Nebula Dreams: A Poem

Lids fight the trumpeting

blare in predawn

Longing for a return

To Hypnos’s arms

That place

Of twilight

Where stars and nebula

Inhabit the id

And quasars

Forever pulse

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Hollow Stare: An Excerpt

Last night Ronny was the worst I’d ever seen. I mean he could be bad, a couple punches here and there but it usually was over in less than a minute. And in the last year he’d only been really rough with Mom three times, four? I’d got a couple black eyes but only after getting in trouble or yelling that he couldn’t tell me what to do.

But he’d never gone after all of us like that.

When the sounds woke me around midnight, I knew right away what they were. I’d heard crashes like that ever since Mom’d married Ronny. I used to cover my ears, waiting for it to be over so I could steal into the hall bathroom to soak a washcloth with cold water. Then when Mom came in and closed the door behind her, I could dab at her face or shoulder.

“A call at my office? Why can’t you do your fucking job?” Ronny’s voice came through the door.

“She’s just confused.”

“No, she’s a drugged-out whore!”

The office school called Ronny about the rally? Shit. Why did I trip at school?

“Shut-up, asshole!

“Don’t tell me what to do, you fucking bitch.”

I heard muffled rumbling and a slam. Mom’s cry. “Fuck you!”

I started to cover my ears but then a thump and another slam jolted me out of bed. I peeked through the door crack at the darkened hallway. At the end something was shaking.

I knew what it was. But still headed toward it. Cocked a futile ear. It didn’t stop.

My insides turned to water. Swallowing hard, I clutched my gut and inched forward.

Kyle was already in the hallway by the time I got to the master bedroom. With his door right across from theirs, it must have been even louder to him. His eyes were Night of the Living Dead dark circles begging me to do something.

“Bitch!” Another crash.

I pushed Kyle behind me and knocked on their door.

Another thud. Followed by a muffled cry. Mom’s voice.

Knocked louder.

The door stayed closed.

I glanced back at my baby brother who was clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked even smaller than he had a moment before. I blinked, wondering if fourteen-year old’s could shrink.

Work brain.

Setting my jaw, I pounded. Still no response. Kicked at the door. Kyle came up by my side and joined me. We hammered so hard I was sure we’d soon splinter wood, a desperate rhythm that no composer would ever use.

Another whimper came from inside.

I jiggled the knob. Locked. Yanked harder. Pushed Kyle out of the way and ran for the door.

And fell into Ronnie’s gut.

He only stared for a moment before grabbing me by the hair. As he swung me in an arc, he screeched, “Go the fuck to bed!”

My back hit the wall and I fell to my knees.

A screaming Kyle leapt at Ronnie and wrapped both arms and legs around his torso like one of those sad monkeys in science experiments. “Leave-them- alone!” he said through clenched teeth.

Ronny backed up smashing Kyle into the wall. My baby brother unclenched his jaw and released his grip.

When he slid down to the floor, I thought Ronnie would stop for sure. He never went after Kyle. It was like Kyle had this special glow to him, heavenly angel or superstar spotlight or something. And he did stop for a sec. Kind of stared confused at his son.

Then his eyes went red. I knew what was next and started to crawl forward.

But was too late.

By the time I reached Kyle, Ronnie had already lifted him over his head and tossed him back toward his room. Kyle bounced off the bed, a weird circus act. He landed on the floor with a sickening crunch.  And did not move.

“Kyle?” I croaked pushing past Ronnie toward the crumpled heap that was my brother.

His arm was twisted in a weird position and his breath came in short gasps. It sounded like his lungs had shriveled and now could barely hold air. I reached out and pet his hair.

“Joy?”

“Yeah.”

“It hurts.”

I swallowed a big lump in my throat. “Sorry.”

“Look at what you did,” Ronnie growled. “Should have left well enough alone.” He kneeled and reached out, but Kyle shrunk from his grasp.

Mom appeared, loose bathrobe belt dragging on the ground. I didn’t dare look at her face. “Baby?”

“Mom.” Kyle stretched his good hand toward her.

She squeezed it then ran her fingers over his forearm. He cried out. “It’s broken,” she said in a distant voice. “But it’ll be okay. We’ll get you to the doctor.”

Only now did I look at her. Disheveled hair. Split lip. Right eye almost swollen shut. She couldn’t go out like that.

“Get your keys, Ronnie. We gotta go to the hospital.” The words didn’t seem to come from my mouth but from some stranger wearing my face as a mask.

While Mom wrapped Kyle’s shoulders in the baby blanket he’d had since he was little, I ran to my room and threw on some jeans and a tee.

Cradling his arm, Mom led my sobbing little brother toward the car and onto the velvet back seat. Then she just stood there, hands extended.

“I’ll take care of him. I got this, okay?” I gently unclenched Mom’s hand from under Kyle’s arm and got in beside him.

Mom’s good eye was a hollow socket as she closed the door.

Ronny said nothing but turned the ignition and pulled out of the garage slower than coagulating blood.

During the silent ride to the hospital, Kyle kept his eyes closed against the pain while I stared at the little trucks and cars on the faded blankie. They dipped and bobbed with each hollow in the road as if trying to drive off the blanket. I watched one and imagined that it escaped the fabric and rolled out the window.

Toward the twinkling lights of some distant and empty street.  

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net 

Rubescent Jewels: A Novel Excerpt

Now that I’m a senior, you’d think my family would acknowledge something good about me, but I’ve slowly been turning invisible. Not like in comic books or old black and white movies on Sunday afternoon but the kind where people seem to look through me. When I walk into the living room Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence but keeps her eyes fixed on that one spot in the wall. The hole we don’t talk about.

The one that’s all my fault.

Oh, I know. I fucked up. Shouldn’t have messed up Kourtney’s purse. But imagine what would have happen if she told everyone I was in her gang? Then I’d be beyond outcast, part of a freakizoid group.

Hell, I was barely clinging to Lisa’s friendship. She’d already been asked to three parties this year. Once right in front of me. I stared into the chick’s back and pulled on a stray thread unraveling from my t-shirt while waiting to hear, “Joy, you can go too.”

She just walked away.

One late Tuesday I got back from Lisa’s to find Kyle on his belly watching Superfriends on T.V. Even though I walked right in front of him half-blocking his view he kept his jaw in his hands. He didn’t even whine to Mom.

She was slumped in the club chair staring off into space.

I glanced from one to other, before trudging down the hall to drop off my books and binder. When I came in again both were still transfixed on other places. I opened my mouth to say, “Hello? I’m here. Do you see me?” when I noticed the shattered glass on the kitchen floor. I tiptoed toward it wondering why Mom hadn’t cleaned it up yet.

When anyone has dropped something, she was usually so quick to sweep up the broken shards you’d think a flash of lightning had just passed over the floor. When I say anyone, I mean me.  As Ronny always pointed out, I’m the clumsy one in the family. As if I didn’t know.

The glass was spread all over the floor. The quatrefoil pattern (Mom taught me that phrase for four-leafed when she picked out the avocado green linoleum) now looked like it was covered with jewels. For a moment I was transfixed by the beauty of rough-cut diamonds shining on four-leaf clovers.

Then I noticed a ruby amongst all those clear diamonds. I reached down to touch it and realized it wasn’t a piece of red glass but a droplet of blood. Recoiling, I pulled my hand back to see three more stains on the beautiful tableau, a trail of red flowers leading to the sink.

 Don’t look. I curled my hands into fists and stepped closer. There in the sink Mom scrubs daily until it sparkles like yellow daisies was a towel blooming blood.

I wasn’t high but my brain felt foggy when I turned back to Mom. She wasn’t just slumped but hunched over clutching her gauze wrapped forearm.

“Mom, you okay?”

She didn’t answer but kept staring at the hole in the wall. I knelt at her feet and touched her arm just above the bandage. She didn’t so much as flinch. Gently placing a hand over hers, I uncurled the clenched fingers from around her arm. A rose stain the size of my fist lay in the center of the cloth.

My heart fluttered. Red was a new color. Black and blue I was used to. Black and blue you could hide with make-up. Black and blue stays beneath.  But this…

“Mom?” I waited long seconds, but her eyes remain fixed and staring. After rewrapping her fingers around the bleeding arm, I strode into the living room.

I bent down next to Kyle. “What happened?”

Even at thirteen he knew enough to put a finger to his lips before pointing toward his room. My head a jumble, I trailed after him dreading what I’d hear. Once we were safely behind a closed door, he whispered that Ronny’s drink tasted bad so he threw it on the floor.

“Mom didn’t make it right,” he explained.

I give him an exasperated look but didn’t argue. He was always making excuses for his father. “Then what?”

“He told her to clean it up, well started to make her…” His voice trailed off.

“With his fists?”

“He didn’t mean it. He was just trying to get her to do it right.” Kyle jut out his lower lip and hugged himself.

There was no point explaining. Kyle would make this what he needed to.

With a sigh, I trudged back past my silent Mom toward the kitchen where I got out the broom and dustbin. Then, using my thumb and forefinger, I picked up four large pieces. Clunk. They thudded against the plastic trash bottom. Now you couldn’t even tell what had shattered on the floor. As I grasped the broom handle and dragged it across the floor, I understood why Mom always cleaned so quickly. Every pass of the brush erased some part of the story.

Sweep, sweep. The glass no longer sprawled in rubescent disarray but sparkled in piles. Brush. Swish. More of the quatrefoil pattern returned to its soft green.

The tinkling pieces cascaded into the trash like pebbles in a dying stream, yet the bristles kept seeking more fragments. I swept each corner, once twice, three times until every sliver was lying on the bottom of the plastic liner.

Soon the only reminder was the blood. Fucking smears on the linoleum garden. I ripped off a few paper towels and threw them on the floor. Then I stepped on the pile with both feet hoping that would soak up the stain. Still there. Shit.

With more urgency I grabbed another wad and moistened it. Get rid of it, now. I began rubbing like Hell to mop it up, but multiple strokes did little more than turn spots into blotches. I tossed a few bloody towels into the trash.

Began again.

Why the fucking stains wouldn’t disappear was beyond me. No matter how hard I scrubbed and scoured the smears remained. Without any help. Cartoons blared. Kyle kept his back to the kitchen. Mom’s gaze remained on the hole

Then I realized the stains were gone. Had been for several minutes. I hurled the last of the sopping pink towels in the plastic bag and tied it in a tight knot. This I carried to the outside bins. Slammed the lid shut.

When I returned to the living room everyone was gone.

Leaving me to float in silence like the invisible girl I was becoming.

shsadow

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

Love’s Beginning: A Memory

I met my  ex-husband in a college astronomy class and from the first moment I saw him, was mesmerized. It was a night class, so one evening  we went out to coffee after. We talked for hours! Debating politics. Sharing stories. Laughing. Getting a little angry. His mind was so intriguing.

Within two weeks we were spending most of our days together. It was beautiful beyond compare.  I was infatuated but wasn’t sure he was the one until Spring Break when we went backpacking in Big Sur.

It was a cloudy day but we weren’t worried. The weather reports were clear. So we set off hiking the mountain. Then is started to rain. And rain. Continuing in a steady stream all afternoon. By the time we got to camp, we were shivering and exhausted. Still we made a fire, warmed our soup, and set up our little pup tent. Around dark, we had a break in the storm and were hopeful that  we could continue with the rest of the trip.

But nature had other plans. In the middle of the night we woke to the pattering of rain on canvas and a full-on stream flowing between our sleeping bags!  Now I was  scared. I read a lot about the dangers of hypothermia and how this insidious condition can be life threatening. So we crawled in the same bag and fought to keep each other warm.

In the morning it was still raining so we decided to hike back to the van. When we got there, it wouldn’t start.

David didn’t cuss or punch metal. Didn’t stomp his feet and fume. Instead, he said, “The alternator’s wet. We just need to wait for it to dry out.”

He was right. An hour later it started up just fine. And in those two days, my infatuation turned to love.

ss nude079-M bow

(Photos by my ex-husband, David Stroup)

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Between two worlds

Covid 19: A Fifth-Graders View

What is it like for a fifth-grader to live under the shadow of Covid 19? How does an eleven year old in California experience shelter-in-place? Children are currently living through a time period that will be looked back upon and analyzed as historically significant. Thus, asking them them to share their stories in a slide show will help capture this unprecedented time.  Here are the condensed versions from two of my students, Eliseo and Natalie.
Untitled presentation (1)

Cancellation

***This assignment was inspired by Lauren Brown Created by Jessica Vannasdall***

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

A Break-up Mantra for Healing

Thank you God for this day.

Thank you God for this life.

I am blessed beyond compare.

I have everything I need in this moment.

I have love, health, and family.

There is joy everywhere I look.

God bless my daughter, Jessica.

God bless my son, Nicholas.

God bless my friends and family.

I vow to care for this precious gift of life.

And let those around me know how grateful I am.

To share another day loving, living, and laughing.

 

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

 

Youssef Alaoui-Fdili: Poet, Musician, Filmmaker

“….Then where the pace of hilltop crags/ stands exposed and thirsting /in need of water clefts/ you must speed on my love….” recites Youssef, in his Critics of Mystery Marvel  film, based on a collection of poetry of the same name. “…Past despair in human tones/  then catch her vain boastings/ in dawn blaze the sun/ sword laden storm…”

alaoui coney island siren

Youssef Alaoui-Fdili ‘s sword laden storm comes in the form of  mystical and surreal writings. This poet and filmmaker is a man of contradictions.  Both irreverent and spiritual, he might go from reading  Tarot at the dawn to the Koran at midday, yet uses both as he communes with ideas that explore the human condition.  Grounded in the quiet of home while seeking a Don Quixote journey of penned knighthood, he exposes his readers to the mythos of the wayfarer.  Yet his steed is is no worn out work horse. Youssef’s Rocinante carries us to places dark, surreal, and at times carnal.

alaoui in paris, au chat noir

Youssef is an Arab-Latino, born in California to immigrants from diverse homelands: a Moroccan father and a Columbian mother.  As the Alaoui-Fdilis are originally from the historical city of Fez, Youssef was given a unique perspective on the Arab world, finding his family and heritage an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, and spiritual writings. This later lead him to study classical Arabic poetry, Spanish Baroque poetry, and contemporary Moroccan verses during his MFA stint at the New College of
California.

He has several published books. THE BLUE DEMON: A novella in the tradition of classic horror in the style of Edgar Allan Poe. The crew of a Spanish merchant ship discovers they have a stranger among them: a Moor with an odd nickname and worse yet, debilitating agoraphobia. The ship is thrown far off course by a cyclone and stranded in a giant kelp field. Added to their misfortune, an invisible visitor snacks on the crew at night, using their half-rotted heads like puppets, beckoning to them from the water. The crew must make an effort to understand their odd  mate before they can vanquish their assailant together.

alaoui blue demon

CRITICS OF MYSTERY MARVEL: Youssef Alaoui’s debut full length poetry collection, which explores human relationships between individuals, cultures, races, and genders. alaoui critics of mystery marvelAlaoui deftly utilizes archaic tones to formulate an artistic approach to metaphor in verse creating images that appear wholly in the mind and not on the page. This volume consists of ten sections that blend surrealism, magical realism, and language alchemy as he explores the human mythos of love, gender, poverty, politics, racism, and war.

FIERCER MONSTERS: Youssef Alaoui’s short-story collection, is concerned with the
symbology of letters and the word as invocation, contrasted with the futility of language. In these stories, Alaoui presents a Neanderthal oracle, a little girl in Venezuela in the 1950s, a 19th-century hallucinating sailor, and a WWI soldier. The voices are sometimes salty, always salient.Each voice ultimately laments the fall of the tower of Babel and the resulting confusion.

alaoui fiercer monsters

When asked about his process, Youssef says, “Writing is a reaction to my ongoing process of self-discovery. My story is different, but similar to many mixed-blood firstborn people in the USA. Our story is the process of confusion primarily, then one of assimilation or rebellion from the illusion that white Christian life is “normal” and anything outside that is “unusual.”

Youssef also has several thought-provoking films available at vimeo.com/aldeboros

CONEY ISLAND SIREN: Like a siren, the spirit of a broken hearted daughter calls out to the spirit of her father at sea, hoping that this time he’ll remember what’s most important.

alaoui coney island siren 2

SACRED AND PROFANE/ FACELESS JACKS: An experimental, anti-narrative, cinematic tone poem for those of us lost, unsure and comfortable living within that dialectic.

BARON SATURDAY OF CONEY ISLAND: Baron Samedi must lead the character “Coney Island” to his death so that the new iteration of Coney Island may be born, but not before recalling the pangs of love and sadness that dotted his life. Marred by bleak visions, this movie is narrated sweetly by Youssef Alaoui who offers a cosmic perspective on life, death, and the changing of the times. baron of coney

The following is a recent interview with this satirical wordsmith.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about your writing journey? – I began writing when I was 16. My grandfather had given me a typewriter. I didn’t use it regularly until I fell in love for the first time. We would sit in my room writing poems to one another on it.

Where are you from? – I am from “here” and yet not. I was born in San Luis Obispo, and yet, I only lived there until I was three years old. I am from Los Angeles, Davis, Albuquerque, Tempe, Lille,Paris, Seattle, Oakland, Rabat, Casablanca.

What has been your favorite book/poem/screenplay to write so far?– An unpublished poem about Marrakech called “The Baths of Azahara.” I am quite proud of it.

Why?– Because it sort of rose up out of a dream and also is a pastiche of my recent experiences in the fabled city.

Are you currently working on a book/short story/project?– I am.

Will this be your next release?– Indeed I hope so

What do you enjoy most about writing?– Getting the RIGHT words out. No filler words.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it? – Yes, I think that’s what it’s called. Basically I find myself “quitting” writing and I take up music again or I dive deep into event creation and promotion. Or I travel. I had a dream recently. Someone was selling me a device to keep the corner of one’s palm ink- free when writing extensively with a fountain pen. The writer rests their palm on this small square of wood so their hand doesn’t track ink all over the page. What was it called? A writer’s block! I don’t think I’m the first one who has thought of this, but how crazy is that for this object to appear to me in a dream? Every writer needs a writer’s block.

Have you ever had one of your characters take a twist you weren’t expecting and surprise you? – Once one of my characters did that. I took them aside and disciplined them thoroughly by dragging them through a number of complex poems, then I dropped them back into the story. They never stepped out of line again.

Which of your characters is your personal favorite?– I love a character who has not yet had the grace to be published. I’m hoping they will see the light of readers’ eyes before too long. They are an alien species in a science fiction novella I wrote.

Least favorite?– Once I wrote a little oration spoken by Idi Amine. But he is asking for forgiveness and instruction from the ghost of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. So, is there redemption for such a sadistic and cruel dictator? I generally like one aspect or another of each of my characters.

So far, what has been your favorite scene to write?– There is a scene that happens deep in space, on a rocky moon, deep beneath its surface, in a cubical cell, between an alien and a human, where they discuss the nature of light, the cosmos, the self, and infinity. Mindblowing.

What lessons have you learned since becoming a writer?– Patience & tolerance of the self & others. Acceptance. Maybe I learned that over nineteen years of yoga practice. Maybe I learned that over 35 years of writing and not writing. Maybe I learned that over 20 years playing music in bands. Maybe I learned that in a puppet show I walked past on the Amalfi coast four years ago. Maybe you wrote that into a cocktail napkin and handed it to me. Maybe the leaves assembled themselves into an Andy Goldsworthy installation and expressed this to me. Maybe I heard it in the drum beats of a Black Sabbath album. Maybe the cat staring at me from the fence is a psychic oracle.

Do you have any tips for new writers?– Let go. Let go of your ego. Let go of your mental ladder rungs of success/ progress/hierarchy/ power lechery. Let go of your preconceived notions of being a writer or what writers “do,” where they go, who they talk to, who they can or cannot talk to. Embrace. Embrace all ideas. Embrace the void. Embrace the blues. Embrace not writing. Embrace your peers. Embrace your elders. Embrace your juniors. Don’t try to be anything. Write the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t write the first thing that comes to mind. Keep a notebook. Use it. Do not use it.

If you were to recommend your books to a stranger, which book would you advise them to start with?– I would advise someone to begin with Blue Demon because it has all the elements in it that make up all my writing, but it is meant for a wider audience. Young and old readers both will like this story. It is a salty tale of the high seas. A merchant ship gets stuck in a kelp forest and something in the water plucks sailors on night watch off the deck with no warning, unseen, never to be seen again… No one can figure out what’s going on until they finally listen to a stowaway, an Arabic man who has agoraphobia and must work in the darkness of the galley. No one believes him until they absolutely must believe him, and their lives are on the line.

Do you have any extras you’d like to share, like a teaser about an upcoming new release, a summary of a deleted scene, or a teaser about a surprising plot twist or character?– As I said above, I have written an upmarket science fiction novella. This is a remarkable event because Arab American writers very rarely write science fiction. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I have. I am very excited about this book. 

Now it’s time to get to know you! What are some of your favorite books to read?– Right now I’m reading The Phoenix by Manly Palmer Hall. The Tarot is a book. Yes, I look at it as if it is a picture book with 78 pages and innumerable plot twists and character variations. No one knows how this book will end. I try to read it every day. I also read from the Koran most days.

What about television shows?– Right now I’m watching the original Star Trek, watching the set get shinier, with more active displays, wondering how they know what each of those jolly rancher buttons mean, because they click them all the time, y’know? Five times and then they get sophisticated results… From that one single green jolly rancher button? What is Spock looking at in his little viewmaster? Sulu has one too. “Sensors indicate an armada of Spanish Galleons firing their cannons, closing fast!” Turn your head and Chekov is gone. Turn your head again and now he’s back with a new mop wig.

Movies?– Tarkovsky. Kurosawa. Wenders. Miyazaki.

Is there a book that you have read that you feel has made a big impact on your life?Don Quixote, the Norton edition. This novel has all the power of any novel that followed it. It is the first and the foremost novel. There might be others, earlier novels, certainly epic tales and poems, but this one captured my heart, and the hearts of millions over 500 years. It is an indelible monument to novel writing, novelists, protagonists, antagonists, knight errantry, traditions, delusion, companionship, love, tears, death, and imitation.

Can readers/viewers find you at any live events, such as book signings or conventions?– I am going to be at the Write of Way Book Festival in Santa Clara, on the University of Santa Clara campus, on April 18, 2020. Please come visit. I will have books with me.

If you had to sum up your life as a writer in ten words, what would you say?– To sum it up: the waiting is the hardest part.

What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?– Yoga, music, my life by the sea.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share with readers?– Live, love, give, forgive.

you illust

Youssef can be found at http://www.youssefalaoui.info

Readers can follow him on:

facebook.com/iuoala

youssefalaoui.tumblr.com

IG @iuoala777

twitter.com/iuoala

vimeo.com/aldeboros

transfigureight.bandcamp.com

 

 

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Portal Rift: An Artanian Excerpt

Far away, in a magical art-created land, the sculpted Thinker gazed into his steely hand as sparks fizzled down his bronze arm. The images of Alex flickered in his palm and faded.

How could this be? Alexander shouldn’t be seeing visions; nor traveling to Artania and back. Never had one Deliverer traversed their worlds without his knowledge, much less two.

He thought back. For millennia, every time a human lifted a paint brush or dipped hands in clay, a wondrous being, like himself, had been born. Over time, Artania’s population grew into a perfect blend of watercolor, collage, and mosaics; a mix of multihued lives.

As art changed, separate countries emerged. From the Renaissance Nation where the competing Michelangelo & Leonardo watched over Mona Lisa to the Land of Antiquities where Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods raced over sands to Gothia where medieval knights fought dragons; he had watched his world expand.

Until the time of danger.

Shadow Swine horrors were becoming all too common. The new millennium brought constant tales of Sickhert’s army attacking from their underground lair. With increasing frequency, they pulled his brethren below to become mindless slaves. Or, at chosen times, they opened their horrible mouths, and with great slurps, swallowed brilliant chunks of this land’s beauty.

Like a fading photo, every bite turned the earth whiter causing the Blank Canvas to grow. Now they were attacking the Impressionist Republic, that place where muted light and color capture a moment in time.

Closing his bronze fist, The Thinker lifted his gaze to the man in the bushy beard and linen suit in the wooden chair opposite. His words echoed in the nearly empty cafe as he spoke. “The Shadow Swine seem to have some new power. I fear for the soft hues of this land.”

Claude Monet took a long draught on the stub of a cigar in his mouth and blew a wisp of smoke over The Thinker’s head. “As do I.”

“The Blank Canvas grows.”

“Oui, there have been reports of new areas bleached white. The sinking village of the Alps.”

“When you ceased dipping brush in paint.”

Monet looked at his feet and nodded sadly. “I was immersed in depression.”

“Do not berate yourself, friend. It was he who painted you. His poverty got the best of him and no one, not even I, could have altered that.”

“Gauguin would argue otherwise.”

“Is he spouting more talk of revolution?”

“Larger crowds come to listen. Many say you are growing old and unable to lead us.”

“My strength does not wane with age but with the belief in the power of creation.”

“I know that, but others do not.”

The Thinker shook his head. “It seems that no matter how hard we try; it is never enough. The Shadow Swine capture more and more of our kind.”

“We are weighed down, every moment, by the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping this nightmare: pleasure and work. Work strengthens us.”

“True. I only hope Bartholomew realizes this before it’s too late.” The Thinker shook his head.

“Yet now he struggles.”

“Leaving ripples of despair here. If he’d just–”

The Thinker heard a buzz. Then a whine. The gaslights in the café began to flicker. Tilting a confused head to one side, the sculpted man glanced up. Every glass lampshade was quivering and expanding as if Vulcan was filling each with superheated magma.

As the sound amplified into a din, Monet dug his boots into the floor and scooted his chair back. Although a painting, Thinker knew that his friend could be injured as easily as any human and rose to protect his ally.

Diving over the table, he extended his bronze arms and tackled the gaping painter to cover the creation’s body with his own. A moment later, the crystal globes exploded in a deafening blast, shooting glass in all directions.

Streaming shards sharp as knives rained down. The Thinker pushed Monet beneath the table.

Strong back heaving, he glanced to the side at the blinking barkeep, now dusted with glass shards. A few slivers jutting from the painted man’s balding scalp began to bleed.

“Help me,” he said, lip quivering.

Artania’s leader had just begun to stand when a hissing sound from under the floorboards stopped him mid-crouch.

A stunned Monet angled a finger at the ground where rotten steam rose from cracks in the wood. “Shadow Swine, here?”

White tendrils twisted upward filling the café with sulfuric fumes. Then, as if someone were using a crowbar to pry them open, the floorboards next to the bar began to part, and a dark arm slithered from the opening.

The barkeep gasped, stepping back. Opened and closed his mouth in silent screams. The arm grasped him by the ankle and the painted man stumbled. He fell against the wall.

The crack in the floor widened, swallowing half his leg, then a thigh and soon his hips.

Arms outstretched, Thinker vaulted toward the barkeep, crossing the room in two strides.

He reached out, clutching at air.

It was too late. The injured barman was gone. Another water-colored being taken below to become a mindless slave in Subterranea.

“No!” he cried as the floorboards closed.

Men’s Song: A Poem

I love men.

Their musky scents.

Car grease, salt,

And briefcase leather

Linger in my lungs.

 

I love how they move.

Purposeful fingers pounding keys

Or the deliberate way they

Place one sturdy foot in front of the other

As they swagger
Across floors.

 

I love men’s stalwart shapes

Muscled arms, broad shoulders

Carpeted chests

Inviting touch

And nuzzling faces.

Their small hips

And the way belts

Ride just so.
I love the sounds they make.

Dressing for the day.

Snapping buttons, razors buzzing

Water splashing.
And deep voices

Which resonate

Their mesmerizing tune.

***

I hate men

Their strong smells

Of sweat and musk

Shoulders so wide

As to make walls

While daring  hands to

Touch.

I hate the way they

Peacock preen

Over the ground

Deliberate steps

Crushing insects

Flowers

And my dreams.

 

I hate their discordant

Voices

Crooning cacophony

Reminding me

Of glory days

Real and imagined.

As they say goodbye.

(photo by David Stroup)

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

Kidnapped Smile: An Excerpt

Sweat poured down Alex’s face and ran into his eyes. The ship’s galley was like an oven. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand envisioning a cool protective suit.

Until he could work.

“Toss the iron balls in the flames,” Vulcan instructed between hammer beats on the anvil.

Alex followed each step carefully. When the metal inside the stove changed from black to red, he removed it with tongs and placed the crimson coals on Vulcan’s anvil.

The smith-god demonstrated how to strike the anvil and then handed the hammer to Alex. Alex raised an arm and began. Clang. Iron met steel. Pound. Teeth and scales emerged. Bang. A body took shape.

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Faster his arm fell as the creation force cursed through his veins.  Lumber became flicking tongues and iron swaying heads.  A long thin tail appeared.

“Thank you, Vulcan. Nearly–”

Smash!  Snapping teeth crashed through the hull just inches above his head. Alex leapt back just inches from dripping jaws.  Ducking down behind his incomplete snake, he attached the last green plates.

Its body grew as long as the ship and thicker than the mast. Cool scales shimmered, and the sculpture morphed into a two-headed cobra ready to do his bidding.

Alex cradled one face in his hands. “Wake up,” he said.

Blue slits opened.

“Attack the Leviathan. Now!”

It swayed back and forth as both cobra heads rose, forked tongues flicking at the air. One head hissed.

In response, Leviathan gnashed its jaws.  Double rows of sharp teeth tried to close in on Cobra, but the snake heads dodged in opposite directions.

Bellowing, Leviathan struck again. This time Cobra whipped around, each head sinking curved fangs into its neck.

Sickhert’s monster thrashed and shook, but the snake held fast. Pupils dilating, it jerked to one side. Alex scrambled out of the way as its huge head smashed against the galley walls.

“The poker!” Vulcan cried pointing at the hot stove.

Alex leapt over a barrel and grabbed it from the fire. The end glowed red, a steel cigarette poised to strike. Alex jabbed but came up short.

Leviathan turned toward him. It jaws snapped like a thousand slamming doors. Alex felt a tug and clapped a hand to his head. His hair was wrapped in those teeth lifting toward that hole.

Gritting his teeth, he jerked. “Yow!” he cried gaping at the tufts of hair still in the Leviathan’s mouth.

Dropping to one knee, Alex raised his firebrand and waited for the Leviathan to sway his way again. Counted. Four seconds. Five. At six he thrust, and the metal punctured the creature’s jaw like a hot knife in wax. Slowly, Alex stood and drove the poker deeper into the creature’s mouth.

The shrieking monster jerked its head throwing Alex backwards. He landed with a thud near Vulcan’s barrel.

Cobra sunk its fangs in deeper as the monster retreated out of the crack in the hull. Then, with a sucking whoosh of air, both creatures disappeared into the sea.

Alex peered out the jagged hole in the wall. The setting crescent moon and the patchwork of stars barely illuminated the water. In the faint light, all he could make out was the splashing of dark waves against the ship.

Boom! The cannon shot again, lighting up the sea just enough to see the thrashing monsters. One snake still had its fangs in the Leviathan’s neck.  The other one was somewhere beneath the surface.

When they rushed up on deck to watch, Alex grasped the railing and stared out to sea. The water began to bubble and simmer in a tangle of twisting scales. In the lanterns light he could just make out Leviathan’s scaly back, spiked wings, and clawed feet. With gnashing teeth, it rolled, pitched, and plunged until Cobra raised one head and jerked Leviathan below.

A few minutes later, the sun began to light up the sky turning the sea a steely grey. The reflecting moon looked like a snake’s fang, one he hoped would strike any moment. He could make out the Italian coastline but no movement anywhere.

Gwen sidled up to his side. “See anything?” she asked.

“They disappeared,” Alex replied continuing to scan the waves.

The Mediterranean was as smooth as Venus’s skin. Then far off he saw the waters rise.

“Look.” Alex pointed.

Like braiding seaweed, the monsters wove through the waves. Coiling and wreathing, they battled. He couldn’t tell who was winning.

“Go on. Dig your fangs in.”  Alex said.

“Yeah, get him.” Gwen punched at the air.

They were about fifty yards away when the battling monsters rose out of the water. The sea dripped off the Cobra’s hooded heads. Their triangular faces hung suspended as if on invisible threads, but they didn’t attack.

Alex raised his hands in exasperation wondering what they were waiting for. More seconds ticked by.

When Leviathan rolled over, both heads struck. Curved fangs sank into the tender flesh of its soft underbelly. Convulsing venom glands pumped poison through their teeth.

The weakened Leviathan slapped at Cobra with its tail. Thrashing from one side to the other, its jaws snapped open and closed three times. Then a lolling tongue drifted over jagged teeth.

Alex’s two-headed snake edged closer to the ship, the limp Leviathan in tow. At the port bow Cobra unhinged both mouths.

It floated on the sea.

“Whoa,” Gwen said.

“Well done, Deliverer.” Vulcan reached out to shake Alex’s hand.

“Thanks, it–” Alex started to reply. Then Leviathan raised its horned head.  “Cobra, watch out!”

Leviathan’s tail smashed against the hull. Almost losing his footing, Alex grabbed the gunnels.

The monster leaned back, head poised to crash into their boat. Then two snakes rose, dripping water like gaping wounds and coiled around the monster’s neck. Once. Twice. Three times.

The Leviathan threw its horned head back with a guttural bellow that drowned out all sound. Tighter Cobra constricted, twining round a fourth and a fifth time. The great beast thrashed wildly in their coils trumpeting its protest.

Bloody tears began to weep from its eyes, but the snake squeezed more, muscles rippling as it twisted and tightened.

The Leviathan opened and closed its jaw in silent protest. It raised its head toward the sky as if imploring the clouds for help.  With a final convulsion, it withered in the snake’s coils.

And moved no more.

Only now did Cobra release it. Leviathan’s body bobbed on the surface before shrinking back into the sea.

“Yes!”  Alex cried taking Gwen in his arms. He swung her around and around laughing hysterically. Until he realized that he was hugging a girl. Then he set her down abruptly and stepped back, blushing.

Did she notice? He quickly turned to shake Leonardo’s outstretched hand, hoping that no one had seen the red creeping up his cheeks.

Suddenly Michelangelo, Leonardo, and the crew were all on deck applauding and congratulating him. The Three Graces joined hands, hummed in harmony, and began dancing in a circle. Meanwhile, Alex’s snake crisscrossed from bow to stern their gentle splashes lapping off the hull in time to the music.

“Our world was born from the magic of two, magic of two, magic of two,” their tinkling voices sang.

But many will perish before they are through. Alex thought as he stared at the Leviathan’s watery grave.

           

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net