Happy National Poetry Month

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I’m a writer not a poet, an artist, but not a poet. Yet, I have shared several of my poems in past blog posts. For me, poetry serves as a shorthand expression of creativity that I do not spend a great deal of time obsessing over.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I do take poetry most seriously. From Henry David Thoreau, to Sylvia Plath, to Maya Angelou, their lyrical words have healed my broken psyche, made me feel I wasn’t alone in the world, and allowed me to see humankind, and Mother Nature, through new eyes.

When I do take my own poetry seriously is when I’m using it to see/understand more clearly—and in less time—the “underlying message” behind the story banging against the walls of my brain insisting on a way out.   Those short clipped sentences have proven to be a most useful tool in the honeymoon phase of writing a short story, or novel.

To date, my relationship with poetry has been a secluded, solitary association. But to my surprise, I’ve recently discovered another use for this impactful form of expression.

Do you like playing games?

Many of my writing friends use games, role-playing games, dice games, tarot card games; the list goes on and on. They utilize these games to allow the fates to determine the story they will tell. I personally have never done this, but….

In a small bookstore on the Oregon coast I stumbled upon a poetry word game. It was one of those, hair standing up on the back of my neck moments. I felt this game literally calling out to me from its hidden, dusty shelf.

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It was as though this game was made specifically for me—“A Game of Color and Wordplay!”

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Color and Wordplay!

For those who’ve not read my past blog posts, as stated above I’m also an artist. But this game didn’t just catch me with its title. No, it gave this extrovert writer the added bonus of being, either a solitary game, or a game to be enjoyed with others.

There are several ways in the “How to Play” rules. The first time I played this game, I had the good fortune of being on a weekend retreat with three of my adult daughters, a nine-year old grandson, and a sixteen-year old granddaughter.

There was admittedly, hesitation, from my offspring at my request to play this particular game. But some time later, after many stories magically appeared through randomly picked colored tiles etched with whispered words, they were hooked.

The rules we played by were quite simple:

  • Stock your palette with a dozen paint chips.
  • Draw a Prompt
  • Make your Poem
  • Show & Tell
  • The “judge” declares the winner who then receives the Prompt card.

The final winner is the player who collects the most prompts, but we didn’t play to win. We played for the fun, creative story reflected as each palette was revealed.

Here are a few of the stories created along with the prompt, and paint chips:

Once Upon a Time1

Once Upon a Time

There was a dragon fly,

who lived in an herb garden.

He found a looking glass.

When he looked through it, he saw an emerald.

The Sunshine hit it,

giving him a new zest for life.

 

Once Upon a Time

In outerspace,

on the red planet.

A bluebird lived,

in a cedar chest,

made of driftwood.

 

In a parallel universe

 

In a Parallel Universe

A fairy mustard seed,

woke in the shadow of midnight,

by a babbling brook,

and her lover, Supernova.

As she sat next to him eating nectar,

she blushed like a pink pearl.

 

In a Parallel Universe

An iron gate opened

To a genie in a lamp playing a saxophone solo

It created a pyramid, tree house of bone.

The result—a total eclipse of night.

 

 

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Heartbreak

We began with a lightening bolt.

It created the bright fire of our love.

But through boundary waters we slipped,

separating us for an eternity in Outer Space.

 

Heartbreak

Revenge,

                  Blazing Sun,

                                    Bullseye,

                                                Easy Peasy,

                                                            BlackWidow.

 

So in this month of poetry, I encourage you, if you’ve never written poetry or used it as a creative outlet please give it a try. Paint Chip Poetry can get you started.

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I can’t wait to open the box on this wordplay game again.   With its never-ending source of creative story on paint colored chips, it waits for its players to imagine new worlds, new stories revealed.

What tools do you use to spark your creative muse?

2018’s End and 2019’s Beginning In Poem By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Working on my latest painting (see below) allowed me to complete my annual year end poem, The Spirit of Christmas.  The process of creating the painting gave me a sense of peace, renewal, and an overwhelming wish to stop time so I could live in its otherworldly glow.  So dear readers, my wish for you in the coming year, are those same things–peace, renewal and an abundance of time to stand in nature’s glow.

The Spirit of Christmas

Our Christmas tree is once again frosted with fine strands of tinsel glowing, bright, and white.

And when Grandson Max frosted his own tree this year, a next generational tradition, took flight.

Yes, the Spirit of Christmas has us in its thrall, a time of year, when its magical essence, captures us, big, or small.

From the smell of earthy pine filling the air, to the mouth watering scent, of the sweet confections, we prepare.

It is one of my favorite times of year.

One where even opponents, can raise a sparkling glass together, in good cheer.

But before the year of 2018 sounds it final note,

let us look back on some of the highlights, worthy of a quote.

Wasn’t the world’s faith in miracles restored with unerring belief?

When from a flooded cave, emerged 12 boys, and in unison our worry fled, like a thief.

And we must give thanks to Nobel Prize winners’, Dr.’s Honjo, and Allison.

For through their immunotherapy research, our fight against cancer, will yet, be won.

Now to the House we must go, as it sports a new vibe, a fresh coat of paint if you will,

when a palette of all sexes, and shades of color, reclaimed a part of the, infamous Hill.

And have you ever seen the phrase, “never say never” played out in real life?

Well in April, North and South Korea’s leaders actually met to discuss, their decade long strife.

A new addition is forthcoming in England’s royal bloodline, perhaps, even something new.

For what will the Queen say, if the bundle in the baby blanket, is of a decidedly, darker hue?

Here ye, here ye, we have a new “word of the year” Dictionary.com, has proclaimed.

“Misinformation” is the winner as the guilty, continue, to not be named.

Then there is Oregon’s youth, and their legal action over climate change.

Let us hope for a swift, suitable, resolution in this life altering exchange.

On a lighter note, if you’re Barbara Streisand, and for your beloved dog Samantha, death calls,

you simply have her cloned, and release a new album titled, Walls.

Now we must not forget, those who this year, have gone beyond the veil,

even as their art, spirit, and legacy will eternally prevail.

Here’s to Ms. Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul, who will forevermore,

with the greatest of “RESPECT”, be on the “Highway to Heaven” tour.

And let us not forget Oregon’s own David Ogden Stiers, who with his snobbish, balderdash, gave us fits of laughter through his iconic role as Major Winchester, in the TV series, Mash.

And how will superheroes blossom in the imaginations of future generations,

without Mr. Stan Lee to cast them in such vivid, story illustrations?

Now to the stars we must gaze looking toward an illusive black hole.

For this is where Mr. Stephen Hawking, has set up camp, in this, his final role.

Dear friends, I know there are many more for whom we should bid a final farewell.

And there is also an over abundance of life altering quotes, yet to tell.

But alas, I must end this annual poem of mine,

as I attempt to once again capture the final stanzas’ in rhyme.

We are each and every one of us, hurtling through space on this big, blue ball.

Would it not be easier if we took on the mantra of the musketeers? “All for one, and one for all.”

For in reality, it is within each and every one of our own, hand’s grasp,

to reach across the aisle, and simply ask,

“Help me to understand, let us work together, to make the lives of future generations, that, much, better.”

Night Dreams, Original Art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

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A Writer Gives Thanks, Yet Again

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

T is for the thousands of words pulled from deep within your gut.

H is for the few hundred to make the final cut.

A is for the armor you must don through each and every edit.

N is for the nerves of steel required to re-submit it.

K is for the knowledge your writing tribe of friends freely impart.

S is for the spark of an idea, and knowing where to start.

G is for grinding through the muddle of the middle.

I is for the intuition of knowing what to leave, and what to whittle.

V is for the humble verb that alone will make your story speak.

I is for the inspiration that at times plays hide and seek.

N is for the final novel you, and you alone did create, and pursue.

And the final…

G is for the immense gratitude of readers, and their very positive review.

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Patiently Pondering Puddles in Pursuit of Poetry

by Christina Lay

The other morning as I pulled out of my driveway on the way to work, I found myself waiting for a little kid who, squirrel-like, was meandering around in the street right behind my car. I watched him out of my rear view mirror until he was finally far enough away I could continue. Only then did I see what he was doing.  He was going puddle to puddle and jumping in each one, then standing there, transfixed. Maybe field testing his galoshes, or measuring the depths in scientific pursuit, or imagining what it felt like to be a tadpole. Probably delaying arriving at school, much like I delay arriving at work every day.

As I drove away, I flashed back to myself at that age—about seven-ish, I’d guess—and a rainy day on my way home from school. I had to cross a big playing field and that day, the field was more pond than grass. Oblivious to everything else, I wandered back and forth, jumping in puddles, watching the ripples, most likely feeling how cold rain water and wool socks aren’t a good mix and basically having a jolly good time until I heard a car horn beeping. My mom, in a valiant effort to save me from getting soaked in the torrential rains, had driven the five blocks from our house to the end of the field to give me a ride. And there she sat, watching her crazy kid go puddle jumping.

Not much has changed, I’m happy to report. I’m still much more a first-grader in galoshes wandering through the world in questing admiration than a sensible adult who actually arrives at work on time.  But what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with writing?

Not a hell of a lot, except for the fact that it’s April (or was when I started writing this), which means torrential spring rains and poetry. April is National Poetry Month and my first thought as I drove away watching that crazy kid standing in the gutter was that he was seeking out little moments of poetry. A scrap of haiku.

Puddles in the path

How can I not jump when

School, the big nap, waits?

So I’m not a poet. But poetry has always informed my writing and when I want to go deeper into a character’s emotion, or the quality of a setting, or the truth behind a relationship, it’s the quiet moments that I seek out. The feel of rain soaking into socks. The reflection of a hazy sun in a puddle.  The things not said.

I’ve been attending the symphony a lot lately, and one thing I’ve been learning is how to appreciate the silences. The purposeful pause, the breath held. With all those instruments clamoring away to create a glorious noise, the moment of silence can be an extremely powerful thing.  As can a reflection in a puddle.

I am naturally a curmudgeon and the louder things get, the faster, brighter, ruder, and more brutal movies, books and music seem to become, the more I resist. The more I want to be the kid in galoshes, oblivious to all but the simple wonders. Like waiting for a hummingbird’s buzz or the trickle of a stream, it takes more effort these days to hear the silence and notice what is not moving, what is not flashing, blinking, or shouting for our attention.

If your characters are in the middle of a screaming argument, a sudden silence might be much more powerful than a string of obscenities. If your character is racing to battle, the sensation of rain soaking into his boots might give us a better glimpse into his heart and mind than the thunder of cannons and the vision of body parts flying.  If Cinderella is arriving at the ball, having her notice a dandelion sprouting through the cracks in the brickwork might prove more telling than an extended description of the palace.

And then everything can explode. Or not.

As entertainers, we do tend to focus on the grand and exciting moments. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don’t forget the importance of the threads that hold the crazy quilt of reality together. When the ordinary and divine meet, and we look up from the page, and say “oh”. When we as artists achieve the goal of expressing the inexpressible and using words to say what is beyond words.  That’s poetry, and we could all use a little more of it.

For the love of…

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

I thought it appropriate to discuss the topic of love in this month of February, a month where you can’t escape the concept of it, no matter how hard you might try.

I have yet to meet a writer who hasn’t used a writing prompt. Thus my title—For the love of…and is it any wonder that the topic of love, is written about and published more than any other genre given its many variations?

Let’s look at a few—For the love of…a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, the job, money, yourself, a worthy humanitarian cause; anger (yes one can fall in love with one’s anger). For this particular writing prompt the list is literally endless. We have at our fingertips a menagerie of topics to explore and write about.

However, as I shared in an earlier blog, when I personally attempt to write about romantic love, someone always has to die. Yes, no matter how many times I’ve tried there is never a happily ever after for my lovelorn characters. I must insert here, for those who don’t know me personally, this is not the case in my own life. In my own life, I’ve been happily married for 28 years. Okay, there were rocky times, how could there not be with eight children (big surprise—this is the love I mainly focus on in my fictional and memoir writing—a mother’s love, or lack there of), two parents working full time, and no “Alice” to have meals prepared at the end of the day (for you youngsters Google “The Brady Bunch”)? But isn’t that what true love is? In going through the gauntlet, aren’t you supposed to find the “Holy Grail” at the end?  Well, at any rate, the happy survival of a long-term marriage is just one of the many scenarios of this thing called, love.

I also use prompts when looking for new painting ideas. Here are the results of the, For the Love of…paintings. One of them even elicited a poem.

 

For the Love of a Cold Heart

“Ice Heart” and Original Painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

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For the Love of the Universe

“Cosmic Heart” and Original Painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

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For the Love of Clouds

“Heart Sylphs” and Original Painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

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For the Love of a Music Continue reading

To Purge or Not to Purge

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

To purge, or not to purge, that is the question.  Whether ‘tis nobler to allow our minds to wallow in misery,  hoarding our past misfortunes, and sorrows.  Or to purge, to purge all from our being, so creativity may blossom and flourish in its wake.

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To Purge—The act of ridding one’s self of unwanted feelings, memories and conditions. In doing so, one hopes to experience a sense of cathartic release.

It’s a New Year, and along with the New Year many make resolutions for change. In order to do so, they look back at the past 365 days and resolve to make the new ones better. Some examples of mine would be—writing that novel, losing those pounds, taking that trip, and on, and on. However, I’ve discovered the old year will follow me into the new one unless I—purge. For me it was never a question, to purge or not to purge. What was my question for years was—how? I stumbled upon my answer over 10 years ago, when I wrote my first, end of year, Christmas Letter. Yes, I’m one of those people. But once again, through the power of the written word, a great mental purge was discovered.

I utilize the craft of fiction, poetry, and memoir in my annual Christmas Letter, and since I write about my husband, our seven children, five grandchildren, and myself you can only imagine the length of said letter. Our children have taken to calling it, Our Mother’s Annual, Award Winning, Best in Fiction, Family News Paper. I call it my, End of Year Purge, because, we’re a very large family, with many personalities, and lives, and my aging brain can’t possibly remember it all, no matter how hard I try.

So while the children’s title is all in jest, as I can attest that every word I write in the letter is the absolute truth, how do I accomplish this without giving away family secrets? I’ve found a collision of fiction, mystery, and memoir accomplishes my goal quite nicely.  It is all in the arrangement of words you see—such as saying—Betty (names have been changed to protect the innocent) spent a year exploring the many avenues available to a young woman in her 20’s. This would be my way of saying, without actually saying it—Betty, spent the year either jumping from job to job, or boyfriend, to boyfriend—you choose, as I’ve used similar phrases for both scenarios. There have also been a multitude of boyfriends, girlfriends and even the occasional husband, who’ve been featured in the letter and shown in photos only to be completely absent the next year, or replaced by another name and face entirely. This is where mystery comes in—are they buried in the back yard or been abducted by aliens? No one ever asks, and we never say. However, even with my creative narrative, the magic of the letter is that year after year it captures a chronological story of our family’s lives. Through the letter, I am able to celebrate the sweet memories and accomplishments of each and every family member, while also purging the nasty bits that occur with humor and cleaver word choices.

The second half of the Christmas letter is a poem. The poem is my way of embracing the positive world events of the past year, while purging the negative, and also remembering those whom we’ve lost. This year’s poem is shared below.

So dear readers I say purge.  Write it all down, and burn it if you must, but purge none-the-less. My purging not only frees my mind of clutter, it also creates a recorded history of both family and world events for my grandchildren to look back upon and read, many moons from now. I would love to hear what rituals you use to purge in order to clear the clutter, and begin anew.

Let Hearts Grow and Bells Ring Out                              

Let bells ring out while snowflakes fly, and let tinsel and glitter fall from the sky.

Let mystical enchantment surround us, one and all, while peace, love and happiness, hold us tightly in its thrall.

Once again our home has been transformed into a storybook, fantasy world, where even tiny, Grinch-like trees can bring magic, when unfurled.

For the Holiday Season, is upon us once again dear friend.  So let us take a moment over a hot chocolate, or perhaps a hot toddy laced with gin.

As we look back at the event filled year of Two-Thousand and Seventeen, where future historians, I am certain, will proclaim, “How could they’ve not seen?”

There’s a reality star twittering rants from within the hallowed halls of our highest house.  Facts have become “fake news”, while with nuclear weapons, he plays cat, and mouse.

But within the red and blue swath of these our United States, there is still much to be applauded; fueled by our many debates.

We marched by the millions, pink hats in hand, and from that momentous occasion, the #metoo movement began.

Thus, all now know, we do have a choice, as we stand speaking loudly in one, strong, united voice.

Then on to a lighter note, for the perfect stocking stuffer, we have a winner, but do we really, truly need, that double, fidget spinner?

I much prefer the momentary craze dedicated to the Unicorn’s vibrant rainbow hue. As it has given us, color-laden Frappuccino’s, bagels, and of course, Unicorn dip poo!

While here in Eugene, for those of us “Ducks” who bleed yellow and green, this years “civil war game” was an orange and black defeated, scene.

And Mother Nature chose this year to give us quite a display.  We watched in throngs—as day became night—what more can I say?

Other than, let us not forget the YouTube sensation, followed faithfully online, when April the Giraffe, gave birth live before millions, for the very first time.

Alas, many new beings entered this realm throughout the past year, but there were also those who left us. So, let’s give them a final, good cheer.

For Mr. Tom Petty, I know he now has wings, and has Learned to Fly, and is Free Fallin’ though a starlit night sky.

And Mr. Monty Hall is making heavenly deals, while listening to Fat’s Domino serenade him with Blueberry Hills.

Then Gentle on My Mind is a Rhinestone Cowboy riding through the clouds, heralded by the applause of adoring, heavenly crowds.

Finally, I throw my hat to the sky in memory of Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, and to Jerry Lewis, I hope funds for MDA continue to ever pour.

I now gaze out my kitchen window at our newly planted, crooked Dr. Seuss Tree, and it reminds me that by allowing your heart to grow, you can begin to see.

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So like the infamous Grinch of old, let all our hearts begin to grow, and grow, then perhaps through this great expansion of human compassion, seeds will sow, and begin mending not only fences, but also the divided borders across this earth. For isn’t that the true reason for this season, of renewal, and rebirth?

Love, conquers all they say, so let’s, let bells ring out, and let’s let love, have its way!

Burn the Scarecrow to Keep the Reader Awake All Night

scarecrow on fire(image source sanniely istockphoto)

Burn the Scarecrow to Keep the Reader Awake All Night

by Eric Witchey

I write fiction, and I teach fiction writers. In fact, I teach a lot. One of the recurring frustrations I have is that students talk about their long-form manuscripts under development in terms of chapters.

“Well, Chapter 7 is about how she stands up to the bully in her gym class…”

As a teacher, I have two problems with statements like this. First, it is an event-driven description of the story content. That’s a topic for another time. Second, and this is the point today, the student is describing their story in terms of chapters rather than dramatics.

Chapters aren’t really part of the development of a story. They are part of the final polish, and a sharp writer will use them for pacing by placing the chapter breaks carefully at spots that will force the reader to keep reading.

Given the student’s desire to improve by discussing their story and the above statement, the frustrated teacher me must start asking a long string of questions about character, premise, psychology, sociology, emotional arcs, intermediate emotional states, opposition of will, and on and on and on in order to figure out what dramatic story elements are in play at the moment under discussion.

So, this essay is a bit of self-defense. While it doesn’t describe the myriad issues implied or named above, it does take a look at just exactly what chapter breaks do.

Writers who write enough come to realize that the dramatic scene is the building block of all stories. I’m not going to go into all the variants and exceptions here because that’s not what this essay is about. Rather, I’m going to talk about how story questions and chapter placement influence the reader’s immersion and need to keep reading.

Before I go there, I want to define what I said above. A classic, dramatic scene transforms character emotion through conflict. The Point of View Character (POVC) or Main Character (MC) enter the scene carrying an emotional state and a personal agenda of some kind. Note that I said “or.” The POVC may or may not also be the MC. That’s a topic for another day, but think in terms of the narrative difference between Hunger Games and Sherlock Holmes. Hunger Games is in first person, present tense from the POV of Katniss. She is both POVC and MC. Sherlock Holmes is Watson telling the stories of Homes. Watson is the POVC. Holmes is the MC.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Ignoring the POVC vs. MC difference for now, the POVC enters the scene with an emotional state and an agenda. They then proceed to encounter opposition to their agenda. Like any normal human being, the have an emotional shift because of opposition.

Think about what it’s like to be having a good day on vacation until you try to pay for lunch and discover that your debit card has been cancelled because the bank thinks your lunch in another state is unusual activity. Emotional response to opposition of your agenda, yes?

Okay, so the POVC goes through a few attempts to get what they want. They try some different tactics. Their emotions change. They might succeed. They might fail. However, they leave the scene with a new emotional state (or the same emotional state for different reasons).

All good. However, a scene is not a chapter. A scene is just a dramatic unit in which character change is caused. Sometimes, a scene is a whole story. Sometimes 70 scenes make up the whole story. That’s one of the differences between flash fiction and a novel.

So, why is it that most of the time the first scene of a novel is not able to stand alone as a short story? Emotion happened. Conflict happened. Change happened. New emotion came out of it.

There are a number of reasons a first scene probably doesn’t stand alone. I won’t address them all here. Here, I’ll say that the first scene of a novel includes material that causes the reader to feel a sense of curiosity or urgency about what will come in the next and subsequence scenes. The text installs “dramatic story questions” in the heart/mind of the reader.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll define dramatic story questions types as 1, 2, and 3. They are, respectively, 1) short-term, 2) mid-term, and 3) long-term.

Long-term story questions are questions installed in the heart/mind of the reader very early in the story. They will not be answered until the end of the story. “Will Dorothy ever get home from Oz?”

Mid-term story questions are questions installed in the heart/mind of the reader in any scene in the story. They will be answered in some subsequent scene. “Will Dorothy make it from the Munchkin village to the Emerald City?”

Short-term story questions are questions installed in the heart/mind of the reader in a scene. They will be answered in that same scene. “Will the Cowardly Lion eat Toto?”

The scene is the dramatic building block. It changes character emotionally and psychologically.

The story questions keep the reader reading (assuming many other things have also been done well).

Assuming the POVC and MC are the same character, as they quite often are, their path through the story is scene-to-scene. Each scene generates questions. The first questions generated will be very short-term. “Why is Dorothy worried for Toto when she gets home?”

Before that question is answered, a mid-term question is launched. “Why are there storm clouds on the horizon?”

Before or at the moment the short-term question gets answered, a new one is launched. Before or at the moment the mid-term question is answered, a new one gets launched.

Now, here is the very important bit. If at any time all the short-term and mid-term questions have been answered at once, the reader will leave the story. Mind you, they might come back and pick it up to see how the long-term question comes out. However, that’s not a good bet.

Here’s where the chapter problem arises. Writers who talk about their books in terms of chapters tend to place their chapter breaks at the moments where several short-term and at least one mid-term story question have just been answered. It’s like they are placing their chapter breaks in the best possible way to release the reader from the story.

Placing the chapter breaks after the story is completely finished allows the writer to choose the moments just after a new story question has been launched. In other words, the writer will set the Scarecrow on fire and end the chapter.

Consider a reader who is in bed reading and has decided, “Well, I’m up too late. I’ll just read another three pages—just to the end of the chapter.” In the last page of the chapter, the Scarecrow is set on fire. Chapter ends. New chapter opens with the battle to put out the fire. Essentially, the chapter ended right smack in the middle of a scene. It ended right after a powerful story question was installed in the heart/mind of the reader. However, the climax of the scene is only a page away.

The reader justifies: “One. Little. Page. More.”

By the time that fire is out, a mid-term question has been launched. “Can Dorothy and her friends overcome and malice of the Wicked Witch of the West?”

The reader turns another page and decides that they will just read to the end of this chapter. It’s only seven more pages.

Okay, the example I used here is a classic sort of cliff-hanger, but the concept is not at all limited to cliff-hanging. Social and psychological story questions are often more compelling than such action-oriented, life-threatening story questions. It’s just easier and more fun to set the Scarecrow on fire in this essay than it would be to describe the deeper identity dissonance of a character’s realizations about themselves and whether they will take responsibility for damage to the fragile psychology of a child under their care.

Chapter breaks are pacing tools. They are not dramatic units.

-End-