Old Moon

Monday, December 28, 2009

Links

There are snow-falls and there are snow-falls. The one happening here in northwest Connecticut as I write this looks like the concluding scene of a sentimental movie with a happy ending. Precisely what you want to see if you're in a warm place in midwinter. Nature supplies more suggestions for expanded links with ideas than any other entity, of course.

Forever on the lookout for useful metaphors (an occupational hazard for anyone who pretends to be an artist),  I'm trying to think of how to make the best use of this apparently gentle beauty. Perhaps a little contest? Prizes (metaphorical, of course) to be awarded on the basis of originality and appropriateness.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Light

I've just read a short and telling essay on the holiday season by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Many have said almost too much, and more will later be added to these millions of words, but not many will get to the heart of universal human solace at this time of the year as beautifully as Ms. Byer, with her remarks about LIGHT.  The calendar reminds us that darkness is shrinking, that light in every sense of the word is gaining strength. Please visit Netwest Mountain Writers and Poets and read "Words Shining in the Night."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Still Learning

Lesson for today:

There certainly isn't anything like a new location to give a new slant. We were expecting to be here in Connecticut by today, but not (as it turned out we were) by yesterday. The storm warnings impressed even my intrepid daughter, so we rescheduled everything and took off a day early from North Carolina. Since the route goes via I-77 and I-81, we're mighty glad we did! So here I sit in a busy household where my son-in-law is baking cookies like three of Santa's elves rolled into one, for his annual office party, a real wood fire makes the ambience everything an illustrator could invent. Yet, it could be any winter day, too far from what I now look on as "home," rather than almost the eve of the most-celebrated holiday of the year in the western hemisphere.

The fact that we have snow due in an hour or so, that the decorations are lavish, pretty, traditional, and that I'm in the bosom of my family seems as though I should be not only grateful (which I certainly am), but also "in the mood," which I'm afraid I'm not. Immediately after that remark, we all think of the conventional wisdom of looking for the important things and not seeking satisfaction from the wrong sources. That advice is still perfectly valid, and still does little to reconcile me with my place (I mean where I am in a physical sense). One more time, I am reminded of how inescapable one's geographical location is in one's emotional and spiritual status.

An effort of will is sometimes less than sufficient to the job.



Saturday, December 5, 2009

MAIDEN RUN - At Last!

Finally, the second novel is out in paper. I wish the cover were the same as the e-reader version, but I have hopes for a tidier text.

If you have a taste for a story about a time many of us can remember, though it is likely past for good, this novel of how three siblings deal with facing a future changed by "progress" and loss for each of them, you might enjoy meeting the Adams family.

When you love your story as it unfolds under your fingers, completing it feels like a mixed blessing. When you then wonder whether it will ever see the light of day, you can begin to regard it as a curse. Nobody who writes for publication will fail to understand what I mean. During this waiting time, you become convinced that the book is too poor for anyone to want to read it anyway. I hope this feeling will pass soon!

I'm happy to wish myself a happy holiday now, while I also wish for happy readers.

Amazon and the publisher Cambridge Books are the primary sources, but most booksellers will order.

Now I can proceed to the last of the Christmas cards and packing for the journey north to spend Christmas with my children.

Cheers!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Letting It All Out--or Not?

A novel in one month? Good or bad, that deserves congratulations. I've been following the progress of this project for a couple of years and can only wonder at the energy and (forgive me) chutzpah of those who try it. From my point of view, it would be just what I most do not need to do. Of recent years I've been spending a lot of time and some money in an effort to get good editing. I often wish I had the kind of mind that seems to be trained into the top ranks of British students so I had instant recall and could quote everyone I'd like to without pausing to think about it. I can't, so I'll just mention that someone said that 90% of good writing is good editing. THAT is a rarer thing than good writing.

If any reader is trying to do what I am in an effort to be ready for Christmas and all it entails, I wish them not only strong bodies and quiet minds, but also the good fortune to find the editor(s) they need. For some of us the flow is less of a problem than the polishing of what has poured or squeaked out of our psyches onto the page--poetry, fiction, or essay. We have to get through to the new year with the hope of greater success than in the last one. Best wishes and godspeed!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Perspective and Sharing

Lately I've been reading a lot of musings and commentary (not to mention complaints) from writers making valiant attempts to allow Humor (please note the capital H) to take the sting and/or self-pity out of what they are putting out there on the Internet for all to see. These are entertaining, even thought-provoking little essays.

Unfortunately (for me) they really don't do much to make me feel better. The authors have agents, they have been published more than once or twice, they can claim several categories (genres?) within their capabilities. Most of them are younger than my youngest child. It makes the likes of me want to have a small temper tantrum. DON'T THEY REALIZE HOW WELL THEY'RE DOING?

If they're bothering to write blogs about their rejections and trials and discouragements, I'd like to suggest they correspond with me and some of my cohorts to find out how well off they are. I'd be more than happy to correspond by snail or e-mail, by phone or face-t0-face, if we could arrange it, and give a lesson--for no charge--in perspective.

Any responders would have to agree to share their agent's name and interests with someone who could use that information with perhaps more gratitude than they seem to be able to feel!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Looking for a Better Analogy

I just received a much-forwarded email relating a supposed Cherokee tradition/legend. To boil it down, it tells of a rite of passage to manhood for Indian boys.

A boy must spend a night in the woods blindfolded without removing the blindfold until dawn is bright enough to shine through it. He is naturally afraid of many awful possibilities alone in the dark in the forest. When dawn comes, and he removes the blindfold, he sees his father sitting close by, where he has been keeping watch all night to ensure his son's safety.

It's a nice story. It is meant (according to the text that follows) to reassure us that though we can't see God, he is nearby. So, you may ask, what's my problem?

The message is lavishly illustrated with pictures of an Indian boy and his father, and later images of a more venerable native American. What really annoyed me at first was the fact that all the costumes and decorations depicted are those of Plains Indian tribes: breastplate of bird bones, eagle-feather war bonnets, beaded amulet, etc. I doubt if any Cherokee at the time before the Trail of Tears had even imagined such regalia. It seems that is just plain disrespectful--of both tribal groups, and by extension, of anyone outside the author's limited acquaintance.

If we want to use the history of our predecessors on this continent to illustrate Christianity, (if I don't mistake the author's intent) it seems to me that at least we should respect those whose traditions we use to turn into our own allegory. I happen to think that political correctness has become as silly as its absence was insulting. Now we have an example like this one (not the only one I've observed) of an attitude that implies less respect and more ignorance than ninety-nine percent of what we used to see before "PC."

This is quite apart from what might be construed as real hypocrisy in the appropriation of a convenient analogy from a completely different cultural foundation. Why couldn't the person who wanted so much to make a religious point have chosen a more appropriate and honestly respectful basis for the sermon?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Accessible Poetry

Recently I have had the pleasure of reading Glenda Council Beall's new collection of poems, Now Might as Well Be Then. I want to praise it in the most heartfelt way. If you aren't accustomed to the slower pace required for the appreciation of poetry, here is the place to begin to learn how.

These poems are sensuous and rhythmic and graced by lovely diction. Word choices are evocative. The poems are in no way difficult or obscure, and in no way are they simple. Loss, sorrow, humor, regret, joy and more reveal themselves in every one. We recognize and share emotion instantly and understand how the author was feeling about her subject while it was new, and while she was writing about it later.

Academic students of poetry will recognize certain techniques, but thankfully without the need to notice them. From "Summer Ballet in the Piney Woods:" We dressed, and left our innocence in the glade/ of the quiet forest. Metaphor and allegory are available if you like them.

From "My Father's Horse:" ...The horse/ is all we ever share. For he has sons/ and I am just a daughter. The beginning of this poem saves the lines quoted from giving the impression of a hard man. We know it is, as they say today, "what it is," and see the author knew this.

The book's title is the poignant last line in a condensed story of love and nostalgia that contains a whole life as a loved wife. Her loss is implied in a way few readers and no widows will miss.

Read this small book and read it again, unless you're afraid to commit to Poetry with a capital P. Even if you are, this will be just what you need to get over it!

http://www.finishinglinepress.com.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

You and Me and the Universe


There are so many good blogs around. One is "A Good Blog is Hard to Find." A recent post by "Mystery Blogger" provides food for thought for everybody. Take a look.

Here's one take on the question:


Cosmonaut

In still night hours, under veils of velvet dark,

glint starry echoes, turning like leaves in whirlpools

that tease an errant mind. From forgotten eons

linger lonesome tunes whose burdens slip away like bee-song in summer.

Who is there?

What did you say?

Only fragments loom in broken ranks to turn the inward ear

toward shadows without outlines and murmurs gone in the twinkling of an eye.

A flash of memory from ages brilliant and geometric as cut emeralds still unset

is drowned in muffled whispers of times unremembered.

Who is there?

Did you speak?

The turning times of futures past spin dimly on in fading Arabesques

as the haunted soul gropes with mittened fingers and blindfold eyes

to grasp a hint or catch a clue and plot the new flight plan for the morrow.

Is someone there?

Please—repeat!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Creation and Imagination

I have a sense that I should be sticking to comments from the point of view of a writer on this blog, so readers may take that into consideration. As a would-be novelist, I seem to discover almost day by day some new insight that I find it hard to believe is new.

The rites of passage in our lives should so often be, however overwhelming, less unexpected in how we experience them than they are. If we read, if we listen to the conversations and advice of our elders, how is it that we're so often unprepared? I don't mean for the events themselves and when they occur, since no one is clairvoyant. I'm speaking of how little we know of ourselves when faced with one of them.

I remember how amazed I was by the idea that a man I found incredibly attractive in every way (could hardly think of anything else) would want me; I recall the emotional upheavals of childbirth--each one--and now I'm knocked out of my proverbial socks by the passage of time that ended first for my husband and that leaves me floundering here on my own.

All this being the case, I have to ask myself how I can have the impression I who have been around long enough to know about such matters could make fiction that includes them and be believed. What really blows me away is how young writers manage to take on this challenge and manage it as well as so many do. I guess the real question is: how can you evaluate imagination?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Small Splash?



Well, here's a cautious offering:

I love haiku, even nontraditional subjects. Maybe one reason is they demand so little skill.
Apologies for formatting. I don't seem able to control it here at all.

Birches

Sleek triplets white

in scattered flashes, adorn

winter's sleeping woods.

Weeds

Brash rustics, crowd in

among fine grass, thornĂ©d rose –

they brave slashing hoe.


Spring

Imperceptibly

full buds swell to sweet birdsong –

Croci laugh at snow.


Friendship

The hand's clasp unfelt

and sweet voiced words unspoken

–love's gifts accepted.


Breakfast

Why not alone taste

first savor of the day? Boor,

The bacon’s burning.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Diving In...

Some of my readers may be aspiring poets. Is that the same thing as wanting to write poetry? It's hard enough for me to say out loud, "I'm a writer." I can't imagine claiming to be a poet because I'm trying to write poetry.

Is a "poet" a slightly different breed from an ordinary writer? At least three of you who might read this are actually poets. Now that I've read most of a scholarly article in The Boston Review about Yeats, I wonder if I may be losing my ability to differentiate between reality and wishful thinking. What in the world, other than a perceived need to find a different approach to getting communication (and let's admit it, self expression) onto a page, is the difference between an author of good prose and a poet?

Though my first love is fiction, I find myself writing more and more essays in the past two years, and find to my surprise how much easier it seems than finding ways to offer IMPLICATIONS as both poetry and fiction must do. The unrivaled wealth of English as a language almost demands that its lovers take dangerous leaps into its possibilities. Should we be trying to make exclusive choices about how to go about this?

I used to love to dive, but could never muster the courage for a back dive or the skill for a gainer. I'd be able to choose between an ordinary running forward, a swan, or a jackknife, though. Somehow it seems as if the last might be the way to approach the depths of poetry. What tends to hold me back is the possibility that the reader might think I was just showing off. Maybe the good old cannonball is all we need?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

North Carolina Arts Council

The NC Arts Council conducts regional competitions using local members of arts organizations as judges for applications for individual grants in various disciplines. As a member of a local arts foundations, I was invited to be one of the observers who sit in on the deliberations. It took all morning, and after lunch, the board members from each of five counties were charged with figuring out the best way to distribute the funds allocated among those deemed most deserving.

It's rare to have a chance to observe such a process, and very educational. I was assigned to the group who were to judge the five applicants for grants to further their careers as potters. Since this is an area I know almost nothing about, just hearing the discussion was a learning experience, but the main pleasure after the day was over is in the knowledge that there is such a lively and practical interest in the arts in our state. A representative from the state had driven three hours to spend the day overseeing the decisions being made by representatives from five counties.

A great deal of attention was paid to making the best use of the available funds for the benefit of the individual applicants while applying demanding standards of quality for the discipline and for the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the applications.

We decided to fund seven artists involved in jewelry-making, photography, basketry, pottery, and music performance. Over $7,000 was awarded.

These are hard times that give rise to many a letter on the op-ed pages complaining about frittering away tax dollars for nonessentials like the arts. For those of us who know the value of those relatively few dollars, a (tiring) day like that is worth every minute and every penny. Long live the determination to keep enriching our lives and to keep supporting those who contribute the most to that endeavor!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Techie Challenges

Some months ago I wrote about problems getting Internest access set up, and particularly Vista's mail program. It wasn't easy, but I survived. I'm not sure I'll make it through all that again, now that ATT has joined forces (I don't pretend to understand how) with Yahoo!. (The exclamation point isn't mine, it's Yahoo!'s!) (The second one is mine in that sentence.) There's something perverse about requiring what is often an unnecessary punctuation mark in one's trademark.

Now, fed up with Microsoft's tendency to fix what ain't broke, I decided to go to a Mac. Maybe I won't be required to pay for an expensive update of the OS every couple or three years. Probably that was a completely idiotic thing to try. A whole new learning curve.

For five (5) days now I have been either unable to send or unable to receive messages, or both via e-mail, on both machines. Some of what I need to do is send digital messages that are unsatisfactorily late and cumbersome to people who need to put them quickly and without effort onto their computers. We don't want to have to print them out, scan them, and then get them into the recipients' machines, and we don't have days in which to do that in some cases. It really isn't just whimsy for me to be trying to send and receive e-mail. 5 days! ATT technicians have been patient and polite and have spend a total of almost 5 hours with me (in 4 different sessions). The trouble is, once one of them succeeds in getting test messages to go through and I've heaved a sigh, the next day everything is back to square one. The other odd thing is that settings are different after each of these nice people has finished with me. If I could face the hassle, I might well throw in the towel.

I just had a phone call from someone who wanted me to tell him how to put his photos on an ad he's putting on Craig's List. He didn't know what I was talking about when I asked him what format the photos were in. He didn't know what I meant when I asked him what his operating system is. He told me his computer is 10 years old and hasn't been updated. That's when I decided I should be grateful I'm better off than he is!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rodney Dangerfield's Complaint

Reading my favorite blogs keeps me in a state of continual embarrassment because I can't seem to keep up with their frequency. One hampering factor is that when a thought strikes me hard enough, I always feel it must be evaluated in the light of its potential interest to someone other than the writer before deciding to out it here.

I have just seen a discussion of problems for elders with young people in the various medical fields that cries out for comment and support. I haven't asked, but I hope that some of the idiotic behaviour that's really insulting in a doctor's office is the result of someone's notion of what will put a patient at ease. I keep trying to think of a way to tell a 20-something CNA, or whatever, that I really would rather be called Mrs. So and So (or Miss, or even Ms.) without hurting her feelings or making her defensive.

After my husband's death, I resisted writing to the hospital while I waited for their usual survey after a stay there. It never came. Seems they have a policy of not bothering the families of those who have passed away in their care. What stupidity! When better can they get really useful information about how to serve patients better?

Native American and most Asian cultures revere age for its own sake. While unfortunately, too many of us know older folks with very little of their lifelong intelligence and perception left, it would be better to assume a person carrying a lot of years is still sharp mentally, and then adjust later if it turns out to be necessary. Nowadays, though, it seems as if the assumption is the reverse.

There are enough difficulties with being merely old, without adding unnecessary indignities too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday

It seems sort of expected to recognize certain dates, much as many of us would perhaps prefer not to. I have a dear friend who commented on this day that "That's a dumb birthday." I know exactly what she means, and I agree. However, it's no good pretending it isn't one, I guess. Certainly numbers divisible by 5 make better birthdays.

In any case, here's another one, and if I were Chinese I'd be even a year older. Since that culture reveres age, maybe that would be better. A daughter-in-law sent me a greeting via Facebook. Do I have to thank her the same way?

It seems in these times of early retirements that there is a surprising number of renegades working full-tilt into their nineties. While I admire them, I can only wonder what it must be like to have such a love affair with their jobs or their missions. And I pity those who do this because they can't imagine what to do if they don't keep working at their paying jobs.

We (my husband and I) looked forward to "retiring" so we'd have time to do other things than those we'd spent so many years doing. Of course, jobs weren't all by any means, since we felt duty-bound to volunteer. What we hoped was that we could, in our declining years, pick out what to volunteer for. Well, we did, but it turned out (as we should have known it would) that the choice was limited by our responses to perceived needs. As many have said before us, "How did we ever have time to go to work?"

These unoriginal ruminations are, I suppose the inevitable result of passing years. What seems to be the trick is finding enough things for which we are either needed or for which passion remains to keep going with chins up and looking forward to another day, or week, or month, or even year.

I, for one, can't help looking back, but I hope I face the direction I'm going in most of the time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

A couple of notions at the forefront today: I've begun to work with an editor on the third novel. That fact fits with the second thought, which is that it's astonishing when life suddenly stops moving gradually in one direction and begins jumping backward. Most setbacks are like obstacles you climb over, then proceed. I'm finding myself now as a writer as well as an ordinary person trying to get back to steady progress.

I've bitten the bullet and started to try (again!) to get the third book into some kind of shape that might make some agent willing to take me on. It's a truly fascinating process that I used to think I could have done for me for nothing if I could find a publisher. The publisher I found hasn't the resources (or, I imagine even the desire to bother with this).

I remember what it was like to try to teach high school students -- to make improvements without discouraging the efforts. My editor does this very well indeed. With no experience in such matters, I had to ask if I should be returning rewritten material for further comment, whether I should be countering comments of his with defense of my original handling, et al. His response was one I ought to have been able to anticipate, and proved to me immediately that my money will be well spent. He said all decisions must be mine after weighing his (professional) opinions; he added that part of what I might learn would be to defend my work to myself. "Of course," I can hear you experienced and multi-published writers saying. Well, the thought was new to me, and more than welcome. Back to square one in writing courses: write for yourself. Makes me look forward to every e-mail.

That experience, ongoing as it is, links in with the discovery that what I'm tired of hearing termed "the grieving process" isn't one of even fairly smooth progress. I may not like the term, but it appears to be accurate. After perhaps two days of having a sense of beginning to get out from under the blanket of sadness, I have a day of near despair. It's as if I have to start again from the third or fourth day after the loss, when the shock was fading. It's a bit frightening. I think of the tears that won't be pushed back and the rewrites of my story, and honestly wonder if I have sufficient emotional muscle to prevail. Oh, I'll plough along with the novel, try to keep something coming for this blog, produce the reviews and essays for Senior Women, but I wish the hills didn't obscure the horizon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seasons

A glance at the calendar at this time of year is never necessary to know we're coming to an end of some kind. Autumnn is always beautiful, and for many, the favorite season. I can understand why, but not for me.

The beginning of school when I was a child has nothing to do with it because I looked forward to that. The feeling comes from so far back, I don't believe the symbolic connections influence my emotions. Perhaps those who understand "spiritual" matter might be able to explain. It's a sad time. Like so much that is most poignant, the very loveliness of the sensual world emphasizes the melancholy that underlies every day until the trees are bare and the first frost has browned the grass.

This is the season I tend to try to write poetry. Common adolescent hangover, I'm sure. This is the season when I need to be tied to the mast like Ulysses to keep me from spending a fortune on spring bulbs that I will later curse because I dislike the planting so much. Oh, and did I mention, this is the season of my husband's and my birthdays? After so many of those, you'd think I'd be over that by now!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Allbooks Reviews on Maiden Run

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Genre: Fiction—Family Drama

Title: Maiden Run

Author: Joan L. Cannon

In the history of every family there are times when everything changes. The Adams family has lived and worked Maiden Run since time out of mind, but the world is changing and everyone must struggle to keep up. Spanning thirty years, but focusing particularly on the summer of 1935, Maiden Run is the chronicle of the lives, loves, and challenges of three Adams siblings.

Maiden Run is a fairly simple story that recounts some critical points in the lives of a family. There are no paradigm shifts, and very few “events” to speak of, but Cannon’s skill leads the reader to care about the characters, to the point where you may feel saddened when the story draws to a close. Cannon knows her topic, setting, and place inside and out, and expertly draws you in and shows you around. The Adams family actually acts like a family, with tensions and unspoken rules and, in spite of everything, an overall affection that runs deeper than any trouble. Unfortunately, Maiden Run is distributed by a small press, that doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on editing, and so this book has been released with a large number of technical and contextual errors. Luckily for us readers, Cannon’s talent shines through, and these flaws become little more than annoying ticks in the face of her sweeping thirty-year saga. Cannon is truly a diamond in the rough, and I hope she is discovered by larger presses, soon.

Joan L. Cannon has already been discovered by magazines like Pulpsmith, Seacoast Life, Grit, and Thema, and she currently writes for the online magazine Senior Women Web. She lives in North Carolina with her husband.

Maiden Run is a parable for our times, taking us back to another era that was under heavy economic hardship, and reminding us of the value of family and heritage. I Recommend this book to anyone looking for a good, meaty bit of fiction.

Reviewer: J. Blackmore, Allbooks Reviews. www.allbookreviews.com

Available at: Write Words, Inc. and Amazon.com
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Wildlife on the Hilltop

My dog and I were walking along the road that runs through the community where I live one recent afternoon when I noticed a rather large eastern box turtle against the curb. At this time of the year, it seemed to me she might be on her way back to the river after laying her eggs. The Catawba loops around part of this property. Not everyone driving here would be able to see that the lump wasn't a stone, or it might open up and begin to cross the road.

I picked the turtle up. Its head had just enough showing at the front of its shell for it to see me, and it promptly withdrew it and its tail and toes and clamped its shell tight. We got home, I went behind the cottage and took the turtle down to the edge of the woods (between the cottage and the river) where I left it in the shade of a holly tree.

About an hour later I went to the window to see if it had emerged and moved on. The cottage is built on a steep hillside that provides grade level access to the basement, so I looked down about nine feet from the window. There, not three feet from the house, was a black bear just moseying along. Its thick black coat glistened and its brown muzzle swung slightly from side to side as it tested the local air. I watched it for about half a minute, then went to find my camera.

The cottages are arranged in a curving row with heavy woods and a very steep bank that begins a very few yards beyond them. Ours is about halfway along the row, so I assumed I could at least watch the animal continue along behind the neighboring buildings. When I got back with the camera, I saw I was wrong. It had clearly decided to plunge down into the thick undergrowth and young trees and had vanished.

My late husband outwitted marauding raccoons by using an electric fence transformer to protect the bird feeders and thus end their destruction of planters on the deck as well; I use red pepper to discourage total consumption of seed by squirrels who know how to jump from the grounded railing straight onto the feeders; we see deer and turkeys fairly regularly in early morning or late afternoon; we've seen a fox several times; we have a tolerant relationship with the rabbits and groundhogs; I love the skinks and fence lizards; a small family of skunks have amused us; we've seen a possum up near the dumpsters; there's an audible if not visible frog in our artificial pond by the front door; I look forward to the Harrier-like antics of the carpenter bee who comes each spring to the deck -- but a bear?!

Apart from the hope that this young fellow wouldn't alert his mama and thus pose a threat, I was thrilled. Even in a zoo, I've never been so close to a bear. This one was about the size of a large St. Bernard, I think. I'm really devastated that I didn't get a snapshot.

One more time, I was reminded of how absolutely vital the wild things are to my existence. I can't admit to my next door neighbor that I was pleased to see the blacksnake that lives in the compost bin because she can't even abide the thought of a snake, let alone the sight of one. I pity her. It won't be long now until I'll be watching for the migrating fox sparrows that pause at our feeders for a few days, the cedar waxwings come to strip the holly, the dark-eyed juncos and more visits from the wrens. Four breeding pairs of cardinals flock to the feeders twice a day now, along with the other regulars like goldfinches, housefinches, and titmice. I can't help wondering how many will stay around for the winter. The hummingbirds are now chasing one another off the feeders in spite of four ports on each one. In less than a month, they'll almost certainly be gone. The towhees stayed all last winter. I hope they'll spend another one here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rereading an Old Favorite

There seems to be a point at which too many things are clamoring against the skull, begging to be let out. I haven't posted in a while in part because I can't decide which of those notions might be right for this spot.

My first adventure with getting a youngster settled into a college dormitory, adventures with a neighbor who is about as comfortable with his lovely new PC as I might be with a Lamborghini, unexpected wildlife in my almost-but-not-quite rural setting, trying to find a way to go to sleep before midnight without total exhaustion first, comments on current reading…

Maybe the latter is the best. I'm more than half way through my third reading of a book I read first shortly after it was published. It has been out of print for many years. I sought out a copy several years ago because I had, after reading it the second time, wanted to own it. Imagine my surprise to discover it is now available again — and in paper! (Deliberate attempt to make the reader ask what in the world IS this book?) It's called Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.

A "Utopian" novel published in the early forties (after the author's death, I believe) and set about ten years before World War I. Wright's sister apparently put it together and edited it slightly. She said it was a work that consumed more than ten years, and that her brother seemed to have no intention of trying to publish it.

If a reader would like to become immersed (I used the word advisedly) in a long (over 1000 pages) and detailed account not only of a nonexistent world, but also intriguing and unexpected characters, told in a style reminiscent of the late Nineteenth Century, this is the book for you. Just saying I'm reading it for the third time will give a notion of how much is included worth revisiting. For today's short attention spans, it's quite feasible to skim many of the descriptive passages, which indeed are a little repetitious, but in spite of the incredible volume of information, the story told by the narrator is as suspenseful in its way as any thriller.

Not just the style is slightly archaic, so is John Lang's (the protagonist's) own personality and morals. I'm old enough to find that extremely attractive. If you like a love story that builds sexual tension to an almost unbearable pitch, can admire enormous self-control, and were ever an adolescent with a yen for a date from the Round Table, this is the story for you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From an Elderly 'Techie'

Anyone who knows someone my age seems surprised to find that person cozying up to the technology of the computer, let alone blogging, the really fancy gymnastics of handling cell phones, even learning how to reset answering machines after a power failure. I have to say that without all these things, I'd be in an assisted living environment, I'm afraid. In the first place, my alleged mind would most likely be jelly, and my disposition would be either homicidal or suicidal.

I alluded to the loss of my alter ego four months ago and to a hint of how that has impacted me. There are a couple of saviors for me aside from the usual spiritual props most of us depend on. One is the computer and the other is my pets. Our children have been heroic about trying to take care of a parent who is some 800 miles away from them. My living situation is probably nearly ideal, as it is in a life-care community. None of the above can solve the basic problem, but all are useful. The computer and sites like this and the multiple others of its kind that I visit regularly and through which I've met some true friends, not to mention fellow survivors, are without any doubt what keep me as sane as I can be expected to be.

If I have any readers, I treasure their responses as evidence of their existence, so I hope anyone might feel free to disagree or even lambaste me. Just let me know you're out there! When one of you urged me to start a blog, I had little notion of how valuable it was going to become.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Finding the Label

One of the labels I used for this blog overall is "aging." Another is "the writing life." It's too bad to be repetitious, and no blogger wants to bore possible readers, but it's so difficult to imagine what label would draw a stranger in. I've been reading John Updike's collection of short stories that are the last he wrote. Let me suggest the book, My Father's Tears and Other Stories to anyone interested in either or both labels. You can read my review next month on Senior Women Web.

As Junot Diaz said in a recent interview, there is no better preparation and continuing exercise for a writer than reading. It would be a challenge to get through all the varied collection of everything from criticism to fiction to poetry of someone as prolific as Updike, but I'd bet money that trying would be worth it for anyone with authorial aspirations.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where Should an Epitaph Be Found?

At the risk of more self-exposure than most people will be interested in, I offer the following musing in the hope that it might make some readers consider the subject in relation to personal experience--not just of loss, but also of gratitude for the living.

Does anyone give much thought to epitaphs, other than those noted for their humor or irony? The definition does not apply solely to words on a tombstone; it includes other written memorials. However, it occurred to me the other day that these reminders may be falling out of fashion, in part because of the decline in traditional burials. Cremation so often concludes with a scattering of ashes rather than the interment of them. The reasons for choosing this means of putting a period at the end of a life are too valid for argument in my view, yet I find myself wishing for something left behind, even if nothing corporeal remains.

I've been trying to think of something suitable for my life's companion that might at least suggest to someone who didn't know him what kind of man he was, without running to many paragraphs or to wording that would strike a stranger as fulsome.

From the first day I met him, I was aware that this was true without appreciating it properly for many months. By the time he was gone, I had become so accustomed to his selflessness and his sense of duty, they became a given in my life, which was so embedded with his that his absence leaves me feeling most of the time as though I see a stranger in the mirror and am surprised that I don't look emaciated.

Anecdotes that illustrate this characteristic would fill a notebook. If I could find the right place to put these words, I might hope that his children and their children would use them as a reminder, and even as a source of inspiration.

HE NEVER THOUGHT OF HIMSELF FIRST


Monday, July 6, 2009

Promotion How-to?

Well, at last the publisher has told me Maiden Run is to be put into print. Since I don't know a single soul who reads books or magazines with a hand-held device, that sounds like good news. Yet it leads straight back to the promotion bugaboo. For me, with little or no tendency toward exhibitionism and relatively little hubris, this is the worst part.

I tried to set up a Facebook page once, the result of which was that the name of one of my sons popped up instantly, and I have no idea what to do next. Twitter's word-count restrictions make it seem an unlikely place to get noticed if you can't at least pretend to fit your work into one of the most popular genres. "Horror, suspense, sex, thrills..." just won't be a fair come-on for my old fashioned literary/contemporary orphans.

A writer friend sent me the Who Hub link, (see sidebar) which allows one to speak for oneself. There are some very good questions for your interview, and I found them challenging and interesting to try to answer. I recommend it.

The temptation is to zap off a credit card number and buy some of the advertised books on "marketing" your literary output. Summaries seem to indicate that they pretty much all say the same things, and that we've all heard them numberless times before. For instance, the suggestion that any book store in your town or your hometown newspaper will both be happy if not eager to help you is, for me in the town where I reside, laughable. I've never succeeded in getting a press release printed, nor even in persuading the local bookseller to stock a POD volume. She won't consider consignment, and even refuses to order for a customer who asks for my book. I have no reason to think she'll change her stance for a second one.

My best bet (pathetic though the results usually are) is the local public library, which is happy to give me an afternoon for a reading and talk. The last one I did sold, I think, one book. Nevertheless, if you don't live in a big city, consider that venue.

It seems to me that what we need is lessons in how to choose "key words." There must be a special trick to that. The second best idea may be to join the bloggers workshop being started up by Pat Workman. Look her up at patworkman@yahoo.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Road Trip



It's often said that we must keep on learning to keep on living. What you don't hear is that some of the lessons are a long way from what you want to know, while others are unexpected revelations or happy confirmations.
I've just come back from a trip to old stamping grounds with my children and grandchildren. In that first category is that I surely can't do what I used to. Keeping up with the younger generation in the family is hard enough; with the second generation down, there's no way!
Two great big graduation parties, one in lovely weather, the other in an unremitting downpour, both of necessity partly outdoors, were joyous affairs. I had to learn to drive to unfamiliar places without anyone in the shotgun seat or at the wheel for the first time in 22 years. A gracious GPS loan from a friend was twice a life- and time- saver, but I learned I'm probably getting too old for that.
Then there are the other little lessons--or maybe they aren't so little. Even when you know there will be changes in places you haven't seen for years, you're seldom ready for what those turn out to be. No matter how good you think your kids are at taking care of you, if you're lucky, you underestimate them. Don't expect not to be emotionally shaken by backward glances.
If you're thinking of subjects to write about as you decompress, you realize that ten days will provide material for essays, either serious or humorous, along with digital photos and programs -- a final bonus for the time spent in unfamiliar beds, trying to choose fast foods from backlit menus above the service counters, and hours on the highway.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Best Mysteries

Psychological suspense is a favorite escape genre for me. I've just finished rereading Elizabeth George's A Place for Hiding. It's very long, the plot so intricate it reminds me of crochet—impossible to follow all the threads closely enough to see the pattern if you look too closely. All the major characters in this story come from childhood trauma, as do the secondary characters.

Other writers who follow similar themes like Ruth Rendell, for instance, surprise me by their ability to dream up such horrors without giving the sense of "horror" I think of when I watch movie trailers. The grimmest parts of the suffering of these authors' characters are emotional; the scars borne by their creations are psychic. The stories are therefore fascinating, in part because it's possible to sympathize even with the villains at least some of the time.

But I have to ask myself where those ideas come from. Is there a darker corner of these authors' souls than most of us recognize in ourselves? I confess to much more interest in these artfully layered personalities than I can find in pure thrillers where the protagonist is usually called on for physical bravery, special technical know-how, and cunning, and not much more.

I find it incredible that the most profitable movies and many of the most-watched TV shows involve enormous amounts of shock and melodrama in the form of blood, thunderous explosions, impossible chases, and the tiniest threads of coincidence to hold the stories together until the (usually foolishly upbeat) endings. I haven't the stomach for them and find them specious. I can't resist the intricate character studies of modern mystery masters (and mistresses) that make some of the old standbys like Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, with their two-dimensional heroes, seem not really worth my time. Those mystery writers of the thirties don't seem just tame, they're unconvincing. I'm addicted to some of our newer practioners of what are really novels that happen to be mysteries like Ms. George, P. D. James, the best of Tony Hillerman—especially when I want to get away from a world that seems too much with us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Do You Write?

Frequently a writing contest shows up that asks the question, "Why do you write?" Many an author has answered that question, some seriously and some not so seriously. It strikes many as a foolish question and others as a profound one. I'd guess there are not numberless answers. They might begin with the personal and range all the way to messianic motives. Each answer would give a reader some idea of the personality and aspirations of the answerer, but I bet there would be a limited number of headings under which those answers would fall. Would anyone reading this be willing to help with a survey? Just post a comment?

I write because I can't help it. The better question would be why can't I help it?

First, I need to find out what I know; second, I need to discover what I don't know; third, I need to note what I must not forget. I am an indifferent amateur painter and the other visual arts are beyond my talents altogether; I can't perform music. I find I can put words on paper. They can do what nothing else can.

With a poor memory and perhaps a little too much emotion, the act of writing helps to suggest the perspective I need to cope with what is happening or what has happened to me, and to suggest how one experience might be useful to others. Utility is not quite all there is to that. Love for rhythm and cadence and image-making, and the opportunity to cause a chuckle or the frisson of recognition are involved.

Writing is the corollary to reading. All the words that have instructed and inspired and comforted and exhilarated me through all the years of a long life convince me that if I could find the readers, even I could add to that legacy. I can't resist the temptation to try.
I care about how words can conjure and reveal; I respect the fact that if you think (as opposed to dream or imagine) you need words. They matter.

Most people want to live a life that matters. After my children, words seem to be my best opportunity to accomplish that, on however small a scale.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Accident

It's obvious, but now and then we tend to forget that the reason a cliche is a cliche is because it's so true. I feel like a walking cliche some days. You never know what you're going to find out by accident, and yesterday I proved it yet again.

Someone on whose blog I had posted a comment replied with a comment that didn't make sense, and thereby hangs my tale (see what I mean about cliches?)

His reply was to my friend and free publicist, Glenda Beall. I followed a link and came upon a nugget of pure gold: The Way I See It. It's to be hoped that most who read these remarks are either writers themselves or interested in writers and writing. I'm delighted to have stumbled over this super spot so filled with more links and thoughtful takes on what I love to capitalize:
The Writing Life. Go there and enjoy an experienced writer, teacher, poet, and person.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rushing In

Maybe I'm too late, but I hope not. For most of my life, poetry has been something that other people wrote. Reading it lost some of its appeal as leisure became more scarce. To read poetry fairly takes so much more time than to read prose. There was a time in middle age when I took to writing it--without much faith. Now, with no one I know interested in such things, this seems like the place to let it out for air. Well, maybe not.

When tossing words out into the ether this way, I'm surprised when I get any response at all, but even more surprised at what elicits one. Comments show up on material that strikes me as too personal to be of interest to others, though its revelation provides some kind of catharsis for me.

After meeting three poets online who saw fit to send me kind and encouraging replies to some Hilltop Notes posts, I can hardly believe that the poems I've had the temerity to show have drawn neither comment nor disdain.

Cool Plums Weblog has been posting wonderful lectures on Robert Frost, who must be one of the most widely loved and respected writers of the twentieth or any century. I blame this whiny post in part on the inspiring reading of what shows up there. It has to be one of the most wonderful places to go back to school that one could find anywhere. And if there's a scintilla of verse in your bloodstream, Frost must make you write -- and hope.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Blog?

Ans. 1: Someone who knows something about marketing and writing told me it was a necessity if I ever expected to sell any books.

Ans. 2: Once I began, I discovered it was more or less equivalent to "journaling," and I know that's a practice reputed to be necessary for a serious writer.

Ans. 3: After someone read one of my posts and saw fit to reply to it, it was like winning a small prize. I got a taste for it and craved more feedback.

Ans. 4: Now that USA Today has printed an article about the possibility of an editor making contact because of reading a blog -- how can I stop?

Given to circular reasoning as I seem to be, I'm about back to the first answer. The problem, however, arises when the blogger has a target audience not only in mind, but probably the only possible one. I'm not a writer who can take advantage of trends or fashions. I have long-established prejudices for and against various kinds of reading, and they color my view of what I want to write and what I'm able to write. Most of my most likely audience would never look at a blog. (This has more to do with non-familiarity with computers than snobbery, I hope.)

No matter how much or how little ego one might possess, the act of writing in any serious way (as opposed to the social network "tweets", et al.) is meant to result in acquiring repeat readers. And, in the immortal words of the Bard, "there's the rub."

How does one get those? Without doubt, wittiness is an advantage; humor is almost essential, even if sometimes it's either too subtle or just a flop. You need a good animal story or cute pets or adorable grandchildren to photograph, and then you're ahead of the game. But here's the thing: most of the time I'm not funny (and if I am, I have to hope it's obviously on purpose); I have a hundred animal stories, but most of them are of interest only to people who are familiar either with the critters themselves or with others of the same kind. My grandchildren are too big to be photogenic as children since they're mostly adults. W. C. Fields said it all about children and animals. If you can't top them, don't go there. You won't be noticed among the fur and feathers anyway.

Have I garnered any notice as a writer from these posts? Very little. Fortunately, I'm enjoying the few readers who bother to let me know they've seen them, and they've become friends. Editors, agents, publishers? Forget it.

But that's the trouble. I can't forget it. If there's no purpose other than to massage my own ego, this is an enormous waste of time. Still, it has done one valuable thing for me: I've discovered that I may have written my last novel. Fiction is just too much work! Diana Athill said something like that in her latest book. Having been reared, as she was, with the notion that one shouldn't be too impressed with oneself, I hesitate to do this blogging bit because it's so self-involved. Just because it interests me while I'm doing it isn't enough excuse to suppose others won't be bored stiff. Yet, now that I've found out how much easier it is to write what we were taught in school to call "personal essays," I've discovered how much fun it can be. [I just wish I could find an agent for the third novel, though!] I wonder if there isn't a book of essays in the offing -- if anyone reads essays any more...

So, if you've read this, watch out. There's apt to be more where this came from.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Synchrony and Argument

Did you ever notice that if you've been involved in a major event, suddenly the newspaper stories, the books recommended to you, the TV shows you watch by chance seem to be related to that recent experience?

I've agreed to review a book by Diana Athill that is a NY Times best seller, and when it arrived, though I was prepared for its subject from its title: Somewhere Towards the End, I didn't think it would be like reading something that would make it almost impossible to keep silent in a room empty of another person. I want to tell the author that I understand exactly what she means some of the time, and the next minute I can't believe she means what I've just read.

I also just finished Christopher Buckley's memoir in last Sunday's New York Times with the same series of reactions. Both memoirs deal with death; both are written by avowed atheists. In both cases, I had to bite my tongue to keep from speaking out loud. You can't just yell, "You must be kidding!" at the cat or the dog -- can you?

It made me think that every writer, no matter the generation or gender, must always have a unique view of his or her experiences, and that's what makes the writing engaging. Maybe that's what is meant by "voice."

That thought leads to my impatience and discouragement when looking at "author's guidelines" for agents and publishers of periodicals and books. Over and over we see the requirement for "fresh" and "new." Many specify that what they want is a new "voice." Nearly all human experience is, after all, old-- it's all been done and endured before. That also makes me rethink the traditional praise for fiction with a "universal" theme. I can't help wondering whether there is such a thing at the personal level, which is the only level for me that's worth the reading time for fiction and poetry. When it comes to biography and the personal essay, it becomes essential that the reader see through that particular writer's eyes, even if the story is about buying a pair of shoes that don't fit. You may nod in agreement, you may laugh out loud, or stifle sobs. You may (if you're lucky) feel as if you've met a friend.

Does anyone else find these disturbing dichotomies upsetting your writing life? Is the implication that one must aspire to be a writer either of fiction (and poetry) or of nonfiction? Most of us wouldn't try for the epic or the mythological, I imagine.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread?

Not for the first time, I'm wondering about the proper place of the critic in the scheme of things. This is after an afternoon spent listening to poets reading their poetry.

I used to teach English. I used to think it was an interesting challenge to try to get high school students to consider poetry (as opposed to prose) with the notion that if I could strike the right note, chords might develop so those young people could hear the music and end up even liking what passes for poetry in the common mind. In those days, I thought I could even suggest useful definitions. (I wasn't so foolish as to presume there was only one.)

No one who bothers to read about writing or even about reading won't have missed the bubble of almost universal interest in poetry and the writing thereof. That bubble seems sometimes to be about to act like a hot air balloon and carry us all off under a rainbow envelope that threatens the existence of good old earth-bound prose.

After the reading was over, I made comments to the friend who accompanied me about what we'd heard. We both enjoyed the program more than we expected to, but my friend was reluctant to make comparisons or to evaluate the works. As anyone who knows me will tell you, that isn't true for me. As I made disparaging remarks about one of the putative poets, it occurred to me that I had one heck of a nerve. Who appointed me judge? Sure, I'm entitled to my opinion, but is it fair to air it without authority? Who is authoritative when it comes to saying whether art of any kind is good or bad, other than peers of the artist? At least they know what skills are required, and if they don't know anything else, they recognize the comparative ability of someone who is doing what they know how to do too.

Does criticism as it usually is practiced do any good for anybody other than the critic who may be fortunate enough to be paid for his or her opinion? If you're a writer reading this, you know how difficult it is to find a useful critique -- and there's a difference. For poetry, the search will be even more difficult than for prose.

I'm not a poet. I have written poetry (that I feel comfortable to name as such), but I have no idea whether it's any good. I hope, like all writers, that it wouldn't shame me if anyone were to read it. With so many would-be poets out there, and presumably so many more who are poets, I can't decide whether now is a good time for trying to produce it, or so dangerous only a fool (or an angel) would try.

Two Artists
I.
Inspiration gusting from infinity ignites him into blue flame:
Dionysus and archangels cry in the echoing vaults of his mind,
And he speaks with tongues and sails before those thrilling winds
Fair to fame and the Furies.

II.
He searches blazing beaches for the shards of crystal thoughts,
And drops four chips for each one saved.
Summer’s waning as the stiff mosaic
Forms in curveless patchwork,
and early cold congeals the image—
Angular and gap-toothed, as the mortar freezes.

As I said: fools rush in....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Are Mindless Tasks a Help?

There are some times in your life when you can't keep track--of time, of tasks, of conversations even. There's a group of landscape maintenance workers buzzing and roaring around the house today. Each of them plods or rides along, heads down, eyes ahead like donkeys intent on getting one foot in front of the other. I wonder if their minds are as blank as their faces. Is there some unacknowledged collateral benefit in mindless activity? I'm reasonably sure the answer to that would be a qualified yes. However, surely it must depend on the mind that's unoccupied during the performance of these repetitive, uninspired and uninspiring jobs. The world is so full of them and the people who perform them, it astounds me to think about it.

Right now, I believe that in some circumstances, this half-unconscious trudging from one end of a day to the other might be a blessing. What I can't believe is that a lifetime spent like that can be anything but a curse.

Do you have an Oriental rug? A handmade basket? Even an Aran Island sweater? I knit (I used to knit a lot), but I can't do anything interesting without extreme concentration, and even then, I find mistakes that have to be corrected. How long does it take to get so skilled that you can stop paying attention? If you reach that stage, can the work become a kind of meditation? Try to imagine the hours and days, even years invested in producing beautiful crafts. Is the guy behind the walking mower making up poetry or a protest essay in the din of his machine?

That's the rub for me. I'm trying to make this little piece of disconnected verbiage fill that need for distance. Somehow, writing doesn't seem to fill that bill. A long time ago, there was a man who invented what he called "automatic writing." The name is self-explanatory. It was supposed to be helpful for the mentally ill. That is not what I want to do, not just out of the fear of embarrassment, but because it would be too self-serving and of no interest to a reader.

Maybe when enough time has passed after the loss of the person who was half me, not just mine, I'll find out how to use this craft of putting words on paper (or into the ether). If some day I think I can, maybe that's how I'll know I'm returning. Maybe what I should do is go and prune the pyracantha. It should take a long time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fabulous...

Surprises come along so often, some better than others. As I try to adjust to a single life after over 57 years with an extraordinary friend, companion, and lover, a pleasant surprise was to be nominated for the "Fabulous Blog Award" by Brenda Kaye Ledford.
http://www.blueridgepoet.blogspot.com/.

Thank you, Brenda, for letting me know someone is reading, and for responding to what you read.

As I try to follow the instructions you posted, I see I'm expected to choose five nominees of my own, so here goes:

1. http://www.seniorwomen.com/
2. http://netwestwritersblogspot.com/
3. http://www.southernauthors.blogspot.com/
4. http://coolplums.wordpress.com/
5. http://ncpoetlaureate.blogspot.com/

You'll see by checking them out how varied the reasons are that these top my list. Senior Women have given me a place from which to sound off as a reviewer and a writer, and have surrounded me with like minds to a degree I would never have believed possible; Netwest Writers have taken me in and Glenda Beall treats me as one of them, assisted me in numberless ways, and then introduced me to Senior Women; Cool Plums is one of the best series of lectures on writing (as well as one of the most beautiful sites) I've ever encountered. The bloggers of the others feel like personal friends.

These five blogs are invited to pass along the "Fabulous Blog Award." These rules aren't mine. they came with the award. You must pass it on to five other Fabulous Bloggers in a post. You may find their email addresses on their Profile page or, if not available, post as a "Comment" to their latest post. You must include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them: http://blueridgepoet.blogspot.com/.You must list five of your "Fabulous Addictions" in the post.You must copy and paste these rules in the post.Right click the award icon and save to your computer; then post with your own awards. This is a tribute, and it widens the reading audience.
Five addictions are required (I don't know whether they're fabulous!)

1. Reading.
2. Writing despite its agonies.
3. Nature in all its guises, though I try not to dwell on its cruelties. Animals of almost every sort, but perhaps first of all, horses.
4. The people in my life.
5. Music and art (I know, another cheat, but they should both be there).

Not too imaginative, but there they are.

Now the people in my life include a wonderfully expanding roster of those I've never met except through this truly fabulous medium.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Serendipity?

A recent happy surprise has set me thinking (not for the first time!) about the Writer and the Reader. I got back a critique from a judge in a contest to which I submitted a short story.

Even more than with the horse and carriage, you really can't have one without the other -- the Writer and the Reader, that is. Never mind all that stuff (I've already commented on it) about writing for yourself. The reader is the gem we're seeking.

Twice in the same six-month period, I've had comments on something I've written that made me do a kind of in-the-mirror double take. Luckily, I liked what I saw.

Have you ever been fortunate enough to have someone read your story, essay, poem, whatever, and respond with a comment that makes you wonder what you missed when you were struggling through making the thing up? It's awful when that turns out to be one of those unintended consequences that highlight something badly expressed or imperfectly researched...but once in a while, someone sees a metaphor or a moral or an idea that you comprehend yourself only after a new pair of eyes and another brain have seen what you thought you understood better than anyone else could. If you realize the words on the page do, indeed, enforce that (to you) new territory, it's like getting a prize.

Even though you suspect it's undeserved, may any writer reading this be lucky enough to find a dozen such Eureka moments!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Was It Something I Said?

As a writer, I'm discovering that what I always knew was hard is made harder by a gaggle of unexpected stumbling places where you can trip and fly through the literary air like a full balloon someone has just let go of without a knot at the opening. It's been a series of "bad hair" days around here.

I thought I could put up a few cautionary remarks for the benefit of others who might be venturing into the murky (sic.) waters of eBooks.

Bear in mind is that it's going to be extremely difficult to find reputable reviewers (by which I mean those who have a website or a name that identifies them as professionals). It isn't easy with a print book, but it's a true challenge for one that is awaiting its hard copy. And it's less likely to get to that if it doesn't generate a few online sales. Maybe a friend will read the thing, or has already and will willingly write a compliment and post it on Amazon.

The second thing you need is the cover illustration. Mine has not appeared in over a month. Amazon doesn't bother to reply to my complaints, and I've gotten tired of uploading it for them without having it appear where it's necessary if anyone is going to spend even the paltry $4.40 it costs to download the book.

If you are going this route, bear in mind a couple of things my publisher neglected to mention to me. First, be sure you know what format (file extension is the key) your reviewer wants. The publisher who puts my books online sends files as .pdf, .rtf, and .wpd. She never mentioned that only one form is universally readable, and that isn't the first one listed (which I chose because it's first on the list and is common on the Net.) One reviewer requested none of the above. Second, be prepared for requirements that could surprise you, as I was when I found a reviewer who asked for "verification" of my book's ISBN. Since it appeared on the verso of the title page, I had no idea where else to look for it. One place proved to be the website of the publisher. I sent the URL to the reviewer. When she said the book didn't appear there, I was flummoxed and emailed the publisher. Never mind what happened next. The publisher was infuriated because it is there. The upshot was that the reviewer got mad and refused to accept the submission, which, naturally puts me back to square one.

Maybe there would be comfort in the fact that a reviewer (who says she reviews eBooks) demanded the file "in Word." Of course, the files for the pulished book aren't in that format, so I copied my corrected ms., put it in Word, and sent it to her digitally, pointing out that it didn't have the usual front matter of a published book. But no, she is recovering from surgery and informed me she couldn't possibly sit at a computer reading a book. She assumed (though I had told her otherwise) that I had a print copy available. So there went another chance at a review.

I had suggested to the publsher that this might be a problem when she put the book online and listed it on Amazon. (Incidentally, I don't see ISBNs on Amazon anywhere.) She pooh-poohed such an idea and sent me her website's list of reviewers. Unfortunately, she's redoing her website, much of her infrmation isn't on the new site yet, and at least two links from the old one are broken.

So now my publisher is more than irritated with my ignorance (some of it owing to the fact that she didn't tell me which file I had to use), and two reviewers, one of whom thinks I'm stupid to think she would review an eBook in a digital format, and one who thinks I'm just rude and obstructionist. No matter how I try to be friendly but professional via email, I can't seem to get it right.

Anyone out there want to read the book? Do you own a Kindle, iPhone, Sony reader, or have a cast iron derriere so you can look at a computer screen for long periods of time?

[You should know that if I could get a review, even just a "reader review" somehow, the publisher has said she will get the book out in hard copy in the fall. My weary fingers are crossed!]

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Uses of Fiction Redux

The older I get (and to quote Wallace Stegner, "I get pretty old") the more I appreciate the resilience and courage of the young. Did we ever have those qualities to the degree we see in youth today? Thinking back on some of our hard times, illnesses, loss, and at least some privation, I realize we probably did. Why then is it so difficult to accept difficulties when they come upon our children? There is a blog with the title of "Canswercolumn.blogspot.com" Thanks to Glenda, I looked at what is an inspiring, albeit melancholy, read.

I've just finished reading Bailey White's Quite a Year for Plums. (I seem to get around to books rather slowly--this was published in 1998.) The string of what amount to vignettes about some unusual people in a very small and specific place makes the reader view their everyday lives as if through the wrong end of binoculars. Everything that happens, and nothing dramatic in the usual sense does, despite the clarity of its detail, seems to be happening so far away that it's hard to associate it with reality. When you reach the end of the book, however, the effects begin to take hold on your memory. They provide an antidote to some of the grand and awful affairs that are threatening to drown us all.

I have to view this as another validation for creative writing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You Don't Have to Get in Line for On Line Reading

My publisher has introduced me to some blogs and websites entirely new to me. [Take a look at www.epicauthors.com]. A propos of my request for a time frame for the release of my second novel in paper, she let me know that my concerns over how to publicize an e-book and its potential readership are misplaced. She scolded me for not using my blog to promote my books. It remains to be seen whether Maiden Run, due on line in March can pull in a few more readers than Settling has since it hit the Net a couple of years ago.

More than one blog has hosted discussions on the question of whether a book that must be read on a computer, Kindle, Mobipocket, iPhone, Blackberry, or what have you is really a book. The consensus has been negative. An argument for the convenience of carrying your reading material in something that will fit into your pocket without the weight of one or more packages of paper seems valid. It must be a boon for travelers. It does seem to me, though, that you have to factor in the cost of the device (in the hundreds of dollars) against the (compared to paper) small charge for downloading a book. It's likely that figured in units (like the weight or measure for your groceries) that expense might be easy to justify.

Then there's the question of how easily you can read pages of text and whether photographs or other illustrations are satisfactorily displayed. If you're reading, say, a book about hunting in the Rockies, you're going to care about how the Bighorn Sheep look and you won't want to miss the incredible scenery.

There isn't going to be an easy answer to this debate, or a conclusion any time soon, I'm sure. I'd like to take this opportunity to give a "heads up" to you up-to-date readers and writers about the growing on-line reading opportunities, and ask fiction readers to look out for Maiden Run -- and don't forget that Settling is available on line too from www.WriteWordsInc.com and Amazon, among others like Fictionwise, Coffeetime, All Romance ebooks.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Inspiration or Demoralization?

I'm reading one of John Updike's later books Seek My Face . It's almost a treatise on Art (with a capital A) as well as a penetrating revelation of a woman's inner world as an artist herself and as the wife of an artist, as a member of her socio-economic class and of her time and place. So many layers with so many resonances that it's a little like reading a textbook, even while falling into the space and time of the telling. What a writer Updike was!

Imagine a novel that manages to recall and analyze modern art from the Great Depression up to the present. He doesn't even confine himself to the US. I do wonder whether a reader with no familiarity with the famous names of the period (he uses interesting made-up names for a number of characters, while mentioning Picasso and Manet, Miro and Dali and some others) would understand some of his critiques of lesser-known artists. The thing that amazes me is that it doesn't matter. If you never heard of Gorki, you still get the picture not only of how his work looked, but how an outstanding art critic saw it. The interweaving of art criticism and character delineation is astounding. You keep thinking you're going to be bored any minute, but I couldn't stop reading.

It's hard to decide whether books like this make a would-be writer throw up her hands in despair and quit, or knuckle down to try all over again. I'd love to hear how others react...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to...?

Have you noticed the upswing in the numbers of books on how to live well, richly, generously, spiritually, fulfillingly...and on and on? Understandable, given the parlous state of the world. I notice one thing, though, when reading their (usually rave) reviews. Most that come from what we like to think of as "ordinary" people (as opposed to clergy or gurus) appear to be intending their words as guides and handbooks to right behavior, and in particular, one writer wants her book to be lessons for her daughters.

These are laudable motives, I grant, but in the last case, since the author has white hair, one must assume that her daughters are no longer children. I have to wonder whether she's really a little too late.

When I was in graduate school, we had to write a paper on sex education in the public schools with emphases on morality and self-knowledge. At the time, my children were all in their teens, or just beyond. I tried to make the point that the schools can do a whole lot more with the teachers' obiter dicta, their unstated attitudes and implied directions than they could ever do in formal lessons. By the time adolescence is well underway or past, it's far too late to try to pass out instructions. The pupils will already have fallen into patterns, made choices (that they may or may not decide to change later), found their comfort zones.

My feeling about some of these instruction manuals intended to help people live with greater awareness and appreciation (as if each had already received a personal, finite time line) may be pretty ineffectual for nine readers out of ten. It has to take a certain degree of hubris to assume you can tell a stranger those things that are coming clear to you now, and a lot too late to instruct your children about them. You should have taken care of them before their ethics, loves, ambitions, attitudes have become set parts of their personalities.

I certainly wouldn't want to put such ideas of mine out for the public because I wouldn't dare to presume to know what would be useful for strangers, and I know it's too late for my children, and not my place for my grandchildren.

I'd make a terrible missionary.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Trouble with Writers' Conferences...

There are certainly times when it's hard to keep up. The last week was one of them. What I haven't figured out is how to balance my writerly concerns with what's of real consequence in so many other venues! Thank heaven for the promise that seems to glow from the White House. May it shine across all the dark places!

Yet, if any one of us expects to help out anywhere, maybe we have to be giving time and energy to whatever our abilities may be if we hope to develop them. So I try not to get discouraged by the advertisements for upcoming writers' conferences and the guidelines for those who hope to attend. Naturally you can't find one for free, and if you could and it was too far to go in a day or lasted longer than one day, you'd have to pay for food and lodging. Plus the conference fee. And then there's the insistent (and understandable) reminder that every seeker for an agent or editor or advice from an author should have a newly-purchased copy of their objective's book visible before making an approach. While I understand that nothing is available for nothing, that it costs money to persuade the experts to expose themselves to the hoards of wannabes, to provide venues and facilities, there seems to me to be something just slightly off kilter here.

Even the wonderful sponsors of these affairs might be able to offer some kind of discounts or "reduced rates," or other assistance to the people who are sweating it out every day just to get the validation even a tiny recompense might provide them if only they could sell something they've produced. I guess what gets to me is that so much of the time, it's necessary to stroke the egos and extol the reputations of the people who are supposed (by advertisement) to be there to help, seemingly with so little thought of the people who have come to receive that help.

One of the most stimulating, inspiring, exciting events of my life was a writers' conference I attended almost exactly 20 years ago. My husband figured I could have the car for the requisite 3-day weekend, and we'd manage the room and board somehow. Thank goodness there were "scholarships" offered in each classification. Being granted one on the basis of a story I submitted made it possible for me to go.

If I could, I'd go to a conference every year just for the incredible high of being among others with similar aspirations and to get the experts' help. Ironically, my scholarship story was critiqued (for perhaps ten minutes) by a then prestigious author, whose only comment I recall was that it was too sentimental. When I sold that story a few months later, I began the slow process of coming to the realization that you simply can't tell what will sell or to whom. What you can do, and it seems to be the only thing you can do unless you have plenty of disposable income, is to find somebody who will read it--your poem, your story or stories, your novel, your memoir. If only people could read it, there would almost certainly be somebody out there who would be glad they did.

Which brings me back to this: the blog, the network, the word-of-mouth and the sympathetic ear. My great regret is that I didn't figure this out 30 years ago, or try it 20 years sooner.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The writing life; professional editing; subsidy publishing; e-books

January already, and not only do I not have any resolutions (I refuse to make public anything I know I can't keep up), but I believe I've re-made an old resolution, which was never to pay to have something published. I turned down a deal that offered to put out my book--for a price.

Thanks to a friend who has adopted me and my faltering ambitions for quite some time now (thanks again, Glenda), I've been introduced to someone who might be able to help. So my third novel will get the attention the first two should have had. An experienced (and from her correspondence, I deduce a sympathetic) editor will see what can be done to help me find an agent. Twice before I've sought and used such help, but frankly, the assistance wasn't really what I knew I needed. Let's hope this time it will be different.

I also have a new contract from the publisher of my first book. The initial publication will be as an e-book, which is better than nothing without any question. It's just that I'm too old to appreciate it until I see it in print on paper. Even if I could afford a Kindle, I find it difficult to imagine I could enjoy reading that way--at least as much as I do with a book in my hand. We all need to get over that, of course.

So if the New Year can make us who feel we have to keep writing ready to face into the wind yet again, it's a good thing. Maybe someone's inspired word will help someone somewhere to weather even a few of the storms shaking our poor world just now.