Writer Wednesday: Writer and Writing is a Relationship

heartI know people say writing is a commitment, but it’s more than that. Writing isn’t “like” a relationship, it IS a relationship. A writer must be involved with the whole process of writing, must love it, need it, want to continue to work to make it better. It takes commitment, time, dedication, and the desire to move forward in life with writing.

A few years ago, I was at a conference where the main speaker (don’t remember his relat 1name) said, “You have to be selfish. You must take the time for yourself, for your writing.” He went on to say he spent every Friday at a hotel with his writing. (are you picturing him checking into a seedy, no-tell motel with an old typewriter?;-)

My friend joked, “Noreen does this thing where she actually spends time writing.” My regular action became fodder for humor because he is a writer, but he falls under the category of non-writing writers like many others.

Life happens. We have families, pets, jobs, homes, tons of responsibilities. But notice that list – I put family first. People we love comes first. This is why a writer might consider writing as a relationship – so they give it priority.

I schedule things around my writing whenever possible. I will make doctor appointments, meetings, and everything I have power to plan secondary to my writing by scheduling them before or after my planned writing time.

Once a person considers themselves in a relationship with their writing, they may relat 3naturally form relationship goals! If writing were a romantic relationship, how would you handle it differently? Would you want to go to sleep with it or wake up with it or both? What would you want to give it? Would you spend more time with it, going over the details, working it out so it was just perfect, going over it and over it again to work it out nice and smooth? What do you do for your significant other? Take it out to dinner? On vacation?

Writing, like a lover, needs constant attention and nourishment. Placing it on the back burner means we may never get to it. It’ll be there, but not as warm and flush as we’d like. Being in a relationship with writing means the needs of both are fulfilled. Writing is fresh and flowing and continually improved and the writer is happier, more productive.

We do this because we love it, we are driven to do it. Treat writing like it’s important to you.

Think of writing before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night just to say one more thing.

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West End – the opening chapter

Hi, All.  I was feeling West End today. I wanted to share a little portion, but couldn’t decide, so I give you all the opening selection for West End.  Enjoy.

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BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

When the female squirrel stopped coming, my mother worried, but the baby squirrels continued to visit. Then, the cubs must have grown, left the nest, because one by one they disappeared until only a single squirrel came to the daily meeting.

That winter, mother’s heart sucked itself dry. Familiar faces appeared, distant relatives, long-ago friends, who talked our concerns away with assurances for tomorrow and beyond.

“Little honeys, it will be okay.”

“I brought the eggplant casserole, green dish.”

“She was a wonderful woman.”

“Call if you need anything.”

Sarah and I stood at the door where someone’s aunt told us to stand. We pointed people who carried in food to the kitchen, guided people with flowers to the dining room, pointed the rest to Daddy who sat on the couch, gaze glued to the floor. We didn’t have to say anything, and no one asked.

The familiar strangers came and went and with them, our mother, our hopeless youth, our language.

The house became quiet. I couldn’t remember the last complete sentence I spoke or heard, couldn’t remember the last partial sentence I’d said to my father or he to me. My sister and I exchanged words, hushed, sometimes soundless breaths only we knew the meanings for. We lived our lives in half-words, pale sounds that sunk into the silence, in ideas of what we had to do next: breakfast, school, homework, laundry, dinner, dishes, bed. This soundless process became our lives; a strange off-balance way to live, but we did it for some months content not to break that pattern.

One cold February morning, a descending snowstorm blocked the roads, locked us indoors, kept us from going to school, our father from his work. Our first full day alone together in the house. Sarah and I sat at the painted brown kitchen nook picking at our cold Raisin Bran; the milk just tangy enough for us to question the freshness. A tapping noise brought our eyes to each other’s. Then silence.

“Wind.” Sarah exhaled with barely enough voice to make a sound much beyond the breath itself.

“Yeah.” My voice not much stronger. We returned to the cereal.

Tap…Tap…Tap…

Her gaze followed the floor to the sink, the counter, the back door.

“The door?”

I shook my head. “Nah.” Not today, at mid-day, in this storm. “Wind.”

I slipped from the nook; she followed. We stood, somewhat unnerved when the tapping came again. We could see through the glass in the door; no one stood there. I moved to the windows to get another view of the patio, leaned over, heard shuffling, then rattling against the window. We jumped. A squirrel clattered against the window, caused us both a momentary and laughable fright. Sarah touched my arm. We each took a deep breath. Our first that winter. The squirrel, the female or one of the children, we didn’t know and could never tell anyway, gave us a quizzical look, stretched up against the window; her little paws stretched against the glass. Tears welled. Quiet, unmoving, we held our breath, each other, tried not to let out the flow of emotions the winter built up.

Father’s footsteps, heavy on the linoleum, came toward us. We straightened.

“What’s going–”

“Shhh,” we both hushed him; his rough, dry voice might drive the squirrel away.

“It’s the squirrel,” Sarah said.

He looked puzzled.

She motioned toward the window. “The squirrels Mom used to feed. She used to give them nuts.”

“Well, give it some.” He waved his hands at us.

“Where are they?” Sarah pulled open random cabinet doors.

“I don’t know.” I opened the opposite cabinet doors.

“Well, look, look. They have to be here.” Father took to the drawers.

The three of us searched for a bag of peanuts Mother bought for the squirrels, hid from us to deter our snacking.

“He must be hungry.” Father gazed out the window at the back yard covered in snow. The porch railings, the powerlines, all draped in sheets of white; the squirrel, nervous, waited at the end of the banister. “Peanut butter. Get the peanut butter.”

“Will he eat that?” Sarah reached for the jar.

“Certainly,” Father assured us. “It’s peanuts, isn’t it?”

I grabbed for the bread.

“Just spread it on,” he said, more animated than I’d ever seen him.

We did.

“Wait, he can’t eat it like that Break it up.” He put his hands in the mess with ours.

Of course, we knew, but at the moment, that strange, unsettling, yet somehow comforting moment, we all needed to take part.

Sarah set the plate on the patio just outside the backdoor. The squirrel chattered, juddered its head from her to the door, the windows, its tail jerking back and forth as if with nervous jitters, then approached the plate, took a piece, and skittered back to the railing to eat it.

Dad ordered us away from the window. The little squirrel tittered, danced delicately, tail flitting, to take more food. We backed out of the kitchen.

Something shifted inside the house. The rooms warmed. The silence faded. The house took on old noises; the refrigerator hummed; the kitchen light buzzed; switches flicked with their old sticky clicks.

Our voices returned. We spoke more than mere sounds. We’d broached full sentences. But I don’t know if we ever surpassed that. We’d never been a family of paragraphs or stories. Laughter rarely rose to the ceiling. Now, with one of the speakers forever hushed, we were destined to be something less than complete.

Winter dissolved into spring; the strawberries mother planted last summer grew green, red, wild. We left nuts out all the time. Sometimes squirrels ate them; sometimes they’d sit until the birds got them or the ants swarmed them.

Sunrise reopened in summer, but never again did we hear our names called from the front patio as we walked up the street, never again did the light intonation of words follow us through the night, “not too late,” never again, upon our return, would we be met with a drunk asleep on the table with just enough consciousness to whisper “too late” when we passed through the kitchen to go to bed.

 

*West End is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible.

The Evolution of Writing Style

A prompt in a writing group to think about style inspired me to consider the evolution of my own writing style.

Writing evolves, grows, hopefully gets better, with all we learn and experience in life.  But style is something a little different. Style, sometimes, doesn’t change. Or, I should argue, doesn’t change that much. Maybe, it’s the small changes that only a critical reader might notice.

Last year, when I published Here in the Silence, I felt the stories earned that title. All the protagonists were struggling with finding their own voice. They felt silent or silenced, either from their own lack or from those around them.

This year, with Namas-Cray, my characters are different. Some are still struggling with being heard, (Of Strays and Exes), while some believe they are completely aware of who they are and what they want (A Perfect Day). There’s darkness, but there’s a dark ironic humor that embeds itself in their thoughts and actions: “Of Strays” begins with “When I killed my neighbors dog….” and in “A Perfect Day” a woman’s suicide is interrupted by an armed burglary.

What’s different between these two years of writing is the ironic humor. And, I’ve noticed that’s worked it’s way into most of my writing, including my poetry, “The Fly” features a fly who has “24 rose colored hours” of life, both celebrating and loathing those hours.

I’ve always handled my own life’s struggles with humor. When my daughter was a teenager, she looked at me and said, “Is everything funny to you?” Anyone who has a teenager knows – it’s got to be funny or you’ll lose your freaking mind. Therefore, to answer her question, I gave her a long, slow nod (gritting my teeth).

Does that mean my writing style will make you laugh at the dead dog or at the woman’s suicide attempt?  Absolutely not!  That’s where the irony comes in. It’s subtle and sardonic. The protagonist in “Of Strays,” offers to pay for the dog.  She doesn’t quite get the loss. But the protagonist grows to understand. And, in “A Perfect Day,” suicide is never a humorous topic, but our very serious plans being interrupted by life is something everyone can relate to. Her day is no longer so perfect when an armed robber says, “your money or your life.” And his plan, certainly, is not going as well either. Irony!

One of my students believes that “humor” should never be used in conjunction with a serious topic. In many cases, this is true. But we have to look at the irony surrounding the fiction that is how we learn and grow; introducing a topic with subtly allows the readers a way in to understand the situation, relate, empathize. The same is true of our lives. If you slam someone with truth, they are likely to back off and not engage. We introduce ourselves first, our struggles, along with the irony of moving on in our lives.

Let’s take a look at my life – what has happened in my life that might have made me feel more sardonic.  I teach a report writing class, which I run like a lesson in professionalism. How you present yourself as well as your writing says a lot about the person you are.  And then comes this Presidential campaign. How do I tell my 18-22 year old students to act like a professional when #45 acts like a spoiled child who’s had too much sugar?

Irony much?  This year, I was offered an African American Literature course. How do I stand in front of 36 students of diverse backgrounds as a white woman lecturing them on African American Lit?  Humor. Confront the irony. I asked them on the first day of class, “Does anyone want to know why a white girl is teaching an African American Lit Course?”

(According to the students, btw, I did a great job. Let me say, that I absolutely loved it! We built some iron bridges of communication in that class that I hope the students take out into the world with them. I took the course for a number of reasons, one of them was the above #45. But that’s a whole other story – We’re focusing on irony, life, writing style).

I do believe life affects writing style. Everything we learn, do, experience, and want should affect our writing style. We should grow and evolve as humans and as writers.

I was stuck once on a story. I’d been working with it, not quite able to get it to that sweet spot, when I decided on a vacay to New Orleans. I’m not much of a drinker, so it’s not the absinthe smoothies on Bourbon Street that inspired the trip, so much as the fanfare, the history, and the culture. I might have thought about the story while I was there; I don’t really remember. But, upon my return, the answer materialized. The story became what it needed to be. (It’s under consideration for an award as I write this).

That trip has stayed with me, as well as my other travels, other experiences: the homeless man at Starbucks focusing with intensity on a spiral bound notebook as if he was finishing his own novel – “$1.00 Stories” – the psychic who told me my illusion bubbles had burst “How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party” and so on. We must let life affect us, work its way into us, our style must evolve, or we stay stuck in life and in art.

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I’m interested in hearing thoughts on this.  Do agree? Disagree? Has your style changed? How or why?

Random facts stalkers don’t know…

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I grew up in a tough neighborhood. (don’t stereotype me)

I was in a band. (for about 5 minutes)

I was in a few movies. (another 5 minutes)

I wrote my first “novel”at the age of 11. (an angst ridden piece about a girl who is kidnapped because she witnessed a crime)

I was actually kidnapped. (not at 11/that story is waiting for publication)

I always have wanted to own a Munster-like house.

I’ve gotten lost in every major city I’ve ever been (including abroad. Trust me when I say every country/every city has neighborhoods you don’t want to be lost in at dusk)

I keep a lot of random facts as well as insignificant details in my brain. (jokes don’t stick tho)

now the stalkers know – don’t be a stalker….

When your back’s against the wall…

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Writing Wishes and Publication Dreams

I’ve been working on a new story – not only working – OBSESSED!  I don’t think I left the house for most of January and part of February until the first draft was done. I’m currently working through it again and again.  I’ve begun to gather my beta readers, and I’m quite excited.

Weekly, I spend time submitting. This is what a working writer does. Writes and submits. Rejections are no fun, and I get plenty of them. I read one statistic that read, “a writer gets an average of 26 rejections for every acceptance.” Not sure how they came up with that… I feel like it’s three times that much; however, things change!

Malcolm Gladwell, estimates it takes 10,000 hours to master any one thing. I feel like I should have reached those hours long ago; but, maybe, it takes some of us a little longer to get it. (That’s the story of my life!)

So – I have to update you.

My poem, “All At Once”, was a finalist in Medusa’s Laugh NanoText Contest. I didn’t win, but it’s still to be published in their anthology and in an e-book version. This should be available soon!

My poem, “I’ve Never Looked So Beautiful” has just been accepted by Mother’s Always Write. Before you start thinking I’m quite full of myself – the poem is about my lovely daughter! This should be available in the next month.

My story, “How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party” has been accepted by The Oleander Review. Sometimes, I write something and I think, this is pretty damn good, and I think this story says a lot about our humanity. I’m so happy that it will be published. It will be available mid-April

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, Writer Advice has just notified me that my story, “Memorial Day Death Watch”, has been chosen as a finalist in their Flash Memoir Contest!

We must have a purpose – I’ve always wanted to reach people, tell them they’re not alone. I think I’m just beginning to do that.

Live an Inspired Life!

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A Nerd-cation (or a Poe-cation)

A nerdcation, if not obvious, is a trip that some people might consider pedestrian, strange, boring. I took such a trip this winter, and I found the trip quite the opposite.  Perhaps, it’s because the recipe that is me includes one-part nerd.

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Anyone who knows me, understands I’m a Poe – addict. January 19th 1809 is Poe’s date of birth, making this past Monday the 206th anniversary of his birth; hence, his birthday. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virgina, planned a celebration. I decided, almost last minute, to fly cross country to the chilled Eastern U.S. to do my very own Poe Tour.

His mothers are buried there (there were two), his first true love’s house (he was 14, she was his friend’s mother) is a landmark, his first and last fiance (Elmira), the places he grew up, schooled, played, worked, proposed. I marked all of the locations and addresses, a walk in a dead writer’s footsteps that would culminate with the day long event at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, which promised to include readings, discussions, and cake.

If some of you find this boring, you’ll find what follows probably even more banal. Unless, you’re a visual person and browse the photos

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My first stop was E.A. Poe’s birth mother. Her body lies somewhere on the grounds of St. John’s Church. St. John’s is famous for Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech. I’m told Henry is buried there, as well as numerous other revolutionaries.

Poe’s Father, David Jr, purportedly said, the day that ruined my life was the day my son was born. He never wanted to be a father. After Edgar’s sister, Rosalie, was born, David Poe disappeared. His parents, Elizabeth Arnold and David, were actors. By the time Edgar was two, his mother perished.

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Because her profession was considered a mere step above prostitution and no respectable person would agree to be buried near an actress, she was laid in the ground without a headstone or location notation. It seems three different organizations pulled together, built and placed a marker to honor Poe’s mother.

The day I arrived, the sun shined, melting the ice from the streets. The lovely magnolia tree nearby the grave dropped melting ice, giving me my own personal rainstorm.

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I meandered around the cemetery. Remembering, honoring the dead.

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Across the street from the Church is Elmira Royster’s home – or what was once her home.

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She was Poe’s first fiance, her father disapproved of Poe, so they met secretly at the gardens (which is now the Lindon Row Inn – where I fortuitously reserved a room. My room overlooked the back garden patio where Poe is supposed to have taken Elmira’s hand and asked her to marry him, to wait for him until he returned from college).

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Poe’s letters never reached Elmira (thanks to her father); she thought she’d been abandoned and entered the marriage arranged/approved by her father.

Many years later, after she’d been widowed, her maid involved herself in an argument at the front door, refusing entry to the tall, dark, caped stranger at the front door who insisted he be allowed to see Ms. Elmira on this Sunday morning. The lady of the house admitted him, listened to his argument. Anyone who’s seen someone they once loved knows what she was feeling, understands those “no, I shouldn’t, yes, I want to,” back and forth feelings she may have been experiencing as she told him, “I have church this morning, you may return another time.” No doubt she watched him go through the window slats and hoped he’d return. His cape blew back in the wind as he walked determinedly away, formulating a plan, even then, to win back his first love.

Poe did reappear, and too soon asked for her hand in marriage. She was one of the last people to see him before he left Richmond….   She was, officially, Poe’s first and last fiance.

Poe’s first true soul love (his words) was his friend’s mother; she supported his writing whereas his adoptive father did not. Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard’s house is not far from either the church or Elmira’s house.

20150116_113611_Richtone(HDR)_resized_1Coming home with his friend on an average school day, he met the lovely Mrs. Stanard. Maybe they said just a few words, but Poe was smitten and returned again and again. They talked of poetry. It was a gentile relationship, an appropriate one, even if possibly it made his friend uncomfortable.  (She died when Poe was 15).

It’s known as the Craig House, is privately owned and boasts the original structure, although it has been restored. The house stands as the second oldest structure in Virginia.

Poe was never officially adopted, but the Allan’s are referred to as his adoptive parents.  Edgar’s middle name Allan comes from their family. His adoptive mother, Francis Allen was a great love of Poe’s.  She passed in 1929. His adoptive father doesn’t come across as a nice man. He didn’t appreciate Poe’s writings, his mannerisms, reminded him often that Edgar lived off his charity. There’s some evidence that Allan cheated on his wife, he had illegitimate children with another woman (even left them $ in his will). Poe didn’t seem to respect the man, and I believe that is part of the reason why. There are some allegations that Poe involved himself with married women and single women as well; however, when he married Virginia, and loved a woman, he seemed to be wholly involved and didn’t consider turning to another.

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Mrs. Stanard’s headstone is closer to downtown. The cemetery is larger with long, winding, dirt roads, which supposedly are labeled A, B, C. Navigating it curiously, I found, by luck the intersection.

I must admit that in some strange way, I didn’t care to see Mr. Allan’s grave; however, his family plots were close to his the Stanards. I walked the ten feet from Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard grave to the Allan’s. It further made me dislike this ghost of a man whom I could never know. Crazy, I know.

Allan married and had more children after Francis’ death. His marker is large, looming over Francis’ marker, his second wife’s marker is larger than his first wife’s. I’m not certain why that annoyed me so much, but it did.  How could his first wife merit a headstone half the size of his second wife’s?  Seems somehow – assholish.

20150115_124956_resizedSadly, I couldn’t find Elmira’s plot.

The weather was getting the best of me. I’m a thin blooded creature, the eastern sun moved fast toward the west, the sky grew gray, and the sketchy neighborhood where the cemetery lies isn’t a place a woman should challenge her fears.

I searched for at a more modern venue for refreshment. Not knowing the area, unable to locate a Starbucks via my gps, I parked in the city center and opted for a 7/11 coffee.

A block to the north, much to my surprise, laid Capital Park. With another hour on my city meter, I walked up, coffee in hand, to see if I could locate the Edgar Allan Poe Statue. Although I was lead to believe the statue was difficult to find, hidden in some far off corner, I found it quite easily.

20150115_135858_resizedIt’s small, not indicative of his metaphorical presence in the city or in literature. However, designed in the 50’s, perhaps it’s the best that there was at the time.

I’m searching for Poe. I’m searching for connection. To pick up the remains of the past, make certain it’s real.  Fortunately, the Edgar Allen Poe Society has done much more than I.

The house Poe grew up in is long gone to a history we can only read about: wars, fire, reconstruction. The Poe Society has marked the building. The building is currently condemned.

20150116_103146_resized_1With that  color blue, I can see why 😉

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A few weeks after Poe’s mother passed, the show went on without her. A new stage play drew in the city’s patrons which filled the seats. It grew quite warm inside. The actors took note, the patrons noticed. They turned to one another, “it’s quite warm in here tonight.”  The play was exquisite. The lighting extreme, as if a real fire burned in the background. When a single actor yelled “Fire!” The audience laughed, applauded.  When more actors screamed, “Fire!”  The theater goers turned to one another, nodded, “quite realistic.”

Until some astute actors and patrons made for the door, then others realized that, indeed, this was not part of the play. By then, the theater was already engulfed. Both, actors and wealthy patrons, died together. They are sealed in the same crypt under the new church built over them. Monument Churchl. Poe’s adoptive family, the Allans, worshiped there.

How might it have been for the young Poe to have his mother’s friends, his adoptive parents’ friends under his feet as he sang hymns?

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Next Stop – Poe Museum.   They programmed a 206th Birthday Celebratioon – a day long event of readings, museum tours, music, walking tours (Poe – related spots), CAKE! and a champagne toast at midnight.

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The small building on main street is easy to pass without notice, but it is the oldest residence in Virginia, built in the 1700’s. The residence became the Poe Museum in 1922 (I believe).

The museum is made up of four small buildings and an enchanted garden. The pergola in the back of the garden which houses Poe’s bust was built from the bricks from the Southern Literary Messenger where Poe once worked.

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Friday, the museum was completely empty except for the curator, the director, and those who were setting up for the celebration. I had the museum to myself, completely alone with Poe.

It featured many of his personal items, a bed, vest, cane, etc, among other artifacts. It boasted portraits of the period as well as modern work.  I’ll let you check out this pics on the museum website (although their pictures are not current) as I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures. 😉

Music. Tours. Art. Poe Lovers. It was a lovely day, a soul enriching day, (even if it was too chilly for my California tolerance).

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There’s little in this post that you won’t find elsewhere – as far as information about Poe and his family. The pictures are mine. (please give credit if you copy them).

Why does someone leave the warm sunshine of a winter in southern California to go to the too cold city of Richmond, Virginia in January?  And why?

It’s history. It’s literature. It’s a passion of mine to know more, see, touch, be in the presence of. I am filled up, revitalized. I learned more, enjoyed discovering my penchant for boutique hotels led me to the grounds of the garden where Poe once stood declaring his love for his first sweet heart. I stood where he once stood, walked a path he may have walked (yes, with thousands, possibly millions of others. but that’s okay with me).

Sometimes, one must get out of their own head, get out of their comfort zone, do something new, something questionable, something that will add to their life experience.

I’ve swam with sharks, now I’ve walked with the dead in a city rich with literary history, with American history.

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If you’ve read this far – THANKS!