Friday, November 11, 2011

What is the purpose of poetry?

First, bullet get them out of my system:

  • Happy Veteran's Day--my thanks and admiration go out to all American veterans for everything they've done for our country.
  • My heart goes out to the victims in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal...and to all victims of sexual abuse.
  • There are approximately 4 weeks left in the semester...I can't yet see the light at the end of the paper-filled tunnel, but it's only a matter of time.
  • I've been spending too much time reading Chuck Wendig's blog...F--- Nano. F--- thinking of getting published. F--- rejection. Again. I write because I want to write, because I enjoy playing with words, because I have ideas and characters and plotlines that want expression. Someday I will likely realize that I'm a talentless hack whose work is like a punishment and trial to anyone I subject it to...but not today.

I actually started writing the post below about a month ago...these classes have now completed the Poetry Unit, and I'm in the midst of grading the analysis projects at the end of said unit.

Okay, so you probably have your own answer to the question that titles this post: What is the purpose of poetry. Well, so do I. But the reason I raise the question here is that my English II sections recently faced this question when we did the Poetry Unit of the course, and I found their initial responses to this very question absolutely fascinating. Note: In recent semesters, I've split the units in this course by genre: short fiction, poetry, and drama. In the past, I've tried focusing units on themes or literary concepts (like irony) and mixing genres within that topic.) I asked the class to freewrite responses to two questions that came out of an interview (with a poet) that was published in our course textbook:
  1. What is the purpose of poetry?
  2. Why do we need poetry?
This tends to be a vocal group so, in the middle of the freewrite time, someone piped up, "We don't need it! If you have something you want to express, just say it!"  And other students agreed. This wasn't surprising.  Many people dislike poetry.  Even people who write poetry aren't always avid readers of poetry.  Poems can be difficult and mysterious. Students sometimes carry anti-poetry baggage from their educational history.  And poets like T.S. Eliot are deliberately obscure, fueling the notion that poetry is inaccessible. Over the course of the class period, we got to talking about how poetry works differently.  Even though no one would initially say poetry is "needed," some students did point out that poetry does what other forms of writing don't do.  And this transitioned nicely into a couple of videos I showed of spoken poetry that were direct examples of how poetry "works" differently than prose:
Sekou Sundiata's "Blink Your Eyes."
Brian Turner's "Caravan" and "Eulogy"

By the end of the class period, it *seemed* more students recognized that, just like there are some songs we relate to *exactly*, songs that seem to "get" who we are and how we feel or think, sometimes poetry captures an experience or a moment in ways that prose can't. That "Aha!" moment.

While this might not be surprising to you, it can be eye-opening for students who aren't interested in reading and are perhaps downright antagonistic toward poetry.

Sidenote: one student was on the other side of the fence, stating that all literature had a purpose because the author was trying to convey ideas to an audience and spent time and effort shaping that message. (Sort of a reassuring thought for a hack writer like me.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Okay, so I'm swamped.  And today I'm collecting literary analysis papers from two sections.  So I'll continue to be swamped for a while.

But I stumbled across this sardonic gem about the use of imagery, in poetry and in general, and had to share.  I can't remember what the program is that creates this video, but it can be used to covert text to animation...and I suspect the series by EnglishAdvisingBear is brilliant in a dark, depressing, horribly cynical way.

Totally tongue-in-cheek and frighteningly astute. I do want to yell from the mountaintops, "This has GREAT imagery." But I'm too demanding about what "great" constitutes. 

All creative writers use imagery...the images we use say a lot about who we are and how we think. And on that note, I'm going back to work...and trying to ignore what the images I use in my writing say about me...

Friday, September 9, 2011

#FridayFollow - An Interview with Aimee Laine

I recently made the acquaintance of romance novelist Aimee Laine at the Clarity of Night blog contest.  Have you started noticing a trend? Yes, many of my literary acquaintances have been through Clarity of Night--it's just that awesome.  Here is Aimee's sharp and lovely entry in the most recent CoN contest: "Twisted Fairytale."

Aimee Laine's debut paranormal romance Little White Lies was published in July by J.Taylor Publishing. It features a powerful shapeshifter and a menace that forces her to team up with the boy she once loved, who is now all grown up and doesn't know her in her current face. Oh, the anguish. It's a quick, fast-paced, touching read.

Here's more about Aimee herself:

Aimee is a romantic at heart and a southern transplant with a bit of the accent (but not a whole bunch). She's married to her high school sweetheart, and with him, she's produced three native North Carolinians, two of whom share the same DNA.

With an MBA and a degree in Applied Mathematics, there’s absolutely no reason she should be writing romance novels. Then again, she shouldn't need a calculator to add two numbers, either ... but she does.

Herewith, an interview with the savvy and prolific Aimee Laine:

Did you pick your genre(s) or did your genre(s)pick you?

Oh, my genre picked me. There is no question about that. I am made for the mysterious nature of romance. Though most of mine classified as paranormal romance (because there is *something* otherworldly in all of them) I'm really much more in line with suspense and mystery, weaving romance into all the plot elements.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the publishing industry?

Honestly, it's not the publishing industry that surprises me anymore. It is pretty much a tried and true group that only does things one way. It's the use of technology that surprises me and the fact that authors have SO many more possibilities when it comes to their work now. We aren't limited to waiting 10 years in the hopes that an agent will pick up an author and an editor will pick up a story and a publisher will actually publish. We're in a whole new arena of 'entrpreneurism' when it comes to books. Now, it's up to authors to run their businesses toward success. That's what has changed. As one with an entrepreneurial spirit and background, this is what I think is so amazing.

You’re a professional photographer as well as anovelist. How do those roles influence each other?

They are both art. One is crafted with imagery through the lens of a camera and the other with the placement of words on a paper. I honestly don't think I would have moved into writing without having first experienced life as a photographer and experienced the lives of OTHERS through that lens. I learned so much about other people in the last 6 years that being able to translate my 'view' onto paper has been incredibly fun.

What’s your best advice for balancing your workand your personal life?

Prioritize. Some days, writing will be my priority. Other days my kids. Moments happen. I have to take them when I can get them. I also work full time (the corporate, paycheck gig) and so I have to balance that too. I'm very adept at juggling and multi-tasking and switching what I need to do when. If my kids need me, I will be there for them. If they don't, I will take every opportunity to write or to talk with my photography clients or to spend time with my hubby. It's about not leaving a moment free that could have been used. Time is a commodity. I do what I love during the time I have. And I type freakishly fast, so that helps a lot, too.

Who are your favorite writers of all time? Why?

I'm not one of those people who'd followed 'the great classical writers' and wish I could write like them. I sometimes, don't even remember the names of writers who've written great stories because I'm so enthralled with the story itself. I'll go searching for books by using the titles of ones I've read to FIND the author. Yes, I know I'm bad, but it's who I am. I remember actions, not static stuff. I'll remember those stories. As for the stories, I have a shelf full of Nora Roberts and JD Robb (remember, I said my genre picked me). I have Debbie MacComber, Stephenie Meyer, JK Rowling, Kristin Hannah, Lolly Winston, Sharon McCrumb, Judy Blume, Nicholas Sparks (even though I can't read his anymore. Refer to my being a romance lover). These are all just books I've loved so much that I have them and know their stories.

How do you deal with your inner editor/critic?

She and I do not agree on anything! In this little writing challenge I accepted with a writer-friend of mine, I had 25,000 words to get to the final and win. I was always right with her and even ahead of the game until one day, I realized I had a plot error in my story and my muse went on vacation. At that point, my inner editor took over. I cannot write on if I have a major error like that. So I stopped to fix it and my friend went on to ... well ... win. :) So, as you can see, my inner editor has massive control over me.

Unfortunately, that same inner editor has massive control over what I read, too. There are some lazy writing issues I can overcome, but not many and I'm finding more and more that I just can't get past some of the blatant errors that are occurring in published works. Unfortunately, I'm seeing it even more in self-published works -- the few I've tried at the suggestion of friends or family. It makes me wonder if editors have lost their inner editor. Are we pushing so fast to get books out that we're forgetting to fix the writing? So anyway, my inner editor and I are always at war with each other. If the story, however, is that great? Then I win the battle ... for that moment.

Do you have a favorite character or scene from one of your books?

My all time favorite character thus far is Mac Thorne. She's a character I created for a YA trilogy and in Book 1 currently called After Dark, she is who I wanted to be as a teen. She's a mix between Charley Randall (my main character from Little White Lies) and my more serene characters in other books, but brought back down to 18 years old. Mac has something about her makes me want to hug her and punch her all at the same time. I absolutely love her and can't wait to share her with the world, but I have to write book 2 and let book 1 simmer a little longer before I can do that.

As a writer, what has been your best moment sofar?

The day a blog reviewer said she loved my book and the day a random person on the street walked into my office with a copy and said, "will you sign this" and I went, Yes! That was my crowning moment.

What advice do you have for newbie writers?

Don't publish just to publish. Don't wait for an agent to pick you up because you think that's the only way. Write more. Write often. Write a lot and get REALY feedback. Use a critiquing site or partner or group. Take feedback early and often and infuse that into your work. It takes time to find your voice. It takes time to find your style. It takes work, but it's so fulfilling.

What’s next for you?

Well ... I just announced that my book Hide & Seek, the first in the Games of Zeus series will be out in March! Yeah! And I'm finishing up Cael and Lily's story (Book two in the Mimics of Rune series -- behind Little White Lies). And I have 7 other books that could go after that, but we'll see what will come next after those.

To find out more about Aimee Laine, visit her at

Friday, September 2, 2011

#FridayFollow - An Interview with Theresa Weir

I first encountered the work of Theresa Weir/Anne Frasier through the Clarity of Night blog back in 2006. Under both names, she's a prolific and renowned author in multiple genres.

Since her debut in 1988, she's published thirteen novels as Theresa Weir, including the RITA-award winning Cool Shade (1998) and the Daphne du Maurier-award winner Bad Kharma (1999).

As suspense novelist Anne Frasier, she's published several novels and anthologies, including three USA Today bestsellers: Hush (2002), Sleep Tight (2003), and Play Dead (2004). (As of August 28, 2011, Amazon had the Kindle versions of Hush and Play Dead for FREE.)

Fortunately for us, her writing prowess continues. In August, she saw the release of the short story anthology Deadly Treats (compiled and edited by Anne Frasier), which promises to be a great Halloween read. And this month welcomes the release of Theresa Weir's poignant memoir The Orchard (release date: September 21, 2011).

Herewith, an interview with the gracious and talented Theresa Weir:

Your memoir The Orchard is a departure from your novels. What challenges did you encounter in writing it or in getting it published?

The Orchard came very close to never being published because I couldn’t find an agent who wanted to represent it. Agents were looking for Anne Frasier suspense from me, not a Theresa Weir memoir. I gave up and put the book away for a year, then got it out again and tried one more time. So it was very difficult. But in the end, three major publishers wanted to buy it.

Did you pick your genre(s) or did your genre(s) pick you?

I suppose they pick me. This has been especially true with the short stories I’ve been writing. I seem to be writing a lot of fantasy and occult, but I never sit down to write fantasy or occult.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the publishing industry?

There’s an incredible amount of passion for books at major publishing houses.

Do you read reviews of your books? How do you deal with them (whether they’re positive or negative)?

It really depends. I haven’t been reading reviews of The Orchard unless they’re sent to me. I’m finding when it comes to my own life, lukewarm reviews are much harder to take.

What’s your best advice for balancing your work and your personal life?

I wish I knew the answer to that. I think writers give up a lot. We put our heads down, and twenty years later we look up to see that life has passed us by. We have to be careful to live our lives.

Who are your favorite writers of all time? Why?

Oh, that’s tough. I think J.D. Salinger was the biggest influence on me. He made me realize that a story can be quiet, yet have impact.

How do you deal with your inner editor/critic?

I listen, because my inner critic is usually right. When I have that feeling…that uneasy, sick feeling in my gut, I know a scene isn’t working.

On the other hand, I know great writers who don’t advance because they’re always rewriting and reworking and questioning.

Do you do your research before writing or during your writing process?


As a writer, what has been your best moment so far?

When I got the call from my new agent telling me we had an offer on The Orchard. I still can’t believe it. I think especially because I’d written genre fiction for so many years, and I’d never dreamed that my own personal story was the one people would really want to hear.

What advice do you have for newbie writers?
  • Watch for repeated words.
  • Show, don’t tell is always good advice, but don’t be afraid to tell in order to move scene forward.
  • Be careful of too much backstory. Readers don’t care about what happened yesterday; they want to know what’s happening now.
  • Establish conflict right away.
  • Good balance of dialogue and narrative. Make sure you have some white space.
  • Know your strengths, but don’t abuse them. Don’t torture the reader with them.
  • Start the story in the right place.
To find out more about Theresa Weir/Anne Frasier, visit her at these haunts:



Facebook: and

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

User Guides and Press Releases and Web Sites, Oh, My!

So, last week (which seems like eons ago), reader Cat asked me in one of the comments to talk more about my technical writer experience. I said I'd focus on that in my next blog post...but I'm more swamped this week than I expected (You'd think I'd learn that the first week of the semester is a blur, no matter how prepared I thought I was ahead of time.)

So my answer will be abbreviated.

Cat asked: Would you recommend it?

My answer, as I said briefly in last week's Comments section: An enthusiastic YES, but...

Did I enjoy being a technical writer? Absolutely yes. Given the opportunity, I would probably consider doing some freelance technical writing during summers.

So why the "but..."? Because I worked for a small business (fewer than 50 employees) in a niche software industry. I was the company's sole technical writer during my tenure there. And the company used proprietary programming language and a proprietary documentation system. So I don't think my position was indicative of what is common in technical writing as a career field.

I had a great time. I worked with smart, talented people. In addition to writing and editing user manuals for customers, I ended up also writing press releases for distribution to trade publications, marketing materials for sales and promotion. I also ended up as the company's web master for a few years.

But in contrast, a friend of mine worked as a technical editor at a much larger company for a few years, and her experience was very different from mine. Hers was much more about maintaining consistency in style and accuracy in language. She enjoyed her work too, and I'm sure many technical writers are between our (somewhat) extremes.

And here's a bigger "but"...Although it's only been 3 years since I transitioned from that position, I suspect the world of technical writing has changed a lot, due mainly to technological advances and to the economy. I suspect the world has less need of user manuals...just look at how computer and tablet manufacturers provide minimal documentation with their products. More and more, it seems that software companies are embedding documentation within their products (Help menus, in-product or online tutorials, etc.). This means that technical writers need to have as much of a programming or technical background as a strong writing background. I suspect that same need for a technical background applies to most any field that employs technical writers these days--engineering, manufacturing, biotechnology, etc.

I used to be a member of the Society for Technical Communication, and I would highly recommend their web site and resources for a clearer picture of where technical writing is going, what is expected of technical writers, and what opportunities are currently available.

So...if anyone has any questions for me...about anything really...feel free to post them in the comments! (This applies to any post at any, I think.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Toast to New Beginnings

Between completing my graduate degree and becoming a professor, I spent over nine years working outside academe. (I frequently marvel at how fortuitous my life has been, despite whatever little hiccups and frustrations I might have along the way.) Working as a technical writer, I regularly found that the coming of Fall brought a poignant nostalgia for the ebb and flow of the academic year. It was a longing for the level of excitement conveyed in that now-cliche Staples ad with the Christmas song.

Except that the parent in the ad is thrilled that the kids are going back, while the kids are miserable. Attribute that thrill to the student, and you have me in grad school.

Yes, I was a nerd, and I'm proud of it. Starting a new semester was truly exciting. It wasn't about getting past another hurdle. It was about new opportunities to learn and explore, new chances to develop my skills and broaden my horizons. Remember what it's like when you're in a new relationship? The mystery? The excitement? The awe? The tentative (or maybe not so tentative) exploration? It's like that.

As much as I had opportunities to broaden my horizons in industry, I still find that the delineation of semesters and academic years has a strong psychological effect on me. As the daylight gets shorter, it gets harder for me to get out of bed in the morning...but the promise of the New (new experiences, new students, new ideas) is remarkably motivating and exciting.  (As is the opportunity to catch up with some former students and follow their progress...the opportunity to follow up on projects begun in previous's not ALL about the new. I'm not obsessed with shiny newness for the sake of shiny newness.  Honest.) 

So how does this relate to writing? (Yes, I have all the focus of a Simpsons episode, starting with one thing and ending somewhere else entirely.)

Well, I do get jazzed by totally new story ideas, with as much excitement and energy as the beginnign of a new school year. I'm easily wooed by how attractive and exciting they are. And I am totally guilty of getting sidetracked by such pretties. Sometimes (when I'm lucky), all I need to do is jot down a few ideas and sentences in a new doc and save it for later.  Other times, I have to wrestle that idea to the ground over a few thousand words at least...very distracting. (Could this be why I haven't yet completed a single manuscript? Hmmm.)  Fortunately, Dave White, author of the e-book WITNESS TO DEATH, has a recent--and helpful--guest post at Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog exactly about how to handle distracting new ideas: "New Ideas Are Like Shiny Jewels."**
(**Warning: adult language. And that warning covers the entire Terrible Minds blog. Just in case that matters to you.)

So...what am I saying today?
  • Well, one, even if you aren't in academia, new beginnings abound.  New jobs, new friends, new endeavors, and, yes, new story ideas.  Celebrate them.  Don't miss out on the excitement, don't try to block out the nervousness...celebrate the moment. It will inevitably pass (which is not a necessarily a bad thing...but it's worth being aware of how fleeting "new" is).
  • Two, be adventurous. No, I don't mean go climb Mt. Everest or quit your day job to explore the Amazon. But consider the last time you tried something new. This past summer, I took an African Dance class, just for the chance to try something new...and it was awesome. As the instructor explained, African dances sometimes require your muscles to move in unfamiliar ways; the rhythms and movements and cultural background all awakened my senses anew.
  • is my "Toast to New Beginnings":
Celebrate the new, even as you cherish the old.

Embrace the unknown, even as you cling to the familiar.

Seek out life, even unto death.

Monday, August 8, 2011

So you think you can write?

Since my last post led down some depressing paths, I'm determined to make this next one lighter...sunnier.  Like last time, a confluence of ideas has merged for me into today's overriding message.

Here's a hint from Disney's Ratatouille: (Insert scene in which "everyone can cook!")

So last week, I read this blog post by Kristen Lamb last week asking "Are We Born to Create?", in which she mused about whether some people are born writers, and here was part of my comment on that post:
Hmm…I actually think everyone has stories in them that they could write. Whether they do or not might be a matter of encouragement or motivation. And some people might have more innate talent at putting words together, but people with the committed drive to write can learn to do it well.
Here is what I tell my First-Year English Composition students:
Everyone can be a good writer.

Not everyone can be the next Stephen King or Joan Didion (or whoever you define as a great writer), but everyone in my classrooms has the potential to be a good writer. Some writers may need more than a semester to get there, but they can. I've had the honor of working with several students who just needed encouragement in productive directions in order to see that they were capable of much more than they'd expected. They didn't know that they could write, but they absolutely could. Maybe not A-level writing, but then again, I really am a hardass.

Ths doesn't mean writing is easy. Not a chance in hell. Okay, so some gifted writers may find it easy, but everyone has stories within them. And a not-so-gifted writer who has a burning desire to share their stories has, in my mind, just as much potential for success as a writer for whom words flow like water. Some writers may need to learn some of the tools and tricks and tips that come naturally to others. They don't all follow the same path or fit into the same timeframe, but there's nothing innate that says one person "is a writer" while another isn't.'s message is nothing new, but it sometimes needs to be heard anew.

Anyone can write.

It may take writing and rewriting and workshopping and practice. It may take years.

But anyone can write.

(Is that as comforting to you as it is to me?)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How do you want to be remembered?

"The man hated coconut."

"His smile was absolutely infectious."

"He lived with the best kind of humility--not the artificial humility that some people put on, but with the recognition that all people have their strengths, talents and experiences for which we should respect them."

    --quotes about my father in the eulogy given by his friend (and former boss). I hadn't remembered the coconut thing, but it explains my disgust with the white shreds of evil.

The question "How do you want to be remembered?" has been sort of a recurring theme for me over the past year. Personally and professionally, it's come up again and again in different contexts and scenarios. So I shouldn't be surprised that it reverberates through this summer.

The culminating project in a special leadership seminar I participated in at work was to write our own personal mission statements. Some people might perceive this as a touchy-feely exercise, but I found it profoundly important, especially coming so soon after the death of my father.  Some people end up focusing on the values they hold most dear; some people focus on the most fundamental roles they play; some people focus on what ultimately defines success for them.  There's no wrong way to do long as you're being authentic.

Despite my general avoidance of New Year's resolutions, my statement ended up being a list of resolutions--each of which expresses who/what I value and how I want to exemplify those values. Do I want to be remembered as a devoted spouse? Yes. A loving and supportive parent? Yes. As a hardass professor who expected the best from her students? You bet.  As a stunningly brilliant writer? Well, don't we all? I won't share my whole mission statement, but here's one point from it that I feel applies to all aspects of my life--family, friends, students, colleagues, writers, strangers...
I resolve to be more present--to focus more on the present moment as much as possible so I don't miss precious opportunities and experiences.
Not so easy. Not when it feels like 5 billion things are clamoring for my attention at once.  But that's one of my goals. For me, it's not directly about how I want to be remembered but what I think I need to do to personify what is most important to me.

Here's a little twist in the "How do you want to be remembered?" reverie. What we do in the digital world sticks around long after we've forgotten; all these bytes in the clouds have the potential to live forever. So, for instance, high school students don't just have to worry that pics of underage debauchery may be found by future college admissions reps...they have to worry about future spouses...and grandchildren...and historians. Previous generations could more easily hide some indiscretions (although Clinton "didn't inhale")...but now the lines between public and private are increasingly blurred.

And Adam Ostrow's TED presentation "After your final status update" shows a seriously plausible SciFi-turned-reality kind of immortality through our digitized selves

This has all sorts of repercussions. How do I want to be remembered? How much of that can I control? Both online and off, I can control quite a lot about how people perceive me, especially if I limit how much of myself they get to see.  But I still can't control everything.  I can control my actions and reactions by keeping my own ends and motives and values in mind. I can consider how closely my behavior (and my online presence) reflects my personal mission in life (and make adjustments accordingly...whether to my mission or to my actions).  And I'd consider myself lucky if I could be remembered as the kind of person my father was.

And so...I'd like to give you a little homework assignment:
  • Take a few moments (or a few days) to think about how you want to be remembered.  If you feel inclined, maybe draft your own mission statement.  You might compartmentalize (how do I want to be remembered as a a parent...etc) or you might do the whole "meaning of life" thing.  Whatever feels right to you.
  • Then, if you're willing to share, post some of your thoughts here in the comments section
I think you'll find the exercise surprisingly valuable.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Reason 4,483,764 why I'm so fond of the writing community fostered by Jason Evans and his wife Aine at The Clarity of Night blog: the incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and generous writers...some of whom are hosting an After-Party in appreciation for not just this round but all the contests he's run over the years. My God, has it really been years?!

Stop by and raise a virtual glass.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now what do you really think?

Part 1

(photo courtesy of The Clarity of Night blog by Jason Evans)

Here's my entry from the Clarity of Night "Elemental" contest. I received lots of lovely feedback, but now what I'm looking for is constructive criticism, anywhere from premise to POV to plot to language use. What are its shortcomings? What could be improved?

For instance, I know I used basic, direct language and sentence structure. Could it/should it have been more poetic? More complex in structure?

Here's another...At least one commenter noticed that I didn't clearly identify the narrator's gender. That was deliberate (and I could explain, if anyone cares), but does that work for you? Would it have been more effective if you knew the narrator was male?

Yet another...There are jumps that might leave the reader unclear about shifts in time and location. Problem?


by Precie

Without warning, the world ended in fire.

Or, at least, there was no warning for my people.

Mother correcting my brother's penmanship before school. Father ordering me to get a haunch of beef from the refrigerator to prepare for the lunch rush.

The lights go out. The ground bucks and waves. Massive slabs of meat buffet me as I try to dodge the barbed hooks clanging around me.

Even after the earth settles, the electricity does not return. When I finally find the door, it does not give. I have no way to tell how much time passes, how much time I spend screaming, pounding at the door. No way to tell how much of the fluid on my hands is blood or tears or excretion, as the smells combine with the rotting carcasses surrounding me.

“You were one of the lucky ones,” I am told over and over by rescuers, by doctors, by other survivors.

I do not feel lucky. How can such an endless nightmare be lucky? Almost nothing is left standing. Ashen remains blend into the rubble.

The emperor will not let this cowardly strike on innocents go unpunished. He will rain an answering fire on our enemies.

I do my part. The Red Cross nurses, foreign and incomprehensible, smile as I sprinkle the oleander blossoms on their desk and lay out the meager feast I have concocted from their rations. They will be the first to burn, from the inside out.


Part 2

(Photo courtesy of

Here's some explication...backstory about a few of my choices, if you will.

  • "without warning"--The first two lines were important to me because that's how the bombing started. Although the US put wheels in motion to inform Japan that the bombing would happen, there were glitches and ultimately no warning was given, certainly not to the people of Hiroshima.
  • oleander--Oleander is poisonous when injested (blossoms, bark, any part of it), but that wasn't the reason I chose it for the story. Initially, the food was poisoned in some unspecified way. BUT...oleander was the first flower to rebloom after the bombing. It wasn't until the spring of 1946. So my timing is a little off...since I intended this to be closer to the actual bombing. Some evergreen trees were only burned in parts, but I don't know if any delicate oleander blossoms would have survived. Anywhooo, you don't need me to spiral into this subject. Just wanted you to know what the oleander meant to me.
Thanks very much for reading.  And thanks in advance for any responses.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Warning: iRant ahead--Love Triangles

I have one hour. Blog or work on WIP? Decisions, decisions. Well, it's been about a week so I'm due for a post...and I am preoccupied so...words beget words, anyway.

Now then:
Why this post exists: I've been reading voraciously lately, as my GoodReads profile attests. There's something very freeing about not limiting myself to "literary" reading. But I happened to read two YA fantasies close together, and their similar use of a particular type of love triangle just plain rubbed me the wrong way. (See below for my disclaimers.)

In both, the girl is strongly attracted to two very different boys, who both have contrasting strongly attractive characteristics. She goes back and forth about who to give her affections to, until she eventually has to decide. Or in one case, she sort of has the decision made for her when one of the boys takes himself out of the equation. Note: I'm using the terminology girl and boy not to belittle but because one of the books I'm talking about actually used those terms.

I have many issues with this particular love triangle trope.

Perhaps one of the things that stands out most for me personally is that it doesn't really work if you flip the genders. A boy equally attracted to two different girls comes across as a player. (I'll grant that, in GREY'S ANATOMY, Owen's brief little triangle is okay with me, but that's because of the way he handles it. And, yes, I watch GREY'S ANATOMY--as much for the Meredith/Christina dynamics as anything else.) What the girls do in these books can be viewed as indecision...weakness. Sure, it can be excused by their youth. But it still bugs me. Relationships aren't like shoes...hmm, which one goes best with this dress? Real relationships are conscious choices, active commitments...not the kind of "Well, gee, he's swell. Oh, wait, he's peachy too. But Boy 1 is so brooding. But Boy 2 is so devoted." Back and forth and back and forth. Ugh.

Disclaimer A: I'm not criticizing all use of love triangles in writing. I see their dramatic purpose. And one of my favorite films is BROADCAST NEWS, which includes what I see as a heartachy version. I root for Man B as the worthy one, yet I'm especially pleased by the resolution in which neither man gets the girl and all live happily ever after anyway. (Sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone!)

Disclaimer B: "Well, she's just bitchy because she's never been in a love triangle." Um, it's true that I've never been the object of affection for two men simultaneously. But that doesn't make me embittered; it makes me grateful. Aside from youthful infatuations, I've been blessed with a clarity of vision in that regard. But I'll admit, maybe I just don't understand the reality of situation. Please, enlighten me. Seriously.

Disclaimer C: Yes, I'm "in a mood." So I reserve the right to disavow this rant at some future point. In fact, I fully expect that my Muse will deliberately throw a love triangle in my way so that I have to eat my words. She's so cruel. (And, in fact, as I write this last disclaimer, she is trying to insert a kind of love triangle into my next WIP, a sequel to the one I'm working on now. Dammit. But at least the heroine is clear about her affections, just not so clear about her marriage prospects.)

So...pardon my rambly rant. If you'd like to share some insights to temper my perspective, please do! And here's something to restore the balance: New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" (Live)...sorry if there's an ad at the beginning.

"Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray / waiting for that final moment you'll / say the words that I can't say."

Friday, July 15, 2011


1) My entry in this summer's Clarity of Night contest is now up: "Oleander". Yay! It's my first try at doing a historical fiction piece for CoN, and I really enjoyed composing it. I wonder, though, if I should have woven in one or two more obvious clues to its setting. Eh, it is what it is. And the contest overall is, as usual, most excellent. CoNNNNNNNNN! (shouted in best Captain Kirk voice)

2) My wip is up to 26k (this in about 3 wks). Still fun, although I'm working out some insecurities. And, as I do more reading in the genre, I'm both encouraged by what I can do and discouraged by what I find in other work that I was thinking of for my own. (Just get the shitty first draft done, Precie, and deal with lack of originality later.)

3) And the real focus of this post...I've been thinking recently about antagonists. It's so easy to get caught up in a story that has Serious Bad Guy antagonists like Voldemort (Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort--just say it!), President Snow, the secret society of the Illuminati, vicious teenagers, etc, especially when the protagonist spends much of his/her time trying to avoid being killed by said Serious Bad Guys. Such villains make for grab-you-by-the-neck, hold-on-to-your-ass thrills and chills. And I enjoy them as much as anyone. (No, I didn't attend a midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie...I'll get to it eventually.)

But when I think about the stories that really dig deep, the ones that make me think and make me come back to them again and again, the antagonists I find most noteworthy are characters (or entities--antagonists don't have to be people in the story...they can be situations, like a disease, or entities, like Big Brother) who really are, in some way, heroes. They are just as principled and honorable as the protag, just as admirable, just as committed to making the world a better place, but they ultimately fall short.

Here are two examples of what I mean:

1) Gene Hackman in the film Crimson Tide (1995)

Hackman's character is a US sub commander who receives an interrupted order to fire the sub's nuclear missiles. The protagonist is his First Officer, played by Denzel Washington, who believes they need to restore communications and get confirmation that this is a valid order before proceeding. The situation escalates quickly since the First Officer's insistence is considered mutiny. The submariners pick sides, which is difficult considering both sides have merit and many of them are already loyal to their captain. What makes Hackman's character so compelling to me is that, although the movie blurb calls him a "trigger-happy captain," he's really doing what he sincerely believes is the right thing. If the US has been attacked and that's why communications ended abruptly, then delaying a nuclear strike in the hopes of getting confirmation is futile and wastes valuable time. It's an awful order to have to follow, but he's been trained to make hard decisions. While I wouldn't want to follow that order, he's not wrong in thinking he should. He takes his responsibilities seriously; he's committed; he's highly principled. It just so happens he's wrong about the order.

2) Inspector Javert from Les Miserables

Javert is perhaps my favorite antagonist of all time. He's an officer who doggedly believes in upholding the law and punishing criminals. When protagonist Jean Valjean escapes from prison and begins a new (upstanding) life under an alias, Javert makes it his mission to recapture Valjean and bring him to justice. Like Hackman's character, he's highly principled and committed to his responsibilities. His weakness is his inflexibility--he can't see that criminals like Valjean might be fundamentally good people who were driven to desperate measures. Only when Valjean eventually spares his life (and, while saving young Marius, gives Javert the ability to recapture him after Marius is safe) does Javert have to face the fact that the world isn't so black-and-white. He believes in something bigger than himself; he believes he's doing good. He just doesn't see the complexity of what "good" means.

Those are the kinds of protagonists I want to read about. Those are the kinds of protagonists I want to write. I took an online fiction writing course a few years ago and shared a description of the antagonist from the WIP I was writing at the time--a young Victorian gentleman who, like these characters, was highly dedicated to work, family, and England...and whose primary antagonistic quality was that his ambition to be a rising star in the East India Company conflicted sharply with his wife's do-gooder, social crusader mission. He wasn't a bad person, he wasn't wrong to be ambitious, but he stood in direct opposition to his wife, who happened to be my protagonist. I still remember some of the feedback I got about his character--mainly that he should be more of a Bad Guy. (In response, later in that class, I created/shared a scene in which he almost beat some street urchins for trying to steal brass finishings off his carriage.) I've since set aside that WIP for other reasons, but when I think about that character, I still see him alongside Javert...not a Bad Guy...just one with his heart in the wrong place. And I still resist making him into a Serious Bad Guy...because he just wasn't. what makes a "good" antagonist, do you think? Who are some of your favorite antagonists?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A few announcements...

I don't care if blogs are passe. The sense of community I enjoy in blogland, particularly writers blogland, is a unique pleasure. Here are some of the treasures that I can only find in this realm:

1) CLARITY OF NIGHT - "Elemental" Contest
Jason Evans has been running the Clarity of Night blog (and writing contests) for years now. It's an amazing writing contest and the open, supportive, productive community of writers it fosters is remarkable. Many alums of the CoN contests are now published (or at least agented) authors. MANY. And the width, breadth, variety, and vision of the entries every round are astounding. The current contest opened yesterday and will accept entries for a limited time. I've submitted my entry and can't wait to see the rest.
Go see the contest rules.
Go see the outstanding entries.
Go submit your own.
Go play.

2) HELLO ELLO - Book giveaway: Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris giveaways. Free of the great joys in life. And it includes zombies! Who can resist zombies? PS--I also happen to love Ello's "writerly advice" guest spots. They're all well worth reading.

In other news, my current wip is up to 23K. For me, that's miraculous. I'm afraid my productivity will suffer a bit though because the chunks of unstructured time I had over the past couple of weeks are now gone. I will find the time, and I will be obsessed with details when I can't get my hands on a keyboard, but I'm trying to be realistic with a goal of a 60K rough draft by mid-August. I've never done NaNoWriMo, but I just might try on some metaphorical NaNoWriMo blinders.

Friday, July 1, 2011

So this is what it feels like...

A few years ago, in a flurry of exploratory creative writing, when I had three fledgling novels going in little fits and starts, I marveled at fellow unpubbed writers (like Jen Hendren and Claire Gregory, both of whom now post at the All the World's Our Page blog, and Ellen Oh, who is now rocking a three-book contract with HarperCollins Teen for a YA fantasy set in ancient Korea) whose prodigious word counts seemed almost unreal to me.

Thousands of words a day. On multiple days. In a row. How did they DO that?

I was lucky if I managed 500 words a day, tops. 500 tortured, minutely crafted words. Hence, all three of those WIPs now languish on my thumb drives at 15K or less, after 4 years or more. To be fair to myself, there have been huge chunks of time (mid-August to mid-May, every year for the past couple of years) when I get no creative writing done. But there's still a lot of time unaccounted for.

I know it doesn't help that the intellectual effort of my job functionally shuts down my creative writing for the academic year. But still, 15K in 4 years. Pathetic. (Just referring to myself and my unreasonable self-expectations, here. Anyone else with 15K in 4 years--You go! Rock on!)

So this summer, in a ____ mood, I have decided to try something different. I chose a totally different story idea and direction and genre. I'm giving myself room to only rule for this WIP is that I must finish it.

And lately, I've been granted the precious gift of time. One of the lovely percs of my job is free tuition for both credit and non-credit courses--for me and my immediate family. So Kiddo goes to "camp classes" most mornings, and I have dedicated this week's camp time to writing this shiny new WIP! And it's moving at, for me, a remarkable pace. I've written just over 9K since in 3 days. 9K in 3 days. Compared to 9K in 3 years. I'm trying not to pressure myself into keeping this pace...I'm my own worst enemy, obviously. But I'd also love to have the first draft complete before the fall semester begins...and by complete, I mean around 70K, prior to revision and editing, with a final target of 85K.

But, really, considering my track record, it will be a feat if I manage 50K with a full story arc. (The other 35K can be for minor arcs and detailing that I would deal with in revision.)

I certainly don't want to kill the magic of this little new plaything by overanalyzing, but I think it's going moderately well for a few reasons, all of which are rather inter-related:

1) Playfulness - Unlike my previous literary efforts, it's genre writing, which has some basic conventions/requirements, so when I pause in doubt, I can think about what conventions I might not have captured yet or might want to play with.

2) Freedom from judgment - Unlike my previous literary efforts, I feel I don't have to try so hard this time to be clever and deep and intellectual. This time I just want to FINISH a story and maybe, possibly have some fun doing it. So far, so good.

3) Outlining - Oh, and whaddaya know, this time, after a day of writing, it seemed fitting and sort of natural that I draft a basic outline. In this case, it really does work. I still don't think I could outline litfic well...I'd want those pieces to be more, um, revelatory (wow, that sounds pretentious). But this genre piece seemed to generate an outline all on its own..."Don't forget that this should happen. Don't forget that it needs to include...They should have a hiccup in their path here... Why would he...? What happens whey they...? How can he forgive...? How will she react to...?"

In short--
1) Just write.
2) Don't give up. Maybe just try looking out a different window.
3) Try new things.

That wasn't too "navel-gazing," was it? Carry on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tabula Rasa

It's been almost a year since I've written any fiction at all. Looking back at bits and pieces, I find it hard to insert myself back into those ideas. More than that, my internal editor's voice has grown exceptionally strong in the past year...jabbing me with doubts and fears and criticism. And yet, I yearn to write. I do. I find that my teaching position marshals all my intellectual effort during the academic year...and I love my work. But writing fiction offers unique challenge and satisfaction.

So what's a fledgling writer...okay, THIS fledgling do but try to re-establish the conditions that helped free her mind, her voice, and her fingers to have the audacity to write fiction in the first place.

In all honesty, I don't know what this blog will be. Perhaps it will house my "Morning Pages" (see Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), if I choose to do them. Perhaps it will be as random and rambling as its previous "Writer at Work" incarnation.

It won't gaze at my navel. I can't guarantee it will be of any interest to anyone but me (and even my interest isn't a certainty), but I'm not interested in narcissism. I want to get back to writing...find a way to write things that matter...and blogging was one of of the tools I found helpful. I know the blogging community I encountered years ago has changed; evolution is inevitable. I know blogging is no longer cache; I don't care. Writing begets writing, or so "they" say.

And a fresh start...embracing the blank page with all its terrifying potential.