06 December 2012


Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the 2006 edition of the literary journal Peregrine. I've posted it on my web site before, but not since converting to the blog format. Hope you enjoy!

When your Red Ball moving van pulled up in front of our house on West Clinton Street in Elmira, New York, and you honked its horn because you liked making people jump, our family’s way was to grin and bear it.

The Virgin Annunciate by Carlo Crivelli
You had at least one run a year between your house in Emporium, PA, and ours. My folks pretended you were welcome then complained about you when you left. When momma and her sisters got together back in Dayton, PA, they made fun of you, called you “boisterous” and swapped stories that always ended with “If it wasn’t for Aunt Minnie, we wouldn’t put up with that Roy Beck.”

Momma told you after your first visit she didn’t mind you and your son Richard, but she wasn’t feeding and making up beds for your other movers—quieter men than you, some with better manners, but not relatives and so people we didn’t have to take in.

I remember you as plenty rough around the edges but never mean. You laughed a lot and said things to kids other grownups wouldn’t say. Your big voice hurt my littler ears. Your plow-horse shoulders and arms squeezed me hello and goodbye hard. And you kissed my cheek with too much suction but, thankfully, no drool.

Once we visited you in the hospital in Sayre, PA, just over the state line, and you untied your robe and showed us the feeding tube planted in your stomach. Daddy said you didn’t know what you were doing because of the pain medicine. Momma said if she stayed any longer she’d have a stomach ulcer too. And you said the doctors took out three-quarters of your stomach. I wondered what was left for a tube to go into and couldn’t move my eyes from where it disappeared in folds of belly like the roots of the red rose that twined around the paper-bark birch in our front yard. Nobody said why you were in a hospital so far from home.

Once we came back from grocery shopping and saw your semi-trailer idling in front of our house, parking lights awinkin’. You couldn’t see into our car in the dark, so we drove on past. We circled ‘round to the street below and parked at the Young’s house. Mrs. Young—momma called her Bobby—stowed our milk and meat in her fridge for a while. And when us kids got sleepy and you hadn’t budged, all five of us tiptoed the groceries across the lawns and up the hill to our back door. We put everything away without turning on lights, changed into our jammies, and still you hung on, hoping we’d come home and save you a few dollars on a motel.

Finally daddy gave up and flipped the switches, and in a few minutes you rang the bell and we took you in. Momma told you we’d been to dinner at the neighbors and just got home. She always told me not to lie, so I stayed suspicious of you because where you were concerned she broke her own rules. Did you really believe her? Was my momma a good liar?

Annunciation by Fra Angelico, 1450
When momma’s sisters visited a year ago June they said Aunt Minnie was still alive and alert, in her nineties. You passed over a long time ago, and none of us noted it. Richard runs the Red Ball now and doesn’t pay much attention to his stepmom, but his son and daughter-in-law look after her. She still lives in that rambling pink house with all the stuff you loaded into the moving van when her momma died. One of my uncles said you and Minnie fought with her brothers over the roll of toilet paper on the holder in the bathroom. And the last time I saw your house—thirty years ago or better—I figured you won the lion’s share of those battles.

My aunts talked again last summer how Minnie spent time in Torrance. Torrance! They still said it like it was tornado! Once I asked momma what Torrance was and she said, “an asylum.” When I frowned, she added, “a mental hospital” and spun one finger in a spiral at the side of her head. No one ever said why Minnie went there, but daddy always made sure to mention you were the one who sprung her. They said you wanted to marry her—your wife had died and you needed a mother for your boy—but no one wanted to let you because you were cousins and it wasn’t civilized. Then you showed ‘em a place in the Bible where it said it was okay as long as the light of life had gone out, and they had to let her go home with you. I didn’t know what any of it meant, though I was sure a place named Torrance could douse anyone’s light.

Aunt Minnie made you a good wife, I expect. I could tell by the light in her smile when we visited even so. Now that I’m getting to be the age she was when she was in Torrance, I dream about her. And in my dreams she is called crazy, even though she acts just fine. In one dream I live with her, except we have made the house bigger and built it around the little pink one. The living room is an auditorium with a stage for performances and bright red couches for watching. She leads me into our kitchen—tidier and bigger than hers in real life (mine too)—and shows me shelf after shelf full of bowl after bowl of beeswax—all lined up like sunny soldiers at warm attention, the smell sweet and wild. And then I dream she really is crazy, that I’m crazy too, and a voice says crazy is sacred and protects us both.

After that I asked my momma, getting up in years herself, the why of Great-Aunt Minnie. Why was she in Torrance? Momma said when Minnie didn’t marry, she lived with Gramma Thomas, her momma, looked after her, but started acting funny. I remember my Great-Gramma Thomas—stern and still, stone deaf—and I shudder to think about sharing a house with her. Still I ask, Whaddaya mean, funny? And momma said one day Minnie went into her bedroom and turned on the gas heater but didn’t light it. They put her in Torrance before she blew up the house, and she was in there a year or so. You visited her and told ‘em Minnie wasn’t crazy, she just needed someone to make a home for her and care about her, and then you did and she never acted funny again.

Annunciation by Salvador Dali, 1956
Weeks later, you popped into my mind’s eye, middle of the night when I was drifting back to sleep. I didn’t know it was you at first—it’s been a while since I’ve seen you or thought about you, and you looked out of place in my living room. But it hit me later that it was you who took a seat at my writing group, as if a regular. And you sat on my sofa where Sandra always sits—the petite lady with the short silvery hair who fits that corner like a crisp marker in the dog-eared leaves of a much-read book. But your ungainly body called out for a bigger space as you slung your left arm across the back and shifted sideways. I bet you carried sofas bigger than mine on your back and up flights of stairs, lugging, lugging, all your life until your heart exploded.

Then my living room fell away, and you stood beside a field, newly planted. You wore the same baggy rolled-up jeans, T-shirt and red-heeled Rockland socks, their thick oatmeal cuffs turned down over the tops of mud-caked Wolverines. The wide brim of a tattered straw hat blocked the glare from the setting sun. And I watched as you knelt on one knee, opened your arms to the tumbled earth and invoked the seeds to grow.

05 October 2012

Start 2013 off WRITE!

I currently have NO free workshops scheduled at libraries, but I do plan once again to host fee-based creative writing workshops in my home in 2013, starting in January. Workshops will meet weekly on the same day and at the same time. I may do more than one, depending on interest.

Here's how the fee structure will work:
  • Payment (check or cash) is due for all meetings you plan to attend in a particular month on the first meeting date of the month. 
  • Cost is $15 per meeting if you plan to attend off and on, or $10 per meeting if you plan to attend regularly. For example, let's say you were going to attend a Thursday meeting, beginning in January. The amount due at the first meeting, Jan. 3, would be $50 if you planned to attend every week (5 Thursdays in January 2013), $15 if you just planned to come to one, $30 for two and so on. Sometimes it will be cheaper to pay for the whole month at $10/week, even if you miss a meeting. 
  • Payment is due upfront because seating is limited, and I'll be reserving a spot for you. In case of illness or inclement weather, payments made can be applied to the next month. 

Format will be the same as my library workshops, except that we will meet for only two hours, and size will be limited to eight people. A manuscript sharing option will also be included on a sign-up basis. Coffee, tea and filtered water will be available at no extra charge. 

Please note I have a cat, in case you have allergies. For those of you who remember Molly and Katie, both have gone to kitty-heaven, and my current feline is a rambunctious 4-month-old tabby named Maisie.

I live just off the Greenwood exit for Interstate 65--about four miles south of my previous address, for those of you who attended workshops in my home several years back. Specific directions will be sent to those who decide to attend.

If you think you might be interested, please email me regarding preferred days and times (M-TU-W-TH-F-SA-SU; morning, afternoon or evening), or post info in the comments section here. From that list, I'll put together offerings to accommodate the most people and send out a follow-up email to those who respond. I look forward to seeing you all again and writing together!

14 April 2012

Prose, poetry, pantoums and possibilities

I recently tried out this multi-part prompt of my own invention while subbing for a colleague in a writing group she leads. I often try new things that don't work, so I was delighted when this one generated at least two interesting results for each participant. I'll go through the prompt step-by-step, using my own results to illustrate what can happen...

Read aloud this excerpt from the novel Written in the Ashes (Balboa Press, 2011) by K. Hollan VanZandt:
Hanna crawled into bed that night beneath a shaft of moonlight that spilled through the little rectangular window high in the wall. The day had gone as well as could be expected, and yet she felt even more imprisoned. The cold bronze collar at her throat choked her tears. This beautiful place with its kind women would never really be her home. How could it?

Home was a field without a roof, and the sound of goat bells tinkling in the afternoon as the black-faced sheep and sprightly lambs trotted across the rugged slopes, her father calling to her across the meadow. Home was a thousand stars trailing through the sky in late summer above the humped shoulders of Mount Sinai as the locusts whirred in the night.

Home was far away and never, never again.
Create a character, complete with a name, and write a narrative piece that tells us about this character without using straight description, as the writer does in the example provided. I wrote:
Home to Maggie was yellow. A kitchen painted yellow because it was the only conceivable color besides beige to pair with the turquoise countertops the house came with. Home was the frantic search with her mother for just the right print that combined the two colors for the kitchen curtains. It was the smell of muslin, mercerized cotton thread and wet wool in her nostrils—her mother's smells—and a bench with a lid that lifted up to reveal a bounty of scraps Maggie would cut and wrap and tie with ribbons onto her dolls.

Home was yellow pads of ledger paper her dad brought home from the office for her to draw on. It was the warm glow inside when he called her "my little Margie," like the TV heroine.

Home was yellow fireflies blinking in the summer night as she dashed after them with her emptied-and-washed-clean mayonnaise jar. "Good job, Mags," her oldest brother would call out after she trapped one. "I bet I can get more than you, Naggie," her middle brother would tease. 
Home was also the "yell-o" from her mother that began with "Now Margaret Elizabeth..." not to run with glass in her hands. She'd slow her pace until mom looked away and drink in the yellow smell of the just-cut grass, as the steam set to rise from it in the early summer morning lay in waiting like welling tears beneath the snipped blades.

When Maggie moved here, to her own house, with her own family, she painted all the walls yellow, pale yellow—candleglow, the paint chip said—but it still didn't feel like home.

Outside, the grass had yet to germinate. And in the morning before the workers began pounding on the other houses in progress, the air was still and empty—no birdsong, no squirrels or chipmunks, no neighbor kids on swings or bikes. At mid-day, to stand on her new back porch was to feel as if she'd landed in the middle of a desert where all the houses looked the same on the outside and none with turquoise countertops inside, she bet.

Some teenager even bounced a basketball up her front sidewalk, rang the bell and asked why her house was so different from the others. So different to the other homesteaders, yet still not home to her.
Go through your narrative piece and underline about a dozen phrases or sentences that you feel call forth the strongest imagery. If the passage contains two or three images, count them individually. Write these selections on a separate sheet of paper, and skip lines between each. You may edit out small words or names that interrupt the image. I chose:

  • the frantic search for just the right print
  • the smell of muslin and wet wool in her nostrils—her mother's smells
  • a bounty of scraps to cut and wrap and tie
  • yellow pads of ledger paper to draw on
  • fireflies blinking in the summer night
  • she dashed after them with her emptied-and-washed-clean jar
  • the yellow smell of just-cut grass 
  • as the steam set to rise from it lay in waiting like welling tears beneath the snipped blades.
  • candleglow, the paint chip said.
  • Outside, the grass had yet to germinate.
  • the air was still and empty
  • in the middle of a desert where all the houses looked the same

Now cut apart the lines and rearrange to create an abstract poem. Create four-line stanzas, and in each new stanza reuse one or two lines from a previous stanza and add in two or three lines of new material. Write at least four stanzas, and make sure all the repeated lines stay the same. Here’s what I came up with, though it’s far from a finished piece:

Candleglow, the paint chip said…

The yellow smell of just-cut grass
waiting like welling tears
beneath snipped blades.
Yellow pads of ledger paper to draw on

beneath snipped blades,
the air still and empty,
the steam set to rise.
The yellow smell of just-cut grass,

the frantic search for just the right print,
a bounty of scraps to cut and wrap and tie,
fireflies blinking at dusk.
She dashed after them

with her emptied-and-washed-clean jar
the smell of muslin and wet wool in her nostrils—
her mother’s smell—a bounty of scraps
to cut and wrap and tie.

Outside the grass had yet to germinate,
a desert where all the houses looked the same:
yellow pads of ledger paper to draw on.
Candleglow, the paint chip said.
Follow the link to read about the poetic form called a pantoum, which involves an intricate pattern of repetition, and to read a modern-day example of a (broken) pantoum, "On Beauty" by Nick Laird, which also inspired the novel On Beauty by Laird’s wife, Zadie Smith.

As you rework your piece, does it call out to be structured as a pantoum? Which did you like better—the narrative or poetic version? What were the good points of each? The group I shared this prompt with thought their poem versions concentrated the images and told essentially the same stories as the narratives, but in a more emotion-packed way. At the least, it’s a lesson in approaching the same material from different angles.

Feel free to play with your results from this prompt over and over. Rearrange, add stanzas or choose different lines from the narrative. You can also use the image/poem part of the exercise with a prose piece you’ve already written. If you like what you come up with and want to share, email it to me and I'll post on the Your Words section of my website.

Have fun!

01 February 2012

A Writer's Art

A tip of the hat to Beverly Crawford for allowing me to use her homage to Sherry Parker as my blog nameplate for a while.

Bev is a familiar face at my library writing workshops--one of the west side gang who often shows up on other sides of town as well. What she writes usually has the entire group laughing or crying or both.

I only recently learned about her whimsical digital art creations and challenges. Check out her full portfolio at  http://indybev.blogspot.com/.

I plan to change and/or rotate the art/photo in my blog header as the spirits move me. If you'd like me to consider something you've done, please email me

31 January 2012

'History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman...'

The NPR news program All Things Considered has a new feature: Each month it will take on a "poet-in-residence" for a day. The poet will shadow workers, attend news meetings, become familiar with the stories of the day and how they come to be stories on air. Then, the poet will write a poem using that day's news as a prompt.

January news poet Tracy K. Smith was moved by the story of Nigerians fleeing violence in the north of their country, which she heard about at the morning news meeting. She told All Things Considered's Melissa Block that news events are often "things I am thinking about and wrestling with and trying to understand better." And what better way to do that than to write about them?

Smith had to write her poem "in a hurry," not unlike how writers write to timed prompts in my workshops. But she had the "luxury" of an entire day! Her poem written in a a hurry begins: 

     History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman
     Corralling her children onto a crowded bus.

Smith discusses her writing process with reporter Melissa Block. To read and/or listen to the interview and to read Smith's entire poem and hear her read it, click here.

Any day the glare of the empty page gets to you, try checking out your favorite news source. Scan the headlines from that day or the day before, read the stories that seem to reach out to you. Give yourself some time for ideas to dance around in your head, couple and rise to the surface. Then write whatever stirs your feelings the most. Free write at first, giving your thoughts free reign. There's plenty of time to edit later. You'll write your way into that place all on your own.

28 January 2012

The Wolf is the Thing

PROMPT: Close your eyes and listen to the recordings of wolves at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, IN, near Lafayette. Let your mind wander. What thoughts, images, feelings present themselves to you? When I visited Wolf Park several years ago, I purchased a CD of these howls in the gift shop and used them as an audio prompt at a workshop. Stories emerged with widely varied themes-everything from peace and safety to fear and loneliness. What would happen if you let yourself really howl? I drew on my understanding of the wolf in dream imagery as the animal in us who cannot be ignored, who holds our heart's desire and wrote this...


The wolf is the thing, you know—
that beast brooding in the switchbacks 
of every body's gut. 

He's the one we think will eat us up 
if we let him howl
who turns out to be 
the one who eats us up 
when we don’t.

Let him howl.

27 January 2012

The Eyes (and Noses) Have It!

PROMPT: This poem had its origin in a strong image--rain and wind in spring making a shower of petals from flowering trees, which then collected in drifts where the sidewalk met the grass--and a strong, nearly over-powering scent. I sometimes ask writers to each contribute a strong image or scent to a list, then each writer can choose to write about his/her own suggestion or one someone else made. If you try this prompt, let the image, or smell, or both, take you to a new place, as in my poem the narrator moves from nature outside to a person inside. The "you" of the poem didn't literally smell like the apple blossoms, but the feeling evoked by the embrace and the unique smells accompanying it created the same sort of headiness--a figurative similarity. 

The Morning After

Rain stole the last of the apple blossoms
yesterday afternoon. I watched
still darker clouds gather overhead as
wind waltzed the petals from tree
to the grasses’ greedy arms.

Soon the wind grew jealous and
pitched the petals to the desert of sidewalk where
when it would not reign its temper in
grass gathered the petals to itself in drifts
like a fence in winter will snow.

I staggered up the straight path to my front door
so punch-drunk with the breeze that I 
thought I saw Krishna dance before the cow maidens,  
luring them with the music of his flute
toward the sheltered spot
under the tree.

The morning after was when
you stepped from the shower and held me.
And the scent of soap and damp
where my nightgown met your skin was
the same.

26 January 2012

Writing from Sandpaper

PROMPT: A well-worn scrap of sandpaper. Often I put out a collection of objects for writers to choose from, but this particular object is apt to draw a very different response from each person. It reminded me of my husband, whose shop I confiscated it from, and the many things he's made for me--including dinner!

Writing from Sandpaper

His smell whiffs from
the bracken of grit     halted
on this scratched scrap.

It’s the part of him that's
buff and press and snow—
his pattern as it smooths its way
into my tables
     my shelves
          my chairs.
Into a cabinet of earrings singing secrets.
Into an island where herbs chiffonade
in time with the melting sun.

Smooth, so smooth this shaven skin
limber with sweat and callous:
his, mine, this life.

25 January 2012

Beneath the Roar of the Grinder...

PROMPT: A sound and the emotional response it calls forth in the writer. The sound I chose was a coffee grinder, but others may work better for you--a tea kettle whistling, an alarm clock or clock chime, a train whistle, footsteps on stairs or a sidewalk, a knock on a door, a dripping faucet or hose, splashing in a pool, rain. I usually suggest several but allow writers to choose one of their own. Or you could go around the writing table and ask each person to contribute one to create a list of sounds all can draw from. Write in the direction of uncovering something new about yourself; see if a metaphoric quality emerges. Concentration on one of the senses may make you more aware of other sensory data as you write. For instance, my example begins with sound but appeals to sight, taste, smell and feeling as well. My title also serves double-duty as first line of the poem, but it's not necessary for yours to do that.

Beneath the Roar of the Grinder…

Beneath the shoosh
     and splutter
          of scalded
               spit-out water…

Beneath the
     schmush of the scoop
          like the child’s
               tin-painted shovel in sand…

Is the coffee 
dark and bitter
like me:

Pressed from a hard shell.
Perfume of first light.

13 January 2012

Three Times of Snow

PROMPT: The title is the prompt, and the weather today may work to stimulate your creative juices. But you could really substitute any weather: three times of sun, three times of rain, three times of wind. Or change "times" to "kinds." Or switch out the idea of weather for another noun, like "mothers" or "houses," "yards" or "jobs," "cats" or "husbands." The possibilities are, literally, endless. I actually wrote this poem in summer, at a workshop I led in my home several years ago, which goes to show it may be easier to romanticize winter when it's 90-degrees outside. You decide!

Three Times of Snow

First there’s the dancing snow (probably in November but after
Thanksgiving): big flakes that light on my outstretched tongue
or melt on still-warm earth.

Then there’s the driving snow (usually in January but always firmly
in the New Year): sharp crystals that blow me inside by the fire
and turn my thoughts to cocoa, tomato soup, grilled cheese.

Finally there’s the packing snow (which could come any time but
I cross my fingers and wish for): to build forts and mold grenades to lob at
my brother’s head. And when he runs inside, cheeks red, to tattle

this       is the snow I lie down in       and spread my wings.

12 January 2012

In the Never-Never Land of My Unfinished Novel

PROMPT: From my Nov. 6, 2011, workshop at Nora Branch of IMCPL. First we read the poem “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks and talked about the idea of negative capability in writing (see a related handout under the "Resources" tab), Then I asked attendees to write about something that had presence and meaning in their lives because of its lack. Here’s what I wrote…

A psychic I met in grad school said she saw me with three children AND I would write three books. It took me most of the years between then and now to realize the two were the same thing: books are a writer’s children. She saw me that way, and I’ve been saying I wanted to be a novelist since the fourth grade, and yet to date, I’ve written no books, though I have managed to raise one human daughter.

I have written a great deal of nonfiction and a lot of this and that, including disparate parts of two novels. I have a vague idea for a third. My problem is I can’t seem to sustain the work—to string together the many pieces and fill in the blanks between them.  I’m not getting any younger, either. Last birthday I logged 55 years this incarnation.

Sometimes it’s life that gets in the way: helping my husband, my daughter, my dying mother, my elderly father, my difficult mother-in-law, my sick cat. Sometimes it’s internet shopping and computer games. I always have an excuse.

Each of my two novels in progress has its own mini-library of books on geographic or time settings. One novel takes place in present time in an invented town in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, while the other is set in Ancient Rome circa the reign of Caesar Augustus. The wall of my studio holds a large, framed image of my muse. It’s the reproduction of a fresco from a home in ancient Pompeii entitled “The Poetess.” The artist painted her head and shoulders in a rondelle, and she holds a book of wax tablets and a stylus, ready to make her mark on them.

Some people say she is Sappho, the famous Greek poetess from the Isle of Lesbos, but there’s no evidence of this. For one, this young woman is dressed as a well-to-do Roman. For another, she is too young to fit our idea of the middle-aged Sappho. My young woman is not far out of girlhood—perhaps 15 or 16. Her pose is a typical one used by itinerant artists and chosen by families wishing to immortalize someone, often someone who has recently died.

So into the vacuum of identity surrounding this I've projected an identity and made her the central character in my novel set in ancient Rome. I see her as someone who actually lived and whose family we know a great deal about, though we know little about her specifically. I see her as Sulpicia, the daughter of the orator Sulpicius, granddaughter of the jurist Sulpicius and niece to the general and statesman Marcus Valerius Corvinus Messalla, her mother’s brother and a contemporary of Caesar Augustus. 

Sulpicia is important because her few poems are the only poems written in Latin by a woman to have survived the centuries. We know from historical sources that educated Roman women did indeed write, and fragments of writings by women in other genres do exist. Her poems survived only because someone tucked them into the final volume of poems by Tibullus, published after his death. Tibullus, one of the Latin elegists, was a friend of Sulpicia’s uncle, Messalla, a patron of the arts. Sulpicia, Tibullus and Sulpicia’s younger brother are thought by historians to have been part of the circle of writers Messalla helped support.

It's thought she wrote her poems around age 15 to 19. But all we know for sure is what’s in them: She had a great and forbidden love with someone not of her social station. After that, she simply disappears. Scholars postulate she either married and wrote no more or died. My novel is about what happened to her—in my imagination, of course. I identified with her for all time when I read these bold and insistent lines, addressed to her lover:

     This day has brought a love
     it would shame me to conceal—
     won by song and prayer
     Venus gives him to my arms
     and all that she promised comes true.
     Let my love be told by the loveless,
     my letters go unsealed
     and any read them who will.
     If I sin, I glory in sinning:
     I will not wear virtue’s mask—
     the world shall know we have met
     and are worthy, one of the other.

She lived. She loved. She wrote about it. She disappeared. 

Will I do the same?

I have imagined often what it will be like to finish my days on earth and not finish my stories—never to complete what I set out to do, what I told everyone I wanted. Will someone like me, centuries from now, discover my bits and piece and imagine what connected them? What’s missing? Will she wonder what I wonder of Sulpicia? What happened to her? Where did she go? Will I speak to this future writer from my grave of paper wads and empty ink cartridges, as I believe Sulpicia speaks to me from her grave of wax tablets and papyrus?

Someone in a writing group I attended once asked when I finished reading an excerpt, “How is it that someone with your talent hasn’t already written many, many books?”

The honor she paid me touched me deeply, and my eyes clouded with tears because of how it filled me up and emptied me out all at once. The answer I gave her works for all the questions in this essay: “I don’t know,” I whispered and bowed my head. I felt shame.

I still don’t know. I feel like a failure most of the time, but I keep writing something. 

A Postscript

Part of what sets apart my writing workshops is that I take the same risks I ask participants to take: I write along with them and read aloud what I wrote at least once in each session. When I finished reading this piece, again there was a hush. I let the silence ride. Eventually a woman spoke. "I thought I was the only one who felt that way," she said. Others voiced and nodded agreement.

It helps to know we're not alone on this journey. Sulpicia had the Messalla Circle. I'm glad to have all of you. Love is not the only thing it shames us to conceal.

Please enjoy this recording of Gwendolyn Brooks reading "The Mother."

07 January 2012

Two Peas in a (Writing) Pod

Listen to an interview with humorists Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel, or read the transcript, as they discuss their collaboration on the just-released novel Lunatics. The story is told by two very different characters in alternating chapters.

Here's how it worked: Barry would write his chapter from his character's perpsective, then send it to Zweibel, who wrote in the other character's voice. Whenever the latest chapter arrived in their email inbox, they really never knew what to expect and had to move the story along with whatever the other person had given them.

You can try this for fun, and who knows? You may end up with something you want to shop around to publishers. This pair suggests you choose someone you get along well with but whose writer's voice is the opposite of yours. This opposition is what will give the story its energy and keep readers interested.

They also said they only met about twice during the whole process, that all the "work" was really done by email. So if you have a writing pal who doesn't live close, this is a fun way to keep in touch!

06 January 2012

Between the Lines

PROMPT: Choose a poem you think will work well as a prompt. At the E. 38th St. IMCPL branch in late October 2011, we started with "Fire" by Joy Harjo from her book What Moon Drove Me to This? Cross out every other line (it doesn't matter whether you start with the first or second line) and write lines of your own to fit with the remaining original lines. Then, cross out the remaining lines of the original poem and write more lines of your own to go with those you already wrote so that what you end up with is a poem that's wholly yours. 

Here's what I wrote...

Between the Lines

No one hears
a voice unspoken.
Each person must walk into
the timbre of her own breath.
Every One must dance into
the beauty of her own resonance--
flirting, flitting from word to word to word
like lovers wrestling in the damp night.
A body must journey into its deepest throat
no matter what the cost. See--
the cancer cut from inside my neck
was not the end but a new start. My voice
goes on and on even as I sleep
like water rippling in moonlight.
My dreams, my pen become a tongue
for those weary of talk. I am become
a breeze that bristles dry autumn leaves
to ground. I mulch the earth's madness
with whatever laughter or tears
I launch into the darkness.