Category Archives: #AmWriting

Secret Lives

I read a short memoir recently. It was recommended to me by Charles who blogs at Moore Genealogy when I posted about a couple of family heirlooms on my family history blog.

A big thank you to Charles because The Secret Life of Objects inspired me to want to write about objects as memoir. Not in a hit or miss way, but purposefully. To choose an object with meaning and to write about its “secret life.” #memoir #flashmemoir

I might do that here on this blog, peeps. So consider yourselves forewarned. Today, though, I’m just chattering. And trying to do a little writing as I can. Here. At my laptop.

Or sometimes elsewhere.

This week I was in California for business. I wrote notes for a poem at my favorite cafe in La Canada: Magpie’s Grill. They leave me alone to write, and they refill my iced tea.

On the way home, I saw a bus burning on the 10. The whole backend was engulfed in flames, and the riders were standing off to the side of the freeway. I think it was their luggage that was burning. According to the news story that I later looked up, 49 Korean tourists and their driver had made it out of the bus safely. I can’t help but wonder if their passports were so lucky.

The week was made more difficult because I washed my phone with the laundry. Before this happened, I could have proudly proclaimed that I wasn’t one of those people who get their phone wet. No toilet mishaps. No accidental falls into the pool. No slipping off the edge of the tub. Nope. But I stripped the bedsheets without noticing the phone lying there and just threw them into the washer. It was probably a goner after the waterfall cascade poured over the phone. It was sopping wet inside and already corroding.

But the upside is I now have a new phone. It’s a rose gold iPhone 7. I got a clear case and a glass cover that has a rose gold frame on it. PURTY! Best of all, the camera is much better than that on my iPhone 5s.

Perry is a great big kitten. He grabs Felix in a wrestling hold, almost smothering him, and licks his ear inside and out before Felix can get away. He climbs on Kana’s cat tree with her and walks across her, pretending he just wants to get to the other tree. What a goof. He will be seeing another vet for his fast breathing, though, as I am getting more worried about it.  Here is his “this new life is sometimes mysterious, but I am doing my best to figure things out and please be patient with me” look. Or is it his “what are we gonna do now, Mom?” look?

 

 

 

 

33 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, California, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Flash Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing prompt

Country Lyrics as Poetry

While I know very little about country music in general, in the specific I love the music of Tom. T. Hall. Tom T. Who? OK, mebbe before your time. He was born in Kentucky in 1936. You would know he was from Kentucky just from the bluegrass you can hear in many of his songs.

Tom T. Hall is a songwriter, as well as a performer, and it is really through his songwriting that he’s known as “The Storyteller.” I love music that tells stories (probably why I love Broadway musicals), and all his songs sound like flash memoir set to guitar (banjo, etc.).  I tend to think of him as “The Poet” because his lyrics are poems.

Factoid: His most well-known song Hall didn’t record himself: “Harper Valley PTA,” which was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. The song was a #1 hit and won a Grammy and a CMA award.

The other day I was driving the Gardener’s car. He had an old Tom T. Hall CD of mine in the CD player. (Yes, he uses a CD player and a flip phone). As I listened to the song “Country Is,” I thought some of the sentiments seemed familiar to those I discovered while writing Kin Types.

Watch for the oppositional images, the paradoxes, but the whole thing isn’t framed that way.

Country is sitting on the back porch
Listen to the whippoorwills late in the day
Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

Country is living in the city
Knowing your people, knowing your kind
Country is what you make it
Country is all in your mind

Country is working for a living
Thinking your own thoughts, loving your town
Country is teaching your children
Find out what’s right and stand your ground

Country is a having the good times
Listen to the music, singing your part
Country is walking in the moonlight
Country is all in your heart

First, he sets us on the back porch in a peaceful scene that feels inviting. You don’t have to be “country” to enjoy hearing the “whippoorwills late in the day.”

Then he sings:

Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

That is a paradox. You mind your beeswax, which sounds isolationist. But you also help someone in need who crosses your path. Wow, does that ever sound like these lines from the first poem of Kin Types, “Advice from My Forebears.”

If they come to your door, feed them. Then send

them on their way.

That comes from the philosophy of my mother’s Dutch family. You don’t get embroiled in other people’s business, but you do help them when they come to you–then send them back to their own business.

That second stanza tells us what the song is about. Because country is a mental state, it’s what we make of it. It’s up to us. We can be country and live in the city where we meet and interact with diverse people everywhere we go. But we also need to “know” our own kind. That really came home to me as I worked on the poems of Kin Types. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate my family. I saw what I thought was lacking or limited in them, even listened to stereotypes, but didn’t try to imagine what it was like to be my parents or their parents or grandparents. To know myself I had to learn to understand my family. Now I feel I know my kin and kind. I don’t always like them, but I understand and love them. I think it’s important to look at the line this way because otherwise we might jump to the conclusion that knowing our own kind means associating only with your kind. But it doesn’t.

The first half of the third stanza is more paradox, although it doesn’t appear so on the surface. People who are country work for a living. They aren’t independently wealthy (and if they were they would still live off what they make by working). And someone who is country might be employed by a big company or a boss who tries to impose a will on the workers. But if you’re country you keep your opinions! From there on the stanza respects loving one’s own town (which reminded me of my blog The Family Kalamazoo and how Kin Types arose from that setting) and the honor in “finding out what’s right,” which I love. It’s FINDING OUT, not KNOWING what’s right (sorry for shouting–I couldn’t help it). It’s keeping a questioning open mind and having the courage to stick up for what you have learned is right. These are traits I discovered in my own relatives by researching their stories.

The last stanza is sentimentalized and brings the listener to the song of the moment. We better be singing our part. Finally, that last line takes the earlier line, “Country is all in your mind,” and now adds that it is also in your heart. We have become “country” through our minds and our hearts.

 

I couldn’t help but think of the Vegas victims and survivors while listening to this song and others by Tom T. Hall. My heart is with them.

My son and “new daughter” love country music and attended the concert in Huntington Beach the weekend before the terror in Vegas. I thought to myself, “They so easily could have been there.”  Although I don’t go to concerts and couldn’t name most of the current country performers, I feel as if I could have so easily been there. After all, we’re all a little bit country.

###

And now for the weekly Perry update:

Perry and Kana

64 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Essay, Inspiration, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Celebrity Story

Every family has its stories. The ones that cause us to post links and odd comments on the social media of our family members. Nobody else “gets” it because they don’t know the stories we’ve developed over the years.

One of our private stories (no longer private with this post, I guess) may or may not be apocryphal. I’m going to tell it as I know it, but maybe somebody else might have a different take on it.

Years ago, before I had kids even, it was very special to be able to tour Burbank Studios (now part of Warner Brothers). They only allowed a handful of people to tour each week, and you had to have some sort of connection to the industry. They were private tours.

When the gardener and I visited Los Angeles, I decided I just had to go on the tour.  So I had to come up with an occupation that had some involvement in the film biz. I told them that I was a writer. That did the trick. Hahaha, this was before I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer, but if wishin’ were horses, I’d have my own stables.

On the day of the tour, the southern California sky turned a very opaque gray and hurled a deluge at us. The lot at the studio had turned to mud and it splashed at my ankles as I ran from the car to the building. I remember what I was wearing. My good blue and green striped cotton Polo sweater and ivory cords. You know what mud does on the back of ivory cords? Brown spatters up to the knees. It’s a good thing those cords were ruined. Nobody dresses like that anymore. I hope.

My hair was medium length by then, no longer to-the-waist. And I’d gotten a perm to try to replicate marcel waves, a look I’d always loved. My hair had turned a golden color from the perm. OK, it was positively brassy, but shiny and twinkly and not too ugly under a strong overhead light. Because I was young I looked pretty good, but if I had been any older I think the hair and the outfit would have DONE ME IN.

We toured some of the facility by golf cart, but most of our time was spent inside the sound stages because of the rain. They were filming T.J. Hooker, and William Shatner was hamming it up for the cameras. The four of us (a screenwriter and his wife, the gardener and moi) and our tour guide sat on the far side of the sound stage to watch the action. Fifteen minutes into this, a “runner” came to our tour guide and whispered into her ear. She whispered back and the runner ran back to the Hooker set. Our guide caught my eyes and raised her eyebrows, then pursed her mouth in a way that said I’m impressed.

When we left the sound stage, she told me that I had caught Shatner’s eye and he’d sent the runner to find out who I was. Maybe he assumed that I really was a writer, maybe even one cooking up a good story for him to star in.

This blog post is the best I could do for him, I’m sorry to say.

The gardener kept the story going for years, assuring the kids that I could have married the TV star before they were even born. Because the kids grew up with that story, my fate as almost-Shatner’s-wife became family lore.

###

Perry’s bloodwork came back negative, so his heart must be ok. And I #amwriting, no kidding. Maybe not what I intended (the memoir), but still writing.

Go write one of your family stories, a page out of your family lore. If you post it on your blog, let me know!

42 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, California, Flash Nonfiction, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

Write Short First

So you want to be a writer? Are you planning on working on the book-length manuscript for as long as it takes? And then market it to agents for as long as it takes?

How about being published in the meantime? Nothing is better experience for the novelist or memoirist than writing and publishing short stories or personal essays along the way. If you don’t have what it takes to go through the process successfully with short pieces, what makes you think you can do it with a longer story? Additionally, earning bylines along the way may help get your first book published.

Windy Lynn Harris has written the definitive book to help you get started. Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published provides valuable guidance for crafting and fine-tuning those shorter pieces, as well as providing a step-by-step plan for getting published. This system includes finding markets, preparing your manuscript, and how to submit those pieces to magazines. She even gives pointers for how to deal with rejection, an inevitable part of every writer’s life.

After you follow the advice in this book, I suspect you will have acceptances, too, as Harris’ information is practical and grounded in the realities of the publishing industry. I suggest purchasing a paperback copy and keep it at hand and well-notated on your desk.

###

I posted the above review for Windy‘s book on Amazon and Goodreads. But I’d like to expand on the idea of going short before going long. I know I’m going to step on some toes here. A huge number of writers go straight to writing book-length manuscripts. That’s great. They often self-publish and tend to learn from the experience and the books improve with practice. I’ve greatly enjoyed many books that developed from these origins.

But my philosophy is that the best way to learn craft is to start by writing short stories or essays and revising them until they shine. Then send them out and get some publications under your belt. While you are doing this read like crazy. Revise like crazy. Find experienced beta readers who aren’t crazy. I think this is what takes good stories and turns them into literature.

Don’t throw things at me now!

 

45 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

John Howell’s My GRL and Other Stuff

I read John Howell’s adventure novel My GRL a month and a half ago, but was so busy with promo stuff for Kin Types that I didn’t get a chance to do much besides jot down some thoughts about the book. I’m taking a break now to write my review because his book deserves to be read!

Howell created a page-turning thriller. In the midst of the suspense, the most charming aspect of the story is that the protagonist John J. Cannon is an anti-hero. He’s a lawyer who has taken time off to move to a coastal Texas town and, although he knows very little about boating, buys himself a pretty good sized vessel he names My GRL. John is not necessarily the sharpest, most experienced, or courageous hero. But he’s likeable, the sort of guy you’d like to visit on his boat with a six-pack in your hand—if only it were a safe place.

But from the getgo, John and his boat are involved in a dangerous situation with some very shady characters.  It’s great fun to follow along for the ride. John gets himself into one hot spot after another, but eventually he’s gotten himself in so deep it doesn’t seem possible that he can escape. Has John become canny enough to vanquish such a mighty opponent? Once I hit the last third of the book, where suspense leads to fast-paced action, I couldn’t put it down.

###

Reminder: writers not only love reviews, but need them to sell their books. Thank you so very very very much if you left one or more for Kin Types! If you read and enjoyed Kin Types and have not done so, please (Ima begging) swing over to Amazon and leave a review. (and/or Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Finishing Line Press).

Verse Daily published one of my Kin Types poems a week ago. I was thrilled, to say the least. They publish one contemporary poem a day. Check them out and be sure to follow them on Twitter!

Perry is still living in his bedroom, but every day he spends several hours in the house with the rest of the cats. I am going very slowly because he loves his room and his privacy, but more importantly for two other reasons. One is that my other cats are old, and he’s very curious and wants to play (or in the case of Felix, to play fight with him), and they can’t handle more than four hours at this point. The biggest reason, though, is that Perry breathes SO heavily when he’s out with the cats. It’s kind of scary. I took him to the vet and had him checked out, paying them buckets of money. She had no answers except that his heart might be slightly enlarged and the next step COULD be an echocardiogram (more buckets). But we don’t have to rush into that at all. However, to be on the safe side, I don’t want him breathing like that all day long . . . .

That’s how Perry treats Felix. He treats the female cats much nicer. When they give him warning growls, he listens.

#amwriting: I’ve written two poems, peeps! Yay me!

Have a happy and productive week!

41 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Kin Types, Poetry Collection, Writing

Poetry Book Reviews: Goodwin and Swartwout

I’ve been doing some more reading again lately. Here are two poetry books that I swooned over.

In Caroline Goodwin’s new poetry collection, the elegiac The Paper Tree, language seeks to locate and identify. This is where and what, the poems seem to say. The mood can be mournful, commemorative, meditative.

Images from nature are seeds blown into the wind by the poet in an act of claiming. The urgent need of the poems, intense as it is, ebbs for a moment when hope soars for “a new kingdom . . . where the need to name the shape / does not even exist.” For now, the kingdom itself does not exist, but the glimpse of it has been noted.

Ultimately, the outward gestures of naming and sowing images lead to a necessary inwardness: “hold out your hands / open your heart / here’s where the world slides in.” The Paper Tree will present you the world if you open yourself to its wonders.

 

Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, Susan Swartwout’s latest poetry collection, finds the beauty and pathos in the oddities of life. Family history, carnival performance, time spent in Honduras—the subjects are varied, which further emphasizes that our lens can be adjusted to spot the strange and wonderful—or the pitiful—anywhere we look. The language is gutsy, the images sometimes grotesque and sometimes mystical. I found this collection impossible to put down, and poems like “Five Deceits of the Hand” where “we” are betrayed into aging and death thrilled me with jealousy.

Friends vanish like misplaced directions

into skies you used to claim. Age begins

sucking your bones until you lean shriveled

into the mouth of harvest.

In case you’re worried that the book ends on a dark or depressing note, the last word is salvation. I guess you’ll have to read the book to see if that means things work out ok or not.

###

Maybe I finished my diamond poem (the one I mentioned in Typical Tuesday). Letting it rest right now.

I used #amwriting as a tag this week because I started looking through my memoir manuscript with an idea to restructuring it AGAIN. This is so insane. But look at it this way, what happens over many decades has to be structured in a way that is easy for the reader to follow and stay engaged. Most memoirs take place over a much briefer period of time (is briefer a word?), but the story I want to tell begins at least when I was 11, but truly long before I was born, and doesn’t end until this past decade. PULLING MY HAIR OUT.

Which reminds me that I wanted to share that Perry is in absolute love with his hairbrush. Yup. He hugs it.

17 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Writing Talk

Typical Tuesday with Luanne Castle | Modern Creative Life

On Tuesday morning, I wake up between 5:30 and 7 AM, depending on the slant of the sun. There is a gap between my blind and the window sill where the brilliant Arizona morning light blazes through.…

Source: Typical Tuesday with Luanne Castle | Modern Creative Life

47 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Cats and Other Animals, Kin Types, Lifestyle, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

A Morally Ambiguous (Feline) Character

When Harold Hill sang his way into River City, Iowa, in the musical The Music Man he showed himself to be a con man. He believed he was a liar, and he tried to keep that information from the townspeople. Now, as it turns out (spoiler alert!), Harold was a liar and a con man, but he also was a dreamer and a believer, but he couldn’t really admit it to himself. It’s so easy to ignore the way Harold has manipulated people when we see him get trapped by love and notice that other people’s lives have been enhanced by their belief in Harold’s dreams.

This complicated personality makes for what is known in the lit biz as a morally ambiguous character. What is odd in this case is that morally ambiguous characters typically make good tragedies, not musical comedies. But Meredith Wilson, the writer and composer of the musical, knew what he was doing. He knew we (audience members and humans) could relate to someone who was bad but also good. We’re all a mix of good and bad, after all, although we like to think we lean way more to the good than to the bad.

The most famous morally ambiguous character is probably a creation of Shakespeare: Hamlet. Do you have a favorite morally ambiguous character from book or movie?

Have you had people like this in your own life? People who bring you joy, at least occasionally, but also bring you a lot of grief by their actions or inactions? Or someone who does something bad, like commit a crime, but in general is big-hearted?

If this person is a coworker or casual friend, it is one thing. But if he/she/they is a family member, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. How much “bad” can we overlook in order not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”? If you deal with an addict, for example, you might be used to feeling conflicted about your loved one.

If you’re a writer, how do you create one of these complicated beings? How do you show terrible behavior and yet create an appealing character?

This is a subject that touches me personally for the memoir I’ve been working on for a looooong time, but I’ll just leave it at that for now.

Lemme know what you think about this subject, pretty please!

###

Perry update: gosh, he’s cute. Have I said that before? He’s been out for a few hours at a time each day now. He gets along fine with the other cats because he is so good-natured, although obnoxious. He just wants to play with them, and although they absolutely do not want to play (although Kana might want to and hasn’t admitted it yet) with him, they realize he has good intentions.

Sloopy Anne update: First let me say that Tiger doesn’t get along with Sloopy Anne unless they are in the kitchen. Tiger has slept with the gardener and me for years, with the door closed so nobody bothers her/us. Sloopy Anne can’t stand the bedroom door shut at night and will wait in there hiding hours ahead of time so she doesn’t get shut out. Lately, Sloopy Anne has been in the bedroom, under the bed or on the floor, each night . She then advanced to jumping on the bed while we’re asleep. Tiger retreats to the top of my head and Sloopy Anne at the foot of the bed. If it stayed like that I would be fine with it, but why did I think she had a Machiavellian plan to take over the bed and kick Tiger out of it for good? Well, night before last I woke up at 6AM to a cat fight. Sloopy Anne was angry and attacking Tiger! It was some kind of argument over the litter box, but Sloopy Anne was definitely on the attack. A morally ambiguous cat?! Now I have to get that door shut while she’s eating dinner to keep Sloopy Anne out at night!

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the hurricane(S). And those we lost 16 years ago today on 911.

45 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Characterization, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Talk

Sunday Compulsion: Luanne Castle (Why I Write) — O at the Edges

Thank you to Robert Okaji for interviewing me for his beautiful poetry blog. He made me think about one of the hard questions . . . .

Welcome to “Sunday Compulsion,” in which creatives answer one question: Why do I create? Here’s poet Luanne Castle: When I pondered why I write, my mind flipped the question to why I don’t write during so many fallow periods. There have been so many reasons over the years: school, work, social life, teaching, raising kids. It’s not that I […]

via Sunday Compulsion: Luanne Castle (Why I Write) — O at the Edges

17 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Family history, Inspiration, Kin Types, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Writing, Writing Talk

Is It Really a Choice Between Twitter and Poetry?

In April, for Poetry Month, the LA Times ran an OP-ED by Lori Anne Ferrell, who is the director of Claremont Graduate University’s Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Kate Tufts Discovery Award. These are giants in the world of poetry awards. Ferrell’s piece argues that poetry is complex and cannot be reduced. She argues that we should all find a poem that startles us with its “lasting truths.” She wants us to put our favorite poems in our pockets. She speaks very well for poetry and for the month of poetry.

You can read the article here: A Book of Poetry That’s Worth $100,000, And So Much More

Near the end of the short piece, Ferrell suggests something she calls revolutionary: that we quit Twitter and send a poem to someone we disagree with. She thinks poetry will span the divide between us. What she seems to hope for is akin to what I felt Tony Walsh did in his poem “This is The Place” about Manchester.

At first, I took her quite literally. Yeah, I should stop wasting so much time on the internet. On Twitter, yes, but also Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and even WordPress. Maybe not Goodreads ;). After all, it makes sense, right? Every minute spent online is a minute that could be spent reading a poem or sending someone else a poem.

But then I wondered who I would send a poem to and it led me to think about the difference between Ferrell’s life and mine. She is a humanities professor on campus at a graduate university. I work at home and live a split personality existence, helping run our business and writing creatively.

Maybe you, like me, work from home. Maybe you don’t and you have a vast network of coworkers. If you work from home, you don’t see too many people on a regular basis. But you might correspond and communicate regularly using the internet and even social media.  If you have coworkers, but unlike Ferrell, don’t work in a field that automatically values poetry or novels or painting or photography (whatever your art, there are commonalities between them all), you still might find the need to communicate online with others who do.

So why would you quit your “Twitter feed”? Or WordPress or Facebook or whatever forum you most value? I sure don’t want to be that isolated. I want to talk to people about what I care about.

And as for sending a poem to someone: Since the postal service is a declining service, most people will choose email to send a poem. Last time I checked, emails were part of our online world.

NEVERTHELESS,

It is true that reading well-written poetry and prose adds a richness to our lives that we can’t get from Twitter. And it doesn’t provoke anxiety in the same way either. (Don’t tell me social media doesn’t give you anxiety, at least some of the time).

###

Perry took his first dose of deworming medicine a week ago. He takes the 2nd dose in another week. In the meantime, he’s shut up in a bedroom with a view of birds, lizards, snakes, and bunnies. Although I still don’t pet him, if I reach out my “paw” to him, he reciprocates by touching it with his own paw. Then he gets excited and stretches and rolls on his back.

Look at how his paw pads have changed in the past two months!

 It’s been so hot in Arizona (up to 120.8 one day) that he must be so relieved to be inside in the air conditioning and with a clean water bowl.

Writing was set aside for the past week so that I could focus on all the work I needed to do for Perry on top of my regular work. But I hope to be #amwriting this week! What do you plan to do for yourself this week?

28 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Essay, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Reading, social media, Writing