Saturday, April 30, 2016

Superheroes and Imaginary Giraffes

Starting off with two of my recent fantasy/fairytale/science-fiction poems, I'm starting what will be a  great summer run of poem publications. Gingerbread House has just published my poem "Transparency" about a superhero dead-drunk on dilithium crystals and impossible to manage. Sharad Haksar's “Superhero,” that accompanies the poem, is fantastic!

Mockingheart Review, a new publication under the direction of Clare L. Martin, began the sequence with publishing my poems "Giraffes" about a mythical herd that inhabits my livingroom, along with "Pure" and "The Gods Among Us," also mystical/mythically inclined. Thanks to Clare for selecting these poems. They're among my newest poems and currently most favorite -- as the newest always are, often pointing the way to a new direction in writing, which I hope these will for me.

I have more work forthcoming in three more journals over the summer, and one more in the fall. I've been a lucky poet! Because as we poets and writers know, it's 99% luck, but you can't get a seat at the table if you don't first play the game of hard work and insane persistence.

Happy summer writing! 


Friday, April 08, 2016

Novels take an awful lot of time to write

Long absence from blogging because ... a novel, a play, many grant proposals, a poetry manuscript, and I have words coming out of my ears, dangling over my head as I sleep, raining into my bedroom, puffing out of my puppy's nostrils. (Can you see that one? I do!)

Really, novels take too much time to write. I love reading them and writing them. I hope I've learned enough to write faster the next time. I've learned way more than I ever wanted to about story arcs and story structure, including such things as plot points, pinch points, story goals, stakes, consequences, foreshadowing -- and I had little idea when I waded into the book that there was such a science developed around this art form.

Now when I read or watch TV and movies I'm analyzing how they're handling story and character and backstory and setting. It's good to know the rules to break. I so look forward to getting back into poetry, where the rules are more familiar and breakable. I can hear them cracking along the lines where the chips appeared and then the pieces falling on the floor and breaking into smaller pieces. Those rules I know and love. These new ones, I'm tapping with tiny hammers to find the breaking seams.

Recent novels that interested me: Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients, Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans, Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, Christine Potter's Time Runs Away With Her.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Rain Dancing!

RAIN! In honor of El Nino's "moisture plume" that's predicted to sweep into droughty California this weekend and next week, I'm posting a couple of rain dance poems. One was based on an authentic rain dance I was taught in Hawai'i. We hired this teacher and he came with his drum to work work the four of us who were sharing a house on Kaua'i. He played and we danced on the lanai, summoning the gods of rain, and then it rained for three days straight! On and off, though, so our vacation wasn't spoiled. I have ever since been impressed by the idea of rain dancing. Thanks to the editors of Stirring magazine, where "Rain Hula" originally appeared:

Rain Hula at Anini Beach

He arrived on our moldy lanai,
swept-up hair bedecked with a hibiscus.
An indeterminate pronoun
in an orange sarong, he kissed
us damply on both cheeks,
in air, a double cross. Introduced himself
as Pa’ula without looking us in the eyes.
He demonstrated the kahiko, a history in dance
of Hanalei Bay’s fifteen kinds of rain.

Pa’ula’s large, wide feet stamped
down the spade-digging torrents of aka-ula,
and his fingers petal-whisked hanini showers.
Undulant brown biceps rippled up a sea spout
and a chant rose from his proud throat,
a belly-anchored cry to clouds.
But the eyes mourned as he broke
down each leaf-soft move
for our architect and teacher fingers.
He laid mourning words at our white feet
as they tangled on themselves and sweat sprayed.
On the beach, palm fronds thrilled
to his drum, but we woke
only the neighbors with our stamping. 

This one is from my most recent book, Gods of Water and Air (available in ebook or print on Amazon):

Drained

1.
A contrapuntal drumming on skylight and roof,
andante, vivace, allegro ---
a run of notes up and up, rain’s
finger exercises. Mesmeric hour, then bullet-hail.
A thousand knocks on the door. Hello, hello?
He knows I’m trying to get out, but pretends
no one’s home. I’m inside the instrument, hammered
between vibrating strings. All night the poles shift, mayhem gusts.
After that, between us only hard rain for days,
When I roll over to touch, he rolls away. Lightning’s
swift split. Shivering for hours.

2.
Trees bend sideways in the blast, seaweed in currents.
The redwood snipped off by a bolt. The dog under the bed.
The storm door is open, but it’s not the Doors of Paradise,
filigreed with figurines like the doors of the Baptistry in Florence
that day we browsed, careless of our savings. Today we’re baptized
by a deluge, out of cash and luck, and despite umbrellas and cloaks.
We endure cold-lipped neck kisses of rain dripping down our backs
as we trudge to chilly coffeehouses. With Old Testament winds,
January sculpts. When the chisel slips, a car is crushed by a tree.
A house falls into the ocean. A car hydroplanes off a freeway,
Like its occupant, I lie undiscovered for days.

3.
Three weeks of storms, a wet juggernaut from the northwest
met by slushy southerlies. Soil sludge, but gardeners
with jet-packs still blow around the ruins of hedges, mad
as the gods who hurl monsoon rains. Even computers
and weathermen can’t get it right: Thou shalt or shalt not?
I have been undone by the yammering, and lay my neck
on this altar. I ready myself to join the sky,
symphonically rushing down the drains.

4.
Frankenstorm was what they called a computer model
of a hurricane stalled in the middle of the Golden State.
Weeks of wet, many feet of rain, new rivers and lakes
where had been towns, a flood subsiding into giant puddles.
They needed to decide about disaster drills, but canceled the meeting
because of rain. We were haunted by the crackling air
and the sky, like us, refused to relent.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pirene's Fountain - my poems in Vol. 8 Issue 16

I've had poetry in a lot of journals over many years, but I've rarely been so pleased to have work  alongside such a great group of poets and writers. I was talking about publishers and poetry presses with a friend this morning and we agreed that even if it's on a paper bag, it's the quality of work that outlasts any reputation, prominence, or publicity a publisher might be able to boast of or gain. Pirene's Fountain magazine is one publication I cherish. My poems "False Star" and "The Camel's Teeth," both from my WIP Arabesque, appear in this issue. I've had poems in several other issues too, many from this developing collection. I'm so proud that they have found their way to this fine journal, among these fine poems. Celebrating by reading and rereading, such a pleasure! I don't often feel so proud of having work published. The company indeed matters.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Wishing Star

My poem, "My Wishing Star on a Long Ride," which appeared in Eclectica's July/August 2015 issue, will soon appear in one of their four forthcoming 20th anniversary anthologies! It's nice to have a poem make several appearances, and not just one or two. Eclectica is running a Kickstarter campaign to sponsor the anthology, so if you feel inclined to make a contribution, follow the link -- every donation helps!

Here's the poem -- it makes me long for summer. Summer and horses. Stars and long stretches of mountain time and that pure, thin air.

          My Wishing Star on a Long Ride
That last summer we sat
in creaking saddles on day trips
in the High Sierra, inhaling petrichor
and lichened bedrock.
Nudged cattle through tall grass.
I had all I ever wanted, at thirteen:
my own horse and a long August.
Above the cabin, stars buzzing
like mosquitoes. I knew the seasons
to come wouldn't have horses and those stars.
This morning above my town trees gallop
in the wind, flexing thin branches,
gold leaves whipping around
themselves like a horse
that bucks when backing up.
I have hooked my star
to dawn's grapefruit moon.
Boughs creak like saddles
in the wind. My wishing star, gone
on a long ride, vanished in a meteor shower.
The news said a chance of more
showers later. That made me buck
and back up at a sudden call
from lost mountains. At sixty-five,
I spun around, pranced downhill
in a last sweet lope to the valley
of lost things, where a new trail starts
and the underground river cuts
deeper, flashing its dark lights.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

It's Awful Being a Writer, It's Wonderful Being a Writer

To help us all tilt our pens forward and launch them into a vibrant and productive 2016, I thought I'd share some bad news and some good news about writing. First the bad news. Kristen Lamb's blog entry today sums up the bad news about publishing, for the writer. Never mind if book sales are up over Kindle sales, and don't bother with the debate about Amazon vs. Indie bookstores. You're almost never going to make a living as a writer, she tells us -- as do countless other books and articles -- unless perhaps you self-publish and hit the sweet spot of a category or -- rare as a UFO sighting -- general audience. Know your enemy, and your enemy is the overwhelm of books now out for sale online and in stores.

Here's the good news. Writers don't care. Well, I'll qualify that. Most of us don't totally care. Especially poets. We eat poverty for breakfast and wash it down with a large helping of being the most misunderstood and least read of writers. We write because we have to and love to. Readers are a bonus, a necessary one, but if you're stringing words together because you hope to make a fortune, try selling cars instead. Or houses. I write because I can't stop. I haven't stopped since I was eleven. Writing is my form of meditation, being here now, self-discovery, discovery of the world, and -- along with reading -- my greatest pleasure. If I get a readable product out of writing, and if that product somehow sells -- that's gravy. I have a day job. And I don't want my greatest pleasure to turn into a day job.

Other great posts along the lines of good-bad-essential news for writers: Anything by Jane Friedman. Starting with this article on how to self-publish a book. And focus on this sentence: "An author who is primed to succeed at self-publishing has an entrepreneurial spirit and is comfortable being online." She is also a freelance editor.

My big recommendation: read well and hire a book editor. Even if you're putting together a poetry book. Yes, pay for someone to tell you how everything you wrote has to change. I highly recommend The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, without whom my novel-in-progress, The Renaissance Club, would be stuck on the starting square.










Friday, November 13, 2015

Your Protagonist's Mess Area

Unless your main character has OCD, everyone has an area they habitually leave in a mess. Mine is my desk. Really, any surface I can pile books and file folders on. The lie I tell myself is that the stack will catch my attention so I can follow up, but the truth is that every stack starts to looks alike and I dread digging in. My mess shows that I'm a literary, writerly, bookish kind of person, with lots of bills to pay and things half-written.

I know women whose mess area is the closet, not because they don't care but because there's an overwhelm of clothes and accessories in there, and in their case it might be a glorious, visually lively mess. For some, it's the pocket. For others, the purse. I know many kitchen mess cooks, who glory in throwing food and dirty implements around, leaving a kitchen like a tornado had cooked in it after just frying a couple of eggs.

What's your character's mess are? Or stark lack of messes? It will say a lot about him or her if you can describe the mess-making and mess recognition moments.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Your Protagonist's Thought Patterns

Emotion is important in fiction, but thought and will are also a huge component of character and character development. You can identify with a character's thoughts and decisions when she's under stress. One of life's pleasurable but stressful activities is travel. Since my novel's main character is on a three-week, intensive tour of Renaissance Italy, stress is a given. May Gold combats it through her Gratitude Practice.

I gave May this habit of enumerating things she's grateful for to associate her to the San Francisco Bay Area, where mindfulness meditation is popular. I also wanted to show that she's active in battling anxiety. She isn't passive. She uses her Gratitude List to steer her thoughts another way.

Is Gratitude Practice just a Bay Area whiffen-poofy idea? Turns out, it's been scientifically proven to have very powerful effects on mood, as this Business Insider article indicates. The article cites passages from The Upward Spiral, Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, by neuroscientist Alex Korb, PhD. Dr. Korb identifies the different brain processes linked to types of thinking. Gratitude, mindfulness, and decision-making are powerfully positive for our brains -- they even can be "the key to happiness," the article claims.

So I gave May the knowledge and will to fight negative thinking with gratitude. It's a key to her journey. I like characters with strong and articulate inner lives. If I'm let inside a character's most basic processes, I can connect and have a feeling of inevitability as the story plays out. And that keeps me reading!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

I'll reading from my book Gods of Water and Air

Next Sunday, October 11, at 3 pm in picturesque Crockett, California, I'll be a featured reader at the Valona Deli Second Sunday Poetry Series. Coordinator Connie Post kindly invited me. If you're in the SF Bay Area and can make it, it would be wonderful to see you! There's an open mic after the two featured readers, and a terrific jazz ensemble plays at 6 pm after the poetry.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

Why You Need to Read This Now!

A great title gets us reading
with a good title as a good first line. Or maybe just as hard -- first lines also bear the full weight of the reader's entry -- and have at times despaired over that blank space where the title should go.

When I wrote my article The Challenge of the Title, published by Avatar Review, essays on creating titles have proliferated, along with the need for titles because of the Internet. So if you're at the stuck place and need a little help jumpstarting your title search, here are a few interesting essays for writers on titles:

First from the wonderful PubCrawl, a how-to: How to Create a Fantastic Book Title
I specially like the index card exercise!

Thoughtful comments on titling from poet Alberto Rios in "Titling a Poem, Titling Anything."

And if your muse is really exhausted and just wants to take a nap, let the Random Poem Title Generator do the work. Lake Dazzle is my favorite so far. See what you get by simply pressing the button. (I may write a poem for that title.)

The visual? To celebrate once you've created your fantastic title. Cheers!