Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Meet the Author: Anne Louise Bannon

Today, Anne Louise Bannon releases Death of An Heiress, Book 4 in her Old Los Angeles historical mystery series. This fascinating story takes us back to 1895, a time when women doctors were not easily accepted, tensions between landowners and workers ran high, and dead bodies kept showing up in unexpected places. 

Anne kindly answered a few questions for your enjoyment:

--Can you tell us a little about yourself? Not much to tell. I've been writing most of my life, starting with my first novel at age 15. It wasn't necessarily a good novel, but I wrote it. I've worked as a journalist and TV critic. My husband and I write a wine blog, OddBallGrape.com. He makes wine and bread. I make soap, bread, and sew clothes. We like to joke that we make the things most sane people buy. We live in Southern California with our basset/beagle mix TobyWan, and cats Medusa, Xanax, and Benzedrine.

Anne's cat, Xanax

--When did you begin to write stories? Well, apart from the novel I mentioned above, I wrote my first story in fourth grade as part of a classroom assignment. It was about a jungle expedition and had knives falling out of trees and all sorts of ridiculous stuff. But then, the summer I turned 15, I realized that if I was going to get away with doing all the daydreaming I was doing, I should write it down. So, I did.

--How would you describe your writing process? Ever-evolving. Everything starts in my head, though. Usually, the characters start talking to me (it's very noisy inside my head). Or I'll see something weird and think, "That's interesting. Maybe useful . . . ." It's a lot harder for me to write if I haven't had significant time to think about it. That's one of the reasons I spend so much time walking. Once I've got a story, I'll find different ways to organize it, depending on my mood, and what toys I have to play with. 

Yes, I'm a geek. If there's some new bit of software, I'll play with it. Right now, my fave organizing tool is Aeon Timeline (love the new upgrade!!). I also love "handwriting" my notes on my iPad with GoodNotes. That has been an amazing experience - being able to take advantage of the neural benefits of handwriting while still being able to take my notes everywhere without having to haul around a file folder or worry about bits of paper getting lost.

Finally, I apply my fanny to the seat of my chair and start cranking. Once the characters are talking, things usually go smoothly. Sometimes, they're a little more reticent. But I keep going. That's how a book gets done.

--What brings you joy in writing? Dorothy L. Sayers in Gaudy Night has her character Harriet Vane talking to someone else about how it feels when she writes something. It's absolutely right, and she knows it to her core. I forget the exact quote, and Google didn't help me just now. But I remember reading that and thinking. Yes. Hell, yes! That is it! That is the moment. There is nothing better than writing a bit of narrative, a really good turn of phrase, and knowing that you have nailed it. And I generally have.

-- How do you connect with other writers? with readers? I connect with other writers through various writing groups, such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Historical Novel Society. It was actually a smaller group that connected me with two of my best friends, but it was for writers. As for connecting with readers, I do everything I can. I give talks at the drop of a hat. I hand out cards every so often. I sell books to my husband's home winemaking club. All sorts of things.

--How did your blog evolve into what it is today? It started with a novel I wrote in the late 1980s, a romance between a U.S. president and his aide, that never really ended. So, in 2007 or so, when blogging was just happening, I decided to turn that novel into a blog - hell, blogs don't end, right? That became White House Rhapsody, which is currently only available as an ebook on Smashwords. As time went on, I folded my TV blog, then decided that for my personal blog, I'd write about the stuff I was really interested in. But then, I had this series of novels that I'd written in the early 1980s that never went anywhere, and while they needed re-writing, they were still pretty good, and since I had one fiction serial. Next thing I know, I'm putting those on the blog. 

The wine blog, OddBallGrape.com, happened as a joint project with my husband, and we featured the kinds of wines no one had ever heard of, such as negrette and blaufrankisch. But then we realized that winemakers who were women and/or people of color weren't getting any press, and that profiles and wine education got us more readers than tasting notes. So, that's the current focus of that blog.

--What is the best writing advice you’ve received? Best?? Hmm. I've gotten a lot of advice in my time, but not much that really sticks out as good advice, for some reason. I'm always willing to learn, don't get me wrong. I do remember this one incident. In my novel Fascinating Rhythm, there is a scene where author Freddie Little is telling his new friend and editor Kathy Briscow about how his book had been with several other editors, and no one could offer any suggestions that made sense to him until he got Kathy's letter, and it was as if Moses had come down from the mountain and said, "This is the way thou shalt go." 

Well, I'd polished and re-written Fascinating Rhythm. Re-written and polished. Then sent it around to the editors and agents, and got lots of good comments and lots of things that they thought needed fixing, but nothing consistent. Then this one editor said, "It needs more urgency." Bing! Bing! Bing!! It was exactly like the scene in the book. Moses had come down from the mountain. And that's what I fixed.

--What would you tell other writers on how to improve their writing life? Develop persistence. You'll need it at every phase of the process, from getting your novel together and written, to putting it out there, to selling it after it's published. 

Secondly, try everything. I was at a talk once where the speaker was proposing this very time-intensive, nit-picky, and formulaic process for editing. I remember watching her and thinking that there was no way in hell I would get anything done if I did that. And yet, when I got stuck on a scene a few days after that talk, I looked up her acronym, and it got me out of the scene. That's why my process is ever-evolving. There's always something new to learn and you can learn a lot even from what doesn't work for you.
Anne with TobyWan

Thank you, Anne, for sharing your story-telling background and giving us such excellent writing advice. Your passion for writing, your energy, humor, and curiosity come through clearly.

I first met Anne as part of Sisters in Crime. She is a prolific writer. In addition to the Old Los Angeles series, you can check out her Kathy and Freddy 1920s mystery series, the Operation Quickline (romance/espionage). All of Anne's books are available on Amazon.  I can promise you intriguing characters, realistic settings that immerse you in time and place, and a really good read. And, don't forget her blog!

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

And what's next?

In two weeks, we leave for a car trip through Canada, already looking forward to summer, blue skies, and driving through the wilds from Banff to Vancouver, where we'll stay a month in an apartment with a nook for writing.

My laptop is ready, but I am not. Doctor appointments and news a dear friend has died, as other dear friends stuggle with Covid mean I'm looking forward to a respite, a time of healing.

I haven't been writing.

Or I write a little one day and nothing the next.

This morning, I gave myself a shake and settled down to make that pros/cons list for I have two projects simmering away. 1) to finish Scattered Stones, the fourth and final book in my historical fiction series that's percolating away with notes and edits from beta readers, hopefully close to completion, and 2) to start on that next new and shiny story: The Last Sarcophagus, a mystery set in Egypt.

And then I noticed a new review from MAR, an anonymous reviewer on Amazon. She reviewed four of my books in under a month -- and gave extraordinarily helpful feedback on story strategy, character development, and (aargh!) typos! On all four books! I can't even say thank you because I don't know who she is!

Thank you, MAR, wherever you are, for helping me see what's next. I'll finish Scattered Stones and then dig right into those changes you suggest. I'm packing my notes, laptop, and we're ready.

May your own summer bring you flowers, moments of peace and celebration, and if you write, may you discover many good words.

Lilacs in Manito Park (June 2022)



Wednesday, June 01, 2022

IWSG June 1: Why do we write?

 How did we get here to the first of the month so fast? You probably already know that the first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. 

On this day, we post on our blogs to talk about writing. Some of us will reveal doubts or discuss struggles or triumphs. We try to visit at least 12 others in in the group and offer words of understanding or encouragement. For on this day, we writers are a unique online community of support. As our fearless leader Alex Cavannaugh says, "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

This month's optional question: When the going gets tough in writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end? If you have not started the writing yet, why do you think that is? What do you think could help you get started?

Setting aside the horrific news that shapes and saddens our world, this month has brought unexpected twists -- and not plot twists! 

First, I followed that tried advice to put my rough draft aside while waiting for beta comments. As those comments slowly trickled in, I was reluctant to start again with revisions. Perhaps part of me truly longed to be finished! I doubted my ability to do justice to this story I loved. Another week passed with no progress. And then, another. I met with a trusted writing friend who said, "You have to tell your story. No one else can!" Just like that, her belief pushed me back into a writing routine.

A friend confided he was losing his sight, and he just wanted to finish his book. Could I help him? Sure, I could and did. Only sheer stubborness kept me working on my own writing -- and copy editing his. Do you realize how much we take our sight for granted? How many typos, extra spaces, or lapses in story telling we might make if we can't see? How difficult is it to accept what has changed and to ask for help?

An e-mail brought news that a dear friend we've travelled the world with suffered a stroke and now is in hospice. At our age, such news is not unexpected, and yet, I feel helpless. Our only recourse is to persevere with our beliefs and actions, in hopes of making our world a little better.

I am grateful for every moment with those I love, for writers and readers, grandchildren, family dinners (regardless of how chaotic), for friends near and far. This moment, this now, is what we have. 

Our favorite dogwood tree,
taken on a daily walk (May 2022)

Consider joining the Insecure Writer's Support Group: Just go to the IWSG's home page and sign up! Post your thoughts on your blog and visit our co-hosts for the June 1 posting: SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you feel supported in your own creativity -- and that the coming month brings us all healing, strength, and the ability to cherish each day.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

A Spring Poem: Entropy

The scientist casually,
far too casually, 
brushes a white coffee mug
off his desk. It shatters and 
a rain of fragments spill on the floor.
Entropy, the scientist explains 
degrees of disorder;
everything dissolves into nothing
at random, over and over again.

What is whole becomes broken,
a one-way process repeated
every day, in every sense of time; 
our earth wobbles as it circles the sun. 
Even the universe expands and expands 
and curls outward
and destroys itself.

Despite my careful efforts
to create order,
only the seasons remain, 
winter, a dusting of snow that melts into spring,
a cycle of fragile flowers that bud 
as green sprigs open into leaves.

We walk slowly along a gravel path 
in a small lilac garden, 
shades of purple and white;
a brisk spring wind hints at winters past
and winters to come.
Entropy, I repeat,
my friend is sick. I stare
at the flowers and wonder
who will come to see the lilacs next spring
or the year after that?

Lilacs at Manito Park (May 2022)

Even so, winter seems to linger longer this year, as we all face unexpected challenges on top of all else that grabs the headlines. Today, a dear friend is sick. My thoughts are hopeful, yet realistic, for we are now in that decade when we must learn new lessons about life that begins and ends.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Writer's Resource: What's a Beta Reader?

Like many other writers committed to a large project, I finally finished my first rough draft of Scattered Stones, set in 1840s Scotland. "What's next?" I wondered, after putting the novel aside to 'marinate' for about a month. "How can I efficiently finish this story?"

At first blush, I knew I needed reader feedback. Did my story work as I hoped? Diving back into research, I discovered so many resources, some paid, some not, to help me reach 'launch date'.

Beta readers could help me reach that goal to publish, but I wasn't quite sure.

What's a beta reader? A beta reader is someone who reads a free copy of a nearly finished novel and agrees to provide feedback to the writer. Said feedback depends on the beta reader's expertise and interest.

Here's what I've learned . . . so far. Surprisingly, the very first step is to analyze more precisely what I need with this story. Do I need:

  • Proofreading or copy editing to check spelling, grammar, punctuation, or consistency of voice or style because my story is just about perfect in every other element? In other words, it's nearly finished! NOTE: Most professional writers will say, "You need to hire an editor!" But some beta readers can copy edit.
  • Developmental editing to analyze my story concept, plot coherence, character development, or story arc to find if something's just off? Because I sense something is missing, maybe a plot hole?
  • Structural editing to analyze the story's plot, pacing, characters, setting, theme, and overall style to discover if the 'bones' of my story are working together effectively?
  • Reader response to simply find out what folks who read my genre think about my story. 
OK, I'm in. Now, how do I find a beta reader? I began by reaching out to writers I know locally and who I've met through writing groups I belong to (for example, Sisters In Crime, the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers). I posted a call for beta readers on my author Facebook Page, and here on this blog. As I have served as a beta reader for other writers, I reached out to those writers as well.

My goal was to create a Beta Reader Team, a group of folks with diverse interests and skills, who would give me feedback. The results have surpassed my initial hopes. Comments from my wonderful beta readers hit every category summarized above, giving me focus and new insight into what's next to revise that nearly final first draft.

Sisters in Crime hosted a fascinating online discussion about how different writers thank their beta readers. In addition to that free copy of a novel, nearly all writers acknowledge the contribution beta readers have made in an afterword. Some give extra, more personal gifts, swag, or gift certificates. A writer I did a beta read for, M. J. Hudon, gave me a set of potholders featuring werewolves, really charming and related to the theme of her book. I'm looking forward to reading her work again.

And that's the point to building that Beta Reader Team. In much the same way that we reach out to our readers and want to connect with them, our beta readers give us valuable feedback as well as a supportive community. Of course, the wonderful feedback I've gotten from about eight beta readers will lead to several more months of hard work, but I'm so thankful for their thoughtful comments. 

I hope this discussion has been helpful to you. If you're a writer, have you worked with beta readers? What did you learn? What questions do you still have? Here's a link to "The Ultimate Guide to Beta Readers" at The Write Practice, if you'd like more suggestions. 

Meanwhile, spring is finally morphing into early summer. May your writing go well. 








Wednesday, May 11, 2022

May Morning: A Poem

Two ravens soared
down from the sky this morning,
hopping atop the thick green spring grass,
heads twisting as they hunted;
their beaks flicked through pink cherry blossoms
scattered by my walkway.
They did not see me, yet I wondered
what message they brought,
these hardy warriors of the sky,
as they hopped in this moment,
their croaking cry a reminder
these are talking birds. Some believe
ravens connect this world with the next.
Perhaps this small patch of grass
didn't hold enough for their meditations,
for in a flash of black,
they were gone, and I was left
with cherry trees still in bloom, petals falling,
and green, green grass around me,
a sunny morning now too quiet,
as if even the morning waited
for what will come next.


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

You can read this fascinating summary of cultural beliefs about ravens  to understand its complex history. In the same family as crows, these birds are intelligent, perhaps the Creator/Trickster these stories reveal.

Update: Now that that month-long challenge of writing a poem each day is over, I'm back to writing and revising Scattered Stones, feeling I have "miles to go before I sleep," and hoping each Wednesday to post a little something, like today's poem. 

May Spring bring you warmer days.





Wednesday, May 04, 2022

IWSG: Balanced between the best of times . . .


Today marks the first Wednesday of the month with a writing challenge, the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Nearly 140 writers, including me, post our thoughts today to celebrate writing in some way -- maybe sharing doubts or concerns, maybe celebrating our writing achievements, or offering encouragement to each other.

If you'd like to participate, please sign up, post your own thoughts on your blog, check out the guidelines on the IWSG LINK, and visit about 12 other writers! Why not start with our co-hosts for this month: Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon.

Now, here's the May 4 question: It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

The best of times: Spring. I can almost truly believe that winter's snows will not reappear this year -- at least not until Thanksgiving. Every day, new flowers bloom, trees greener than yesterday, and the sun a little warmer, a little more present. 

The best of times as a writer, for me, are when:
  • The words simply fly off my keyboard into scenes that truly work.  
  • A reader sends me a note, even about a typo, that connects to my story's intentions. 
  • I can see steady progress towards my writing goals.
  • I finish a major project and hover over the new story, researching and building possibilities.
  • I write in the morning so the echo of ideas and new information follows me all day.
And those worst of times are when:
  • I wait and wait and wait for feedback from beta readers, wondering if my story really works the way I hope.
  • I doubt every marketing decision or step taken (and not taken).
  • I accidentally delete that new scene.
  • I can't write because my 'to do' list is far too long.
When I don't write, I almost feel as if something important is missing. I have so many blessings to enjoy that I don't need to write. I could quilt, instead. Or read, or plan a family dinner, or play with the grandkids (we've downsized, so no garden to nurture). Yet the writing anchors me. There's some small kernal of stubborness that says: I will write because it truly gives me an excuse to explore ideas, create something new, and connect with others in unexpected ways.

Given our current political arguments, the war in Ukraine, global warming, I find much that is depressing. Yes, I feel helpless to 'fix' or 'change' much of anything at that level. And so I write, paragraph by paragraph, and quilt, block by block, just because it helps me find meaning. In the process, I try to cherish each day, cook meals, clean house mostly, and  love my family. What more is there?


Block 3 of Jason Yenter's "Enchanted Garden"

May the coming month be good to us all. Write on!
And just a little plug: If you enjoy reading art crime mysteries,
check out The Seventh Tapestry, set in Scotland.





Sunday, May 01, 2022

May 1: May we begin . . .

How do we begin a new month? Especially in the first blush of spring? (I'm remembering snow on the ground just two weeks ago!) With optimism and planning, yes?

About the writing: While waiting for comments from beta readers (holding my breath), I've stepped away from writing, focusing instead on April's challenge to write a poem a day. Now, inspired by Anne R. Allen's newsletter/blog, I'm asking:

  • Do I have a SERIES BIBLE for my art crime mysteries that began with The Seventh Tapestry, set in Edinburgh, Scotland? The short answer is no, and I'm poised to begin research on book 2, The Lost Sarcophagus. According to Anne R. Allen, a series bible will help keep track of key characters, plot lines, conflicts, and settings -- for each book. Sounds helpful when the two lead characters encounter their next art crime set in Egypt. 
  • When drafting, how can I bring SECONDARY CHARACTERS to life? Again, Anne R. Allen suggests defining their goals and motivation as these shape dialogue, action, and even images.
  • I'm working on FINAL REVISIONS for Scattered Stones, that last story (?) in my historical series that began with Standing Stones. You know, waiting for beta reader comments is really hard, even with writing gurus suggesting I put aside that final draft for a month. So, I'm now working on launch plans and lining up advance reviewers. If you are interested in receiving an ARC (advance review copy) of Scattered Stones, please drop me an e-mail!
About travel: Our family is gathering near Banff and Lake Louise, Canada, in late June to celebrate a combination reunion/anniversary/graduation. We'll drive up and along the way, stop in a few favorite hiking spots. Meanwhile, I'm daydreaming about another stay in Merida, off the beaten tourist path on the east coast of Mexico, and planning ahead for a stay in Las Cruces, New Mexico next winter (avoid the snow). Rattle those suitcases!


Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

And other preoccupations: Well, health could be that first preoccupation, but we all face health challenges at one time or another. Plug along, do what the doc says, and hope for a good outcome. I'm feeling grateful for loving hugs from family and friends -- and coffee! Would love to have a kitty to pet, but then I'd have to give up those suitcases.

Quilting update: After drooling for nearly a year over his gorgeous pattern, I've finally started Seattle quilt designer Jason Yenter's "Enchanted Garden." Oh, those tiny pieces, a lovely distraction. Here's the first block, with 11 more to create.

I'm wishing you a happy spring, one with many satisfying projects, time with family and those you love, and most of all, appreciation for each beautiful sunny day, even gardens -- all without snow!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Poem a Day 30: I Dare You . . .

When I was nine years old,
or maybe ten,
my mom, my sister, and me
went to live with my aunt.
Everything seemed crazy.
We didn't know, my sister and me,
why we were there, on this small island,
just outside Seattle, living in this
tiny house with a crooked fireplace
and a winding path down to the beach.

My two cousins greeted us with straight faces.
Jimmy, the oldest at 12, walked us
over to a group of nettles rising up out of the earth.
"How do I know you will be brave?"
He glared at me. "Pick one of these nettles
and strip the leaves off. I dare you."

Did you ever wonder what you would do if
someone dared you to do something,
and you knew, deep in your heart that this
was stupid? And you did it? 
Because you wanted more than anything
to belong, to be accepted, to be loved?
Blisters blasted up both hands as I twisted
that nettle and pulled it straight.

The rest of that summer, the island was ours.
We ran wild along the beaches,
climbed logs, built sand castles,
left secret messages in that stone fireplace.
For those few months, I was just a kid.

Bainbridge Island, about 1953.

Today's the very last day of the national challenge to write a poem every day for the month of April. I'm not quite sure this is a poem. I did want to write something beautiful, something about nature, maybe hope in these tumultuous times. But instead, this memory came of a time long ago, when I was just a kid. All I can tell you is that I'm still stubborn -- and, it's time to get back to writing! 

Has anyone ever dared you to do something? What did YOU do?

I am hoping that May will be a better month for us all.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Poem a Day 29: X marks a spot . . .

X marks a spot on the map, 
perchance more 
than arriving at a destination, 
a meandering toward the end,
really, a whole month 
of a form of meditation,
writing poetry, 
trying to define the unknown,
x-related, not x-rated,
multi-directional, 
within, 
without, 
unexpectedly connecting to endless skies
and those I love, 
all as the earth turns,
another day, 
another mark on the calendar,
and, for now, spring.


Only one more day left in this month-long challenge to write a poem each day. Somewhat at random, I found a lovely site that posted A to Z prompts for this  month. I'm a little late, though very appreciative of having found a few words this morning. May will begin with a return to story writing, and just maybe, I'm ready!

Thank you for reading, for being a part of my blog. Are you ready for May? 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Poem a Day 28: Friends

Where are you this morning?
Looking out over your garden with plans,
a cup of hot tea ready to sip,
crossword puzzle folded nearby for later?
Early spring means those first
weeds are shooting up 
next to bulbs now sprouting, 
sprigs of red, yellow, purple, 
all the flowers you have nurtured,
and green everywhere,
as if the deer won't notice.
The days have finally turned warmer.
Once again, we'll gather
in your backyard,
hoping for a glimpse 
of this year's fawns,
and remembering
all our times together, stories told,
far away places shared,
and now, good memories,
dear friends to cherish.

Backyard deer, Redmond 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Poem a Day 27: Family History

Only once have I chipped ice
off the top of a pail
to get to the water beneath,
camped near the top of a mountain,
waking to snow on the ground,
a rough trail ahead.

My mother grew up in a logging camp,
back in the 1920's, apples saved
under the bed through winter.
She brought water to their cabin,
in heavy pails, snow or no snow.
Gramie cut their hair so they
almost looked like boys,
eased their cuts and bruises with
a home-made poultice, and cooked
venison over the fire, tasty when
you could get it. Grandad ran a crew
and cut logs wider than they were tall,
out in the wilderness. Only the railroad
linked them to town, that and trails
so remote, even a trackker could get lost,
and they did, get lost and somehow survive
until Grandad got a better job.
They moved to town, one of those
small cottages in a row, yes, 
a white picket fence in front
like I've dreamed of. All was well,
until my mother became beautiful.


Frances and Marion, Anderson Camp, 1928


Marion, Hollywood, 1941

Only three more days in this month-long poetry challenge. I must confess, writing a poem a day has not been easy, but still, starting most mornings by just reflecting, letting words and images bubble up has taken me in unexpected directions. Thank you for reading along. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Poem a Day 26: A Quilter Begins . . .

Imagine a little boy
helping his mother in her quilting shop,
picking up scraps of every color,
playing with patterns,
never realizing one day, he would
draw with fabric such exquisite designs,
his own patterns would dazzle quilters everywhere.

And so I begin my first quilt of his making
by cutting the fabric, tracing the lines,
four flowers balanced in batik,
each block builds into the next,
perhaps a quilt one day 
to comfort my husband, my daughter;
perhaps my granddaughters will
play hide and seek, pointing
to their favorite flowers
just before napping or dreaming
or remembering.


First block of "Enchanted Garden"
by Jason Yenter, 




Monday, April 25, 2022

Poem a Day 25: Home

When I was a kid, I walked to school
past a row of cottages, neatly
tucked behind white picket fences,
red roses in tidy gardens,
and daydreamed of some day 
my world would change.
We lived in a rented duplex,
each night, a cacaphony of raised voices,
the clink of glasses and bottles,
and in the morning, with ashtrays to clean,
I tiptoed around sleeping strangers
before I walked to school.

I never believed I would live
in such a cottage, and then I met you,
my traveling man, maps in hand,
telling stories along the way, predicting
adventures in how many countries? 
We slept in so many places,
learned new languages, crossed mountains,
swam in exotic seas, explored great cities 
and rooms and rooms of paintings 
cloistered in museums we made our own,
trekked through forests and deserts,
stopped near waterfalls to simply listen,
until we had our precious child. 
We settled in one place, 
with space for books and art and music:
delight upon delight, 
even now, a healing place,
our home.


Image by Lars Nissen from Pixabay




Sunday, April 24, 2022

Poem a Day 24: Thoughts of Spring

Today's robin hopped in front
of us, the walk along a pine forest path,
up to the conservatory, the leaves
of willows and birch finally green,
forsythia, bright yellow,
almost a challenge
to put thoughts of winter behind,
even as our steps falter.

"I don't want to miss school," she wailed,
trying to hide her cough, her temperature.
She'd rather study Greek goddesses and
reinvent that ancient world.
They haven't taught her yet
about Persephone,
the Queen of the Underworld
who rules the turn of seasons,
the end of winter,
the beginning of spring.

When we are young,
maybe every day is spring,
the newly opened flower,
the hope for warmer days.
Only as we grow older
and sense the length of our days
do we note the coming of winter,
hold fast to memories,
and hold the young granddaughter's hand
who dreams of goddesses.



Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay






Saturday, April 23, 2022

Poem a Day 23: One Day

The first time I made baklava,
honey and walnuts strewn between
thin layers of phyllo,
I remembered that stay in Istanbul, 
the stars shimmering as we walked
along narrow, cobblestone streets,
back to our hotel, our hearts
full of what we had seen at Topkapi Palace,
connecting rooms and gardens
where sultans and harems 
were once a way of life;
the shop where an eager salesman
held up carpets made entirely of silk
that shimmered in the morning light,
all for us to admire, perhaps to buy;
the tea seller, strolling through the gardens
across from Hagia Sophia,  
who carried hot tea all ready to serve,
with near a hundred little clear glasses 
hung with cords around his body;
and Chora Church, now an Ottoman Empire Mosque,
its walls glazed with intricate tiles,
where Muslim men wore brown felt turbans, 
their long white skirts swirling out with each turn, 
their dancing, a prayer. 

I pull out a quilt book and wonder again
if I will ever make a quilt to honor
those Iznik tiles, every shade of blue
and coral red, with shapes to capture  
those once unique Turkish flowers:
tulips, carnations, roses, peonies, and violets.
Where is that royal bird, the peacock,
whose cry resembles a shriek,
yet who turns and flashes its feathers and turns again?
Somehow all is entwined in the history of this place,
once the center of the world between East and West,
once Constantinople, now Istanbul, 
hundreds of years have passed and will pass. 
I study anew these patterns
and know I will make such a quilt, one day.


Whirling Dervish, Chora, Istanbul (2004)


Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (2004)
Construction begun 360 A.D. Completed 537 A.D.





Friday, April 22, 2022

Poem a Day 22: Repetition

Outside my window, a nameless
bird chirps and chirps,
its song a glad awakening
to blue sky and a sun-drenched day.
Winter was too long this year,
those days wrapped in snow
and cold wind that blew
hope into darkness.

I know, as sure as I stretch
into each moment of today,
that winter will return,
as the earth turns,
the moon rises,
itself turning from
crescent to full,
and turning again,
the same and not the same,
ending and not ending.

Somewhere newscasters' voices drone,
reporting anew the horror of war, 
global warming, political
angst, and we're left, bereft,
remembering the words of Dylan Thomas:  
"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying
of the light."



Today, NaPoWriMo's Maureen Thorson writes: "In honor of today being the 22nd day of Na/GloPoWriMo 2022, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that uses repetition. You can repeat a sound, a word, a phrase, or an image, or any combination of things."

And then the bird chirped outside my window.

You can read Dylan Thomas' poem HERE on poets.org.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Poem a Day 21: Memories

I knew a man who died of cancer. 
I stayed by his side at hospice.
He gave me a poem, 
wavy lines on a scrap of paper,
no one could read. 
He asked me to take care of his wife,
for she could not take care of herself. 

I used to be a banker, sitting 
with other account officers
behind massive mahogany desks; 
our customers held 
a minimum of one million in deposits,
until the numbers blurred,
and I ran away with you.

We stood in line for four hours
at the San Francisco Art Institute 
to see a special exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh.
We came to a complete stop
in front of 'Starry, Starry Night"
and I began to cry.  

Why is an ordinary life,
an extraordinary life
so hard to understand? 




Today’s (optional) prompt from NaPoWriMo's Maureen Thorson is inspired by poet Betsy Sholl. Maureen "asks you to write a poem in which you first recall someone you used to know closely but are no longer in touch with, then a job you used to have but no longer do, and then a piece of art that you saw once and that has stuck with you over time. Finally, close the poem with an unanswerable question." Whew. I needed to read Betsy Sholl's poem first, but that link was broken!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Poem a Day 20: Waiting for Summer

My fridge is half-full
of frozen food I don't want to eat.
Maybe there's a revolution,
or a sense of revulsion,
for I'd rather go out to the garden,
pretend it's late summer, and pluck
fresh leaves from lettuce,
a radish or three, two tomatoes
blush red from the sun, and
a green onion, make that two,
their stalks just high enough to add spice.
Back inside, the fridge holds promise
this time. I'll add green olives,
a sprig of parsley,
feta cheese chunks or gorgonzola,
what richness. Now mix with vinagrette,
home-made, a bit of artisan bread on the side,
liberally spread with butter, and
that sense of peace returns.



Image by MetsikGarden from Pixabay

Today’s prompt from Maureen Thorson, the host of NaPoWriMo asks us to write a poem that anthropomorphizes a kind of food. Maureen says: "It could be a favorite food of yours, or maybe one you feel conflicted about. I feel conflicted about Black Forest Cake, for example. It always looks so pretty in a bakery window, and I want to like the combination of cherries and chocolate . . . but I don’t. But how does the cake feel about it?"  

Ah, but what about foods you don't like -- or can't easily have just now?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Poem a Day 19: Look . . .

If I could wish a poem
each day into being, those words
assembled neatly on the page,
new images that resonate with meaning,
connect with nature,
perhaps revealing what each day
means to me, that burst of pleasure
about a phrase that says
exactly what I'd like to say:
That would be enough.

But, look, what I really care about
are family and friends, dear ones all,
who face down challenges,
and I cannot change anything at all,
not really. Somehow even words 
at such a distance, a note or call,
seem not enough. Maybe prayers
would help. On my desk, 
a small jar with two hyacinths
bloom, their sweet smell
suggests hope.


Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Today the prompt from NaPoWriMo is simply to write a poem that starts with a command. It could be as uncomplicated as “Look,” as plaintive as “Come back,” or as silly as “Don’t you even think about putting that hot sauce in your hair.”  

The prompt itself makes me want to write something silly. Instead, I'm thinking about family and friends -- and hoping for good news tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Poem a Day 18: Five Answers to a Question . . .

1
Got up too early,
my legs are cold,
even so, new beginnings.

2
The smell of coffee tickles
my brain, almost a memory 
of warmer days.

3
If the cherry tree with tiny buds 
just outside my window bends
with snow; spring hesitates.

4
Down by the pond,
a trio of geese lift into the sky
to flap their way north.

5
When family gathers, the grandchildren,
three cats, and a large black dog play; 
their chatter warms my bones. 

Image by Ralphs_Fotos from Pixabay

Today's poetry prompt comes from National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) and is inspired by Faisal Mohyuddin’s poem “Five Answers to the Same Question.” Today, NaPoWriMo challenges us to write a poem that provides five answers to the same question – without ever specifically identifying the question that is being answered! So, can you guess my question?

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Poem a Day 17: The Butterfly

Today's poem was written by Pavel Friedman on June 4, 1942.

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing 
against a white stone…

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to 
kiss the world goodbye.
 
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
 
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
In the ghetto.

  
Image by Kalle H. from Pixabay

The poem is preserved in typewritten copy on thin paper in the collection of poetry by Pavel Friedmann, which was donated to the National Jewish Museum during its documentation campaign. It is dated June 4, 1942 in the left corner. Pavel Friedmann was born January 7, 1921, in Prague and deported to Terezín* on April 26, 1942. He died in Oswiecim* (Auschwitz) on September 29, 1944. *Terezín was a Nazi concentration camp. Source.

Friday marked the beginning of Passover. Part of the service is to remember the Holocaust. Sunday, today, is Easter. How can we write of tragedy and hope, without being angry? For, even as we celebrate one or both of these holy days, isn't Russia continuing its war against Ukraine, displacing some 4.7 million so far and killing and/or injuring thousands more? 

I have no words today.

Join in April's Poetry Challenge with Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest. Brewer says: "For today's prompt, write a mad poem. There are things that make us mad as well as things that drive us mad. Whatever your interpretation of the word, I hope you have fun with this prompt."

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Poem a Day 16: Touch me Not

I'm grumpy
when the telemarketer calls
at 6 am.
On Saturday.
Touch me not.
I'd rather be sleeping
or reaching out to friends,
our words, flowers:
Forget me not.


Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Catch up on all the poetry prompts from Robert Brewer at Writer's Digest! Today's Poem-A-Day Challenge asks us to write a poem about 'touch'. Actually, my feet hurt from standing too long in the kitchen, but it's the holidays! Lots of good food, family gatherings. What could be sweeter? How touching, right? Especially when my granddaughter hugs me. "Gramie, you are the best cook in the world!" And the smallest one: "This is the best day in my life. Ever!" 

Happy holidays!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Poem a Day 15: Patience is in knowing . . .

Patience is in knowing
when to listen with a calm face,
accept, endure, even forgive,
and when to fight.
Sadly, I am not the most patient person.
Forgive me for knowing and
not knowing. That inner thrum of blood
tells me I must run
or stay. The only safe place for me
is here, with you.


Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Catch up on all the poetry prompts from Robert Brewer at Writer's Digest! Today's Poem-A-Day Challenge asks us to write a patience poem. Brewer says: "Your poem could be about someone or something with great patience, or it could come from the other direction (ie, impatience). One fun thing about this prompt is that it begs us to consider the various ways of measuring time: From the patience required to sit at a red light to the patience of a tree growing rings for centuries."

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Poem a Day 14: Was it Scary?

Was It Scary?

The first time you lost a word while speaking, 
as if your brain hit a bump,
a convoluted map of nerve cells 
pointing to what comes next,
until sentences begin to disappear, 
was it scary?
Or did you sit with friends to joke
and fill in the blanks, 
laughter easing loss?
I only hope that I remember you,
and you remember me,
for I would rather lose every word,
almost every other memory,
even as I know what's coming.


Visiting Kilauea Volcano, March 2022

Catch up on all the poetry prompts from Robert Brewer at Writer's Digest! Today's Poem-A-Day Challenge asks us to write a scary poem. As Robert Brewer says: "Your poem could invoke monsters, release spiders, or tremble at the mystery of the night. It could contemplate taxes or the prospect of public speaking. And don't forget the dread of the blank page. There are so very many things that can be interpreted as scary. Write your interpretation today." Well, sorry, Mr. Brewer, I wanted to write a happier poem, as today feels full of promise.



Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Poem a Day 13: How to Write a Poem

I don't have any advice
on how to write
a poem. After nearly fifty years
of setting words to paper,
I only know what works for me,
that sense of settling within,
opening up to some intuitive leap
that knits together word by word,
a fresh awareness of every breath,
a gift, this flesh, this mind, this heart:
all plays together 
to create something new.
Rather different than other writing,
no blundering through research
linking dates and people,
letters long forgotten,
or even fiction, all the work
behind creating that imaginary realm
of characters, setting, conflict,
and happy ever after,
or not so happily ever after.
The writer's journey is never quite complete.
Yet with a poem, that steady concentration
brings us to an awareness, a celebration,
a beginning and an ending,
words on the page that just might
satisfy some yearning. 
Now, can you say 
you know how to write a poem?
Pick up that pen or poise your fingers over the keyboard
and listen to your most hidden, innermost self.


Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Catch up on all the poetry prompts from Robert Brewer at Writer's Digest! Today's Poem-A-Day Challenge prompt asks us to take the phrase "How to (blank)," replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles might include: "How to Win at Life," "How to Cook Lasagna," "How to Fall in Love," and/or "How to Write a Poem." Yes, I took that last prompt as if I knew how to write a poem.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Poem a Day 12: Not Counting . . .

Not Counting

Robins don't count
how many days to spring,
or wonder if their eggs will hatch.
I've seen three robins so far,
though snow fell like grackle
from the sky this week,
little white reminders
of winter.
I won't count how many winters I've seen
or how many winters are left.
I'd rather celebrate spring-to-come
with each uncurling blossom of early
hyacinth, snowdrop, and tulip,
an end to bundling up with shaggy layers.
Yet my feet remain cold, even
coddled with socks. The earth tips,
revolves, moves forward, not counting
its spin, its glaciers melting, perhaps
the coming of another Ice Age,
sometime within the next 1,500 years.
But I'm not counting.

Image by jggrz from Pixabay

Catch up on all the poetry prompts from Robert Brewer at Writer's Digest! Today's Poem-A-Day Challenge prompt is simply to write either a counting poem and/or not counting poem.



Monday, April 11, 2022

Poem a Day 11: Power Play . . .

Today, Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest, asks us to: "Write a power poem. Your poem could somehow involve electricity, solar power, fossil fuels, wind, or water. It could illustrate a power play or someone exerting their power over someone else. Of course, you could also write about a power outage. You alone have the power to poem your way through this prompt."

Power Play . . .

Not sure I can find a poem today,
tucked somewhere between naps
and brunch, that second cup of tea,
and mental crunches over tax papers, 
a deadline looming. Where is poetry
when even the prompt speaks
of power? My turn to pick.
My turn to choose.

I choose not to watch the news today
as Russian tanks encircle yet another city,
Western nations and our own White House
debate and delay and delay,
innocents die. War rages.
How do we stop a bully? 
Just walk away and keep walking?
Ask a buddy for help? Ask anyone for help,
but never fight back? For that will escalate?
Is that another power play?
Zelensky has followed all these steps, 
again and again. His people fight; 
his impassioned pleas to the West
resonate with horror. With honor.
We send words and arms but stay
on this side of the line. Do we feel safe?
For how long do we feel safe?
Sanctions, our leaders propose, will limit
the war, will encourage negotiations.
When has talk ended bullying? killing? 
the atrocities of an all out war?
This is not a poem.
This stalemate that sidesteps an ending to war
is simply power feeding power,
an unending circle,
while we remain on the outside, unsure,
unwilling to risk what could lead
to nuclear war.
But we are not at peace.


Image of Kiev, Ukraine, home to 2.9 million people
by ELG21 from Pixabay





Sunday, April 10, 2022

Poem a Day 10: Smell This . . .

Today Robert Brewer suggests we dive back into the senses to write a poem using 'smell' in some way. Check out more at Writer's Digest! I hope you enjoy.

Smell This!

Just sometimes, I'll enter a restaurant
or my kitchen, filled with want: 
the rich smells assault my nose;
I'm drawn right in, head to toes,
Mexican, Chinese, Indonesian, or Thai,
I do not question why
that first taste makes me get that suitcase out
ready for walkabout, guided by my snout.

In self-defense, it's not really about smell,
for that would be it's own hell,
to not see or taste? What a waste!
I invite you to come for just a taste,
when all else begins to unravel
and we can't quite travel,
I'll make a special dish
to satisfy your every wish
and we'll seek a simple bliss,
together, with all our senses unleashed,
we'll feed the beast.


Image by Matteo Orlandi from Pixabay