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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Magical realism - why do we love the magic so much? (+ 3 great books)


Magical Realism Fiction – Why Do We Love the Magic So Much? (Plus Three Great Books)

I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Now there’s a mouth-watering title for a devout reader, a magical sounding name like Penumbra and a reference to books. We just know we’re going to have a great escape reading this book. And I did. I could hardly wait until evening, when I could pick up my device and tap the pages forward, learning about a mysterious underground library and how it might relate to Silicon Valley. I was so enthralled I signed up for SF Bay Area author Sloan’s newsletter. The magic in this magical realism novel was one part conspiracy, one part occult, and one part technology. The perfect elixir for me, also a resident of the Bay Area. FIVE STARS!

But what is it that makes us crave magic in our stories? I think the very telling of a tale implies that the listener will be lifted out of ordinary reality. After all, a novel is a device, a machine made of words in order to evoke feelings and realizations. It’s a crafted object. Real life has its magical moments but they’re usually few and far between, and a novel with magic in it lets us binge on that otherworldly feeling.

Another book that made me binge-read was Aimee Bender’s TheParticular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In that lovely, sad, and affirming story, a young girl can taste the feelings of the person who created the food she eats. This makes life very difficult, as most people have a lot of unpleasant feelings, so she starts not wanting to eat. But of course ultimately this draws her to want to create food herself. FIVE STARS ISN’T ENOUGH FOR THIS FABULOUS PIECE OF LITERATURE!

I find magical realism more compelling that straight-up fantasy. It to do with the fact that real life has its magical dimensions and moments -- moments of inspiration, transporting love, and heightened perception. Magical realism doesn’t put me on another planet the way fantasy does. It keeps me on this one, and despite the chaos and destruction we hear about every day, this form of literature encourages me to believe in those magical dimensions I've experienced as being more important. It urges wonder and allows hope. 

We need wonder and hope right now, more than ever. They’re built into human consciousness, and the headlines, which are the opposite of magical realism, tend to shut them down. So magical realism makes me feel more opened out than reading the news.

Another magical realism book I recently tapped my way quickly through was Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. I have to give it only FOUR STARS. There was something a little too folky, small-town nostalgia about the writing. There wasn’t quite enough realism for me. I often felt I was reading sketches of characters, rather than characters in their depth and reality. Bad things happened to good people, but I remained unconvinced. Still, the magical trope, the special gifts each of the three sisters had, and the prophesying apple tree (nice evocation of the Garden of Eden), hooked me as magical elements that evoked wonder and belief. And yes, hope.

I’m just starting a new one, hopefully. David Pandolfe's Jump When Ready starts with a narrator in the afterlife, much like Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, another good magical realism read. Stay tuned for more micro-reviews of these.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Poem "Cone of Silence" at Blue Heron Review

The writing life is a little like surfing: being tumbled under the tide but also catching some wonderful waves. I've just caught one of those good waves! I'm happy to say my poem "Cone of Silence" is up this month at Blue Heron Review.

This online journal has a mission with a tagline from Hafiz: "An awake heart is like a sky that pours light." I'm thrilled to have my work alongside that of many fine poets, and to have this particular poem appear now. It was an experiment, a different process and outcome than I'm used to in writing poetry. Maybe it's more flash fiction than poem, or prose poem, or mini-essay. I threw off the bit and bridle of line breaks and avoided deliberate rhythms. No rhyme appeared as I drafted.

I was trying to write without thinking of form, only of content: recording an internal experience by way of pure imagery. The silence came as an opening and welcoming: of birds, trees, hills, skateboarders, houses -- whatever I passed. I was in an interesting state and later all I wanted to do was note it down for reflection. Later I put in the line breaks, made difference word choices, added assonance, alliteration, and near-rhyme. I attended to latent rhythms, and after doing all that, I went back to the original and made just a few tweaks. Honoring the spirit of silent acceptance.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Poetry & Prose -- the Twins in My Life


If you have an addiction to writing like I do (and a writer by definition is an addict), perhaps like me you can't contain it within just one literary genre. I began with poetry, getting swept up first in the poems of the haiku poets Basho, Buson, and Issa. Issa (Kobayashi Issa 1763-1828, one of the Big Four of Japanese haiku) charmed me with tiny masterpieces that evoked a stunning attention to the natural world, like this one:


How beautiful!
The Milky Way from a hole
In my sliding rice-paper door

Here's a lovely article on Issa

But it was Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood (beautifully read by Richard Burton in this recording) that put me into orbit -- verse as drama! As enchantment, creating and then playing in a whole world of your imagination. The seaside town of Milkwood that he created reminded me of my childhood San Pedro, port of Los Angeles, with its old world, fishing community.

So poetry and prose intermingled in my developing love of language and literature, and I've had trouble ever since keeping them apart. Memoir, fiction, drama, and verse all call to me at different moments, and I never have less than two projects in different genres going at a time. I want my prose to be poetic and my poetry to be narrative. I love descriptions of landscape in memoirs and fiction.

Dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milkwood. Listen! It is night in the chilled, squat chapel ...

I knew by age twelve that I wanted to create my own Oz, Milkwood, Our Town, windy Japanese hut, and many other places evoked by poets and writers. I'm still working at it, the Italy in my mind being the latest of my locations.

Here's a wonderful video of Robert Hass on Issa and haiku. Enjoy his interview and reading! These seventeen-syllable, three-line poems are minuscule dramas in verse. Just what I continue to reach for in my work -- that surprise and dramatic reach.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

As Yearning Is Red - Visions with Waterbirds

This weekend we drove to Sebastopol, over the top of the San Francisco Bay, through marshlands filled with waterbirds.

I'm lucky to live near a creek where egrets hunt and nest. I take walks alongside this miniature waterway and appreciating the ducks keep an eye out for that white, upright stillness near the shore, often half hidden by tall dry grasses. When I come upon a lesser or greater egret, I stop at the pure white form the way you'd stop if you suddenly came across a living saint in prayer. They have a quality of prayer as they fish.

Once, when I was heading down toward the creek, I came eye level with one in flight. And this poem came in a rush of wings.

As Yearning Is Red - A Poetry Storehouse Reading

This lovely version is read by Marie Craven, who honors my poem and the egret with a lovely, soft voice beautifully precise and accented in a way that endows it with the hush and formal awe I was feeling. The poem is from my newest book Gods of Water and Air, available on Amazon.


Platform, platform -- I thought those shoes went out in the 80s

Author platform: what is it, do I need it for fiction, and other brain-freezing topics. There's so much written about this ugly word (I keep thinking of those awful shoes you can literally fall off and break your ankle), that my research has frozen my mind on the topic.

So here's my hopefully refreshing take on Platform for Novelists. You don't need one. No, you just need to be your most authentic writer-self, and in public, without asking people to do things for you. No sales pitching, no bragging (or only subtle and elegant bragging), and stuff to offer to help and amuse your fellow writers and readers. Assume you have readers and you're all sitting around in one of those gatherings that used to be for workshopping, and how has become the circle of your favorite people to hang with and discuss life and books. Those people are your (platform) audience.

See? It's not hard at all. It's pleasant. It does have to be done regularly, but it can take any form that satisfies you and amuses you. I like coming up with pithy poetic fragments and coupling them with nice photos I've taken, usually of plants and landscapes and yes, my adorable dog. Of course, I refuse to aggressively hawk my books (except once in awhile to offer discounts but mostly through email), but I do like to talk about my three books and my WIP, a novel involving time travel and the great Italian Renaissance/Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini.

And I also like finding and sharing writing resources for my hard-working writer colleagues. That's why you can go to http://racheldacus.net and find under Resources a long listing of literary journals and presses that accept submissions without charging contest fees.

You can scroll down here at Rocket Kids and find links to all sorts of my favorite literary and publishing resources. And here's the soothing picture:




Thursday, July 07, 2016

Publishing a Novel -- Not Quite Torture, but Bearing Some Resemblance

Is she in ecstasy or torture?

 Does she look like she's in ecstasy or torture? She must be a writer of fiction conteomplating current avenues of publication because where there was once a clear path to authorship, fame, and fortune, now ... 100 articles on how to publish OR see a fabulous, must-own publishing guide by The Book Doctors and Jane Friedman's advice on publishing.

So you studied all that, and now you're ready to query, submit, do the waiting, make the changes, query, resubmit, keep an open mind without losing your vision, and ... WOW! You got a nibble, an offer, or even YES! a contract.

It's time to break out the champagne, do the Fred Astaire ceiling dance, throw a party, think up your next creative project, and in general be a happy writer for all of a week. 
Then comes the acceptance

And then reality sets in.

This is not the end of the publishing adventure. Not by a long shot. There's the marketing, the supporting a new book, figuring out the whole social media thing, how to get the word out to your friends and theirs. It's all so confusing, so daunting, and so ... MUCH.

But there are guides to help you along to building audience. Here are some resources for all of that: Book Marketing 101 and Social Media Marketing for Indie Authors. 

And remember, we're in this together. We're writers and readers, and we can do this.

If all that is making your eyes cross and your brain hurt, just stare at this image for 20 seconds, close your eyes, and mediate on #booklaunch #success and remember your writing will find readers. Believe!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What This Writer Does While Waiting

Waiting. Publishing your writing is so full of waiting to hear from an agent or editor that medieval torture begins to seem like a diversion to inflict on yourself while enduring the greater agony. I'm at another waiting stage with my novel-in-progress, The Renaissance Club. I've been working on this for so long that I can't look at it right now without guidance. I need an agent or editor to hold my hand and tell me what I'm reading. I'm waiting to hear from an agent, and the longer I work on this, the slower time seems to go. It's going slower than for this 19th century girl with her print book in hand.

One of the things I'm doing while waiting to hear from the agent is blog. Here, for example, is my Baroque rockstar bad boy hero, Bernini, in his self-portrait. I'd also add an image of Rome as I remember it on my first day when, like May, I couldn't wait to get out into one of the most incredible cities I've ever seen. And here are my first two paragraphs:
 
If she could ask the great Renaissance sculptor Bernini one thing it would be, “If I were a piece of stone, how would you chisel me free?”

But May was a realist. Instead of fantasizing one more time about the subject of her master’s thesis, the way she did in her tiny office at the college, she stuffed a lipstick, blush, and water bottle into her backpack. She twisted the image of Bernini into a mental topknot and scrambled to get out of the hotel room into Rome before Darren emerged from the bathroom.

The other thing I've done while waiting is to plan a new novel (that's a no-brainer -- if you're hooked on writing fiction) and to research publishing and its future. Trying to peer into the crystal ball is something it seems few in the industry really want to do. It's very scary because this is an industry on the brink of The Unknown. A thing far scarier than anything in a Stephen King novel.
If you're curious, here are two great publishing-futurist gurus who are lively, intelligent, and crazily informed:

The Creative Penn - by Joanna Penn
Thad McIlroy's very geeky (and therefor fascinating) The Future of Publishing.

WARNING! If you are device-averse and print-dependent, do NOT peruse these. They will make you uts. But I'm the daughter of a rocket engineer and I do love my technology, so I find this endlessly fascinating.

Stay tuned for the future of The Renaissance Club. What will happen when May stops being a realist and encounters her adored genius?



Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Strong Female Characters and America's First Woman Nominated for President

It's official. History made. Glass ceiling -- well, not if shattered, a network of cracks so numerous and widespread you know whose head is going through it soon. America may well have -- at last -- our first female president. So how has literature responded to the new world that presidential campaigns seem to indicate is approaching, a world of equality for women?

Last year, complex and unlikeable but interesting female characters led the NYT bestsellers list, that's how. And you see it everywhere, even in the world of romance novels. Complicated women are interesting. People want to read about them. Some of us want to write about them. Check out this Atlantic article about 2015's leading, complicated literary ladies. The sentence I like best is this:

"Perhaps most refreshingly, these novels aren’t so much heralding a new age of female-centric literature as they’re building on a much older English-language tradition of works about complex women." It made me remember how much I love Austen's heroines, and the reasons I do like them, despite the sappy-happy endings. I recalled how enthralled I was with Middlemarch, arguably the best novel in English, at least so acclaimed during the 20th century.

And now we'll get to watch a complicated, imperfect, strong, intelligent woman lead the headlines for months and months. It will be interesting reading.

By the way, The Renaissance Club, my work-in-progress, features a young woman art historian learning to be one of these strong characters who leads, not follows, in her life. Stay tuned for news about the book.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

First drafts - just get the words out

I post this advice from author Neil Gaiman with some trepidation, having just spent a solid twelve months fixing words that were relatively easy to draft. But it's true, if you let your inner critic sit in your lap while you type, you're going to get your hands and words bitten all over until there are almost no words left and no hands willing to make them appear.

So in the words of Anne Lamott, "Shitty first drafts". Just write them. Apologize to yourself over a glass of wine. And then write more. And later, much later, when the keyboard is a distant memory and your words read like someone else's shitty first draft, fix them up pretty and apply all sorts of costuming and lighting effects, hang the stage with nice heavy velvet curtains and gold braid, and bring in every theatrical trick you have. Just don't start with the stage machinery. Start with first pristine words and later clean off their faces and begin the hard work. Here's some encouragement:

20-essential-tips-on-rewriting-your-story-until-it-shines
Jane Friedman on how revising rewards mistakes

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Writing It Short, Fat, and Lean

"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." – Henry David Thoreau.

When I #amwriting either prose or poetry, I first write long and thin. By that I mean a lot of words to say not as much as I will wind up with, compressed. Having just finished what I hope is the final revision of a 400-page novel, I know the meaning of short and long, thin and fat. I started with what I've come to view as a 300-page outline of my novel. Twelve months later, working with an amazing set of editors, I've fleshed out the action and compressed the verbage until at 416 pages, I have more scenes, less dialogue, more description, less flounder, and much deeper characters.

It's amazing what taking out leaves room to put in. If you're writing an #novel or a #shortstory, try drafting longer and longer and then get out the shears and the dictionary of muscular verbs. (I just made that up, but wouldn't it be nice to have one?)

If you're writing #poetry, take out the connective tissue until you reach "terse" and then begin adding adverbs and adjectives. That's right, I'm recommending to add modifiers. They're a bridge. You're going to cut them, but for now see them and consider if you've picked the right verb. Verbs are everything. Nouns are a little something. All other parts of speech incline away from making an impact, so are best used sparingly.

Anyway, that's my #recipeforwriting.

What's with all the #hashtags? I'm learning. Shortly after I publish this post, I will remove 50% of them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Publishing a Memoir -- Strategies & Tricks of Memory

They're like fallen leaves, memories. They arrange themselves in nature's beautiful random order beyond our ability to perceive, like weather, like a life until you're looking back on it and suddenly see an organizational purpose. And are amazed into writing about it.

The thing is, who else wants to see it? Why is that mysterious, suddenly perceived arrangement important to anyone but you? That's the question a memoir essay or book must answer. Answering it doesn't guarantee publishability, but it does put you in the running.

So I wrote a memoir book: Rocket Lessons. So I got an agent who sent it around to all the big NY publishers. So it didn't get picked up. So she said, "Put it in the trunk and make it your second book." So I wrote another book -- not a memoir, this time fiction, though it's arguable that any memoir is  fiction -- and it found an agent. Rinse, hopefully not repeat.

Thing is, I don't want to make my memoir my second book after all. I don't want to revisit it because -- drumroll for things I should have known before I started writing a book -- publishing a memoir is incredibly hard. Enter self-publishing and/or small press publishing. Which is almost the same thing, only with someone else's name on the cover page as a kind of bonafide.

Publishing a memoir is hard, but all the big publishers have had a hit-out-of-the-park with one. The Angela's Ashes, Glass Castle kind of hit. Will your memoir be "outta here!" famous? Without any idea of how such phenomena occur, I do know that you can build an author platform for your memoir by publishing excerpted essays and blogging, publishing related pieces of fiction and poetry, and by getting yourself interviewed on topics related to your memoir and life experience contained in it. Those all help persuade an agent and publisher to go with your arrangement of the fallen leaves, that there's something universal enough in it -- as in some way every story is a story we all can relate to -- enough to publish.

Some useful links about publishing memoirs:
Jane Friedman on truth in memoirs
What do top agents want in a memoir?



Saturday, May 21, 2016

A new sculpture by Baroque genius Bernini

It's almost like time travel exists! As it does in my new WIP, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB. We now have a new masterpiece by the inventor of the Baroque, seventeenth century artist Gianlorenzo Bernini (and one of my novel's main characters).

According to the New York Times' article, the Getty Museum just came upon one of the rarest of finds, a new work by Bernini, one that was thought long ago lost.

The minute you look at it, it's clear it's an authentic Bernini. And the provenance makes that positive. What I love is that it's an early Bernini, the beginning of his ground breaking work in portraiture. This avenue of his sculpting, marble portrait busts and the way he made them seem to live and breathe, figures as part of the plot of my yet-to-be published novel The Renaissance Club that has Bernini as a main character.

I just hope the Getty keeps digging. Who knows what is down there, in that bottomless basement of art they must have, given their incredible amount of funding. Bernini lives! And apparently, is still working, folding time to suit himself, so he can surprise us with new work.

UPDATE: THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, a magic realism novel of love, art, creativity, and time, is moving toward making an appearance and being available to you. Email me at rachel@dacushome.com and I'll put you on the update list.



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Write another novel? At your peril

Clearly writing this novel, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, has wiped the floor with me. I haven't worked on my new poetry manuscript, thoughtfully blogged, wittily tweeted, or amusingly updated in ... let's just say furlongs of seasons. I'm trying to pick myself up off the floor of a rigid and focused writing routine that produced a 416-page, carefully revised manuscript over a period of years. I'm trying to remember the carefree writer who could take a whole morning to envisage the newest incarnation of a poem or muse on growing up seaside in southern California -- a blog just for the fun of it.

Instead, I have become this driven person chained to a book. Don't get me wrong, I love my book and miss working on it, as I now have turned it over to A Higher Power (by that I mean the publishing professionals). I find everything in my writing trunk half-done, partly forgotten, a bedraggled muse adjusting her crown of brambles and berries and wildflowers as she climbs out of the box glaring at me.

But I did review a book -- stay tuned for a link when it goes live -- and I've read a few. You could say I'm resting in the steam and settle after the train has arrived at a station. Glad to still have my fingers on a keyboard, making some kind of word music. And to have written this today.

Don't you feel like writers should get an all-expenses-paid summer by the sea, every summer? Yeah. This sea. Mediterranean. Portovenere, where I might partially set my next story.


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!