Word Problems – a poem by Noreen Lace

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Word Problems

 

I hate when men write

soft poetry about their ex’s.

It’s easier to read the hate

than to let your mind wonder

“what went wrong?”

 

It’s easier to hear, I don’t love

you anymore,

than to hear I love you, but…

and the thousand buts

that say you just didn’t add up.

 

I mean she…

back to the poet with the soft poetry

and the lost wife.

He writes it, not to her,

but for himself,

to remind himself

of what he let go,

the additions he didn’t add in

when he was subtracting

all she didn’t have.

 

All the things he didn’t have

all the while he’s telling himself

he was right

to let her go

when he did

because things would have gotten worse

had they not parted before the math was done.

At least this way he can ruminate,

look back fondly and say,

 

we parted as friends,

Meaning,

I departed quietly to search for something more,

 

she just got hurt.

 

*originally published in the Northridge Review 2002.

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This was written long ago, while I was finishing graduate school. I think it’s still so relatable. One person is always ready to go before the other. One person walks away, the other crawls.  (But don’t worry – the one who crawls gets up, becomes stronger, and thrives!)

Much love, readers.

 

 

Writer Wednesday: Sharing is….?

climbing helping  team work , success conceptIn a writer’s group, I asked a specific person how one would use a certain program. They responded with, “I’d be glad to show you; my rates are very reasonable.”

I was shocked into silence. I asked a simple question, and they wanted to charge me for their answer?

But, then again, they have the right to earn a living by selling their knowledge.

How often have I given my knowledge for free? I could charge, I thought, for all the information and skills I’ve accumulated over the years.

But – wait a minute – writers really don’t make that much money, and we’re all strugglingshare3 in the same boat of trying to get our books, articles, short stories, or other out there to larger audiences.

Think of being on a life-raft and you are the one who has the clean water, or maybe the secret to cleaning the water, would you really sell it to another passenger? Some people would.

There’s a story from a Gladwell book about how post-its came about. (To simplify:) One worker in the paper department bumped into someone from their glue department, they both talked about what they were working on and the problems there were having. If only we could….   and boom – two collaborators came up with an idea worked together to bring that to fruition by sharing their expertise and invented something we all use (and made billions for 3M!).  Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, and others now use that theory to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions for every day problems!

shareWhen we all work together, we all become better humans. I want to share my ideas and experiences and share other writer’s with you, other ideas with everyone who desires to listen.

I have a job; I have many jobs. I’m not about to take advantage of others who are students in life or in writing and try to make a buck from them. I’d rather share my knowledge. I’d rather help my fellow passengers on this journey.

Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge with me. Thank you to those writers who give of themselves and their resources to make a better writing community.

When we work together, we can all benefit.

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Friday Feature: The Overlooked, The Forgotten, The Displaced: Unbridled Inspirations – By Dianna Brown

 

Close your eyes for a few seconds and think of the word ‘inspiration.’ inspirationWhat comes to mind? Are there images of magnificent places you’ve been, impressive people you’ve met, or extravagant stories that stimulates your soul, sparks your imagination and almost brings you to tears? These everyday inspirations lead me to be the best version of myself, however, this is not a source of inspiration for my writing.

What if I told you my writing inspiration is in the overlooked, the forgotten and the displaced? I see potential in the bleakness of a shadow. I take interest in peculiar sights. I notice the unnoticed. My desire to write stems from the stories that are cut short. Not just unrequited love stories, but stories attached to the abandoned—whether objects, people or places. I am intrigued by ghost towns, and the remnants of memories left behind.

Sometimes inspiration comes from one word. I have a fascination and love of words. Maybe it’s a name, a word I overhear in conversation, or one that stands out while I’m reading. To me, words hold weight and are springboards for the fine details of characters, setting and, sometimes, plot. I call these words, triggers. One word triggers a plethora of infinite possibilities. Couple this with an innate curiosity about the little things in life and inspiration calls out from every direction.

Inspiration also comes from pain. Writing is a resiliency of spirit. It provides an avenue to unleash hurt by navigating emotions through an alignment of fictitious stories. I also believe the act of writing is an acute desire to heal. This is true for reading as well, as there is nothing more enjoyable than being whisked away in the transfixation of a book.

I wonder sometimes if writing is a window into the subconscious. Much of what I write is not intentionally thought about, but comes out in a stream of consciousness that can surprise me. In dreams, I hear the music of the most haunting melodies and poetic lyrics. In the middle of the night you can find me scribbling what I remember by the light of my phone, blurry-eyed. Unfortunately, in the morning the indecipherable lines can never match the beauty of my dreams. Words that enter my mind are often ones I’ve never heard of before, and after I’ve written my word count goal, I will look up the definition of the word, to find it fits perfectly with the meaning of the sentence. Although it’s likely words stored in my subconscious, that I’ve encountered somewhere along the way, it shocks me nonetheless.

When I wrote the novel ‘Saltwater Joys’ I had inspirations from childhood memories of oral Newfoundland folktales and ghost stories—ones I still love to hear again and again. I explored these memories and extended the stories into what might have been, had the story taken a different turn. It is like a scavenger hunt in my mind. One idea gives me a clue to where I might go with the story or character next. Other inspirations for this literary fiction novel came from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as many classic tales and poems that made me see the unimaginably intricate, and sometimes horrific, connections in life.

inspiration2I like to explore the darker sides of life, which is interesting to me because I am naturally a good humoured optimistic individual. There are an unbounding instances of inspirational dualities in life, the play between light and dark, life and death, vice and virtue, and I realize as a writer I am one of them.

Dianna Brown’s Website

 

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Thanks, Dianna.

noreen

Friday Feature: Snowflakes in a Blizzard, Darrel Laurant’s Project to Assist Writers

Darrel Laurant contacted me some time ago about featuring my book, West End, on his project website. I’m only happy to now have him talk about that project here.

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Completing and publishing a book — any book — is a noble accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s only half the battle.

Writing, publishing and marketing used to be co-joined triplets, or at least close cousins. Now, though, they have drifted apart into separate entities. As a consequence, the new mantra from publishers turning down a manuscript has become: “We really like your book, but we don’t think we can sell it.”

What you realize, as you skim over the Top 100 best-selling offerings on Amazon or even the hallowed New York Times list, is that “marketability” now has very little to do with what we used to perceive as “quality.” Not that a well-written book can’t be successful, but writing well is no longer a crucial requirement, writing not-so-well no longer a deal-breaker.

The good news is, thanks to current technology and increased self publishing options, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so. The bad news is, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so.

The fact that 30 million or so books are now listed on Amazon has drastically changed the rules of engagement. The issue is no longer getting published, but getting noticed.

Writers are obviously the losers in this not-so-brave new world, but so are readers. Books go surging past us like flotsam on a flood-swollen river, never to be seen again. If it was published in 2016, it has already become a relic.

The idea of Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which started three years ago, is to become just one small voice shouting: “Whoa!”

I spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and columnist, wrote a lot for magazines and Websites on the side, published two books that sold over 3,000 copies each locally, and won a lot of writing awards from the Virginia Press Association.

In some occupations, all that would have helped ease my transition when I retired from journalism to write books full-time. In the publishing field, I had to check it all at the door.

When my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid,” went up on Amazon, I was excited. I now had my own little niche, exposed to the world. I had a publisher who, at least in theory, was prepared to spread the word. I had a distributor to transport my books to the far corners of the nation. Smiling contentedly, I sat back and waited for the orders to pour in.

And waited. And waited. Eventually, it dawned on me that since nobody outside of Central Virginia had ever heard of me, the odds of anyone randomly clicking on my Amazon page were infinitesimal. Why would they?

At some point during the mini-funk that followed, aggravated by the winter blahs, I was standing in front of my living room widow in Lake George, NY, watching it snow, when this thought occurred to me: “Getting noticed for a new writer these days is like a snowflake trying to stand out in a blizzard.”

A few months later, I started the Snowflakes in a Blizzard blog.

Each week, Snowflakes highlights three books. They could be novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs or a hybrid. What they have in common are that they are a) unique in some way and b) could use more attention. The “template” for every book is filled out by the author and goes individually to each of our 3,000-plus followers, complete with a few reviews and a sample chapter. It’s a way of getting one-on-one attention.

Also, it’s completely free. I like that for several reasons:

First, it takes the pressure off. Charging for a service is all about making a promise — in this case, pay me and I’ll sell books for you.  I can’t do that, because I have no way of tracking who might have purchased a book because of a Snowflakes post they received.

Second, it makes for a better vibe between me and other writers. They are colleagues, not customers.

Finally, I don’t feel competitive with any other writer-friendly blogs or Websites. In fact, I’d be delighted if a thousand other sites sprang up just like Snowflakes in a Blizzard, because that would still not take care of all the writers who need such a service.

You may have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. In the case of the book-buying public, the enemy is our very human tendency to stick with what we know. Early in our lives, most of us have settled in on what food, music, movies and, yes, books we like.

This fact unquestionably drives the book publishing business. It has become a lot like politics — survey the public to find out what they think they want, then give it to them. It accounts for the focus on genres, the reliance on best-seller lists and the dicotomy of wealth between the top one percent of authors and everybody else.

I don’t like to point fingers at the publishing industry, because they need sales to survive. So do agents. I do, however, think that the current glut of books has contributed in many cases to tunnel vision and laziness. What used to be “Wow, this is a great book — we need to tell people about this talented new author,” has morphed into “Oh, too bad — it doesn’t have the right genre for our demographic.”

This genre fixation is one of my major gripes about the book business today. Instead of offering unique work that only they could produce, some authors are “writing to genre,” following a list of pre-prescribed rules in an effort to “fit.” Yet so many of the books that made a big impact upon arrival — think “In Cold Blood,” “The Color Purple,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Roots” — probably would have flunked the genre test.

To their credit, a lot of small “indie” publishers do seek out and nurture talented new writers. Sometimes, they are richly rewarded for it.

My other gripe is the attitude held by some gatekeepers that they are doing writers a huge favor by publishing them. I growl, internally, every time I see this on a Website: “If you don’t hear from us in two months, it means we’re not interested.”

How much time and trouble would it take to type “Thanks, but not for us,” and hit “send”? Or maybe, “We’re thinking about it.”

This lack of communication shows a naked disrespect to authors who, after all, just want to enter into a business deal with them. Think of how you’d feel if you walked into a restaurant, sat down at a table, and were then ignored for an hour before you finally got up and left.

OK, so the creative universe is awash with other books. Publishers and agents can be uncaring, potential book buyers unlikely to try something new, both realities especially hard on new writers who haven’t yet accumulated prior publications, lots of good reviews or a book club fan base.

So what can we do? I make no claims of being an expert (I’ve never had a best selling book, so what do I know?), but I do have some suggestions.

  1. Look at the myriad niches that might be hidden beneath the main thrust of your book. These could include the setting, the occupation of main characters, a societal issue that is addressed, etc. Find some on-line clusters of people who reflect those nooks and crannies and send them a sample chapter. Do everything you can to show a publisher or agent that your book will, indeed, have a ready-made audience.
  2. Don’t forget the local connection. After your book is published (or even before), show up at your local newspaper office, meet the book editor, and suggest a review of your book. Don’t forget the little free papers than have mushroomed everywhere.
  3. Arrange similar meetings with small bookstore owners in your area.
  4. Set up as many book signings as you can handle, including businesses other than bookstores.

I invite you to check out the Snowflakes in a Blizzard site, and perhaps even follow it. Or, you may have a book you’d like to have featured, or know someone else who does.

My e-mail address is writersbridge@hotmail.com, and I love to talk about writing, any time.

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Much luck, Darrell. Thanks!
noreen

Writer Wednesday: Faux Deadlines

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My students, and other writers, often tell me that deadlines and time limits are the only things that inspire them. That last minute of the clock ticking down puts the pressure on enough to force them to write, and they swear better writing comes out of them.

Although I think there’s some truth to this, overall teachers and editors agree this isn’t the best form of writing.

However, what if we forced ourselves under faux deadlines?deadline1

I’m suggesting you create your own deadlines.  Some writers enforce rules for their writing, like they must produce five pages a day or a thousand words, etc. But if you feel you write best under deadlines, the pressure cooker ready to pop, then do that. Or do it for an experiment, for fun.

There are programs you can download (or are on your computer, so I discovered on mine) which will shut your wifi off for a certain amount of time. While I don’t think many of us could comfortably go wireless for an hour or hours at a time, I suggest you do fifteen minutes. Give yourself a challenge and free write for 15 minutes. After that fifteen minutes, if you want to keep going do so, but I’ll suggest another challenge – stop, read over what you wrote and pick out a really good idea or line, and then start another freewrite – maybe turn your wifi off or turn a timer on…  for whatever amount of time..

deadlineSet a timer or an alarm on your watch or cell phone for five or six minutes and write whatever comes to mind. If you can’t think of anything, then use one work to start. The word I use in my classes is “movies.” Perhaps you could use “love”, “news”, “dog.” Any word will actually do. Don’t worry about what you’re writing or where it’s actually going – just write and if at the end of five minutes all you have is a freewrite about rover doing his business on the neighbor’s lawn, then you haven’t wasted that much time. Do it again.

Speaking of wasted time, consider all the time we stand in lines doing nothing except checking email or social media. Next time you’re in line at starbucks or waiting at the doctor’s office, use your phone to brainstorm an idea. If you’re stuck, take an idea from whatever’s around you.

No excuses. Give yourself a deadline. Write ANYTHING in order to shake something loose.

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Friday Feature: Just a Bit O’ Dialect by Expert Story Teller David Francis Curran

Just A Bit O’ Dialect

Dialect can make anything from a Sci-fi novel to a western story come alive with unique and realistic voices. But if your English fiction contains text as obtuse as:

Da grill da bik rude

it is unlikely that your work will be published.

To master the mystery of writing good dialect it helps to have a little insight into the difference between the rules of English, and effective communication. Some years ago a communications researcher at the University of Colorado, Dr. Sally Planalp, did a study on transitions. She took articles featuring various types of transitional links between paragraphs, broke them up into individual paragraphs, and then scored each transition on how well students could put the paragraphs back in the proper order using transitions as the key.

Most of us are to used to the idea that there are rules in the English language and students get graded on how well they know them. What Planalp did was grade the rules on how well they helped people understand what was going on. When we write in dialect we are breaking the rules. What we need to know is how to break them in such a way that people will still know what is going on.

There are three basic rules that pretty much sum up how we understand what we do understand in our language.

Semantic rules govern the meaning assigned to words. For example in the obtuse example above I substituted “da” for “the.” Semantic rules are arbitrary. There is no reason, for example, why a cat couldn’t have been named a “Meow.”

Syntactic rules govern the way in which sentences are put together in a language. In English we would say “The girl rode the bike.” Other languages have different syntactic rules. A German, would say, for example, “The girl the bike rode.”

The final rule, is Regulative. These govern the meaning of a communication based on the context. For example, the difference in a mother saying, “Johnny!” when her son gets a good report card, and “Johnny!” when the boy has just emptied the entire laundry detergent box into the washer. There is much more to regulative rules. They are the reason that, even though we somethings mispronounce words, or use the wrong words when speaking, our friends still understand us. If you make the context clear your dialect will always be understandable.

Now that you know the rules you can write effective dialect. To write effective dialect, that is dialect your reader will be able to understand, break either the semantic or syntactic rules but never more than one of these rules at any given time.

To prove this, in my fiction writing classes I give students one long paragraph to translate in which I’ve broken only the semantic rules. I’ve included a shorter example below. (It will probably be more fun to try solving this by reading it out loud with a friend.) See if you can figure it out.

Hum pieity Dun pieity at onta wrull. Hum pieity Dun pieity wrad o grit brawl. Sol ta binks borsis wrend sol ta binks ben, wroudn’t but Hum pieity agrather awren.

Similar things have successfully appeared in popular fiction. In Larry Shue’scomic play The Foreigner the main character is presented as someone who does not speak English. When asked to tell a story, he tells Little Red Riding Hood, substituting made up words for the English equivalent. The audience always gets it, the characters on the set think it sounds familiar and the result is hilarious.

Did you solve the example above yet? As in Shue’s play I used regulative trick to help you. In both the story in Shue’s play and the nursery rhyme I used in my example above,the words sound a bit like the original English words. The sound helps, but when understanding comes it is more than just the sound of the words, it is that the syntax is English and words themselves sound familiar. The sound helps remind you of a context that you should remember from your childhood.

Let’s go back to the obtuse example at the beginning of this article. “Da grill da bik rude” hard to understand is that two rules have been broken, syntactic and semantic. You probably guessed by now that this is an attempt at a German accent, saying, “The girl the bike rode.” Two far simpler ways to hint at the German accent and still get the color of the speakers voice across would be:

(1) To use the german syntax with only words that can be found in an English dictionary, “The frÑulein the bike rode.”

(2) Or to use some German, or made up German words but with English syntax. “Da frÑulein rode da bike.” If you use another languages syntactic rules(1) your writing will be far harder for English readers to understand.

If you must break syntactic rules keep your writing to short sentences. The second version(2) gives a sense of a foreign language but is much easier for an English readers to follow, and is the most often recommended way to include dialect in a story.

We’ve talked about semantic and syntactic rules, but not regulative rules. Regulative rules are the most important of all. Regulative rules govern the meaning of what is written in the context of how you tell the story. Regulative rules are so important that, If you make the context clear enough you can go beyond dialect and even write in a foreign language. If you set up the context so well, that when a character speaks in a foreign tongue we know from the context ( that has been given in English ) the basic gist of what the character must say. Randy Wayne White in his Doc Ford mystery series does this exceptionally well in books like North of Havana. However, again, you want to keep the foreign language sections as short as possible.

One thing you should keep in mind when using dialect is that there is a paradox in the “translation” of foreign languages. Look at these examples of translations of Ihara Saikaku’s book The story of Seijuro in Himeji.

Here is a short section of the translation by Wm. Theodore De Bary:

1. Darkness is the time for Love; Love makes night of day In spring the treasure ships lay, with waves their pillows, on a quiet sea before the bustling harbor of Murotsu. . . .

Here is the exact same work translated by Ivan Morris:

1. Love Is Darkness, But in the Land of Love the Darkest Night Is Bright as Noon. The town of Murotsu is a great bustling harbour and here, in the peaceful springtime waves, rest the ships with their heavy cargos of treasure. . . .

I ask my students, how can two men, translating the exact same text come up with such different translations. The paradox is that in languages with far different grammatical rules, words and metaphors, the writer’s tools, may not be directly “translatable” into English and vice versa. Which means you should concentrate on capturing your story and not worry too much about the language. Dialect should be used only to give your writing flavor, like spice in cooking. If you put too much in and try to capture the foreign language itself you’ll ruin your soup.

To used dialect effectively break either syntactic or semantic rules, but break only one of these rules. Then use dialect sparingly, and your fiction will come alive.

David Francis Curran

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Many Thanks, David!

noreen

Friday Feature: Valerie Cooper and Finding Writing Time

I’m more familiar with Valerie Cooper’s poetry, as we’ve both appeared in Delphinium Literary Magazine. So when she contacted me about writing a piece about finding time, I thought she’d have something important to say. We’re both single parents, except mine are now grown, which gives me more time. Hers is still quite young – and as I once did – she searches for little bits of time to write.

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vcooper1As a single parent, writing can be difficult. I’m required to be creative and write around my daughter’s schedule. I find time in the mornings, for twenty or thirty minutes, before I get her up for pre-school. At work, I take five minutes here and there when I can to make notes or outline an idea or twElise Climbing Rocks in Central Park NYCo. I get another hour, if I’m not too tired, after I read her stories and put her to sleep.

I know my friends who don’t have kids have more time than I. But, also, my friends who don’t have kids aren’t as focused as I am on being successful. Children take a lot of your time, much of your energy, but what you receive in return is far more satisfying than much else life has to offer. My daughter inspires me to work harder, to be successful. Before her, I thought, “I’ll get there some day.” But after she was born and I looked into those big, beautiful eyes, it lit a fire under me!

Many writers complain about not enough writing time. Life is busy and messy. We need to work around it. So sometimes I get up early. Other times, I stay up late. I get creative and grab what might be otherwise wasted moments.

vcooper3I write poetry in the park on warm Saturday afternoons while the children are screaming with joy on the climbing gym. I write lyrics in the parking lot, in the chilled air of my car, waiting for pre-school to end. I outline a story over the humid stove, while my daughter waits impatiently at the dining room table, chomping on carrots.

There is time, it just comes in increments, joyfully swinging around everything else in your life. It’s there. You just have to grasp it.

Valerie Cooper

Delphinium

The Kiss

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Thanks, Valerie. Much Luck!

For everyone else, I suggest one of these!

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