The Girl Who Married Rattlesnake

When researching snakes on mythology for my submission project, I came across quite a few that I thought would make for an interesting basis. But only one struck the right chord, and I wanted to share it with you. This text comes from a personal webpage, so I cannot guarantee the authenticity of it. The story comes from the Pomo Indians of Northern California, and is called The Girl Who Married Rattlesnake.

“At a place called Cobowin there was a large rock with a hole in it, and many rattlesnakes lived inside this hole. Nearby at Kalesima there was a village with four large houses, and in the one with a center pole lived a girl. In the spring when clover was just right to eat, this girl went out to gather some. While she was working, she was watched by a rattlesnake.

The snake followed her back to the village, and close to her house he transformed himself into a handsome young man with a net on his head and fine beads around his neck. Then he climbed up onto the top of the house and came down the center pole. The family was surprised to see him, but he told the girl that he wanted to marry her. He remained with the family overnight and the following morning went home again. He arrived and left like this for four days; then on the fifth evening he came back, but this time he did not change his form. He simply slithered into the house and began conversing just as before. The girl’s mother, waiting for her daughter’s suitor, said she heard someone talking in the house. She took a light and looked in the place where she heard the sound, and there was Rattlesnake. He shook his snake’s head, and she dropped the light and ran in terror.

On the following morning Rattlesnake took the girl home with him, and there she remained. In time she bore him four boys. Whenever these children saw any people from the village, they would coil to strike, but their mother would say, “No, you mustn’t bite your relatives.” And the children would obey her.

As the four rattlesnake boys grew older, they also grew more curious, and one day they came in from playing and asked their mother, “Why don’t you talk the way we do? Why are you different?”

“I’m not a rattlesnake, like you and your father,” she replied. “I’m a human being.”

“Aren’t you afraid of our father?” asked the boys, and she shook her head.

Then the oldest said that he had heard the other rattlesnakes discussing her differences and deciding to crawl over her body to find out what kind of creature she was. While this might have alarmed another human, the rattlesnake’s wife was not at all afraid. When the other rattlesnakes came, she calmly let them crawl over her.

Then she said to her oldest boy, “It’s impossible for you to become a human being, and though I’m not really human any longer, I must go back to my parents and tell them what has happened.” Ad so she returned to the house with the center pole and said to her parents, This is the last time that I will be able to talk to you and the last time that you will be able to talk to me.” Her father and mother were sad, but they said nothing until their daughter started to leave. Then her mother ran and caught her by the door, brought her back into the house, and wept over her because she was so changed. But the girl shook her body, and suddenly she was gone. No one ever knew how or where she went, but they think she returned to Rattlesnake’s house and has lived there ever since.”

–Based on a legend recorded by Samuel Barrett in 1933).


The Excitement of a New Project

So, I finished my contest entry. I wrote the entire thing in three different shifts yesterday, and the first draft came out to 5,037 words. That’s so many words. (If you’re lost, check out yesterday’s post about Upcoming Writing Contests.)

I felt incredibly energized working on this project. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough. And it gave me pause. On a good day working on my fantasy project, I can crank out between 1,500 and 2,000 words, and sometimes even that is a struggle. But with this one, the words were simply bursting to get out. So, what’s the difference?

Two things come to mind. The first is the complexity of the story. Obviously, my novel has a more complicated plotline, more characters to juggle, and more things to keep track of. Certain things need to happen at certain times. The extra considerations mean the words I put down need to be just what the overarching story needs for that chapter.

The second thing is, I think, more interesting, and maybe more pertinent. The simple length of the story. A novel is long. It’s a marathon. My current draft is just over 89,000 words, and I don’t know how many more lie between here and the end. I expected it to be a drawn-out project, so a modicum of daily progress is acceptable. But this submission was limited to 6,000 words. A sprint. That’s a much easier goal to hit, and the rapidly approaching finale drove me to push through and get the project done. It was exciting, and thrilling to be able to complete something like this in just a day.

Of course, it isn’t exactly complete. Over the next day or two I’ll do some edits, but all in all, I like the way the story turned out. I’m proud of it. I just hope the judges like it too.

Upcoming Writing Contests

Taking a brief fantasy project break this week. Very brief, I mean it. Today is the beginning of a new year, and I’m feeling a lot of pressure (from myself) to finish this project and move on to edits. But, one thing I’ve been wanting to do more of, and as yet haven’t done, is enter more writing competitions.

I didn’t know writing competitions were a thing, not really. Until I took James Patterson’s masterclass last spring and got involved with the forum there. I did enter the Rehoboth Beach short story contest in June, but I haven’t done anything since.

There are two contests with deadlines on January 31st that I’m planning to enter, The Chattahoochee Review and The Iowa Review Awards. If I do it right, I can submit the same short story for both contests. One has a 6,000-word limit, and the other a 25-page limit, so I think I can manage to meet both of those at the same time. I’ve already checked the rules, and stories can be submitted to multiple contests simultaneously, provided that you notify them if the story wins somewhere else.

I’m not well versed in short story writing. My first attempt was the Rehoboth Beach contest, and I really struggled. I didn’t think it would be that hard. A major problem I had was that my story idea was too simple. There wasn’t enough plot, and I had a hard time writing a fulfilling story without it dragging out and being boring. But, like everything else, it was a learning experience.

I already have my story idea, but I haven’t fleshed it out very much. It’s going to center around a young woman. She’s being plagued by dreams involving a snake. When she wakes up, things that happened in the dream are represented on her body, either in bruises or some form of tattoos. Turns out she is being pursued by some kind of deity, who wishes her to enter into their service.

Like I said, it needs fleshing out. But I think it’s a good start, and I’m going to take some time this week to try and make it contest-worthy. At the moment I’m about to start doing a little research on mythologies involving snakes, to give me a solid and believable basis from which to work.

My fantasy project will be waiting for me to return, hopefully in just a couple of days. I finished up chapter 18 yesterday, pushing through because I didn’t want to turn over the year stuck in the middle of a chapter. There’s no logical reason for that, it just seemed like it would be a bad omen. Chapter 19 awaits, and I feel like the ending of the story is looming ever closer.

Rewrite Sticky Notes

So, I just discovered that it’s been an entire week since I posted anything. I knew it had been a while, but didn’t think it was that long. Life has gotten more tiring, with my new job and changes to my husband’s work schedule, but I’ll try to handle it a bit better. Starting with this brand new post!

I have a program on my computer I absolutely love. I discovered it back in high school, and I’ve made it a point to have on every computer since (I think it comes standard these days, anyway). It’s called Sticky Notes.

Sticky Notes is exactly what it sounds like. It’s like putting a post-it note right on your desktop. I used them in school to keep track of homework assignments and deadlines. I used them when I worked for an attorney to keep track of court dates. And now I’m using one to hold my rewrite ideas.

If you’ve never written anything of considerable length, you may not understand how much a story can evolve over time. Part of it is the story taking on a life of its own. Characters begin to make their own decisions, and the writer is powerless to stop them. But part of it is the experience of the writer. After putting down 100,000 words, your writing is bound to be better than it was when you began. It’s been commonly said that it takes writing and discarding a million words to reach competency (I don’t know who said it first, but if you’re interested you can read about it here).

That’s where rewrites come in. Editing, proofreading, whatever you want to call it, it all refers to the same process. I used to be really bad about editing chapters I’d already finished, so much so that my forward progress was hampered. This time around, I’m making a concerted effort to not go back and change anything. Forward progress is everything. But there are so many things I want to change.

Enter Sticky Notes. My story has already changed. When I decide I want to change something, I simply begin the next chapter as if that change has already been made. And I write a line in my Sticky Note about what the change is, so that when I eventually finish and begin my rewriting, I know what needs to be changed in the beginning chapters to match the rest of the book.

Here are some changes I’ve decided to make: First off, the feedback I got from my critique partner informed me that my protagonist (Callum) is not very likable. He’s naive, and stubborn, and makes stupid decisions. I want him naive, to a degree, but I was unable to see his flaws. When I rewrite, I want to make him stronger, smarter, so that readers will like him better. I also need to clarify his motivations. To be honest, when I began this story I wasn’t certain myself what his motivations were, so it makes sense that Callum doesn’t know what motivates him either.

Callum is also an orphan. I make mention of it, but I want to pull his dead parents more into the story. I think if I flesh out that situation, I can use it to fuel Callum’s motivations and make his decisions make more sense.

After doing some reading, I’ve also decided to cut out the first 700 words or so of chapter 1. When I began, I wanted to build the story slowly, but I think a faster pace at the beginning would catch the reader’s attention better, so I’m going to skip ahead to the first inciting incident. There’s some backstory in those first 700 words, but that’ll be easy enough to slip in somewhere else.

Lastly (not my last rewrite plan, just the last one I’m writing about here), I need to expand the rules for using magic. I initially wrote them to be very restrictive, and I thought that was a good thing. But as the chapters have gone by, it’s become harder for me to stick to those rules and have the story progress like I want it to. So, I need to broaden the rules and uses of magic. I’ve already incorporated this change, and I just need to alter my beginning chapters to reflect it and prevent continuity errors.

So, there’s a brief glimpse into what’s going on inside my head. This fantasy project is taking me longer to finish than I wanted it to, and I’m so ready to be done and starting rewrites that I spend a lot of time thinking about them. That time will come, though. For now, it’s back to chapter 17. Hopefully I’ll get it wrapped up in the next day or two and be on to chapter 18 before the year turns over.