The Terror and the Beauty

There is a place about 20 miles north of here that I have always loved to visit. A 300-foot gorge cuts through the earth from west to east with the beautiful Crooked River twisting through its base. For 25 years, I have passed over the Crooked River Bridge that spans this gorge on road trips and visits to Jefferson County. This place inspired me so much that when the vision of Salome (the setting of The Poison Box) came to me, one of the first things I saw was a 300-foot gorge cutting through town with the Two Thieves River running at its base and a beautiful, tall bridge spanning its width.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

There is a raw beauty to this landscape, both the real one and the fictional one. Steep sides covered with brush and boulders, rushing water at the bottom, running on for miles and miles…

And each place has a dark history - from the young man who threw himself over the edge of the gorge in Salome to the dozens of men who fell to their deaths while constructing the Crooked River Bridge. There are even signs all over the area overlooking the Crooked River Gorge, stating that hundreds of dogs have leapt to their deaths, not realizing there was a 300-foot drop on the other side of the short wall, and reminding visitors to please keep their dogs on a leash to prevent such a tragedy.

Even in its beauty, the landscape is full of peril. Even in its grandeur, there lurks danger and even death.

Just as in life.

Over the past few months, several friends of mine - people in their 20's and 30's - have fallen gravely ill. Just like that. Out of the blue. Beautiful, healthy, young people stricken with health crises that are mostly attributed to people much more advanced in age.

A young man in our community was recently killed in a freak automobile accident. He was 18. We had just attended his graduation ceremony two months before. He was just beginning his life.

And then there are my own freak accidents - injuries and issues that popped up out of nowhere that violently shook my life or brought it to a near complete standstill.

But somehow, there is still beauty in it all. The danger, the threat, the risk cannot displace or diminish the beauty of the human spirit. The friends who weather their hospital stays with grace, who courageously cut off all their hair and keep their hearts open and soft even in the face of terrifying uncertainty. The community members who come together to honor a lost member. The family who stands together, hand-in-hand, to weather one of the greatest losses they will ever endure.

Each person, each soul, cuts their way through this world. We all leave our mark, somehow, just like the Crooked or Two Thieves rivers cut through the earth. In that beautiful way we make our mark, we also somehow find that we cannot escape the vulnerability of being human.

And the realization that that vulnerability is also beautiful in its own way.

Terrifying, but beautiful as hell.

Writing Taught Me

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I grew up in the dawning days of technology. I was blessed not to have a computer in the house. There were no cell phones, and certainly no DVD players.

I, like all children at that time, had to find my entertainment in books and my imagination.

As much as I loved school, I would rush home every single day, impatient to stuff a handful of crackers into my pockets, grab my newest book, and run out to the backyard to sit on the swing and read for hours. Saturdays were even better - a full day of reading. I'd set up two patio chairs facing each other, and lay a beach towel over them, creating a little bed. There I would sit for 8 hours, oblivious to my little siblings playing around me, the dogs running by, my father mowing the lawn.

I was lost in the world of E.L. Konigsberg and John Bellairs. Witches, magic, history, mystery - I loved it all.

I was lucky to retain my love of reading even as technology began to creep into the house. As a teenager, I often chose a Nancy Drew novel over the latest Blockbuster rental or computer game. I could read through an entire book in 3 hours and I'd greedily dig through the family bookshelf, looking for more.

These books influenced me so deeply. By the time I was 10, I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. The first book I wrote, at that tender age, addressed what it meant to be a warrior for goodness, purity, and innocence. Reading and writing guided the development of my morality, my compassion, and my soul.

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Looking back, I can see that the practice of writing helped me develop into the person I am today. I learned discipline and tenacity through my determination to complete the writing projects that I started. The characters that entered my dreams demanded to be fully realized, and for them, I wrote tirelessly, feverishly. I completed five full-length novels by the time I was 25 years old, honing that discipline, learning what it took to give my all to a project, developing a strong work ethic.

And though it took much longer to cultivate, books, reading, and writing also taught me courage. It took many years before I was brave enough to share my work with others and even more years before I dipped my toes into the process of submitting queries for publication. But just as before, my characters and my ideas were so insistent on being heard, I felt compelled to obey that call, even if only one baby step at a time.

I've remained faithful to my craft all these years later, taking what I've learned from writing to every job I've had. The lessons of determination, creativity, discipline, and courage have served me well across industries - from teaching to program coordination. And in the meantime, while pursuing publication, my writing practice has given me yet another gift: ingenuity. I've learned the very complicated ins and outs of self-publishing for the projects that don't want to wait for traditional contracts. I've learned how to format books, create book covers, and even how to create audiobooks, independently.

I've learned that having a passionate calling is a blessing. Our dreams and talents and the books we read not only make us who we are, but teach us all the lessons that we need to learn in order to become the best versions of ourselves.

And I have lived happily ever after (with many books and my laptop at hand).