Saturday, 12 July 2014

This Day We Write Challenge!

      One of the things I loved about my childhood was Sunday mornings. On most Sundays, my Mom made bread from scratch. She didn't use a bread-maker; they had yet to be invented. I would wake up to find discoloured old pans laid out, greased, and ready for the next batch. The house perfumed with the scent of fresh bread. This in itself is a wonderful memory, but what makes it even better were "Dough-Dodgers."  These were the leftover pieces of bread that Mom would toss in a large vat of oil. They would plump up and were awesome.

The quaint little seaside bar that stocks my Guinness gets something similar delivered at 10 am each day. I say similar, but they are the same with the added treat of being stuffed with mashed potato and cheese or fried onions. I am not quite sure which of these are my favorites, more research is required.

I mention this in the context of "This Day We Write." A phrase I am going to attribute to Robert Dugoni made popular at the Surrey International Writers Conference in 2012. This may not be completely accurate but like most history it is how I remember it.

     The other day I posted a picture on Twitter that showed my new office view and challenged other writers to post up the same. I didn't do this to brag my place was the nicest or anything. I did it to help inspire and place into context some of the ideas of "This Day We Write." As a writer, the most important thing we do is write. We may create and get ideas as we go through our daily lives, but the core of the discipline is writing.

     Yesterday it rained in Anapa. When it rains here it actually pours. Torrents of rainwater rush down the streets threatening small cars and children left unattended. So it was less than my usual sunny day lets go down to the beach eat a Dough-Dodger, drink a Guinness, and write kind of days. I also had the flu, and not one of the wimpy North American varieties. I will spare you the details but consider I never lost a pound in my two bouts in Africa with malaria and this "flu" shaved six kilograms off me in one day. So I didn't feel like writing.

So I sat down and lacking any real creative inspiration past wrapping my Mac in plastic wrap "just in case" I did a bunch of editing. In that process, I discovered a little creativity in cutting things that didn't push the story forward. But the point is I wrote!

For me at least this is what being a professional writer is all about. It isn't waiting for a blast of creative insight or great opening line. It is about the discipline of sitting down each and every day and doing it. When it is kept in the forefront of our mind, research, creativity, and execution come easier than waiting till the nebulas inspiration strikes you.

    So the "challenge" was to allow new writers to see how we as published authors did it. Kathy Chung responded with a very serene picture of the yard with an empty chair. Does the empty chair represent the reader? Does the looming Black Sea in my picture represent the unknown distance Rhys must go in my manuscript?  I am not sure as I am not really that good in "reading" into things.  But I think the exercise is a valid one. So with this blog and with a few more posts on Twitter I will again attempt to get more people engaged in this little exercise. So do it to inspire new writers or do it to get retweeted by someone who has more followers than you but let's do it!

 Russia is ripe with rumors and allegations of hardcore criminal activity, organized crime and gang violence. Until the other night, I had seen no overt evidence of this. Conspiracy theories and stories abound about all sorts of people, places, and things. Russians love to talk in hushed tones with close friends about the latest issue that might be going on. It is a fun pastime and one I am learning to not put much weight in. The locals don't, but they still love to talk about it. The other day we had huge waves and a small earthquake. The various theories ran the gambit of a Russian atom crusher sub getting blown up by an American sub chaser off the coast of Crimea to an event created by HARP in Alaska. The Russian people are very creative. I commented that it was probably just a shift in the plates under the Black Sea, a very seismically active area and wave action usually follows.  While my grasp of the language is poor, my grasp of body language is excellent, and the body language said wet blanket. My logical explanation lacked creativity and something to build on. So like Spock in an improvisational comedy I had dropped the ball.  But I started this paragraph with the other night gang attack so I shouldn't keep you in suspense.

    The night had a crooked moon, blood red with foreshadowing and had I been in a Robert McCammon novel I would have been aware of the pending assault. But I wasn't I was in tourist mode walking back from a popular nightclub after having a few beer and salted fish, as is the custom. Like Vegas walking on the street with a bottle is not really legal but it is for the most part ignored. The Rose Park was closed so I cut down a back alley the street lights failing to reach into the dark recesses of the street. I felt I was being watched before I saw anyone. Years of training did not fail me but try as might to find the reason for this feeling I could not. Although as I approached the corner, this changed,  I spotted the first one. He was sitting down on his haunches, common in Russia, trying to look very casual. Too casual and when his eyes darted in my direction, for just a second, I knew my sense of being followed was correct.

I passed a car and used the rear window as a mirror to look behind me. A flash of movement, crouching low crossed behind me. Hugging the shadows from one side of the alley to the other. Watching my progression down the street with feral eyes filled with need. I knew I was the target of this desire and wished I'd taken a cab. I felt the alcohol fight with and loose to the sudden surge of adrenaline. It was going to happen soon.

I searched for others. The odds were not bad right now, but I also knew more had to be involved. Two more appeared as if on command, summoned by my fear as surely as the streetlight sudden failure had been orchestrated. I tensed my legs pumping blood into the muscles for the fight I knew was coming. There would be no option to speak with these predators; I simply lacked the language skills.  The one keeping point turned and looked right at me, our eyes locked and I knew it was go time.

The demand was direct and drawn out long, and while I didn't understand what the sound was I knew what was being said. Suddenly, as if to drive a point to the demand three others, I had yet to see flanked me and repeated the same sound with authority. The two I had seen took up positions watching up and down the street, for police we all knew would not be coming. The one that had been following me up the dark alley casually bumped me letting me know he was close.

So I was faced with a potentially very hostile situation, six against one. While all of us were adequately armed, I knew, I wasn't getting out of this unscathed. So faced with this reality I handed over the left over fish I had been stupid enough to leave the bar with. Each one approached knowing they had won this challenge and took the tribute in their mouth before disappearing back into the shadows, the last one giving me a light swat with his paw, letting me know I got off easy.

 Cats in Russia seem to be the only overt sign of territorial activity. Certain stores and shops have cats that stake out the front. Welcoming those that are familiar and watching, in that judgmental fashion only cats can do, those they don't know. My apartment complex has a few and each has a very specific territory and while meetings of a sort take place it seems very structured. This has been the only overt sign of gang activity I have seen.

 Now I am not naïve, I know in anyplace where money and transient population meet you will have organized crime. Vegas and Monte Carlo come to mind. Anapa is probably no different. What I guess is different is it is invisible. I am trained to spot these types of people and made a career of doing it well and sensing violence prior to it happening. To date I have seen nothing of the sort. I have most certainly witnessed deference displayed to VIP people, but is this because they are feared or respected? Are they criminals or pillars of the community? Perhaps a little of both?  I said to a friend here the other day that I thought the salient difference between Canada and Russia gangs and criminal activity is in Russia you know who the criminals are. They come by your shop and you pay them to keep the drunks, and petty criminals away. At home, we call that taxes and taxes pay cops to do the same. Here it is just private with fewer people having their nose in the trough. Isn't that capitalism?

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