On Writing Fiction

Storytelling is as old as the hills, and storytellers are masters of shifting time and space and consciousness at will. Fiction takes the reader somewhere else, somewhen else, and weaves the the characters' lifelines in different tapestries, some eerily familiar and some patently not. As a fiction writer, I find my characters can surprise me; they have something to say, and a way they wish to say it, sometimes something they wish to teach. There are days I don’t recognize my own writing, as if someone else has wrestled the pen from my grasp and had their way, creating work for which I cannot claim credit. I don't always know who is writing, only that it is my fingers on the keyboard. Suffice to say, that hasn't stopped me yet.

The Three Sacred Pools

by Jesse Devyn Crowe, chapter excerpt from The Journeyer's Journal, a novel

Morning sunshine flooded the ravine, shimmering across the water’s surface and gilding each ripple with silver. Seated atop a flat granite boulder, Janny closed her eyes to better listen to the small trickling waterfall, taking a simple pleasure in the soothing sound. Something about this spot always made her feel energized. Renewed. Revitalized. Sitting with the waterfall seemed to cleanse the worries from her mind and leave her thoughts calm and quiet—a rare and precious freedom she’d almost forgotten.

Soft mist tickled her upturned face, while redwoods danced in the wind high above the canyon walls. She sank into the sound of rushing water, finding a deep satisfaction in simply being. Pulling her long braid over her shoulder she smiled, deeply glad she and Naomi had made the trip up valley. She hadn’t realized how much she needed to get away from town, escape the mundane day-to-day hassles, spend a moment not working or studying. As Naomi described it: to be a human being, not a human doing or—in Janny’s case—thinking. Janny couldn’t seem to help it, her mind whirred incessantly: research papers, song lyrics, poems and short story ideas, all mixed together 24/7. If only she could speed-think her way through her freshman college classes and into grad school, and skip all the unpleasant in-between crap like figuring out how to pay rent, buy a car, and pad her savings account with enough money to spend the summer in New Hampshire. There’s an order for the cosmic kitchen, she thought, reaching down to trail her fingers in the cool water.

Naomi and Janny had christened Morgan Creek Canyon the “Three Sacred Pools” – because, as Naomi reasoned, a place so peaceful and beautiful had to be sacred. The waterway cascaded over a series of falls—sometimes trickles, sometimes torrents, depending on the season. Where Janny sat, the creek cut deeply into the earth, bay trees perched precariously on a steep incline, sword ferns at their feet. Behind the waterfall, the cliff face was covered with emerald moss. Small licorice ferns, finding purchase between cracks in the rock face, danced in the mist. Climbing down to the pool at the foot of the falls was slippery work, more treacherous yet to trek back up the opposite side, clinging to tree roots and vine maple branches. As a result, many hikers didn’t even know these falls existed; most simply followed the worn deer track up to the popular hilltop lookout, never venturing off the path.

Janny waved to Naomi, who paused to catch her breath along the steep-sided trail. Waving in return, her friend crested the hill on her way further up the creek. As the dark curls dipped out of sight, Janny made herself comfortable atop the boulder, adjusting the day pack under her head and positioning her shoulders to meld with the rock surface. She bent her knees to place her feet flat, arms resting by her side, palms up. Remembering Naomi’s instructions, she began to breathe: inhale long and deep, hold for a count, exhale, hold for a count. She imagined roots growing into the earth from the soles of her feet. This was why she’d come, to leave the world behind, and find an afternoon of peace amidst the whirlwind of her life. Naomi would collect her for the hike back on her way down the canyon.

The smell of clean mist and bay trees drifted on the soft breeze. She stopped all thoughts of the past or future, focusing only on the present moment, the simplicity of the breath. Whenever her mind wandered, she coaxed it back, dismissing whatever diversion she’d chased and refocusing: inhale longer and deeper, hold for a count, exhale fully, hold again. The world faded away, leaving only the sound of waterfall, wind, and breath. The rushing stream beckoned her, as if she were part of the water itself, flowing gently on the surface, yet calm, centered, and sure deep within: floating, like a leaf on the pool, nowhere special she had to be, nothing pressing to jump up and do.

The wind seemed to shift and Janny suddenly found herself standing atop the boulder, facing the waterfall without moving a muscle. The sun was higher now, creating double rainbows in the mist. Her own body lay peacefully sleeping at her feet, long legs stretched comfortably across the boulder’s face, thick eyelashes resting atop blushed cheeks, the C-shaped scar that bisected her left eyebrow almost luminescent in the bright sunshine. Her dark braid trailed across the shoulder of her muslin peasant blouse, curving across her chest and ending in a twist of leather thong decorated with white shell beads. Before she could spare a thought as to how she could be both lying there asleep and upright and awake at the same time, her breath caught: a woman was standing beside the waterfall.

Wearing a crimson renaissance-style dress with ribbon ties up the front, bell-shaped sleeves, and lace trimming the hem, the woman seemed terribly out of place, as if she belonged in another century. To say the woman was beautiful would have been an understatement. She was exquisite, almost queenly, with a wildness in her manner that promised a headstrong and passionate spirit. Atop her auburn hair, she wore a gold circlet, a quarter moon shape on her forehead. In her left hand, she clasped a single long-stemmed red rose, just a bud. Her right hand gripped a carved wooden staff resplendent with inlaid stones and topped with a clear quartz crystal. On the woman's right shoulder sat a tiny hummingbird, green and gold and ruby colors shining in a shaft of sunlight. Staring at Janny intently with eyes the color of cinnamon earth, the queenly woman held out the rose. Oddly, she beckoned Janny to come closer, then began speaking, her lilting voice like a familiar song, although Janny couldn’t grasp any of the words. Janny’s mind fumbled for an explanation, but all she heard was Naomi’s faraway voice.

“Wake up, sleepy head.”

Jesse Devyn Crowe