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An excerpt from Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published

by Windy Lynn Harris (guest blogger)

 

Writing short stories and personal essays is a marketable skill in publishing. These types of short pieces are submitted and accepted every week. And the great news about this kind of writing: Writers don’t need a literary agent to participate in the process. We can independently market our prose and land bylines that make us proud. It just takes sending our work to the right editor, at the right time, and in the right way.

In 2009, I founded the Market Coaching for Creative Writers program to help writers get their short stories and personal essays published in magazines. In that program, I teach writers how to create targeted cover letters, professionally format their manuscripts, and find hundreds of perfect markets to match their voice. They study magazine guidelines and submission etiquette, learn the difference between copyright and the rights available to sell, and set up a system for keeping their submissions organized. By the end of a Market Coaching session, writers are not only able to submit their work to viable magazine editors with confidence; they’re able to repeat the process for every piece of short writing they produce in the future.

Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays is going to teach you all of those things, too and more. This book is a complete conversation on the topic of publishing short works.

 

THE SHORT STORY

A short story is a short work of fiction. Many of the same craft techniques used to write novels are used to write short stories, but the short story stands apart as a separate form of prose—one delivered with concise language. The use of compression and microscopic storytelling makes short stories unique. A short story isn’t a chapter from a book but a complete experience delivered in a small package.

Besides length, short stories are unique because the action usually revolves around a single dramatic event. It is a glimpse of a character’s life—perhaps one year or even one hour. Every moment in the story is a dance between action and reaction that is related to a single dramatic event. These stories begin as close to the main conflict as possible, giving an unmistakable immediacy to the prose.

Short stories can be enjoyed in one sitting, but that time frame varies from story to story. Short stories can be as simple as six words or run eighty pages long. Most short stories published today fall somewhere between one-thousand and seven-thousand words, but longer stories and shorter stories can still find homes. There is no hard rule to follow with word count.

The terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” refer to the very shortest of stories. Microfiction is a story that tops out at one hundred words. Flash fiction is anything between one-hundred to one-thousand words. Anything above one-thousand words (and up to twenty-thousand words) is simply called a short story.

Well-written short stories are highly desirable pieces of prose. There are plenty of markets to place this type of work. You’ll find short stories in literary magazines (The Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, etc.), genre magazines (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, etc.) children’s magazines (Cricket, Highlights, Ladybug, etc.), and commercial magazines (The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, etc.). Some are even sold as digital shorts on Amazon or other digital retailers.

I mention the caveat “well-written short stories” because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the pages of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.

Part of the reason is the long-respected history of great storytellers and their iconic short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I could go on for quite some time before running out of names, but the point I’m making is that short-story writers still aspire to equal the masters. This category’s authors and publishers will always hear the echo of notable writers in the distance. So today, editors search for contemporary yet barrel-aged stories that have been given enough careful crafting to mellow into greatness.

PERSONAL ESSAYS

Personal essays are appealing first-person stories often found in magazines and newspapers. They’re true stories told by people willing to share their intimate thoughts and feelings about life. They are incredibly popular to read, with plenty of submission opportunities for writers.

These stories are nonfiction, but they stand apart from other nonfiction pieces because of their purposeful use of storytelling. We’re not talking about self-help, how-to, or informational articles, which all require the writer to slip into an invisible narrator’s voice. Essays bloom well beyond that informational tone. Well-written essays harness cadence, individuality, a narrative arc, and creativity.

Studying the craft of writing is essential to creating publishable personal essays. Writing the truth is important, but great storytelling holds equal weight. Personal essays have rising tension, compelling characters, and mini-plotlines that push the reader toward a conclusion or a realization. A personal essay isn’t simply an anecdote but an in-depth exploration of a subject.

Essay categories include travel, parenting, grief, humor, satire, nostalgia, divorce, friendship, personal growth, and much more. Essays can cover a trip with your mother-in-law to Las Vegas or a midlife moment in the mirror. They can explore the injustice of racism or the beautiful healing nature of butterflies. They can be filled with hope, anger, or angst. Essays have that delicious inclusion factor that grabs readers by the heart and makes them feel something.

Personal essays whose style  strongly emphasizes literary elements (symbolism, setting, style, tone, theme, characterization, etc.) find homes in literary magazines like Tin House, The Sun, The Paris Review, etc. Reported essays—an essay that contains a personal narrative with some degree of reporting and statistical analysis—are found in news sources and lifestyle magazines like The Washington Post, Aeon, The Guardian, etc. All other essays, including well-written prose with any degree of literary emphasis, are found in nearly every other print and online publication.

Many places that publish personal essays will state clearly that they are looking for creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is an industry term that includes literary essays along with other creative nonfiction, including travel essays, parenting essays, and pieces of inspired reportage, among other things. Outlets looking to acquire creative nonfiction are advertising, essentially, that they publish personal essays on a variety of topics that contain a large amount of scene development.

The key to well-written creative nonfiction is in the use of scenes to convey the story. Creative nonfiction essays use less narrative and more scene-by-scene storytelling—a technique that pushes the sensory experience for readers. When readers feel the action of an essay, they can make inferences, judgments, and emotional connections. They can experience the events with personal investment. Readers can then examine their own experiences in comparison.

Creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing area of nonfiction, with opportunities for writers in magazines and newspapers across the country. The genre allows for experimentation in a way that appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Not every magazine is looking specifically for creative nonfiction, but if that’s the direction your work takes you, know that you will have many opportunities for publication.

Author Susan Pohlman has written creative-nonfiction essays for a variety of print and online outlets. She likens these essays to fiction, in terms of technique: “Creative nonfiction is an umbrella term. It is an easily accessible genre encompassing a multitude of forms such as the personal essay, the profile essay, participatory journalism, memoir, features, travel essays, biography, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. In short, creative nonfiction is the art of applying storytelling techniques to nonfiction prose. They are true stories that read like fiction.”

That’s right—they read like fiction. Don’t let that confuse you. They feel like fiction because they employ such a big dose of scene development, but creative-nonfiction essays are all accurate depictions of people’s lives. They are true stories crafted to elicit an emotional response.

Want to learn more? Grab a copy of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, available in bookstores everywhere.

My bio: Windy Lynn Harris is the author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (from Writer’s Digest Books) and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a mentoring program that teaches writers how to get their short work published in magazines. She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is also a developmental editor-for-hire, specializing in short stories and personal essays. She teaches the craft of writing in person and online. More about Windy at her website: www.windylynnharris.com.

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Note from Luanne: I posted a review of Windy’s book here: Write Short First. Please direct your comments to Windy as I am entertaining Mom this week!

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Filed under Book promotion, Books, Essay, Fiction, Flash Nonfiction, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, Novel, Reading, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

Guest Blogger: Anneli Purchase and Her Latest Book “Marlie”

My name is Marlie Mitchell. That’s me on the cover of Anneli’s book.


Anneli’s friend Jan Brown painted my portrait. She made my hair a bit wilder than it really is, but I do have trouble keeping it tamed. Jan certainly got my eyes right. One shows the hurt I’ve felt, and the other shows my determination to pick myself up and be strong.

You see, I had great plans to teach young children and build a happy life with a husband and maybe a couple of kids of my own. Hah! That dream went down the toilet almost before I got started. Everything in my life seemed to go wrong.

I was the perfect candidate for an escape to a remote teaching post in the Queen Charlotte Islands, now called Haida Gwaii, off the coast of northern British Columbia.

Many of my students lived in poor homes in Haida village, but the children became very dear to me.

I hadn’t expected the islands to be so beautiful. Neither had I expected the lifestyle to be quite so different. In real life, it wasn’t all as romantic or perfect as I’d hoped.

People on the islands help each other even if they don’t know who you are. Unfortunately, I found out that some will just as readily hurt an unsuspecting person. In my first months on the islands, I ran into both kinds. One unfortunate bad choice I made would hang over me for months, and leave me struggling.

But I had the friendship of Skylar, who taught the grade four class next to me. She took me to the beach one day. We had an amazing time, until we came back to her van. We had a frightening experience then that left our legs shaking.


Canada geese spend a lot of time on the islands. I was lucky enough to see some beautiful flocks.

I got to know the islands better when I met a commercial fisherman. He had a love of hunting that I couldn’t immediately share. Maybe he was just a bit too real for me. He was most annoying. And yet … he showed me some scenic parts of the island. He nearly got us killed, but I suppose that’s all part of island life, and I’m still here to tell about it.
He fishes some beautiful places, like near where this sailboat is anchored, but he said it can also get really rough.

Sometimes he couldn’t even see out the windshield for the rain and spray off the water. I’m not sure I’d want to be out there in bad weather. I soon found out what kind of screaming wild winds would visit the islands in the coming winter.

Juggling my problems and feelings about people I met on the islands, I began to wonder if my fresh start was going to work out for me. I had two choices: quit my job and go back to the mess my life used to be, or sort out the new mess I had gotten myself into and figure out a way to survive up here in this beautiful, godforsaken place.

Why don’t you come spend some time with me in Anneli’s book? I could use a good friend right about now. You might even meet some people you’ve met in Anneli’s other books. Remember Jim, Andrea, and Foissy? You would have met them in “The Wind Weeps” and in “Reckoning Tide.”

Come see me inside the covers of “Marlie.”

Here’s where you can find me.

Links:

For Kindle and paperback:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

For e-books other than Kindle :

Smashwords.com

Blog: https://wordsfromanneli.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/anneli33


About Anneli Purchase

Anneli loves to write and to do copy-editing for other writers. She spent six years living in the Queen Charlotte Islands. She loves nature, gardening, and photography. Animals, especially birds, are a special interest, and although they are never the main focus, they always find their way into her books in some small way. Anneli lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and two spaniels.

Marlie is her fifth novel.

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Poetry Ancestry

Last week I went to see three grande dames of literature at Arizona State University: Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, and Sandra Cisneros, hosted by Natalie Diaz. These are writers whose works I taught to college students for years, but this was the first opportunity I had to hear them talk in person. They were seated on stage in a conversation area–a couch and armchairs. What I hadn’t realized was that they are all graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which has long been considered to be the top place to earn an MFA in writing. These women all know each other–and Harjo and Cisneros were friends in grad school. I felt I was eavesdropping on their conversation with each other.

Since these women are all poets, but have published prose as well, I was fascinated to hear what they had to say. Their voices come from disenfranchised groups–Harjo is Native (Muskogee Creek), Cisneros Chicana, and Dove African American–so it’s important to listen carefully and sympathetically in order to hear things from a variety of perspectives. They were also talking about timing, and how timing was very helpful to them in achieving the level of success they have had. You can look them up if you want the deets. In fact, Dove mentioned that when she was a grad student she didn’t know the work of a lot of poets who were mentioned in her classes. She would surreptitiously write down the names so she could find them in the library and read their work. In that way, she was partially self-taught.

I’m leading up to something here.

Of all the wonderful ancedotes and tips I heard that Saturday afternoon, the one that stood out the most to me is one from Harjo. She said she teaches a course about poetry ancestry. It’s studying the genealogy of your poetry writing. You look at the poets who most influenced your own writing. Then you see who influenced them. And go back as far as you can, studying the work that turns up in your research!

I wanted to see where I could go with this, but it will take time. I’ll just start by mentioning some of my poetic influences. Keep in mind this is NOT an exhaustive list by any means.

  • Sylvia Plath: there is no doubt that I found her big mouth and aggressive imagery very liberating
  • Emily Dickinson: her spare and sometimes wry writing appeals to me, but the downside is she keeps herself out of most of her poems, and that is too convenient for me
  • A. R. Ammons: I so admire his oneness with nature and spirit and his very smart use of language
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins: his spirituality and fresh imagery speak to my heart
  • Linda Hogan: like Ammons, her oneness with nature and spirit inspires me
  • Adrienne Rich: she broke the ice at the top of the ocean she dove into in Diving into the Wreck
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay: maybe the first poem not written for children that captivated me was Millay’s “Renascence.” When I was a kid, I took an LP record out of the library and listened to her read it over and over and over and over and over again.
  • classic children’s poetry of the 20th century, as well as nursery rhymes: these are what first instilled a love for poetry

Do you notice anything about my little list? Lots of women, not too much diversity (except Hogan who is Native and Rich, a Jewish lesbian). But what else? The poems I read that first inspired my writing were written mainly before 1980 all the way back to Dickinson who was writing before and during the Civil War! Of course, I’ve read a lot of contemporary poetry over the years, but poets who first influenced me were not my contemporaries or even those just a little ahead of me. They were considered masters when I read them, except for maybe Hogan.

I’m thinking I need another list of poets whose works next influenced me–people writing after the poets listed above. That might then offer more of a platform for the “family research.”

Do you know who your first influences were for your own writing? Have the type of influences changed over time? For instance, if blogging is your main writing format, who were your first influences?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, History, Inspiration, 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).

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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?

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

If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island Would You Have Any Poetry Memorized?

In fifth grade, we had to memorize a poem and recite it to the class. I loved doing that (like that shocks you) and won second place for “A Fairy Went A-Marketing” by Rose Fyleman. I was ticked off that I didn’t get first place and told myself that it was because my poem was longer than the one recited by the girl who took first place. Hahaha. Actually, I don’t know how she did because we had to go in the hall and recite our poems privately to the teacher. This was a kindness on her part, but it would have been great to listen to all the poems.

When my kids were little I had a handful of poems I’d memorized by accident that I used to recite to them with all manner of sound effects and gestures. One of my favorites was the “Double Double Toil and Trouble” passage from MacBeth. I also loved “The Spangled Pandemonium” and “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket,” as well as a couple of e.e. cummings poems. But after fifth grade, I was neither required nor encouraged to memorize poetry. A generation or two before my time students were routinely required to do so.

In that way, they would have literature to keep them company if they were stranded on a desert island or taken as a POW. Memorization of literature is good for the mind in a way that Google can never be good for us. Here’s just one article about the subject: Why We Should Memorize.

I’ve also heard that poets who recite their own poetry at readings, rather than reading them from the page, are electrifying performers. The thought of that terrifies me. What if my mind goes blank?

AS IT SO OFTEN DOES AS OF LATE. Either my brain is suffering from an overload of iPhone, iPad, computer, and social media–or it’s starting to decay. That is why I now can be sure to complete only one poem from beginning to end without ever reading it. And it so happens that little Perry loves to listen to it ;).

THE SPANGLED PANDEMONIUM

 

by Palmer Brown*

 

The Spangled Pandemonium

Is missing from the zoo.

He bent the bars the barest bit,

And slithered glibly through.

 

He crawled across the moated wall,

He climbed the mango tree,

And when his keeper scrambled up,

He nipped him in the knee.

 

To all of you a warning

Not to wander after dark,

Or if you must, make very sure

You stay out of the park.

 

For the Spangled Pandemonium

Is missing from the zoo,

And since he nipped his keeper,

He would just as soon nip you!

I figure Perry imagines himself as the Spangled Pandemonium, wanting to nip all of us if we go after him after he breaks out of his cage and the shelter.

*I tried to look up Palmer Brown and although he wrote five books for children and apparently lived from 1920-2012 I couldn’t even find an obituary for him!

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Children's Literature, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry reading, Writing

National Poetry Month: Make a Commitment

National Poetry Month begins today! You can make a commitment to learning more poetry by deciding to read, write, or contemplate poetry every day in April.   The Academy of American Poets asks us to kick off the celebration by reading these poems about the art of poetry:

 

  Tweet me here which one you like best and why!
Desert Botanical Gardens butterfly exhibit

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Find Poems Here!

Two copies of the new issue of CopperNickel arrived in my mailbox. This beautiful journal is housed at the University of Colorado, Denver.

I have a prose poem in it about a woman getting a divorce in 1895. It is based on, among other information, two newspaper articles. The woman was my great-great-grandfather’s sister.

 

A feature of this journal that is particularly special is that they ask all contributors to recommend other books of poetry. I recommended Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s book Hour of the Ox. Her collection won the prestigious Donald Hall Prize for Poetry in 2015–a well-deserved honor. Her book seems to me to be an excavation into what was, what would have been, what could be and could have been, and what isn’t. Marci, who in the past has published a poem called “Origin / Adoption,”  is a Korean-American poet who might be inventing a family in her first book. I find that all interesting because of my sympathies for adoptees and for anybody searching for their origins.

Here is a little taste of her lines:

Counting the breaths in the dark, my fingers crept lightly

across the floor and against my father’s calloused palm,

willing his lifeline to grow long as a stream

of tea poured green and steaming and smelling of herbs.

(from “The Last Supper”)

I’ve also recently read other books of poetry I want to recommend.

Nandini Dhar’s Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations is packed with lively and vivid prose poems. I found their form to be a great choice because of the narrative energy of the book. Lots of stories in here!

The Well Speaks of its Own Poison, by Maggie Smith, follows in the path of poets like Anne Sexton who explore the dark shadows of the fairy tale world to create magical poems.

I fell in love with Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird at a Time because every poem is about teaching literature. They re-created a world for me that I once knew so well. Anybody who has ever taught English or anybody who majored in English will probably feel the same way. You have to have a little familiarity with some of the more well-known texts read in the classroom: Whitman, Thoreau, Dickinson, Williams, Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop, are a few of those mentioned. These are the opening lines of a poem that is a tribute to Bishop and her poem “One Art” (the formatting is completely off here; I can’t get WordPress to do it properly!!!):

It’s a perfect poem, I say, and though no one

In the class is over twenty-five, everybody

nods. They ‘ve all lost: the Madame

Alexander doll fallen into the toilet, silky

hair never the same, the friend who

moved away to Dallas, a brother once again

in juvie. So many schools—thirteen in

a dozen years—I lost each friend I made

till grad school.

 Notice the doll, too. That leads me back to–wait for it–Doll God ;).

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Filed under Book Award, Book Review, Books, Doll God, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Reading, Writing

Another Opportunity for a New (to me) Book

I was in California this past week, and I discovered a “little free library” in front of someone’s house when I was mailing some letters.

I’d never had the opportunity before, so I grabbed a book I was willing to give up and visited.

I donated an unread Anne Rice novel. I figured that I had had it and never read it, so it might as well be read by someone who would appreciate it. While I am fascinated by a lot of topics, vampires have never appealed to me. Maybe I’m afraid of them, not sure.

There were quite a few children’s books in this little library, but even with only a handful of adult books, I could see several that appealed to me. I picked the memoir about anxiety (I can sure use that and then I can pass it on to one of at least ten other people I know who could use reading it) by Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind.

These little libraries are such a positive affirmation of reading, sharing, education, and community spirit. The only drawback I can see is that adult books can fall into the hands of children–and, of course, there are inappropriate scenes in many of them.

I wonder what other people think about that concern . . . .

I finished the first book in the Dolls to Die For series. It was great fun, in part because Deb Baker pays such attention to setting, and that setting is Phoenix. In fact, Phoenix almost becomes a character in the story. The reader is given a lot of description of the climate and topography of Phoenix. Here she describes the aftermath of a monsoon storm: “Last night’s storm had moved toward the coast, and the arid desert heat had already begun to absorb the large quantities of fallen rain. In the next short, sunny hours, all evidence of flooding would evaporate, and the land would appear parched again.”

Because the book was first in the series (Dolled Up for Murder), I had a good time guessing which characters might become regulars in the series. The protagonist, Gretchen Birch, is young at barely thirty, but her aunt played a large role in the story, too. Nina, the aunt, is a purse dog trainer, meaning she trains tiny dogs to stay inside handbags so they can be sneaked (aka snuck) into restaurants and stores.

Another treat I finished was the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey. More, more! I became addicted, and now the whole world seems gray without it. Soon after I wrote my last post about Downton, I realized that Isobel Crawley was my absolute favorite character. I love them all, but she is the one I will miss the most.

But I am reading Monkey Mind already!

I hope your week is full of just the number of books that you have time to read. If you love books, you will know what I mean.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Books, California, Fiction, Memoir, Reading, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Finding a New Cozy Series

The gardener and I visited our local used bookstore and loaded up a box. I know, I know. I’ve said I have a shelf and a half of unread books. I have a lot of want-to-read books on my Goodreads list. I’ve promised people their books will be read in the next phase. But the gardener was out of his books to read. He reads hardcover-only historical fiction, preferably in Asian settings.  Nothing too specific hahaha. I didn’t happen to have any of those on my shelf, so off we went.

Can you imagine me waiting around in a bookstore with discounted and sale prices and twiddling my thumbs?

All of this is to say It’s Not My Fault.

I thought I’d check out mysteries and poetry. I don’t even bother to look for memoirs because our store rarely has any in stock. Maybe people don’t give up their memoir copies as quickly?

In the somewhat lame poetry section, I found a Billy Collins book, so I grabbed that. But most of the rest were obviously cast-off textbooks/the classics–and I already have those.

In mysteries I had better luck. I prefer cozies. And of cozies I most prefer theatre (those are hard to find) and cats (those are easy to find) and retail shops (antique, book, etc.). What I never thought I’d find would be dolls!

And here they were: 4 wonderful mysteries of the Dolls To Die For series by Deb Baker. The entire short series right in front of me. And guess where they take place? Phoenix! (aka home)

So I brought them home where they are right at home.

When I lined them up with the doll buggy, I was reminded of a poem in Doll God. “Vintage Doll Buggy” was originally published in The Antigonish Review, a Canadian literary journal. I wrote this poem about war and innocence, focusing on a green doll buggy I’d seen in an antique store. But I happen to have two versions of that buggy–one pink and blue; the other red and white. In the poem you will see why I used the green buggy instead of mine.

 

Vintage Doll Buggy

 

 

“Every Boy Wants a Pop Gun”

— the company’s slogan. And

not just guns, but air rifles,

clicker pistols, caps.

They specialized in the arms

industry for boys in striped Ts.

 

How this paean to fertility

flowered in that factory, it’s hard

to figure.  Pre-war, maybe 1930s.

Pressed from Ford plant

scrap metal, like the guns.

 

The inside cups like a clam shell.

Like an embrace.  A sheath.

With a satin pillow, it’s a rolling

coffin, a time capsule.

 

When the fighting began,

the government banned metal

for toys.  The war effort claimed

even the green paint.  At the factory

they pressed en bloc clips

for the M1 Garand rifle.

 

Now its wheels bow out,

the green paint

chipped and dulled.

The yellow canopy still reverses.

A calm lingers inside as when

one fingers past a peony’s petals.

 

castle promotional cover

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A Wonderful Meeting

My vacation started off with a very brief visit to the Big Apple to see my daughter perform in a new musical at a big musical theatre festival in the city. After a series of travel misfortunes, it didn’t look like the gardener and I were going to make it in time for the show, but a kind Southwest Airlines employee found us the last seats on an American flight. Our luggage went Southwest, and we went American. That was not the last of our travel woes, but we did make it to see daughter perform in a very unique and gorgeous show. Yes, she was amazing; thank you for asking ;).

At the performance, I met two very special audience members–two writers I greatly admire. Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I read Carolyn Quinn’s biography of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Mama Rose’s Turn. 

Mama Rose's Turn

My review of her book can be found here: Memoir’s Cousin. Fascinating story of a fascinating woman. Carolyn blogs about an array of fun topics at Splendiferous Everything

Carolyn has written a new book for middle-grade students about the friendship between two girls – one American, one Japanese – during World War II. I can’t wait to read it. With my interest in children’s literature, my Newbery book collection (mostly books for middle-grade to middle school students), and my interest in WWII memoirs, it ought to be something I will really love.

About a month before my review of Carolyn’s book, I had written a review of a book that has been very special to me for many years. I posted my review in Teaching the Holocaust to Children and Teens. The book is The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. Johanna, a Dutch Jewish child, lived for 2 1/2 years in the home of a non-Jewish Dutch family, hiding in a room upstairs. Johanna’s book was a Newbery Honor book, so it rests on my collection shelf.

Johanna wrote a sequel called The Journey Back, which I have also read. It really works best as a true sequel: read The Upstairs Room first.

It turned out that Carolyn and Johanna are besties, and when she found out I was coming to NYC, Carolyn arranged for the two of them to see my daughter’s show and for us to meet in person. They turned out to be so much as I had imagined them to be by their books. Carolyn is a warm and gracious woman, and Johanna is exactly the sensitive, sweet soul I had envisioned in all my readings of The Upstairs Room. How very special to meet them both and to share in such a special show experience with them.

The lighting was lousy in the tiny lobby of the 42nd street theatre where we met, so I had to really lighten the photo. Sorry it’s not better quality!

Carolyn Quinn, Johanna Reiss, and me

Just before I left for New York, I discovered that Johanna had also written an adult memoir, A Hidden Lifeso I ordered it to read when I came home. Now that I’ve finished it, I can tell you that you will want to give yourself some space after reading The Upstairs Room before opening A Hidden Life. I’m not yet prepared to write about this memoir because of its emotional impact, but I will mention that the book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is very difficult to write. Virginia Woolf is the writer who most comes to mind when one thinks of SOC. The style works very well for A Hidden Life because it forces the reader down into the emotional turmoil Johanna experiences after the death of her husband. Read the Amazon blurb to see the heart-breaking situation the story reveals.

For years, Johanna Reiss’ American husband, Jim, encouraged her to return to Holland to chronicle the two years, seven months, and one day she had spent hiding from the Nazis in rural Usselo, Holland. In 1969, she finally made the trip.

Accompanied by Jim and their two young children, Reiss intended to spend seven weeks researching the book that would eventually become The Upstairs Room, her Newbery Honor–winning account of her time hiding in the attic of a farmhouse in which for a time a contingent of Nazi soldiers was billeted.

But unknown to the millions of people who went on to read her beloved classic, behind the dark and painful story of the book was a still darker tale: Reiss’ husband returned to America early and committed suicide at age thirty-seven, leaving no note.

For Reiss, an ongoing reckoning with universal tragedy becomes particular: she is forced to reckon, too, with Jim’s death—and explain it to her children. Subtle and disturbing, the book is a powerful consideration of memory, violence, and loss, told in a stunning and sparse narrative style.

Johanna Reiss is the author of the classic young adult title The Upstairs Room, which Elie Wiesel praised in The New York Times Book Review as an “admirable account . . . as important in every respect as the one bequeathed to us by Anne Frank.” She is the winner of the Newbery Honor, the Jewish Book Council Children’s Book Award, and the Buxtehuder Bulle. She lives in New York City.

Read more about Johanna on her website.

What a wonderful meeting. How blessed I was to meet these two women.

 

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