The Hawk and the Storm

I recently submitted a piece to a Wisconsin literary journal looking for a piece that showcased a Midwestern state of mind. I immediately thought of the hardy souls who live in our area, who for me, define the common sense, hard working, nothing flashy attitude that I so admire. Winter was approaching, and I had this fable I'd written, sitting in my notebook, waiting patiently for an audience. Unfortunately for me, it was not accepted into the publication. Fortunately for you, I've decided to share it here instead.

This story is both a lovely piece of writing (if get to say so... and I do... because this is my blog) and also a commentary on how we Midwesterners view Winter, in all her brutal beauty and glory. I hope you enjoy, The Hawk and the Storm. 

   Photo by Jim Ridley Photography

   Photo by Jim Ridley Photography

There once was a beautiful hawk. Her outstretched wings created a dark canvas on the otherwise stark and empty sky. She often liked to spread her wings and fly, paying more attention to the beauty of her intricate feathers, than the patchwork farmland laid out below.

However, when the first fat snowflakes fell, her attention was momentarily diverted. As the flakes gathered on her head and beak and wings the hawk would marvel for hours at their sophisticated patterns and shapes. In her mind, the icy crystals were the only thing in nature that rivaled her own physical appearance. While it would have been easy for her to hate them, she just couldn’t. She loved them too much.

One winter evening, just as the sun was setting behind the distant hills, a snowstorm settled in upon the land that she called home. The hawk soared among the flurries, greeting each flake with a gentle screech as if say hello to a long lost friend. When she tired, the hawk perched upon a branch to watch the storm. When the wind picked up, the hawk fluffed up her feathers, shook the snow off her head and sighed at the beauty surrounding her.

The storm cloud parked between the bluffs and unburdened itself of its snowy load, covering the land as far as the hawk’s eye could see. The steel grey ribbon of the river was the only force powerful enough to maintain its identity. The snow equalized everything else with a blanket of white.

When the snow piled high enough to reach her branch, the hawk stomped her feet. She knew she should fly to safety, but she just couldn’t bear to leave the beautiful flakes. By the time the snow piled up to her neck the hawk knew she had made a mistake. Her wings were frozen solid. Flying away was no longer an option. Instead of wishing for a hero to come to and save her, the hawk reflected that while she would not outlive this storm, at least she would be buried in the most beautiful coffin nature could create.


Most people view writing as a solo-affair. I assume the general public views a writer in one of these ways.

Moody, brooding, lonely… it dark, quiet places. Or maybe you’ve seen a writer exhibit an array of eccentric qualities in public, out and amongst the crowds, all while they ignore the rest of humanity and slave away at their keyboard.

It’s true, there are a lot of solitary hours in a writer’s world. It’s also true that to get the work done, writers need to forget large portions of the world actually exists so they can create new ones. But if you are a social butterfly interested in the industry of writing, it doesn’t have to be this way… all the time. (Side note, not all writers are the sycophantic, antisocial beings you might imagine them to be. Some of us are really nice people!)

One new popular trend is co-writing a book. Many people are already doing this. For example, Erin Hunter, author of the beloved middle grade Warriors series, is actually four different women. And get this, they’ve never met in person! James Patterson has started a co-writing revolution by co-authoring books with previously unknown writers. Author Shannon Hale co-writes with her husband Dean Hale. Another great example is the mother-daughter trio of Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed who wrote a YA book! 

Two more authors following the co-writing method are the duo of Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, featured in Once Upon a Book Club’s November YA box novel choice: Sparked

sparked_book cover.jpg
Fifteen-year-old Laurel Goodwin wakes up to find her older sister Ivy missing from their Airstream trailer in the Oregon redwoods. A recurring nightmare convinces her that Ivy was abducted, but no one takes her dream seriously, including her mom. Laurel, a loner, has to learn to ask for help, and Jasper Blake, a mysterious new kid who shares her love of old books, quickly becomes her ally. Together they find their quiet town holds a deep secret and is the epicenter of a dark prophecy. 

Laurel soon learns that her worst enemies, mean girls Peyton Andersen and Mei Rosen, are developing powers that she needs to find and save Ivy. With time running out, Laurel realizes that power doesn’t always take the form that you expect. And once she learns to look beyond her snap judgments, she develops an unexpected gift of her own.
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I was able to catch up with Helena and Malena (mid-book tour!!) and ask them a few questions about their writing process. Here’s what they had to say.

How did you ladies meet and decide to work together?

Helena: We went out for a drink about five years ago. It happened to be a Friday the thirteenth. We actually barely knew each other – we’d just met at a wedding and were becoming friends. We had a lot in common: we both had young children, and had both published novels for adults. I told Malena I wanted to write a YA novel for a change. Malena told me the idea for Sparked—girl wakes up to find her old sister missing, etc. I immediately started riffing: Obviously we have to have a love interest. Why don’t we throw in ancient prophecy? And by the end of the night, we had the whole plot outline. The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about our story, so I wrote a scene and sent it to Malena,

Malena: I wrote back with an edited version, and before we knew it we were both totally obsessed. We wrote the first draft in five months, which the writers among you know is record time.

Helena: Then we reread that first draft and discovered that it relied too much on well worn YA tropes. In some ways, readers of the YA supernatural genre are way more demanding than readers of adult literary fiction because they expect a story full of magic, mystery and romance, but they’re also too smart to stand for clichés like a gratuitous love triangle or a brooding, unnecessarily standoffish hero. We’re both perfectionists, and we had to do more rewrites than I like to think about to get this book just the way we wanted it. We did our best to write a suspenseful thriller, but with flawed, complicated, real characters.

Used to writing alone, we had no idea how co-writing would work out, but we pounded out the first draft in a white-hot frenzy of inspiration we called “the Vortex.” One of us would write a scene and send it to the other with a note: “My apartment is a pigsty and I haven’t eaten all day. #inthevortex.
— Malena Watrous

Do you each have a strength or weakness as a writer that you felt was complimented or compensated for by your writing partner?

Helena: I’m British, so when I write mean-girl dialog, my characters sound like BBC actors from Masterpiece Theater. Malena, who grew up in Oregon, has got a real flair for writing bitchy teenage banter, despite being a lovely person in real life.

Malena: I hate lists - Helena constantly marvels at the fact that I run my entire life without any to-do lists at all - while she loves making lists. This is important to our writing because when we have our epic brainstorming sessions, Helena takes notes and organizes all of our ideas into an outline. Sparked is a thriller, and to have that many twists and turns, you pretty much have to have an outline—even if you don’t end up sticking to it.

What tips do you have for others who are considering co-writing?

1. Meet weekly for caffeine-fueled brainstorming. Face-to- face meeting has a creative magic that just doesn’t happen via email or over the phone.

2. Give each other assignments. At each meeting, we’ll talk through the next couple of scenes and then we each pick one to write. If there’s one scene that seems like the lesser assignment, that’s a clue it’s probably not a good scene yet.

3. Let go of your ego. Co-writing is like co-parenting. You are going to disagree about things (“Why do you get up every time he cries? You’re just teaching him not to sleep through the night!”). But you can’t have your ego invested in being right. You have to put what is best for your shared creation first.

4. Get an objective eye. You may think that because there are two of you, you can see your work clearly. But this is your baby, and you can only see it with the biased eyes of love. Ask an outsider to read it and give you feedback. Every novel has to go through many revisions before it’s done. Don’t think that your collaboration means you can skip this step. Writing a book with a friend isn’t half the work—though it’s definitely twice the fun.

Would you co-write a book again? Are you working on another book together?

Malena: In a heartbeat. In fact, we just had a road trip to Oregon for a couple of book events and spent most of the ride there and back – ten hours each way – chugging kombucha and iced coffee and brainstorming the entire plot of the next book. I drove and Helena took notes.

Helena: The second book is mainly Ivy’s book – this time, she’ll be the one to rescue Laurel, and from a very, very different predicament. We’ll still have some sections from Laurel’s point of view, of course – we’ve got to find if she gives up her power in order to find true love with Jasper. We don’t know the answer ourselves, yet – and we’re definitely interested to hear thoughts on this from Sparked readers!

So there you have it. If you are interested in writing a book, but afraid of going it alone. Find a friend. Or, if you love to write, but can’t stand the idea of spending a year (or two… let’s be honest, possibly the next decade) alone, co-writing might be the perfect fit for you!

Just for fun, if you could co-write a book with anyone, which author would you choose to work with and why? What would you write about?

Until next time word nerds, happy reading and happy writing!



The River Road

There is a road in my hometown that changes names four times between my house and my destination. To simplify things at my house, we call it “the River Road”. I love this road because it is a straight shot from one end of town to the other (actually it cuts through/connects three towns), and also because it is complemented by beautiful natural scenery. (It has taken me two decades of training to stop at the rest area look outs, instead of getting lost in my gazing and veering onto the rumble strips!)

I also love this road as a word nerd because it is enshrined with signs from start to finish. Now, you might find these signs hokey or cheesy or small town, but I find that they are a wonderful showcase to what words can do. Words can inform. Words can lift spirits. Words can encourage. Words, when used positively, can make you laugh, smile, ponder, and reflect.

The River Road has taught me to pay attention… not just to my driving, but to the world and words around me, and the affect they have on my life. So today for my blog post, I’d like to offer you a photo essay to illustrate my point. I hope that you enjoy this small glimpse of the River Road and the words (and views) it has to offer.

In conclusion, I’ll ask you to open your eyes. Pay attention. Drive safe. Find good words, and then... share them.

P.S. In the comments below, I’d love to see a sign from your hometown.