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

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Stories We Tell

Do you do this? Tape favorite quotes, poems and passages around your writing nook? Below are some of my notes to self and advice from the masters I've underlined in books and taped to the walls. Stuff I've learned on this writing journey but still need constant reminders of. How about you? Maybe there is something here you can use, something you, too, need reminding of.

Writers must read. (Don't assume everyone does. I'll never forget a young man in one of my creative writing classes who announced smugly, "I don't read. I only write.") Read voraciously in many genres. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent reading.
In order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
-Dr. Samuel Johnson

Secondly write. Write insatiably. Write like you’re dying. Write, write, write.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
- Ray Bradbury

The topic doesn’t matter. POV doesn’t matter. Genre doesn’t matter. The quality of the writing is all that matters. The art of writing itself is all that matters.

Your first paragraph must be as good as your last. The critical moment which propels your story forward MUST happen in the first 30 pages. "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is one exception that quickly comes to mind. I kept reading only because so many people told me it was good. But it took 100 pages to grab me. Most of us won’t have 100 pages to fool around with.

The stories we tell must set off the vivid and continuous dream, famed author and writing teacher John Gardner so often talked about, wherein the reader instantly forgets that they’re reading printed words on a page.

Improve your vocabulary, not with grandiose tongue-twisters but with small forgotten words. Gardner recommends that you go through the dictionary and write down all the relatively short, relatively common words that you would not ordinarily think to use, and then make an effort to use them as if they’d come to you naturally. Avoid trite, clich├ęd, and sentimental phrases like the scabies, "anything that would distract an intelligent, senstive reader from the vivid and continuous dream."

The characters we knock around must be interesting. The stories we tell must first and foremost be stories.
The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.
-John le Carre

I'd like to end with a wonderfully appropriate parable for the season that was passed on to me from my sister, the editor.

A grandmother is explaining life to her Granddaughter:

"There is a battle going on inside me. It is a fierce battle between 2 wolves. The first wolf is Evil: hatred, anger, greed, envy, ego, sorrow, regret. The second is Good: love, compassion, peace, joy, hope, empathy, serenity.

The same battle is going on inside you and everybody else."

The granddaughter asks, "Which wolf will win"?

The grandmother replies simply, "The one you feed".


I wish all my writerly friends an inspired writing life as laid out in Poets and Writers. While you're there, check out their concise list of contests, grants and awards and literary mags taking submissions. Many of these contests run through the end of January.

Happy New Year. May peace and storytelling reign in 2012. Feed the good wolf and go write some stories.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Zen Of Repetition

Driving home from the hospital,
we say the rosary.
I forget a line in the Our Father
and mumble a replacement.
He finishes for me.
How could I forget
that which was memorized at the knee
of Sister Severe?
Swimming upstream in the wake of his narrative
I navigate the mysteries.
Is it the joyful or the
sorrowful we parley?
He stumbles on the words-
they fall into his handkerchief.
I finish for him.
The miles pass unnoticed
and the mysteries come to an end
but the road continues
and the day approaches
when there won’t be anyone left to finish
that which is forgotten.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Friday Flash 55

Love Me Hard

She picks up the disfigured,
the alcoholic and deranged.
She plays pool all night
and never pays.
The man with a limp,
and the lost lazy eye,
the scoundrels and the cads,
she plays with them all.
She takes them home and loves them hard.
They say that they’re lonely,
so why don’t they call?


If you can tell a story in 55 words, post it and let the most superb host from coast to coast know about it. He can be found HERE, ringing a bell. I had to do this one last time for 2011.
Now,
Tell me a story, tell me a story....

Saturday, December 17, 2011

So You Say You're A Writer?

I don’t like these monotonous gray skies, these decrepit clouds that can’t even deliver a good snowfall, these bleak windswept nights that encircle the crumbling brick of an unfinished house, cold as bare shoulders in an unheated room. Monotony, how wicked is your winter. I don’t like it when someone asks, “What did you do all day?” Knowing full well that I whittled the hours away putting thoughts into words and writing them down.

If I were braver, I would say, “I wrote. That’s all I did."

Writing warms this winter floor and turns monotonous gray skies blue. So, no, I didn’t bake anything or clean anything or visit the sick or feed the poor. Why should any of those things be more admirable than writing? More acceptable? Or is this just a misconception that rests in me? I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to pat myself on the back for any of those things. So why do I cower behind my written words like a plagiarist? There isn’t anything more painstaking than writing, nothing that takes more time, perseverance, memory, and intellect.

Our society measures success by money. Simple truth. So as a writer, most of us live outside the circle of society. If we are to live off our writing, we live outside the needs of society. We work at odd jobs that take as little of our time as possible yet keep us off the dole. We read meters and deliver newspapers and survive dog bites. We wait tables and stock shelves and work for temp agencies. We turn down full time jobs and full time money so we have time to write. We turn down the heat and buy second hand. We live on the fringe and that takes courage. Courage to stand up and say "I'm a writer." It's more than just putting writer as your occupation on your income tax return (though that is very gratifying). It’s putting yourself out there, facing rejection and the inevitable questions, because let’s face it, most people don't know the six questions not to ask a writer.

So they ask.

I have questions of my own. The Protestor was named Time's Person Of The Year, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is on my mind. As I browsed my local bookstore, I kept seeing dumpsters full of books. Would we throw away our books if ordered to do so? Stand idly by and let someone else do it? Would we raise a hand to the oncoming tank? Would we object to police drones flying overhead? If it all comes down around us tomorrow, would we still have the courage to write?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Three Contests of Literary Importance

Winter is the submission season and here are three contests to get you warmed up.

Elana Johnson is doing a query letter critique giveaway. This one is for one day only so enter TODAY.

Next, there are only three weeks left in the Literary Lab's short story contest,Variations on a Theme. Go here or click on the botton on my sidebar for all the information.

Finally, Amazon and Penguin have announced their Breakthrough Novel Award contest for 2012. There's a General Fiction and YA catagory. Have any of you ever done this? Is anyone thinking of doing it?

That's it for now. Sharpen your pencils and put up your Do-Not-Disturb signs. You might not see too much of me over the next few weeks. I have a lot to do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Books In A Dumpster (or who's afraid of OWS?)

"With rebellion, awareness is born." ~ Albert Camus

I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street library on NPR a few weeks ago when they interviewed a school teacher from Wisconsin who was driving to NY on her weekends to help set it up. It struck me at first as whimsical. A library in a park? Out in the open? In a tent? What if it rains? Who keeps track of the books? Who catalogues them? Come on....how could this possibly work?

I've since found out that there is a long history of libraries springing up around progressive movements. The intuition of the Occupy Movement to build libraries resonates with the history of progressive change. It's a democratic impulse that has taken off like wildfire, and libraries have sprung up at Occupy sites around the country, driven by volunteers donating books and cataloging them.


These libraries all have one thing in common: their generous lending policy. You can return a book or you can pass it on to somebody else to read, whatever you see fit, and they are available to anyone.

I would love to donate a bunch of books to the Occupy library. What good are they doing on my shelf collecting dust?


I would love to get one back some day with an OWS stamp on the inside cover. What could be more exciting than to be part of this historic movement that is not going away anytime soon?

As of a month ago, the Occupy Wall Street Library had 5000 books catalogued on Library Thing. But at 2:30 am on November 15th the library was destroyed by the NYPD under the direction of the mayor of New York. Police in riot gear raided the park, seized everything in it and threw it all into garbage trucks. According to the Village Voice, librarians, like the other occupiers, were given only 15 minutes notice before the eviction, and so didn't have time to remove the library.

A college professor who was working at the site as a volunteer when the raid went down reported in The Nation that there were many, many college textbooks destroyed.


"For many," the Village Voice goes on to say, "the People's Library was one of the most remarkable institutions to arise from the occupation of Zuccotti Park. Its generous lending policy and catholic scope -- George Orwell shared space with Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling -- made it one of the most tangible symbols of the sort of collaborative, open-source movement the occupiers were trying to build."

Of the 5000 donated books that made up the people's library, only about 1,000 were recovered and most of those were unsalvagable.


The good news is that they opened back up the next day with a donation of one. They have since regrouped and are now housed in three mobile units staffed by librarians, which they can take anywhere they want.

What would you think if you ever came across a used book that had a OWS stamp on the inside cover?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T CALL ME

A road, a river, a mountain,
restless desert eddies,
and still more space to navigate;
more than can be gathered.
Beyond the question of what you had
for dinner and if your roses bloom
or stand defeated in the heat,
about what matters, we sometimes fall behind.
Yet I feel you and hear your voice
in the strangers who surround me.
When the very silence howls an absence,
like the coyotes that run your foothills,
I hear you.
In this we aren’t so far apart.
They say we have them here.
Bold in the twilight, hungry and moving.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reunion At Luskey's (a flash 55)

He turned right
And she turned left.
He thought he had her figured out—
reduced to adjectives
on the back of a frame.
But he didn’t.

He called her over
to guess his name.
Like a pop quiz.
Thinking to trip her up
with his freckles and green eyes.
Thinking to make her fall again.


In between researching patterns for Christmas booties and bemoaning the lawn chairs left out in the snow and worrying about what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the house down the road (if we could harness the worry in my family and convert it into energy we could power the whole State of Michigan), I had to post a Friday Flash 55 for the incredible G-Man. Even if you don't have a story in 55 words that you want to share, you should definitely pop in HERE for the scariest thing I've seen this week.

TGIF.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

High Street

She wore a purple blouse and a blue sweater with no apparent care for color coordination. The sweater was missing a button and there was a coffee stain on her blouse. He’d studied her in the mirror of the backbar for a while and so had noticed all of this. It wasn’t often that he saw someone in the Short North as uninterested in physical appearance as she so obviously was. Short North people wore dark frames and artfully draped scarves and were concerned with nothing as much as their physical appearance.

She was engrossed in a book, and her legs stretched out across the adjacent stool in languid repose. He was attracted to the black tights that fit like a glove; her every curve spelled out in spandex like a rock star in a window poster at the now defunct Virgin Records store. Her sexuality was enhanced by her carelessness, by the threadbare sweater and the stained blouse and the hair that she hadn’t bothered to comb.

He shifted in his seat to adjust himself against the pull of the black tights. When was the last time he’d felt anything astir in the dead zone of his center? What was it that captured his curiosity like a prairie dog to the rising sun? He motioned to the bartender for another draft. Who reads books in a tavern on High Street? Even at the noon hour? She should be in the coffee shop across from campus with her coffee, writing in a journal or reading Atwood or Munroe. She looked Canadian. Something in the slouch of her figure and the way she caressed the cover of her book told him she wouldn’t be repelled by what he had become.

He picked up his glass and his cane and moved to the vacant stool beside her. She closed the book on her thumb and looked at him from behind a strand of hair. In contradiction to her appearance, she smelled like soap. Her one eye was blue and the other brown, a struggle against the dominant from the onset. She was younger than he, but not by much. In another time she would have been a protestor. In another time, but not this time, they would share a drink and then shack up together with their books and beaded curtains. She would hang posters and massage his wounds. In another time before the current time and the cane and the dreams, he would have struck up a conversation; he wouldn’t freeze in fear of the stammer he’d acquired. The short circuit in his brain would heal itself and the words would flow like the hair down her back.

He’d forgotten himself. There was no cure for the short circuit in his brain, no name for the whittler of his cane.

The art museum had an entire room devoted to the display of canes, works of art whittled from a single branch, but every whittler was named Unknown. They reminded him of soldiers minus their weapons and their boots, minus that which defined them, all those whittlers without a name. He went there on Mondays when it wasn’t crowded. There was a guest pass attached to his membership that he had never used. The add-on had been a waste of money.

She closed her book and curled her legs under her stool and looked at him with one blue eye and one brown. What was he waiting for?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trampled

Blogger keeps asking me to put ads on my site. Gmail encroaches on the right hand side of the screen with their eerie fingering. Facebook now takes up a third of the page with advertising. Players on the football field stand idly by for the TV time-out. Stadiums are renamed for the highest bidder. The banner ads on the front pages of the newspaper creep up and up. Content is influenced by advertisers instead of by the newsworthiness of the story. Investigative reporting is going the way of the land line.

We time our arrival at the theatre to miss the yelling and screaming of the selling. The glossy magazines shout at you from newsstands, fat with advertising. If you took out every ad from the glossies, you would end up with a slim magazine fit for your back pocket, like The Sun, an advertisement- free magazine of stories, poems and essays. You pay for your subscription and you get what you pay for. They don’t try to sell you anything else. If I could get something published in The Sun it would feel better than a front page blurb in the Atlantic. Well…..almost.

I would no sooner put ads on my blog than cut off my right hand. I wish they would just leave me alone and cut out the crap. The amped-up scheming of the advertiser during the holiday season strips my spirit like turpentine. Thanksgiving is a time for contemplation and fortification, community and church, parades and musicals, nourishment for the creative soul and the inquisitive mind. Why did we let the frenzied retailer hijack Thanksgiving? Forget the family gatherings and the euchre games and the gathering of cousins into the wee hours to catch up. We all have to go to bed early so we can get up at three in the morning to shop.

Thanksgiving is no time for manic shopping in the predawn hours, yanked from store to store like puppets on a string by the geek of the advertiser. One Day Only! Limited Availability! First 100 shoppers! Free shipping! Bullshit.

Do they think us simpletons? They raise the price and then offer free shipping. They double the price, then offer you two for one. Why is it my patriotic duty to put myself in the red to put them in the black? This marketing of Thanksgiving to the highest bidder makes Clockwork Orange look like the Ed Sullivan Show.

I really meant to talk about food. Are you a foodie? If you're still reading, let’s sit down and talk about what's for dinner.

On our Thanksgiving menu: organic turkey, stuffing, butternut squash braised in maple syrup, garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, salad greens dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and apple pie for dessert. All served up at my daughter's house (first time!). She doesn't have a dining room table but she's going to pull in her patio table and put a tablecloth on it.

We’ve opted for traditional, but we have our own turkeys so it’s hard not to go down that road. What about your road? Is anyone doing something extravagantly different, like roasted duck or pheasant? Oysters on the half shell or a standing rib roast? What’s for dessert?

On our weekend slate: the browsing of bookshelves and the stringing of lights around that patio minus its table, the Columbus Museum of Art to view the Caravaggio exhibit (the only U.S. venue), the living room and conversation, the Lions Thanksgiving Day football game because that's tradition (even with the TV time outs). Any extra money I have is going for wine, beer, and books. No shopping. What about you?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Keeping Things Pretty - Recommendations and Chaos

I have an award to accept and one to pass on, a couple of reading recommendations, and an observation from farm country on football Sunday.

Jon Paul at Where Sky Meets Ground recently gave me this blog award.


Thanks Jon Paul!

He is participating in NaNo and tearing it up. In fact his progress has been so remarkable he's inspired me to participate in this novel-writing month next year. Check him out and follow if you aren't already. I'm supposed to pass this award on to 15 other bloggers. At this time, I'm passing it on to five, because it takes a lot of thought and time to do awards. I do reserve the right to name my other ten at a later time. Some of these bloggers are new to me while I've been following others for a while, but they all have one thing in common: they've created blogs I return to again and again, which is my definition of a lovely blog.

Zev from Swords Into Plows is a man after my own heart. Check him out and you'll see why.

Jessica Bell at The Alliterative Allomorph is an amazing talent. Plus she sent me her CD all the way from Greece, which is better than a postcard. Thanks Jessica!

Anthony Duce draws and writes and does both exceptionally well. He strives to say a little, but not too much, and somehow he always says it just right. He gives life to the still life and still life to the living.

Ed Pilolla whose recent post "Clothesline" was absolutely brilliant, and I'm not given to gushing.

Pet at Pencil and Box who blogs about things like an amazing yet obscure animated movie based on a story by the late Ted Hughes and because he's well written and pops in on me from time to time. He's from Spain and I like to keep abreast of what's going on over there.

If you aren't already following these five, you're missing out on some worthwhile reading.

Now, for those recommendations: I just finished reading ORYX AND CRAKE" by Margaret Atwood. That novel will make you hate us. Would I recommend it? Well... I read it in just two days. Atwood knows how to grab you by the scruff of your neck, and she doesn’t let go until she’s finished with you. Is it farfetched in its look at the future? I sure hope so. Are there elements of truth already lurking on the horizon? Sure. Enough of them to make you shiver.

On my bed stand now is CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese. I was told by one of my most thorough readers that she thought it the best novel of 2010. She has her own lending library and has never steered me wrong so now I'm steering you. I knew from the first paragraph I would like it. Don't you just love it when that happens?

And, finally, an observation from where I live: It's dark now and the gunshots have receded. It's hunting season, and from dawn to dusk, shots echo through the woods and across the fields. This might strike you as harsh, but it's actually a good thing. The deer are a nuisance, causing numerous car accidents and destroying crops. So far, five have been taken out of the farm, and we're hoping for many more to be harvested. When they start cutting into your income and wrecking your vehicles, it's time for a cull. They have no natural predators as the coyote and cougar are rare and the wolf are gone. Man is their only predator, but fewer and fewer hunting licenses are issued as the younger generation has taken to video games rather than hunting and fishing and outdoor activities. Their interest is gaming indoors, not hunting game in the cold of November.

One more think before I say adieu, one more thing. It's another football Sunday and the NFL is playing patriotic. It seems to be a new theme in sports, hyping the flag and the soldier and the occupation (but not the one in NY). The God Bless Americas, the trumpets, flags, and fly-over formations, Man shed his waste on thee... but something strikes me as false because I can't forget the scene from Thursday playing across America for those who were paying attention. A woman dressed in an overcoat with long hair and a backpack was dragged down the street by police in riot gear. They lost their grip on the backpack and went for the hair. She was dragged away,kicking and screaming and nobody helped. Maybe they were all afraid, unlike the boy who stopped a tank in Tiananmen Square. Dragged through the roadblock, dragged through the cameramen, dragged out of sight. Syria? China? Greece? Some barbaric Third World country? Did you see it? Was it just my imagination?

It's dark and the shots have receded but not the memory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Hallway

Door one is for those with questions about their disability check.
Door two is for those who didn’t get their disability check.
Door three is for those who can’t find a doctor to treat their disability.
Door four is for those who have been denied their disability.
Door five is for those who were Sectioned Eight, no disability.
Door six is for those seeking legal advice.
Door seven is for those whose paperwork never not submitted, go back to door one.
Door eight is for those who got kicked out of the shelter for alcohol abuse, go back to door six.
Door nine is for those suffering hallucinations, go back to door three.
Door ten is for those deemed a danger to themselves by door three.
Door eleven with the red sign above it is for those who exhausted one through ten.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reader's Reports - An Agent-in-Waiting

I’ve finished my novel BLACK RIVER. It’s complete at 105,000, a word count I’m comfortable with. The genre is mainstream contemporary with cautionary undertones. (I know, I made that category up.) Now comes the spit and shine, and to help me see the gaps and inconsistencies, I’ve sent it over to Ethan Vaughan, an agent-in-waiting who blogs here.

Ethan interned at a literary agency over the summer and aspires to one day be a literary agent. Right now he's a college student who writes readers reports in his spare time, which is pretty cool. He has posted a sample reader's report which will give you a feel for how agents critique unpublished manuscripts.

He’s looking for manuscripts to read and critique on his blog. If you’re ready for a little exposure and an independent critique, you might want to check out his site, Searching For The Story.

What have I learned this time around? I found that I can write a novel under 140,000 words. With this one I have wiggle room. If something needs to be added, there's space. If something needs to be cut, I would still end up with a novel in the 90,000 to 100,000 word count which to me is a good range.

While this one is out with a couple of readers, I will compose my query letter, hopefully with help from Mindy McGinnis at Writer Writer Pants on Fire, one of my favorite people from Agent Query, the top spot for query assistance, and anyone else I can impose upon. Then I have a couple of short stories with a deadline fast approaching and then.....I concentrate on Will. Oh, I love the dark and desperate, the hurt and conflicted, those characters who love and lust and make mistakes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anything For Will

She longed to feel him inside of her again but was beginning to wonder if she ever would. The memories were fading, like the pictures he sent. His helmet was etched with anti-war dogma, but he did what he was told. His letters filled a drawer but held nothing of what he was told, and he wasn’t sending pictures anymore.


Write a flash fiction piece in 55 words, post it, and then let the G-Man who is Mr. Knowitall know. It's easy, it's fun. It's Friday.

My 55 this week is a passage from a work-in-progress that is working it's way back up to the top of the stack. It's been bothering me. I can see it in the corner of my eye, getting dusty on the filing cabinet. Oh, the injustice! I had to bring Will back up on my screen this morning. I have to look him in the eye and decide what to do with him.

TGIF
Peace out

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Unraveled

If the sky were any prettier it would kill me. My incapacity to process it would overwhelm and cripple. The sun colors the sky best just before it breaks the horizon. It turns each wisp of cloud into a trailing kite. It enhances the tree in the fence row clinging to its last wind-torn leaf. It’s bigger than a barn from afar, this tree, and I don’t even know its name. Bigger than the tool shed and the barn put together. How come I’ve never stood underneath that tree with the birds’ nests unraveling in the wind? I’m too lazy. I haven’t walked through an adjacent field to stand under a tree bigger than a barn and older than the farm. My capacity to feel small is undiminished in the light of day. As the sun travels its low arc across the southern sky, I finish out the day in a multitude of smallish ways.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Under Your Sink

I would like to share a post from Zev, an activist farmer that could enhance your life and your health, maybe even save it. As Zev shows us, everyone can be an activist. If you think you're too small to make a difference, you've never been bitten by a mosquito.

Hey....I just realized this is my 200th post!

Fitting it should be about something so important, something I would climb on the soapbox for.

Am I supposed to have a contest or a cyber cocktail party or something? No, I think I'll save that for when I reach 200 followers or nail an agent.

Like next year for sure!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should You Have a Fever . . .(Teaser Tuesday)

This week I've decided to participate in Teaser Tuesday, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading, wherein you open a book you're reading to a random page and post two teaser sentences.

So, here goes....

"My mother was too sleepy to take his temperature, but it's a fact that he had a fever, and that his fever led him to a night in my mother's bed-in her arms.

"My grandmother always claimed she could hear the electric meter counting each kilowatt; as soon as it was dark, she followed my mother through the house, turning off the lights that my mother had turned on."

Anyone know what novel these two sentences are from?

This is not a new release, and I know many of you have read it. I did when I was young and inmature. Something told me it deserved another go and I have not been disappointed. I missed so much the first time, like THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus, which I read as a young adult and didn't understand.

The rules say I must tell you, so without further ado,



the novel is A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, by John Irving, one of my favorite authors.

Click the link above if you want to share a couple of teaser sentences from a book you're reading and can recommend to a host of readers.

Thank you for reading mine!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guardian Dear

I’m going to hell.
It’s on page eleven
of the Sunday Visitor
circled in red by my mother.
My mortal sins number in the thousands.
Does God keep a stroke count?
I don’t want to go to hell.
I’ve read Dante’s Inferno.

If I make her breakfast will it erase one?
How about if I put clean sheets on her bed
and flowers in her vase?
None of this matters if I miss mass on Sunday.
It’s on page eleven.

But she likes flowers.
She used to tell me that if I fell asleep in the middle of the rosary,
my guardian angel would finish it for me.
I believed her.
If I die in my sleep
before atonement is complete will my guardian dear
take it on the chin for me?
Mother, will you?
And about all those rosasires I never finished . . .
did they ever count?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where Did It Go?

Yesterday, we pulled the soaker hoses and the tomato cages. I cleaned the greenhouse and mounded dirt around the pepper plants. They need a lot of tender care and we dropped the sides and shut the doors and watered them properly so we will have peppers at Christmas time. Red and green and yellow and orange. Like a Mexican Christmas, but we are here in Michigan, and the night approaches,


and the sun doesn't set where it used to. At the height of day, it is no longer where it should be. It doesn’t touch the front of the house, it doesn’t touch the mums in full dress. No wonder they stretch and stretch and turn leggy, reaching for the sun which slips further and further down the sky. It slips towards Detroit and the Detroit River. It’s falling into Lake Erie and over Ohio. It's falling towards Mexico where they can grow peppers in winter. Falling falling falling like the leaves from the maple and the oak we named after his parents. Strong and resilient, planted to survive and thrive long after we’re gone. Like the oak that was big when my father was small. Planting a tree is an unselfish gesture. It’s one of the best things we can do.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Storm and the Hired Man

The wind blew the muck out of the peatlands,
and blackened the sky like Gethsemane.
It billowed around the landmark oak
and advanced up the lane.
Germaine dropped everything and ran for the house.
The cattle lowed as the barn disappeared,
and though she pleaded
with him to stay,
he left to check on the herd.


If it's Friday, it's time for a little flash fiction, and if you can do it in 55 words, tell the G-Man of Friday Flash 55 fame.

Enjoy the weekend, whenever it starts.
Peace out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Occupation

In the fifth week of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the wealthy are grumbling and pushing back. The grumbling started in Washington where the House has its own millionaires club. Now some of the wealthy individuals running for president are calling the protestors unpatriotic, un-American and nothing but a mob. In the Civics class that is no longer taught in high school, we were told just the opposite: that not only was protest and involvment patriotic, but that it was a necessity for a democracy.

Last week, someone posted a sign in the window of the Chicago Board of Trade where the street protestors could see it saying, "We Are The One Percent".

I wonder if it's still there. The protestors are.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cock And Hen

The chickens murmur and coo while I fill their watering cans.
They cluck appreciation for hand-tossed grain and dart to and fro on spindly legs.
The ebony rooster with a red comb fluffs his feathers against the October sky.
He cocks his head and eyes my approach, runs and hides in the tall grass, like a fledgling.
He’s shy, this flamboyant rooster with the gallant tail feathers.
When he doesn’t think we see, he stands quietly midst his flock, head high.
They peck at his feet and pay homage to his plume.

One hen from another flock,
new to the coop and confused,
escaped under the poultry fence
and nested under the Russian sage beside the house.
I find eggs under the purple foliage.
She likes it there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pay It Forward

I'd like to give a thumbs-up this morning to a progressive who finally knows how to fight back hard against the ridiculous "class warfare" charges from the GOP. In one fell swoop, Elizabeth Warren, candidate for the US Senate from Massachusetts, delivered a powerful knock-out blow against this GOP nonsense.

"I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,'" Warren said. "No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own -- nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory -- and hire someone to protect against this -- because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless -- keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

I've been in third world countries where armed guards stand outside banks and soldiers with machine guns guard the teller windows, because there is no viable police force funded by public dollars. The government is the police force and the people are so poor, the fear is that one of them might resort to robbing an unguarded teller. I've flown into these places with anticipation only to be met at the airport by men in boots with barrels pointed up and out. At me. That, for me, exemplifies the difference between a country that feeds on the poor and one that pays it forward.

If all politicians elected to serve the common good were more widely traveled, better read, and versed in history, maybe they wouldn't be so eager to gut the public sector.

If you were given a chance to vote for an Elizabeth Warren, would you? I don't want to live in a third world country. In a third world country, 99pct of the people are crackerjack poor and 1pct are wealthy. What are my chances of falling into the lucky 1? What about you?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tell Me This

Suzanne Casamento of the clever Question of the Day Blog
recently asked:
"What do you love about where you live?"

This set me to thinking, as her questions often do. I started blogging in the fall, and I believe there's a reason for that. It's the season of contemplation, of hunkering down and storing up. For the writer, it's the season of the run-on sentence and the convoluted paragraph and the crowded journal page, writing that leads to old memories and new ideas, new poems and new novels. Fall is the season of the writer. But what else do I love about fall in Michigan?

Hunting season, fried cakes, and pheasants,
the badgering of the crows
and the flocking of the starlings.
Crisp mornings laden with dew
after the night of the falling-leaf moon.
Apples on the ground and cider in the fridge,
pie in the oven and candles lit.
Drafty doors and tinkling chimes,
alone in the house
alone on the road
gravel roads and empty roads
Robust people in outdoor gear.
A basket of seed garlic,
planting garlic.
A wheelbarrow of beets,
eating beets-
pickled beets, roasted beets, beets with feta, beets with butter.
Beets.
The gunmetal sky, the changing sky,
a violet cupcake cumulus sky.
Moving water and great big lakes
the ice-encrusted dangerous lake.
Shanties, pasties, and pantries,
mums and wooly worms and fetching dogs.
Gathering eggs and harvesting squash-
curing squash and storing squash,
eating roasted golden squash.
Stately trees and scrappy foliage
turning color, surprising color-
modest yellow and outrageous orange,
stoic russet and flat-out red.
The harvest moon and the harvester,
billowing dust and jumping grasshoppers,
hopper wagons filled with grain,
golden grain and drying grain.
Men at work with gnarled knuckles and practical pants.
Men in hats who love to work.
Women in boots who live to work.

This is my Michigan in October.
This is where I live.

Where do you live?

Friday, September 23, 2011

He Lost A Foot

and then a hand for a loaf of bread for another man’s crime.
He’ll hang by the neck; he’ll cook in a chair,
he’ll take the needle from an unsteady hand.
We’ll ogle and cheer the final throes,
proclaim our dominion and safe secure shores,
then tape shut his eyes and lock all our doors.


If you have a flash for Friday you can tell in 55 words, post it and then tell the G-Man where it is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shock-Resistant Shit Detector

Do you engage your S.R.S.T. when you sit down to read a novel? Do you slip it into high gear when you're writing one? Are you empathetic and compulsive and fascinated by words?

This much I know: nothing else gets done when I'm caught up in the make-believe world of my novel. The greenhouse is a mess. There's a knee-high thistle in my hosta bed, cobwebs on the porch, cukes and tomatoes going to hell on the vine, garlic that needs to be sorted and stored in a cool dark place. These things bug me but here I sit with novel #2 spread out around me with pencil edits and crossed-out chapter breaks, unable to care about anything as much as I do it.

All I can think about is Boyd and his dangerous attraction to the migrant worker's daughter and why would he hide a gun there and a body here? What was he thinking? And why doesn't the ground stay frozen like it used to and the ice thicken on the lake enough to walk out safely on? Why do the creeps always have the upper hand? Why does his co-progatonist cut her hair to change her appearance and run away instead of standing up for herself and for him? Why do I care more about this than the weeds in my own life? Is this what John Gardner, teacher and writer, means by creating a vivid and continuous dream? Our own lives become a shambles as the dream on the page takes shape? Or is this the trance our readers are supposed to fall into, not us?

There are so many solutions to the problems our characters get into. As Gardner says, "Problems in novels are unlike problems in algebra which have one solution." Likewise, there's only one thistle to be pulled, and a set number of garlic to store, and one greenhouse to tend to, and I can knock the cobweb down with a broom. These things are easy and have one solution. A novel has any number of solutions, but, alas, I fear only one will be good enough. Only one will be brilliant.

A writer must have what Hemingway called the "built-in shock-resistant shit detector." In concert with the writer’s eye, (the ability to see how things really are and to write it down without falsification) and the appetite for compulsive revision—killing your darlings with a heightened intuition for the silly and the abstract—is the writer’s “special intelligence”.

We have to keep at it with daemonic compulsiveness until we can say, "It's as good as I can make it." And that will be good enough. Trust your unconscious. As Gardner says, "The unconscious is smart."

The pages are piled around me, numbered and full. The hum of the refrigerator is the only sound, and the sun colors the eastern sky like autumn sedum. I imagine these literary sages standing guard, daring me to try.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If I Could Be Anyone...

It's launch day for Talli Rolland's WATCHING WILLOW WATTS. To help celebrate the event, Talli's hosting a blog party and asking the question, "If you could be anyone, who would it be?" Go here for the lowdown, prizes and more.

And about that question? I would be my great, great, great grandmother who busted her husband and brother-in-law out of prison in Alsace-Lorraine after the collapse of Napoleon's army, squirreled them away in a horse-drawn cart under a load of hay and helped them stowaway on a ship bound for America. And here I am today.

Congratulations Talli. Here's the link to Amazon

Monday, September 12, 2011

MONARCH

I signed up to receive an Advance Reading Copy of Michelle Davidson Argyle’s new novel, MONARCH. I’m part of her blog tour and today’s my day.

MONARCH entertains diverse issues, from the plight of the Monarch butterfly to the underground network at the CIA (protagonist Nick's home away from home) and their global reach in the so-called War on Drugs. What, you ask, could these two things possibly have in common?

The migration struggles of the monarch and the natural world are central to the theme, tied to the illegal logging activities in Mexico. That, to me, was interesting, and I would have liked it explored in more detail. The connection was murky, but we're left with a feeling of hope. Whether realistic or not, that is up to the reader to determine.

From the opening scene, there's no shortage of murder and mayhem. The main villain is portrayed as the drug lord, Ferreira, but he is faceless—we never actually meet him. Having a faceless antagonist makes him less real and not a serious threat. The real antagonist, in my opinion, is Nick’s adversary, Kyle, and while he is a dispicable guy (an antagonist you love to hate), his character seems forced and contradictory.

There is a sharp focus on relationships in MONARCH, with conflicting results. Some were of no concern to me, while others of more interest weren't fully developed. For instance, I just began to take an interest in Nick's relationship with Lilian (the keeper of the Monarch Inn and romantic interest from his past) when I was suddenly whisked off to another hemisphere to explore his ambiguous relationship with the drug lord's wife, Catarina.

There was a lot of juxtapositioning of characters, back story, and location: from San Diego to West Virginia to Brazil, but after instilling some serious doubts in the reader, the author secured all loose ends in a satisfying way.

I especially like the cover, which was developed from Michelle’s own idea.
MONARCH is due out September 15th from Rhemalda Publishing.

Michelle's website is here, where you can find a list of upcoming dates for readings and signings.

She also blogs at The Innocent Flower and coauthors The Literary Lab with Scott G. F. Bailey and Davin Malasarn where she helps edit and publish "The Literary Lab Presents..." series of anthologies, an annual nonprofit publication that donates all proceeds to charity. Their most recent publication was NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND ANTHOLOGY, a collection of stories and poems from 24 different writers, and I can attest to Michelle’s tireless work and keen insight into the world of editing.

This is the first time I've received an ARC and it was exciting to be part of the process. Michelle's next novel, THE BREAKAWAY, comes out next year.

Congratulations, Michelle!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who's Visiting You?

I recently added a flag counter to my blog and have been amazed at the number of countries represented. I don't know how accurate it is, but I wish I would have done it sooner. If you're just starting a blog, I would recommend adding one. It's easy and fun to see where your readers are coming from. It makes the world seem intimate and small, which in the grand scheme of things, I guess it is.

It's a very foggy morning in the thumb of Michigan, a sure harbinger of fall, but summer temperatures are still with us for the Labor Day weekend. I hope to have time to visit "our" lake. Lake Huron is beautiful still, at least on the surface.


There are disturbing reports of pollution from coal-burning power plants and invasive species lurking in the depths and I hope that the people in charge of our environmental protection agencies know what they're doing.

I say "our" because the lakes are public as are the shorelines and beaches. The public is entitled to access up to the high water mark (an ambiguous boundry, I admit) but private landowners like to discourage the public from enjoying the access they are entitled to. They think of the lake in front of their property as theirs. The lakes belong to all of us and I encourage people who live here or are visiting here to feel free to walk the shoreline. Find an access point and walk.


To not spend time on or beside these basins of beauty is a sacrilege. Fish, skip stones, swim, hunt for shells and driftwood and collect pebbles, capture the beauty on your camera or canvas. All any of us would ask when you visit is that you leave nothing behind to show you were here....except something like this:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Take A Word And Plunge It Deep

Literature, the most seductive, the most deceiving, the most dangerous of professions.
- John Morley

The space station flew over the thumb of Michigan
at 9:25pm on August 16, 2011.
I saw it.
And they saw me.
Out of the southwest it hurtled across the sky on a diagonal path to the north,
heading for Lake Huron, the Georgian Bay, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence
like a baseball thrown from the hand of God.
Firefly, firefly, fire fly for me
Bigger than a plane but smaller than Jupiter’s smallest moon,
brighter than a star but dimmer than the camera that flashed too soon,
(we try to capture moments like fireflies in a jar)
it was gone in minutes. If you paused to draw a drink of water,
you would have missed it.

Gone, but I remember. I write it down so I will always remember.
When I am old and feeble and resentful
of modern music, youthful exuberance, and everything new, I will remember.
When all I can talk about is what it was like when I was young,
I will remember the day I saw the space station
flung across the sky, like a child’s top with lights and chimes.
Like a present under the Christmas tree, mysterious and delightful.
I will remember if I write it down.

Write like you’re dying
and live like you’re new to the world with much to learn.
Curious as a child at a peephole, I wish to be.
Firefly fly for me. Sit at my side and flare for me.

If in the dark, I can better see, then I will sit up all night to decipher the day just passed.
Write about your failures “they” say, for from them you can learn much.
If you have writer’s block, write about your failures. You might find you can’t stop.
You’ll be like Jack Kerouac with a manual typewriter and a carriage return,
reams and reams of paper on a roll that spews out failures across the floor
and out the door like the meatball that rolled off the table when somebody sneezed.

The loneliness and ungodliness of the day past
with the anticipated tomorrow on the threshold, and, well, shit…
is unholy ungodly? Unholiness. That’s the word I wanted, Mr. Word.
What does Word know as he tries to tell me what is a word and what is not a word?
He replaces my words without my say so.
But I love Word. I love words words words wordswordswordswords.
See how words become swords? We wield our swords to make a point.
We spar and pivot through the day
and into the night as we search for the perfect word to end a story on.
A word to send on. To enter on. To return the carriage and close the cover on.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Contests

I'd like to give a shout-out to a couple of contests that have come to my attention. The Literary Lab is hosting their third annual contest and anthology. You have until the end of the year to submit your short story. Click the button for details.

The Literary Lab Presents...


Lydia Kang whose blog is that of the famous Medical Mondays is having a contest to celebrate 900 followers.

Check it out. You only have until the end of the month. If you like books, you'll love her giveaway.

Now it's time to preserve a little food for winter: dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, green beans and pattypans, time to fill the pantry and then admire the clean shiny jars packed and sealed. Food for writing in the dead of winter....dill pickles for our bloody marys. Sustenance for entering some of those winter contests.

If you have a contest currently running, let me know and I'll add it to this post.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Lonely Sparrow

The sky darkened to the south across Mill Creek and the mucklands and the wind stirred the treetops with the change in the weather. Lightning forked across the sky from Lake Huron to Van Dyke. The cattle huddled under a tree for shelter. What do they know? One lonely sparrow fought the updraft above the creek and twirled across the sky, tossed and turned like a runaway kite. The rains came, gentle gentle, in contradiction to the raging heavens. This is my world. This is Boyd's world (Black River, novel in progress).

It has remained "in progress" for the summer as I am pulled into the garden: weeding, planting, and transplanting, trucking fresh produce to market, canning and harvesting and caring for the elders, and the day job hangs around my neck like an anvil. It's enough to make one wish for winter. I wish for winter and long nights at the keyboard, honing a story, nailing a query, finding an agent to be my friend, taking the anvil off from around my neck.

But then there's the pond...


Secluded and deep and, yes, full of bass and catfish and blue gill for the lone family angler. After a hot day in the garden, I like to go back and strip on the beach and jump in. There's a raft floating in the middle, the perfect spot to stop and catch your breath. I climb the ladder and stretch out on the weathered planks to admire the cloud formations. Hawks float overhead and then a vulture dares to circle to see if I'm dead.

I'm not, so beat it.

Back in the water, something nibbles my side, and I scream like the little girl the pond brings out in me. I have a definite hickey in the middle of my ribs. I was probably kissed by a blue gill. There are worse things in life.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Cedar Swamp and The Car Wreck

"With rebellion, awareness is born." ~ Albert Camus

Driving down a gravel road with the windows open, dust billows out behind me like a thunderstorm. The road is open and straight and the trees in the fencerows form a tunnel to drive through. Nobody is in front of me, the way I like it, and nobody is behind me to make me nervous. I hold tight to the raised center, like a gymnast on the highbar. Gravel sprays out behind me. I like to drive fast, but I take my foot off the gas because there's something I want to see.

I see you, America. You are musical with wild lilies in your ditches and flocks of sparrows in your tangled apple trees. You are out of tune, America, with your dilapidated farm houses, falling-down barns, and burned-out landscapes, the product of ruinous farm policy inflicted upon you.

With the windows open, I can see into the ditch and beyond, and with the wind rushing through the car, I am struck by a queer sense of nostalgia for these fading rural areas.

I turn down a road I've never had occasion to go down before and pass a group of mobile homes set up for migrant workers who labor in the fields with their long-sleeved shirts and baggy trousers and big hats.
.


A sign by the road says, "Coon Hunters Association",




and I wonder at the incongruity.

Down further, I pass another sign that strikes me as small. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. . . Here in white, rural, flag-flying America, militia signs dot the landscape promoting freedom to do whatever one wants, but theirs is an insular rebellion. These self-proclaimed rebels are afraid to venture outside their township, their state, their country. They abhor migrants though they would not do the work they do. Packing heat, they're afraid of strangers, afraid of their own shadows that stretch out tall in winter and shrink to proper size in the heat of summer. Proper small, their America.

I put small in my rearview mirror and drive on, looking for the cedar swamps of my ancestors and an unfamiliar road. I am looking for the scene of a story.

When America was eighty years younger with untraveled areas, there was a boy who worked in the cedar swamp, cutting timber with his father. One day he was riding to the swamp in the back of a 1935 Chevy with a group of other lean, sharp-faced boys. They barreled down the gravel road, dust flying. It was a dry, hot summer and even the grasshoppers stirred up puffs of dust as they escaped into the ditch.

The boys got behind a pickup truck and were swallowed by dust. They couldn't see a thing, but the truck was going slower than they wanted to go, and they were young and in a hurry, and the driver took a chance. On a dare? With encouragement from the back seat? The details are fuzzy. We’ll never know. But this much we do—he pulled over on the left to get around the truck and ran head-on into the invisible oncoming vehicle. The collision crushed their steel bumper, smashed the hood, and broke the windshield. It killed the driver.

The boys in the back were struck silent and shaken. One of them is still alive to tell the tale, with a trace of nostalgia for that hot summer day and the boy that could swing an ax, and the cedar swamp that is no longer there, and the friend he'd forgotten about.

When you sit down with someone born on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, you never know what you're going to learn, what forgotten story you might hear. Sometimes they surprise themselves with all that they know . . . with all that they’ve forgotten.

My dad has forgotten more than I'll ever know, and it’s funny how he has repeated so many stories over and over as we roll our eyes, but this one made us sit up in astonishment. This one he had never told before.

Today, I want to be irresponsible and rebel against the expectations that others have of me. I want to drive down a country road with the windows open, or jump a train, or learn to sail. I want to make a story.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Artist and The Writer

I recently collaborated with artist, Tony Duce, and he provided the image below for one of my poems, Still Life. I’ve long wanted to collaborate with an artist like this and it was a very exciting, informative process. Tony posts his drawings and paintings on his blog, Duce: Drawings, Paintings, Words, writing words to go with his images to give them a story. He has created images for other poets in the past, and I felt fortunate that he consented to work with me on this one. I love how he connected to my poem. I particularly like the way he drew the nude with her back to us while facing us in the self portrait. Hands played a large part in the poem and I love the way he drew them in the background.


STILL LIFE

in the chipped china plate
you won’t throw away,
in arms that drape shoulders
graceful as the legs on the bistro chairs
enclosed in a frame.
The ruffled tutu of the fuchsia
falling off to ground
is frozen by the chance
of a backward glance.
The sun sets a twenty-second fire
to the ridge across the valley,
fleeting as the shrug of your shoulders
to have missed it.
The self-portrait I couldn’t finish
stands in the back of the closet
behind sketch pads full of hands.


Visit Tony for more information on the painting itself and to view some of his other amazing work. I hope to collaborate with him again in the future. As I told him, seeing my poem come to life under his hand makes me want to concentrate again on poetry and take a hiatus from the angst of novel-writing.

So what do you think? Have any of you done something like this before?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Generation Hot

This blog is primarily about writing, but as you may know, I like to veer off the beaten path into the sustainable, organic movement, and plug progressive policies that offer hope for the future of the planet. On this note, I'm proud to say that our family farm is going solar. Ground-mounted solar panels are being installed this summer. This is what the frame currently looks like.

Thanks to the help of government backing, the glass panels will soon be in place and we'll start collecting energy from the sun, doing our part to get the planet back to 350, the most important number in the world. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in parts-per-million. They now say that 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe upper limit for humanity. This number is rising by about 2 parts per million every year. We're currently at 391.


Is it already too late for us?

Mosquitoes are on the rise along with sea levels. Drought conditions are wide-spread, and insect infestations are mounting. We have new, strange bugs in our garden and a squash beetle infestation unlike any we've ever seen this far north.

From dust storms blanketing Arizona (as shown in this video on C.M. Jacksons' blog, states-of-mine: "You don't need a weatherman to know...") to our own weird weather here in the midwest, it's obvious that something is wrong.

We can get back to 350 if we act before we reach an irreversible number, but we need to stop taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the air.

We need more of this....









And less of this.....






We should all get 350 T-shirts before Sept. 24th, the Moving Planet Forward, Global Rally Day. I'm picking out my color today. Maybe they'll add "Writers For The Earth" on the back. After all, writers are the most vibrant, alert, and fun people to be around. We nourish each other, as Joyce Johnson states in her memoir "Minor Charactors", her look back at the Beat Generation and her not-so-minor part in Jack Kerouac's life, Artists are nourished by each other more than by fame or by the public, I've always thought. I agree, and as we nourish each other, maybe we can pass the word and nourish this endangered planet at the same time.

OK....I'm stepping off my soapbox and into the garden. Happy day to you all.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

CHEATED

"You must live like a bourgeois and save all your violence for your art."
-Gustave Flaubert

Ever since reading that quote in this month's The Nation, I've wondered...is it possible to fulfill Flaubert's directive in the society we live in? With the burden to “earn a living” that is hammered into us from an early age, shackling us in adulthood? The hammer and sickle that squishes the creative spirit like a bug against a windshield? If I live like a capitalist, how will I have the time and energy to write? If I don't, how will I live at all?

In "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter",

Carson McCullers shows us what mundane work does to creativity. Fifteen-year old Mick, a blossoming musician and idealist, has to drop out of school and go to work at Woolworth's to help support her family in the depressed south for ten dollars a week. Ten dollars will buy fifteen fried chickens or five pairs of shoes. She thinks about a piano but does not mention that aloud. She does not want to work in a ten-cent store but when they all start to think about what that ten dollars could buy, she is trapped into it. Her description of losing her energy and ambition to write music is a heartbreaking account of how hard it was then (pre WWII) and harder now to spend your life creating art without being independently wealthy.

In McCullers' words:

Now no music was in her mind. Sometimes a quick little tune would come and go. It was like the store took all her energy and time. Woolworth's wasn't the same as school. When she used to come home from school she felt good and was ready to start working on the music. But now she was always tired. A song she had started in her private notebook two months before was still not finished. She did not know how to stay in the inside room. It was like the inside room was locked somewhere away from her. She was mad all the time, only there was nothing to be mad at. It was like she was cheated. Only nobody had cheated her. Just the same she had that feeling. Cheated.

How many feel like that at the end of the day? After years of nose-to-the-grindstone, the inside room—a metaphor McCullers uses to describe our inner selves where creativity begins—is forever lost and life is sleeping, eating, and working. There is no inside room where thoughts are developed, stories thrive, music is written, and great paintings are created to tell a tale, enriching our lives in the process.

Can you find your inside room? Can you stay there? I think it possible to live comfortably (which is maybe all that Flaubert meant) while staying outside the retail rat-race, far far from the shopping hordes and the rampant consumerism of modern society. Whistle, sing, write, or draw with passion, whatever it is that lifts your spirits and makes you feel alive, but live simply, like a frugal bourgeois. Save your violence for your art, and guard your inside room.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Of Food And The Human Spirit

Eavesdropping in the grocery store, like any good, self-respecting writer, I overheard these conversations in the checkout line....

"My mommy and daddy got married."
They did?"
"Yup. On Wednesday."

"I can buy some food now and know it won't get eat."
"Oh?"
"Yeah, I was buying all the food and those people were eating it all. Now they're gone, so I'll have some food."
"Oh."

"The milk makes my hand cold. I had to set it down."
"Good. You don't want warm milk."

I was kinda glad to escape that store, but I still see that little girl with her proud proclamation, and the man with the groceries he was finally going to get to eat, and the old woman with the half gallon of milk and knarled hands.

Then I caught a report on the radio about planting potatoes in Peru. Because of the warming trend over the last twenty years, farmers have had to move their potatoes up the mountain to plant at higher and higher elevations for the cooler temperature. But the mountain only goes so high. In some areas, they are already planting on top of the mountain.

I've been meaning to share this story, so now I will. There was an old man who walked his dog along the road every day. Morning, afternoon, evening, regardless of the weather, he was out there. My sister and I always passed him when we drove to work at different times, and he always threw up an arm, like he knew you. He waved at everyone. Then one day he wasn't there. Several days passed, and no one saw him. My sister worried about him. She thought his family put him in a home. I said nonsense. She worried about the dog. I thought he might come back, but he never did. Every time I drive that stretch of road I think about him.

And further back inside my brain: When someone uses a cane or a walker, you can hear them coming. Thump. Thump. There’s an undertone of foreboding in that noise. You want it to stop. You want it to continue. You wonder when it will all come crashing down around you. One thing that has recently become clear to me is how much easier it is to give assistance than to receive it.

That's it. My blog has been quiet but I've been busy getting the garden in (everything is late) and editing Black River, my new novel. I have all these thoughts racing around in my head and no time to delve into them. If I go much further back in my brain I might discover something really scary.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The boy with the dandelion

has dark skin and watchful eyes. An immigrant boy. A migrant. We are all of us the one and conflicted over the other. He picks dandelions and twines them into a braid. His father digs carrots and picks lettuce. His arms are brown and muscled and ready for work. The morning is misty and overcast, and the fields are muddy and wet, but the boy is barefoot and learning our ways.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black River

The rain falls and water creeps up the back of the farm. A field of rolling green spelt has turned into a lake. It changes the view at the horizon. It shouldn't be there.

Water was rushing over the road when we returned from our farmer's market yesterday. We barreled through with the farm truck and water splashed over the side mirrors. I wouldn't have risked it in a car. Mill Creek has left it's banks. It spreads and spreads trying to find the path of least resistance.

This all makes me think of my novel, Black River. I've finished it and now I have to begin the irksome task of composing the query, a writer's least favorite thing to do. It's a tidy manuscript at 105,000 words. Short for me.

We have problems but I'm glad I don't have to deal with the ones my protagonist farm boy has to confront.

The rains fall as the ice caps melt.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do Your Fingerprints Tell a Story?

We have new ID's at work with a chip in them. An electronic reader can know everything about you off that chip. They must be worn in lead-lined protective sleeves, lest random readers on the street capture the essence of you, like the sun burrowing through your clothes and the wind lifting a skirt. Do you think this is science fiction? Some new genre I'm delving into?

They took our fingerprints for this new ID, prints of all four digits on each hand and then separate ones of our thumbs and then the lone digit finger as identifier. They had trouble getting my prints. I have evidently worked the print right off the pad of my fingers. Did you know such a thing was possible? It is.
Notice I have no nails as well as no fingerprints.

The technician said they have trouble sometimes getting prints from masons and concrete workers and bricklayers. Add to the list gardeners and farmers. How about writers? All this tap tap tapping.

I had to wash my hands and apply corn huskers lotion. Twice. She was about to give up but finally got a set she thought would be "acceptable" and sent it off.

What if she hadn't been able to get fingerprints from me? Would I be allowed to move incognito through this new world obsessed with identity? Having gone through the lengthy process, do I feel more secure? Safe in my job, my identity, my world? This much I know: I felt somewhat special with my unreadable fingerpads and disappointed when she was finally able to "read" me.

How about you? Have you worked the fingerprint off the pad of your fingers? If so, how would you feel about that?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother - from playground to wheelchair

An Epistle on Turning Fifty

First you lose the impatience of youth,
linger over emerging bulbs
and let the phone ring.

Mirror mirror on the wall,
from the first aching step out of bed
to grinding the next day’s coffee,
I am my mother after all.

I rub the bump I’ve developed in my palm
and gauge the knob on my wrist.



Not that this is me, mind you, but my mum is home from the hospital (yay!) and the infection she picked up there is gone from her broken leg, and I felt like sharing this poem with you. She is navigating her own home with a walker, and I take each aching step with her.

Life, a circle. From the playground to the dance floor to the yoga class to the acquiescence of a cane to the necessity of a walker to the resignation of a wheelchair, but back to the walker now! How far can we go?

Happy Mother's Day weekend to all of you who balance your lives like flamingoes on one leg, make time for creative endeavors, and carry the world on your backs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

THIS, NOT THAT, A Rant For The Earth

Today is Earth Day. Plant a tree. Challenge a climate crank (those who think the Earth is flat and the ice caps aren't melting). Reduce, Reuse, Recyle. I invite you to visit my friend, Tricia O'Brien at Talespinning who has a way with photographs and a special post for Earth Day.

There are so many small things we can each do that add up to a global hug for Mother Earth. For instance, drink tap water or filtered water. The next time you reach for a bottle of water, consider the economy of drinking water from a glass that won't go into a landfill or require energy to be recyled.

I especially encourage people to boycott Nestle since they're drawing water out of the Great Lakes Aquifer to fill their plastic bottles which they then sell outside the watershed in defiance of the law of the region. It's more profitable than candy bars, but I don't know how they keeping winning a stay in the courts. The idea that bottled water is safer than tap water is one of the biggest health hoaxes in this country. (Unless, of course, your ground water is polluted by a neighboring mining operation or industrial enterprise.) There are more safeguards on tap water than bottled water, plus it's more economical and Earth friendly.


Following Tricia's example, I'd like to give you this:

A field of organic beans on our farm.


NOT THAT
A diseased field of Round-Up Ready beans.


Round-Up is poisoning the Earth and changing the molecular structure of our soil and must be banned.

Rise up for Earth Day. Make a stink!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Daffodils and Poetry and the Roughriders of the House

April is poetry mouth.
I hurt, therefore I am.
My local library has signs posted for the high school poetry contest.
That made me feel good, that they're still open, still a haven for thought and knowledge,
still talking about poetry.

My thoughts are clouded this morning by my mother's for-profit hospital bed,
by the call button that isn't answered.
I think of the nurses who rush about, harried and anxious with impossible patient loads,
like the 30-student classroom my sister faces daily in her underfunded public school.
I pace the hall for an aide, for someone,
my mother needs to urinate
she needs her pain pill
she needs a hospital that isn't a for-profit
but most of our community hospitals are.

If you're a Republican Roughrider, you would put yourself
into a private hospital with a healthier ratio of patients to nurses.
With your House of Representatives health insurance,
you proudly state that America has the best health care system in the world.
Why would we want to change it?
You denigrate your president
and lead the charge against his efforts to change it.
You are a patriot and a roughrider.
You make disparaging remarks about
"Obama Care" as though it were an abscess on American's nose,
rather than an Affordable Health Care Plan for all Americans.
You will work to defund it and privatize Medicare and Medicaid.
You will cut EPA, NPR, PBS, DNR, public education and libraries
while keeping the Pentagon intact.
All this while cutting taxes for the elite.
A rich man will always care more about his money than his country.

Your children go to private schools and you have your own library.
You live in a gated enclave with trees to shield you from view.
You don't want to see and you don't want to be seen.
You call yourself a patriot.
You will work to rid the country of the health care plan
that forces insurance companies to pay for
preventive care without a co-pay or deductible,
lowering their margin of profit.
The smart Republican Roughriders coined a new name for it
to strike fear of rationing into the heart,
as though rationing weren’t already the law of the land.

My mother loves flowers.
The daffodils of spring have always been her favorite.
They have braved the cold on the south side of the house
and are about to open.
When they do, I will cut her a bouquet
and set them where she can see them.
She likes the Detroit Tigers but can’t watch them
because the hospital doesn’t carry that station.
Her television stays off. My mother is too smart for Judge Judy.
We took her in a transistor radio but it wouldn’t pick up the game.
We tell her about the games and we take in the sports section.
But her heart isn’t in it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

FOR WANT OF A TITLE

I have trouble with titles. If I can write a novel, why can't I compose a clever title? Sometimes I can't even think of a title for a post. But March is behind us, and I got through April Fool's Day without being made one, as far as I know.

Allow me one more toot of the horn. Author and fellow blogger, Judy Croome posted a lovely review of NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND on Amazon and Goodreads. Her review gives you a brief snapshot of what's under the cover. Speaking of, we were all enticed by the front cover, I, so much, it took me a week to notice the back. Make sure you check out the back cover. No, I don't have an image of that to share, but it's sheer genius from the folks at the Literary Lab.
From the flip side.....I don't know a damn thing about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts....


Michelle from the L.L. recently wrote an interesting post titled Where Have All The Bloggers Gone? Maybe we're just all bogged down. I don't know how some of you find the time to be as prolific as you are. And of course, the more you comment on others, the more comments you will receive, but keep in mind for every comment you receive, ten or more have visited, read, absorbed and moved on. I myself read a lot more than I comment. Sorry. I just don't have the time. The writing comes first.

I write before the sun comes up, make coffee, feel guilty, and write some more. I move my laptop to the couch to escape the blinding rays coming through the kitchen window. I drink coffee and read what I've written and pencil edit and drink more coffee. I feel guilty. I look at my blog roll, dream of agents and editors and what it would be to have a deadline (which I would never fail to meet, I might add). Lord, give me deadlines and a contract and a book of my own. Give me give me give me give me. Selfish little writer. Self-centered, obsessed little writer.

Just don't ask me how that novel is coming. Don't ask me what the current one is about. Oh, the questions people ask us….. Are you still writing that novel????? But what do you really do? Elspeth Antonelli at The Blood-Red Pencil says, “the best answer I’ve ever given to this question is, I kill people."

OK. It's true. I kill them and I bury them in the compost pile, but you can't talk about a work in progress. It would jinx it. The work would dissipate like chaff on a breeze. Talking about it contaminates it, like plutonium in the jet stream from failed nuclear power plants. Radioactivity in the milk and in the vegetables? Oh Lord, save us from ourselves. Man is the beast, as Deon Meyer poignantly shows us in his novel (my current read), BLOOD SAFARI, an adventurous journey through South Africa.

Money controls everything. People are not truly capable of conservation though they make all the right noises. It's just not in our nature. Whether we're talking about pumping oil or chopping down trees for firewood, the environment will be the loser. Nothing can stand in the path of man.


We do what we can. We plant crops and grow vegetables without chemicals and raise happy chickens that can scratch in the dirt and cattle that are free to graze under the open sky, but we can't control what's in the air that we breathe and in the water that comes from the well. No farm is an island, no city dweller alone in their condo, no country in control of their borders. The Earth is a circle of one. What happened in Japan happened to you and it happened to me.

It'll bog you down, if you let it, and there is no title for that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fifty Quintessential British Novels And Other Friday Things

Accredited Online Colleges has published their list of Fifty Quintessential British Novels.


It's an interesting collection, ranging from John Cleland's Fanny Hill (or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), and I much prefer the subtitle, to Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I know many of you are fans of his. I found some surprising titles in their list and a few to add to my Must-Reads. This is also a great site to research if you are considering taking online college courses.

While we are on the subject of books, I'd like to plug what I'm currently reading, SOUND OF THE CROW, by Layne Maheu.

If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.

Told from a crow's point of view, this is a wildly imaginative journey across the land of the beastman, Noah, as he madly chops down the giants that the crows live in. I've just gotten to the Deluge and I wouldn't have believed that a novel about a bunch of raucaus crows could keep me in thrall. I think we all share an interest in the ancient world, and I'm finding it immensely fascinating, viewing the unsettled state of things through the unblinking eye of the crow. What must they think of us now, I wonder.

Thank Goodness It's Friday! Ya'll have a great weekend. I'm off to Columbus, Ohio to see my daughter graduate from The Ohio State University with a degree in English. Yay!! While there, I will raid her bookcase, which is always chock full of delicious college reading in paperback form. I'm jacked up on coffee and my fingers are tingling at the thought.

Until we meet again my online friends, I wish you all well in your creative endeavors.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Bad To Worse

With the news out of Japan going from bad to worse, I'm thankful to see the sun rising this morning. I'm thankful for my cup of coffee and the electricity with which to brew it.

It seems no one is really in charge anymore as they frantically dump water from helicopters, of which four out of five completely miss the target. Now the U.S. government is offering the use of water cannons but five days and precious time has been lost and still a private company with a reputation for deception is in charge of the reactors. This reminds me of the oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico. Over and over again, around the world, we let the weasal guard the henhouse. It doesn't lend itself to good results here on the farm, and it doesn't lead to good results in the energy industry or in the world at large.

If there is a meltdown at this nuclear facility, scientists say a third of Japan could end up as a dead zone. I've never been there but I've heard it is a beautiful country. What does this mean for the rest of us? I fear for the future with weasels in charge. I fear for the earth. I wish somebody in charge was looking out for the common good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SOLDIER

They come home to cameras and flags,
balloons and poster boards.
They come home to old soldiers
in receiving lines with flags raised—
Hip Hip Hooray
old soldiers who form a gauntlet civilians hesitate to walk.
Like the mounds of dirt we skirt in a cemetery
(even after the soil settles),
we are not worthy to walk their gauntlet.
Don’t shake my hand; I only work here.
This receiving line is not for me.

And I wonder . . .
Are these new soldiers in it for the money?
Don’t hate me, I merely ask.
Serving merely for pay, says Webster,
is the definition of mercenary.
With the flag sewn backwards on their sleeves,
do they know what it means
to be in it for the money?

Sometimes they fly in alone to a girlfriend or a parent
and I wonder how they managed it.
There’s room for honest emotion
without the media attention and the old vets
who only want them to have what they didn’t have.

A mother and father wait outside the security checkpoint
with eyes fixed on the horizon of the terminal
for a glimpse of their boy.
They shyly hold two small flags,
like the ones sold on the 4th of July
that you’re supposed to—I guess—stick in the flowerbed
like an ornamental praying mantis
to show your support.
Thrust upon them like the recruiter’s handshake,
they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do with them.

Their boy walks down the exit lane to meet them.
“Put those away,” he says. "I need a cigarette.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PUBLISHED! Notes From Underground Anthology

Last year The Literary Lab ran a contest for which the prize was ten page in an anthology. This morning they have unveiled their cover for the NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND ANTHOLOGY.
Isn't it stunning? This beautiful paperback is now available on Amazon in print copy for $10 or for the E-book at $4.99, click here. You can also purchase a copy at the CreateSpace Store where a greater percentage of the proceeds will go to the American Society of Journalists and Authors Writers Emergency Assistance Fund. All profits from the sale of this literary collection will go to that charitable foundation. Check out the LitLab's post for details on how to get a discount code too.

I was one of twenty-five winners, and my short story, MAYBE, is included. Thank you, Literary Lab. I'm happy and humbled to be a part of this publication.

If you haven't already checked them out, you should. There are a lot of talented folks who hang out in the lab and you might find you don't want to leave.

Peace out. It's March!