Podcasts and Writers

Series Title: Podcasts For Writers

Podcasts and Writers

photo of author
By George T. Parker

A long time ago…so long ago that most of you won’t remember it…I sent Writers Forum members a survey that asked about podcast listening habits. I had intended to follow-up the survey with an ‘in-depth’ look at podcasting and the benefits of listening to writing podcasts. It was an ambitious project, let me tell you!

That went nowhere.

I’ve decided that instead of a Grand Overview in one article, I’ll talk a little bit about podcasts and what they are, and then in the future, I’ll post short reviews of podcasts I think you might find interesting as writers.

First, let’s look at what podcasts even are. I think The Podcast Host gives us the simplest definition: “a podcast is an audio programme, just like Talk Radio, but you subscribe to it on your smartphone and listen to it whenever you like.”

A podcast is just like a talk radio program, with one important difference. If you miss the traditional radio broadcast, you are out of luck. You missed the show. Some radio shows will archive their programs and make them available online, but they are not necessarily podcasts. If you have to go to their website to listen to the shows, it’s not a podcast. You have to be able to subscribe to the program and have episodes downloaded to your smartphone or other device for it to be a ‘podcast.’

This might seem like a small difference, but it is huge. One of the reasons that people gave in the survey for not listening to podcasts was that ‘they don’t have time.’ Well, there really is no such thing as ‘having the time’ to listen to podcasts. You can listen to them whenever might be convenient to you, and you do not have to dedicate exclusive time to listen to a podcast. In fact, most of my listening time is when I’m doing something else, like driving to town and back. I have forty-five minutes in each direction in which all I’m doing is driving. That’s a perfect time for podcast listening. I have also been known to listen while I’m cooking dinner. Or doing other household chores. This makes podcasts very portable and very easy to work into your schedule.

Podcasts come in a wide variety of episode lengths. Some are only five minutes long. Some are more than an hour. And there is everything in between. You might think, “But I don’t have an hour to listen to a podcast.” This is where the portability and convenience magic happens. Listen to as much of the episode as you want and walk away from it. When you come back to that episode, it will automatically pick up where you left off. I listen to several long podcasts that way. If the subject matter is compelling enough, I will come back and listen to a 75-minute podcast in three pieces.

Where do you find podcasts?

The two Big Boys in the podcast hosting world are probably Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Let’s work with Google Podcasts. Click on that link. If you already have a Gmail account, you are already signed up with Google Podcasts. You can search for any category or title you like. Search for ‘writing’. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Were you overwhelmed by the choices? That’s okay. There is a lot out there. And you know what? It’s all free. Yep. It doesn’t cost you anything to sample podcasts and find ones you like. You can search for any category you might be interested in. Try ‘mystery writing.’ ‘E-publishing.’ ‘Writing plays.’ Try searching for the names of authors you like. Have fun with it!

When you find podcasts that you like and would like to hear more from, don’t forget to click the ‘subscribe’ button that will be somewhere on the podcast’s page. That’s important! When you subscribe, you will never have to search for that podcast again. New episodes will automatically be saved to your queue for you to listen to at your convenience.

Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts might be the biggest players in the podcast world, but there are many others. You can listen to podcasts through Spotify, which you might already use for listening to music. I actually have a podcast (about the California Conservation Corps, not writing) that I base on Podbean. Since I already had an account there, I use the Podbean player for listening to all of my podcasts.

So that is the quick and simple introduction to podcasts. I would love to leave you with a great sample of a short podcast that is definitely worthwhile. And it will demonstrate one more way to find and listen to podcasts.

Tracy K. Smith was the 2017 Poet Laureate of the United States. Ms. Smith currently has a podcast called The Slowdown. If you follow that link, you will go to her website for the show. On that page, you can see links to click to ‘Listen on Apple Podcasts’ or ‘Listen on Google Podcasts.’ Click on either of those links to open the program in either of those players. Once there, you can subscribe to the podcast and never miss an episode. Look farther down on The Slowdown’s page, and you can see an option to sign up for e-mails. Yes! You can get Ms. Smith’s podcast delivered right to your email every morning.

So what is The Slowdown about? Each weekday, Ms. Smith delivers a five-minute podcast with a commentary from her, and a poem reading. A very mellow, relaxing start to the day, I think. Yes, I do subscribe to this podcast.

Give it a listen! Let us know what you think of The Slowdown, or of podcasts in general, in the comments. What podcasts on writing to you listen to? Let us know.

Writers Forum is always looking for material. Feel free to submit work with the following guidelines:

Type of Material and Guidelines for Newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Queen’s Letter: How Are You All Doing?

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writers forum president

Yeah, I know. It may be hard to get reliable information about Chingona lately because our local newspaper has pretty much given up. If you go to CNN.com, you can input your zip code and get daily updates of stats and links to resources in your area.
It’s grim here. There have been more than 600 new cases in Shasta County in the past two and a half weeks. Yeah, I know there were a lot attributed to a rest home. I guarantee they didn’t get it from going on a cruise.
And there have been lots of cases attributed to Bethel University of Supernatural Ministry. Unlike Chico State where they ordered the dorms closed and students sent home in four days when infections raged a month ago, Bethel students don’t have a dorm to lock down or disperse. They rent apartments, rooms in other peoples’ homes in Redding. They live among us. And go to grocery stores with us. While they were scared and the Health Department contacted them, they held an in-person Prayer Conference with a crowd, more than 300 over two days Sept 30th. So, they don’t understand this very much. Sean Feucht, has left town. He’s a leader with Bethel and he’s gone to more states to have large crowds in prayerful protests against…science.
Bethel is a church and a school with more than 11,000 members, about 10 percent of Redding’s population. At 274 cases attributed to them as of Tuesday this week, that’s a stat that should tighten your…resolve.
Here’s something they do “understand.” Conspiracy theories and the power they have over an election. Danny Silk, a leader at Bethel Church, has posted QAnon-related ideas and hashtags on his Instagram account. Silk did not respond to requests by CNN for comment.
To be clear, QAnon is not a thing except on the internet. There is no secret guy “Q” working in the government to expose the “rampant pedophile ring” that exists that you’ve never seen. It’s not a Save the Children thing. And Trump is not going to shut down the government and give a signal for mass arrests by our military inside D.C.  That’s what people who believe in this garbage think is going to happen…soon.
What’s a rational person supposed to do? Vote! You can return your ballot by mail, or, like me, take it signed on your official envelope, to an official drop box. Go to  www.elections.co.shasta.ca.us for official info from Cathy Darling Allen, County Clerk and Registrar of Voters. Do not drop your ballot in anything that is not official. The GOP in So. Cal is being sued by our Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, for tampering with ballots by using un-official “boxes” they’ve created to cause confusion and make you feel insecure about voting by mail. I used the official drop box at Redding City Hall, right next to the Utility Drop Box, and across from the new-ish cop shop and in the mist of the official fountain. It’s a sturdy white, metal box with a slim slot that you can’t get your hand through in case you dropped your utility bill in by mistake. And no one else can either.
At that info website, you can “register” to track your ballot and get official info about where official boxes are. Be official.
What are you writing about? Yes, try and write. About anything, couple sentences, every day if you can. And you probably can.
I’m writing about a serial killer case that landed in my lap while I was working at the Public Defenders office years ago. I begged for that case, even chased my boss at a party after I read about the arrest in the paper. My boss was “taking a break” from the death penalty biz, but I was determined. I was in my final year of law school and knew more than I’d ever known about running death defense. My boss had already received the police reports of the arrest in his “off time.” He told me over a gin and tonic, that I was not to work on the case. He said the evidence already found and the condition of the bodies the investigators had studied strongly suggested and evil, sadistic man operating for years under the radar, who was also a manipulative bastard that my boss didn’t want me around, reading about, or getting near even with bars and bullet-proof glass between us. He didn’t think he could be around the bastard, either.
The case went to the Conflict Panel of attorneys outside of our office and the guy who caught the case was actually an old boyfriend of mine who I worked with when he was second chair on my first case with the PD’s office. Didn’t stop me for a minute. Well, maybe a minute. We didn’t part ways very amicably. I left the restaurant table, him with his mouth open, when I shouted at him for the umpteenth and last time, “Don’t call me naive!” He was a decent guy, an admirable screw, handsome and well-dressed, but his arrogance was too much. The sentence that preceded my stage exit was, “What did I ever seen in you?” and his response was to open his arms as if to say, “It’s obvious!” Did I mention he was really handsome?
So I worked on the case anyway. It was fraught. It turned out that the guy, the bastard, was married with two kids, and worked as a Handy Man who worked as an extra in County Offices even mine, and drove his own white van. A van I’d seen in my neighborhood. He was so ordinary, though, he could blend in anywhere. That was his edge. And our problem.
Let us know what you’re writing. Post it in comments at the website or on our Facebook page. It has been said that if you say it out loud (or post it), you will be more likely to finish you piece. I dunno, but it can’t hurt your resolve!

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Fridays With Dale: Ants…Ants…Ants

Title with image of author

Dale Angel



Dale Angel

It’s true—ants follow an established trail.

Uninvited ants come every year and stay until the rains. This is on-going, so…I don’t even get ruffled or distressed anymore. Each family has their own schedule for visiting my house. I don’t like uninvited company that often

My sink back splash is a runway for the early arrivals. This morning as I stirred my coffee, I watched them.

It’s obvious they got a head start on the day. I picked up the wet dish cloth and rubbed a little area on their trail. I watch as two coming from home skipping and laughing along the trail stop. They run around and around searching the area.  Others have arrived. They don’t for a minute believe the trail is lost. They try to show the others where it is, but after a few miles of back tracking, they’re confused.

They come together to discuss the problem.

A laggard is unhurriedly lumbering along, bringing up the rear. They tell him about it. He swaggers as he tries the wall; no luck, the trail’s cold there too. Panic is their body language as they go over and over the same area.

Here comes the entitled one who has overslept. They tolerate him as they force themselves to be polite. They want to call him lazy; no one likes a lazy ant.

They bring him up to date on the missing trail all are trying to be adult about this.

I add a bit of sugar to my coffee and say out loud, “Just an inch farther, you will find the trail.”

Coming from the opposite direction is their friend with his jowls and mouth full of last night’s banana peel that was left in the sink. He stops and is bewildered. He just came over that road, now it’s gone.  He backtracks and begins to wander around the area. He tries the wall, both up and down, but comes back and sits down.

“You’re only an inch apart,” I tell him. I would have put my bet on him. He’s a self-starter. He’s half way back with the loot before anyone else is up. I would have lost my money.

Meanwhile the ongoing conference on the opposite side is deep in discussion as others show up to throw in their two cents worth. Runners are headed back to report there’s a problem and order more recruits. There may not be many, as I have a whole vacuum full.

Some are distressed, some are laughing and sharing jokes but no one is angry or blaming others.

It’s the laggard who blunders across the obliterated trail and meets his friend on the other side, who has eaten the banana peel and quit. They renew old acquaintances and he encourages his friend, who is staggering under his appetite, to go ahead and try it, it’s open and safe.

His legs are weak from hauling the excess, he makes a run for it and gets across. The trail is open at last!

Most everyone gets serious about their job and goes to work, except some of the timid ones. They want a secure, tested and safe path and are reluctant to go for it. They wait around until others have reestablished the foot paths. Some people are like that, they want a risk free life.

My coffee is getting cold so I left them to continue their day. After all, they have outwitted my attempts to keep the peace. I’ve already used up five gallons of home defense and have ant traps all over the place. Each family requires a different formula. I don’t know which tribe these are. I think the ants see the traps as decorations. Maybe there’s something I can learn here. It does say in the good book ‘Take a lesson from the ants.’ Maybe I need to walk the more established paths of life….


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction 9.) Poetry

Short Story Contest Entry: Bedpans and Walther P38s

Today we repost the 2nd place story in our 2020 Short Story Contest.

Bedpans and Walther P38s was written by WF member Janet Spoon.

Janet Spoon is a native to the Redding area.  It has been her dream to become a journalist and a writer since she was 8 years old. As so often happens, life––and life choices––derailed those goals. In 2013, with an empty nest and single, she decided it was time to work on that childhood dream again. She enrolled in Simpson University in 2014 and finally graduated Summa Cum Laude in April 2019, with a BA in English, Specialization in Writing and a minor in Journalism.

She was a member of Writers Forum in the 1990s and recalls the “apostrophe debate” in which the Forum discussed the technical issues of being named the Writer’s Forum or the Writers’ Forum.  In the fall of 2019, she renewed her membership with the now-named Redding Writers Forum. She especially enjoys reading the group’s posts on WordPress. Janet volunteers at Mercy Oaks Senior Center in Redding, CA. Her hobbies include sewing, reading and writing but her favorite thing to do is to spend time with her four daughters, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.  She is currently working on a book about navigating life as a burn survivor, as well as working on a couple of children’s short stories.

For second place, Janet one a one-year subscription to her choice of Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers magazine, and her membership dues were waived for one year.

Bedpans and Walther P38s

(A Christmas to Remember) 

Many people escape via expensive out-of-the-country vacations or by weekend get-a-ways.  Some escape by watching movies or by playing games. Me? I Amazon. I am addicted to seeing that brown box (the box with a questionable phallic logo) resting on my front porch as if to say, “Pick me! Open me!”

Amazon’s intrusion began several years ago. My “old-school” wariness would not release me to commit such sin as shopping online. The realization that I could stay in my pajamas and get the all the grandkids their Christmas presents convinced me to risk everything.

True joy begins from that moment I see a screen-full of possibilities on my lap-top or iPhone, items to feed my addiction. The beautiful (sometimes ruinous) journey is afoot.

It didn’t take Amazon long before they offered the best marketing scheme ever: Buy Now With 1-Click?   If ever a sentence could be described as delectable, this would qualify.  But they didn’t stop there––Prime delivery––why, you can have this in two days for “free.”  Free for an annual fee––ingenious.  A recent addition is the “buy again” button––extremely convenient. What will they think of next?

As I sat pondering potential deliveries, I remembered past disastrous purchases: the Christmas ornaments that looked huge on-screen but arrived a mere one-quarter inch diameter; the children’s animal book that failed to pique interest from the four-year-old; weirdly (and putrid) colored shoes; wall décor sized completely wrong for my walls. I have learned to read with care and read between the lines as my hand hovers over the keyboard ENTER key, I think twice– three times–before making the final click.

I choose my items, and proceed through the steps: would you like the arrival date to be this Tuesday, postage-free; for $3.99 more you could have this on Monday; add to your dash button? It would be ever so easy to reorder.  Thank you, Amazon.

I’m always eager to help family find just what they are looking for.

“Gramma, did you say you need a bedpan? Let me look for you.” I am giddy.

If only hindsight had been my guide.  I now have a bedpan in my Face Book feed; subject lines of countless emails read: because you bought a bedpan; just press “click” to buy again; people who have purchased a bedpan have also purchased the following items; and finally (although, I’m sure it won’t be) I have a picture of Gram’s bright, shiny––thankfully still unused––bedpan in that blasted buy again? button.

* * *

It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV; it was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.

I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.

“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.” He carried the laptop to the dining table, and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.

They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine.  As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.


I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I stood gawping. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas.

I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.

The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked with Amazon Prime.  I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde.  The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the “under the tree” notion.

I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017


The moment the kids had waited 365 days arrived. I beamed at my family–– mostly for the expectant joy on all faces. I donned my Santa hat and began dispersing gifts. The family rule was to wait until everyone had all their gifts piled at their side. The teenagers offered to play Santa’s elves to speed things up.

I gave the traditional secret Santa signal and madness ensued. The neat freak son-in-law trailed behind, best he could, crumbling shreds of wrapping paper into large, black trash bags.

Holliss, seven, shrieked, “How did Santa know I like red foxes?”

Her mother, Rebecca, the family baby, gave me the look that she was famous for and I asked what was wrong.

“Really, Mom? You gave my daughter a water bottle that reads “‘What the Fox’?’’

I couldn’t answer.


It was Christa, my second-born and mother to seventeen-year-old Janessa, who screamed, “What are you thinking? The Kama Sutra? A book on sex?”

Oh boy, I thought, I know I’m in BIG trouble. Still, I said nothing.


I turned toward Nathan, his face as white as Christmas snow.  He told the room that Cohen had just opened his present. As he spoke, he twirled what looked like a toy gun in his hands. Nathan, 15, was a sharpshooter whose goal was to become a Special Ops sniper.

“Did you know this gun is real? It’s a Walther P38. You bought a five-year-old a gun?”

The room was still, not-a-creature-was-stirring, not-even-a-mouse kind of still. And quiet.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “I-I-I.” I proffered a weak defense that I knew nothing.

“This is a mistake, Amazon doesn’t sell guns,” I yelled, and I snatched the gun away, “You all know how Amazon is, remember the fuzzy elf slipper incident?” Details best unknown.

Dylan started blubbering. His mother clutched him at the elbow and escorted him into a bedroom.

Everyone began gathering their things. The grandkids begged to stay and be entertained by the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas, and the parents acquiesced. They helped themselves to a glass full of my home-brewed eggnog. I was thankful this year’s batch was alcohol light. (The cook may –– or may not have––consumed the 16 ounces of rum the recipe called for.)  I noticed a flask being extracted from Rebecca’s pocket.

I was called into the bedroom and Dylan tearfully told me the tale. He noticed my Amazon page open and thought he was being helpful. When questioned about the book he said he added that to the cart because Janessa likes to exercise, and the book cover looked like people were exercising. He admitted he looked at toy guns for his cousin because he knew Cohen wanted to be a policeman.

“How did you order?”

“Easy. Buy now with one-click, Gram-Gram.”

“What about your mother’s stack of ten road signs that read ‘Drive like your kids live here’?”

“I have little sisters.”  I was thankful he didn’t order a sleigh full of toys. Or an Oozie.

“Gram,” Dylan added, “When I was playing Minecraft, you got an email attachment that I clicked on. They might have downloaded spyware.”

“It’s O.K., Dylan. I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble,” I comforted, “I’ll get to the bottom of this after Christmas.”

I remembered getting a package that didn’t quite look like it came from Amazon, but the gift inside was in wrapped in Santa Claus paper so I shrugged it off.  My imagination exploded like gas on flames and visions of ruthless arms dealers in Nigeria popped into my mind.

As I turned to the hopeful crowd waiting for their story, memories of my own childhood prank streamed like an Amazon Prime movie. When I was nine, my little sister, Lisa, and I walked across the field to Gramma’s house. She was outside hanging clothes on the line and unaware of our presence. I had a flash of brilliance and coerced Lisa (so she claims) into making the house appear ransacked. Then we hid while waiting for Gramma’s reaction. No one laughed at that either.


The families were leaving, and I was informed by unanimous consensus I was to send a screenshot prior to all purchases for their children. My four-year-old self’s inner monologue screamed, “You’re not the boss of me.” Instead, I shouted that I wasn’t in an assisted living home yet and asked, “What’s next? Taking car keys away?  Don’t forget who will be having to taxi me around town, if that’s what you’re thinking!”

I stopped just short of threatening to have an appointment every day when I remembered the party scheduled the next day and abruptly changed my tone to be as sweet as Royal Icing on a sugar cookie. I reminded them to drop the littles off at 4:00 p.m. They weren’t sure if that would happen.

“But we always have a Mad Hatter’s Tea party on Christmas Day,” I implored, “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It’s a thirty-something-year tradition.”

They weren’t convinced. I slammed the door. I heard engines roar and tires squeal.

Four o’clock Christmas Day came, and grandkids filed into the house, all in smiles and costumes appropriate for the Mad Hatter. But I suspected their attendance had more to do with quiet time and free babysitting––their parents looked quite disgruntled and no one spoke.

“Don’t mind them,” Holliss, a precocious child, piped up and hugged me with the strength of a baboon and within a split second I was cocooned in a group hug, “You’re the best Gram ever–– parents just don’t understand.”

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Member Monday: The Elephant Hunter of Yunnan

Today’s member contribution is a story that takes place in Asia. It involves a controversial issue: ivory hunting. The story is about a small, poor family and is a well-told tale. The family participates on a small scale with an ancient tradition, but this tradition has global consequences.

Please continue reading after the story for more information.

The Elephant Hunter of Yunnan

By David Saechao

A harmonious spring morning in Huibu. The tea trees, hiding beneath the lush evergreen tropical landscape, were breathing comfortably beside the rising sun. Some of the villagers from the adjacent mountain were dispersing from their homes and anxious to tend their crops a few li away. But among the cluster of thatch grass roofs, one family remained in their home.

At the behest of our village leader, the tall and articulate Mr. Fu Wang Pan, we were invited to a ritual

I followed my parents as we hiked the narrow dirt path all morning and weaved our way to the other mountain. Upon reaching the first house on the slope, we were welcomed by a group of young females dressed in black turbans and black robes with red ruffs sewn from the neck down. They were sitting quietly beneath a tree, embroidering Mien designs. We greeted them on the way up.

My father opened the big door as we kicked off our straw sandals and stepped onto the dirt floor.

The high priest, adorned in a red brocaded robe and black ritual hat, was reading from a Taoist ritual text and chanting the final petitions before the ancestral altar. A butchered pig had been laid onto a table, towering the small cups of rice wine beneath it. On the wall, the priest had hung ceremonial paintings of the Taoist pantheon of gods.

Settling in the living room, my father joined Mr. Fu Wang and other men from the village.

I followed my mother into the spacious kitchen to look for Liu, who along with her mother, older sisters, and the other women of the village, was engrossed in preparations for the ritual meal. Liu was bent down on a stool and cleaning a large bowl of freshly-picked bamboo mushrooms. She glanced at me for a moment and smiled.

I proceeded to the patio, where several children were joyfully playing. The firepit outside exuded intense flames and illuminated the thin slabs of pork belly that had been laid out on a stubby table. I put on the pair of mittens hanging beside the table and placed an iron grill over the flames. As I sat down on a convenient stool, Liu’s eldest maternal uncle approached the pit.

We were exchanging pleasantries when I noticed Liu. She was holding a steaming bowl of rice porridge and must have sensed that I was hungry from the long hike. Barely making eye contact, she handed me the porridge and walked away. The uncle noticed her kind gesture.

“Younger brother Lu, when are you going to marry my niece?”

“Good sir,” I replied timidly. “I haven’t yet spoken to my father.”

“Why wait? Liu is a pretty girl. As a matter of fact, our Mien tribal chief has informed us that highlanders from the north will be resettling in Huibu. I am sure there will be bachelors among them.”

“Why do they want to come here when there are so many mountains in Yunnan?”

“You are not yet old enough to understand,” the uncle chuckled. “In time, you will understand that we all have to leave—sooner or later.”

Shortly past noon, two long tables and chairs were brought into the living room. Liu began placing pairs of bamboo chopsticks and wooden spoons in front of each chair. Other women were moving back and forth from the kitchen with bowls of cooked dishes. When the table was finally set, Liu’s father hailed for the men to sit.

I sat down next to my father and picked up a slice of pork belly. The village leader waved for Liu and her older sister Lai to bring him a bottle of rice wine and small cups. Liu knew that I would be drinking the wine as well and joked to me that she would fill my cup to the rim.

“How goes the elephant hunt brother Yao Fong?” asked the village leader.

“It goes well,” my father replied. “I am leaving in the morning with my son Lu.”

“You know, merchants from Kunming have stated that demand for ivory is higher now than ever.”

“That is good to hear. However, the herd has migrated further south, and I am not the man I used to be.”

“Both you and I,” exclaimed the village leader as he raised his cup of rice wine. “Here’s to a successful hunt.”

The next day at dawn, I met Liu under a tea tree near our plot. She had her hair tied back in a dragon’s knot and was wearing a grey tunic embroidered with Mien designs on the collar. She looked beautiful, imparting the same graceful composure that enamored my spirits when we first met. I put my hands beside her waist to pull her closer and could feel her gently tugging my hand.

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” she whispered.

“Three days, maybe four. It depends, my dear.”

She gave me a look of apprehension—and rightly so. Not more than five years past, an elderly man from our village, while returning home from his plot, was stomped to death by a wild elephant. The priest in our village believed that the elephant had been possessed by malevolent forest spirits.

“Come back safely. We should announce our engagement before the rice harvest.”

“Don’t worry.”

I moved my hand up to brush her delicate, tan skin. Liu grabbed ahold of it and sunk into my palm, arousing emotions that made me flutter. We embraced for a short while before I kissed her and said goodbye.

I returned home and found my father in the kitchen wrapping dried meat and filling several gourd containers with water. He instructed me to retrieve two spears from our old Mandarin robe cabinet near the stove. As I opened the cabinet, a mist of dust flew in my face. The two long, leaf-shaped spears were decorated with red horsehair tassels.

“Father, I want to marry Liu Wang.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. I want her to come live with us.”

“I know. I have already spoken to Mr. Fu Wang.”

I was happy to hear that. All four of my older brothers had married several years ago, and I knew that my father was waiting for me to do the same.

“Can we perform the engagement ceremony when we get back?”

“Patience, my son,” he cautioned. “We have to make sure that we perform the ceremony on a fortuitous day.”

Meanwhile, my mother had woken up and was getting ready for a day’s work. She joined us in the kitchen and inspected my basket.

“Do you have everything you need?” she asked, handing me a long knife.

“I think so.”

“Of course we do,” my father interjected. “We have enough food and water to last a fortnight.”

I hung the knife to my side and strapped the basket onto my back. My mother helped me straighten one of the straps, which had wrapped around a silver button on my black trousers.

My father was waiting for me outside. I stepped out, and we departed up the southern mountain.

By sundown, we had crossed three mountains. My father was delighted to find a flat patch of land and announced that we would be camping there for the night. I left momentarily to gather some firewood; when I returned, he had taken out a few pieces of meat.

After dinner, I lay next to the fire on a thin cotton sheet and gazed at the full moon and the seven sisters in the sky. I thought about Liu and the kiss we shared earlier that morning. Although the night was eerie, my father’s snoring was a comforting sound. I was nearly asleep when I heard a rustle behind me.

A pair of eyes were glowing through the bushes and glaring in my direction. I did all that I could to temper my fears. For a moment, I wanted to alert my father of this elusive creature, but it vanished, as quickly as it appeared.

I woke up the next morning to find my father examining the earth.

“Did you see something last night?”

“I don’t know what it was,” I replied.

“It was a tiger, and it looks like it is moving south. You did well son by not panicking, for it might have attacked us.”

It was rare praise.

Making our way down the mountain, we came upon an ancient road. There was a rumbling from beneath our feet, and at a distance, an imperial brigade appeared. I looked at my father for reassurance, but he was focused on the road.

Several of the armed infantrymen were carrying flags of the imperial dragon emblem. At the posterior of the brigade, a horse-drawn carriage was guarded by cavalry. My father immediately grabbed my hand and pulled me down to genuflect.

“What is your business here?” asked a horseman as the carriage passed.

My father calmly looked up, as did I.

“High chieftain, I did not know it was you,” my father answered. “We are hunting for elephants.”

The high chieftain was of Dai Lu ethnicity and worked as an official for the imperial government. He possessed a higher rank than our Mien tribal chief. “You must know that the largest herds are moving south beyond Yunnan. Beware, however, if you choose to cross into those mountains. Taiping bandits have taken refuge.”

“I understand. Thank you for your words of caution.”

The next morning, we found ourselves at the gate of Yunnan. I followed my father up the forest as we slashed our way through the vegetation. We searched desperately for wild elephants, but they remained cloaked behind copious layers of trees and bushes.

With no luck thus far, we crossed into the next mountain. There, we discovered a pristine plateau and a dark tunnel within the forest that had been forged before our arrival. We entered the tunnel, and my father’s stern movements signaled that we were close. He held his hand up and pointed at a palm tree, where we found cover.

Suddenly, the majestic wild elephant was within our grasp, and just as we had planned, it had strayed from the herd. My father looked at me and displayed a restrained smile, knowing it was male. He then whispered that he would approach the elephant head-on, while I should attack its flank.

The elephant had its trunk curled up and was pulling on palm leaves. It was unaware of our presence.

I positioned myself several steps behind it and put a firm grip on my spear. At the same time, my father had his spear down and was closing in. Despite his old age, he was stronger than most young males. He thrust the spear at the elephant’s ribs, piercing the armored skin. It let out a vociferous roar that shook the forest.

The wild beast was weakened but moving erratically, attempting to remove the spear from its flesh. I waited for the right moment and thrust my spear at its buttocks. My father yelled at me to move back.

Frustrated, the elephant charged at my father, who took off running. I sprinted toward them, but as I caught up, it had gotten on top of him. Instinctively, I reached for my knife and rammed it into the elephant’s neck. I stepped back and watched the monstrous beast swerve aimlessly before falling to the ground.

I was petrified to see my father laying there mutilated. Some of his internal organs had erupted and were splattered on the ground, which compelled me to look away. But as the rush of guilt crept up my spine, I got down on my knees and lifted his head slightly.

Sitting there alone, I pondered what to do with his body. Tradition would command that he should be taken back to the village, though I knew that that would not be possible. I did my best to clean him up with water from the gourd containers, before constructing a platform next to his body. I lifted him and found a piece of white cloth from his basket and placed it over his face. Tears began to fall as I lit the platform.

The elephant laid there with one of its tusks poking into the ground and the other sticking up. I took my knife and cut both tusks off the elephant. Knowing that it would be a long road home, I cut off a piece of its flesh.

I returned to the village with the elephant’s tusks sticking out of my basket. My mother saw me walking up the mountain and came out to meet me. She noticed my dejected demeanor and began crying, knowing that my father was not returning.

Later in the day, my paternal uncles paid my mother and me a visit to inform us that they had arranged for my father’s funeral to be held on the next fortuitous day.

Liu had heard about what happened and came over to offer her condolences. I led her to my bedroom, where we sat on the ground. As was the proper practice, men were to remain stoic, but I could not hold back the tears. I buried myself into her lap and released a cry that I had repressed since becoming an adolescent.

As I regained my composure, I conveyed my intentions.

“Dear, I want to start a family with you on the mountain where my father fell.”

“But how will we live?” she responded.

I paused for a moment and took her by the hand. “The mountain there is rich and uninhabited. We shall build a new Mien village beyond Yunnan.”

“As your wife, I’ll follow you wherever you should go.”

“Can you stay with me tonight?”

“Of course.”

Editor’s note: While the type of ivory hunting described in David’s story is a long-time right of passage in some cultures, the widespread poaching of ivory supplies a market that threatens many species of animals with extinction. The sale of ivory such as supplied by elephant tusks is illegal in California and indeed, in most of the world. We at Writers Forum believe that ivory needs to stay where it belongs: on the elephant.

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