What Counts as Writing

I went to California for a few days with hubby for work. Not writing work. Survival work.

Life needs to settle down a little, but my schedule seems full for months ahead now. I wish I had more time for writing. I get frustrated about how little time I actually can spare.

On the ride I snapped a few pix of the scenery. I’m always amazed at how entire mountainsides or significant portions can appear dark according to the lighting. They have a damp look although they are actually where the sun is partially blocked. Sometimes they are shadows. They make me feel moody.

While our mountains are kind of small and unadorned–and not beautiful like the Rockies or the Blue Ridge–they are the most interesting landscape around.

When I glanced at my photos I realized that even this mundane view is fuel for my writing and that if I remain aware and observant I am always writing. When a poem seems to write itself it’s because I’ve done my homework by absorbing what’s around me and meditating on it.

For now, I’m curious: how would you describe the mood of this photo?



Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, California, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Sightseeing, Writing, Writing goals, Writing prompt

Red in the Words

I decided to leap back into prose by taking a look at the drafts I wrote for the flash nonfiction course I took in July. While I was searching for those in my closet, I ran across a few of my Red Riding Hood books.

As a fictional character, she’s been quite an influence on me and my writing.

But who is she?

There are hundreds of versions of the story and they come from many different countries. Some are old versions from traditional literature and some are contemporary retellings of the tale. Some are children’s stories; some, such as those that spring from the oral tradition, are for the general public; and some, usually feminist or sexualized versions, are for adults.

I’m guessing that most of us are steeped in the European tradition of red hooded cloak, little girl, wolf, grandmother, and woods. We might or might not think of a huntsman. Our Little Red might get a warning from her mother–or she might not. She might get eaten up just before the reader is left with a strong “moral.” She might kill the wolf in a gruesome manner. Or the wolf might run into the woods, never to return. Pinterest is full of images that resonate, so I started collecting them onto a “Red in the Woods” board. I’ve only got 35 pins so far, but there are some beauties. Many of the classic book illustrators have created Little Red art.

Arthur Rackham’s Little Red Riding Hood

Every culture incorporates some of these elements in their little red stories, but the most important part is that a little girl is threatened by a dangerous animal (usually a wolf, but in Asian countries, sometimes a tiger) and either she becomes a victim, is rescued by someone else, or she is victorious over the “bad guy.” The undercurrents involve a girl going out into a threatening world on her own for the first time and the possibility of sexual violation. But those are adult readings, of course.

Sometimes Little Red is a bad ass. Those are the best versions! One of my favorite picture books for children is Ed Young’s Lon PoPo where the Little Red protagonist is a smart, strong oldest sister who outwits the wolf and protects her siblings.

Have you ever seen Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical Into the Woods? In this version, Little Red is definitely a sexual target for the wolf, but the question becomes: is she complicit? Does she  in some way lead on the wolf? Is the red hood to draw attention? (And where does the red garment come from? Not from the girl herself). Or is that an adult male (pervert) reading–a Humbert version of Lolita? Another adult reading is that the red hood is a metaphor for Red’s vagina/clitoris/youpick.

In this clip of the 1991 Broadway show, the lyrics say a lot about our culture’s interpretation. It becomes clear that this version is about the loss of innocence.

In the Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ song, the wolf leers at Red.

There are other strange bits and pieces that show up in some Little Red stories. The wolf tricks Red into eating her Granny’s flesh. Red tries to get out of bed with the wolf by telling him she has to go pee. At that point he tells her to pee in the bed, but she says she can’t and he lets her go outside tied to a long rope. Some of these elements that seem vulgar  or creepy have been edited out of the most popular versions published in the last few hundred years. The confusion between wolf and grandmother is still with us, though. And that alone is pretty strange. Dangerous wolf looks like beloved grandmother? Beyond strange.

Is the wolf a perv or is Red a Lolita? Or is that a red herring (sorry)? Is the story really about something else?


Filed under Books, Characterization, Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, Fiction, History, Inspiration, Writing

Day 30 of Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: Where Did It Go? #poetry

DAY 30


Reminding you that I will be taking down these 30 posts in the very near future :).  Maybe you’ll see them in the future in some other form or “location.”



This post has been EDITED. The disappearance of that last poem: a mystery. It went the way of the other September poems–back into my writing box.


If you have enjoyed reading these one day poems, you might like my book Doll God where the poems have had a little more time coming into the world. It’s now a Finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards!!!



Filed under #AmWriting, History, Inspiration, Memoir, Poetry, Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project, Writing, Writing goals

Doll God is a Finalist!

Yesterday I opened an email listing the Finalists for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and dismally scrolled through it, sure that Doll God was overlooked.

But it WASN’T! It’s a Finalist! That was really wonderful news to get at the end of the week. Buy it here haha:


castle promotional cover

A week that has been a little rough. Remember my dear Nakana I brought home from the shelter two months ago? Suddenly her liver values have jumped dramatically. That apparently is BAD in cats. More tests on Monday . . . .  Please send prayers or good vibes for her, if you are willing.

My sweet cat


Filed under Arizona, Book Award, Book promotion, Doll God, Dolls, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing

Adding Fiction to My Poetry and Memoir Resume

You know how I’m always yammering about poetry and memoir? Well, darned if I didn’t get a short story (fiction!) published today in Crack the Spine. Called “Small Solace,” it’s a little bit weird. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please go to one of the magazine’s sites and post a comment of some sort about it. That’s because they use feedback to determine what pieces go into a print issue and which writers they do a Wordsmith interview on (they only choose one author each issue).

Here is the issue–look for page 27:  Crack the Spine Issue 163

I did warn you that it’s a little weird. Yes, the wallet image here is a clue as to the subject.

Here are some places to leave feedback:

Comment form below issue link



Crack the Spine website

Or email them at contact@crackthespine.com

Thanks so much, peeps!


Filed under #AmWriting, Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

A Group Journey Out of Homelessness: A Book Review

I was born with the desire to know what it’s like to live more than one life. If you’re a reader, you understand what I mean. That’s why we read. For the time it takes to read a novel or memoir, we can get inside someone else and look through his or her eyes at the world around us. Better yet, we can hear that writer or character’s heartbeat.

When I choose a book I tend to choose a memoir or fiction that is closely tied to one protagonist. But I just finished a book that is a compilation of memoirs by a group of writers.

These writers are bound together by a writing class and a commonality: they have all experienced being homeless. Writing Our Way Home is subtitled “A group journey out of homelessness.” Edited by southern writer and blogger Ellen Morris Prewitt, whose touch is so light her name is not on the cover or title page, this book weaves together the stories of fifteen writers and organizes them thematically.

I began reading slowly because I wanted to isolate and listen to individual voices in the group and not confuse them with each other. I needn’t have worried. Very early on, I began to “hear” who was “speaking” within the first sentence or two of each brief entry. I listened to Leroy Scott’s straightforward prose, Cynthia Crawford’s engrossing storytelling, Tommy Payne’s brilliant and varied writing style, Latasha Jackson’s pattern of detailed imagery (sipping peach wine in the bath, the lost doll collection), and other unique voices. As Tommy himself says, “It is easy to tell a book written by James Michener from a book written by Ian Fleming. An Ernest Hemingway novel from a play written by Shakespeare.” And so it is with these writers.

Most importantly, I learned what these fifteen people had to say about their own lives and about the condition of being without a home.

The book developed from a writing class that Ellen teaches in Memphis. The class and the Door of Hope organization that runs the class seem to be based in Christian teachings, although I don’t find much about religion on their website other than that they offer contemplative prayer classes, as well as creative writing.

If you have ever—even once–looked at a homeless person and forgot that he or she has a whole history of living, relations, emotions, and past belongings, as well as current needs, hop over to Amazon and pick up a copy of this book! If you want to find out if you should give a handout to someone who asks, you will find eleven answers.

Now that I’ve read Writing our Way Home and had time to let it settle into my bones, I feel it’s permanently changed me. A big thanks to Roderick Baldwin, Donna Connie, Cynthia Crawford, Jacqueline Crowder, Veyshon Hall, Tamara Hendrix, William L. Hogan, Jr., Latasha Jackson, Anthony Johnston, Robbin K., Rhonda Lay, Jockluss Thomas Payne, Leroy Scott, WJS, and Master Major Joshua Williams for inviting me into your lives.


Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Essay, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Day Thirty-one, Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (last day!)


Robert Okaji inspired me to do attempt the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry project, and here is the poem he wrote with the title I gave him! What a wonderful poem!

Originally posted on O at the Edges:

Rattlesnake sign

“Synapses and Other Conjunctions” is my 31st and final offering for the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (9 poets agreed to write 30 poems apiece in 30 days, to raise funds for Tupelo Press, a non-profit literary publisher). Many thanks to Luanne Castle, who sponsored and provided the title. Since the 30-30 marathon officially ended yesterday, this poem will appear only on this site, and not on the 30-30 site.

Even though my participation in the 30-30 project ends today, please feel free to contribute to Tupelo Press! Every bit helps (even a dollar or two), and I’ve some other sponsorship opportunities, with corresponding incentives, listed here, which I will continue to honor over the next month.

If you’re so inclined, please visit the 30/30 blog at: Donate to Tupelo. Scroll down to “Is this donation in honor of a 30/30 poet?” and select my name, “Robert Okaji,” from the pull down…

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Filed under Writing

Three Questions: Luanne Castle


Editor Jenn Monroe of Extract(s) lit magazine asked me some very thought-provoking questions in today’s interview. Also, check out the excerpt from Doll God also published May 1 in Extract(s): http://dailydoseoflit.com/2015/05/01/excerpt-luanne-castle/

Originally posted on Extract(s):

We featured an excerpt from Luanne Castle’s Doll God (Aldrich Press, 2015) in May. She has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside.  She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MA, MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program.  Her prose and poetry have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, Wisconsin Review, The Antigonish Review, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, Redheaded Stepchild, and many other journals. She can be found at  and blogs at writersite.org.  She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.

In a recent review of your debut collection, Doll God, the reviewer mentioned how your work often presents beauty and danger side by side. How do these two ideas co-exist? Do they feed one another?…

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Filed under #AmWriting, Books, Doll God, Dolls, Interview, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

The 30/30 Challenge of Tupelo Press, and How I Proved I Have a Screw Loose

I’ve gone and done it. I must be crazy.

Throughout September, I will be “running” a poetry “marathon” for the Tupelo Press 30/30 project. By donating in recognition of my efforts, you will be supporting a fabulous independent, nonprofit press.

I promise to write a poem a day for 30 days. Since it took me decades to cough up not even twice that for my first poetry collection Doll God, you can see what a feat I am trying to accomplish.

To help preserve poetry as an art, it’s important to support the independent presses and literary magazines. These are the places that publish nearly all published poetry today. It hasn’t been a positive era for them. I’ve seen many lit magazines close up—and when the presses go out of business, we often don’t even hear about it.

Every dollar you donate will go toward the operation of the press, enabling it to continue publishing beautiful books that would not get picked up by large commercial publishers. You can read the daily poems, as well as the bios of this month’s poets, and donate here.

As incentives to donate, I am offering the following:

  • For a donation of $10, you tell me what subject or image you want to see in a poem, and I’ll write that poem.
  • For a donation of $20, I will dedicate a poem to you or someone of your choice.
  • For a donation of $40, I will send you or someone of your choice, a signed and personally addressed copy of my book, Doll God.
  • For a donation of $55, I will send you or someone of your choice, a signed and personally addressed copy of my book, Doll God, and I will dedicate a poem to you or someone of your choice.
  • For a donation of $100, you get two copies of Doll God and two dedications!
  • Remember that if you donate $129 for a Tupelo Press subscription, you will receive the 10 free books of their current series.

For any of the above donations, including the subscription of 10 books, please remember to click or write my name in the honor field. Then email me at luannecastle@gmail.com and let me know what dedication or subject you are interested in. If you “earned” a copy or two of Doll God, please give me your mailing address and to whom you would like the book(s) addressed.

Again, you can read the daily poems, as well as the bios of this month’s poets, and donate here.

If you decide to help keep Tupelo Press publishing its amazing variety of books, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!

Wish me well, please. It starts tomorrow, and I’m nervous as can be!



If you are not able to donate, the other poets and I would still love for you to read our first draft work. I love feedback. Every day, I will post a link to that day’s poem over here so feel free to critique or pat me on the back (or the head, if you think that is more appropriate after reading the poem), encourage me, tell me what you like or what you don’t like. Or tell me a funny story or something completely unrelated that the poem reminded you of ;). Or just say hi in your own incomparable way so that I remember there is a world outside poetry. Gonna be an intense month!

One more thing: by November 1, I plan to take down all September’s 30/30 posts.

That’s us poets in the photo ;)


Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Doll God, Inspiration, Literary Journals, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, WordPress, Writing, Writing goals, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

Does a Tattoo Ward Off Old Age?

I’m calling Nakana, my new cat, Kana more often than Nakana. She’s been having some tummy and ear issues, so the vet gave her a full work up and thinks she has food allergies. She also said she thinks she is probably older than the eight years the shelter suspected. She might be 10 or 11. So not just a senior, but definitely an older cat! She’s a sweetheart, no matter what age she is. She also has a very bad spot of arthritis mid-back, probably caused by an earlier injury. I am so glad that she’s now part of our family so I can take good care of her.

But does it mean anything that she isn’t just barely a senior, but is instead, an old cat? She’s actually in a different stage of life than I had thought, although I recently had begun to suspect she might be a little older. Or it could be because of the arthritis. She is more stiff, less flexible, and more fragile than a younger cat.

I can’t help but relate the life stages of cats to . . . me.

When I was in my early 30s and in grad school, a professor referred to me as middle-aged. I had an idea that I looked a bit on the young side for my age, plus I still thought of myself as young. My children were little, I felt I was still too identified as my parents’ child, and I hadn’t even begun to do what I wanted to accomplish in life. I was shocked and spoke up. She said, “Well, you’re in the middle of the average life expectancy.” She was figuring that the average was 78 and 36 is half of that and that I was within a few years of 36, so hence I was middle-aged.

I actually hated hearing her say that. I didn’t agree at all that that was what middle-aged meant. And I still don’t agree. But what does middle-aged mean?

And what does elderly mean? I saw a news story once where the 69-year-old victim was identified as an elderly woman. I have never in my life considered a woman in her 60s as elderly. And now that I’ve crossed the decade threshold, I sure don’t. My mother is 80, and I’m not sure she’s elderly. Her community does have a lot of elderly people, but my mother in her red sports car and cute, trim appearance doesn’t seem elderly.

I asked Wikipedia about elderly, and it was no help, conflating elderly with senior citizen which by some accounts I am. Interestingly, museums and events I bought tickets for on our trip did not consider me a senior citizen. That way they could get more $ from hubby and me.

What do you call life before middle age? Is it youth? My son is 31 now, and he no longer considers himself young or youthful. Youngish, maybe. But squarely in the thirties decade where he will accomplish a lot and his life will become more “set.”

When you hear the words youth, middle-aged, senior citizen, elderly, old person, kid, child, teen, do you conjure up standard images? My elderly image is stooped and frail and in need of help from others.

Am I, at sixty, a senior? Not according to the Chinese Garden.

Middle-aged? Not according to people who think middle-aged is 40.  Am I approaching being elderly? Am I an old person?

I saw a couple on a ferry-boat that caught my attention. Their physical bodies were nearing elderly. They weren’t frail, but starting to slope over toward being stooped, with thin white hair, and heavily wrinkled faces. But she was wearing white jeans and a cute sporty top. Did this mean she wasn’t planning to be elderly?

Are all the 20 to 40 somethings covered with tattoos going to still give an impression of youth when they are 90? 95? just because they are tattooed?

Is it about what we think of ourselves? Or do our bodies decide?

Or are these stages of life set at certain ages, no matter how fit or frail one is. No matter how youthfully one dresses or how maturely one styles one’s hair.

Forget what you think you ought to think. What do you really think about identifying with the stages of life?

By the way, I’m not making myself into a tattoo gallery, no matter what.

Neither is Nakana.



Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing