bean Village. Pinto Bean Village. Soybean Village. The Velvet Bean Outpost. Jill had filled up her notebook and was starting to worry that Lionel was right. None of the techniques she had collected sounded particularly revolutionary in terms of stalk cultivation.

They left the Velvet Bean Outpost scratching like the natives who had never been able to overcome the annoying side effect of their crop sufficiently enough to recruit more residents. Jill returned her notebook to Ginger’s saddle bag with a heart that crammed her chest like a boulder.

“It’s not much longer to the next town,” Lionel announced, “But the sun’ll be passing the canyon soon so if you’d like to make camp–”

“Let’s just keep going,” Jill murmured. They trudged into Rainbow Bean Village, even Ginger’s head hanging low.

“Welcome to our village!” A barefoot woman with wild, grey braids and patchwork clothes approached them with open arms. She was closely followed by a welcome party of similarly styled villages. As they embraced Jill and slid a lei of rainbow beans over her head, she gazed up at their Daughter Stalk. She could have sworn its multicolored bands were pulsing, like it was growing before her very eyes. Well, of course it was growing, but Jill had never seen a stalk progress before. Usually it took months to see a difference of even a few inches.

She allowed the villagers to lead her into its shadow. While marveling at their Stalk’s grand aura, she had forgotten to retrieve her notebook. Their head vine weaver was jabbering on about his technique and she was missing it! Jill flung open the saddle bag but Lionel prevented her from pulling out the notebook.

“Don’t bother,” he whispered through the side of his mouth. “Just smile and nod and we’ll be on our way. We’ll make camp once we get away from these loons.”

“Would you like to see a demonstration?” the Rainbow Bean head vine weaver asked. She motioned for her collective to address the Daughter Stalk. Jill watched with mouth agape as they each popped a different colored bean into their mouths and focused on the Stalk. There was a distinct humming in the air.

“So meditation?” Lionel yawned.

“No, not this year, oh great Green Bean Grower,” the head weaver smiled with a single, gnarled finger raised. “After years of loyal consumption, our rainbow beans have granted us with a most wondrous gift. We call it floratelekensis!”

“Flora…tele…?” Jill mumbled.

“When we eat the beans, we become one with the Daughter Stalk as if she were the Mother Stalk and we are her daughters! With our encouragement the Stalk grows at a rate far superior to all other cultivation methods. Look for yourself!”

Lionel squinted at the Stalk. Although his sister’s gap-mouthed, drool-dribbling awe was a bit excessive, he had to admit he was impressed. He could actually see the Stalk growing.

And he could feel the rumbling.

And hear the shrieking.

Ginger bucked and kicked herself free. Lionel let her run, abandoning his supplies in favor of grabbing his sister. The villagers were already fleeing to their homes as the East/West walls quaked from the coming onslaught of canyon crawlers. Lionel had to drag Jill, with her useless frozen legs, to the nearest house.

“No, sorry, no room!” the villager cried, shoving the sibling out.

“But they’re coming!” Lionel screamed.

“Sorry, we’re all full in here!”

“Get lost! You’re leading them right to us!”

“Lionel, let’s go up the Stalk!” Jill breathed.

She pulled herself away and ran to the kaleidoscope tangle surging into the sky. Lionel followed her more out of duty than actually faith in her plan. Their leis clattered against heaving chests as they scaled the vines. The Stalk bled rainbow chlorophyll each time their nails pierced its delicate flesh.

“This won’t work,” Lionel gulped. He found a spot on a larger vine, settled in and drew his machete. “They’ll climb after us.”

“The vine weavers,” Jill whispered as she pointed to the semi-circle of villagers below. She was gradually growing away from them while they continued their meditative stance, completely oblivious to the coming danger. The vines grew and twisted the siblings around the side of the stalk. The shrieks were intensifying.

When the vine wove them back around, Jill and Lionel could only watch in horror as the crawlers bared down on the transcended villagers below. Jill screamed in silence, her horror skipping over her voice box and plowing through her teeth. The crawlers were all hairy, brown legs and gnashing white teeth. They moved as one body, devouring the villagers who didn’t put up a fight.

“What do we do?” Jill wailed once the crawlers’ path turn up the stalk. Lionel and his thrashing machete could only keep them at bay for so long.

Jill felt the growth of the vines slowing. Then they stopped entirely. She pawed at the lei as the crawlers gathered below her. Lionel was loosing his footing. Knowing they had no other chance of surviving, Jill wrenched the lei from her neck and shoved as many beans as she could into her mouth. She focused her willpower on growing the vine, but only the vine that she and her brother stood on. The crawlers and their vines could suck it.

“What the–?” Lionel dropped his machete and wrapped his arm around the vine as it dislodged from the Stalk. He gawked at Jill, his little sister, riding the freed vine like she’d been born to command plants with her bean-induced telekinetic powers. The vine surged upward. It grew thicker with each passing second until it overtook the Stalk.

The siblings rocketed along. Lionel had tears in his eyes. This was it. The crazy villagers had done it. They had found the solution that would take the Stalks to the clouds. He and Jill would be the first vine weavers to walk among the clouds!

The vine did not slow as it pierced the fluffy white balls of cotton. Lionel and Jill had to shield their eyes from the blinding sun, free and unburdened in its atmospheric home. Jill huddled close to Lionel. She was becoming aware of how difficult it was to breath up in the sky.

“When do you think this’ll stop?” she gasped, and had she waited just a few seconds longer she would have seen there was  no reason to waste her breath. The vine clunked into a solid surface above. Whatever they hit pushed against them, shoving the vine downward a few feet.

Lionel and Jill tumbled off only to be caught in a lower bend of the vine. They scrambled to a flat portion and look up, shielding their eyes to see what they hit. Though they couldn’t quite make sense of what they were looking at, both knew this find may be even greater than the discovery of the psychodelic beans.

“Is that a…?” Jill began.

“It’s a ladder.”

Secrets, Nazis, and Immortality, oh my!

Well, it turns out my approach to Camp NaNoWriMo is exactly the same as my approach to the regular, November edition of NaNoWriMo. Despite all the planning and research I do before the month starts, I inevitably get ‘side-tracked’ with more research in the middle of writing my 50,000 words. Surely I can’t be the only one this happens to?

This month’s project has been bouncing around my brain for a long time, but I’ve never had a chance to sit down and work on it. A central aspect of this story is family, and how the characters view and value their family. There’s a significant rift between the main character’s father and grandfather and the cause has always been a classic/stereotypical ‘Well, G-Dad just doesn’t approve of Dad’s lifestyle.’ So I scheduled three solid hours of writing for today, sat down at my computer, placed my hands on the keyboard, and–! … Realized that stereotype was no longer sufficient. I had to come up with a specific reason why G-Dad doesn’t approve of Dad’s lifestyle. And like all of the great conflicts between father and son, this one involves family secrets, Nazis and immortality!

I love the book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (I swear this is relevant to the previous paragraph, bear with me!). Even though it’s so long (and admittedly tedious with some of the historical scenes…) that many either never attempt to read it or give up half way, I enjoyed it. An alternative reality where wizards exist and are recruited by both sides during the Napoleonic Wars? What’s not to love?!

So in my story, I always knew two things about G-Dad. 1) He fought in WWII, and 2) he doesn’t approve of his son’s choice to become a wizard (although one might argue that you do not choose the lifestyle of wizard, it chooses you!). I decided to flesh out G-Dad’s backstory and got to thinking: What if Hitler and Mussolini had wizards on their side during WWII? Imagine how greater the horrors of war would have been. And then the ideas just kept flowing. Of course G-Dad would be appalled with his son’s decision to become a wizard! He spent years fighting against Hitler’s wizard troops (the Hexenwaffe) and watched them massacre millions of his comrades and innocent civilians! Not to mention what those wand-wielding scumbags did to his beloved! I started typing out a timeline of WWII and the Holocaust, slightly altered as if wizards had been involved in the war, and realized that I no longer had a backstory. G-Dad’s tale had become a beast that could stand on its own apart from my current story.

Looks like I’ve got a project for November!

Family trees are important, yo! Okay, I mostly just wanted a picture in this entry, but isn't it such a nice tree? Would you want to be growing out of one of it's branches?
Family trees are important, yo! Okay, I mostly just wanted a picture in this entry, but isn’t it such a nice tree? Wouldn’t you want to be growing out of one of it’s branches?


Planning or Pantsing?

Question: Do you prefer to meticulous plan your stories ahead of time, or do you just start writing and wait to see what happens?

Over the past year, I’ve become aware of the term ‘pantsing’ as a writing rather than a pranking term. Pantsing, as in flying by the seat of your pants. A lot of people seem to be very adamant pantsers, in that they don’t like to plan out their stories ahead of time and instead prefer to sit down and see what their creative brains puts down to paper. Other people are consummate planners and have every nuance of every scene mapped out before they start writing.

I like to live my life in moderation so as with most things, I’d say I’m a mix of both. For the main story I’m working on now, having a plan is critical. The characters’ lives loop in and out of each other, creating a somewhat complex timeline of events, so I need to know who knows what when, who is where when, etc. So in preparing to write, I made a long timeline that starts well before the story and ends well after the story, just so I can keep track of all the puzzle pieces. However, the planning for each day is very short. It basically consists of “Character X goes to see Character Y and they discuss Problem A.” Sometimes if I think of a brilliant piece of dialogue I’ll include that in that time point, but usually the timeline is fairly bare bones.

And then the magic begins. Once I sit down to actually write the story, I know the order of the events but I don’t necessarily know how they unfold. I often surprise my self with the conversations I come up with or the resolutions to problems that seemed impossible to solve when I was analytically outlining but were cleverly fixed in the creative moment. I guess in that sense, the planning and pantsing is a bit of a left brain, right brain dynamic, and there are benefits and disadvantages to both.

The biggest benefits of having a strictly structured but minimally detailed timeline is that insulates me from writers block. Let’s say the next event in my timeline is a fight between my two main characters, but the words of the fight are just not coming to me. I can look ahead to the future events I’ll need to write and see what strikes me. Maybe I’m really feeling that tragic death scene; I can skip to that and leave the fight to fill in later.

Anyone else have strong thoughts on planning or pantsing?

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo

Against my better judgement, I just committed myself to writing 50,000 creative words in July. Originally I’d planned to use Camp NaNoWriMo‘s more flexible format to commit to writing my thesis (on disproportional discipline in special education, woot!), but I’m already committed to doing that this summer by virtue of being in grad school. For some reason, I thought it would be good to challenge myself with TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WRITING PROJECTS. YAY!

Years ago a friend told me about November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and every year since I’ve gleefully toiled away on my creative writing projects during one of the craziest months of the school year. Only once have I neither been in school nor teaching during NaNoWriMo, so it’s always been an adventure to find the time to write. I wanted to give Camp NaNo a try in case July turns out to be a better time of the year, and I can’t compare my work in July to my work in November if I’m not writing something comparable (i.e. not my thesis, important though it is).

In some ways this comes at a great time. I’m currently polishing a novel I wrote years ago. With older more mature/experienced/whatever eyes, I’ve really improved the story. Unfortunately, those improvements have added length and what was in its very first draft a manageable 120,000 words is now around 180,000 words… Some people have suggested splitting it into two books, which would make sense. Except that I’ve formatted the story in such a way that I strongly feel splitting it would ultimately be a disservice to the narrative. At the same time, when I went through and butchered   removed everything I could do without and left only story essentials, the word count was still around 130,000 of a less interesting and nuanced story.

So I’m going to spend Camp NaNo writing the sequel that I’d always planned to see if it illuminates a clearer path for me. I imagine it will most likely just make things more confusing, but maybe after I write it I’ll finally accept that splitting what I already have into two stories is the right way to go.

It occurs to me as I write this that I should share a little something about the plot of the 180,000 word beast. I keep hearing that it’s important for writers interested in publishing to get the word out about their stories before they go to publish. Since I’m serious about publishing it, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to get my story out there and gauge interest. I’ve seen other people’s blogs have pages specifically for their works, so I should look into setting one of those up.

Mood #5: Wonder

Only one mood left: Grab Bag! I’ll have to think of something good.


Canyon Lake, Thailand


The kayak drifted steadily through the lake corridor as if it too were surveying the scene with childlike eyes. She stood on the wooden seat, not noticing how she made her craft sway as she took in the nature around her. Although the water was the same green as bottle glass, it offered far more wonders below its crystalline surface. Schools of fish with scales flashing like precious gems swam along her kayak. She followed them out into the water marveled at the way the forest seemed to defy the canyon ahead. The break in the mountains was no impasse. Mother Nature’s indomitable spirit sent her flora scampering down the canyon walls as if the gorge were flat earth. Their flourishing leaves swayed in the gentle wind, beckoning her deeper into the jungle.

The rough grooves in the canyon walls looked like fingerprints that if pressed to the earth would illuminate the stories of this valley. Her mind floated over the secrets the ancient eyes of the rockfaces might keep, and their imagined splendor ensnared her breath.  How  many legions of explorers had, like her, filled their boats with all the goods  necessary for civilized survival before setting off into the vibrant wilderness? How many had come to the realization now dancing with the sunlight across the lake surface: everything she needed for survival was already here. It had been here for ages before she arrived and it would endure for ages after she passed through. All the gear and fancy gadgets she’d stuffed in her bags would only serve as technological barriers, separating her from the peace of mind offered here free of charge.