A Hummingbird Returns to the Nest

A little update on the hummingbird situation. A hummingbird has been sleeping in the nest on and off. I don’t know if it’s Mama or one of the youngsters. When we first noticed it, hubby got out the ladder and checked–no eggs. Since the bird has been in the nest for several hours now, I’m wondering if she did manage to lay more eggs. I guess we will eventually find out.

I’m taking a blog break for a week or so.

I hope your spring is magical. Until we meet again . . . .

***

I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

 

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New Poems and Old Ancestors

Although I haven’t been writing this spring–on purpose, I might add–when I started my new poetry project last fall I focused on creating poems out of the genealogical research that I do for my family history blog The Family Kalamazoo. It makes sense to narrow in this way, as I am always spreading out in too many directions. However, it’s difficult to write poems about a subject that is so personal to my family. It makes sense to write a poem about a maple tree or a new baby because these subjects are universal, but what makes someone else’s dead ancestors interesting to readers? That is a difficulty.

So far I’ve had one poem from this small grouping published, and that was in December. It was in the online journal Blast Furnacebut here is the poem, a prose poem:

When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother

You identify yourself in the antique image. Long slender neck, narrow torso, your face tipped to avoid the light. Your hands rest in the valley between your thighs sharp under yards of stiff calico. Your face long, well-sculpted by a lean diet and youth, nearly but not ascetic. Blue veins clutch the temples under translucent skin, a milky film that just contains you. In the next photograph your black dog Carlo poses at your side.

But Carlo isn’t your dog. Three degrees separate you across the time dimension. You never beat a man with his horse-whip for using it on his horse, though you wish you had that sort of courage and that sort of hands-on life, or burned all the books except the family Bible, praise her lord. And yet you hold your bodies as both shields and thresholds.

Because a face never reflects the same, every photo sees something else. You’re your father under the red star and your mother’s grandmother in the morning sun. But not your mother who is the image of her aunt. You never did let her kiss you. You see Carlo and his mistress in another photograph, and her smile is so familiar. Now the gauzy mask of your mother’s face floats across her-your features. Another light source and hour. Another shift of the hologram that is you.

If you happen to be one of the three people who read this blog from the first post you might find the subject recognizable. I rewrote that first blog post into this prose poem. I am fascinated with how we look like our ancestors and relatives, but in some lights, various shadows, or on different days, we might look like a completely different person–or share his features. It’s as if our general counteance is always shifting.

This is the great-grandmother I wrote about in the poem. Even I find our resemblance (when I was younger, of course) astonishing. The black dog in the one photo is Carlo.

My idea with the poems is to create a chapbook–a publishable collection that is smaller than a full-length poetry collection. Maybe around 20-25 poems. And I want to focus on my female ancestors. These are the people difficult to research because they don’t show up in old documents and newspapers as shopkeepers, dog breeders, or politicians. What was the day-to-day of their lives really like? I am trying to find out by researching and then allowing the material to develop into poems. At the moment a poem is completed, I feel that I have brought to life the experience of one woman.

It’s difficult to find literary magazines to send individual poems to because the subject matter is not contemporary and only universal in the notion of the project as excavating the lives of generations of women. In other words, I need to find places that specialize in or are sensitive to the intersection of history and poetry.

Are you interested in two unrelated subjects that you have been able to connect in your own life?

In case you are wondering why I am not writing on purpose, it’s because I was writing so much for so long that I knew I needed a period where I don’t take on any old or new projects. I’m resting my brain. Except for blogging, of course, dear peeps.

***

I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Memoir, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing goals

The Hummingbird’s Tale, or a Day-After-Mother’s-Day Story

Last year a hummingbird built a compact nest on the top of a decorative ornament that hands outside my back door. It features a glass ball set in a copper wire design. She built the nest in May, and being Arizona, it became quite warm and the sun beat down on the little nest. Hubby stapled a board up to protect the nest.

The mother sat diligently on the nest for many weeks, but finally left and never came back. We discovered one unhatched egg in the nest. We took the nest and egg and “shellacked” it and put it in our bookcase as a reminder of the little mother’s persistence.

When she came back and began to build another nest in the same spot this year, hubby and I were concerned. However, she built it in April, not May, and she deposited two eggs, which is the typical number for hummingbirds.

We watched the whole process, and this time we were all blessed. After we could see beaks poking up above the rim of the nest, hubby climbed up on a ladder and took this pic.

tiny hummingbirds

I captured the mother feeding babies here:

Then one day their little heads popped up way above the nest, as they awaited food from their mama.

Baby hummingbirds

Here is a still pic of mama feeding babies that are her own size:
hummingbird feeding

One morning I got up, checked the nest, and discovered it empty. I was a little sad that they had disappeared without saying goodbye. That’s when I noticed that one of the two birds was still near the nest, that he hadn’t taken flight yet! He was perched on the ornamental wire above the nest, trying to get up his courage to fly for the first time. And guess what I captured with my iPhone? Watch the top of the light colored area in the frame. Be patient; it isn’t very long, but takes a few seconds before I get the right angle.

For a few hours they flew around the area, even coming up to our picture window and looking in (whirring in place) several times. The next day I saw a hummingbird in one of my trees and wondered if it was mama or one of the “babies.”
hummingbird in tree

These guys kept me focused for a few weeks on the miracles.

What is your spring miracle?

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Filed under Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

A Cat’s Tale

Did you think that all the time hubby and I have been spending at the shelter playing with the kitties was going to increase our cat count at home?

A lot of people have mentioned that they expected me to bring home more cats.

But nah. I did spring one of the cats, but not for me. My son and his girlfriend saw the photos I had taken of some of the shelter cats and fell in love with an 8 month old kitten called “Precious.” They have a beautiful black velvet cat named Meesker. He’s already two years old–a fact I have trouble processing as it seems he was just a little kitten a couple of months ago. The kids decided they wanted Precious as a little sister to Meesker.

Meesker headshot

Meesker

So I sprung the little sweetie two weeks before I would be seeing my son because the cat room had become so crowded at the shelter. We had a lot of new kittens and the anxiety level of the “roaming” cats was fairly high. I decided on the spur of the moment to bring Precious home to my house. She lived in my office.

On Monday, hubby and I drove Precious (now called Lily) from Phoenix to California so that Lily can live at the beach with her new mom and dad and big brother Meesker. Lily traveled in a large dog kennel that belongs to my oldest cat Mac.

She was so good the whole six hours, although for the last 1 1/2 she lay face down and it seemed clear to me that she had a tummy ache from the bumpy ride.

Imagine our surprise when we put two very sweet-natured cats together, and they didn’t get along very well. Lily played in Meesker’s favorite toy, his long fabric tunnel, and it made him sad. Lily chased Meesker, and he hid under the bed.

For awhile, Lily lay on the couch and Meesker on the floor, but it didn’t last long.

Lily on couch Meesker on floor

 

Poor Meesker.

June 7 2014

My son is going to get a gate for the bedroom so that the cats can sniff each other without worrying about losing any fur. I’m hoping that my son and his girlfriend will go very slowly in reintroducing the cats to each other. Then they can all live as one happy family.

So, no, I didn’t get a new cat for myself. However, if this works out well for them, there is a sweet black cat at the kennel who has been there far too long. Actually, there are two, but how many will I be able to slip past hubby without him really grasping how many cats live at our house?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under California, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction

Formula Gets a Bad Rap

As a reader, I appreciate books with unique storylines and characters. As a writer, I try to create unique stories and poems. So why am I also drawn to books that seem to be written according to a pre-set formula?

Yeah, I know, right? Such a no-no. Definitely not “literature.”

According to my buddy Wikipedia, formula fiction is described like this:

In popular culture, formula fiction is literature in which the storylines and plots have been reused to the extent that the narratives are predictable. It is similar to genre fiction, which identifies a number of specific settings that are frequently reused. The label of formula fiction is used in literary criticism as a mild pejorative to imply lack of originality.

Still, there is a lot of comfort in finding a series of cozy mysteries where I enjoy the protagonist, the setting, and the first murder–over and over again.

Formula fiction refers to a single book or a series. A book itself can be formulaic in that it is predictable. But book series sometimes are formulaic in that they set a formula for each book of the series with the initial book. Some book series are not like this. For instance, trilogies are often completely different stories, following characters over different plotlines. But a heck of a lot of the series you see on the shelves at the library and the bookstore are formula fiction.

For instance, every Agatha Christie book I read when I was in my 20s ended on page 210. Seriously. Who knew she wrote formula fiction?!

Years ago, I liked the mix of cats and murder in The Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun, so when I ran out of unread books, I turned to another cat mystery series: Mrs. Murphy by Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is, of course, a cat that solves mysteries.  Once I read the first book in a series I like, I want to keep going in this land I know peopled by characters I know.

I’m the same way about disaster movies. Don’t give me some extravagant budget movie with Denzel and Brad (am I showing my age with them? at least I didn’t say Harrison), please. I like the cheesy ones where the mom, the dad, the boy, and the girl (sometimes 3 kids) gets separated and you know they will be back together by the end of the movie. I know just what I can count on and that the movie won’t allow something strange and “unique” to happen. I want to lie on the couch, maybe eat some popcorn, and relax.

But are reading cozies and watching low-budget disaster flicks like eating McDonald’s and bonbons? Should I figure out a way to limit my reliance on comforting formula literature and entertainment? Is consuming unique literature like eating my vegetables or swallowing my vitamins?  Maybe Nancy Drew and her cohorts ruined me and gave me a taste for formula fiction when I was just a fresh young reader. I should have read that copy of Melville’s Billy Budd I got from Scholastic instead!

The more I think about this, the more I wonder how I ever stay in “balance” in my reading!

Nancy Drew collectionWhat about you? Do you balance your reading? Do you like formula fiction or try to avoid it?

 

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Filed under Books, Cats and Other Animals, Children's Literature, Fiction, Reading

Excerpt: Luanne Castle

Luanne:

A big thank you to Jenn Monroe, editor of Extract(s), for publishing a 3 poem excerpt from Doll God this first day of May.

Originally posted on Extract(s):

From Doll God

castle promotional coverAmerican Girl
I am my dream house and convertible. 
I lie in the wet and dappled grass awaiting 
pauses 
breezes and other hesitations. 
I am the wait. 
Everyone tests my breast, but 
I wait only for one. 
She grips my forehead 
with intent 
yanks my head from its roost 
and puts me in the box 
with the torsos, the heads. 
I am all these voodoo images 
to stick pins into. 
Celebrity erases me. 
Envy my impossible construction, 
my Julie Newmar, 
my blondeness: available in shades 
of Asian and cotton candy 
I’m denied the tingling 
of sliding off my heels. 
Love my long lines, 
my foreshortened feet.  

Snow Remembers An Old Tale
Through my screen, that nighttime scent on the breeze, a stranger surprising me out of the dark I put my hand against, luring me to another tale. From that other screen once upon that time a…

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I Dish about Dolls and Doll God

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I haven’t done a fraction of what I had intended to do in celebration, but just because the month ends doesn’t mean I leave poetry behind. (And there is still time to purchase that copy of Doll God, hint hint ;) ).

Serena over at Savvy Verse & Wit interviewed me for her blog today. She asked me some interesting questions about my relationship to dolls and, of course, about Doll God.

Click here to check out the interview.

Thanks so much, Serena, for the blog tour and for this interview. Your support of poetry is inspirational.

Mid-century  Snow White doll heads

Mid-century Snow White doll heads

Snow makes a couple of appearances in Doll God!

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Filed under Books, Doll God, Dolls, Interview, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Publishing, Writing

What is That Beat from Inside the Earth?

In December, I posted a two-part essay by Abenaki poet Carol Bachofner here and here. In this piece, she redefines her artistic identity. Today I am sharing my review of her 4th poetry collection, Native Moons, Native Days.

These lovely poems explore and illuminate the life stories of the Abenaki, both past and present. They begin as lyric poems, but the singular first-person perspective doesn’t insist on itself as a lone entity. Rather, the view merges with a larger “we.” In this way, the poetry collection gives voice to a people.

The first poem, “Origin,” tells a story of how “[e]verything started over water” when a woman looked down through a hole in the clouds, “dreaming and falling.” By “Epilogue,” “We look to the sky to see who is falling, who is rising.” I read this as a creation story that informs a system of symbols that give meaning for the woman telling these poetic stories as well as for the Abenaki. As the moons come and go, so do the generations.

Bachofner’s poems bring the reader closer to the rich earth and its fruit (“Plunging hands into warm earth / where worms have shed casts”)–the dirt, the squash, the ocean, its fish. They have a way of slowing down the contemporary world and connecting the reader through place and naming. The names are important: they punctuate the poems. Medawihla, Mezatanos, Pashipakokee: loon, moon, river. My first time through the book I read the poems aloud, relying on instinct for pronunciations, and they felt good in my mouth.

Just under the musicality of Bachofner’s lines, I hear a heart beat that seems to come from the center of the earth. No one could expect poetry to do more.

Here’s a sample from the book:

We Speak the White Man’s Language

except when dreaming, except when our fingers

braid hair, weave blankets, knot bait bags,

when we are praying in Indian. Work brings words

from the belly, the soles of the feet.

Words walk the woods where our relatives

burned the way forward from camp to camp,

trading stories with people along the way.

We speak in our own tongues, syllables full

of consonants, echoing from the back

of the throat to the nose, to the wind.

Our words are a clearing, a place for fire.

Where did the language go when the black robes

threw holy water on it? Did it disappear

when the switch was on our backs? Into the trees,

into the streams, into our combs to wait.

Carol has also published three other poetry collections. Go forth and check them out!

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

My Fiction Reading During National Poetry Month

Although it’s poetry month, I’ve been reading fiction lately as a little break from poetry and memoir.

I chose well because I enjoyed all three books. These are the reviews I posted (pretty much word for word) at both Amazon and Goodreads.

My favorite of the three was It’s In His Kiss, written by Vickie Lester who blogs over at Beguiling Hollywood. This contemporary murder mystery is set in present-day Palm Springs and Los Angeles. I know the time period because the characters own cell phones, but the ambiance, shenanigans, and secrets come from a long-time Hollywood tradition that features real life mysteries such as the Black Dahlia murder, George Reeves (Superman), Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), and maybe even Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.

I was hooked very early on–in part because of the compelling story and in part because after a whirlwind romance (hook-up? you decide–I don’t want to give anything away) the reader is slammed with a shock. Lester keeps shaking the reader up as one Hollywood secret after another is divulged. She’s a master at creating believable southern California characters (main character Anne’s father Bob stepped off the page and into my kitchen), but even better at her precise and breathtaking descriptions of the city. She knows the roads, the landmarks, and how it all fits (and doesn’t fit) together better than anybody I’ve read in a long time.

Lester’s witty approach fits the subject and the culture well. I appreciated the occasional nod to pop culture. For instance, she calls a scary pseudo-religion “Clientology.” These touches give the book the feeling of a roman à clef which heightens the illusion of reality. And when it came time to reveal the mystery, I was shocked, but thrilled to discover a satisfying conclusion. If I were you, I would jump through the book image to Amazon to order It’s In His Kiss.

Next up is Ape House, written by Water for Elephants novelist Sara Gruen.  I have been captivated by nonfiction stories of animals learning to communicate on human terms since I was in high school. I used to teach Koko’s Kitten to future teachers because I hoped they would share the importance of interspecies communication with their own students one day.

This book takes the real story of Gruen’s experiences with bonobos who can sign and adds lots of excitement. It’s a fast-paced mystery, adventure, and love story. That’s a good thing because it ought to bring home to readers the story of primate communication with humans to readers who don’t know anything about it. It’s a quick read and even if your life is chaotic you can get “into” the book immediately. This was a 4 star book, although I can understand why some people would give it a 5. I think it tried to be a little more serious than it really was, which is why I give it a 4.

Finally, I wanted a light historical mystery, so I chose The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber. This book turned out to also be a romance, in a Gothic sense. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series. Lady Darby is an artist which makes her very appealing. A few times I felt annoyed at the contemporary perspective on women’s issues taking me out of the scene and setting. Lady Darby has enough clothing for a much wealthier woman, too, but the dress descriptions make for delicious reading. One gripe I had was that the frequent mention of the green cloak was belied by the red one on the woman on the cover of the book. Why can’t a cover truly represent what lies within? I gave the book a 4 star rating based on the quality for its genre. I don’t expect it to be something that it isn’t. But if you judge it against the two books above, it’s a 3 star.

I’ve ordered more books to add to my to-be-read stack, not because I have a lot of spare time ahead, but because it’s very comforting to have plenty of books to read.

How about you? Does a stack of unread books comfort you or stress you out?

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, Novel, Publishing

What I Do and Don’t Know about Amazon Reviews and Rankings

Way back I said I would share some stuff I learned about publishing a book. A lot has gone on in my life in the past couple of months, so I got a little behind in my spring plans. Nevertheless, I will share the little I’ve learned about the subject of Amazon reviews and rankings with you. I was so ignorant that I didn’t realize how important reviews are to book sales.

Actually, this post is more about what I don’t know about Amazon.

But I used to know even less. To those of you I had to be asked to write an Amazon review for, I’m sorry you even had to ask. If I read your book, and particularly if I reviewed it on here, I should have known to go write a review on Amazon. All it really takes is one or two sentences and a star rating. Mea culpa. Or maybe it’s my bad today.

I’ve heard–and so far this is merely rumor because how Amazon really operates is a mystery even to those who purport to have figured out the formula–that one has to have 25 reviews on Amazon for one’s book to attract any attention from Amazon and perhaps be moved up where a stranger might type in, say, “turtles as pets,” and see the link for your book that rhapsodizes on turtles as pets.

I’ve also heard that it’s important for people to click that “why, YES, this review was extremely helpful to me” (or whatever it’s called) button on Amazon after each positive review.

I have seen many books without any reviews. How can that be? After a writer puts all that effort into writing a book, not one person can write a review of it? I’m having a hard time getting my mind around this phenomenon.

A writer is also supposed to create an Author Page at Author Central on Amazon. Do you know how many writers don’t bother to do this? I guess the idea behind this feature is that someone can use the information on that page to help decide if they want to purchase your book. It’s also helpful for when you publish your second book–and I would imagine that a book in a different genre might make it even more important. As readers, we want to know what makes a writer the right person to write that book.

Here is my Author Page. What else, if anything, should I share on this page?

When Doll God first came out it was on the list of Hot New Releases in Poetry for a few weeks. It was kind of exciting, but what did it really mean? I wonder if I sold even one book because of that list. And how would I know? Here’s the rub about Amazon: if you’re not self-published you’re not necessarily privy to much behind-the-scenes information. What I get is a graph that gives me an idea of the up and down of sales, with the ranking among 8,000,000 books. I’ve checked it out exactly three times. I just looked again and mine right now is 246,886 365,098 (changes fast). But then you know that because this is information that is available to all Amazon readers. You can see it on the page for Doll God under product details. By the way, that number doesn’t seem that terrible to me, especially for a poetry book (although I’d love it to be lower), but if my book was a novel or memoir I would like a much lower number/higher ranking. And besides, it’s a number that will continue to change. One day, when I am no longer doing anything to promote the book it could wind up at 7,999,999.

I would like to hear from people who are self-published. What does your information about sales, etc. look like? How detailed is it? Do you know what motivates a sale?

Do you have any other information about Amazon that you can share?

Lost MaryGold

 Lost MaryGold

 

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Filed under Book promotion, Book Review, Books, Doll God, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing Tips and Habits