Monday, December 23, 2013

Burble, burble . . . BLURB!

What's the difference between a book description that appears on the back of your book AND a book description that shows up on an online sales point like Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords?

Note: These book descriptions (also known as 'blurbs') should never be confused with a synopsis intended for a potential agent or publisher; a synopsis reveals the entire plot. A book blurb is the worm on the hook -- not the whole fish!

A writer on one of the writer's forum reading lists I check in on was complaining about flat sales and wondered if the problem could be the cover. The cover looked pretty good to me, so I jumped over to Amazon to check out his book. Was I surprised. No book description! After my note, the writer posted a very, very short description.

Since I'm madly writing, rewriting, and revising my own blurbs for the launch of Standing Stones (descriptions for the book cover and websites for e-book and paperback versions), I wanted to see if my intuitions about what the main elements of a book blurb match what other writing gurus say.

Back of the book: I feel pretty strongly that the back of the book should introduce the genre, the story line, the characters, and the primary conflict in a way that intrigues the reader. The book blurb needs to makes the reader really want to read the rest of the story -- and, in the best of circumstances, buy that darn book right now!.

I'd add a little info about the writer, a picture of the writer, maybe a website, and any other little bit of information that adds credibility. Keep in mind we writers have about 6 seconds to reach our readers.

Online book description: We have a little more elbow room when we're writing the book description that appears on Amazon or a similar online sales venue. The purpose remains the same: Entice the reader into wanting to read the book and buy the book!

So again we introduce the genre, the story line, the characters, and the primary conflict, showcasing our best writing skills. Here, we can add more depth, say 3-4 paragraphs instead of 1-2, and perhaps add a sentence or two that highlights favorable reviews. Many writing coaches tell us that reviews are the primary way to solidify the sell.

To get started, I have been reading blurbs by writers of historical fiction (my genre) in online settings, the library, and walk-around bookstores, trying to identify what catches my eye, what makes me want to read this particular book.

What can we learn from writing gurus?
  • Write emotionally to reach novel readers (from Savvybookwriters)
  • Get testimonials from famous writers (also from Savvybookwriters)
  • Use a formula (from Marilynn Byerly)  She provides examples!
  • Hook the reader with your interesting protagonist and her/his quest (from Amy Wilkins on Romance University) Can you do this in one sentence?
  • Don't give away the whole plot. Consider just the first 25% of the story (also from Amy Wilkins on Romance University)
  • Think of the first line of your blurb as a pick-up line -- rework it! (from Francis Reid Rowland at Standout Books)
  • Go back and spruce up the description (from Marti Talbott) Very helpful examples here of the writing process as she tightens up that blurb!.
Reading these writing experts points me back to revision. 

What about you? What tips do you have to share on writing blurbs?

Today's pictures: While traveling in Scotland to research Standing Stones, we stopped at the historic Urquhart Castle, a stone fortress dating from the 13-16th Centuries that faces out on the Loch Ness (yes, the supposed home of the Loch Ness monster), and feeds the Ness River leading back to Inverness, where we stayed for several weeks.

Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness (Camp 2009)

View from five-story Grant Tower, Urquhart Castle (Camp 2009)

My first sight of the Rowan tree (Camp 2009)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Go down revising . . .

I'm amazed by the generosity of other writers.

A few days ago, with some misgiving, I posted a fight scene that didn't ring complete. Several folks sent advice, I did a little research and this may be the final scene. You can see the 'before' in the previous post.

Standing Stones: Lord Gordon has sent guards to evict crofters and fishermen from their cottages, intending to replace them with more lucrative sheep. The story takes place in the Orkneys, 1842. Mac, Dougal, and Colin are brothers. Mac is the leader of those who resist Lord Gordon. This scene takes place about half-way through the book.

     The door to the cottage crashed open. Some fifteen guards burst into the room, guns lifted over their heads as clubs as they pushed into the cottage.
     Freya screamed.
     “Hey, you can’t come in here,” Mac shouted. “Get out. Get out!” Mac shoved at one of the guards, but a wave of men he didn't know bludgeoned right and left, knocking crofters and fishermen to the floor. One of the guards grabbed Dougal’s fiddle from the wall and smashed it over Mac’s head.
     Mac roared and grabbed a stool, but it shattered as he bashed it against a guard.  
     Everyone howled and shouted. Freya screamed again and again.
     Colin went down, his head bloodied. Mac stood over him, his legs on either side of Colin’s body. “Ye bastards. Hitting a boy. Hit me. Hit me.”
     Two guards swarmed Mac, their guns raised. "He's the one. Get him."
     Mac scrambled back against the wall and settled to fight stance. Lord Gordon sent these men. We're going to lose. He had no weapon, save his fists. "Come on, then." Mac punched the face of the guard closest to him and swung on the second. He choked the guard's neck, heedless of the blows that fell on his back.
     A guard knocked Jacob into the hearth. He howled as he rolled over the smoldering peat and groaned as his arm hit the floor. They moved in on Freya. She threw a basin at them, but they wrestled her to the ground.
     “Help,” screamed Jacob. “Help! They’ve got Freya.”
     Mac could hardly breathe. With a lunge, Mac shook free of the two men who had him pinned down and scrambled to his feet. God help us. They're after the women. 
     "Over here. "We got him!" The guards rushed Mac.
     “Dougal,” yelled Mac. “Get her out.” Mac punched at the guards, but they surrounded him once again. They battered him until he fell and kicked him unconscious.

     Dougal knocked the guards aside, picked Freya up, and shoved his way to the door. “Out! Let me out.” He held Freya tight, for she was screaming in his ears, her screams a keening part of the melee.
     “For God's sake, let me out.” With a mighty push, Dougal broke through the crowded cottage and outside. He set Freya down by the stacked peat in the side yard. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
     Dougal raced to the front door, now hanging by a hinge. He couldn't get in. He tripped on the bits of furniture that had been thrown out in the yard. Crofters and fishermen spilled into the yard, pushed out by the guards, but Mac and Colin were not among them. The roof of the cottage blazed afire. The noise mounted as guards smashed furniture and tore at the stone walls with pikes.
     “Let me back in." Dougal ran back and forth in front of the house. “Have you no shame?"

What I've learned so far that may be useful to you:

  • Keep the scene in the POV character.
  • Revise for action! Take out any extra words and worry about doubled words later.
  • Check each ACTION for a REACTION. Does the 'camera eye' zoom in?
  • Get rid of -ing verbs and passive voice (my downfall).
  • Add internal dialogue to bring us closer to main character.
  • Help the reader experience what the characters are experiencing.

Joanna Penn's interview with Alan Baxter included this Chinese saying: "When two tigers fight, one limps away horribly wounded, the other is dead." Useful for thinking about what happens after the fight. Alan Baxter also says that fight scenes should be "fast, furious, chaotic." I tried for that.

Even Facebook writers chimed in. Jim Lion was especially helpful with pointed questions:

  • How did the people on the floor get to the floor? Did they drop in fear? Did the guards put them there? 
  • How many men and guards are there? 
  • Who's the POV character in this scene? Tell the fight from his/her standpoint and stay there. Don't leave POV except for brief flashes of relevant specific information, like when a guard or two start dragging Freya out the door, and someone shouts to bring it to the attention of your POV character (or something like that). 
  • BTW, why did the guards release Freya and swarm all over Mac? Every character in the scene needs a clear moment-to-moment goal, so we know why they fight the way they fight.
Randy Ingermanson's 24-page PDF "How to Write a Fight Scene" (compiled by Bruce Beattie) also was quite useful in giving me a 'hit list' (sorry for the pun). 

Do we count the hours when we revise? Not sure. I only know these characters matter to me. I still want to write their story as best I can, for it's time to let go and publish! Thank you for reading.  

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Fight the good fight . . .

I'm a gentle person -- until I get into a meeting. Years of battling with words for my department make me feisty, especially when I'm surrounded by folks who want my budget money.

But in a physical confrontation, although I once forced a cantankerous 6 footer to back down (he wanted to plant a facer on my mother), I'm a coward. More flight than fight. Most of the time.

Now, in the final edit of Standing Stones, one of my beta readers called me out on my fight scenes, saying, "You might want to work on this a little bit."

My first stop was to find some online writing advice. WriteWorld had a neat list of links under the heading of "How To Write a Fight Scene." I've begun reading and revising. Maybe within the next few days, I can post a the revision so you can see the results. Here's the "before."

Standing Stones:  Lord Gordon has ordered guards to evict crofters and fishermen from their rented cottages on his island in the Orkneys, Scotland, 1840s. Mac hosts a meeting to resist evictions at his fisherman's cottage. 


     The door to the cottage crashed open. Guards burst into the room, guns lifted over their heads as clubs.
     Freya screamed.
     “Hey, you. You can’t come in here,” Mac cried over the noise. “Get out. Get out!”
     The guards stepped on those who had been pushed to the floor.
     The men fought back. They roared and shouted and shoved. They threw furniture at the guards. Bruce fell into the hearth and howled as the smoldering peat scattered. The smoke grew thicker.
     One of the guards grabbed Dougal’s fiddle from the wall and shattered it over Sean’s head. The guards slammed the butts of their guns everywhere, blows landing on arms and backs.
     Colin went down first, his head smashed. Mac stood over him, his legs on either side of Colin’s body. “Ye bastards. Hitting a boy. Hit me. Hit me.”
     “Help,” screamed Jacob. “Help! They’re after Freya.” Two guards knocked him against the wall and he fell hard, groaning as his arm hit the floor.
     “Dougal,” yelled Mac, spotting his brother. “Get her out.” Mac fought on, but the guards swarmed him. They pinned him down on the dirt floor and began kicking him.
     Dougal picked Freya up and pushed toward the door, his way blocked by guards. “Out! Let me out,” he cried. He held Freya tightly in his arms, for she was screaming in his ears, her screams a part of the melee.
     “For God's sake, let me out,” he cried again. With a mighty push, he broke through the guards to the outside. He lay Freya down by the stacked peat in the side yard. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
     Dougal raced back to the front door, now hanging by a hinge. He couldn't get in. He tripped on the bits of furniture that had been thrown out in the yard. Crofters and fishermen spilled into the yard, pushed out by the guards. The roof of the cottage blazed afire. The noise mounted as guards smashed furniture and tore at the stone walls with pikes.
     “Have you no shame,” cried Dougal. He ran back and forth in front of the house. “Let me back in. I just want to get our things out.”

"The Last of the Clan" by Thomas Faed (Wikipedia)

Monday, December 02, 2013

A writer waits . . .

Restless and feckless, anxious, vanquished,
I have waited for good news, sad blues,
the drop of a letter, unfettered, bettered,
by awards, words truly swords that disarm, charm,
then nothing. Was I bluffing, trusting, crushing
my hopes to publish? Rubbish.
I shall self-publish!

This week's prompt from Poets on the Page is simply, "Waiting". Although the prompt is simple, and immediately an idea came to mind, the suggested poetic form, Alliterisen, from Shadow Poetry, offers a very specific number of syllables per line (7 lines) AND requires two alliterations per line (similar sounds). I didn't quite meet the requirements of this poetic form, but perhaps this poem captures how I feel about 'waiting' as a writer.

Writing is precious [173/366]
Writing is Precious
Rebekka Plies on Flickr

Monday, November 25, 2013

From the spine . . .

Margit Sage posted a spine poem the other day. 

The challenge: Stack up those books you are currently reading and build a poem from just the titles. So here is my spine poem -- with photo. I did add just a few words to the last line. Probably violating all kinds of poetry rules. And two of the books are missing, already returned to the library before I took the photo this morning.

Clair of the sea light,
a discovery of witches,
the light between oceans,
a mermaid quilt,
salvage the bones,
an orphan train,
Gould's Book of Fishes
the other typist could not follow.

I'm not sure this process works, but it was fun and a little surprising how those titles fit together, though the ending poem is more than cryptic.. Some writing groups meet at the library and scrounge the shelves for inspiration. I like that you are reading the books in the poem.

Consider for your book list? I'd recommend Jesmyn West's Salvage The Bones, not an easy read of a scrabble-poor family just before Katrina hit the bayou coast. And, of course, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales! Verdict still pending on the rest.

Friday, November 22, 2013

When I was ten . . .

When I was ten,
I cut my hair with blunt scissors.
I wanted to be a boy
who traveled the ocean,
chased wild deer,
rescued princesses.
When I was twenty, I left
my sisters behind, pulled my hair back,
a constant distraction
to books, lectures, and papers,
a specific progression.
When I was thirty and forty,
I worked and bore my babies.
Someday, I said.
When I am sixty, I shall dye my hair red
and sing like a mermaid.
When I am seventy, I will mourn
my children grown, my lost sisters.
I will gather my bones and dance.

A Facebook friend is thinking about dyeing her hair red and posted a picture to show off her possible new color. Setting aside all else, thoughts about the masks we assume with makeup and hair dye, and our own sense about what makes a woman beautiful at any age, this poem came. And then on Flickr, I found this image, red hair -- wild and free.

Untitled by Marianne Williams (Flickr)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Diving into the Wreck . . . late.

I was drawn to the poetry prompt of a few weeks ago on Poets on a Page yet could not, did not make room for a poem. I could say the poem just didn't come along, like some happy dance or blues that rise up from the bone. But the prompt to read and think about a poem and then write a poem maybe in response to or inspired by or . . . that prompt stayed with me.

I have always loved Adrienne Rich's "Diving Into the Wreck". For Adrienne's poem goes down by layers, tracing her physical descent into deep water, until she faces that essential truth of being nameless, despite all she carries, nameless and facing the death of those who have gone before, equally forgotten. Adrienne has a companion there in the deep, even if it is her twinned self.  Here is my poem in response.

. . . for Adrienne Rich

I too have floated alone,
along the top of ocean waves,
looking fifty, eighty feet down,
seeing the fan coral sway
to unseen currents,
the blue-green sand dip down
and darken to the black unknown.

Silent, I stay long after the others
paddle back to that tiny boat,
my fingers splayed wide to catch
every sense of water and deep,
intrigued as any hunter
at every flicker of life below.

When I finally return,
I have no words.
Each breath I take fills up my chest
with the immense, precious blue below
that I almost understand, that I cannot forget,
like the song of a poet,
like the memory of a dream,
like the last flash of red
before the sun falls into the sea.

Snorkeling Soufriere
Snorkeling Soufriere
Jason Hedlund on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Flash Fiction: "The Bench"

"The Bench"

If I hadn't been so concerned about whether my plumbing was working properly, I wouldn't have sat so long on my favorite bench. The day was calm enough at Manito Park and nearly warm for fall. 

I could see Doc Harkness as clearly as if he were sitting in front of me on his rolling stool, the sun backlighting both the red and yellow leaves behind him and his earnest expression.

"You've got cancer, Em." His vowels stretched out past my ability to comprehend.

How was I supposed to tell Jack? He had hollered at me as I made my way out the door just this morning. "Pick up the grandkids on your way home, and don't forget my rye bread." Our lives were so ordinary. We were both retired. He had his football. I had my knitting. He read. I cooked, and I was supposed to call the plumber.

Instead I had stopped at the park on my way home from the doctor. Jack, rye bread, grandkids, even the plumber, all forgotten. I nudged one of the yellow leaves with my foot. What was needed now was a good spaceship to take me away from all this. I could spend my last months on a planet where everyone swam in a blue sea full of blue light. I spread my hands wide, as if the cancer swimming in my blood were visible. One month? Two months? 

I watched another several leaves drop down on the ground. The turn of seasons. It's just that I thought Jack would go first. The sun shifted behind a cloud and the air grew chill. I should go home. I should tell Jack, but I sat on the bench and watched the leaves fall, one by one. 

My cell phone rang. 

"You coming home?" asked Jack.

"Yes, dear. I didn't get the rye bread, and I don't want the grandkids today."

"Well, come home. I miss you."

Today is Tuesday, so that's the day I'm to write a post for my travel blog. Or work on any number of reports with deadlines. Or quilt. Ooops! I'm guessing that writing for NaNoWriMo is loosening up my writing. Sally from Sally's Scribbles, had commented on my post for Veteran's Day. I visited her blog to find this neat little writing challenge called Writer Wednesday Blog Hop. The challenge is to write a flash fiction inspired by the photo, the title, and five key words (day, calm, stool, vowel, spaceship). Participating writers then post their story and read what others have written. Somehow my story "The Bench" (329 words) came along.  Yes, it's FICTION, meaning my health is just fine, thank you! Read what others have written?

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day . . .

Veteran's Day is not an easy holiday.

In the 1960s, my sister tried to go to a peace march with her two small children. The kids were then under five. She got as close as a block away from the demonstration. She turned away when she saw demonstrators running towards her with bloody faces.

We were faced with such a deluge of misinformation then. Thousands of people did demonstrate against the Viet Nam War, and the war ended 'early' because of those protests. Thousands more served and came home, forever changed.

In 1975, I married my sweetie, a Viet Nam vet, a quiet, intelligent man who from November 1966 to September 1968 served in the U.S. Army, with 8 months as a combat infantryman in Viet Nam. I came to understand his nightmares and listened to his stories. We went to a veterans' meeting once. Every vet knew where the exits were. Allen wrote a novel based roughly on his experiences. It was not published, but we found our way to rebuilding a good life -- one far from thoughts of war. In this age of self-publishing, I yet hope to bring his book out.

When the Gulf War began, followed by troops sent to Afghanistan, I was saddened by the thought that so many men and women would be affected once again by war. I was teaching then and saw my students come home from those wars with varying degrees of PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrome). One vet had brain lesions from exposure to chemicals; another started talking and couldn't stop. I knew pretty well what those men and women faced.

Today's news celebrated the homecoming of a new generation of vets. Moving scenes of families reunited. To honor this day, I'm sharing what Allen once wrote.

Most people live quiet, ordinary, decent lives filled with daily acts of unremarked kindness and generosity. Most soldiers are also decent people caught in a horrendous situation. As a former combat infantryman, I can attest to the fundamental decency of most soldiers. On a daily basis, I saw soldiers share their food and even clothing with the homeless, the displaced, and begging children. I saw soldiers risk their lives to protect prisoners form the anger of their fellow soldiers who'd just seen their friends die. I saw medics work to care for our wounded enemies while bullets flew all around us. There is nothing heroic or even special in any of that. It is simply part of the basic human decency that is so common -- and that goes unreported.

On Veteran's Day, I think it's appropriate to remember that many who serve in the military have sacrificed in the field and also on their return home in ways that we do not talk about. We trust our leaders to not make commitments without considering these effects that last well past that homecoming day.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Two November poems . . .

The first snow has melted but this morning is a little bleak. A cold and rainy early morning with folks already driving to work. Here are two morning commute poems, embellished by the camera art of Sandy Brown Jensen..

Morning Commute #1

My poem got lost
on the way to work
this morning,
fog-bound fields,
trees patterned against the sky,
faded photocopies.
A few frail yellow and red leaves
float above the bones of a winter landscape,
with many gray days ahead.

Morning Commute (Sandy Brown Jensen)
November Weather Report

Early Tuesday morning,
clumps of clouds
hang low over the valley
as if they had fallen -- like stars,
like dreams
too close to earth.

On Wednesday, gray dimples
fill the sky, flecks of light
at the horizon hint at the sun,
while trees shiver yellow.

Thursday, brilliant sun blinks
and twins to moon,
traceries of cloud
alternately hide and reveal the sun.
Wispy streamers of gray drift,
filling up the sky.
Pale yellow bands light up
the edge of the world,
now yellow, gray, and blue,
layered in morning harmony.

Later the moon rises,
a perfect circle in a glassine sky,
white shadow circling,
bright aura shimmering.

Oregon morning (Sandy Brown Jensen)
Sandy Brown Jensen lives in Oregon, writes, paints, and teaches creative writing and digital storytelling. Sometime in the last few years, she grabbed a digital camera and began to explore what she saw and loved. Her more than 6,000 photos are used with permission, available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.She's also on Vizify, an interesting online profile site I know nothing about!  Sandy and I taught together. Just before retiring, I took a creative writing class from her and am privileged to be her friend.

So for those of you who are curious about Big Brother, the Internet, and your personal data, consider checking Vizify out. Apparently, you push a few buttons and an online visual profile appears -- all about you. I'm going to try it. Here's a neat background article on Vizify by social studies teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe.

If you're here because of you like to read or write poetry, and perhaps are suffering from withdrawal by the end of OctPoWriMo (a poem a day for the month of October), consider visiting Poets on the Page, a weekly poetry prompt each Monday -- with a link.

May your week go well.

Friday, November 01, 2013

November 1: NaNoWriMo begins . . .

How do we challenge ourselves to reach our goals?

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, has officially begun.

My word count today = 510 words on Rivers of Stone, not bad at all for someone who routinely writes 250-300 words a day. My personal goal (as a NaNo rebel) is to write 10,000 words this month, far below the 50,000 words that is the norm for NaNoWriMo writers. But 10,000 words seems more than enough for me.

Today I finished reading Sylvia Van Kirk's Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1983). Van Kirk unveils how early fur traders across Canada and the northern United States benefited from marrying Native American women.

Letitia Hargrave (Wikipedia)
Dubbed 'country wives,' these women and their Métis children created a bridge between two divergent cultures. But once the Scottish chief traders began to bring Scottish wives with Victorian values to the wilderness, these native wives were ostracized, then accepted, and then ostracized again. Her book includes maps, excerpts from letters, and photographs which bring these stories to life. For the wilderness required usefulness in a way that a Victorian woman of a certain class, raised to shine genteelly in a drawing room, would not be prepared for.

At York Factory, for example, Hudson's Bay would freeze-up in October with Spring break-up allowing the passage of ships not until May -- 8 months of isolation. Letitia Hargrave, the Scottish wife of Chief Trader James Hargrave, had a piano at York Factory, servants, enjoyed wine, bore children, and wrote gossipy letters home to her large family -- a treasure today for researchers. But there are no letters from 'country wives.'

Read more of Letitia Hargrave's letters at the Champlain Society.
Check out NaNoWriMo and jump right in!.
Take a look at Sylvia Van Kirk's book, Many Tender Ties, at Amazon.

Have you taken the NaNoWriMo challenge? If yes, are you a NaNo rebel setting your own goals?

Here are two quite interesting articles to keep the writing steaming right along:

"Role Playing Tip #1: Being Angry" at Mind Weave Role-Playing Platform

Karen Woodward's post, "Creating Vivid Characters for NaNoWriMo"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31: Summer unfinished . . .

Why does summer feel unfinished,
unfinished until the last leaves fall,
fall into winter's coldest nights,
nights without regret, promising endings,
endings that lead to beginnings,
beginnings that bring hope,
hope in this little baby's tiny fingers,
fingers that will seize life and tremble,
tremble with joy before she's finished,
finished with false endings,
endings that mark a beginning,
beginning what we do not know.

Finch Arboretum (Camp, October 2013)

Today's the very last day of OctPoWriMo, that celebration of a poem a day, a challenge that has been fun, taken us all in many different directions, now done. Today, we're asked to write about endings and beginnings. We may use a loop poem, which uses a curious repetition for a different rhythm, the ending word of each line begins the next. Read what others have written at OctPoWriMo.

What's next here in November? A series on creativity, perhaps the release of Standing Stones toward the ending of November and the beginning of December. And perhaps updates on another challenge -- NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you a NaNo rebel?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 30: Play in the dark . . .

Play in the dark,
crawl under the bed,
keep still,
the monster won't find you
Not when the radio plays loudly,
glasses break in the night,
people shout,
cars screech away,
and you are
all alone in the house.
The stair creaks.
Night terror begins.

Nightmare before Christmas Pumpkin
Jimmy Snell (2005 Flickr)
As OctPoWriMo nears the end of the month, today's poetry prompt is to explore the dark side, to play in the dark. We're asked to write about "the hard stuff." Halloween is too close; it's too tempting to add a little horror story. I'd rather write sweetness and light, as in the light at the end of a long tunnel, the light that brightens each morning, the light within we share each time we do good in the world. But I can do dark too.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29: An Epitaph . . .

Here lies
my mother:
A simple stone plaque,
level with the ground,
marks her birth
May 5, 1919
and her death
by drowning
April 17, 1971

If I could write
an epitaph
it would say:
She loved and was loved.
She will be remembered.

In this quiet place,
nearly anonymous,
surprised by deer,
I remember her love,
sometimes her folly.

Marion Louise Henry Appleby

Ukiah Cemetery, California (Marilyn, Find-A-Grave, 2009)

Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28: I do love Rumi . . .

Today's poetry prompt from OctPoWriMo asks us to reflect on those who have influenced us "for the better" -- perhaps parents or poets, for example, Rumi. An accompanying video explores human nature and the destructive effects of competition and capitalism. And we are invited to consider who we are, how we came to be ourselves, a complex issue I've thought about all day.

I do love Rumi, but
I'll pass on today's poetry prompt.
We live in a capitalist country
where worth
is mostly measured by
possessions. I've downsized
to a small apartment, routinely
recycle the newspaper without
reading it, yet I have books
in stacks and boxes.

We struggle to find ourselves --
journey, quest, no matter;
we each define ourselves
one decision at a time,
sometimes we make mistakes;
sometimes we're helped by the kindness
of strangers. We argue
over science as if it were fact
and emotion as if that
were the only reality.

I'd rather sit beside a lake,
watch the moon float over clouds,
read Rumi out loud,
and hold your hand.

That may not be possible.

In the 19th Century, Voltaire wrote Candide to tell the story of a young man who discovers horror on horror, natural and human. His conclusion: Cultivate your own garden, separate, fenced all around, as if one could not change any other person, but the only sane response to a world we cannot comprehend or change is to simply withdraw.

As the gap has widened between the quality of life in developed and developing countries, political economists have predicted mass migrations from the have-nots to those places where 'having' still seems possible. We see this happening in our own cities, along our borders. I do not think fences will protect our way of life -- or that 'our way' is the only way.

I only know to cherish each moment, share what I can, and let go.

Maybe the human race will muddle through.

My favorite poem from Rumi is the story-poem-meditation about the mouse and the frog

I wrote the following poem in response.

For Rumi:  A Garden Poem for Frog and Mouse

This day was like any other day
for this man and his wife (frog and mouse)
who lived in a clapboard house
with a garden sort of formal,
slightly overgrown hedges, messes
of potted plants growing up into the garden,
large and wild.

Something terrible had happened;
not even perfect companions (frog and mouse)
talk freely about all things:  a lost child,
the operation, night terrors.
Sometimes he said/she said you don’t hear me
spinning out alone
as if our only shared life is here in this garden
at the appointed time, too formal a tea,
a tete-a-tete, too high a fence, the wild moon/sun
floating too far away.

Char this, my soul, with experience,
no redemptive bath, renunciation one answer
that assumes a unity of self, one in one, not paired, not
floating we as couple, your true eyes
looking into my true eyes,
the mystery of loss and sadness,
of human limits forgiven.
This time the miracle, as sure as bells ring,
holding night and day together, the notes ringing and ringing
but not changing the loss or the separation,
larger than our house, our garden,
larger than our world,

And so alone, he wrote the poem down,
a requiem for mouse and frog,
transforming what is human to what is divine.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27: Two rhymes . . .

Today's poetry prompt from Octpowrimo offers three options, each one progressively more difficult. I wrote just two, not three responses.

Rhyme Prompt One - A Mono-rhyme is a poem in which all the lines have the same end rhyme.

"With apologies to Mary"

Should one be inclined to marry,
my advise is first, to tarry
well before taking that first scary
step to creating your own eyrie,
complete with tiny, beloved fairy,
for too quickly you'll wish for nary
another soul quite so hairy
whose nasty words you'll parry
as you drink another glass of sherry;
at each sip, increasingly wary
of the contrary wish to bury
your own sweet Mary.

Rhyme Prompt Two - Duo-rhyme, a poetic form created by Mary L. Ports, is a 10 or 12-line poem, with the first two and last two lines having the same rhyme scheme, and the center of the poem (lines #3 through #8 or #10) having their own separate mono-rhyme scheme. Each has 8 beats per line. NOTE: Mine has 13 lines. Oops!


Leaning forward, I see you sign
this painting, dark sky, yellow pine:
   bright stars reach where I do not know
   how to read each painting or go
   to some other place long ago.
   I cannot paint or write or show
   my love another way but flow
   around you, still an awkward crow.
   Your painting done, you glow
   with visions, fingers marked with woe,
   for truth, there's only one Van Gogh
 who marries art, a perfect line
 I cannot measure, yet divine.

The Starry Night
Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October 26: Kitty sisters . . .

Two Philadelphia cats on kitty quilt (Camp 2012)
We kitty-cats are sisters
cat-napping, curled together.
I can always count
on sister-mine to keep my back
warm, her fur furry,
purring black cat,
sleeping off catnip.
We are almost domestic;
with claws, paws pounce.
Here, kitty, kitty.
Then there was one.

Kitty napping on kitty-quilt (Camp 2012)

I made this quilt for friends with cats to remember their white cat, Stella, now long gone, whose name was inspired by Marlon Brando's famous scene in A Streetcar Named Desire. My cat Tiger had a truly ordinary name, but he would leap on my desk and sprawl across student papers, marking them with paw prints when I worked too many hours. Sometimes our pets are as close as family.

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25: Celebrate . . .

Today, we walked too far
along a path well known,
a steep incline
just below the tree line of pines.
Instead, I will celebrate with you,
one day at a time.

Trail near High Drive, Spokane
(Camp 2013)
Today's Octpowrimo prompt asks us to celebrate. Read what others have written here.

We really did walk too far on this steep trail, but I haven't missed a day yet for the October poetry challenge, so my offering is short today.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 24: When I was 8 . . .

When I was 8, I saw a witch
sitting atop the window
in my bedroom. It was dark so
I wasn't sure she was there,
casting a spell, her gnarled fingers
curled to grab my dreams.

We carved pumpkins that October
with the large butcher knives
that slipped when you least
expected it.

I was a ghost then,
trick and treating up the lane,
filling my pillowcase with treats,
candy corn my favorite.
Our friends, three little boys,
changed costumes and went another round
and another. Three times.
Not a lucky number.
That was the year their father died.
That was the year
I became a ghost.

Halloween Witch (Daily Record and Mail UK)
Today's prompt from Octpowrimo asks us to go back in time to when we were 8 years old.  Sometimes I think it will take my whole life to heal from what happened when I was 8 and 9 and 10. So I give you this Halloween story instead.

In looking for an image (Google search) of a child in a witch costume, I was stunned by the difference between advertising in the west (happy kids in outlandish costumes) and the reality that children accused of witchcraft face everywhere in the world and especially in Africa. Even though we all must face our own inner demons, if we are tenacious, we can overcome them. Not everyone can.

To read what others have written for today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, go here.
To read about witchcraft around the world, go to Wikipedia's fascinating and troubling article.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23: Number this . . .

1 equals the fall.
2 proximate, those most affected,
3 trinity, unspoken:
one-two-three, infinity.

# # #

I have no easy familiarity
with numbers,
one being first, I suppose,
then last as well.

# # #

Number this:
the days I loved you;
the days before,
too many,
the days after
I don't want to think of,
let alone count.

# # #

People like to count:
just three days before . . .
what will be
becomes was.
The days fall away
like brown leaves.

On entering college, I scored in the 98th percentile in language skills and in the 10th percentile in math. In elementary school, I loved playing with numbers, but we moved so often, I lost how they connected, what came next or even after.

Numbers still escape me in some mysterious way. Before finding DH (dear husband), I used to round up my bank account to create that secret slush fund. He made me go to the bank and explain what I had done. I never forgot what the bank clerk said, with raised eyebrows yet. "I've heard of people like you."

Today's poetry prompt is about numbers. Go to Octpowrimo to read what others have written. I hope someone today took on the language of numbers -- natural, rational, real, and complex. Ooops, I left out integers, negative numbers and transcendental numbers. Much grist for poetry here. Note: This category of 'important number systems' came from Wikipedia. Read more about numbers there. And, yes, I did like that TV show.

NUMB3RS (2005-2010)  (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22: Leaning into tomorrow . . .

Leaning into tomorrow
how do you find your way,
lost in a pirogue,
this mist,
this now?
Do your roots sink down,
holding you here, mirrored
in quiet waters?
Does the tangle of trees
cover the path
to somewhere else?

Follow the birds of your heart.
You are at peace in this place,
breathing in the sweet smell
everywhere, every day,
each moment true.

Today's prompt from Octpowrimo asks us to select from three images. I chose this one from Rodney Smith, titled, "Danielle in boat, Beaufort, South Carolina" (1996).

Already I'm curious to see what others have written about this beautiful photograph. I only had time to look at a few of Smith's photos, but they all have this luminous composition -- or something whimsical -- that provokes reflection and makes me want to see more of his work.

Read what others have written at Octpowrimo

and explore a little of Rodney Smith.

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21: Micro beat . . .

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo asks us to write a sentence poem of exactly 17 syllables, inspired by Jack Kerouac. Here are the results of this morning's writing.

Morning begins with delight and hope: I am here, aware and ready. 

I write with a woman's eye to find what lies between thought and action.

I struggle with form and content, to be surprised by grace and beauty.

With each breath, I am attentive and forgetful in equal measure. 

What I found from writing these deceptively simple sentences that take us down to the essence of an idea is that I am a conditional thinker. My writing begins with phrases like -- if, because, since, although.  And that I find it difficult to confront reality head on. Is this because I am a woman? That I think slant? Sometimes my statements do rise at the end, with that questioning inflection that asks: Is this all right?

But notice how the sharp images of poetry have vanished. That which connects to the five senses is simply not present. So perhaps:

My fingers ache with desire to put words down that connect heart and mind.

I find quotes here and there and keep them at the front of my daily writing diary for inspiration.

Imagine my surprise when I counted syllables to find that this month's quote falls under the category of Jack Kerouac's American Sentence Poem -- 17 syllables.

'The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.' --Pablo Picasso

My response:

I still know only one Picasso, one art, one daily life, one soul.

Picasso: Boy with a pipe (Wikipedia

Of course, we can romanticize Picasso, and I do. But he lived a complex life, had many affairs, and wrote poetry, often as ribald as he was. His art and his poetry describe a man with large appetities and an equal amount of rage. 

Read more of Picasso's poetry at Wikipedia.

Read what others have written for this poetry prompt at Octpowrimo.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20: Love lines from a Mouse to a Pin Cushion . . .

He: There's something about you
very practical. You're so busy.
I'm not sure I'll measure up, but
your colors dazzle me.
I think I'm stuck on you.

She: I don't know. You seem
fast -- that metallic purple.
You're always over by the laptop,
wireless. You have no cord.
How do I know
you'll have time for me?

He: Hop on down here, sweetie.
I got a new pad today, just your style.
We'll play with the cursor,
discover a little something about each other.
You know I look up to you.

She: Maybe.

He: Maybe yes?

She: Yes.

Beth's new mousepad!

Just for fun: today's prompt from Octpowrimo. Read what others have written here!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 19: Rhyme sometime . . .

Can't think of anything worse
than rhyming in verse,
for words, you know,
are perverse.
They come out in pure form,
when you least expect it,
that double x entendre
that's not deflected,
that shakes the norm,
not out of some lost library book.
You getting warm? I'd rather speak straight.
Look, I hear it on the street,
blue collar blues wailing out the beat.
You gotta eye that wild hombre on the corner
stringing, rapping his fate.
He was born to sing his own song,
as I sing mine.

Today's challenge from OctPoWriMo is to write a poem in verse.

Most true rap is too strong for me. From what I've heard, I guess I like the rhythm of "soft rap" and the glue of rhyme that holds a song together. Lots of energy and gritty story-telling in hip hop, a new art form that keeps right on changing.  Here is a Youtube clip of a musician who took to the streets . . .


The musician is Joshua Bell. The experiment was set up by the Washington Post. Bell played Bach for about 45 minutes on a Stradivarius violin worth about $2 million. Few stopped to listen.

Jump over to Octpowrimo to read what others have written.

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18: Dylan twice . . .

Have the courage to write badly,
I cannot write at all today.
My feet hurt.
But badly, baldly forward I go
into what good night?
Must be 30 shades of something,
perhaps then
it, there, was, to be, when
Bob Dylan's nasal whine
cut through time,
wine, rhyme,
melting syllables.
Dark chocolate drips
lies along my tongue.
I waited too long, but
I have you, babe.

Today's prompt from Octpowrimo was to write a truly bad poem. So far only 14 people have the courage to do so AND post a link.
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan 1963

For me what makes truly bad poetry is plagiarism, intentional or not, so I've got two lines "aslant" from the two artists named Dylan.

My favorite poem, Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night," reminded me of my favorite singer from the 1960s on -- Bob Dylan. I never cared that he went electric.

Both were impossibly young when they wrote poetry/songs that forever changed several generations, and I still love their work.
Dylan Thomas  c.1939
Source BBC

My praise poem is, I think, truly bad. Maybe I should have used rap format. Then what is bad would have been waaay bad.

More about Dylan Thomas here.

More about Bob Dylan here.

Read what other writers have written for OctPoWriMo here.

October 18: Just sayin' . . .

Just saying Yahoo! for today.

The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales has been selected for the World Literary Cafe's FREE E-BOOK FRIDAY!

Why not go visit and check my book out!

Today only.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 17: The games we play . . .

I played touch football once.
You darted past me so fast;
I didn't realize I was supposed
to block you.
Now we watch football on TV,
Sunday afternoons together,
your voice-over another
on who does what and when and why.
Thousands roar in the stands
as we yell from the couch.
Another player's down.
The gods of Rome smile.

Remember Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty (1979)? The movie opens the morning after a big game. Nolte can't get out of bed. Bruised and stiff from pain, he stumbles to the bathroom. That was my first awareness that pro football players wind up hurt. Today, football headlines focus on the brain damage that football players incur at every level -- including elementary school. The NFL heads up a multi-billion dollar industry, yet supports some research to protect players. Change will be slow, but documentaries, like the PBS special "League of Denial" highlight risks of heatstroke, concussion, and long-term brain damage.

A gamer I'm not -- unless you count that ultimate time-waster, Solitare. The cards flip down so easily, brainless I tell myself, a harmless warm-up before I work on serious stuff. In the last several years, I've played Farmville to stay in touch with my sister who lives in a different state, Lexulous (an online word game like Scrabble), a tiny bit of World of War Craft (free preview, never got out of the training level), and Diablo II (that was totally fun but way too time-consuming). This afternoon I played 10 minutes of Candy Crush, recommended by someone from Octpowrimo. Oops.

Today's prompt was to write a poem about a game . . . See what others have written for Octpowrimo.

Larry Fitzgerald catches a touchdown pass
2009 Pro Bowl (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16: The last word . . .

What one word could sum up
our years together?
I need too many words to describe
even today's walk, the path
shimmered with fall's red and yellow leaves,
the great turn of seasons to winter.
You said, "I'm feeling tired."
Someday you will whisper that last word.
I want to be there
to lay my cheek on your hand,
even if your last word is Rosebud
and has nothing at all
to do with me.

Japanese Garden in October
Manito Park (Camp 2013)
Japanese Garden in October
Manito Park (Camp 2013)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15: Let us swim with the sharks

Let us
swim with the sharks;
reservations only
at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
Gentle creatures we're told:
we'll cage dive to see
nurse sharks, lemon sharks,
blacktip reef sharks,
horse-eye jacks,
maybe a stray butterfly fish.
or a politician.

We are safer than some
38 million sharks,
their fins harvested each year
for soup. They sink and drown
like my mother.
she was no shark,
but the sea is not gentle.

I make chicken soup with dumplings.
my grandmother's recipe.
Somehow chicken seems safer,
like albacore in a can,
chicken of the sea;
I pretend I don't see the cages.

Lemon Shark (Wikipedia)

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo asks us to write a poem inspired by the news, as in, the news, my muse. Today's headlines are all about furloughed workers, a government shutdown, and an impasse that continues to shake the market and our credibility worldwide. But there on the first page, an article caught my eye -- "Tacoma Aquarium offers dive with sharks." And something clicked. Surprisingly, today's poem.

For more pictures of sharks: Your Shark Pictures - National Geographic
Info on shark dives at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Why not jump in and join us in writing a poem a day for October?

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14: Knowing silence . . .

Silence. I must close my door
for that sheer lack of sound.
Your television blares
through the night
but I don't care.
You are here.

Even with the door shut,
the murmur of that sports
announcer spikes
in tune with my breath,
almost a comforting

For when you go out,
then I know silence.

We're working on writing in 1974
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
No LINKY today, but you can read what others have written for OctPoWriMo here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October 13: 9 words from the internet . . .

Don't LOL, man,
I blog when I can . . .
there's an app for that,
finding memes.
I 'll twitter,
once I find my hash tag.
Internet's crazy
spammin' me,
sending me malware
like some mere cat
with nothing to do.
Hook me up, wi-fi.
What would I do
without you?

A Mere Cat Meme (Funny Animal Memes)

Today's poetry prompt from OctPoWriMo suggests having fun with one letter to see what words come into play, poetic forms. I've long loved words and read dictionaries for fun. A new word I can't quite define is meme. Online a meme is some cultural item repeatedly transmitted. Could be animal cartoons. Could be a list of questions you answer on your blog and then repost the questions to a few of your online friends.

For me, blogging was a way to connect with family and friends when I was traveling. Boy, that's changed. How about you? Have you ever played with a meme?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12: Found treasures . . .

Take your thrift shop,
garage or jumble sale, call it
recycling, found treasures
that purple hand-knitted sweater,
that woven doll from Guatemala,
unfinished quilt blocks cut from calico,
the clever glass cutting board
emblazoned with Van Gogh's iris:
detritus from someone who has moved on,
leaving all behind,
flickers of what once was
a life carefully constructed,
now echoes I choose to take home
to cherish
for we are shadows all.

Today's OctPoWriMo asks us to explore the dark side, the shadows of our own self. I went to sleep thinking just of the prompt, shadow, and awoke with a sense of what has gone before -- and what will be. More the impermanence of each of our lives and how we cling to small, tangible things and take joy from them. If we are lucky, we have family and friends to love. Today, I want to affirm what is good. Maybe a darker poem will come along later.

Read more about what others have written for OctPoWriMo here.

Dresden Plates, unfinished, 1930s fabric
(Camp 2012)

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11: Last call . . .

Down the bar,
someone's playing
piano, thunky-plunk picking
out a tune that makes
no sense a-tall,
midnight blues,
and me stirring
smokey Joe,
I told her I don't
drink and watched her eyes
flick past me.
Maybe someone else
will slide on that bar stool
next to me.
Middle C says not.
My lips remember
the saxophone of my youth,
pucker sweet.
Last call.

I honestly don't know where this one came from. I hate bars. I grew up in bars, waiting for my mother, watching the round clock on the wall. When I was a teen, I danced to Fats Domino and fell in love with stride piano and the sax.

Today's OctPoWriMo poetry prompt asks us to use sound in our poem. So here's "Blue Monday" featuring the one and only Fats and a little sax solo by Herb Hardesty. Not quite like my poem but, oh my, that's piano and sax.

Read what others have written for OctPoWriMo here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

October 10: Love is like . . .

Today, OctPoWriMo asks us to write a sort of collaborative or reply poem by reading and rereading a poem that moved us -- and then writing a response. Here is Ron Potter's poem, "Love is like . . . "

Love is Like

Love is like
open heart surgery;
learning to trust your doctor.
Let him cut your breastbone
and open you down the center,
exposing the innermost sanctum:
The holy of holy's,
where only a high priest can enter,
once a year with a rope round his leg
to pull him out fast
in case your wrath is aroused.

Love is like walking on coals
in soft tender soles
more used to loafers or slippers.
And after that glass
with shards turned up to hurt you.

Love is like finding out
that none of those tests were worthy
of who you are or who you've become.

Love is like walking out
and finding that doubt
is actually a very nice feeling,
and you can learn to live there
with less and less care.
Love is when
you lay down your burden.

Love is Like

Love is like
a poem I have found
and cannot forget: 
and yet return to find myself
in those particular words
as one who dives 
into the dark side of the reef
where black water waits,
my only hope
the air in the mask
and those who wait on the shore.

Love is like floating above the abyss
with long flippers to ease
each stroke, feet
more used to walking 
than flying through water.
And after that, far below,
fish feed among brain coral,
and I feel the immense coldness
of the sea.

Love is like finding out
that none of this defines
who I was or who I will become.

Love is like emerging from the sea
no longer alone. Your words
spill out as if you understand 
exactly what I left behind,
there in the dark deep, 
that which will return in the night.
Love is when you reach out to me,
and I am with you.

I'm not sure I understand Ron's poem, but I do love every line. Thank you, Ron, for the inspiration that led to my response.

Writing this, I was reminded of the first time I went snorkeling in the waters off Honduras. The captain had us work with masks in waist-deep water and we saw fish nibbling at our toes. For our second dive, we neophytes floated above some 30 feet of water to see fish and seaweed swaying amid the coral reef below. The last dive some refused to do, for we were some 70-100 feet above that point where the edge of the reef deepens to the darkest sea. Somehow, swimming there, I felt free, a part of the sea and separate, perhaps a bit immortal for just that moment.

I cannot find a picture that captures that line, on one side the reef far below, full of life, and on the other side of the line, the end of the coastal shelf marked by the darkest sea, mysterious, unending, essentially unknowable -- at least by this casual snorkler.

Read what others have written for OctPoWriMo here.