On my bookshelf

I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).

bookshelf.pngI began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books

I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.

A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.

I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.

For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.

I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.

 

 

 

 

Not writing scares me….

ghostly.pngWrite what scares you…..

This is a poetry prompt given to me in one of my graduate level classes.

I don’t think it has to be just for poetry.

Experts tell us we should do something that scares us every day. I don’t know. I’ve done quite a lot of things that scare me – crossing the highest bridge in North America, swimming with sharks, – but those are kinds of scary that gives you a rush. Still valid to write about.

But in that assignment and poem, I wrote about a missing girl. Because those are the types of things that do scare me – when children go missing.

I wrote:

Have you seen her pass this way?

Shoe found, white.

Blood on the laces….

 

Write about what scares you….

 

Feel free to share!

 

Old School Inspiration

Yuself Komunyakaa is one of my favorite poets. He writes about love and passion, loss and war – all kinds of war, including the Vietnam war in which he served many years ago. Although he’ll write about, he won’t talk about it.

One of the many mysteries of poets. Sometimes purging our pains in poetry is so much easier than clearing our mind with conversation.

I love reading poetry because it inspires me. Does it inspire you?

 

The Soul’s Soundtrack

When they call him Old School
he clears his throat, squares
his shoulders, & looks straight
into their lit eyes, saying,
“I was born by the damn river
& I’ve been running ever since.”
An echo of Sam Cooke hangs
in bruised air, & for a minute

the silence of fate reigns over
day & night, a tilt of the earth
body & soul caught in a sway
going back to reed & goatskin,

back to trade winds locked
inside an “Amazing Grace”
that will never again sound
the same after Charleston,

South Carolina, & yes, words
follow the river through pine
& oak, muscadine & redbud,
& the extinct Lord God bird
found in an inventory of green
shadows longing for the scent
of woe & beatitude, taking root
in the mossy air of some bayou.

Now Old School can’t stop
going from a sad yes to gold,

into a season’s bloomy creed,
& soon he only hears Martha
& the Vandellas, their dancing
in the streets, through a before
& after. Mississippi John Hurt,
Ma Rainey, Sleepy John Estes,

Son House, Skip James, Joe
Turner, & Sweet Emma,
& he goes till what he feels
wears out his work boots
along the sidewalks, his life
a fist of coins in a coat pocket
to give to the recent homeless
up & down these city blocks.

He knows “We Shall Overcome”

& anthems of the flower children
which came after Sister Rosetta,
Big Mama Thornton, & Bo Diddley.
Now the years add up to a sharp
pain in his left side on Broadway,
but the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
call down an evening mist to soothe.

He believes to harmonize is
to reach, to ascend, to query
ego & hold a note till there’s
only a quiver of blue feather
sat dawn, & a voice goes out
to return as a litany of mock
orange & sweat, as we are sewn
into what we came crying out of,

& when Old School declares,
“You can’t doo-wop a cappella
& let your tongue touch an evil
while fingering a slothful doubt
beside the Church of Coltrane,”
he has traversed the lion’s den
as Eric Dolphy plays a fluted
solo of birds in the pepper trees.

 

Are you a rule follower?

rules.jpgJudy Blume recounts a story in which she took a writing for children class and they set out the rules involved in writing for young children, then she went and broke all of them.

Rules have purpose, have value. They give us the basics.

Hear me out on this – I believe we need to know the rules. We don’t need to necessarily continue to follow the rules.

Picasso followed the rules. But when he was comfortable and confident, he broke them in order to develop his own style.

Every writer should know the rules of writing. Even if they choose not to follow them.

How is a Writer like a Peanut?

How are you like a peanut?

I gave this prompt to my students. Even as I was assigning this prompt, I saw the looks on their faces. They were not the first class to question my sanity; that happens regularly. So, my answer, must be “I’m a little nutty.”

Some of my students came up with amazing responses.

peanut

  • Like a peanut, I have a hard shell. But once I open up, I’m quite pleasant to know.
  • Like a peanut, I’m coming out of my shell.
  • Like a peanut, I’m a little rough around the edges, but smooth on the inside.
  • Like a peanut, I am versatile.
  • Like a peanut in a shell, I am not alone.
  • Like a peanut, I’m caramel colored.

This is challenging and, as writers, we must challenge ourselves. When we challenge ourselves, new parts of us open and allow us to grow and see life from a different point of view.

Choose an item from your refrigerator or snack drawer and compare it to yourself.
(Or choose an item and compare it to your main character.)

If you’d like to share it in our group, please do. peanut2

 

Dare to Suck

indexSteven Tyler of Aerosmith says, “Dare to Suck.”

It seems that he and his band mates have a regular meeting in which they bring the wildest, crappiest, outlandish ideas to toss them around and see if they work.

9 out of 10 of those ideas have to be trashed – but the tenth gets you something like “Dude Walks Like a Lady.”

Why not throw around ideas that seem completely outrageous?!  They can always be strays.jpgcanned later, but in the meantime you have some ideas to play with and you might, well, come up with something good.

I wrote the line, “When I killed my neighbors dog…” My friends said, you can not use that. But I played with it to see where it might take me, and I wrote “Of Strays and Exes” by just playing with this strange line that came to me in a dream.

It was accepted for publication in Pilcrow and Dagger almost immediately and later made into a podcast. You can find it kindle now, or search P&G’s podcasts.

**Disclaimer: No animals were killed or injured in the writing of that story.

 

Use it or Lose it – for writers?

muscle-armWhen we think of “use it or lose it”, many of us think of the physical body. And, I have to admit that I was reading something about the physical aspect of our beings when I thought of applying this to writing.

When I don’t write for a day, a week, or a month, then I start again, it’s difficult and frustrating; the writing comes out scratchy, not making much sense. But, then, as I sit there forcing out the words, pushing the bad stuff out of the way, it might take me another week or month to get it moving again, but it does move and the flow is active once again.

Think of writing as a muscle – it needs regular exercise in order to flow smoothly. keepwir

If muscles aren’t exercised regularly, they lose mass. However, once they begin to work and move again, they regain the mass rather quickly. But the movement must be continual to see progress.

The same goes for writing. We need to write regularly in order to keep the flow of ideas as well as the flow of the story moving and our skills steady. Any disruption over a period of time will make the first times back difficult and challenging.

As always, the advice is – Keep Writing. Your skills will improve with practice and time. Your flow of ideas will improve and grow as long as you keep exercising those creative muscles.

 

Think of it like this:

Actually what the brain is doing is changing its local wiring, changing the details of how the machinery controlling your behavior is connected. It’s also changing itself in other physical, chemical, and functional ways. Collectively, those changes account for the improvement or acquisition of any human ability.