"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Friday Flash 55 - Father

In the fog, the strobe lights on the bus
alert the children.
In the fog, a figure leaves the forest
and waits at the edge of the clearing
to watch as the child who will never know him
climbs the steps with his Spiderman lunchbox.
In the fog, it’s as if he wasn’t even there.


A thank you to Galen, the kick-ass host at Mr. Knowitall who orchestrates the Friday Flash 55 event. If you have a story you can tell us in 55 words, tell him first. See you on the other side of 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Ghosts - The Making Of

This story is my entry into Loren Eaton's Shared Storytelling event for Christmas 2010.

The schoolhouse was transformed for the Christmas play. There was a stage in place of a teacher's desk, a velvet curtain instead of a chalkboard, and tinsel draped around the windows. The children were dressed in patent leather shoes and even the boys who had grown out of their desks but couldn’t pass 6th grade were dressed up and behaving.

Mary folded her hands in her lap and admired the drape of her robe and repeated her lines to herself. She was the lead and her mother had spent extra time on her hair.

Joseph beckoned to her from the dark behind the stage by the door that led to the outside, and she adjusted her veil and went to him.

The lights were dimmed, and the audience held their breath for the play to begin.
They waited. The entire schoolhouse held its breath, but Mary and Joseph didn't appear.

The play was aborted and the dogs were brought in, but it was of no use. The two were never found. Only a veil blown into a ditch and covered with twigs and snow was uncovered.



If you think Christmas might be more about Dicken's Marley than Santa's Rudolph, please read the other stories that make up the Advent Ghosts 2010 event organized by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What A Smart Boy You Were

When you’re snowed under,
there’s no getting away from you.
Out of cigarettes,
you search drawers and cubbyholes,
empty butts out of ashtrays,
and roll your own.

The storm is as focused as the hawk
that flies over the chicken coop.
Thoughts like sentence fragments
march around the house,
the thought of what you’d do
to keep from running out.

If you can’t bear the quiet,
imagine yourself deaf, like an old man steeped in it.
Imagine yourself trapped in a house
with an old man who won’t stop talking—
stopped up by memory with no one to listen.

The wind doesn’t count.
The partially-deaf man can bear the wind,
unlike a room full of people.
The wind is an undertone,
like the hum of a furnace.
It circles the sleeping house, unanswered.

The man becomes a boy in his sleep.
The boy who ran down the road
for the pleasure of it.
The boy who could take up any task
and finish.
That boy wasn’t confined
by his body to memory.
He was making them.

And what about that snowstorm?
Not the ones the old man talks about.
The one here and now,
the one we’ll want to talk about when we’re old.
Ah, but remember . . . nobody will listen.

Write it down so the memory has backbone,
like the sketch found in a drawer
and the note from a teacher of long, long ago.
What a smart boy you were.


I wrote this in a nostalgic mood because Christmas isn't only about merrymaking and then decided to post it for the One Stop Poetry site's One Shot Wednesday. If you've written a poem or even a short story you want to share with the fine folks at One Stop Poetry, follow the link.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What A Weasel Does

A weasel got in one of our chicken pens and killed 14 birds two nights ago. The havoc wrought by a weasel is that of a teenage vampire movie. They bite off the heads and drink the blood. But this isn’t a movie; this is life on the farm. It looks idyllic from afar. Many think we have it made. They haven’t gone outside on a blustery winter morning (when will this wind abate?) to find a slaughter.

Three more were killed last night in similar beheading fashion. The surviving chickens were very happy to see my husband this morning. Chickens are skittish (wouldn’t you be?) but once they got over the initial startle, they hung around his feet like a child under her mother’s skirt. After the cleanup he needed to go to the pharmacy and refill a blood pressure prescription he’d let lapse. This work will kill you in more ways than one.

He buried the beheaded in the compost piles—manure recently hauled out of the barnyard and spread in heaps along the field beyond the chicken area. It serves a dual purpose. One must get rid of the carcasses lest more vermin be attracted to the area, and digging in this frozen ground would probably put him in it.

It’s a devastating loss, and I’m sure it’s as crushing to my husband as agent rejection of my writing is to me, (though he shouldn't take it personally). Our fear is the weasel will be back, him and his buddies. It’s winter and food is scarce. He’ll be back. We have traps but weasels can weasel out of them, just as they can circumvent chicken wire. A friend suggested we put a radio out there. Play a little AC-DC or Alice In Chains. How about a little Marilyn Manson music for the weasel? I’m afraid he'd like it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fiberglass Angel

On Christmas Day my daughter
(named after an Allman Brothers song, not a saint)
helped out at a soup kitchen.
I’ve never done anything that commendable.
She got the idea from a friend,
not from me.
I think holy are the No Toxic Spraying signs
we store in the milkhouse for winter.

But I remember
my mother’s Christmas angel,
yellowed with age, the only one we ever had.
Fiberglass, Mother warned when we were little.
It’ll cut you if you touch.
So we never did.
We held our breath as she stood on a chair to place it on the top branch.
We broke all her glass ornaments on the hardwood floor,
the guilty one downcast with the evidence at her feet.
We needed no scolding from mother,
we dealt it out in holy measure amongst ourselves.

The nativity scene, ox and ass, baby and mother were another matter—
solid wood and unbreakable Joseph. We rearranged them throughout Advent.
Baby Jesus kept coming up missing.
I placed the shepherd closer to the action than the wise men.
They were wise but late arriving in their fancy robes and strange hats.

I gave a bushel of beets to the food pantry.
Does that count?

Dad wrestled our eight-foot trees into their stand
and trimmed the bottom branches.
(A Linck tree was never tied to the wall.)
Mother handled the lights and the angel while we fidgeted
with the ornaments spread out in front of us.

Their trees got smaller as we all left
(like mother, standing in stocking feet to place the angel)
and now the tree sits on an end table.
What glass ornaments remain stay wrapped
because there is no room on a tabletop tree.
But for an angel, yellowed with age, there always will be.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Home From The War To Rage On The Road

A neighbor boy home for Christmas after four years in the Marines and two in Afghanistan was driving a tractor down the road when a car came up behind him and attempted to pass him as he was making a left-hand turn into his driveway. The tractor flipped over and landed on top of him.

The local parish priest was called to the scene to administer last rites but the accident scene was blocked off and the police wouldn't let him through until it was too late. Maybe they don't train officers in such matters anymore, just like driving schools don't teach driver's education the way our teachers did when it was part of the high school curriculum. Tractors have the right-of-way. Here in farm country it is common to see farm equipment on the roadways. They are like pedestrians and cyclists. They have the right-of-way.

Just another one of those things that make us walk around in the middle of the night or sit in a chair with the light on instead of sleeping. Someone grieves while someone else is rejoicing. Such is the human condition. The best we can do is accept our measure and prevail. Take up the pen or the brush or the hammer. Take on the day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Little Man In My Phone Line

My blog has been as dormant as the shrub roses, hunkered down like an asparagus bed. I shall blame this first and foremost on my dialup connection which took a nosedive a couple of weeks ago, going from bearable to exasperating. I must be the last person in the county holding out for affordable high speed internet but if my server kicks me off like a shoddy trespasser one more time I will be at the mercy of whatever wireless is offered here in no man's land.

I have, however, been writing a lot, loving it, getting up in the middle of the night to do it, and my blog has also taken a back seat to that. Yet I worry about bloggyville and think about it more than one would think normal. What's normal? Who was it I recently heard say, "I would not wish the life of a novelist on anyone." ?? Help me. Why would anyone aspire to such angst and self deprecation? Why indeed. But I love to write, even when it exasperates me. It's a lonely endeavor, so talk to me.

Now I better try to post this before the little man boots me off.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Winter Grave

The winds of November remind us to hurry—
plug the drafts under the door
store the squash
and wait for winter.
Will there be food? Heat?
Will the water drag or flow?
Will we be dependent upon the slug?
The stealthy bow?
If there's a death in winter
what do we do with the body?
Should we predig a hole like we do
for our live Christmas trees
so they can live on?

The cattle huddle
around a full hay wagon,
backs to the wind.
Will there be shelter from the storm?
Will the river flow unencumbered
around fallen timber and jagged floes?

The barn is warm at night with their breath.
The clover is sweet and the loft full.
They chew their cuds
content
and warm.
What will we do with the body?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Still Life In A Killing Frost

The sun burst out from under a cloud bank
and the grass is once again green.
The trees are shanks of orange
and the fields are gold.
The mossy sides
of the dying ash shimmer
as though it weren't so
and the mums are earth afire.
Everything faces east.
Still. Still. Still.
Not even a raucous crow greets the day.
But the clouds prevailed, opened and swallowed.
The trees are black and the grass dormant.
Mums sway under the weight of frost
and the crow awakes
with moving eye.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Things We Need – Things We Don’t

Her hair was too long for her age,
thick and heavy, a platinum wave.
She was all hair.

Two weeks ago she came to work with a cut
above her ears,
like a salon model.

Last week in a team meeting she joked
how she could pull it out in swatches.
Look . . . it doesn’t hurt.
We made her stop.

She wore a black hat on Wednesday
with a floppy brim and a red rose in the center.
Yesterday it was a saucy denim one
with a papery orange poppy.
We traded lipsticks in the lounge,
adjusted hats . . . not a wisp of blonde.

She has a season pass for the theater,
tickets to the Dixie Chicks,
family leave for the next round,
a calendar full of events.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Mouth Full Of Stones (Friday Flash 55)

Don’t blast a call to prayer outside my window.
I pray when I want
and drink when I want and sometimes I want.
Our best times involved copious amounts—
me and my Bobby McGee,
hair flowing free
not swaddled in silence
with a mouth full of stones.
Don’t blast a call to prayer outside my window.


If you write a Friday Flash 55 or just want to know what it's all about, visit the G-Man here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ampersands and Colloquialisms

The Falling Leaf Moon is on the wan and still we haven't had our first frost. This is unusual for the Thumb of Michigan and for me yet one more symptom of unsettling climate change. Should I be happy with these extended frost-free days or concerned? I know one thing: weeds are growing faster than they did in the heart of summer, at a time when they should be dead and buried.

I hate weeds. I hate cliches and redundancies. I try to make sure I never use these nasties in my writing but once in a while one shows up, like a weed in the greenhouse. Speaking of, I'm planning to make full use of my greenhouse this winter and to date I've planted spinach, komatsuna, and mizuna. I cleaned out the weeds from around the edges for a weed-free environment. Now I need to clean the weeds out of my manuscripts, past and present.

Edittorrent has posted a list of writing pitfalls to avoid. Of course Edittorrent is quick to point out that one can break a rule if done to good effect. But can we be the judge of our own good effects? I know a weed when I see one but would I know an ampersand and recognize a colloquialism? Will my one-word sentence be of good effect or make you groan? Oh what an obsessive pastime this writing business is.

Now, how many writing rules have I broken in this post? Don't we all like to break rules? Like smoking in the bathroom and walking on rooftops and eluding the police? Like throwing in an occasional one-word sentence?

Monday, October 11, 2010

OF SONG AND WATER . . . Shallots and Garlic!

Is it really October? October 11th?? Holy cow! The weather this past week has been so beautiful I've lost track of time. What have I been doing? Checking in occasionally on all of you and planting shallots and garlic-Purple Stripe, German Hardy and Porcelain, rows and rows.

One thing I did want to share with you this morning is the book I'm currently reading....OF SONG AND WATER.


This novel by Joseph Coulson is the story of Coleman, a jazz musician who can no longer play, his mentor and teacher, a black man trying to live quietly on the edge of a white town, his father, an expert sailor, and his grandfather who was a rum runner on the Detroit River during Prohibition. Coulson expertly weaves his tale between generations, from the shores of Lake Huron (our beloved inland sea)and the narrows of the river, to jazz clubs in Detroit and Chicago and a marina in winter where Coleman retreats to his father's sailboat.

I don't know how I happened upon this gem but it's a captivating story that had me from the opening paragraph.

He climbs without faith, the ladder unsteady, the wooden rungs brittle, each step filling the air with the sound of old bones. Don't look down, he thinks, watching the slow drift of his shadow, seeing its darkness on the long white surface of the hull.

I think it unusual to find novels that take place in and around the Great Lakes (UP reviewed here is another) and I'm always excited to find one.

Would you rather read a novel that takes place somewhere you've never been or one that takes place close to home in places you've seen? I think the latter adds an element of understanding because you can bring your own experience into the narrative rather than having to depend solely on an author's skill at guiding your imagination.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Tamper With The Truth (Banned Books Week)

It's that time of year again....Banned Books Week. Time to check out the ALA List of banned and challenged books and read a banned book. Jemi Fraser has an excellent post on this subject here, and then there's this passage for Three Word Wednesday from Rebecca,

To tamper with the truth
And court false tales . . .


Can you guess what banned book inspired these words? Check out Rebecca's blog to read her entry and find out.

I'm proud to say my local library has posted signs for Banned Books Week, challenging patrons to read one. I'm reading A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. So what are you reading? Let's hear it for the mighty book!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the Geese Fly

The geese have been flying overhead with their mournful honking. I can’t think of anything that more poignantly portends autumn than the migration of Canadian geese. And if a sound could describe the silent angst of the querying writer, it would be geese flying overhead. It was eighty degrees yesterday, but the geese tell it all. Then last night a powerful storm blew through the area and this morning my ferns lie broken on the impatiens (which aren’t long for this world), and I hang them back up wondering where I’ll put them come October.

I told myself that fall was a good time to start querying agents again. But now I have to think about my ten pages for the Literary Lab's Notes From Underground anthology and ponder where my little story is going. A short story is a semi-circle and doesn’t really end, but it has to go somewhere. I want my readers to sit back at the end of it all and say, “wow,” or at least, “hmmm.” I don’t want to let down those who expressed confidence in my ability to see it through. That, plus my second novel is gnawing at my inner consiousness. It currently has no ending whatsoever and has sat on the back burner since the geese last flew the other way. So how do you organize your writing life? What is more important, querying the old or losing yourself in the new? And if you juggle both, I'd like to hear about that too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Notes From Underground

The Literary Lab recently held a Notes from Underground contest, and I am honored to have been selected for the anthology. It was an eclectic and somewhat intimidating contest, so I was jumping up and down this morning. So excited!! Please pop over to the Lab to see the others who won. I'm proud to be in their company.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Man In Black

I just realized that a true protest singer of the sixties, one who often collaborated with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, was none other than the Man In Black, one I never thought of as a protest singer. After listening to an NPR special on American Roots, I know why Johnny Cash dressed in black. And sadly the reasons are still true today. This, from one of his songs,

I dress in black for all the downtrodden, for those who are serving time past the time their time is up because of the times.

I just wanted to throw that out there because I thought maybe some of you didn't know that either.

And for the downtrodden writer on the query quest, how about a different way of looking at rejection. With so much talk out there about rejection, how to handle it like a big girl and plod ahead without drowning yourself in drink or giving up the game to pursue something you don’t like as much, like waiting tables or nine-to-fiveing it, I like what Holly Root had to say recently on her blog.

"With so much talk about “rejection” on the internet, I sometimes wish that we could talk in terms of “decline” rather than “reject.” There’s no moral judgment here, just an opportunity I won’t be part of."

I like that. How about you?

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Ginsberg in our Midst?

The sky is gray and rumpled
low-hanging clouds skuttle
across the land without a shadow
taking their rain with them.

A day like this calls for a strong cup of coffee. Coffee and books and hours of writing. Autumn come!

I've been sitting on a few awards that I need to pass on and I will. I will, I promise, but right now all I can do is share with you an amazing poet and writer who is new to the blogosphere but obviously not to the power of the written word. You can check Alisa Dodge out here. You won't be sorry. I promise.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paper Lanterns

For the last post of August, let’s talk about the upside of drought and unrelenting heat. Let’s assume this record heat (August was the sixth driest and the hottest on record for the Great Lake State) is not a harbinger of what's to come, climate upturned on its axis, chill in the desert of Palmdale where my sister lives and asphyxiation in the upper midwest. So what can be an upside to drought? First, there are no mosquitoes. I mean, not one single solitary bloodsucker is left in the Thumb of Michigan. Second, in the still of the exhausted summer night outdoor candles stay lit. They burn all night, inspire and enthuse, the only draft the flutter of a moth's wing before it's coerced into the fire. Paper lanterns sway next to the Boston ferns, and I think of swaying to the dance in a gauzy skirt the color of summer.


Let's talk veggies and the bounty of summertime. Melons that won't usually fatten in Michigan have thrived in the record heat. Cantaloupe and Sugar Baby watermelons, fully seeded for the future, have graced our tables—homestead and market. Tomatoes dropping ripe from the vine take all our time-salsa, canning, and bread salad. Peppers ripening to red and orange in the heat take no backseat to tomatoes. Volunteer cilantro from last year's planting sprouts underneath the soaker hoses in the pepper row as if they know their rightful place, and we pick and we pick and we pick. The butternut and delicata winter squash are a golden tan with skins that cannot be pierced with a fingernail, hence ready for harvest.

So what does this have to do with writing? What, I say, doesn't it have to do with it? We eat to live and writers live to write. I drink and eat and write. I bemoan my ability to keep up but the harvest is plentiful and I persevere and tend my soaker hoses and baby my laptop and long for the time to bring a new novel to fruition. I listen to music that gives me goose bumps like John Lennon’s Working Class Hero and then I go back outside to watch Orion march across the southern sky, because I have to. The new moon is dark and hidden like a story aching to surface. I’m writing about the secret everyone in my family knows but no one talks about. What are you afraid to write about? What are you waiting for?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Poetry Bus

The Poetry Bus this week is being driven by Chris at the The Enchanted Oak. We had to chose one of two photographs to use as inspiration, and I chose this one -Alfred Stieglitz Georgia O'Keeffe--Hands, 1919

The poem links are up here.

My ticket to ride the bus....

THE HARDEST THINGS TO HOLD

The blues man wraps band aids around his fingers
and holds the quivering note beyond its value.

Grandmother had hands of steel
that whipped egg whites into peaks
and eroded the corner of the cake spoon
we all covet.

My sister's hands are bare.
She drinks cherry juice for arthritis
and sharpens her knives to an edge.
The piano is out of tune and the garden lies fallow.

The hospital had to cut
my mother’s ring off her finger.
They put it in an envelope with her name on it,
and gave it to me to hold.

The artist holds her left hand perfectly still
and draws it with her right.
The teeth that fall out of her
great grandmother's mouth in her dreams
are in the center of the palm.
The hardest things to draw are hands.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE BOY FROM YUGOSLAVIA (Flash 55)

While the teacher was at the beer garden they beat up the new boy with the funny name and she hid behind the country school and covered her ears until they were finished. He ran past her bloodied and in his place, face etched with the horror, and she thought, maybe now they’ll believe us.



If you can write a story in 55 words, post it on your site and then visit the G-Man to let him know. You'll get marvelous feedback from his many participants and even a visit from the man himself.

Have a marvelous weekend, writers and compatriots.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Control

The family of woman and children,
baby bottles, car seats and strollers,
head scarves and . . . tennis shoes?
make their way through the checkpoint.
A line of impregnability,
from the wrinkled forehead of the matriarch
(it’s always been this way)
to the teenager in black scarf
(I’m reminded of Minstrel Shows and the subterfuge of black face but can’t say why….is imitation the highest form of flattery?)
that drapes her face like a mantilla and frames her dark glasses,
modern as the painted toes
(slattern)
she bares to remove her shoes.
It’s our choice, she would insist if asked.
But I wonder where the men are.

The men behind the choice come through later,
unburdened in blue jeans, serious as kings.
Unencumbered but for their wallets and cell phones,
they sport flamboyant heads of hair
I’d like to run my fingers through . . .
and pull.

The women sit in chairs with their legs together
and await direction.
They cosset the children and await the men.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meeting Mojo

Lightning flashed on the horizon but stars blinked overhead the night I met Mojo. He came in the middle of the night. He woke me up. He knocked on the door and I unlocked it.

He stood in shadow but I knew who he was. I invited him in.

“No,” he said. “You must come out.”

So out I went. We sat on the porch and lightning bugs landed in his hair and formed a constellation called Perseverance. Night birds chirped from the half-dead ash trees along the road and Mojo tapped his elongated fingers on the arm of the metal chair. He said no two sound alike if I would but pay attention, and I listened to the sing-song from across the yard, much like the murmuring amongst a flock of hens, low and throaty and full of mystery, as they run here and there with their full-hipped waddle.

I asked him why he came and went like a flimsy idea and he said it was I who could call him up at will if I but put aside that which wasn’t necessary to the writing life. He rose to his feet, and the lightning bugs flew out of his hair and flickered away into the hayfield.

“I have something for you,” he said. “We can go inside now.”

We sat at the kitchen table and he lit up a cigarette, holding it like a joint between his thumb and forefinger.

“What is it you have,” I said, impatient with his silence.

He stubbed it out. It didn't smell like a cigarette. It smelled like clover. “Show me your room,” he said.

I took him into my room, and he drew artwork from inside his shirt like a sorcerer and displayed it on my bed, and I waited for him to explain himself. Then he handed me a letter from an agent.

“Take it,” he said, forcing it upon me. “It’s a good letter and nothing to be sad about.”

I looked at the envelope. The return address was New York and my pulse skipped. A letter from New York, but one to be sad about.

“You should display it like a painting,” he motioned to the one on the bed. “And learn from it. You will not have success until you have had rejection you don’t turn your back on and refuse to learn from.”

And he was gone like the constellation of fireflies, leaving only the memory of his presence, but his words are etched along the knobs of my backbone.

All this in a dream.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lifeblood of Fiction

Sitting at my laptop in the night with a glass of water at my elbow, there is movement in my peripheral vision. I glance at the source, alarmed, but the shimmering movement is only the play of moonlight on the water's surface. With each keystroke the water jiggles and though I know what it is, the ghostly shimmer fools me again and again, like the slap of the flag on my dad's flagpole in a brisk wind when I'm working in the garden. It has me looking over my shoulder, again and again. And I'm reminded of a passage from THE SOUND AND THE FURY.

If character is the life of fiction (as John Gardner says), description of time and place is the lifeblood that supports your characters along the way. Consider how William Faulkner describes water in a basin in the moonlight....

I could hear Shreve working the pump, then he came back with the basin and a round blob of twilight wobbling in it, with a yellow edge like a fading balloon, then my reflection. I dipped the rag, breaking the balloon.

Or this passage that blends the best description of twilight I've ever read with the memory of the brother who never grew up...
As I descended the light dwindled slowly, yet at the same time without altering its quality, as if I and not light were changing, decreasing, though even when the road ran into trees you could have read a newspaper. I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the last light supine and tranquil upon tideflats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale clear air, trembling like butterflies hovering a long way off. Benjamin the child of. How he used to sit before that mirror.

I just finished Ian McEwan's SOLAR, which set me to thinking about the importance of character development and how essential it is to make your readers care about your characters. Maybe this is an unfair comparison I'm about to make, but McEwan has been compared to literary giants, from Dickens to Faulkner, so my guess is that it isn't. The characters in SOLAR were as flat as failed bread and I had to force myself to keep going. Halfway through, I stopped waiting for it to get better and resigned myself to disappointment from an author who has never disappointed me before. So, even the experienced writer slips on occasion and falls into the trap of their own verbosity. Not only was the main character unlikable on a personal level, but as a scientist he seemed unmotivated, selfish, and greedy. And the only time McEwan comes close to a Faulkner description of time and place is when his Pulitzer Prize winning scientist steps out of his air conditioned car in the heat of the New Mexico desert and falls to his knees under the weight of it.

I think the main problem for me is that climate change is such a serious subject it doesn't lend itself well to the slapstick satiracal style McEwan uses to drive the novel forward. I found it hard to sympathize with this unlikable character who zips his penis in his snowsuit during a trip to the Arctic, this overweight academic who overeats before an important speech at a climate change conference and has to swallow his acid reflux as he tries to convince investors to take their money out of coal and oil and put it into solar. Who could take him seriously? This buffoon who has multiple failed marriages and countless affairs and who behaves badly at the turning point of the novel. And the multiple cast of supporting characters are equally unlikable and unmemorable. I didn't care about any of them. Characters are the life of fiction and these ones were dead in the water before the halfway point.

I think it unfortunate that one of the premier writers of our time missed an opportunity to bring solar power and all the possiblities encompassed within the miracle of photosynthesis into the mainstream conversation. Most readers won't put up with unlikable, boring characters, regardless of the subject. I would love to hear other opinions on this subject. And if any of you have read SOLAR, what'd you think?

If you can't give your readers a character to love, you'd better at least give them one to hate. Make your reader feeling something. Take Faulkner's Jason-one of the most despicable characters in the history of American literature-Jason Compson will stay with me long after I've forgotten McEwan's Michael Beard. Indifference to character is the death knell for a novel.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Wrong Side of Town (Flash 55)

Beside a three-story house in Romanesque style
that’s falling down,
a station wagon is parked
in the tall grass on two flat tires.
An old man sits behind the steering wheel
and reads the newspaper,
oblivious to the crumbling ruins.
He does this every day,
past All Saints,
warm in his sunroom
but going nowhere.


If you can write a story in 55 words, let Mr. Knowitall know. TGIF party animals!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Miner Dorm

I remember the radio I won
selling magazines
and the song playing
the last time I lay with you.
The dorm was emptied for summer—
wisteria in bloom.
We lay on the bed
and listened to the closing of the doors.
We didn’t make promises to keep in touch
because we knew that we wouldn’t.

This is a Flash 55. And least I forget, Mr. Knowitall is the motivating factor.

Monday, July 12, 2010

If It Were My Home


If It Was My Home is a new site that will allow you to quickly compare the breadth of the BP oil spill to your home town or city. Just type in your location and it will take the spill out of the Gulf and put it in your backyard. I did it. It filled Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay and spilled into Lake Erie.

The photograph of the struggling brown pelican is from Charlie Riedel at AP.

Pelican, brown pelican, preen once more for me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

49th Festival Of The Trees

Welcome to the 49th Festival of the Trees. When Jade Blackwater first contacted me and asked if I would be interested in hosting July's celebration, I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't expect the outpouring of artistic expression that I received. I would like to thank Jade for seeking me out and Dave Bonta , co-founder of the Festival of the Trees, for all his help with coordinating submissions that came in through the blog.

July 1st is the first day of the heat moon, and we're on the cusp of the dog days of summer... thunderstorms and fireflies, straw hats and cold drinks, days of lazy summer heat when finding shade under a tree is sometimes all one can think about. So, without further ado, let's check out some trees.

I'd like to kick this off with my favorite childhood hiding spot. This old pickling pear tree.
Yes! it really is a pear tree and, yes, there has been a rope swing (recently updated) hanging off the same limb for seventy years. Three generations of inquisitive adventurers with scabbed knees, bare feet, and dirty faces have wrapped their legs around it. If you climbed up the trunk to the fork and then higher.... out on this limb,
your mother couldn't find you, nor your older bossy siblings. You could read uninterrupted about adventure on the high seas or about a little girl in the Maritimes, or just watch squirrels navigate the narrow branches above while you, blameless, dropped hard, inedible pears on your brother's head as he tried to swing.

From Tricia O'Brien at Talespinning, we have a few of her amazing photos complemented by her signature haiku, as well as a flash fiction piece about a young cypress tree (relatively speaking as a cypress can live for thousands of years) that wishes it were a boy.
His roots had long ago stretched so far around his base they looked like a nest of pythons.
When reading Tricia's short story, I couldn't help but think of the Ents, the endearing talking trees in Lord of the Rings. Tricia weaves a story the Ents would give a magestic nod of the head to. She even has a Part II later in the fest.

Speaking of The Ents, I think it appropriate to elaborate a bit on what these, my favorite fantasy trees, are. They're a fictional race of people who closely resemble trees from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth. They appear to have been inspired by the talking trees of many of the world's folklores. At the time The Lord of the Rings takes place, there are no young ents (known as entings) because the entwives (female ents) were lost.

This is Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents. His motto was: "Do not be hasty." I think I shall make it mine as I try to live with a lunar calender and stay out of the rat race of modern society. The fate of the Ents is something I couldn't get out of my mind as I collated everyone's favorite trees.

Next, I would like to present Suzanne Casamento, who writes young adult fiction and, as she has now proven, poetry, writing about her favorite tree in poetic form. I think you'll all be spellbound by Suzanne's poem, drawn up the ladder to climb inside her secret hiding place and then...
Turn to yesterday’s last page
Its telltale folded corner begging me to finish
Someone else’s story

This next entry from Ed Pilolla juxtaposes nicely with Suzanne's poem. Ed is living the writing life in Hermosa Beach, California (am I a little bit jealous?), writing like a fool, in his words, but still taking the time to compose and submit Tree Rings. Hauntingly beautiful...
We journeyed our entire lives to arrive here, both of us with knots lodged within the rings of our lives,
this poem lodged in the roots of my soul. Thanks Ed.

Liza Carens Salerno at Middle Passages posts a lovely ode to New England stoicism and how she happened upon the perfect tree.
Fall seeps in via the patch of burnt-umber on the tree by the market in mid-August, through the crimson poison ivy vine twisting around a pine deep in the woods.
Thanks Liza for a native's perspective of color-seeking tourists. I want to crack a lobster and, somehow, you've made me yearn for fall colors before the Fourth of July!

V.R. Barkowski who lists amoung her accomplishments, recovering sociologist, mystery writer, and museum whore (my participants have some of the most interesting professions!), pays homage to her favorite trees through photography. You will absolutely swoon (in Tricia's words) at the photo from Savannah. And I wonder at those who could be in the shadow of such as these and not really see them at all, a thought brought to mind by her use of a William Blake quote...
Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all.

Kenneth Pobo also wrote a poem for the festival. I was thrilled to get so many poems, the highest form of human expression. Ken doesn't yet have a website or blog but I loved his poem so much I was compelled to include it anyway. He can be reached at kgpobo [at] verizon [dot] net if you want to offer your accolades.

BACK YARD BIRCH

Tall Wisconsin birches
line the highway. Light sifts
down, leaves almost translucent.
If I were the moon, I’d talk
all night with a birch, or
a forest of them, but I’m just
a guy with too much

weeding to do. Our one birch
provides good conversation.
Small, but airy, a tree
with nothing to prove. I put
violas at its base, an offering.
Catbirds, tasteful but busy,
like this tree too, a fine

launching spot on their way
to a blueberry bush. Wrens
turn leaf into recording studio.
In winter, a gray sky wraps
empty branches. Spring
will come. And when it does,
the birch will be ready.


You know I could relate to this one....to a guy with too much weeding to do but who will still take time to talk to a birch. And the last four lines are alive with imagery. Let us know, Ken, as soon as you get your site up and running!


Next, from Biologist, D.N.Lee, at Urban Science we have this entry from her travels in Europe, introducing us to the Mimosa Tree, which is also her favorite tree from childhood-

"My,fancy seeing you here. Are you here on holiday in France, too?"
"No, the trees replied, "we live here. You must be mistaking us for our cousins who live everywhere".
Indeed, I didn't know the Mimosa tree was so widespread. Nor did I realize it is sensitive to the touch, as shy as a praying mantis, and its leaves fold inward if you should touch them. Don't touch this! Thank you Ms. Lee for sharing with us your favorite tree along with memories from your grandmother's backyard.


From Marian Veverka we have this ode to the trees, a whiplash of a poem that sets us amoungst the branches of trees standing naked before the storm, limbs tossed and tangled like a schooner in a typoon. And, yet, again,
"your limbs provide the home the sparrow needs."
Thanks, Marian, for a beautiful poem that left me breathless. And honest folks, I'm not usually given to such gushing but you have all left me awed by your talent.

Next, to Lye Tuck-Po at Fieldsketches

where we have something really different, a tree/temple in the Cambodian woods. Tuck-Po, who is an anthropoligist living in Malaysia, photographed these ancient trees in Prasat Sambor, Cambodia. I think this is one of my all-time favorite trees. Who wouldn't want to enter this door and curl up inside with a dog-eared book? (One of Suzanne's!)
Just click the link to view more of these ancient trees of Cambodia. The second one is eerie and reminds me of the Alien curled up in the spaceship. I digress. Thank you Tuck-Po for sharing these stunning photos from the Cambodian woods.

From Australia, Jacqueline Yetzotis at Saving Our Trees takes us for a stroll down her street into the fork of a red flowering gum, the tree that most symbolizes Australia for her. Bird and bees love them and you will too when you see their amazing blooms. They reminded me of birds of paradise, or like something out of The Wizard of Oz with their little rosy faces. Check it out and see what I mean.

Next, from an Australian transplant, we have the unbudding of a Tulip Poplar. Joan Knapp, a microbiologist who now lives in Georgia, gives us a frame-by-frame video of the development of the beautiful flower on a Tulip Poplar tree. The progression is amazing and I was almost sad to see the dying of the flower but then realized that, too, is beautiful and essential, the closing of the circle of life.

Casey Harn shows us the inside of a different sort of a cathedral, the sort that man can't replicate with hammer and nails and architectual genius, a cathedral in the woods on the 15th Day of the Rose Moon. Now if that title doesn't pique your interest, I don't have one that will. Rose Moon is a Native American name for the moon that appears in June.

Casey posts by the Lunar calendar and uses the Native names for each moon cycle. July is the Heat Moon. Thank you, Casey, for sharing some of your Native American culture and your cathedral in the woods.

Next up are the fragile branches and purple berries of the Elderberry tree. Brought to us by Elizabeth Enslin, an anthropoligist and recovering academic based in Oregon, the elderberry has a long, rich history of delicious sustenence. (Especially in the dead of Prohibition.) Check out her pictures of elderberry clusters and tips on how best to enjoy them. I can't resist relating a personal story about how my grandpa got himself in a heap of trouble over a neighbor's jug of elderberry wine. But I'll save it until later.

The most poignant submission I received was this video story from wildlife biologist Jackee Alston who just suffered the loss of her mountain's old-growth ponderosa forest due to the human-caused forest fire in Arizona. Thank you Jackee for sharing this amazing video. We can only hope that the ponderosas will return en masse for future generations to enjoy.

From Poetry Daily, we have a killer of a poem, Twin Tree, by featured poet, Carol Muske-Dukes, Poet Laureate of California.
I stood beside you weeping,
trying to hold your heart together with my hands
at the fork where you'd leaned apart,
There is nothing else for me to say. My words pale next to hers. Hers are enough.

Suzanne Murray, an artist based in North Yorkshire, UK who specializes in calligraphy and lettering art submitted these samples of her work. I can see why these are some of her favorites.
I know a pine tree that leans over near a sea.
Suzi also blogs at Spirit Whispers and there shows us the birth of a baby Scots Pine cone and why her work is inspired by pine trees and also by the words of George Seferis- Greek poet, essayist & diplomat, and winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Literature-
One night I stayed awake all night under this tree...

On a lighter note, we have an amusing anecdote from Michelle Markey Butler who is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh and blogs atHeir Raising. Boys will be boys, but really....you wouldn't want to do this to your favorite tree!

From Becky Miller at The Rainy Day Wanderer you can browse a photo gallery of amazing tree photos she arranged just for us, from her backyard to the Asheboro Zoo and in an array of seasons. Thanks Becky.

Have you ever been to a hazelnut tree farm? Erika Rathje has. Enter here and scroll down until you come to the geometric marvel of the hazelnut tree farm with her description underneath the photo. I may never get an opportunity to visit a hazelnut tree farm. I didn't even know there was such a thing. So thank you, Erika.

And finally, I have Tricia's Part II, as promised. Waylaid at last with her, trussed and captivated, she sets us down gently.

Oh, would you like to hear that story about grandpa and the elderberry wine? I cornered my dad on the porch yesterday and made him repeat it to me so I would get it right. This is what happened.

It was 1928 and the country was tiring of Prohibition. But people became resourceful and ingenious. My grandpa, along with many others in these parts, made elderberry wine out of the elderberry blossom, which makes the best wine according to the experts, and he and neighboring farmers often got together to spin yarns and compare homemade concoctions.

Grandpa always planted the navy beans on June 6th. That morning after breakfast a neighbor came over with a jug of elderberry wine and Grandpa opened up a bottle of his. They got to talking and exchanging stories, and several glasses later he looked at the clock and said, “Hey! I have beans to plant.”
The neighbor said, “I have errands to run.”
And off they went.

Grandpa hooked up the team of horses to the drill he used for planting beans and drove them out to the field.

My dad was only eight but he remembers my grandmother looking out the window later and saying,

“I wonder why your dad is riding on the drill…”

He usually walked behind it, but there he was, sitting atop it, swaying with the motion of the horses and singing at the top of his lungs.

The next morning after chores were done, Grandpa hitched the horses up to the drill and started out towards the field.

Grandma said, “Where’re you going, Raymond?”
“Out to plant beans,” he replied.
“I thought you did that yesterday.”
“I did,” he said. “But I forgot the seed.”


It is fitting that I should close with Roberta at the Growing with Science blog . She gives us the walnut tree. I'd forgotten how beautiful this tree is. Once again, an example, I think, of a tree we take for granted. Thanks, Roberta, for reminding us of the walnut tree!

The August 1 edition of The Festival of the Trees will be at Growing With Science Blog
Theme: Trees Through a Child's Eyes
Send to: growingwithscience [at] gmail.com
Deadline: July 29

That’s all folks. I have enjoyed reading and compiling all the entries. I learned so much myself, I hope you have all gained something too. If I've made any mistakes or left anyone out, please contact me and I will right any wrongs immediately! Whew. I want to thank everyone who participated and helped make this a success.

Thank you all for reading. Happy Heat Moon!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

For The Small People

Firefly,
firefly,
fire
fly for me.
Pelican,
brown pelican
of the Gulf Coast pelicans,
(you were a postcard pelican)
preen once more for me.
BP CEO sail your yacht
on a pristine sea.
For me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice and a Writer's Stew

We farmers are always stewing over something. Right now it's lack of rain. We await the rain with the patience of fishermen. While we wait, we water the fledgling asparagus ferns with a hose in hopes that one day we'll have a beautiful asparagus bed. We water the tomatoes and the rest of the nightshades, we douse the broccoli, melons and lettuce.

We do our best, but well water is not rain water and irrigated vegetables do not have the flavor and nutrients of those watered from heaven. Something about the rain and the nitrogen and ozone it picks up on its way through the atmosphere makes all the difference. Ever do a taste test between a Michigan strawberry and a California one grown and irrigated in the Central Valley? Such a poor imposter that. But we've run the soaker hoses because the promised rain has alluded us for two weeks running. It goes around Deanville Mountain to the north. It goes off into Lake Huron to the east. It rains to the south of us and to the west of us. Enough, you say! Enough. OK.

I'm keeping this short, though my June contributions have been paltry. I'm saving my energy for a slam dunk Festival of the Trees at the end of the month. You have until June 28th to post your entry and send me the link. I'd like to thank Tricia O'Brien for this captivating teaser and mention of the Festival. Also, thanks, Tricia, for the Pertinent Posts Award!


I have not been very prolific of late so it's very consoling to be told I'm pertinent! Not to be confused with impertinent. Isn't it interesting how two words can be so similar in spelling and pronunciation yet so dissimilar in meaning?

(Warning.... I feel a tangent coming on.)

I think it is impertinent of agents to say they are too busy to reply to everyone who queries, that they can only be bothered to reply to those queries that interest them. Of course we writers are supposed to be patient and understanding. Am I being contrary to call that impolite? How do we know our email was ever received if we never hear back? So I have something else to stew about too. Enough, you say. Go to bed, Yvonne, and you’ll feel better in the morning.

OK. But first I'm stepping out on the porch to watch the fireflys as they try to attract a mate. Good night, happy hunting and a soulful Summer Solstice to all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Festival of the Trees (call for submissions)

I am pleased to announce that I will be hosting the 49th Festival of the Trees.


I am now taking submissions for the July festival. Please check here for submission guidelines, the history behind the festival, and July's theme. There is a contact form on the main site, or you can email me your link. I know there is a lot of talent out there, and I look forward to your entries, whether it be poem, flash fiction, photo, painting, haiku, etc. All mediums are welcome. Don't leave me standing alone like the last elm in North America.

The current festival is being hosted by Casey Harn so make sure you check that one out while you're at it.

Lets turn our attention away from war and oil spills and the destruction wrought by man and have some tree love.
















(photo courtesy of Deviant Art)


Ahhh, trees . . . big, small, scraggly and knarled, or majestic and stalwart, they do their part in keeping the lid on a steaming planet.



I'll see you in the woods, twenty rods beyond the brush pile in a clearing by the creek, short of the bee hives. Don't disturb the bees, just send me your stuff!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The red ones are theirs and the green ones are ours

I have a friend whose father was an explosive specialist in Vietnam during the Tet offensive. He was an engineer and walked point. He broke his tailbone jumping into a ditch. He was testing the terrain.

He is still in therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He couldn’t hold a job because he was too explosive. If anyone touched him he would go crazy, fighting all the time, still fighting.

My friend says his father hates the 4th of July. The fireworks become tracers. “The red ones are theirs,” he told him. “And the green ones are ours.” It’s scary having a father like that.

He told me a story. He and his brother were spending the weekend at a cottage in the woods with their father when he found him inside, staring at a wall. He asked him what was wrong and his father said he was trying to remember the name of the corpsman who patched him up. He could see his face but couldn’t remember his name. He tried all weekend to remember that name. He wasn’t really at the cottage in the woods that weekend. He was sorting the red ones from the greens ones. He was looking for a friend.

He wouldn’t let his sons go in the service. He told them they could do anything but that.

I would pack my son off to Canada or further before I would let him be taken or coerced or bribed, whatever you want to call it when they dangle education, bonues and promises of honor and esteem in front of wondering eyes. I would pack him some cookies and peaches, blankets and sheets, candles, soap and towels. I would wish him music and books and easy nights and happy days. Can you pack a box of happiness? What would it cost to mail a box of happiness, return receipt requested?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Underground

The Literary Lab is running a new contest, Notes From Underground. It is the perfect contest for the crazy writer in you. Crazy and wonderful. Anything underground is intriguing to me, and this more so because of the obvious reference to a particular Russian writer (at least I found the title so). I have a few smouldering ideas I can dredge up and expound upon, and I bet you do too. Click on their link for more details and then grab this cool image for your sidebar.

You have most of the summer to come up with something intriguing enough to capture thir attention.

In the meantime, Suzanne Hayze and Amanda Bonilla have started a new joint blog, Writing Out The Angst. They helped each other and signed their agents within two months of each other and now they're offering to help all of us. To kick things off they are offering query critiques to a few lucky followers. But beyond that, their new blog is writer friendly and chock full of agent information.

The Roman writer and statesman Seneca said "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Bloggers From Around The World

Memorial Day is special to Americans and usually spent close to home with friends and family at picnics and parades, as we remember those who came before, but first I would like to take you on a little world view whirlwind. Starting off relatively close to home, I'd like to introduce Helen Ginger, writer and freelance novel editor extraordinaire who writes a great interactive blog at Straight From Hel . Helen recently passed the Sunshine Award to me.

As I understand it, this award is passed on to five followers who bring a ray of sunshine to your blog. That would include ALL of you who follow and/or comment here but I'd like to follow Helen's example and award it to five new followers. Gabriela Abalo who lives in Lusaka, Zambia and blogs at Embracing Who We Are, gives us a different perspective from a faraway land. Suzanne Casamento at Question of the Day has my vote for the most unique blog with her thought-provoking questions. Jo Schaffer at Shoveling in a Jo Storm has had a lifelong love affair with books. Read her amazing "life list". Cynthia Reese, who not only writes romance, but Southern Style Superromance, blogs at her self-proclaimed undisciplined blog, and finally, my newest follower, Julie Musil, who just posted a moving tribute to veterans.

And then there is Mary Anne Gruen who lives in the Adirondacks and writes at Starlight Blog . Mary Anne just made me her singular recipient of the Blogger BFF Award and paid me the most wonderful compliment at the same time. Mary Anne, you rock! I just love these two little girls sharing a drink.
(Two little novelists in the making, don't you think?) Sometimes it is nice to be singled out. Thank you Mary Anne. I am going to follow your example also, because I like the idea of "one". I would like to bestow my BFF Award on Annie who blogs at Wine and Words She writes amazing poetry and is one of my most frequent commenters, and you all know how much needy writers need reinforcement. As an example of her powerful poetry, check out this. Thanks Annie for following me.

Finally Al at Publish or Perish tagged me a couple of weeks ago. Al shares amazing "piccies" from Down Under on his blog. If I never make it to Australia, at least I'll have Al's piccies. Check him out if you haven't already done so.

In this game of tag, one must answer the following five questions five times and then tag five people. I'm "it" and having procrastinated long enough, here goes:

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?

Living in a little cottage on a hill of sand.
Painting the flag pole with my father.
Writing on an old desktop computer and saving my words on floppy disks.
Spending a weekend by myself at a friend's cottage on a lake with my manuscript spread out in beautiful disarray, listening for the loons and counting water lilies.
Unpublished.


Question 2 - Where would you like to be five years from now?

Published.
Visiting a Gulf of Mexico free of oil rigs.
Writing full time and growing clean vegetables for healthy people.
Repainting my father’s flag pole. With my father.
Spending a weekend at the cottage on the lake.


Question 3 - What is (was) on your to do list today?

Weed the vegetables and pray for rain
Call my son to wish him a happy birthday
Send out a query letter and raise a flag.
Comb my hair and scrub my nails.
Lay a bunch of irises on my grandparent's grave.


Question 4 - What 5 snacks do you enjoy?

Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream
Nuts
Michigan blueberries
Michigan strawberries
Michigan Duchess apples


Question 5 - What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Gather the best minds in the world together to figure out a way to plug the BP oil well.
Use my money and influence to get the rigs out of our coastal waters and BP out of America.
Open an independent bookstore and sell fair trade coffee.
Work to preserve farmland and educate kids about where their food comes from.
Rest.


I tag five very special bloggers:
Talli, my blogging friend from London has has a book coming out in 2011!
Liza Carens Salerno, the amazing author of Middle Passages.
Samuel who is simply fabulous with spot-on advice in his daily pep for writers. IN EVERY POST!
Tricia, one of my oldest blogging buds. A must-read blogger.
Carolina, who only asks that you take off your shoes before you enter here.
Amy at She Writes who has a way with words not often found in today's fast-paced world.

Oops! That's six. What was that rule about rules....

If you haven't yet checked them out, I highly recommend that you do so. Happy Memorial Day to all. Raise a flag. Whichever one is in your heart. I have to get started on my "to do" list.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Clean Ground

When I leave the pavement with a jolt
I leave what I have for what I know,
for the gravel roads of home that run past
tangled fencerows where the only gaps
are where elms once stood.

I cross the ditch which becomes a torrent in spring
and drive past gnarled oaks and lilacs that bloom on old wood
and try to remember why I left.

The pond lies at the lowest point on the farm
with banks of waving cattails.
Two months past summer solstice…
it’s only half full. A new dock straddles dry ground
because the drought persists.
Clouds hurry overhead.
They neither darken nor slow though we watch.

Dust coats the Queen Anne’s lace
and Ice Age boulders that lie scattered along the fence,
smooth and broad as shoulders.
Bobolinks flirt with each other and the pheasants have returned,
waving mulberry plumage above the grass like ladies with parasols.
Pesticides had thinned them rare but now the ground is clean.
There are worse things than drought.

I saw an eagle yesterday.
He was young because his head was dark.
Eagles don’t often crowd the hawks, but there he sat
atop the ageless oak, surveying the dryness.
Because this is a better place than some.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Silk and the Tassel

They led her into the corn field
and told her they just wanted to look at it.
She studied the silk and tassel towering above her head,
not knowing that they were the male and female parts
that together formed the cob.
They whispered against her thighs
and a flock of blackbirds darkened the sky.



If you or anyone you know has written a Friday Flash 55, go tell The G-Man.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Asparagus, Rhubarb, and Trees

Let's talk trees and food and intertwinings.


The Festival of the Trees is a monthly blog carnival devoted to all things arboreal. June's festival is being hosted by Casey Harn, and he is accepting submissions through the end of May. His theme is the relationship between trees and animals and birds. Check out the festival for guidelines on how to participate. Don't just hug a tree. Go write about one or paint a picture or capture a bird on a leaf with your camera and then enter the festival.

I planted an asparagus bed this weekend which entails digging trenches a foot wide and a foot deep in a well-drained, weed-free area of your garden. Once dug to straight and deep perfection, you fill the trench with 4-5 inches of compost or other clean organic material, snuggle in the asparagus crowns with their snaggly roots and then fill in the trench with the loosened soil. My crowns were already starting to sprout (a snafu with the grower) so they needed to get underground asap! Planting an asparagus bed is a labor of hope. Harvest won't begin in earnest for three years but then the bed will produce for years to come. When mature and ferned out, the fronds form a beautiful asparagus forest. It is my gift to the farm.

The rhubarb is at it's prime and thanks to a healthy dressing of compost last fall, it is bursting forth like untrimmed shrubbery, forming a miniture jungle canopy. Rhubarb pie and rhubarb cake. Rhubarb for digestion and limbs and joints and brains. Can you tell I love rhubarb? Rhubarb sauce for breakfast, thanks to my mum, with a nice cup of coffee, thanks to some young girl in a faraway land picking beans all day for pennies a pound. One thing leads to another.

And thanks to Wendy at W.M. Morrell's ....... I also have an awesome sauce award!


Thanks Wendy. You have inspired me on my query trail. I will pass the sauce along shortly.

I've accomplished nothing else lately, no agent on my side, demanding edits to which I would ever-so-politely oblige with a hammer in my heart. I did, however, receive my copy of Steam Ticket, a Third Coast Review, with my little poem tucked inside.
It's a beautiful little magazine compiled by students at the University of Wisconsin, affording them experience as readers and editors. Why not pick one up?

I've digressed a bit from my original intent and I'm sure there's a name for that, an indentified disorder for that. Do you do that? Wander all over the place like a honey bee in search of necter? I'm afraid it spills over into my writing...characters off on mad jaunts and reckless endeavors, defying the genre I was supposed to identify upon typing THE END. And on that happy note... I salute Mr. Bailey at the Literary Lab for putting genre definition in it's place.

Peace out.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Canes

Canes hang off door knobs
and the backs of chairs.
They swing from towel rods and rockers
and stand in corners.

They are our new reality
and we have become comfortable
in their presence.

My father’s cane is big and heavy
with a smooth rounded handle
he could hook a giraffe with.
A man with a weapon is twice the man he is without.

My mother’s is as light as a baton,
as light as she once was on her feet.
Oh, how she twirled around the dance floor,
like a goldfinch on a feeder.

Now she’s twice the woman with it
than she would be without.
She taps it on the floor to emphasize a point
and hunts for lilies under the daffodils with the rubber tip.
She swats at the weeds around her hydrangea
like a barmaid at a drunk.

When I see it and not her, I wonder
where she’s gotten herself off to.
When I walk up the sidewalk
and see it lying in the flowerbed,
I wonder at what called her away,
and I try to remember what I was doing that was so important
it superseded my visit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buzz

I noticed about two weeks ago that I'd passed the hundred mark (in posts, not followers!). I hadn't really been keeping track or thought about it before, but it suddenly hit me. That's a lot of writing. It gave me pause. And then I had this thought....wouldn't it be cool if my number of followers someday surpassed my number of posts? It seems unlikely, unless my fortune soars like the Challenger, and I land an agent. That usually stirs up some interest.

Sometimes in the dead of night I think it's amazing that I have any followers at all. You know . . . when all those nasty little doubts come scratching at the windowpane like a night bird attack and you know your writing sucks and your life sucks and your chance of ever getting an agent who thinks they can sell your novel is as remote as getting a ride on the space shuttle.

Have any of you compared your number of posts to the number of followers your blog has? Have you ever joined a blog just to enter a contest and then gone back and deleted yourself? To me that seems a little dishonest but is it an acceptable thing to do? What do you think of contests that are geared to increase the number of followers? You know the routine: one point for following, one point for posting a link, one for a tweet, and so on. Is this the best way to generate buzz? I'm not saying it is or isn't, I'm just curious. Some people enjoy a stupendous following and it always amazes me how they keep up.

What I guess I'm trying to say is I think I need a blog holiday. Not only do I have to do more agent research to find the perfect one, I have to dig my asparagus bed and wash my windows and my mother's windows and plant lettuce and radishes and spinach. I have to scope out the pond and look for frogs and walk the lane and visit a tree.

I have to write.

So if I'm a little absent for a while please know I'm not really gone. Nor am I only trying to let my # of followers tag my # of posts! (Besides, that would be a little self-defeating. Who wants to join a dormant blog?) I have gained quite a few followers in the last few weeks and I am grateful beyond measure and constantly amazed by your generosity and the wisdom and encouragement of all who comment here. This thing we're doing is addictive (something to do with the instant feedback I reckon) so while we may take a vacation, we're never really gone.

One more thing before I sign off tonight, I would like to give Poets & Writers a shout-out. If you're a writer, you should be reading Poets and Writers. There is some great content from their May/June issue (the writing contests issue) currently online, including the Top Ten Topics For Writers.

Onwards and upwards. Bring on the night sweats.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Tyranny of the Majority

They play with guns in the woods
and practice survival, like boy scouts.
They want to be ready
when the helicopters come.
They talk ammo and snipers
and live in fear of the day
they become a minority.
They say they want to take their country back.
But who are they taking it back from?


For the history behind the Flash 55 (a story told within 55 words), click here. If you want to try your hand at a 55, post it on your blog and then visit the G-Man. If writing flash isn't your thing, visit him anyway and check out all the awesome writing therein linked. Then have yourself a nice weekend across the latitudes.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rage Against The Advancing Darkness

Have you ever been in the throes of writing to find yourself writing something you didn’t know you knew? Have you ever wondered about the dreamstate you slip into, which allows you to inhabit other lives? How does this work?

For me, and I think for many of you as well, the writing process can be therapeutic, write or die, but it has also now been found to be beneficial to people afflicted with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association is working with writers to connect people in the early stages of the disease to writing groups. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but they have found that with early diagnosis you can still construct a life in front of the advancing darkness. It is essential to begin while the patient is in the early stages of the disease, but many people are in denial. Hence, precious time is lost. In recent polls it has been discovered that people are more afraid of contacting Alzheimer’s than heart disease or cancer. Working with writers groups, the Alzheimer’s Association is helping people afflicted with this tragic disease to seize the opportunity to say what they want to say while still cognizant, before their knowledge of what went before is lost forever.

So let us open our minds to this possibility: that a person can write something down they didn’t know they knew. Writing is a form of memory, and we use a different part of our brain when we write. Thus it has been discovered that an Alzheimer’s patient can write something down they have actually forgotten. In fact, the next day they've forgotten that they wrote it. But there it is, proof on the page, visible and tangible.

I find this to be such an interesting concept, that there is a special area of the brain that clicks into overdrive when we write. Can it be that this ties into the “vivid and continuous dream” that John Gardner (my favorite writer on writing) talked about? Writing is nothing if not a mysterious process.

Verbal exchange is invisible and intangible, while writing lasts. When these patients write something down in their writing group, they are entrusting their memory to someone else. If you can give something away you don’t lose it.

Alzheimer’s patients lose so much of their identity as they start to lose simple things like the ability to drive a car and plan their day. If we can help them preserve some of their memories for themselves and their loved ones, then this is a noble endeavor. There is no nobler profession than writing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Brothers and the Shrew

The brother is back.
His stuff fills the garage—
styrofoam take-out on the table.
Brothers who shake hands and don’t hug,
who talk about the weather
and act like they don’t care.
Her husband acts like his brother
when he’s in town.
They lie on the couch and watch TV.
It’s them against her.
Brothers.


It's time for a snapshot, a peek through the open window, a captured moment in time. I thought I was going to write something for Earth Day but then I thought every day should be Earth Day and Brothers wanted out for the weekend. They wanted to raise a little hell. If you or anyone you know has written a Friday Flash 55, go tell Mr. Knowitall, known to some as the G-Man.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coming Clean and Going Green


I stole fledgling sprigs out of the ground from around this shrub in my mother's yard while she was at the hairdresser's. It was woody and deep and I dug and dug to capture a root line. I dug and dug whilst looking over my shoulder, but I don't know if I dug deep enough, and I slogged home with my efforts and then had to rush to get them in the ground as a storm front moved in like the hand of God and the temperature plumeted.



Going green is not just a way of life, it's a state of mind. April is a month for planting trees, and Sarahjane at writing in the wilderness also planted a bug in my ear and now I'm turning my blog carbon neutral. There is a new program to help us do that. Just click the link below to find out about it then you can pick out a button from the website's assortment like this one.

Get your button here. This is not merely symbolic. They'll plant a tree for you when you follow the link, helping to neutralize the carbon dioxide emissions of your blog. The trees will be planted in the spring of 2010 by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Now, to soulmates. Tricia at Talespinning recently bestowed the Soulmates Award upon me. Isn't it beautiful? It reminds me of orchids bursting out of an organic cauldron.

She claimed on her blog that I track the Far North for litterbugs. When I catch one, I make him/her sift the sands of time or write flash fiction, which ever. She so knows me!! I do far worse than that when I catch a litterbug. You may discover the evolution of this award at Christi Goddard's A Torch in the Tempest. Thank you Christi and thank you Tricia.

To pass this on I must spin some new folklore for you.

Sarahjayne has her own Christmas tree farm and also digs the holes for her customers who buy "live" trees as an incentive and to help make the drive to her out-of-the-way farm carbon neutral.

Amy lives beside a suspension bridge and has a writing hut underneath the approach where she can keep an eye on the river traffic and watch the sun set and rise as she writes and writes and writes her way to fame.

Talli Rolland lives near Hyde Park in London. She frequents Speakers Corner on Sundays; in fact she has her own corner. She has attained a loyal following of thousands who come out on Sundays to hear her read from her new novel.


One final thing I'd like to share with you this morning. I've been published today in Pure Francis!! I've also had my short story "Canary" published in Full of Crow. Nothing feels finished until it's found a home and these two pieces have. I will also be in Steam Ticket in May. This is the literary journal published by the University of Wisconsin and they are always looking for new writers. As Simon Larter pointed out here, we are their legacy.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you writer-friends who interact with me here. Thanks for extending a hand and helping me stay on the writing path, pointing out obstacles and pitfalls, without even realizing it. You all rock!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

HIGH STREET

She avoids the bathroom
where young girls gather
in a place of their own.

She sees double-lashed eyes,
pouty lips,
mirrors that elongate.

She sees college boys cheat
at pool. She toes the line
and throws weighted darts
at a receding board.

They see graceful
untoward.
She sees young girls—
in the mirror
she sees old.




If you want to try your hand at the ultra flash-flash (55 words, no more, no less)
let the G-Man know. He runs this horse and pony show.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Being There

Back when I was a transient, I wrote the following poem. I loved my Queen Anne cherry tree and my little flagstone patio, but I was out of place and knew I would never be from “there”. But it was warmer "there" and this is the time of year when I sometimes miss my fernleaf buckhorn and the lilac bursting forth. While there, I missed gravel roads and lakes and woods. Now I no longer have to. Now there are other things to miss. Funny how that works.

But I'm glad to have known what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange place. Come summer, I’ll drive by fields of muck where carrots and lettuces are harvested by brown-skinned men with their shirts off talking to each other in their musical language, and I'll wonder if they feel the way I felt when I wrote this poem. I’m glad my ancestors weren’t considered “illegal” without a right to schools and medical care, a path to citizenship and reward for work well done, but that is a subject for another time. This is poetry month.

BEING THERE

The straight lines of the flagstones
are precise as a musical bar.

Our slat backs are positioned to place
our legs in the sun. The Old Peculiar

is chilled. Sit up against me, we’ll share
a glass. You can admire my vices and I your wit.

The dog sees visions, roots out
mushrooms from the zebra grass

while the Queen Anne cherry tree
makes a mess the birds can’t match.

We consider dinner as the sun slips
off our feet. Another hatchling flops

out of the eave and a flock of swallows
darkens the sky in a sudden concerted bank to south.


*first published in the Melic Review

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Primer For Men

Monday is Musk
He smiles in the mirror.

Tuesday is Brut.
He won’t ask for help.

Wednesday is Undeniable.
He wears steel-toed boots.

Thursday is no-name Avon.
He’s wearing down.

Friday is Sex Appeal.
He looks toward the night.

Saturday is Wild Country.
He wishes himself elsewhere.

He’s worked his tendons into knots;
his way through every bottle.

I try to throw things out on clean-the-cupboard day.
Sundays he sits, soaped and robed.


April is poetry month and I wanted to start the week off with an ode to men. We love them, even when we hate them. We couldn't live without them. Here's to all the men in our lives.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Prairie Dog Rapture

As writers, we need to pay attention to the world around us. To write authentically, we must develop a sense-of-place. In this distracted world it is easy to forget to watch and see what is happening under our eyes. It is easy to miss the sunrise and sunset. It is easy to forget the moon overhead and the stranger across the street and the mass extermination of an entire people going on in Africa. It takes much consideration to develop a global sense of place.

In the rush of modern life in a preoccupied world, we forget to pay attention to the little things that are really quite remarkable. And, so, to the point of this post. Each morning, as the sun rises, prairie dogs leave their home burrows and stand with their palms together and face the sun for twenty to thirty minutes. Then they go about their day. Towards sunset they return to their home burrows and again stand motionless with their palms together and face the setting sun. What do they know that we have forgotten?

Prairie dog colonies are systematically being exterminated. From the hundreds of square miles they occupied before we advanced west, they inhabit a mere nine at present(via an NPR report from Bryce Canyon on 4/3/10). They are considered vermin and of no use to us. I’m wondering if there is a lesson we could learn from them before they are gone forever. I wonder that there isn't room for us and them on planet Earth. They who would dance to the rising sun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

At the Lake House Borrowed From a Friend

She dressed for dinner even though she was alone, knowing there were worse things. There was losing a baby that was hard to conceive with a man she would have died for but who was now also lost to her. She walked out on the weather-beaten deck and waited for the sun to set.


If you can write a story in 55 words, post it and then visit the G-Man.

Love Accosted

I thought I saw you
in a tree
Your hair was streaked with
gray
and leaves
of red and lips
and chin
like a crag
with the cleft
I could sink my teeth into.
But the eyes were
wrong and looking the other way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Appreciating Poetry and Electricity and Planting Trees

The gravel road we live on is always dark at night, and never more so than when the moon is new and not illuminated. But as we drove down the road under the new moon, returning home from a night out, the absence of any lights whatsoever began to register a warning. Even the scattered, always-on vapor lights of the neighboring farmsteads were extinguished, and the road grew ominous.

When we pulled in the driveway, we knew the power was out.

You wouldn't think that darkness would instill quiet, but it does. Maybe it's just the absence of visual stimulation that amplifies stillness to the human ear, the way ringing in the ear is more pronounced in the still of the night. We turned off the car and stepped outside. It was as quiet as a chicken coop after dark. When chickens roost they go into a semi-comatose state, like your computer on sleep mode. You can rest your hand on their backs when they're roosting and they won't budge. That's why chickens are easy prey for predators should they be stranded without cover at night. My mother says that when she was a little girl she would sit at the kitchen window after sunset and watch the chickens fly up into a tree to roost. She vividly remembers how they would ruffle their feathers and settle on a branch for the night. After raising a flock of our own, I know where the term “chicken” (meaning afraid) comes from. They are defenseless and very timid creatures. The fox would only have to stick his nose under the door and they would all die of heart attacks.

So the chicken coop dark and quiet was the norm, but the surrounding farmland dark and quiet . . . not so much. We found our way into the house and tried a light. It came on dimly. What we had was a “brown-out,” a low-power event which is extremely dangerous for appliances. Luckily a family member from down the road had thought to pull the plugs on everything, including my laptop or I would not be speaking to you now. I would be balled up in a corner as distressed as Blanche, Stella’s disturbed sister in A Streetcar Called Desire. If you haven’t seen that classic, go quickly and rent it! We watched it via Netflix because I wanted to see the young Marlon Brando in his sweat-stained T-shirt. Oh my God! He invented that entire James Dean look—the muscled, conflicted, brooding male. The film is in black and white, which makes it even more dramatic. It is definitely character-driven and dialogue rich, a literary extravaganza for the senses. But back to our dilemma.

Why is it that when you really need a candle you can’t find one, and when you only want one for atmosphere, they’re everywhere? Desperate, we stuck a couple of stick candles in empty beer bottles, like college days. All I needed was incense and The Moody Blues. But we went to bed early like pioneers not college kids. The next morning candle wax was dripped across the countertop, evidence of our fumbling.

OK, so April is the month for violent storms and watching classics. It is also poetry month and I plan to highlight more poetry on this blog starting Friday. I just got some good news from Steam Ticket a Third Coast Review, published out of the University of Wisconsin. A piece I submitted will be published in their 13th edition which is due out in May!

One more thing. April is also the month for planting trees and kissing the earth. This is a white pine. I kissed the earth with my shovel and watched another storm blow in. 
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Are you planting a tree this month? If so, what kind?