Monday, March 1, 2010

On The Appearance of Owls and foreshadowing

As writers our perceptions are different, maybe even heightened, as we view the occurrences of our everyday lives with some sort of viewing glass which might only be found in steam punk novels. A brass contraption, we can alter from telescope to magnifying glass with the turn of a dial and at the same time capture the sound and the emotion of the moment. Similar to a still or video camera, but more so, because of the ability to save the emotion along with the visual and auditory encounter.
This invisible apparatus allows us to capture images and scenes we can utilize with a technique helpful in speculative fiction and horror: foreshadowing.
I captured such a moment on my birthday eve, a little backstory...
It was a chilly February evening, brisk and clear with clouds, stars, and the moon two days shy of full.  By some happenstance, three writers of The Reedy River Rats Guerilla Writing Group stepped out of our cars around the same time at our free secret spy parking spots in downtown Greenville, SC.
Brian K. Ladd, B. Miller and I chatted and laughed on our way to Coffee Underground, high on the fact we'd each submitted more than 15 pages for critique during our weekly writers meeting. Brian had finished his submission, Asterion, for Lame Goat Press, (accepted the next day by guest editor Michael Crittendon for the anthology, Howl, Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal.  B. Miller's pages clocked in at the 57,000 word mark on the as yet untitled horror novel set in the fictional town of Bulton, SC. And I had brought along, Chapter’s 18, 19 and 20 of my absurdist novel, Fireworks: Interference Equation which deals with quantum physics and is partly set in the Pendleton Street Arts District of Greenville, SC, the outback of Australia and Washington, DC.
We clinked glasses of delicious rose champagne in celebration of my birthday and the release of Shaman Circus, enjoyed wonderful unusual foods, including crab pasties and mocha cheesecake as we exchanged  repartee with each other and our favorite server, Eadris. As a writer’s group we’ve been fortunate to have two great servers for our meetings over the years who have become friends: Charlie and Eadris. Charlie has left CU but Eadris has been pampering us for over a year now, laughing at our revelries with an indulgent smile, patiently waiting for us to stop talking shop to order and who now knows us so well, he anticipates what will make our gatherings more pleasant and constructive.

After much work and much laughter, there was a surreal moment when we exited the 20 odd stairs up from Greenville Under onto Coffee Street, a narrow downtown street lined with locally owned restaurants and bars, circa 1940's buildings. We passed by the huge wrought iron gates which lead to the alley behind CU, (also featured as the location in my short story, Creggie and the Coat of One Color, published in Dark Gothic Resurrected). We walked along, commenting on hipsters and alternative bands, when no more than two feet above our heads, a huge owl swept over, his wingspan so massive, it blotted out part of the skyline. I literally ducked my head as he flew directly over us illuminated by the yellow sodium backlighting on Coffee Street. An odd omen indeed, on busy Friday night downtown evening. After he'd  swooped over us into the alley, I saw him cut West down Washington Street, and then change direction and head East, a raptor intent on mission, of a surveillance or reconnaissance nature. The scene was vivid and cinematic, in setting, action and lighting, it could have been filmed by Alex Proyas or Tim Pope with an owl as guide and in a movie reminiscent  of The Crow or its sequel, The Crow, City of Angels, based on the comic series, The Crow graphic novel,  by James O'Barr. Since the first movie of the series, The Crow, was one of the pivotal movies of my life, I felt humbled and fortunate to experience first-hand such a powerful moment, as if the owl was scouting out the turf just to protect us, as the crow did for Eric Draven in the first movie, and Ashe Corven in the second. I experienced the event in an odd stop-motion, altered with fast-motion, cut-up montage of myriad details, as if  Marc Forster directed it, achieving a similar effect as to what he accomplished in his movie, Stay. Each second was lengthened and enlivened with a potent multi-layered symbolism, not often experienced, even with heightened senses, in reality.
I view this flight of the Great Horned Owl (nearest I can figure due to coloring of the underwings) as a gift from the universe, intended for use in a story. This bird sign, in addition to the hawks in my backyard, four miles from a busy urban downtown, makes me think of Revelations from the Bible - warning signs.  Just as the hordes of blackbirds, descending on my cottage neighborhood, send me running to the window thanks to Alfred Hitchcock being my first introduction to horror. 
Such serendipitous events inspire me to incorporate bird omens in my dark fantasy and psychological horror stories. After all it's long been a tradition in literature. So I borrow from the Greeks or dip into my mother's many superstitions about birds, some from her British upbringing and others she picked up from my French- Canadian father's side of the family. For instance, my short story, The Far End of Folly, submitted to The Land Bridge (seeking submissions, deadline end of April) heavily incorporates bird omens which my daughter, Beth, my friend, Mark and I witnessed throughout our stay on Folly Island.
So don't ignore those odd occurrences,, those moments of connections with the creatures whose heightened senses are aware of things we cannot see or hear - use them as the harbingers they are- to create tension, mystery and curiosity through foreshadowing.

1 comment:

  1. "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and underdeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all [men] have." - Henry David Thoreau

    Such a cool night and what a great entry! Thanks for posting about this, Gail.


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