Tag Archives: Writing

The World Wrote Me a Poem Today

The world wrote me a poem today.
It spelled it out in leaves.
I’ll try to tell you what it said,
But sometimes words fail me.

fall-flowers

All things change, child.

Someday will bring rebirth.

The newly-minted leaves of spring burst forth—

Escaping winter’s grip.

The ice that seems forever set, cracks,

Creating meltwaters in frozen spirits.

And growing things will make the dried ground a newly-turned earth again.

But today is a different celebration.

Today we bid farewell to a season that refuses to go out.

The November sun yet burns—

a fiery match against unprotected skin—

Warding off winter’s dark heart.

*

As I walk, I listen. With my heart, I hear.
The world speaks in technicolor and surround-sound splendor.
Maple, Bay, and Beech leaves waver from green to gold to bronze—
laughing, courting the heat curling up from warm grasses.
And though they are crunching nuisances to chase with a rake,
The scraping, dragging, bagging annoyances adults curse,
Also make a playground for children to romp through with rubber-soled glee.
the-informant
The tree at the corner whispers revelations—it is my informant.
Its leaves with their crinkle-cut, potato chip edges, blacken, yet stubbornly cling to gnarled branches.
It’s crooked trunk in naked winter, points out mistakes in a grey sky with crooked-fingered impatience.
Yes, a bleak season is coming.
But for now, a sinuous black cat laps at a pool in the inky tarmac.
It darts a reproachful look before—poof—it dashes into shadows and is gone.
A current whisks red-brown-yellow paintbrush splashes in vortexes along the sidewalk.
And squirrels have no time to pander for gawking admiration.
The world speaks through wind chimes…
And invisible gusts…
And silence.
 The pathway is now a variegated landscape
Where up is down
And only in snow globes
Can worlds come apart and reform
In such a whirlwind, patchwork topography.
I am dizzy. Overcome by verse parsed in semaphore signals
Through sunlit trees the Earth speaks.

*

“The fallow season is upon us and yet the roses cling, sharp-thorned objections to change.
Milkweeds tuck their mouse ears up and listen to fall’s farewell.
Podsopen mouthedspitting seeds.
Silken tufts will find their way to window boxes
Where dead chrysanthemums mourn with heavy heads.
The time for spring will come, child, the time to rise will come.
But, for now, it is time to sleep.”

*

The world wrote me a poem today.
It spelled it out in leaves.
I’ll try to tell you what it said,
But sometimes the world fails me.

 

The Diarrhea Diaries

*Warning, graphic and disgusting content follows.*

 

Dear Diarrhea:

You are ruining everything! I was supposed to be having fun, staying up late, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo.  Instead, I’m seeing how fast I can go through a mega pack of toilet paper and finding out exactly how dehydrated one has to get before you have nothing left to give.

I hope you are happy.*

Sure! You let me have a Halloween party, but then you show up and knock me on my ass!

For days I was too tired to even whine. Did you read that? TOO TIRED TO WHINE!*

I threw away CUPCAKES because of you. I, who may or may not have eaten cake which had been left out for days in my past, threw away perfectly good—well, let’s be honest, my kid ate all the candy pumpkins off the top and it looked like tiny orange homicides occurred in the remaining frosting—cupcakes. They were tossed–much like cookies.*

I have only managed to eat the Jello brains leftover from the party and chicken soup. Four days of chicken soup. Bkwawk. I suspect I have started to cluck.*

My son has run amok in my absence. I actually had to chase him once when he escaped the house. You of course followed me and made my life hell.

You can imagine that phone call to the police department:

Dispatcher: “9.1.1, what is your emergency?”

Me: “My son has eaten a truckload of candy and is running amok. He’s dressed as Robin Hood and breaking into people’s homes. I’m in danger of shit running down my leg any second. I’m dressed as Dolores Umbrage—you’ll find me squatting in the nearest bushes.”

Dispatcher: “Ewwww.”*

No thanks to you, I found him before they had to be involved…and I was arrested for indecency and polluting a public place.

The house is a mess. My son is officially out of clean clothes. And the basement…I don’t even want to describe what he has done to the basement. Suffice it to say, there will be Lysol in the old house tonight.

I’m sorry. But we have to break up. And let me be frank. It isn’t me—it’s you! I just can’t put up with your shit anymore.*

Asterisks Not So Bedazzled:

*A graphic representation of how frequently I have been interrupted while writing this post. You can only imagine why.

___________________________________________

And because I suspect you think I’m making this up…here’s photographic proof. 

OF MY COSTUME!  What? You think I’m posting pictures of my toilet???

What kind of person do you think I…? Oh…right.

img_3669-2
Before the curse of Salazar Slytherin struck.

img_3613 

Alone he walks,

His cape a tattered wave of blue,

To meet the sunlight and the shadow as equals

Laughing as leaves fall, making spirals in their descent,

Through elegies of air.

 

best

So still he moves,

Leaning into a soundless void.

Planets in their orbits spin

And yet no shift in his equilibrium shows

That he is out of synch with a world

Built for words.

img_3640

______________

Images from a recent walk with my son, I was inspired by the drape of his blue blanket to wax poetic. Happy Halloween everybody. Nanowrimo begins tomorrow. Do not expect great things from me until December.

 

Why Don’t I Write Today?

I should write.

It is my one day off this week—a Monday filled with unfettered freedoms. At least, it will be just as soon as the window guy finishes up giving an estimate of the possibility of installing one more escape route for my child to threaten my sanity with.*

I should write.

But first I will rake some leaves. And then there is the pile of socks to sort and fold along with approximately 1 billion pair of underwear that, for some reason, are all inside out when they come out of the dryer.

I want to be a writer…but I need to return the clothes that didn’t fit and pick up the prescription at the store. Plus—as always—groceries.

I should WRITE!

Instead, I have managed to fill seven tiny plastic bags with assorted non-edible goodies for Halloween treats for my son to take to class—a class of children who really couldn’t care less if they get stickers and pencils instead of sugary products to rot their teeth. I will try to feel virtuous and not imagine the rubber duckies winding up in a landfill instead.

Procrastination

If I write, will it be of the grandiose imaginings that drift through my mind? Will I finally dig up the series this blog’s title is based upon? Will I manage to untangle the Gordian knot of plot threads that are choking the life out of the beastly thing? History suggests: NO!  I won’t.**

Maybe I will write today, but the clock is winding down. Time is a super-stellar suck of obligations, an enemy to creativity.  It whisks away the should-have’s and could-have’s and leaves me with unfolded laundry and indecision.

I ShOuLD WrITe, dAMmIT!

But will I?***

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*So, how does everyone feel about egress windows? Thoughts? Opinions? Dire predictions of home invasion or child escapism?

**My friend suggested a numbered list of reasons why I don’t write. I hate the click-bait ploy of lists, so I opted for this rambling mess instead.

***Not if my Instant Gratification Monkey has anything to say about it!

 

_____________________________________________

Featured image borrowed from freedigitalphotos.net by Sattva

 

Body Bagging It

 —Join this week’s episode of Phlegm Patrol*….already in progress–

Officer RB: “Adam Ten, Officer Bacter, on route. What’s the situation?”

Dispatch: “Victim is down…multiple unknown hostiles. Proceed with caution.”

Officer AV: “Going in code zero…what’s the eta on the bus?”

Dispatch: “Five minutes out…coroner is on standby.”

Officer RB: “Code eleven, dispatch. Adam Ten pulling up to the residence. Lights are off…let’s see if any body’s home.”**

Join our intrepid officers, Ria Bacter and Andy Viril, as they broach the unknown, potentially lethal abode nestled in a residential neighborhood where the worst that happens on a typical day is a dog taking a dump on your lawn. Today is not your typical day. As the car brakes to a halt, the duo leap into action…

“A.V…you go round the rear. I know how you like to make an entrance.” Ria says tossing her partner a brightly marked can along with her trademark wicked grin.

“Funny, Ria. Remind me to sign you up for sensitivity training when we get back.” Officer AV snaps, but he snatches the aerosol can mid-air without breaking his stride. Slamming the trunk from which he has pulled the blazing orange gear, he tosses his partner the familiar hazmat suit standard for the op.

“Keep your eye on the prize and gear up.” In seconds, he’s zipped and loaded for recon. Officer AV yanks on his headgear before stalking to the back of the yellow, suburban death trap. He muffles a curse as he nearly trips on the hose snaking through the long grass.

It’s been a while since anyone came out to mow this mess. Not good.

Masks in place, the officers approach with caution.

From the back entrance, Officer AV can’t see shit. It’s an older model home with a door meant to withstand nosy neighbors—solid steel and no fancy cut-work glass spy holes.  The curtains block his view through the small kitchen window—other than to note the piles of dishes glimpsed through the sliver of light spearing the darkness inside.

A quick test of the knob reveals the door is shut tight. Out of habit, Andy sprays the surface of both the storm and the outer door handles before heading back to the front to confer with Ria. But she’s not there. He scans the yard then spots his partner hauling ass back from the car.

“I can see someone layed out inside. It appears as though a wrecking crew went through.” Ria waves a crowbar at her partner. “Looks like we’re gonna have to invite ourselves to the party.”

In seconds, the officers are through.

“Geezus Christmas.” AV can’t swallow the reflexive curse entirely. “What the hell happened here?”

Tissues adorn every surface. In the dim light, their advanced recon goggles’ infrared settings pick up the myriad human sputum samples flecking the walls and surfaces around them.

“Don’t touch a fucking thing.” Ria barks, unconcerned about anybody’s sensibilities—least of all the corpse on the couch. “I don’t want to face the paperwork if this spreads.”

Then the body buried under a mound of Kleenex and a moth-eaten afghan moans.

“Nnnnnnghghghgh.”

“Effing hell. She’s alive.” AV holds his breath—even though the standard issue mask is tested out at a level-five contagion. Flesh eating bacteria won’t get through this thing, but still…

kleenex154logo
Image by Abigail Johnson – Nicely sums up how I feel.

 

Reaching for his adapted weapon, AV brings it to bear on the woman whose eyes open to slits, offering a watery grimace before hacking up half a lung—a wet, sucking sound that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Hold still ma’am.” Ria has her baton out and punches a button to bring up a swab. Like the pro she is, she’s in and out of the woman’s sphere of contagion in seconds.

“Just…kill me now.”

The woman reaches weakly toward them. Her plea is interrupted by a shudder wracking her frame. Choking paroxysms smother any further pleas for a merciful end.

Ria holds out the monitor to AV—the blinking readout suggests last rite measures.

AV grimaces, upping the anti-viral setting to maximum.

“Sorry, ma’am.” He’d have sounded more sincere, but fear clenches down hard on sympathy in the face of the petri dish that once was a human being. “But this is for the good of the nation.”

There’s nothing left to say. Ria makes quick work bagging and dragging patient zero.

As his partner backs out of the front door, AV fires and the charge disperses with an aerosol hiss of death. Every surface that had been contaminated by the mutant virus is now coated in a dripping goo—a potent substance which dissolves germs—as well as eating its way through any pesky surface that might get in the way of a thorough decontamination. In seconds, the couch is a skeleton of its former foamy self. The rest of the house will soon follow.

Outside, Ria has deposited the woman out in the standard containment unit. The body bag for the living didn’t look much different—except for the mounded air intake sucking in O2–sounding like the bastard child of Count Dracula and Darth Vader having an asthma attack.

“Think she’ll make it, Andy?” Ria Bacter asks with a cold indifference to the answer. She flags the ambulance as it rounds the corner. They know the drill.

“If they can administer the ‘chicken soup’ in time. Maybe.” Officer AV is not confident enough to make assumptions past that. “And that’s Officer Virile to you, Bacter.”

“I think you mean viral.” Ria snarks at him. She holsters the can of government-issued Lysol with a quick flick of her wrist. She’s been practicing, AV is impressed.

“That’s not what the ladies say.” AV offers his own sly grin. “Feel free to ask around.”

“Ohh, someone thinks his bad self is too hot to touch.” Ria saunters to where hazmat has set up the decon tent. She shoots him a sardonic look. “Rumor has it, you are passed from woman to woman like a common cold. You should come with a surgeon’s general warning: ‘Do not exceed recommended dosage.’ Better watch it, Viral. Or they’ll bag your ass as soon as look at it.”

AV watches as the woman Ria tagged is hauled into the back of the contamination wagon—it shoots screaming down the block interrupting his snappy comeback. Entering the tent, he calls to her as he peels off his own suit.

“As long as they’ve got my ass in their sites, they might as well get a good, long look at it.” He’s peeling to the skin when his partner whistles behind him. He whirls to catch her eyeing his physical attributes.

“Woo Whee. I guess they better of ought to, then. Some ills are worth dying for.” Ria flutters a hand as though wracked with heart palpitations, then, snatching up a nearby black bag, she whips the decon pack at his head, just missing hitting him in the teeth as he grins back at her.

“It’s all in a days’ work for the phlegm squad, Bacter.” He shouts, before hauling himself into the air vents blasting a Lysol-dense germ retardant. “Some days, a good end is all you can hope for.”***

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*I considered calling the show ‘Hazmat Cops’ but then got distracted writing lyrics to the show:

“Flu Cops, Flu Cops…watcha gonna do?

Watcha gonna do when hazmat comes for you?”

**All police jargon gleefully stolen from Caissa’s Web.

***And my, was his asterisk utterly bedazzling!

 

Footnote: I will be body bagging it until I kick this virus’s ass or until Officer Viril comes calling–I’m not sure which to hope for.

—————————————-

Featured image stolen from: RDAnderson
Kleenex Woman image stolen from: Devotion’s By Jan

 

 

Tea with Tornados

 

On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:

As tea steeps, rain weeps

Water fills both bowl and sky

Prepare to drink deep.

I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*

Kiri in the Rain

I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)

As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.

Bridge in a Storm

I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**

I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)

The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.

Korean Hornbeam
Infamous Hornbeam – Destroyer of Cell Phones.

 

I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.

RAIN FALLING IN SPRING

AND I AM SORRY

NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE

 

Rain Haiku
My new excuse for not writing – Rain Delay.

 

 

I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.

That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.

We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.

“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.

The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.

“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”

I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!

Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.

It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.

I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”

I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)

I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.

Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.

“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.

Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”

We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…

I am a tornado virgin.

I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.

Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?

So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.

“Who is Balthazar?”

The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:

“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.

Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.

“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”

“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.

A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.

“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”

“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.

If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.

At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”

(Names changed just because.)

I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.

She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”

“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”

Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.

“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”

And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.

Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.

Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”

Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.

Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”

Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”

Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.

Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.

Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.

I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.

The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.

“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.

But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.

I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:

“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”

Apparently this devastates his enemies.

The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.

Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.

There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.

I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.

“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”

Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.

“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”

Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”

Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.

I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:

“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”

For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.

Dee Kay
Thanks to ‘Kay’ and ‘Dee’ who made sitting through a storm a lots of laughs.

 

Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.

Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.

I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.

The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.

“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.

“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”

“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.

I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”

Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!

Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.

“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.

It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.

My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.

I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.

Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.

I leave you with a final haiku:

Trees dance and bow low

Thunder applauds with fierce claps

Making dancers fall

 Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

* It never does

**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”

***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?

Phase

Would we do it differently, if we had the chance?

Knowing what comes, could we suck the fresh air, replacing it with fumes and chemical perfumes to stain the lungs and wilt the flowers?

Would seas rush out and dry with salted sands the scorched planetary face—eclipsing centigrades beyond mercury under the heat of a grinding sun?

No atmosphere to cloud the judgment of solar condemnation.

The ghosts of tomorrow say “Never,” but I would disagree.

I travel this slow-motion path of destruction and see our unshadowed future–no wind to rustle the memory of leaves.

We stopper our ears so we can’t hear trees weep.

The moon hangs her head—a ghost-shaped reflection of a desolate Earth.

 


Note to Self: Watching Interstellar may have imbued your writing with depressive fatalism.

 

Daily Prompt courtesy of The Daily Post.

Ban the Hashtag—#WarOfWords

Words have power. The language we use tells people more about us than we like to think. Which makes you wonder why we don’t try harder not to sound like idiots.*

###

I was having a discussion the other day with my friend and we started by bantering back-and-forth about expressions we are too old to use or that are so overdone they should be retired.   (This exchange went on for several minutes.  We think we are very funny when we haven’t had our caffeine yet.)

Everybody’s Saying It

Me: “I can’t stand the use of “What happens in (Blank) stays in (Blank). The Las Vegas board of tourism should fine people whenever it is misused.”

Her: “I’m sick of hashtags. I run across one and think “Why do people throw them at the end of everything they post? I’ve used one ONCE, and then only ironically.” #overdone

Me: “Text speak should be outlawed altogether. We could force people to wear an emoticon or the @ symbol as a sign of penance. It would be red and we’d call it The Scarlet Symbol!”

Her: “The Hashtag is better.”

Me: “I think the @ symbol is closer to the letter A.”

Her: “You should definitely use the HASHTAG!”  #Opinionated

For the sake of our friendship, we drop it. You’ll notice, however, that I eventually agreed with her. Another pet peeve rears its English head.

Me: “The phrase ‘Keep Calm and [Blank] On!’ where people fill in the blank with whatever thing they like.  I saw one that said ‘Keep Calm and Bake On!’ with a cupcake instead of a crown.  Stop just stop!”

Clerical Errors–Not Just For Clergy Anymore

We discussed what we were tired of seeing in writing.

Her: “I’m tired of seeing single word sentences. You know, where the author puts a period after every word for emphasis?”

Me: “Or, if you put it ironically: Overused. Periods. Must. Go.”

I couldn’t think of an example to complement this at the time, but since then, I would submit another particular annoyance—the word ‘Not’. Where people make a statement and then negate it with the single word ‘Not’ afterward.  I just love this.  Not.

Insults Add Injury

Then she proved to me exactly how far out of the loop I am, slang wise.

Her: “I’m tired of ‘Throwing shade.’ ”

Me: “What?  I’ve never heard of that one.”

Her: “It’s an insult.”

Me: “Like ‘dissing’ someone?”

Her: “I don’t think anyone uses that one anymore.” (I swear she snickered when she said this.)

Her: “And ‘Butthurt’. I’m tired of ‘Butthurt’.”

Me: “That’s what she said.”**

Her: “Hah hah. Very funny.”

Me: “No, I’m tired of the phrase, ‘That’s what she said.’  I don’t really know the expression ‘Butthurt’ is it like ‘Asshole’?”

We devolve into a nattering Google search trying to confirm the origin of that one.

Her: “It means: ‘Overly annoyed, bothered or bugged because of a perceived insult; needlessly offended.’ I would have thought it had a more sexual meaning.”

Then she looks a bit further; she is scrolling the text when she stops.

Her: “Oh…someone here uses it to be degrading, as if it means rape.”

We’re both silent for a minute tacitly agreeing this isn’t funny and maybe we should just drop this line of thought. But, we aren’t over finding ourselves terribly amusing in general, if not in this particular instance.

You’ve Been Served

Me: “I hate it when I use slang that I am wayyy too old to be using: ‘My Bad!’”

Her: “I’ll confess, with a pre-teen running around the house, I’ve been known to drop a ‘Whatevs’ on occasion.”

Me: (Gasp) “No!”

She nods sadly and I shake my head in disbelief. We pause for a moment to digest how much respect we have just lost for each other.

Then we momentarily veer unto serious grounds. I may have climbed on a soapbox for a moment or two, before being overwhelmed by the dizzying heights of intellectual pursuit and falling off again.

Brown Shirting It

Me: “The use of the phrase ‘Nazi’ intending to be a clever slur for whatever someone feels like making fun of: ‘Grammar Nazi’… ‘Soup Nazi’…”

Her: “Feminazi.”

{Non-Sequitur Alert}

Me: “Speaking of Nazis, I just watched a memorial show about the holocaust this week in which two sons of Nazi war criminals met and talked about their respective fathers’ part in the genocide. It was shocking how much one son denied his father’s involvement—even with evidence put before him—he refused to believe his father was a bad man.”

My friend no doubt said something very smart and insightful in response, but alas, I have forgotten what is was. Enjoy this Holocaust meme instead:

Holocaust Meme 1.jpg
I love it best for the typo it contains.

And this one:

On a side note, I wasn’t aware there was a Holocaust Day of Remembrance.  This week, all anyone could talk about was an album by Beyonce–something having to do with fruit juice.  Instead, I watched a documentary about Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter–sons of two high-ranking Nazi officials. PBS presented this in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day which was May 5 this year. The Last Picture of Hans Frank aired May 2 and it was an excerpt of a larger documentary: My Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did.  An article in The Telegraph  provides insight into the conflict surrounding those who remember and those who still deny the Holocaust–in part or whole.

Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Blog, Already in Progress

Me: “I have wondered how entire countries could have participated in the atrocities during the Holocaust; how did so many people fall in line with the belief that killing people was a moral and just act?  And now, listening to the bile spewed by Donald Trump, I see how it can happen.”

We stumble through the hazards of discussing politics on a gray day. It helps that we are both Die-Hard With a Vengeance liberals but the topic should come with a trigger warning:

Danger: discussing the buffoons currently running for office may result in catatonia, convulsions, or the desire to hurl yourself off a tall building. If over-exposed, seek the nearest bi-partisan affiliated medical center or move to Canada.

I Hate Hashtags

Just the day before, Ted Cruz took his campaign off life support, and as a nation we were equal parts relieved and horrified by the confirmation that Donald Trump was the de facto Republican candidate.***

Me: “I heard what’shisname dropped out of the race, finally. I can never remember his name.  You know, the first runner up?”

Her: “Cruz. Ted Cruz.” [Read this with a James Bond 007 emphasis]

Me: “And now the Republicans are fighting about whether to back Trump or not. I am terrified of the prospect of a Trump presidency.”

Her: “I just can’t watch the election coverage any more. I am so sick and tired of hearing the hateful things Trump says and then there are his supporters who are proud of their racists, sexist, bigoted views. I’d rather go work in my garden.”

And on this, I have to agree.  After listening to people sling political bullshit, it’s nice to find a use for it by going and fertilizing the plants—metaphorically speaking.

Our conversation drizzled to a halt and we signed off Skype and returned to the minutia of daily life. But the conversation stayed with me.

The Skinny

I’ve been trying to parse out the meaning of it all—what I think about the mixed bag of ideas: well-worn aphorisms, iconic statements (#oversimplification), misused marketing jargon, and the fact we’ve reduced the election process to tweet wars. It’s become a contest for who can fling the most monkey dung without having any stick to them! When I couldn’t wrap my head around an answer, I did what most people do.  I looked to the internet.

NPR offers a meaningful look at the effect of a meme-oriented mindset by reporting on the comparison of Donald Trump with Adolph Hitler. The article references Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies—and it gave me a momentary pause for thought to consider my own eagerness to pass on a witty slam against a political adversary. Am I part of the problem when I partake in the Olympic event that is the hundred-yard dash to judgement on something the other side has said?

Democrats like to vilify the enemy as much as the Republicans like to burn Democrats in verbal effigy. Tit-for-tat backstabbing is the mother tongue of politics. Rhetoric, polemics and personal insult take the place of a real discussion. Issues are boiled down to a symbol and a word or two.

#BlackLivesMatterButEvidentlyNotEnoughToFixTheWaterInFlint

In the political arena, center stage is given to the loudest actor with the best lines.  (Who remembers anything Guildenstern said? Anybody? No?  No, it’s all about Hamlet.  Hamlet said this. Hamlet stabbed Polonius. Hamlet left Ophelia to drown. Hamlet has fake hair and his wife is an immigrant. Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet! No one mourns poor Guildenstern, except maybe Rosencrantz and even then it was probably laced with self-pity. In this analogy, Guildentstern and Rosencrantz are played by Ron Paul and Jeb Bush.)

#BitPlayersDie

When all you have are sound bites, it is hard to digest and regurgitate an educated opinion—and apparently no one really wants a nine-course, fact-laden meal when they can swallow nuggets of pseudo truth instead. Sadly, the toy that comes with this Un-Happy Meal is whoever is elected. It is the Age of Oblivious and the one with the most likes wins.

#Spoiler:WeAllLose

Where was I heading with this? I’m not entirely sure. This started out funny and lighthearted and then spazzed into a quasi political rant half-way through.  Suffice it to say, there is something dangerous about relying on pat answers or worn-out catch phrases to represent our opinions. It is just too easy.  And as the poster hanging on the wall of my social studies classroom in high school said: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken****

#IronicFootnote

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Donald Trump, I’m talking to you.

**Okay, I’m totally making up this reply.  I only came up with it much later when my brain gives up all the wittier things I might have said if I only could have thunk them up at the time.

***De Facto is an abbreviation, the long form is: Eligendi asini, de facto producit ventum de inmundo. (For those of you too lazy to use Google Translate: Electing an ass in effect produces a foul wind.)

****And just to prove how dangerously full-circle this reference is, Wikipedia describes H. L. Mencken thus:

“His diary indicates that he harbored strong racist and antisemitic attitudes, and was sympathetic to the Social Darwinism practiced by the Nazis.”

So, I can understand how Donald Trump could cite an opinion which originated with Mussolini without knowing it.  But, once you know, you have to realize your words might not be conveying the message you think.

#ContextIsEverything

CRAMMING WISDOM IN THIRTY SECOND SOUND BITES

Part III–the last in my series on Herrick Library’s Get Published 2016 seminar–will address the elusive topic of what things you should avoid when writing your master work. This isn’t a how-to so much as a how-not-to. [To catch up, follow the colorful links to review Part I and Part II .]

using_the_semicolon_1828435
Borrowed from Humoresque by Loren Fishman at Toon Pool – may he forgive my larcenous ways.

*****

By the end of a six-hour marathon session of talking, the flower may not have lost its bloom, but the petals were wilting (and screaming to stretch already). I still enjoyed the camaraderie of the occasion—established writers, publishers, editors, joining in an effort to help new writers learn the ropes of publishing—but my note taking definitely took a nosedive.

The moderator asked what advice each person had for the beginning writer. As if a lid came off a pot threatening to over-boil, the panel devolved into a session of “Please for the love of god—no. Just, no!” pet peeves…ah, I mean…appeals.* Let’s see if you can pick out all the points raised in this sample text I’ve constructed for a story I’m calling:

A Godawful Mess

Jack said, “I need to pee.” as he rose from his bed. At the door he started to go, then he hesitated, stopping to scratch his pertinent private parts as if to suggest other options, but then went to the bathroom.

It was looking like it was going to become a boring day like every morning before and every boring day after forever and ever. His wife, who hated him with a passion that otherwise could only be found on her favorite daytime soaps, under her morning breath sparkled: “Just once, it would be nice if That Bastard,” her pet name for Jack, “woke up on fire in a tunnel full of rats with rabies and syphilis.” (Whether she meant the rats had rabies and syphillis or Jack did was anybody’s guess because she was imprecise in her attribution.) But his wife didn’t dare say this too loudly enough to chance to be heard through the cardboard thin walls of their hand-me-down trailer, in case her bastard husband who cheated on her since the sixth grade dance where he had decided to invite her, only to then decide to dump her for her best friend Brittany who later dropped out of college to become a poll dancer and went on to prancingly marry a wealthy plastic surgeon, heard her.

Tiffany  crooked her head sideways to crane like a Frasier fir in a hundred-mile-an-hour wind and look across the room at Brittany-The-Bitchany’s portrait on the wall where her husband had punched a hole in a drunken rage following being fired for embezzlement which led to their current nearly homeless situation.Tiffany had a moment to consider a lengthy backstory, but she felt her gorge rising and decided to vomit in the laundry basket instead, scaring the cat.

Her mouth was whipped with the back of one hairy hand, Tiffany pointed a finger at the picture while picking up a dart to throw it. She missed, and instead hit PussyWillow the Third,  scarring the cat. The Bastard would have said ‘Ten Points’ if he weren’t peeing like a race horse and stinking up the place. Damned asparagus festival. The sound of flushing woke her briefly from her stupor.

Wait…where was she? Tiffany began to stumble to her feet and think. Oh, right, reflecting on the duplicitous nature of a back-stabbing, would-be, erstwhile ho.

Brittany’s head covers the hole now and Tiffany likes to think someday That Bastard will punch  Brittany’s face in.  Brittany with her perfect hair, perfect family and perfect life. Tiffany’s complaining liver became suffused with bile and sneered at the former blond, high school prom queen/cheerleader/slut. Type-casting was rife in her opinion.

Waggling the pointed finger, Tiffany considered her foe with impunity.

“It doesn’t matter how far you’ve risen, Bitchany.”  Tiffany brayed donkey-like through smoke-blackened partials, flipping her greasy hair for emphasizing measure. “I know how low you are willing to go–all the way down according to the varsity football team. I know those red-headed kids ain’t you’re husbands. And I know people in even lower places who are willing to pay for juicy gossip.” Tiffany chuffed and snorted her pointless speech with kale-like bitterness. She emitted sounds like a congested diesel engine on its last piston. Her glass eye shivered like molten jelly.

Brittany was stubbornly oblivious-her plastic smile oozing insincerely and unctuously from the flaking-off fake gold frame on the wall. Her capped teeth sparkled with egotistical glee under the glass. Her eyes said with extreme vivaciousness, “Well, lookee who here was a success and who got fat and cheated on after all. Pooh to you, Ms. Valley-dictorian. I guess getting a boob job was the right career path after all.”

“Shut your mouth, whore!”She said to her former best friend.

Spittle flew with projectile fury-spattering the frame in a lacy spray of flume and bile. Tiffany got right up in Brittany’s celluloid face and decided to consider to go get a shredder to deal with the conniving leg-spreader who’d done the nasty with Jack and then toasted Tiffany with the news at her bachelorette party.

“Good luck with Mr. Two-and-a-half.” Tiffany mouth measured mock suggestive, surprise as her fingers shrunk to the widening eyes of the circle of drunk family members.

Grandma had to about keeled over with shock and the minister’s wife prunned up something fierce. Mom still gave That Bastard funny looks when they visited her in prison. Daddy, may he rest in peace, had just laughed before shoving another dollar into her cousin’s g-string.

Not as drunk as she had been that night, Tiffany finally found the words that summed up her rage, jealousy and the vacillation of someone who hates the only real friend she’d ever had, except for the imaginary kind. Her hands shook like a rattler warning of an imminent bite, she said, “Bite me.” to the frame on the wall.

“What’cha bitchin ’bout now?” The Bastard belched each word with criminal flatulence for an oncore.

Over his shoulder, Brittany winked from the frame and blew Tiffany a kiss.

“Nothin.” She said.

“What?” He said.

“You heard me.” She said.

“Oh yeah?” He said before cracking her a good one.

“Touche,” she said.

“Merooooooow?” said PussyWillow the Third with a suggestion of a furball at the end of its vowel-laden yowl.

That Bastard said menacingly, “Shut up, cat.” before kicking the half-blind creature aiming for imaginary goal posts through the upright ends of the three-poster bed.

Regaining her feet, although she’d lost a high heel somewhere as she stumbled to a drunkly dignified pose, one bra strap slipping un-suggestively down her rounded shoulders, she said. “Happy Anniversary, dear.”

What she meant was, “I hope you die a thousand deaths under a scorching sun with fire ants chewing a path through your cocaine damaged nasal passages and eat the last unpickled neuron which keeps you breathing, you fart-breathed buffoon.”

“You too,” he breathed Johnny Walker on a nine-day bender back at her.

One of them was going to die a painfully ironic terminal death today…sadly, it was going to be PussyWillow the Third, but that is a story for another tale. Mostly we will just have to wonder.

KittyCatdead and alive
I think the picture says it all, really. Stolen from http://blog.hotwhopper.com

Believe me, that was almost as hard to write as it was to read. Most of the mistakes are on purpose. Feel free to assume that any mistake in my writing henceforth is a test for you to pass. Your welcum. (Intentionally bad for you grammar pedants.) Which leads me to our panel’s most prevalent opinion–fundamental writing skills matter.

English Teacher Vindication

The most basic lament about first-time submissions was surprising—instead of a commentary on plot, character, or pacing, the panel agreed, what a publisher wants to see most is clean writing that is free from errors. Writers should, “focus on grammar—the publisher doesn’t want to have a lot of work to fix.” In addition to spotless grammar, the language mechanics have to be physically possible. One panelist said, “Eliminate flowery or impossible speaker attributions. You can’t smile or laugh dialogue. Stick with ‘he said’ or ‘she said.’ In a dialogue between two people it is possible to avoid attribution or just do the minimal if it is well written.” Simple fixes such as these are the key to a clean manuscript. Matthew Rohr suggests writers need a checklist to use as a guideline to proof your work, “When I am writing a story, the first and second draft are rough outlines—the second draft is when I edit with a check list of things I watch out for: grammar, passive verbs, etc…” Once you have the skills of a ninja grammarian, you are ready to move on to the fun stuff: getting to the nitty gritty, low down and dirty, totally balls-to-the-wall annoyances of choppy writing.

Each writer had their own particular focus for what distracts the reader from making it through the minefield of bad writing.

Flashback = Drawback

Sue Ann Culp eschews the tried and true flashback, stating that the first chapter of the book should stay in the present. “In the first chapter there should be no back story.” Apparently, any time a writer stops the action this causes “broken narrative—don’t stop for backstory.”

Bad Bedroom Scenes

Sue Ann Culp also begged writers to avoid a certain type of bedroom scene. “Please stop writing your character getting up in the morning! Nothing of interest happens in the course of an ordinary day. Skip to the part where something different happens.” She did amend this blanket statement by adding, “Of course, if the story beings with ‘I woke up in a tunnel on fire,’ that’s a little different.”

On Introducing a Scene—How Not To:

“Please no Wikipedia entries detailing the story building of the world you’re creating.” Tim Rohr. “Though, it’s not a bad idea to write your novel as a short story and then back-scaffold out of it to find the plot points the story is going to follow.”

In his typically succinct fashion, Tim Rohr said, “Don’t lead with ‘Jack said.’”

Infinite Infinitive Injunctions

Tim Rohr’s writing process involves a lot of things to avoid, in particular, he suggests writers keep a look out for particular infinitive constructions. “Infinitive makers tend to flatten the narrative. Don’t use ‘to start’, ‘to begin’, ‘to proceed,’ etc…” He cited examples:

Instead of ‘He began to study…’ write ‘He studied.’

Instead of ‘She started to become concerned…’ write ‘She worried…’

Once you start to see it, it is easy to recognize where pacing begins to lag. “Whenever writers put infinitives into a sentence it slows the reader down and takes the legs out from under the action.” Tim Rohr prefers the focus to be on the movement of the story. “I ask myself, ‘Is the writing self-aware?’ In an action-packed scene, the sentences get shorter.” He ended with his pet-peeve: “I hate this type of sentence: ‘I hesitated but then went…’ Don’t do that.”

 Adverb Annihilation

Sue Ann Culp apparently agrees with Stephen King who holds the opinion that “…the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” She had this to say about the pesky, unnecessary constructions: “Massacre the adverbs! Adverbs are a lazy way of writing and people over-use them. The dialogue should do the work. The body language that goes along with it will tell the story. Don’t feed me ‘Menacingly! Oh, and read everything out loud. I read out loud and my dog loves to listen to me.” Pet pronouncements aside, I have to agree with what she and the estimable Mr. King are saying—mostly. Sometimes, no other emphasis will do. Just be certain adverbial inclusion is crucial, or prepare to be skewered by overzealous editors with giant, red pens of critical justice.

In Defense of Decent Dialogue

The presenters segued to a discussion of dialogue and recommendations flew past. Sometimes, in the heat of writing, you don’t recognize the error of your ways. Matthew Rohr pointed to the obvious solution. “You need to have a list of things to cross-check when you think you are done and ready to submit. For me, I check attribution—the he said, she said count. If there are fifty ‘saids’ in a 200-word paragraph—that’s bad.” Matthew went on to recommend samples of dialogue from the current anthology from Caffeinated Press. “One of the stories by AmyJo Johnson in the Brewed Awakenings anthology has a story with great dialogue. And Melanie Meyer’s story “The Watcher on the Island” is another.” Fortunately for you, I happened to purchase a copy so I am able to report that he is quite right to recommend these authors. I liked both short stories very much, but going back and reading for the impact of dialogue made me think about why I liked each story and how the use of dialogue impacted my opinion.

The story, She’s My Favorite by AmyJo Johnson, uses dialogue to drops hints about the mystery between sisters in a futuristic world. The key to this character-driven narrative is the unusual, stilted exchanges between the main character and her emotionally distant twin.

 “Sister, how old are we?” Lily had asked, when they were alone one evening.

“Five.”

“How do we know when we are six?”

“Mother will throw a party, where other kids come over, bring toys for me, and we get to eat cake. You’ll get to watch, like at the playground.”

“A party?” The word sounded magical to Lily. “Why haven’t we had a party yet?”

“Last time, we were too young. The other kids told me about parties and that they start when we turn six.”

In this short story, the author uses the telling questions to reveal the unequal treatment for the child described as ‘Other’ but not necessarily the reason behind it until nearly the end. There is no backstory to speak of and little description of the setting beyond the bleakness of the narrow world as viewed through Lily’s eyes. Without beating the reader over the head, the author increases the understanding little by little with short conversations between twins who are raised in very different ways. The simplicity of the scenes and the questions which go unanswered tell much more than a detailed exploration of world building that occurs in larger works. Conversely, in The Watcher on the Island, by Melanie Meyer, the everyday exchanges between a boy and his playmate do nothing to raise suspicions—it is the setting and circumstances of the relationship which suggest that something is different about Tartok’s friend, Raven.

“Do you have time to come see the cave?” There are icicles there as long as my arm!” Raven asked excitedly.

Tartok looked to the sun, which was only a hand-width from the horizon, and said, “Probably not today. It’ll be dark soon and Mother hates when I am out after dark.”

“Alright, But if we don’t go tomorrow, they will melt.” Raven got to his feet and brushed dirt and dried bird droppings off his pants. “You’ll come to play tomorrow won’t you?”

“I’ll try as hard as I can. It all depends on when the Japanese patrol comes past, Mother won’t let me out until they are gone.”

Raven just shrugged, and walked up the hill alone as Tartok walked back to the lone fishing hut that clung to the battered shore. It looked like it had been abandoned for years, and Tartok knew that was the point. It didn’t look very inviting. Still, as the winter wind blew around the rocky cliffs, Tartok found it much better than this otherwise desolate island in the middle of nowhere.

Brewed Awakenings

In this story, dialogue does not work alone to set the stage, but it does realistically imitate two boys playing as if in an ordinary world. Tartok’s matter-of-fact acceptance of Raven’s friendship on an otherwise deserted island gives the reader a chance to identify with a lonely boy’s ability to ignore obvious questions. There is a magic to a child’s willing suspension of disbelief in time of war and privation—the simplicity of their exchanges leads the reader to believe the impossible must be true. Whether stilted and painfully correct or casual and childlike, the dialogue is a mirror to the character and the character a window to the soul of the story. Being able to recognize when you have gotten it right is the hardest part.

Dialogue works best that sounds believable, but it surprisingly hard to create. In researching the topic, I ran across an excellent article on the subject at the Aliventures Blog. It offers some links to the mechanics of formatting dialogue and identifying the mistakes neophyte writers are prone to make. And on that subject, our presenters had a few recommendations.

Well written dialogue sells the reader on the story; it is the frosting to the cupcake. Yeah, you might have a moist, cake-y concoction, but a story is always improved by a swirl of delicious dialogue.** However, if you don’t layer it just right, sticky dialogue might leave your readers with a bad taste in their mouths. For example, Jason Gillikin is passionately opposed to clunky speeches: “Don’t over-prescribe the dialogue. Ellipses make me mad. Let the reader draw their own conclusions.” Writers fall in love with their words—to the point even professional writers might miss glaringly poor construction. The solution to this problem? It’s as easy as a robotic voice-over. AmyJo Johnson recommends a program which will let you hear just how bad or good your dialogue is. She recommends writers “Use ‘Open Office’ as it will read your work to you—in a horrible, automated voice—but at least you get to hear it.” Once you listen to just how bad it sounds, flat dialogue starts to stand out and you are able to identify the error of your ways and eliminate it from your writing. So now you have a better idea how to put words in the mouth of your creation—but how do you decide what exactly you are creating?

Pants Versus No Pants

The panelists were asked what approach they preferred when starting a novel—are you a planner or a pantser? The consensus? Most people are a little bit of both—or at least maybe they should be.

If you line up a row of writers and asked them whether their process is highly structured or flows organically from a primal literary spring, expect there to be a giant line drawn in the sand with die-hard opinions on both sides—at least, at first. “I’m a planner.” Tim Rohr said succinctly—as if that said it all. His brother, Matthew Rohr waxed a little more poetic—and from the other side of the fence. “I have no use for planning. But I recommend that you pair up with whoever is an opposite to your writing style. My brother is a planner and we have bounced things off each other.” It’s all well and good if you have someone to bounce ideas off of, but in a pinch, sometimes your characters can tell you where they want to go.

What is a writer to do when the road ahead isn’t so clearly mapped out? Amy Jo Johnson, recommends you let your characters out to play. “I’m a pantser. I like to write up my characters in a world, like The Sims, and let them loose and see what they do. You have to find ways to get into your characters’ heads.” This laissez-faire attitude didn’t work for everyone however. Jason Gilliken was unapologetic about a more meticulous approach. “I’m a planner.” With that said, Jason did recommend however that even a planner needs to recognize that a work is dynamic, subject to change and will have an organic core. “I recommend you leave the first draft alone for six months. A cold read is a refreshing start.”*** Every writer knew what their preferred method was, but did not suggest one method was better over another. Heads nodded as each person presented their take on the most difficult of journeys—from the beginning of a story to a satisfying conclusion. Sue Ann Culp is a self-professed planner, but even she concedes that flexibility is a key attribute. “I think we are all a bit of both. But when I get in the car, if I don’t have a direction, I go—[insert wishy-washy hand gesture here]—SWISH. I have to have an overall road map from the start.” Right, so it’s great to go sightseeing but if you lose the map, expect to make unnecessary detours and backtracking in your writing.

Leaving the presentation, my head buzzed with the many ideas, recommendations, and admonitions. In general, I like to write from my heart on subjects with which I am familiar. This series was a step outside my comfort zone. It was a struggle to condense the advice and weave it into a whole cloth for you to wrap your head around. I am not entirely sure I succeeded, but I am glad I made the effort. Of note, there was one portion of the session I did not write about. It was the live critique of work submitted by attendees of the conference. As the audience looked on, each work was diced into so much blow fish sushi. Fugu might be delicious, but one wrong slip and it is also poisonous. After listening to the points the editors and writers made about other people’s works, I was grateful mine hadn’t been chosen. Because I do not have the original works to reference, I felt the points raised in the critique—though helpful to the writers and audience—would not make sense out of context. Then, I had a bit of luck. At the end of the session, I won a prize: a critique of my work by editors from MiFiWriters.org. When I have heard back from the reviewers, I will let you know what they had to say. Just as soon as they stop laughing.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Feel free to let me know how to correctly punctuate this sentence. I rewrote it several times and finally gave up. Sue me.

**Mmmmmm, rich and tasty dialogue. Chocolate ganache colloquy is my favorite.

***However, waiting four weeks after the event to write a final installment blog post is ill-advised. You end up with the rambling mess you see above you.

 

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 Presenters
Sue Ann Culp – playwright and author, writing professionally for over twenty years. Her fiction has appeared in magazines such as Wee Wisdom and Kaleidoscope. Her stage play is being presented at the Holland Civic Theater, “The Lies that Bind” was named one of the top 100 plays of 2009 by Writer’s Digest. She teaches fiction writing for children and teens. Visit her website at SueAnnCulp.com.
Jacqueline Carey – New York Times bestseller, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Kushiel’s Legacy series, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, and the Agent of Hel contemporary fantasy novels  www.jacquelinecarey.com.
Eileen Wiedbrauk – a paranormal fiction writer and Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press, as her bio describes, she is an editor, writer, coffee addict, cat herder, MFA graduate—among other things. Websites: World Weaver Press a mid-size publishing company andRed Moon Romance–a site that, by the look of it, just might warrant a sizzling NC-17 rating.
Kristina Wojtaszek (whose name I mangled in my notes) – self-professed former woodland sprite and/or mermaid growing up around the shores of Lake Michigan. She has a bachelor’s in Wildlife Management. Her focus as a writer reflects her interests in fairy tales, ghost stories, poems and YA fiction–published in World Weaver Press, in Fae, Specter Spectacular, and Scarecrow, and in Far Off Places, and Sucker Literary Magazine.  Follow her blog at Twice Upon A Time.
Brittany Wilson – Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of Caffeinated Press is a jack-of-all-trades — writer, editor, finance ninja, and NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison. Brittany has a degree in investigative accounting and a minor in creative writing. She has earned a partial bachelor’s degree in Japanese.
Jason Gilliken – Director Editor for Caffeinated Press Jason earned a degree in moral philosophy and political science–apparently he is not adverse to irony–with minors in history, Latin, and comparative religion and is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in applied statistics from WMU.
Matthew Rohr (one of the Bookend Brothers, so named for their seating at the table)-writer and editor of short stories and novels in the Urban Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Science Fiction, and post-modern, pre-industrial retro-futuristic steampunk haiku-funk fusion genres. (The last genre may or may not actually exist. He is still thinking about it.) He is a founding member of MiFiWriters and editor of various editions of the Division by Zero anthology.
Tim Rohr (The other Bookend Brother) – A graduate of Hope College, Tim is a writer and editor and one of the founders representing MiFiWriters – a Michigan Fiction Writers collective http://www.mifiwriters.org/ focusing on speculative fiction and producing an annual Michigan Writers Anthology entitled Division by Zero.  He runs the Monday night writers group for Herrick Library. He can be found at his eponymous website.
AmyJo Johnson – Business leader and corporate trainer, personal trainer and enthusiastic participant in all things related to Minnesota athletics–Amy Jo leads CafPress’s marketing endeavors. Caffeinated Press

QUERY ME! QUERY ME REAL GOOD!

Blank Book Artwork - XKCD
Write a brilliant novel. They said.  How hard can it be? They said.  (Artwork borrowed from http://xkcd.com/971/)

You are ready to publish? Congratulations! But are you prepared to face the literary gauntlet? The Herrick Library Get Published! 2016 conversation continues from last week’s fantastically titled Session I with insights from all the presenters on what constitutes the write right and wrong ways to approach a publisher or literary agent.

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Above All Else—The Query

Query letters are similar to the cover letter which accompanies the curriculum vitae or résumé in a job application. How hard can a letter be? You may ask.  The panelists caution that the letter is the first thing a potential editor or publisher sees of your work—some writers are rejected solely on the basis of a poor cover letter. Think of it like a dating profile—you’ve got to put forth the best version of you (and your work) possible.  The best way to learn is by example…and here is a definite worst-case scenario:

 Count the Mistakes in this Sample Query Letter

 Dear Meow Mewo Productions:

       I know you aren’t excepting submissions right now, but I have a number one best seller which will make the DaVinci Cod weep with envy. You would be a fool not to hear me out. I have thousands of pages of notes and all I need is a $50,000 advance to begin writing. I have sent my summary to several of your competitors, such as Harlequin Romance, Field-N-Stream, and Publisher’s Clearing House, so time is of the essence. He who bites first gets the fish. Continue reading QUERY ME! QUERY ME REAL GOOD!