Masters of Ancient Magic: Fireworks of Long Ago

Week 23: Writing Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel, the Masters of Ancient Magic: Fireworks of long agoChaco Canyon photo credit: Bart Ellison by way of the Las Vegas Arts Council.
Fireworks photo credit: Fieldington at English Wikipedia.
Photo mashup by Jeff Posey.

Week 23: The Writing of Novel Number 10, Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Go to Week 1

My wife and I spent the Fourth of July with friends in Oklahoma. They live on a low, sweeping hill covered mostly in native, unbroken prairie. Peeping over the western horizon is Mount Scott, second tallest of the Wichita Mountains (link to Wikipedia), the town of Lawton and the military grounds of Fort Sill nestled near their feet. The mountains have a wildlife refuge with wilderness areas where I’ve spent countless hours wandering.

On this particular weekend, we bought fireworks from a local stand and, when the sky darkened enough, we began to set them off. Pitiful little things compared to the far more powerful fireworks of my youth. We quickly grew bored and watched the fireworks being set off by others around us. We counted no less than seven within view, one a professional job near Lawton.

Just up the road, at a tiny outpost with the too-cute name of Pumpkin Center, an impressive amateur display lasted for more than an hour. Whoever set that up spent a lot of money on the best fireworks and we watched, enchanted.

Before the last natural light gave out, I watched the dark figure of a man moving about at the launch site, smoke drifting, flashes of explosions followed by a sharp report. Later, after full dark, he became invisible and the show became magical as grand displays of light punctuated the darkness.

As the reenactment of bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that the fireworks magician was still there, my mind drifted to a thousand years ago. Since the dawn of man, perhaps before, there have been individuals who stage shows that draw the eyes and ears and thoughts of observers away from themselves and into the air and sky, providing mystery and symbolism, fear and inspiration. It must have been a form of social cohesion (or control), and certainly an outpouring of creativity and pure joy in pageantry by those who orchestrated the shows.

In the world of the ancients, undistracted by the constant cacophony of modern spectacles, these events must have stood out with even more stark contrast than an explosion of bright light in a black sky.

I imagine the people behind the magic, the stage directors, the high priests and skywatchers and kiva masters, how they used what they had at hand to impress and awe their people. I imagine the power they must have felt when everyone looked up and uttered reflexive “Ooos,” and “Aaahs!” I imagine how some used and others abused that power to influence others.

Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, Medicine Snake, set a thousand years ago among the Anasazi of Southern Colorado near Pagosa Springs. It begins in the kiva of Tuwa, the chief skywatcher, with Nanatoona, the skinny, oddball bone rattler, taking center stage as master of the magic.

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”


Smoke and Bones

A streak of sunlight angled through the roof hole highlighting dust swirls and smoke tendrils in the air, and spotlighted a flat stone resting on the floor against the eastern wall. At Tuwa’s signal, the boy, Hinti, put green wood on the fire and smoke billowed into the room until a puff of breeze sucked it out the roof hole. Everyone closed their eyes and held their breaths while the smoke cleansed them, and breathed, relaxed, sighed, and rustled after the air cleared.

Tuwa gave an exaggerated flourish one-handed sign handing his chamber to the only man standing in front of a seated Ingta.

“Thank you,” said Nanatoona, his voice high, hands raised cradling a worn pouch tied with a string. Bare-chested, powdered white with piñon ash and wearing only a thin loin cloth, Nanatoona looked as spindly as the spider-limbed boy Hinti. He rattled the contents of the pouch and chanted words Ingta considered childish gibberish:

“Thoughts we have all swirl away, taken away, sucked away, all thoughts we have are blown away, gone away, here no more.”

Though Nanatoona kept thrusting the rattling pouch toward Ingta, his eyes often flicked to the others in the room. Ingta knew what that meant. This was more performance than healing. Or magic. Or whatever it was Nanatoona had convinced Tuwa he could do with a bag of sun-bleached snake bones.

“Now, you take,” said Nanatoona. He straightened his body and slapped his feet on the worn stone, and somehow, without Ingta being able to see how, the pouch of bones fell against his chest. He stopped it from bouncing into his lap and held it. Much lighter than he expected. Not like a bag of stones.

Nanatoona’s eyes scanned everyone in the room starting with Tuwa, his apprentices, and Sooveni, once again without her two parasites. The old grandmother who defended him against the matron of the springs, and most of the village elders were there. Even Gawt sat folded and twisted in the shadow of Hinti’s pile of wood. Tuwa had made the bone rattling of Ingta into a public spectacle. Ingta just wanted it to be over.

“Now,” said Nanatoona in a dramatic whisper. “Cast bones. Easy. Let fall. Open heart. Let show everything.”

Ingta took a breath, untied the pouch, and dumped the contents onto the flat stone. Before he saw more than a pile of brittle bones, Nanatoona dived forward and pushed Ingta away with his forearm. He bent low and stared at the bones in the brilliant sunlight. He went all around avoiding the light, casting no shadow onto the bones. He motioned for Ingta to join him.

Ingta glanced at Uva, but staring at the bright bones had ruined his vision and he couldn’t find her in the shadow. So he looked at the bones. Saw how the thin ribs had broken away from the back bones, which were all disarticulated. A few hair-thin rib bones sprayed together around a darker bone. The jaw and the skull were nowhere near each other. Ingta thought it the barest remnant he could imagine of a formerly living snake.

“This,” said Nanatoona, pointing with a stick. “East. You say what looks like.”

Ingta looked at where the stick pointed, the part of the pattern of bones that lay directly east. “The hip bone. If it had a hip.”

“Ah!” Nanatoona said, slapping the stick to his forehead. He leaned close to the bone and stared at it. “Lizard. Yes! Legs. See tail?” He swirled the tip of the stick along a lose arrangement of bones that looked like a lizard’s tail if you really wanted it to.

“You see?” asked Nanatoona.

“I see,” said Ingta.

“Say. What you see.” Nanatoona whipped the stick to point.

“Looks like a lizard. With a long curving tail.”

“Which way curve?”

“Life way.” From east to south to west to north, back to center, the direction to find one’s way in life, the life way.

“You see belly? Or back? Flip side up?”

Ingta glanced at it. He saw enough white to be the bottom side. “Belly.”

“Eyes. They open? They close?”

Ingta took another look, leaning close to the bones. There was a tiny shadow shaped like an eye, and in the middle a dot of brilliant light glowed. “Open.”

“Hot or cold?”

“What?” Ingta didn’t know what he meant.

“Hot or cold?”

He felt the tiniest of shivers down his back and shrugged. “Cold.”

Nanatoona repeated everything Ingta had said in a voice so loud people cringed. He said it once again, a little softer, like a story teacher. Then he reached out with his stick and swept the eastern lizard off the flat stone onto the floor.

When you gaze into the sky and see a cloud or a twirl of smoke, what do you see? Magic?

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Incompletion as a Creative Tool

Incompletion as a Creative Tool

Incompletion as a Creative Tool. Photo credit: Autism from a Father’s Point of View by Stuart Duncan

Week 22: The Writing of Novel Number 10, Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Go to Week 1: Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

I’m at 56,000 words. Yep, exactly.

Here’s my last sentence: “Men treated him with more deference when he wore a mask made o….”

Drives you crazy, doesn’t it? Mask made of what? If it does that to you, imagine what it does to my internal creative storytelling brain? It’s dying to complete that sentence, too.

I’ve been using this technique lately to jump-start my storytelling sessions. I write to near an exact word count and then I stop in the middle of a word, sentence, paragraph, and scene.

When I pick up the next day, I can feel the pent-up tension to complete the word, sentence, paragraph, and scene. My inner storyteller has been churning on it while I do other things and sleep, and pow, I can start with a long flurry of keys, often writing another several hundred words before I even stop to think about the story. I rather like that.

I’m often surprised, too. I may find out tomorrow my character is wearing a mask made of…coconut. Or jade. Or wicker in the shape of a badger’s nose. Hmmm….

Next time you’re writing something that takes longer than one session, try purposefully leaving it incomplete. See what that does to you when you start again.

How’s it work for you?

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Excerpt from this week’s work on the first draft of Medicine Snake

Tuwa motioned for Masi to allow the emissary, Yook, to pass the guardhouse and come up.

“Alone,” added Tuwa. “Unarmed.”

Masi trotted to a high place above the switchbacks where he could signal the guardhouse and waved his arm twice. The guard waved back, and a man climbed to the top of the wall and then back down, where the guard frisked him. The man looked up at Masi, and began the walk up.

When Yook arrived, Masi told the boy, Hinti, to bring food and water, and then led Yook into Tuwa’s chambers, down the ladder, through a billow of cleansing smoke.

The chamber was so smoky Tuwa could barely see Yook, who dropped to the floor where the good air lurked, and when a passing breeze sucked out the smoke, Yook made eye contact with Tuwa, who sat cross-legged on the north side of the fire. Yook made a motion with his right hand, a single slide in front of his abdomen below his navel, a sign of greetings and a desire to parlay from the depth of his spirit. Then Yook walked the stations of the round room, east to south to west to north and back to center. He sat across the fire on the south side, and Hinti brought him food and water.

Hinti paused, waiting for his piece of elk jerky.

“Not today, boy,” Yook said. “I ate it all up.”

Hinti shrugged and waited for Yook to drain his water and ask for more, and then the boy climbed up the ladder as if gravity didn’t hold him down.

Yook sniffed at the bowl of food the boy brought, and fingered some of it into his mouth. “Fawn stew,” he said.

“A bit thin these days,” said Tuwa.

Yook ate it all quickly, drank the liquid, and licked the bowl as far as his tongue would reach. He belched, just as Hinti brought a second flagon of water. The boy took the empty bowl and raced up the ladder, raising a thin cloud of dust.

“Ah, the energy of youth,” said Yook.

“Wasted on the young.”

Yook laughed. “Isn’t that the truth?”

“So what bad news do you bring?”

“It should be good news.”

“Say it.”

“The High Priest sent orders to Póktu to return to the canyon.”

“Is he departing?”

“That’s the bad news. He’s not.”

“He’s disobeying his blind master? That can’t be good for his career as chief warrior.”

“He won’t leave without your Twins Keeper. Or his woman. Or both.”

“Then he’ll have a long wait.”

“Your people look tired and dirty. We can end this now if you’ll just turn them over.”

“You know very well that will not end this, now or ever.” Tuwa had little patience for negotiations with men he did not and would never trust. Even if Ingta and Uva were at the Twins, he would never turn them over to Póktu.

Yook sniffed. “He could bust through your guardhouse, you know.”

“He is welcome to try.” Tuwa didn’t believe it. At least not without such an enormous loss of Póktu’s precious warriors he would become the most foolish chief warrior in history.

“You’ll run out of water soon.”

“It will rain sooner.”

Yook shifted and put his legs out straight with a grimace on his face. “Maybe there’s another way.”

Ah, yes. Well, there’s always another way.

Especially if you have a mask made o….


I nicked the photo of the incompl te hat Autism from this blog: Autism from a Father’s Point of View by Stuart Duncan. The story of how his autistic son responds to stopping a task before it’s completed sounds like the way I would response if I let my inner creative child react without the controls we adults exert on ourselves: Meltdown!

There’s a certain stress caused by not getting everything done you’re supposed to do, or merely want to do. Psychologist Nigel Barber, PhD, writes about it at Psychology Today here: The Lure of the Incomplete Task.

Excerpts from Barber

“Having begun a novel, or a picture, or a piece of music, most creative people find the energy to bring it completion. The lure of the incomplete task sucks them in.”

“If a person sees their entire career as a work in progress, they are constantly trying to improve. Whether it is a runner improving her times, a business owner improving sales, a bricklayer working faster, or a hospital administrator saving lives, these goals stimulate a great deal of effort. Considered in those terms, the incomplete task is a motivator to be reckoned with.”

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10 Ways to Fall Off a Cliff and Survive

Week 21: Falling off a cliff and surviving while writing Medicine Snake

Week 21: Falling off a cliff and surviving while writing Medicine Snake

Week 21: The Writing of Novel Number 10, Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Go to: Week 1

One reason I love to write is the mental places I get to go. This week, I needed to figure out how a character could fall off a high cliff and survive. I imagine the location near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, but this can happy anywhere.

Ten requirements for surviving a freefall off a vertical cliff

  1. Live through the fall
    You’ve got to live through freefall beside a sheer face of rock racing past at arm’s length. If that scares you to death, then it doesn’t matter what happens next.
  2. Hit something soft
    If you’re anywhere near terminal velocity, the first thing you hit will kill you unless it’s really, really soft. Like: Snow. Especially loose snow, maybe warmed by an afternoon sun, not crusted over by the evening chill. And maybe at the foot of that loose snowpack, there’s kind of a muddy little wash grown over with marshy-moldy stuff.
  3. Start steep
    Even if there’s a lovely level marsh, soft and deep, as fast as you’re going, you’d be splat. So muddy, marshy, but at a really high angle, as steep as it could possibly be. The higher the angle, the greater your chance of surviving the first bounce.
  4. Avoid boulders…
    Even little boulders. As fast as you’re sliding down this wicked-steep slope, you’d better not hit anything bigger than a potato, and it had better be loose. Because if you hit something immovable now, there goes part of your body. You might live a little longer.
  5. …and trees
    Even stumps or fallen logs. If you hit any trees now, they’d better be full rotten. What you need now is braking.
  6. U-shaped valley
    Okay, maybe not the whole valley. But right where you fell, it better have some kind of parabolic-curve shape to it, or you’ll slow down too fast and excessive g-forces will turn your innards into jelly.
  7. Lubrication
    It’s a universal truth. Everything’s better with lubrication. So maybe you’re sliding through the duff from generations of needles shed by a forest of Engelmann Spruce, composted down deep, but twiggy and scratchy up top. The dust makes you not want to breathe, and the sticks popping you in the face make you squint your eyes hard.
  8. Protection
    If you’re wearing a suit made of carbon nanotube fibers you know they have out there in New Mexico somewhere, well then, you’d have a pretty good chance of surviving almost anything. Otherwise, if all you’ve got on is your skivvies, prepared to be flayed. It’d be awful to die of your injuries after surviving the fall just because you got skinned alive.
  9. Lucid liquid
    If you managed to fall with a bottle of water, now is a good time to drink it. Otherwise you’re far more prone to pass out or do something stupid. If you see a stream, drink.
  10. Wonderful weather
    If it’s the middle of a long drought, you’re doomed. Or if the coldest ten days of the winter are about to hit. So you’ve got to have pretty good weather to have any hope of surviving. In this condition, I believe even your average person could walk back out, or make a valiant effort to do so. If you can’t or don’t for any number of reasons, or help doesn’t find you, then, well, at least you die free and in the mountains. That ain’t bad.

That’s it. I couldn’t think of anymore. Can you?

Ingta Falling: a first-draft excerpt from Medicine Snake

He fell backward and panic kept him from breathing, and even imagining himself a lithe boy with young bones and sinews, he knew he fell too long to survive. The air rushed past like the strongest wind he’d ever known. He tensed and forced himself to relax again, expecting at any moment to hit the ground, but he kept falling, and when he finally struck something hard, it surprised him. His head slammed into slushy snow that exploded all around him, the little air he had in his lungs rushed out, a ringing roar rushed through his ears, his vision narrowed to a pinpoint, and he was barely aware of his limp body flopping and scraping and sliding and bouncing and twisting and rolling. He slammed off of something hard, a boulder or a tree, and it knocked him sitting upright while he skidded past trees and into forest. Pine needles began to plow ahead of him and they curled up and over him as he began to slow. When he finally stopped, which seemed strange and quiet and unreal, he lay in a cocoon of needles and forest floor duff.


I tried to find some truly relevant stuff, some scientific studies or something, even videos showing a dummy falling off a cliff and surviving. But, alas, all I found was stuff like this. The video is pretty interesting. The others…meh.

Good video

A movie crew shoots mountain-climbing scenes without losing any lives.

Great news

But not enough details to learn much: How We Survived a Fall from a 90-Foot Cliff.

A book

How to Fall Off a Cliff by Jerry Zelinka. I didn’t read this book and do not vouch for it. But the title caught my eye. The metaphor is glaring. (Link goes to Amazon)



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Week 20: Getting “Medicine Snake” Unstuck

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel: Getting Unstuck

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Getting Unstuck: Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Go to Week 1: Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

Sometimes I’ll be writing along, fully imagining the story, and then my hands rise off the keyboard as if possessed by something other than me, and I realize I’m stuck.

Now I have to get unstuck.

I sit around and stare at my storyboard a lot. It hit me that, for a little more satisfaction, and symmetry, Molta, the bad guy, has to go from center canyon (Chaco Canyon, New Mexico) to the Twins (Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado), and I couldn’t think of a good motivation for him to do so.

Story and plot is less about what than why, hence, I was stuck. My daily word count dropped, and my “daydreaming” hours went way up. Now I’ve decided to read from the beginning to the end, which often helps me see how to get out of box canyons. How to get unstuck. I hope.

I’m at 44,115, teetering over the brink of Act IIa into part b. Right where the hero, Ingta, becomes a warrior. I’m not going to tell you what tips him over. It’s too big a surprise.

But I do have to figure out a good motivation for Molta to get up to the Twins.

Time check

Let’s do another time analysis and see where I am. I prefer to hand-draw these things, so here is how my 172 total hours spent on Medicine Snake to date breaks out:

Week 20: Hours to Date on "Medicine Snake"

Week 20: Hours to Date on “Medicine Snake”

Writing is 70 hours for 44,000 words, which is 629 words per hour. That’s not as high as I’d like. This whole novel is taking me longer than the last several. I’m probably over-thinking it.

Daydream is also 70 hours. It takes me a long time to think up a good story.

Research is 21 hours and won’t go up much more, unless there’s something particular I need to dig into that I don’t foresee.

Marketing is 12 hours for writing this blog. I’m pretty fast with those. You can tell because it’s always first-take raw first draft.

Now I just have to get Molta to move his blind self up to the Twins for the next part of the story.

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Week 19: Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

Storytelling and Musical Rhythm

By Jeff Posey
Sometimes I think about storytelling like it’s got the rhythm of music. Storytelling began as an oral art, and only relatively recently transferred into writing. Even when we read in total silence, a voice speaks the stories in our heads. Doesn’t it for you? It most certainly does for me.

A narrator’s voice, then, usually your main character, but every now and then, not. To pull that off without coming up with too many voices inside your head (you don’t want people to think you’re too crazy), maybe you do indeed have a stage director’s voice, an omniscient, unseen speaker who tells the tale. The way the writer tells the story affects that greatly, of course, but you the reader are the real ones in control.

That’s why I think about the rhythm of music a lot when I write stories, in matters small and large.

Take the basic three-act play, for instance. In many, perhaps even most, it’s really a symmetrical four-act play, but the second act is broken down the middle into a place where things look pretty grim for the hero, and then they begin look up (often just barely).

So I think of those four acts as the backbeat of the story. You musicians will know it as time being “in four.” Four beats per measure. One-two-three-four.

Back when I played jazz saxophone (note for posterity: I really sucked), my favorite time was three-four time. Three notes laid over four beats. It’s the time of the waltz. One-two-three, one-two-three, over and over. It’s mesmerizing. A great feature for storytelling.

But if you mesmerize too much, you get bored. It becomes predictable. So you’ve got to mess with it.

I like to think in threes because they make a basic common sense to me. I’m a base-three kind of guy. So a story often works like this:

Opening scene, the first of three parts in Act 1.

Each part has three scene sequences.

Each scene…well, I don’t really drill down that deep. Each scene has what it needs to succeed as a scene. Sometimes the music is soft, sometimes it’s hard and fast, but ultimately it marries the overall beat.

But you mess with it, like I said a few paragraphs back. That’s when I throw in a two-scene sequence or part, often from a different point of view.

We’ve been in the hero’s for a while now, things have gotten bad, and now we get two beats from the bad guy’s point of view.

Yeah, you know what I mean if you play music. Or if you’ve told oral stories. Writing them is the same way.

Below is how I take my notes. The red Ys and Ns denote the try-fail or yes-no cycle within scenes. They’re basically all the reminder I need to write a full-blown scene.

Week 19: My lapboard where I scribble scene notes sitting in an old rocking chair.

Week 19: My lapboard where I scribble scene notes sitting in an old rocking chair.

And here’s what it looks like when I’m working the scene cards on my storyboard.

Week 19: The whole storyboard, the four major parts of a three-act play across the top in red. Character charts are off to the right.

Week 19: The whole storyboard, the four major parts of a three-act play across the top in red. Character charts are off to the right.

And now for the proof in this waltz pudding: A sample of what I wrote from all this contortionism:

Here’s a snippet that breaks from the end of one scene into a POV scene. A change in the pace and point of view of the story that adds drama, which strengthens plot. The setting for the first part is somewhere east of Pagosa Springs (link to official government website for the city), Colorado, not far south of East Fork Campground (link to National Forest campground site) in the San Juan National Forest. The second scene is inside the High Priest’s main kiva in Pueblo Bonito (link to Wikipedia), Chaco Canyon.

End of a scene, and beginning of another

After a dry, cold meal washed down with ice-cold water, Ingta lay back and looked into the sky. “Teach me something,” he said.

Uva looked up and pointed at stars that made a zigzag pattern, with a triangle at one end. She walked him through it until he saw it.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Snake,” she said. “Tuwa’s wife, Chumana, was the Snake Maiden, and Tuwa looks up at the snake every night like it’s the face of the woman he loves. I hope he’s doing that now.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Ingta. “What does he look for?”

“Do you see a rattle?”

Ingta studied the stars and tried to make some become the rattle, but it didn’t really work for him. “No.”

“Fangs?” she asked.

He looked for fangs. “No.”

She nodded, and Ingta felt a hint of approval. “It’s the snake of life. Healing and transforming and being unafraid to embrace our mother earth.”

“That sounds like what….”

She interrupted and finished for him, “…the bone rattler said about your final center place.”

He looked at other bright stars and imagined seeing signs in them, something to tell him what to do. Not a riddle like Nanatoona gave him. “Do the stars give you wisdom?” he asked.

“Not enough.”

“Not enough for what?” he asked.

“To know how to live.”

Next Chapter: Not Bad for a Blind Boy

Molta sat in darkness, though he knew it only because he did not smell a burning lamp. He slept all day and held court all night when he knew all were in darkness, but tonight he sat alone. Even his grandson, Eyebrow, had deserted him for a few minutes.

Sometimes in these quiet, alone moments, he would imagine what he would do if he discovered an assassin coming for him. A crazy potter woman bent on murder. He listened carefully for rushing, scuffling feet, the faint guttural sounds most men made when they exerted great effort, even the tink of an exposed stone blade. If he waited to move at the last moment, when he could bear it no longer, he would raise a swiping forearm and lean his head into the softest spot he could find.

As a child, he had been in tussles with other boys. They liked tripping the blind boy. So he had to learn how to hurt them without seeing them. Almost no one expected a hard punch into their soft spots from a blind man.

“Is this how you sit all night?” asked a booming voice Molta recognized with a jolt. “In the dark?”

“Welcome to my humble chambers, Blackstone. What I have is yours.”

“I know that. You don’t have to say that formal crap to me when no one else is around.”

“Of course.”

Blackstone yelled for the chamber keeper.

“They’re out at the moment,” said Molta.

“They left you alone? Where are your guards?”

“We’re a bit shorthanded at the moment.”

“Well, this is ridiculous to sit here in the darkness.”

“It’s what I do all the time,” said Molta.

Blackstone rustled around the fire. “Who keeps this place for you?”

“My grandson.”

“The one with the giant eyebrow?” Blackstone laughed. “I’ll bet they had some names for him when he was a boy.”

“A few.” Molta relished the opportunity to sit with this pompous man on the equal footing of darkness. “What brings you out on such a dark night?”

“What? Well…I can’t even see my hands!”

“But you can speak. What brings you here?”

“Yeah. Well. It’s hard to think in the dark. It’s like this all the time for you, isn’t it?”

The first empathy in Blackstone Molta had ever sensed. “Yes, but it will focus your mind if you allow it.”

“Don’t be casting one of your spells on me, now.”

“I do no magic,” said Molta, though he did, in fact, pretend to at times.

“Yeah, well, okay. I’m here because people are complaining to me about all your soldier boys taking off somewhere and not coming back. They feel exposed.”

I keep playing around, having fun writing Anasazi novels. I’m at 34,000 words on Medicine Snake, which is about a third of the way through. I’m working on the end of Act 2a, and building up for Act 2b.

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Week 18: Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

By Jeff Posey

It’s been a great week for writing. I just topped 20,000 words, and I’m at the tail-end of Act I.

I struggled to get going, writing maybe 500 words in a session, but then my brain slowly warmed to the story and I would find myself, as I did this morning, looking at the clock and realizing I’d gone an hour past when I expected to stop writing, and I’d written nearly 3,000 words. A good day.

Meanwhile, I’ve been changing and updating my storyboard:

Week18: "Medicine Snake" Storyboard at 20,000 Words, Near the End of Act I

Week18: “Medicine Snake” Storyboard at 20,000 Words, Near the End of Act I

The arrow shows my current writing location (when I took this picture yesterday—today I’ve written down to the second scene from the bottom on the left. That’s where my arrow is now.

Here’s a short excerpt from recent material (all first drafts, uncorrected, unproofed, raw as you can get it from a writer, so all the usual caveats—I reserve the right to change everything). Setting is northwest of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in the hills above Pagosa Lakes, a thousand years ago:

Life Spiral, Death Spiral

Ingta let the flames die and after a meal of cold parched corn and dried meat-nut-fruit cakes warmed on stones, they watched the coals.

“What do you see?” Soo asked.

To Uva, he would know how to answer. He didn’t have to pause to think around her, he could be himself. But for Soo, he chewed on a response like Hinti chewed elk jerky.

“It’s like looking at clouds. First it’s one thing, then it becomes something else.”

“Like looking at snake bones.”

He nodded. “Like that, too.”

“You don’t believe in that, I can tell.”

“Could we tell the future, know what choices to make in the future, by looking into this fire? Letting what we see guide us? Even though different people would see different things?”

“Some say yes.”

“What do you think?”

She sat up and hugged her knees. “I think the future is too scary to predict. If we truly knew what awaited us, we would be frozen in terror. Everything would stop. No one would do anything.”

“So you don’t believe the bone rattler either.”

“Did you notice he went around your cast of bones in a life spiral? There was a man like him when I was a child in the canyon who did something like that with stones, and he went the same direction. He looked at his stones and told a story. In the east, he saw a victim, who goes south to find out why. And when he discovers who and why he’s being tormented, he goes on a rampage to the west, where he fights for his life. Just before he gets to the north, he must offer himself for sacrifice, to die for the thing he wants to protect or the person he loves. And then he fights and wins, most of the time, in his stories anyway. But because he’s a victor now, he thinks he knows all right from all wrong, no in between, and he must return to the center for wisdom and enlightenment before the spirits take him away for a better next life.”

Ingta compared what she said to the strange characters Nanatoona saw in the bones Ingta cast. “Did he ever tell the story in reverse?”

“You mean death spiral?”

He waved his hand in front of the coals so she could see his sign for Yes.

“Sometimes. He said all stories go both ways, first in the direction of life, and then in the direction of death. So the end of the story isn’t really enlightenment, but the losing of that as you fall into death. I don’t like thinking about that part.”

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Week 17: Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

By Jeff Posey

Go to Week 1: Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

This has been a good week. I’m 8,456 words into the first draft and having a blast. Yay!

A quick look at numbers:

Week17: Time to Date on "Medicine Snake"

Week17: Time to Date on “Medicine Snake”

About 104 total hours, most of it in the daydream stage. I’ve never taken that long to gin up a story. I’ve definitely taken the long, hard road on this one. But it’s fun, so that’s good.

At seventeen hours’ writing time, that’s 497 words per hour. That’s very slow for me. I expect that to pick up now that I’ve started.

I’ve updated my storyboard, too. See the arrow magnet? That’s pointing at the scene I write next.

Week17: Updated "Medicine Snake" Storyboard Opening Scenes

Week17: Updated “Medicine Snake” Storyboard Opening Scenes

Here’s my opening (subject to change without notice):

“He’s not coming,” said a man with black-pearl teeth. He paced from where his two companions lounged in the shade of the storytelling tree to a straight stick in the ground in full sunlight. The shadow of the stick pointed the length of a man’s thumb to the west.

“Yes, he is,” said Tumok.

“He’s afraid of the revenge of the clan of Molta.” Black-pearl teeth slapped his war club in his left hand as he walked beyond the time stick, glared at all the curious eyes of village people, mainly women and children and old men, hiding and watching, before he turned and paced back to the storytelling tree.

“He should be afraid of me,” said Tumok.

A girl’s sob rose into a cry before an old woman’s voice comforted her and then sang out to the men: “May you die with your eyes closed and wander for all time in darkness, the hands of the wicked dead clutching at you!”

“I should kill that old hag.”

“Leave her be,” said Tumok.

“And that girl whimpers too much. We need a new one.”

“Yeah,” said the other man, short and thin, his first words. “She bleeds too much.”

“What?” asked black-pearl teeth. “You don’t like dirtying your man twig with a little girl blood?” He laughed.

“Forget the girl,” said Tumok. “Watch for Ingta.”

“He said we have to get out before the time stick shows no shadow. I don’t think he’s coming.”

“He will,” said Tumok. “But he’s never been up against a man like me before.”

“What about us?”

“You can protect us from girls that bleed too much. And cursing grandmothers.”

Black-pearl teeth cursed and the little man laughed. Tumok stretched out his legs. He lay back and closed his eyes, patches of sunlight playing over his lids, orange and gray battling back and forth. Tumok smiled. His cousin with the black teeth was right. Ingta should fear not only the club of Tumok, but the bigger club of the clan of old blind Molta. In all the lands from the sacred canyon north to the mountains, there was no more powerful force of men. Even the warriors of the canyon couldn’t compete. Molta had cast his seed wide across the northlands so that in every village, no matter how small, his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren defended his name. When he became High Priest, anointed by the council of the Southern Alliance, it came as both surprise and vindication for Molta’s life as an outsider, a man without a home as well as without sight. As great-grandnephew of the High Priest, nobody could touch Tumok. Not even Ingta the Twins Keeper, top man of Old Tuwa, the last skywatcher.

“I think that’s him,” said one of his men. Tumok didn’t even register which one. They were interchangeable moron relatives as plentiful as deer in the spring.

When he sat up and looked he saw Ingta sauntering toward them like a man unaware of his imminent misery. Tumok grinned and stood. “You boys watch and learn. If anybody tries to get in the way, stop them. Got that?”

Ingta didn’t look at Tumok and his men, but stopped at the time stick. Squatted and measured the shadow. Half the length of his thumb. “You still have time,” he said.

“All the time in the world,” said Tumok.

Ingta stood and turned his back to Tumok. Shaded his eyes with his hand and looked south.

“Hey,” hissed black-pearl teeth. “That one-handed giant is coming.”

Masi, a head taller than any man Ingta had ever seen, the stump of his missing left hand replaced by a fist-sized river stone wrapped in leather strips that wound to his elbow, walked toward them and planted himself a few steps away. He lifted his chin and gazed into the distance.

Tumok gave a hand sign for his men to watch Masi. Surely the two of them could take a one-handed giant.

“Join us for our midday meal, Twins Keeper,” said Tumok.

“You still have time,” said Ingta.

“Time makes me hungry. Where’s that echo boy? I want some fawn meat.”

Ingta, his back to Tumok, said, “If you start now, I’ll let you go.” Ingta noticed the old matron of the springs watching from a doorway. She complained to Tuwa just yesterday that Ingta had done nothing to make the hot springs a day’s walk to the east safe enough for her to return. But he wasn’t Springs Keeper.

“And if I don’t? What are you going to do?” asked Tumok. “Kill me?”

“I hope he does!” called the old grandmother. The matron made an exaggerated No! sign with her hands. She feared the wrath of Molta more than Ingta did. Making an example of Tumok and his men would protect them more than tolerating the clan. Since the old blind fortuneteller had risen to High Priest, every scion of Molta had turned to splinters and thorns.

Ingta turned and looked at Tumok, still lounging on the ground in the shadow of the storytelling tree. Both men’s hands were empty. Ingta knew where his weapons were, and he could see Tumok’s club hanging from a quick-draw cord through the belt of his loin cloth. Ingta used something similar. “Time’s up.”

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 16

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for “Medicine Snake”

The Writing of Novel Number 10, Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Go to Week 1: Anasazi Novels: Writing Number 10, “Snake Medicine”: Week 1

This was a big week. I got novel #9, Price on Their Heads, off for second round of reader reviews in both hard copy (paperback Advance Reader Copies, which used to be called Uncorrected Proofs, which, even before that, were called Galley Proofs). And I got everything off to the cover designer.

So, finally, I began to pay more attention to Medicine Snake, my novel #10.

My storyboard now looks like this:

Week16 "Medicine Snake" Storyboard

Week16 “Medicine Snake” Storyboard

I’ve been going through the awfully titled but brilliant book on screenwriting, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch (link to Amazon book page). It’s a great way to set up the story and get it launched—and to help keep it on track when the creative monsters start jacking with the story, as they inevitably do (and I want them to).

Here’s what my outline looks like at the moment:

Cast of Characters


Ingta Molta
Keeper of Hero/Villain’s moral compass PROTECTOR Nanatoona PROTECTOR Yook
Pulls Hero/Villain off path with a different moral compass DEFLECTOR Soo, Yook DEFLECTOR Nanatoona
Believes and trusts Hero/Villain just as he is BELIEVER Masi BELIEVER Eyebrow
Challenges Hero/Villain, usually out of cowardice DOUBTER Tumok, Tookya DOUBTER Blackstone
Reflects on Hero/Villain’s course of action before supporting or not THINKER Gawt THINKER Amataq
Ally of Hero/Villain who shoots first and asks questions later FEELER Pip FEELER Póktu


Act 1

Act 1, Part 1
Don’t Get No Respect

Meet Hero, Stakes, or Villain

At Twins Village Ingta kills bad-guy Tumok of Molta’s clan because he did not get out of town as warned. Aided by Masi. Uva, honoring her vow of silence (given to Tuwa for first year of her skywatcher’s apprencticeship), does not speak to Ingta when he seeks her out for comfort. Ingta feels rejected.

Start here

Hero’s flaw in relation to Stakes

In Tuwa’s round chamber at the Twins, the Bone Rattler, Nanatoona, casts snake bones that reveal Ingta’s nature as an inverse black panther, seeing everything in black and white, blind (like Molta) to the obvious: Uva loves him, Tuwa respects him, he has a home and surrogate family there. Ingta thinks he is not worthy because Uva rejects him and he never knew his parents and was unwanted as a child.

Start here

Meet or amplify Villain

Old blind Molta, the High Priest, sits in his Chaco council chamber while his grandson, Eyebrow, describes a performance by Amataq and his Kolitsi Warriors, with Póktu present. Molta mentally constructs his plot against Tuwa and Ingta based on his lifelong loathing of skywatchers because they could commune with the sky gods while Molta could not even see the sky.

Start here

Act 1, Part 2
You know what your trouble is?

Deflector slows hero or pulls off path

In Twins Big House, sultry Soo Potter says she wants to leave the Twins without being detected because she has lost her creative juices and feels hemmed in by cloying girls with strange religious beliefs.

Start here

Inciting Incident: Hero becomes emotionally involved

Yook arrives with warning for Ingta: Kolitsi Warriors are on their way to take him, dead or alive, back to Molta. They will kill on sight anyone who helps or harbors Ingta. Tuwa orders Ingta to escape into the mountains.

Start here

Act 1, Part 3
Calls and Busy Signals

Statement of Hero’s goal, making obvious to audience

Ingta to Tuwa and Uva (eavesdropping): “I’m not Ingta Keeper. I’m Twins Keeper. I am not leaving to protect myself. But I will do anything to protect the Twins, my people, my home.”

Start here

Hero is ready to move forward, but can’t

Ingta leaves, but lingers within view of the Twins. He sees Uva watching him.

Start here

Act 1, Part 4
Through the Looking Glass

Villain or Deflector conflict stops hero or threatens emotional stakes

Soo appears and says, “Let’s go.”

Start here

Depth of feeling for stakes character or severity of threat becomes evident

Ingta follows Soo and is attracted to her. Uva rejected him. Perhaps he should look elsewhere.

Start here

Deflector or Antagonist threatens to take stakes character

Gawt catch Ingta and Soo: “Amataq and Kolitsi Warriors have taken Uva.”

Start here

Hero decides he must act to save stakes character

Ingta rushes back to the Twins. Tuwa is alive, but shaken. They’ve taken Uva. Soo goes to the hot springs to wait. Ingta goes after Póktu, Amataq, and the Kolitsi Warriors. Masi, Gawt, Kwivi (girl attendant to Soo), and Yook (surprisingly) join him.

Start here

Act 2a

Try-Fail Cycle 1: Kick the Dog

Try-Fail Cycle 2: Which Way is Up?

Try-Fail Cycle 3: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Act 2b

Try-Fail Cycle 4: …Make Lemonade

Try-Fail Cycle 5: Inside the Whale

Try-Fail Cycle 6: Death and Rebirth

Act 3

What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Big Yes: Ingta escapes with Uva.

NO: The passageways have been blocked by stone.

Start here

Good Guy vs Bad Guy over stakes

Big NO!: Molta appears in the dark with a single-flame lamp held by Eyebrow. He begins to laugh. “The last Twins Keeper and the last lady skywatcher, lovers to the end. So may you enjoy eternity.” Póktu and warriors arrive as stone masons begin to block up last passageway.

Final Yes!: Uva Kills stonemasons and Eyebrow. Ingta kills some warriors and Molta. Póktu escapes. They go back to the Twins. They tell Tuwa either they live together as man and wife while they perform their Twins duties, or they will leave. Tuwa asks the Bone Rattler for a decision, and Nanatoona casts his snake bones (mirror opening).

Start here

So—I’m ready to start composing! Stay tuned….

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Anasazi Archaeology: Thomas Windes Video Explains Tree-Ring Sampling

Thomas Windes (link to bio on New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies page), thirty-seven-year veteran Anasazi archaeologist with the National Park Service and adjunct with the University of New Mexico, explains the tools and techniques to collect tree-ring samples from ancient (historical and pre-historical) structures. You can see how carefully he acquires and records the samples, which he then sends to The University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (link is to the official page on the university’s site).

Windes (pronounced “Winds”) says tree-chronology has helped build a very precise record of climate and human building with wood for 2,000 years in the American southwest. In helping time the movements of the Anasazi, it’s an indispensable tool.

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Writing Novel Number 10, “Medicine Snake”: Week 15

Medicine Snake, an Anasazi Novel

Vision Board for Medicine Snake

By Jeff Posey

Remember this from Week 13?

Two: Stacks of stones, cairns as tall as a man, begin to appear in unlikely places and no one knows why. Only the humingbirdman knows. And he ain’t telling. (Hey, it’s hard to come up with twenty of these without going a little loopy.)

Stone Witch Project

Ingta’s eyes drifted open and he saw the ghostly shape of a face floating over him. The boy, Hinti, with a glow stick from a fire that he waved in front of him to keep it alive.

“What?” mumbled Ingta.

“Another one,” Hinti said.

“Where this time?”

“Behind Master Tuwa.”

Ingta sat up. “While he was there?”

The boy nodded, and Ingta could barely make it out in the dim light. He scratched his face.

“And he didn’t hear anything? See anything?”


Ingta sighed. Who did these things? He stood, wrapped a well-worn skin around his shoulders for warmth. “Show me.”

The boy, still waving his glow stick, which didn’t have much glow left, led him out into cold, still air, morning still too far away to show itself, the world illuminated in the dim blue-white light of stars, no moon. Hinti pointed, and Ingta saw it. A tall, narrow stack of stones directly behind Tuwa, who sat like a sack of dried corn in the middle of his skywatcher’s circle. The stones were on the edge of the circle.

Ingta walked around it, imaging how he might do such a thing without Tuwa hearing, only feet away. It didn’t seem possible.

The stones he recognized, from a pile being shaped and polished for the final facing and top work on the new big house, big ones at the bottom, increasingly smaller to the top. But the height impressed him. He had to look up at the topmost stone. Whoever built it had a gift for stacking and balancing stones, without, obviously, having it crash to the ground and alert the old skywatcher.

“A mystery, isn’t it?” asked Tuwa, without turning from his cardinal direction facing the dark Twins, a sliver of dark sky between the columns of stone.

“You saw and heard nothing?” asked Ingta.

“Only stars and wind.”

Ingta shook his head and walked around the tall stack of stones. How could anyone do this? Why would anyone do this? And who? Ingta looked at the other stacks that had appeared over the last few days. Tuwa ordered them to be left alone, that maybe their pattern of appearance would give an ultimate clue.

“Exactly what I’ve been wondering,” said Tuwa.

He did that sometimes, as if he could read minds, and maybe he could. But even he couldn’t understand the mystery of the stone cairns.

“Reminds me of your hummingbird man,” said Ingta.

“Tootsa,” said Tuwa, still not turning.

“Could he be here? Playing a joke on you?”

“I’ve thought about that. Part of me thinks that must be it. But this feels different than something he would do. He’s a bright spirit. This has a cloud of darkness to it. Do you feel that?”

Ingta did not feel it. He admired people who felt such things, who could walk into a canyon and stop cold because of some foreboding that he couldn’t detect. Welcoming places and tortured places felt the same to him.

“We need to keep Masi or someone out here with you,” said Ingta.

“And the eyes of boys,” said Tuwa.

Ingta nodded. And the eyes of boys. Because they see everything, even if they do not know how to interpret it.


I don’t really know where this is going or if it’s useful for the story. But it sure is fun to write little bits like that. Just release myself to the magic of a story without any idea what it means or where it’s going.

So what does it mean? Stone cairns appearing like that. I’ve not seen the Blair Witch Project (link to Wikipedia), but my son recently watched it said stone cairns appear mysteriously in that movie and scare the characters.

In my last historical Anasazi novel, The Last Skywatcher, not yet released (I’m preparing to release three books in the series at a time, a trilogy of trilogies, nine books, Medicine Snake being the third book of the first trilogy), we meet a grown character, Tootsa (means “hummingbird” in the Hopi language), from my first novel, Less Than Nothing (link to the book’s page on this site). He lives in the middle of nowhere in the rolling sparse-grass desert northeast of Center Canyon where he builds elaborate collections of intricately stacked stone on a low outcrop of rock. He sacrificed some of those stones to help Tuwa, Ingta, and Uva escape the bad-guy canyon warriors in The Last Skywatcher. So he’s a rightful suspect.

But did he do this latest mystery stack of stones? Even I don’t know. Yet.

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