I’m thrilled and honored to be the Featured Poet in the September Issue of Blue Heron Speaks. This wonderful online poetry journal has a goal of presenting “messages of inspiration, support, and nourishment for the soul.”And they really do offer heart-centered poems that speak to seekers after beauty and peace. My three poems include the title poem from my forthcoming collection, Arabesque. An excerpt from the poem treats the word “arabesque” in its other meaning, a calligraphic figure: More
Should be easy, right? After all, many of us set a word count quota for the day’s writing, somewhere in the thousands of words. Surely we can spare 200 or so for a short blog. But deciding what to write about is what always stops me from blogging. Who am I as a writer? Do you really want to hear about the Green Veggie Smoothie I just made with my food processor, throwing in fresh pineapple, cucumbers, apples, spinach, lettuce, grapes, cucumber, and orange, and how it tastes like the smell of watering my garden early in the morning, before the sun is high, with hummingbirds duking it out overhead to get to the feeder above me?
Or smells like sunlight coming through the leaves. After all, I’m a poet. I need to exercise these metaphor muscles the way gardens need water and fertilizer.
But you didn’t come here to this title about blogging in order to hear that — did you? That’s the dilemma of the literary blogger. We have a tendency to get personal, to get specific, and to ignore the title topic until almost the end of the blog.
Plus, they say you have to add lots of visuals to your blogs if you want anyone reading them. We just can’t read any more without illustrations. Here’s my smoothie.
So now, to the question of how to blog as an author. Now that I have your attention with personal stuff and visuals. Here’s an excellent article on the three things you must do in an author blog.
My writing process is pretty much like going to work every day. I reserve two hours from the moment I open my eyes (with coffee — here’s another visual) and before I get started working at the mundane job, for creative writing. I’m disciplined about it, but I count everything as writing, even reading about how to write (though not reading about how to market books — that’s death to the creative flow, though very necessary in other zones of the day.)
My writing process is sort of effortless once I’m in the zone of those two hours. I know you hated hearing that, but it’s true. Assigning a regular time is like waving huge bars of chocolate in front of my Muse. She can’t resist.
So there you have it. One article of how-to, a fair amount of personal with a dash of wit (I hope), and a lot of pictures. Author blogging. It was fun!
It’s the best of times — having a book or two or more out in the world, for people to read. It’s the worst of times — feeling the constant pressure to get books into readers’ hands and Be An Author, publicly.
I’m feeling the best and worst times right now, as I prepare to have two new books launched in 2018. What to do today? That’s the first thing I think of, not the new novel or poem I’m working on. And since I’ve pledged to write two hours first thing in the morning, the question now is, do I blog or tweet or Facebook about a book already out — or do I close the curtains and the doors, pretend I’m a mushroom hidden under the forest floor, and plunge into the solitary delight of creation.
The truth is, the creative process can get lost in the marketing part of Being An Author. And that’s a shame. Writing should be the core thing.
I need to not know what comes next in my writing, so I don’t outline. I just set aside two hours first thing every morning to find inspiration. I can paint my nails, watch the leaves stir in the trees, tend my roses, but I have to be thinking creatively and feeling the creative wind blowing. For me, this is the magic spell. Make the time, and things come. Your time might be midnight or dinner hour or noon, but see if a schedule works for you.
Of course blogging and posting on social media is also writing. Sometimes the muse inclines her head toward one or another platform and says, “Go talk to them.” And then you can be both Author and Writer and maybe mention your book while you’re at it. (The Renaissance Club, forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing.)
Happy Fourth! But this post isn’t about our national celebration of Independence — unless I can conflate America’s with my own independence as a writer. There. Done that. I’m celebrating today and in general because 2018 will see TWO OF MY BOOKS PUBLISHED! Both my fourth book of poetry and my novel The Renaissance Club (forthcoming from Fiery Seas Publishing, 2018) will appear next year on Amazon and other places you can buy books, in formats for bookshelves and ereaders.
In rocketry, they call it lighting the candle — when they fire up the missile for launch. I feel my launch as a writer will truly be 2018, with my fourth poetry collection and first novel on the launch pad and ready to light both candles. Maybe it’s the fault of my stars to have two come out in one year — or maybe it’s because I’ve been busy writing these two books for seven years. Interestingly, both books have taken that long.
But with further drumrolls or sky rockets, I’m extremely pleased to announce that FutureCycle Press will publish my poetry collection Arabesque in August 2018. Thanks to Editor in Chief Diane Kistner and the editorial team for selecting my manuscript. I don’t yet have a cover, but here’s a poem from the book — for all who are celebrating the holiday and summer at the beach — with thanks to Editor Richard Peabody and Gargoyle for first publishing this:
Every morning, half-drowned,
In honor of Mother’s Day, which often coincides with or cozies up to my birthday, here are two poems I wrote for my mother. She wasn’t the problematic parent, so she got fewer poems than my father, the riddle of whom I keep trying to figure out in verse. But poems for her and for the mothers intrigue me this year, in which I lost a stepmother. So maybe more to come.
Apple Pie Order
The hands that cut the apple
are white-fleshed as the silence
between us in the kitchen. Her sob
of breath. Cotton cloths, simple tasks.
Her hands skin and delve
a pale core from each green globe,
slice smiles and drop
them in the dough’s lap.
My mother’s hands soothe my forehead,
tug and tuck corners, tails, hairs
and sheets. Shove me forward, hold me back.
From their towel-wrapped rigor,
I know cradle and slap. Above
their industry I feel the tears.
For fear of seeing fear
in her, I watch the hands
Make a small, safe corner
for sweet flesh to be sectioned,
layered, sugared, snugged
under thin-rolled crust.
She always knows what comes next.
Her short, round fingers make do,
patch holes, keep going,
though nicked, scraped and scalded.
Ten trudging dough-faced soldiers,
rosebuds furled in flour-scented might.
From Femme au Chapeau (David Robert Books, 2007)
This lucky writer of plays, poems, and novels got to see the spectacularly innovative musical theater that is Hamilton. Having listened to the recording at least ten times, watched every Youtube clip of the musical numbers at least five times each, I could have rapped or sung along with many of the numbers. Yet in many ways, I was unprepared for the play itself, its drama and intensity, its organization of themes and events.
So in one performance — probably the only one I’ll get to see for a long time — I had a lot to learn, and I had to learn it on the fly.
The biggest surprise — immediately — was the near absence of non-rap dialogue. The story proceeded by one after another spectacular number — the kind that usually begins and ends a show. And each number, or many, were highly narrative. There was in-the-moment action, of course, but a lot of character-as-his-own-narrator speeches, delivered in rap, fast or slow, but almost always rhythmic. So there was a stylization in every scene, every song, that reminded me of Shakespearean speeches, with a kind of formal structure you don’t see in musical plays, unless it’s Shakespeare or opera. Rap, after all, is a form of poetry, and so the comparison to Shakespeare’s rhythmic and often rhymed lines isn’t surprising, after all.
My second surprise was the pacing. The whole show was thrillingly beyond fast. At a certain point, you just settle into being bombarded with content and you absorb as fast as you can. Regular musicals let you absorb plot in normally paced dialogue before the next huge production number hits, tying it together. This show makes you learn the story through extravaganza. You scarcely catch your breath before plunging off on another wild ride again. It’s like surfing monster waves.
I guess the most surprising thing to me was how much narrative was embedded in this history musical, often by the character about himself or herself. That’s really a unique way to put a story together. I’ll be thinking about that for a long, long time. And when I got back to bingeing on Hamilton songs and raps, it will be with an analytical writer’s eye. What can I replicate here, how can I use the formality of rhythm or some other device to create structure? And where can you rent those stage turntables?
I’ve read that when people reincarnate, they may do so in batches, sticking together for their progressive learning. I find the idea mostly pleasing. But I hadn’t thought about how that might call for group exits. This fall-winter has knocked me on the head with two deaths. First my beloved brother (my only sibling) on October 10. Now my stepmother, January 19, last week.
Death’s absoluteness blindsided me. You can’t plead for just one more phone call or visit. You can’t ask a departed person to send you an occasional text message saying they’re doing fine in that foreign country called the afterlife. Whatever language they speak there is mostly incomprehensible to me. Grief is in the silence.
To process my karmic batch of exits, I write, of course. Today my stepmother’s body is being cremated. It’s a hard fact. I awoke into it not happy. But the impenetrable is what writers write to penetrate. We try to write our way behind the curtain, even when that’s impossible.
The end of 2016 was very lucky for my poetry publishing. In this second installment on an embarrassment of riches, I’m delighted to share my poem, “Bird Bones”, which was recently published in the redoubtable Prairie Schooner.
I also had work published in Eclectica‘s 20th anniversary anthology, Prairie Schooner, Atlanta Review, Panoply (who very kindly nominated my poem for a Pushcart Prize!) and Peacock Journal (where they put beauty first).
Prairie Schooner had published some of my poems before, but as it’s a top literary magazine, it’s always a thrill when they grab something. And I’m always surprised by what they accept, as I was with the very first set of two poems they took. It’s a print-only journal. Here is a photo of the poem page:
My literary stocking overflowed this December. but I was so busy I didn’t have time to mention it to anyone but those who saw the stack of magazines on my coffee table. I’m taking it as a sign of the new year, a flowering, perspicacious publication kind of 2017. I also found a late December rose, two blooms that opened up and held for a miraculous week. All good omens for a new year. No matter what November made me feel, I’m feeling optimistic now.
Thanks to Dan Veach, outgoing editor of The Atlanta Review, for selecting my poem “Rain Dance with Redwood” for this new issue. Judging by California’s rainy season, and the impending “monster storm,” I think the dancing works. Here’s the first of four big print publications I have work in this winter! I’m so jazzed and so hopeful. A good state for January. Happy shiny, new 2017!
In the spirit of the holidays now upon us, I’d like to offer some fodder for those quiet times you find amid the activities and social life. Reading for me leads to writing, so I often start my writing day by either progressing in a novel or reading several poems. Sometimes digging into a craft book. So here are some recommendations for feeding your head.
Story Genius by Lisa Cron. This is the one fiction craft book you have to have! She’s the story whisperer, the one who can help you dig into that beautiful plot and set of characters you have brewing in your brain, but which keeps stirring around in confusing ways. I following the “pantsing” way of writing my first novel, resulting in what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts” — many of them. I know Anne recommends you give yourself permission to draft without editing, but as someone who spent years writing one book, I’d prefer a more sure-footed approach next time. Here’s one of my current favorite quotes from the book: “Don’t keep secrets secret from the reader.”
Emily Bleeker’s When I’m Gone is an engaging love story from a wonderful writer. It touches deeply on themes of loss, love, and emotional reconnection. While I undergo my own grieving process, I found this novel healing and uplifting. The portrayal of a marriage through the process of grieving its loss is poignant and beautifully portrayed. Bleeker is an author to watch and this novel is one that will keep you turning pages.
I’m in the middle of reading and reviewing The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement by Diane Lockward, poet and author of another craft book I love, The Crafty Poet. The color red sears the collection, the seethe of articulate anger and outrage over an undefended childhood and life’s assaults and unfairness. Whether she takes as her subject nine renegade monkeys escaped from a testing lab or the red dress (re-dress) of a child dreaming of freedom from abuse, the poet takes “quick, sharp steps like flint against steel” in every poem. Yet there is beauty in her boldness and defiance, poetry in the grieving and acceptance.
Hopefully something here will spark your creative juices and give you islands of quiet enjoyment through the hectic social season. Happy and Merry days ahead.