Category Archives: writing

Chapter 1: The Boy Who Was Locked in a Tower

Once upon a time there was a woman named Yetzel who didn’t care much for children or men and definitely did not want to live with either. Instead she dedicated herself to the study of sorcery and became a powerful witch. She lived alone in a small cottage, brewing potions in her kitchen and growing illegal plants in her garden. Though her career kept her stimulated, fulfilled, and busy, she would sometimes feel a surge of loneliness and wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad having a child after all. It might be nice to have an obedient, quiet little girl to share her knowledge with and to pass on her wicked legacy. By the time she warmed up to the idea of having a child she was much too old to have a baby, and though a witch can do many magical things, she cannot make herself pregnant. Eventually she decided that if she couldn’t have her own, she would have to steal someone else’s.

. . . And the couple next door happened to be expecting.

She picked some spinach from her garden, made a salad, and set a spell on it to make it delicious but unsatisfying, so that the person who ate it would want more and more. She placed the salad into a basket, put on her best shawl, and walked to her neighbor’s home.

“Hello! I’m Yetzel, your sweet, innocent neighbor,” said the witch to the young husband when he opened the door. “I heard your wife was expecting, so I brought her some of my prized spinach. I don’t have very much, but I made the sacrifice hoping it would bring her some good.”

The husband and wife were touched by the woman’s kindness, and when she left the wife devoured the salad as if she hadn’t eaten for days. As soon as she finished, she begged her husband for more.

“But it would be rude to ask for more. Remember what the woman said? It is her most prized plant and she doesn’t have very much.”

“But I must have more or I shall die!” wept the wife.

The poor man didn’t know what to do, but he couldn’t bear to see his wife in so much distress. So late that night he snuck into his neighbor’s garden and pulled some spinach. His wife was so grateful that the husband felt justified, so the next night, when she asked him to go again, he didn’t even hesitate.

This time, however, he was caught.

“Thief! How dare you steal from me after I was so generous!” said the witch.

The man trembled in fear and embarrassment. “Forgive me, Yetzel! But my wife says she must have it or she shall die.”

“Is that so? Then we shall have to make a deal,” said the witch, for this was all part of her plan. “If this spinach is so important that your wife will truly die without it, promise to give me your child when it is born, in exchange for your wife’s life.”

Now, the poor man, although he was devoted, was not the brightest husband. He truly was convinced that if he didn’t get the spinach his wife would die (which she wouldn’t have) and he didn’t know his neighbor was a witch (which he couldn’t have), so he decided to make the bargain without his wife’s consent (which he shouldn’t have).

The man promised.

After that, Yetzel gave him all the spinach his wife desired, and by and by the woman gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby, whom of course they named Spinach.

A few days later the witch came to claim the child. The husband was forced to explain to his wife the shameful arrangement he had made with the witch, and his wife was so overcome with sadness and betrayal that she died right there of a broken heart.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed the witch. “This makes it so much easier!” She scooped up the baby in her arms and stole away into the night.

Yetzel took the baby far away and began the task of raising it. As with all first-time parents, she encountered some things she hadn’t expected.

First of all, Spinach was a boy. No matter, she thought. If she couldn’t make him into a great witch, she would make him into a great wizard. But as the months went by Spinach turned out to be much louder, much messier, and much more trouble than she expected. He knocked over her potions, he soiled her spell books, played with her frogs and snakes and let them escape, and he was constantly interrupting her when she was in deep, meditative thought.

When Spinach turned five years old Yetzel couldn’t stand it any longer. “If only there was a way to skip this child stage and train him when he is more grown-up and mature!”

This spawned a dreadful plan.

She locked the little boy in a tall tower in the middle of a desert and bricked up the entrance. She would bring him food and water for a decade or so, and once he had grown to a more manageable age, she would let him out and he would be her apprentice and carry on her wicked legacy.

At first the boy didn’t mind being locked in the tower. At least he was away from Mama Yetzel who was always yelling at him for one thing or another. But as the weeks passed, the boy languished. He had plenty of food and water from the witch, (for she would send it up to him via rope and pulley with a basket and then take the rope away with her), but he had no toys or books or friends to play with. To pass time he would count bricks or birds or clouds, but most of the day he just leaned on the window and wished he had someone to talk to.

Back in his cottage, Spinach’s father was also lonely, and tormented with grief and regret. He couldn’t forgive himself for being duped by his neighbor, whom by now he realized was a witch. He vowed to not cut his beard until he found his son. He journeyed near and far, telling his story to everyone who would listen, and asking them if they knew anything about the witch who had taken his precious little boy.

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Syrena Dyreng

One day, when the boy was looking out his window at the vast desert, he saw a bearded man crossing the dunes.

“Hello! Hello!” the boy shouted, and the man looked up.

“Hello, little boy! What are you doing way up in that tower?”

“My mother is hiding me here until I grow up.”

“That is a strange thing for a mother to do,” said the man. “What is your name?”

“Spinach.”

The man knew that there could only one child on the earth with a name like that. “Spinach! I am your father!” he shouted and started dancing around in the sand. Spinach didn’t know he had a father, and didn’t know if he even wanted one or not, but he liked this funny dancing desert man and he laughed so hard he almost fell out of the window.

“How can I get you down?” asked the funny man. “Is there a door?”

“There is no door,” said Spinach. “I can’t ever come down, nor can you come up.”

But this father didn’t travel all around the globe to be stopped by a mere tower. He started to climb. It took him all day, but finally, with bloody fingers and skinned knees he reached the top and dropped over the window sill.

“I’m glad you came, because I have been very lonely,” said the boy. “But now we are both stuck up here.”

“We’ll make do,” said his father. “We are together again, and that is all that matters.”

The father told Spinach the origin of his birth and Spinach was overjoyed to learn that the mean witch was not his real mother. This man was loads more fun than she was, and he never got mad at Spinach for making a mess or being too loud. Instead, they made messes together and were loud together. And every few days the witch would come and bring food and water which they always shared.

“Too bad we don’t have that rope,” said the father one day after the witch left, taking her rope with her.

“We have your beard,” said Spinach who was cleverer than his father. “If you don’t cut it, then someday we can use it as our rope.”

The father thought this was an excellent idea and was proud to have such an intelligent boy.

Over the course of the next few weeks the boy asked the witch for greater portions of food, and the witch obliged, knowing that if he was hungrier, he must be growing, and the sooner he grew the sooner she could use him as a proper apprentice. Meanwhile, the father told his son stories about his travels and the people he’d met. He taught his son to read and write and they sang songs together and created stories on the walls of the tower. On windy days they made kites and flew them out the window. They roasted marshmallows at the fireplace and told ghost stories. They had arm wrestling matches and jumping contests, and all the while the father’s beard grew and grew and grew.

On Spinach’s 15th birthday, they decided to make their escape. The father cut his beard and braided it into a strong rope. That night they tied the rope to the pully, climbed down, and silently slipped away under the desert stars.

The next day, when Yetzel came to bring food, she noticed a long rope coming down from the pulley. She climbed the rope and found the tower much different than when she left Spinach there 10 years before. There was a checkboard carved into the table. There were stories written on the walls. Most telling of all, there were pictures scrawled on the floor of a boy holding hands with a long-bearded man.

Yetzel was furious. Not because someone ran off with her boy that she didn’t particularly want, but because she had been fooled by a fool.

Spinach and his father located a nice place to live next to a blue lake where there was a good school that Spinach could attend. He was very bright and got along with his classmates well. He was so happy that he barely remembered the witch at all, and looked back at his time in the tower with his dad as a happy memory.

Then, one dark night there was a knock at the door. When they opened it, there stood Yetzel, holding a large staff, her bright black eyes blazing with anger.

“You rat!” she said, pointing to Spinach’s father. “How dare you steal away the child that I stole away from you! We made a deal, and you shall pay for this!” She pointed her staff at the man and it began to spark with magic blue light. But just as she began her incantation, Spinach grabbed a mirror from the wall to shield his father. The witch’s spell hit the mirror and bounced back at her. Spinach and his dad watched in astonishment as the witch’s body shriveled and shrank until all that was left of her was a large, black rat.

“Ahhh!” squeaked the rat. “You are more trouble than you are worth! Next time I shall steal a girl baby!!”

Spinach and his father lived happily together for a long time after that, and eventually Spinach got a good job working in the castle and married a lovely young woman. They had many children which made Spinach’s father a very joyful and content old man.

And they always had rat traps set.

 

 

 

 

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Coming Soon: Fairy Tales for Boys

SMP_5137If your family is like my family, you raided the town library as soon as you heard they were about to shut their doors. And, if your family is like my family, you’ve already read all of the books you checked out.

And we still have weeks to go.

Months, perhaps.

Whatever shall we do?

Well, I have a suprise for you.

First, some background: As much as I love all the girl-power movies and books, sometimes I feel like the boys are getting left behind. So a few weeks ago I wrote some fairy tales for my kids. I took stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Goldilocks, and I changed the main character from a girl to a boy.

You’ll be surprised how this small change can alter the entire plot of the story (no matter what people tell you, boys are different than girls). Each fairy tale hero uses the best of his masculine virtues to outwit foxes, outcompete wicked stepbrothers, outcast evil witches, and ultimately achieve his own happy ending . . . with as little kissing as possible.

Girls will love the stories, too, since there are plenty of strong female characters for them to identify with. (Psst: these make great bedtime stories.)

I will be publishing each story, serial-style, on my blog every other day, starting tomorrow. I hope they can be something you and your kiddos can look forward to during these strange and extrodinary times.

The first one is about a boy who was locked in a tower . . .

 

 

 

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Wrong Choices

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and we stopped and we just couldn’t decide.

And couldn’t decide,

And couldn’t decide.

So we chose a path (because time and money demanded it),

and the further we went, the worse we felt.

So we turned around,

And walked back to where we started.

And now we don’t wonder which path to take–

We KNOW what path we should be on–

All because we took the path

That was not meant for us.

And that the wrong choice

is sometimes the right choice

to lead us to the best choice.

 

 

#nationalpoetrymonth

 

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The Loudest Minds

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Yesterday, as I was bringing my kids home from piano, I entered into a line of cars that were stopped at a stoplight.

While we waited for the light to turn, I started thinking. I was thinking about the canyon in Utah between Heber City and Provo. I was wondering if there were very many deer that crossed that highway and if it was dangerous for drivers. But, I reasoned, there are a lot of deer here in North Carolina, so it wouldn’t be any more dangerous than driving to my own home. What would really be dangerous would be a moose. We don’t have those in North Carolina. Or an elk! After all, elk are big and have pointed antlers. But I have heard that moose are meaner. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that bears hibernate in the winter, so if I were to go snowshoeing (which I love to do) I would not have to worry about a bear. But a moose! Yes, I would definitely have to worry about a moose. And if I were out by myself, in snowshoes, and a moose charged me, what would I do? Ring a moose-bell?  I guess I would try to hide behind the nearest tree. But what if the tree was too small and the moose was able to to reach around it with his antlers? I guess I would have to climb the tree. But I would first have to take off my snowshoes. I wonder how long that would take? Would it take longer to remove the shoes and climb the tree, or try to climb the tree with my shoes on? I would probably have time to get one snowshoe off and then start climbing. But seriously, I am almost forty years old…would I even be able to climb the tree? I might pull a lot of muscles. But what are a few pulled muscles compared internal bleeding wounds from the blunt moose antlers?  What would most likely happen would be that my one foot with the snowshoe would get wedged as I was halfway up the tree, and as the moose started ramming the tree I would lose my grip and then be swinging there, my hair brushing the snow, looking at the moose from a unadventagious perspective, watching it as it pawed the ground, getting ready for what every moose knows as The Final Death Ram.

By now my heart is racing. But then I blink and I realize that I am not on a snowy hillside hanging upside down about to be killed by a moose. I am in my car. My kids are in the back seat. I am still waiting at a stoplight that is now green and all of the other cars in front of me have left. And I am holding on really, really tight to the steering wheel.

Later that day my mother-in-law called me to tell me she read my book, The Last Messenger. “How do you come up with stuff like this?”she asked. I thought of telling her the moose story, but I didn’t want to confuse her.

There is a quote that I love. It is:

Quiet people have the loudest minds.

I originally thought this was said by Stephen King. When I looked it up I found it was said by Stephen Hawkins, which makes me wonder who stole it from whom?  It doesn’t matter because with either Stephen the noise level must be deafening.

While I’m not exactly shy, I do have far too much going on in my brain. It is why I can’t go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow like my husband (not that he isn’t a thinker. He is. But his thoughts are in numbers which I believe are more obediently put to bed. I haven’t had a number in my head for years.) It is also the reason I worry about things that will never happen and why I had many inner anxieties as a child.

I read once that when you have a child with a lot of anxiety issues, and you have to take them to see a doctor, you should reassure them that they are not going because they are crazy but because they have an incredible imagination, and that the doctor is going to help them organize all the monsters and scary stuff (and moose) so they all stay in the proper places.

I wish someone would have told me that, because I thought I was crazy for a very long time. But it doesn’t matter, because I have learned what to do with all of my thoughts. I have found a way to tame them, organize them, and make them mind me.

I do it by writing.

I make grand, wonderful stories out of them…stories that are too fantastic to ever be true.

It is quite freeing. It also makes me grateful for challenges, because when we understand them, and learn how to turn them into strengths, they can do wonderful things for us.

But I am not sure what a police officer would think if I’m ever stuck at a North Carolina traffic light for too long and I tell him it was because of the moose.

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Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Giveaway! Contest! Win! Win!

Hi everyone! Over the next two weeks I will be having a Goodreads Giveaway! (For real, this time!)

Five lucky people will receive a FREE, SIGNED copy of The Cenote, no strings attached. All you have to do is click on “Enter Giveaway” in the widget below and follow the instructions. That is it!

After June 4 five random winners will be selected and I will mail you a signed copy of The Cenote. But wait–you already have a copy? No problem! Just forward this to a friend or family member so they can enter the contest.

This is the first giveaway I’ve done (sorry it took so long!) and if goes well there will be an even BIGGER giveaway for my next book, The Last Messenger of Zitol when it comes out in September. So stay tuned!! Everybody loves free books!

(Have I told you The Cenote is a great bookclub book? I’m about to go to visit my fifth bookclub for this book next month!!)

 Goodreads Book Giveaway
The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng

The Cenote

by Chelsea Dyreng

Giveaway ends June 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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