Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some Other Day


There is always some other day
when the dream resting at the apex of our thoughts
finally comes to pass,
when the crippled leg grows straight,
when the woman at our subway stop
scribbles her number on a napkin
and says “yes” to the imagined date.

There is always a thick blanket of snow
after hellish summer heat
has withered longstanding desires,
its white purity unfurled like a principality’s wing.
There is always a single leaf in spring,
frail and fresh and green,
after winter has torn flesh from bone
with fingers made of sleet.

There is always some other day,
a circadian square on the calendar page
where by inches or degrees
slim hope no longer evades our reach:
the blind man once again sees.
But even if these dreams recede
and a lottery ticket doesn’t pay,
do not drive my crippled mind
from the hope of some other day.

Painting of Job: Einar Hakonarson, Creative Commons 3.0

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Illusion



The world in its finery,
a kingdom of meadows
for the flowers of Solomon—

mere illusion for the wider field
where eternity tills the soil
and soul wraps its roots around God.

Friday, October 31, 2008

It Is A Fearful Thing


The evening sky is beautiful but bleak,
purple and red bruises, brutal,
blossoming on the horizon
in fatal, flayed moments of twilight.

There is nothing you or I can do
but wear heavy clothes of sackcloth and wool,
wrapping our palsied souls
in the penance of dry, broken leaves.

It is a fearful thing, I think,
to watch death painted wide
on a canvas stretched by faceless pagans
between bare branches of a failing year.

There is redemption, to be sure,
but its implausible story is written on the pages
of a calendar not yet printed.
In the spring, it will hang on a nail driven hard.


(At the risk of being redundant, Chapter and Verse will remain open even though I created Publexicon. By the way, everyone’s link on Chapter and Verse is intact and will remain so, plus I have spread a little “link juice love” by linking everyone on Publexicon as well. If I have forgotten anyone, or if the links don’t work, don’t be shy or hesitate to tell me about it.)
Pic: Copyright, William Hammett, 2007

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Pebble of Bone


There’s a man walking down the road
of gravel and regret.
Old and tired,
he’s bone-weary from miles
of hoping that his next footfall
will see a blue lake
or an early grave—
either would be okay
if he could just stop measuring time
with steps that began in Eden.

I look from my cabin window
and he is gone.
Until I look more carefully, that is,
and hear the gravel shuffled and ground
with a cadence of glaciers shaving creation down.
Like everyone before him,
he has become the road.
I go outside and pick up
a pebble of bone, a reminder
that we, too, carry the sins of the world.

Pic: Creative Commons 2.5
PS. Please note that Chapter and Verse is still open for business :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shauna Roberts in BARREN WORLDS anthology


I recently got a copy of Barren Worlds, published by Hadley Rille Books, which features a short story, "Elessa the Restless," by Shauna Roberts. It is a great sci-fi piece in a collection that centers on exactly what the title says: barren worlds. As the editors note, however, "barren" can mean many things. In this intriguing collection, the introduction explains that the "stories span a range of styles from dark to quirky to those of survival and escape." The common thread is that "the storytellers . . . take you into a universe devoid of something and in some cases, to places you'd best avoid." That's enough to pull me in right there.


Every story in the collection is great, and I am very impressed with Shauna's work! She's a real prose stylist. I strongly encourage those of you who like good writing and sci-fi in particular to hop over to Shauna Roberts' For Love of Words to check out her blog and a link to Barren Worlds or go straight to Amazon or Hadley Rille Books. The publisher also has many other great anthologies for sale.


Shauna always has interesting posts and does great interviews with major authors!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pico de Arte


Thanks to Spacedlaw (Nathalie) for the Pico de Arte Award. I am honored! Thank you, Nathalie!

The criteria is as follows:

To inspire others with their creative energy and talents. This can be through writing, artwork, design, interesting material or contribution to the bigger community. It is a special honour to receive it.


I am passing this along to:


1) Lane's Write
2) Eudaemonia
3) An Innocent A-Blog
4) Murmurs
5) Writing in Faith

The badge is also in the sidebar for those who wish to grab it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Black Satin Dress


Sorry for so few posts lately. Mea culpa. So in case anyone is still reading ... -:)


Black Satin Dress


Cosmic background radiation
crackles from the phonograph
as you dance

in a long satin dress, black,
holding scotch neat,
inviting me with your hips

to feel the irresistible pull
of dark matter
collapsing into a kiss.

A diamond needle spirals
inward to the final groove.
The only sound is a hiss.

Photo: Public Domain

Friday, May 23, 2008

If Freud Had Been An Astronomer


Okay, yes, I'm busy, but I saw this pic and decided to post a quickie. Nature has some interesting shapes, no? The shot depicts "the pillars of creation" in the Eagle Nebula. Well, I suppose creation has something to do with it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Stone Canyons




The grimace flies by,
the trickle of pedestrians
tucked into overcoats and suspicion.

There is no conversation on the underground bullet,
Fifth Avenue a stampede of meaningless strut.
Taxis weave, leaving yellow ribbons on the street.

Hookers pose in Times Square like mannequins.
There is no life in the museum.
Freeze frame: everything is silent.

Picture: copyright, William Hammett, 2007

Friday, May 2, 2008

Review: Not Just For Vegetarians


I first learned of Not Just For Vegetarians by Geraldine Hartman when I visited her blog, Veggies, Crafts, and Tails . I’m a mediocre cook (and not a vegetarian), but I found Geraldine’s recipes quite delicious and easy to follow. There’s something for everyone in this book: muffins, scones, and breads; snacks and appetizers; soups; salads, dressings, and spreads; main dishes; family favorites; and desserts.

In the book's opening pages, Geraldine explains in clear prose why she became a vegetarian, noting ethical reasons among others. She also accurately explains how a vegetarian diet is more digestible by the human body and that a majority of world populations is vegetarian by choice. By choice, you ask! Yes, for when a vegetarian diet is practiced correctly, it does indeed provide the complete proteins that the body needs to be healthy and energetic.

The recipes are also written in an easy to understand manner, so there’s no need to be frightened if you’ve had past experiences with cookbooks that looked more like algebra than food preparation. It’s user friendly in the extreme. There’s also a glossary of terms that helps one instantly learn about the food substitutions that are a part of a vegetarian diet. Additional information is also provided so that vegans can adopt the recipes to their eating habits.

My favorite recipe since I first learned of the book has been “The Best Scalloped Potatoes.” Other favorites are “Easier-Than-Pie Veggie Pie,” “Red, White, and Black Chili,” “Veggie Pot Pie,” “Zucchini and Cheddar Fettuccini,” “Rice and Red Lentil Salad,” “Winter Harvest Soup,” and “Easy Corn Chowder.”

The above are only a few of the great choices available in Geraldine’s book. There is quite literally a recipe for any season, mood, or frame of mind, plus the recipes are good if you eat alone or are throwing a dinner party for ten.

Most importantly, these recipes are, as the title suggests, not just for vegetarians. They offer a variety of options for people who simply want to try something different or move away slightly from the “red meat mentality” that most everyone grew up with. Whatever your reason for trying out the recipes from Not Just For Vegetarians, you can be sure of two things: 1) you’ll be eating healthier, and 2) you’ll be enjoying good food that won’t leave you hungry when you get up from the table.

You may puchase the book at Amazon: Not Just For Vegetarians.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bike Ride Around America




John Hall is a friend and former classmate of my older brother. I say “older” because, although there are only two of us, I am six years younger and much better looking. But I digress. John’s wife Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer and, thankfully, she is doing very well after a year of treatment. At 62, John is riding 12,000 miles around the perimeter of America to raise awareness about cancer and funds for cancer research. You may make donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation or the Providence Alaska Medical Center (John is an ER physician who lives in Anchorage) or find out more about John, his odyssey, and his wife by simply visiting his blog at Bike Ride Around America . If you simply want to wish him well or offer your prayers and support, I know he would appreciate a comment on his blog. Although he has a small support team traveling with him, it’s a long journey and will take 120 days. It is John's hope that if he can save just one life by encouraging someone to get a mammogram, the ride will have been worth it. There are links to his site in the sidebar (Support Cancer Research) and link list number two. The first pic is John biking across the Mississippi River, heading into Louisiana. The second is a pic of John. Thanks all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Single Impression: Color




red hair on shoulders
the sun speaks copper accents
I study abroad

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hot Green Apocalypse


The road is serpentine,
ten thousand years old
and disappearing into the thicket
of ultimate repose.

It is a bad omen.
Stone and fire
have glinted machinery
from the void,

steam and atoms
spiraling into the hands
of a smith
girding the planet in steel.

The beast has consumed
ribbons of rust,
lapping clouds
of red miasma.

The holy man and poet
die in their caves
while the earth purges itself
in hot green apocalypse.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sounding


First, a little housekeeping. Both Shauna and Bernita are running PAYING IT FORWARD contests at Shauna Roberts' For Love of Words and An Innocent A-Blog respectively. (Charles, I missed yours because I did my taxes at the last minute--mea culpa.)


The following poem was one of my first posts when I started blogging last November. I'm bringing it back now that the blog is up and running, so to speak, and because today is going to be very busy. And oldie and, hopefully, a goody.


Outside, the moon floats through a leafless tree,
riding peaceably the road well taken
through Orion with his boots in the snow.
A mongrel underneath the tree
paws the ground at carp in the stream,
settles composedly in a mongrel’s dream.
Within, the woman turns, unawakened,
leaving the trace of a dream in a sigh,
and draws the patchwork tighter over shoulders and hips
weighted in the furnace hiss that serves as lullaby.
There is no reading to be done,
no study of poets, of Coleridge
contemplating frost at midnight.
Rather, the plumb for stillness wrapped in ice,
the maple sprig glazed by the stream,
is the night itself, dark and frozen,
hanging from the silver throne of Betelgeuse
by a rarefied thread that issues
the sounding of a sleeping world:
life, like the north gate,
is held fast in winter’s skin,
and yet there is the fire of a cold star,
sap-filled roots, a moon riding the sky.
There is a pulse in the stream, somewhere.
There is the trace of a dream in a sigh.

(First published in American Poets & Poetry, 1999)

picture: copyright, William Hammett, 2007.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Afternoon Prayer


I toss a handful of words on the meadow
while pondering seeds and the hidden nature of things.

A stone rolls away from the tomb
as I resume sweeping the porch.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Amazon to Discontinue POD Titles Not Printed by BookSurge?

Angela Hoy, editor of Writers Weekly newsletter, alerted me this past week of news pertaining to the publishing practices of Amazon, which recently bought BookSurge. I know many of you publish with major houses, some with independent presses, and some with POD outfits. As a ghostwriter, I keep abreast of the POD industry since some of my clients are businessmen or women, such as motivational speakers or business owners, who wish to self-publish or use POD to publish "in-house" because they have their own marketing platforms. I thought the following was interesting and so am passing it along.

Since acquiring BookSurge, Amazon intends to gradually disable the "buy" buttons on its website for all POD books not published through BookSurge. (Why Amazon would want to do this is a bit strange since BookSurge, like Publish America, is erratic in the quality of its product and receives a lot of complaints at Writer Beware and other online watchdog groups ... which is not to say that all of their clients are dissatisfied.)

It's also a strange marketing move on the part of Amazon since, while the average POD title only sells 148 copies, Amazon nevertheless sells tens of thousands of POD titles every year.

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has received numerous complaints from both POD companies and individuals. The Attorney General's office believes that such a move by Amazon may well constitute "monopolistic practices" and has referred the issue to its anti-trust division. Links to the Writers Weekly article and the response by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General are provided below. The Writers Weekly article has internal links for anyone who wishes to register a complaint with Amazon.

It's true that most POD titles are poorly written and edited, but not all. But that misses the point. People should have an outlet for their work, and let's face it: while there are other online sellers, such as B&N, Borders, Books-a-Million and a hundred others, people gravitate to Amazon for books like shoppers gravitate to Wal-Mart for laundry baskets and kitchen utensils. With traditional publishing being very hard to break into, I also think it's a bit Orwellian to start limiting the ideas that can reach mass circulation.

Writers Weekly article: Writers Weekly: Let BookSurge Print Your Books--or Else

The Attorney General's Response:
Washington State Office of the Attorney General

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Dead Are Forever Writing Letters


The dead are forever writing letters,
their bodies mulching into leaves.

Maple parchment tells me a young bride
was killed by the undertaker’s son.

Snow and dirt and time
archive the words we choose in death.

Free verse or rhyme,
we are all published in the end.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cycles


naked
at last I stand on the savannah

the sun carries away
the final day

the flat acacia supports twilight

all others have gone
into the long night
of a thousand years

over at last
the millennia

crickets smooth the grass
with song

the last word
or the first

I raise my arms
to become
the mountain in some new creation

Eve steps lightly from behind

this time she will not charm
or listen to the twisted vine

Friday, April 4, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Friday


One can't have too many reminders that this is Autism Awareness Month, Please check out the blogs at snoopmurph and also Mother of Shrek to find really great info on autism, as well as blogs authored by parents with the most loving of hearts. I know there are many more such parents--if I have forgotten you, please forgive me.
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As many of you know, Dave Kuzminski at P&E is being sued by a publisher and two agents because he had the audacity to do what he has done best for approximately a decade: tell people who's honest and who's not. He doesn't deserve this and is considered one of the straight shooters in the writing community. He is asking for help with his legal defense. You can click on a DONATE button at Preditors and Editors. Even A-list agents don't always act professionally, and Dave's source of info is invaluable.
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I started posting some flash fiction a month or two ago, and at the time I supplied a link to the work of David B. McCoy, who, like myself, is a fan of quirky short fiction. Since 1978 he ran Spare Change Press. David emailed me recently after a Google search turned up his link on my blog and told me about his other work. Anyone interested in some good short fiction can find more about David B. McCoy at David B. McCoy and Origami Condom Issues and finally The Book of Scars.
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Stream of Consciousness Friday

today we’re playing for a sunbeam grilled cheese maker … friday’s quiz: how many people know what etaoin shrdlu means? … true story: i once almost killed a groundskeeper the only time i played golf … some guy dove behind his truck just in time … an errant ball … speaking of errant balls … better not go there … hello would you like to go to the errant ball tonight … go red sox … i’m not an actor but I play one on tv … mark twain said opera isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds … like most libras i don’t believe in astrology … i once almost had the fillings slapped out of my teeth many many years ago when I decided to see if the produce section really was the place where singles met … “how can you tell if they’re ripe?” says i … i wonder if she knew how to make errant melon balls … let’s have some animation again … enough with the pixar stuff already … well, the nurse says I have to go to the day room for my meds … so long until next post … good night errant good night john boy

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Clowns




[For latest prompt at One Single Impression]

They are the guardians of color,
the avatars of belly flop
and gargantuan guffaw.

With rainbow frizz
above flat feet slapping laughs,
they embrace the innocence of all mistakes

as they pratfall into dreams,
greasepaint smiling like a loon
or a drunken Christmas aunt.

Only after years have made mockery of play
do we turn away from the bulbous nose,
cringing from the funhouse echo of facade.

Pic: public domain

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tracks

Rusted railroad tracks
buckle beneath the water tower.

The hard yellow sun
pulls dandelions from a rotting grade.

Breath is shallow, short,
arteries twisted away from ties that bind.

I stutter-step through gravel,
recalling your journey away from the heart.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Question of Balance


Archibald Wix was a retired banker, meek and mild, who lived his days in ease … if ease can be defined as listening to the incessant nagging of his obsessive-compulsive wife, Clara. Archibald usually turned his hearing aid down in the evening while reading the paper. It was a sacrosanct hour, when silence and the crisp pages of the Herald, spread wide, blocked out whining that had begun thirty-seven years earlier.

“Your shirts are hanging crookedly on the hangers again!” Clara shouted from the kitchen.

Archibald turned to the Science and Technology page and read that mini-black holes, no bigger than the wart on a stepmother’s jaw, drifted through space like vagabonds looking for handouts. Well, in theory, at least.

“Archibald, you left your cup in the sink again!” Clara said with vocal cords raw from years of finding fault with the cosmos.

An hour passed, and Archibald turned his hearing aid up to see if any natural disaster other than Clara required his attention. He lived near the San Andreas Fault, and sometimes the earth did a quick mambo, rattling the china cabinet. He heard a melodious voice singing in the kitchen, a voice with the clarity of crystal and the timbre of a medieval damsel singing ballads to her suitor. It was a situation that called for investigation.

“Hello, Archie,” said a comely woman in her early forties. “What would you like for dinner?”

To Archibald’s left, a small black dot was floating through the kitchen, boring into the wall as a small, tinny voice called from the dot’s infinite density: “What are you up to, Archibald? Who is that woman in our kitchen? Get me out of here!”

Archibald wasn’t a scientist, but he knew that black holes not only gobbled up matter but also coughed up molecules on occasion, like cosmological burps. A mini black hole had apparently wandered through his kitchen, making both a deposit and a withdrawal. So long Clara, hello Elizabeth, the name of Archibald’s good fortune.

“How did you get here?” the banker inquired.

“I’m not quite sure,” Elizabeth said. “I remember being somewhere very small, like a genie’s bottle or a magic lamp. But I know you’re Archie, and now I’m here in the kitchen. So what would you like for dinner?”

“You,” replied Archibald Wix, not feeling the need to provide any astronomical explanations to a woman just moments away from the delights of courtly love.

As a banker, Archibald had always kept his books balanced. The universe had given him far more than a gold watch in return.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Eternity in the Key of C


I tap the yellowed piano key with a bony index finger,
a C that stirs the marble-top bureau,

family pictures, wine glasses in the oak cabinet.
A French tapestry captures the one-note melody,

an orphan tone already dying.
I examine the faded oriental rug,

a thousand silent notes woven into fractals,
indigo snowflakes from an opium dream.

I hit the C again, the wire an old man’s vocal cord.
It is a feeble “yes” in a quiet room,

a museum where even the sunrise has been archived.
I glance at my body in the armchair

by the open window, summer breeze blowing
a white lace shroud over my face.

A heart attack, I think.
Yes.

There is a polite knock at the door.
Floorboards creak as I shuffle through the parlor.

Eternity, waiting on the porch,
has given me time enough to say goodbye.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

After Reading Haiku


I sit in the sunroom,
looking at the yard I have given back to nature.
It is time for wildflowers and weeds
to grow tangled and tall
in the orgiastic bolt that is spring.

But there are words—

old pages yellow
the story of small kisses
roads in deep green woods


that I cannot shave from my tongue
with razored thought grown dull.
They grow reckless, wild,
like ivy that will stitch the trellis
until it falls over the windowsill,
circling my bed on a night
when I dream of love.

I must bolt from middle age
without manicure, without edging,
a sprint to the last breath
that will see disorder weave foolishness
and disregard into ruts of routine.
The papers on my desk must not be left too neat.
My clothes must be found on the floor,
shoes tossed in the hallway
in a manner that will puzzle progeny.

Beyond the sunroom,
blades of grass are hatching conspiracy.
The ox-eyed daisy has poached the loam
where roses and lilies held sway.
Decades hence,
people will say my final years
were roads in deep green woods.

Picture: public domain

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Big Apple Pics

Well, it's time for something different, so I thought I'd post a few pics from a trip to NYC in Jan., '07.


This shot of the Empire State Bldg. was taken from the top of 30 Rockefeller Center, home of NBC Studios and SNL, Conan, Nightly News, MSNBC, etc. I waited until the last possible minute to take this picture so I could get a "good" sky and have just a few rays of light hitting the right side of the building. It's a melancholy shot, and it gives me the feeling, given the state of planet earth, that this could be what the last sunset might look like.

I know--everyone has seen the Statue of Liberty, but take a look at the size of the people standing at the foot of the base. They are miniscule. Liberty Gal is big! I was overwhelmed.



I felt sorry for this gull sitting on pilings in New York Harbor. It seemed to be a very philosophical bird, looking at vast distances and considering its place in the world or perhaps contemplating where it must go next. Or maybe it was just taking a rest.



That's a reflection of my son in a puddle of water. He was 18, and I think it reflects who he was (and is) given that no one really has any sense of clarity at that age. At 19, going on 20, he is still an upside down, fuzzy character who thinks he knows far more than he does. He's majoring in classical guitar.



Monday, March 17, 2008

Day and Night


The silver rings pass through each other,
the magician pulling them east and west
with a double hitch of his hands
to show they are locked fast, like lovers.

And then they are divorced,
circles no longer sharing the quotidian mystery
of day and night sliding into each other
as they trace infinity along the equator.

The magician returns home
after the sun has fallen over the rim.
He says nothing to his wife as they eat
on opposite sides of the round kitchen table.

Picture: Public Domain

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Original Sin of Biff Penfield


[This story has been revised based on previous comments.]


Biff Penfield had been warned by his fraternity brothers not to go out with Nebula, the vixen from Chi Delta Chi, a sorority rumored to be aligned with the Dark Arts. Hazing was one thing, but Nebula was considered to be bad mojo. Some of the boys she dated disappeared or flunked out of school.

Biff was game for anything, however. He’d heard that Nebula had erotic charms that were known only to certain Chinese concubines. How could he pass up the invitation to go swimming at her father’s deserted mansion on Long Island?

Nebula slowly descended the steps in the shallow end, violet eyes sparkling beneath long, jet-black hair. The tattoo of a snake writhed from her navel up to her left shoulder, circled her neck, and fell upon her right breast in serpentine fashion.

Biff, wearing nothing but the designer clothes given him by Mother Nature, treaded water in the deep end and watched Nebula swim toward him using—what else?—a sultry breast stroke that was slow and mesmerizing.

Biff felt intense waves of ecstasy as his mysterious host physically joined him and spun her body a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. His legs circled Nebula's torso, and his hands clutched her thighs as she hung upside down in the blue water, her body straight as an arrow aimed at the underworld. And then he was unconscious, Nebula disappearing into a black maelstrom beneath the diving board.

“Well, what happened?” asked Biff’s frat buddies as they stood around his hospital bed. “What did she do?”

“I’m not sure,” Biff replied, “but if I don’t get the tattoo of this snake lasered off my chest and shoulders, my parents are gonna kill me.”

Biff lived an ordinary life in the years ahead, but on certain moonless nights when the tide was high, he found himself scratching his chest and shoulders. Temptation not rebuffed has a way of leaving an indelible mark, even if unseen …

… not unlike the taste of a forbidden apple lingering on the palate of mankind, which must forever swim in a pool of regret while searching for a lifeguard on a tall wooden platform.

Painting: Lilith, by John Collier, 1892, public domain

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Scarecrows at Sunset


Bare fingers of trees are splayed
against a crimson and purple sunset.

Scarecrows in flannel shirts fall sideways by degrees
as an evening chill rolls across fallow fields,

hope nothing more than a straw dream
of next year’s seed.

Button-eyed heads loll in the breeze,
empty sleeves flailing to wave off winter.

The growing season has rolled away
on an axis of black hearts, black eyes

eclipsing salvation and sun
on an updraft from a distant sea.

Fat devils sleep in the rookery
while scarecrows hang on crosses

before commending their spirits
to a burial in unforgiving snow.

Picture: public domain

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Five-Dollar Apocalypse


Meriwether Stout entered the fortuneteller’s small studio on a lark, for he didn’t believe in crystal balls, astrology, or tarot. He was a bookkeeper, a clerk who juggled numbers the way a circus clown juggles balls. He’d never dropped a nine or a six—not any number—for he was a model of circumspection and rationality. But when Madame Zoya touched his arm, he felt a jolt of electricity jump through his veins and then burrow into the very marrow of his forty-year-old bachelor bones. For a brief moment, he felt his skull had been rendered into a photographic negative.

“The years will be unkind,” Madame Zoya told him. “That’ll be five bucks, mister.”

On the street again, Meriwether was flustered and checked his pocket watch to find an anchor in the temporal, green-ledger universe. The timepiece had mysteriously gained three hours. The five-billion-year-old sun was lower in the sky, and the shadows of pedestrians were unnaturally long and ominous. Nearly everyone looked long in the tooth.

He walked on and glanced at his pocket watch again. The minute hand was spinning wildly, like a third base coach waving a runner home. Building facades cracked, and ivy tore great fissures in the sidewalk like tendrils of sentient, malevolent rope. Cars grew rusty, sagging on reddish-brown axles that had not spun into gear for eons.

Meriwether was nonplussed, which is to say his brain was experiencing a minus for the first time in his Newtonian world of rational, balanced numbers. He looked up to see the glacier, a mile high, scraping its way down Broadway.

He didn't snap out of a trance or awaken from a nightmare. The years had indeed been unkind.

Picture: public domain.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Essence of a Poem


It should be a woman
opening her eyes
after long hours of sleep,

the silhouette of a taut muscle
after it has hammered
a threepenny nail into yellow pine.

It should be the sound
of rain rushing through a gutter spout
to fertilize the ground with sky,

the music heard by a deaf girl
at her first symphony
as half notes fall from the staff.

Picture: Public Domain

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Once More by the Lake


[A tanka sequence first published in 1999 in Lynx, a journal of Japanese verse forms.]

shades of green
a twig tells of your step
behind me
this sound once more by the lake
and your petals unfolding

a whirl of skirt
follows your proposition
through the screen door
scented spring twilight
rolls down the nape of your neck

knowledge of change
fish break the silver surface
with liquid desire
sparrows call as stars rise
through quietly tossed hair

moonlight on water
a blossom floats on the white breast
to become a nipple
my head rests in your lap
crickets speak of this moment

a single kiss
lips have no words
for their mating
ripe love under stars
speaks only in tongues

two branches
the silent lake uncaring
if they are tangled
wet glory of spring
that water cannot hide nakedness

(Picture: public domain)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lily Fourshanks, Searching for God


Now just where was that rascal? Lily had searched under the bed, behind the refrigerator, on top of the armoire, and inside the closet behind the winter coats. No God. Not even an angel or an Old Testament patriarch. She found only gum wrappers, a picture of Elvis, and several empty pill bottles. She knew the lithium prescription was important, but she was so busy this morning, what with looking for God and all.

And then it hit her. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?

Lily ran to the storage closet under the stairs where the board games were stored. God knew everything and would be a natural at Trivial Pursuit. She pulled the box from the stack of Parker Brothers pleasure and proceeded to carefully lift the cardboard top from the game, expecting a billowy cloud of white wisdom to rise up like a genie.

“Rats,” she said when no deity appeared. “He certainly is elusive.”

Lily believed that an almighty being should be more accessible. If she needed her washing machine fixed, all she had to do was pick up the phone and call Sears, which had radio-dispatched trucks. If one wanted to communicate with God, therefore, one used a communications device. She had been so stupid!

“Hello?” she said into the black cordless receiver. “Are you there, God? This is Lily Fourshanks of 317 Henway Drive, Minetonka, Idaho.”

Lily heard the dial tone, not the voice of I Am Who Am.

“That just takes the cake,” Lily said, slamming down the phone. “Whatever God is, he’s no Sears repairman.”

Lily was on the verge of existential despair and lay down on the rug in her dining room. God was lying right next to her.

Lily picked up the shiny copper penny, on which was inscribed, “In God We Trust.”

“He looks a lot like Abe Lincoln,” she mumbled, “but at least he has a beard.”

Lily dropped God into the pocket of her apron before happily washing dishes and mopping the floors.

Lily ardently believed she had found the Almighty. For the rest of the day, nothing indicated otherwise. The neurotransmitters in her brain had ceased a feverish mambo in favor of a peaceful waltz.

It is said that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s leave. The same apparently goes for pennies.

Picture: public domain

Bolts of Silk: A Great Poetry Blog

I recently discovered Juliet M. Wilson's Bolts of Silk, a site devoted to collecting poetry from many different poets on one blog. In a bit a shameless self-promotion, I am honored to announce that Juliet has featured my poem, An Abundance of Tides, on her blog. Two more poems by moi will be featured on Bolts of Silk in the months ahead. Juliet herself is a very accomplished poet, whose work may be seen at Crafty Green Poet.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Vignette Noir

You walked through the steam in a tight black dress
and boarded the Pullman car.

A shrill European whistle
gave the locomotive its raison d’etre.

Outside the station,
a streetlamp made slanting lines of rain visible

as far as the covered newsstand.
Tightening my trench coat, I haled a cab,

opening the back door
as the fin-like curb-splash

washed over the gray sidewalk.
At the apartment, I drank cheap scotch

and listened to Mahler’s last symphony
before sleeping on the mattress

where we had both created
the sag.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Dirt Road


Wendell Hodge was an affable man who worked for the Hancock County Department of Roads for twenty-seven years. He raked gravel into level ribbons of highway before the paving crew came along with its steam-driven dreadnoughts to lay asphalt over his careful Zen-like strokes.

He retired at age sixty-six in the piney woods of Mississippi, taking long walks every morning so his feet could stay in touch with the idea of roads—of traveling, of seeing the world, of arriving. He had always regarded himself as a bit of a travel agent.

Every day for five years, his meandering took him down a dirt path to a log cabin, smoke curling up from the chimney and hanging in the air like a corkscrew miasma. Wendell finally knocked on the door one day, and a few times he had the gumption to peek inside, where he saw coffee on the stove, water running in the sink. Once he even heard a soft, lilting tune coming from a music box on the kitchen table, but no one was ever home. He started taking a different route on his constitutionals. The cabin scared him.

Wendell decided to revisit the dirt path five years later, but it was gone. Fifty-year-old pines and hundred-year-old oaks rose from the ground where the path had been. A robin engaged in soliloquy sat on the telephone wire above Wendell’s head.

“The world is full of windows,” the robin declared, interrupting his deep thoughts. “They open and close.”

“Do you mean the cabin wasn’t real?” Wendell asked the philosophical bird.

“The only thing that’s real is the road you’re standing on,” the robin replied. “Reality is always shifting, rearranging, evolving, but the journey never stops.”

Wendell realized that the robin was nothing less than feathered wisdom. Men were born to walk down roads, nothing more. He of all people should have known.

He walked on, but the lilting tune from the music box remained in his mind for the rest of his life.

Pic: public domain

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Margins

It’s where the words that matter fall.
Cursive enigmas and incomplete thoughts
simply will not wait,
will not be consigned to a slush pile
of unsolicited ideas.
They demand hearing.
Phone numbers lacking names,
a list of conjunctions,
and notations about doctors’ appointments
are wedged above the perfect response
to your wife as to why you do indeed “get it.”

A story idea—
a mad Russian anarchist falls in love
with a nun whose mother practices Wicca—
lurks beneath your latest poem:
I was waiting
for your hair
and your shadow
to fall
across my chest
like a sunset
at the base
of Kilimanjaro
.

And then there are the lost moments,
the random phrases that were apparently your life
last year or the year before,
all rendered in blue and black ink
pressed into a yellowed page:
lily of the valley
Jane S.
sunflower thankfulness
meat loaf
paraffin wax
Seinfeld tonight
say nothing

panthers

You take out a library book by Kafka.
That night, insomnia turns the pages
until you see there’s always hope
scribbled near a paragraph indentation.
You close the book and sleep,
dreaming that life is a long thin column
waiting to be filled.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mandelbaum the Astrologer


[Another bit of quirky flash fiction—284 words.]

At forty-two, Izzy Mandelbaum spent his days pouring over zodiacal charts, correlating his findings with eclipses and conjunctions and planetary alignments. He sometimes gazed into tea leaves for extra inspiration. He even wore a tall, conical hat emblazoned with moons and stars—with Pisces, Capricorn, Libra—plus his lucky two-dollar bill and various political campaign buttons. He could afford to endlessly gaze into the heavens after inheriting a family fortune built on the manufacture of feather dusters. It was on a warm April evening when Izzy gazed at his detailed star maps and leaned back in his chair, eyes wide with disbelief. He was horrified to learn that Jupiter’s position relative to Orion meant that he had died five years earlier.

“If I am dead, I shall go forth from my apartment and walk the streets until I gradually dissolve into the ether of the cosmos,” he mumbled. “The universe will surely correct its mistake.”

On his second day of aimless wandering, Izzy entered the Museum of Natural History and stared at the beautiful young woman reflecting on the Cretaceous period. She was a vision of soft skin and dark, shiny hair more lustrous than the Pleiades. Izzy approached her and made small talk. He was powerless as he stood in the gravitational field of this newly discovered star.

That night, Izzy and his star woman danced and laughed and drank wine. He kissed her hair and lips as she nibbled Izzy’s ear and stroked his cheek. Somewhere in the solar system, Jupiter edged away from Orion by a few degrees, not daring to spoil the resurrection of Izzy Mandelbaum. Sometimes, celestial mechanics has a heart.

Picture: Public Doman

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Getting tagged was easier in school

Well, my time was bound to come sooner or later. If I pass this on to you (lest blog gods hurl thunderbolts), think kind thoughts! This is going to be tough since so many of you are sick or recovering from colds and flu. Also, many friends have either just gotten tagged, don't accept html comments, are running contests, taking time off to write, need their latest post to stay on top for a while, are on blog sabbatical, or have been tagged with this one already. Maybe the blog gods will have to exact vengeance on me after all. (If you're busy, I won't tell :) The following comes from Lana, the dreamer who recently escaped the law during her REM cycles.

THE RULES:

1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

Weird things about myself. I will stop at seven to fulfill the requirements.

1) My mother really did drop me on my head as a baby. It's true. I had nightmares for years.
2) I danced on top of a bar at a Greek restaurant when I was 18.
3) Carley Simon once called to wish me Happy Birthday.
4) I make up words that don't exist but should, such as "merfliction" or "aquaphonia."
5) I used to do a full-body impression of bacon frying.
6) I routinely dressed as Ponce de Leon for Halloween.
7) I refuse to stop believing in Santa. Some things are sacred.

Given those people who fit into the categories at the top, this is the best I can do: Charles and Marja and Sandy and Christine and Scott

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Hallway

Dust motes swim in a ray of light,
a shaft angled perfectly
from the high window above the pegs
in the hallway where coats once gathered in winter,
wool and buttons finding solace
while Orion ruled the sky.

But time has moved on.
Years, in fact.
It is July,
and this space of cedar and oak,
of legs conquering steps
on the staircase two,
maybe three at a time,
is empty, quiet.
Even the ghosts of my children have left.

I will sweep away the dust
and memories, but not now,
not while I sit in a straight-back chair
waiting for the sun to fall,
for the ray of light
to touch my forehead
in this chapel of grace.
It is good to be here,
for loneliness is precursor
to the perfection of God.

One day, Gabriel’s wing,
merciful and wide,
will sweep me away with the sun.
There is a time and purpose
for everything under heaven.
For now, I sit.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Flash Fiction: Da Vinci and Father Abraham


The following is very quirky flash fiction modeled on stories by David B. McCoy, who, like myself, is a fan of the late Richard Brautigan. You can sample McCoy's work at Buffalo Time.
Da Vinci in My Kitchen

Da Vinci is aggravating. I have seafood gumbo on the stove, and all he can do is waft his wrinkled hand over the large pot and make notes, writing backwards in order to record the smells being analyzed by his Florentine nose.

“I need information about everything,” he says, scratching his beard. “Everything.”

“Did you ever finish your helicopter?” I ask him.

“A what?”

I point to my son’s Coast Guard Search and Rescue model on the shelf.

Da Vinci’s eyes open wide. “A helicopter! Yes!”

He runs out the kitchen, the weathered screen door banging shut several times like weak applause. A few minutes later, I see him on the steps, peering through the screen.

“How much garlic do you use?” he inquires.

“Doesn’t really help when making helicopters,” I reply.

“Smart ass,” he says. And then he’s gone.


Not Bad Work When You Can Get It

Our story thus far: the universe has collapsed from gravity and dark matter floating in the interstellar void, only to explode again in another Big Bang.

Fast forward fourteen billion years. Lester Hoop sits in his yard, burning leaves as sunset brushes crimson, orange, and purple across the horizon. His neighbor, Miss Ruby from down the road, saunters up and sits next to Lester on a log. They share cheap whiskey from Miss Ruby’s brown paper bag.

“I’m tired of it all,” Lester moans. “Bang and crunch, bang and crunch, and it always ends up with us sitting right here burning leaves. The universe is nothing but a yo-yo.”

“Not much to do about it,” Miss Ruby says.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Lester proclaims.

He gets the chainsaw from his barn and starts cutting down trees on his five acres of crimson heaven, mowing ‘em down like a rabid logger.

The next time around, Miss Ruby sits by Lester, who is once again ready to cut down all the trees in his yo-yo universe.

“Wait a minute,” says Miss Ruby. “If we have to keep goin’ on like this, why don’t we go inside and make love instead?”

Lester rubs the stubble on his chin and puts down the chainsaw. “Damn good idea,” he says. “Should have thought of it billions of years ago.”

In the halls of eternity, Lester and Ruby sire a nation of children, like Father Abraham. Not bad work when you can get it.

Pic: public domain

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For a Simple Kiss

The stars which fell into the lake
last November and froze
are still there, my winter love.

Come, lean forward over the ice,
and for a simple kiss
I will show you a new way
to look at the sky.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

One-Hit Literary Wonders


Just as in music, literature is replete with one-hit wonders, true cases of “that’s all she wrote.” Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak are only a few examples.

My favorite is Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, a 1915 book-length collection of extremely short, interweaving prose poems allegedly spoken by 244 deceased inhabitants of the fictitious town of Spoon River. (I'm cheating a bit since Masters wrote other books, none of which achieved critical acclaim like Spoon River.) Hat makers, artists, judges, bankers, doctors, gamblers--people from all walks of life--tell stories of love, tragedy, and everyday existence while constantly alluding to the other characters. A larger story emerges by the end, so that Spoon River Anthology reads like a novel. Secrets are revealed—sexual indiscretions, crimes, addictions, murders—about this seemingly ordinary town. It is almost a genre unto itself. The characters have wonderful names like Yee Bow, Hod Putt, Ida Frickey, Griffy the Cooper, Cooney Potter, Knowlt Hoeheimer, Constance Hately, and Dippold the Optician.

Do you have a favorite one-hit literary wonder? If so, share the wealth, whether it’s well-known or off the beaten path, like Spoon River Anthology.

Picture: Public Domain

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Upon Hearing a Train Whistle Late at Night



The whistle pulls me from sleep,
the falling Doppler pitch an awful wail,
like the final breath of one
who sees an apocalyptic moon.

It is a terrible thing when a stream runs dry,
when the radial pulse begins to hear
the calling of dust
to which it must return.

The demon train is gone,
having pulled its dying freight
into a country with no name.
Converging rails are erased

by the shadow of parallax pines
with no tangible roots.
It is time to let sleep have sway,
to let night run its course with dreams,

powerful engines in their own right,
before the sun spins its child into wakefulness,
before the highest mountain catches fire from dawn.
My mind will glide through kingdoms of light

that forever rise above the whistle of the grave,
where death is only temptation,
an ethereal siren song
for a mind that chooses not to wake.

Picture: Public Domain

Monday, February 11, 2008

Looking at My Bookcase

I cannot double-click my mouse
to access the contents.
Characters and plots,
pressed hard and coated with dust,
call in muffled voices
like patients at the state asylum.
“We’re alive,” they say.
“Why does no one visit us?”
Only Emily Dickinson remains silent
as she lies in her coffin yet again,
suspecting she has already died.

I sit quietly,
as in the last pew of a church
where the faithful have left for the parish fair,
for Ferris wheels and whirl-a-gigs.
The only search engine is my index finger.
There is easy access to the cosmos before me,
the sum of all creation having been cast forth
by leaden slug-type
for older times, older brains.
My spine is embossed with decades
like the epic tales huddled before me.

“It is good to be here, Lord,” I say,
echoing Peter’s rapture.
Moses and Elijah say nothing.
Mystery and awe are fit companions
for a Saturday afternoon transfigured
by the textured feel of a page.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Stephen King's Haven Foundation


Yesterday I posted a few thoughts on random acts of kindness (on my Newsdive blog). I learened last month that Stephen King has started The Haven Foundation, which can also be accessed through King’s website.

The Haven Foundation exists to help writers who have been impacted by illness, accident, or natural disaster (and King makes special note of the plight of those in the area impacted by Katrina). As many of us in the area know, New Orleans had a thriving population of freelance writers and artists, some of whom never recovered or were forced to relocate.

If writers qualify, The Haven Foundation offers grants up to $25,000 per year. King has always been a man who lent his name to fostering literacy and the arts (such as libraries in Maine). I applaud him for trying to help freelance artists who struggle to make ends meet. He said words to the effect that he will never have trouble putting food on the table, but he worries about the books of others.

The Haven Foundation certainly qualifies as an act of kindness in my book. It is part of a larger awareness that education in the U.S. is not just about math, science, and test scores. Rather, it is also about fostering poetry, music, painting, and all the arts. Until this awareness becomes more widespread, schools will continue to reinforce cultural poverty.

Picture: Public Domain

Friday, February 8, 2008

Literary Success ... in About Fifty Years


Shesawriter got me to thinking with her post on the meaning of success, and there wasn’t room to post all of the following as a response. So to wax philosophical …

I thought of all the famous authors who received little or no acclaim during their own lives, or who enjoyed initial success only to be swallowed by literary oblivion.

Herman Melville wrote many successful books before Moby-Dick, but his epic story of whaling—of obsession and evil—sold less than 3,000 copies in his lifetime and earned him $556.37. He then wrote Pierre, a dismal failure. His final manuscript, Isle of the Cross, was rejected by his publisher. For the last nineteen years of his life, Melville, now considered to have penned the great American novel, worked as a customs inspector in New York City, virtually unknown.

Emily Dickinson, the reclusive Belle of Amherst, published approximately a dozen poems while alive (the number varies depending on which scholar you consult). She wrote almost 1,800 during her lifetime. She died in 1886, and the first collection of her poems was published in 1890, though the volume is not considered a reliable text because it was heavily edited. The first collection to be regarded as a definitive edition of Dickinson’s work wasn’t published until 1955.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Victorian Jesuit poet who died in 1889 (and a personal favorite of mine), was a tortured soul, burning most of his early poems upon entering the novitiate. He took up writing again in later years but published few poems while alive, considering his efforts too egotistical in light of his religious vocation. His work was rediscovered by English poet laureate Robert Bridges, who published a limited Hopkins collection in 1918. Other editions (with additional poems) were published in 1930 and 1948.

The list goes on. Success, of course, doesn't just mean becoming a literary giant. It may mean reaching only one reader (an idea endorsed by C. S. Lewis). A single reading of a book may change someone's life forever, and the ripple effects spread out from there. Still, it gives me pause when I think about books buried in desk drawers—a dogeared manuscript, a floppy disk, a POD title—that will be discovered and read by an agent or editor in the distant future and given the audience it deserves. Indeed, what manuscripts, typed by our ancestors on an old Underwood, are, even now, sitting in dusty trunks in our attics?

I think success is "reaching an audience." How that happens is apparently out of our hands in many cases.

Picture of Emily Dickinson: Public Domain

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Poet at Minimum Wage

I meet with a close inner circle of words,
a caucus of syllables.
We decide that the poet must embrace moments
that never gain promotion.
He must always work for minimum wage.

There is the phone call
informing him that someone has died.
He remembers a fly
buzzing grief through the wire.
He recalls rain sliding down the window,
the leafless tree in the side yard.

He makes love
and awakens several hours later,
remembering that the umbrella
is still open in the downstairs hall.
He thinks of a day years before
when he passed an old woman on a porch,
and her bones seemed to be made of papier-mache.

Moments of no consequence.
Once, a breeze stirred branches
that scratched the house and woke the cat.
There was a night when a cloud split in two
just as it passed the moon.

There is no greater moment
than when the second hand on a watch
waits for the next tick.
That is when the spider contemplates
spinning its web.
That is when the poet,
his eye trained on a falcon
hanging at apogee,
envisions his next poem.

(from 2004)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Do You Use Dreams for Inspiration in Your Writing?


I’ve been planning this post for a while, but since Lane brought up the subject of dreams, I thought “no time like the present.” (The pic is Jacob's dream in the OT of angels climbing a ladder to heaven.)

Do you tap into your dreams to find inspiration at the keyboard? Many writers, classic and contemporary, have used dreams to help them discover a plot or to simply find inspiration. Robert Louis Stevenson claimed he received the seminal idea for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a dream. Amy Tan allegedly takes a manuscript to bed when she can’t find the right ending. Maya Angelou feels that her work is going well when she has a recurring dream of climbing stairs in an unfinished building. Stephen King, William Styron, and others also claim to find inspiration or ideas in their dreams. Many writers keep dream journals.

One kind of dream I’ve been fascinated with for years is the “lucid dream,” which goes back as far as Tibetan Dream Yoga but which has gained popularity in modern times thanks to Stephen LaBerge’s research at Stanford University’s Lucidity Institute. (See link in sidebar as well.) Essentially, lucid dreams are those in which one becomes aware that one is dreaming, with blurry images replaced by crystal clear 3D images indistinguishable from waking reality. Once lucid, one can, with a little practice, interact consciously with the dreamscape. It can be used for personal exploration or just plain fun—Disneyworld without the pricey ticket.

Regardless of what type of dreams we have, what if we could talk to our characters or incubate plots while we sleep? The idea is tantalizing.

Many great writers, past and present, have said they are mere vehicles for what it is that needs to be said. I sometimes wonder what I’m supposed to write as opposed to what I want to write. I wonder if the answer is in a dream.

Picture: Public Domain

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Don't Bother with the Novel--Just Write the Last Paragraph


What follows is “time on my hands,” although I do indeed know a writer who types “final paragraphs” in the hopes of discovering a plot thread he can, as they say in the military, reverse engineer. He obviously takes the writing exercise more seriously than I.

Passion Foamwave looked wistfully as the schooner, oddly named Wednesday is Hump Day, left the harbor, disappearing over the clich├ęd, sun-speckled horizon. She would miss Stubble McBone, the high-tech pirate with the aluminum leg, but she would carry on. Stubble still held her heart—literally—since he was actually a cardiovascular surgeon from the Mayo Clinic and performed heart transplants. Passion’s artificial heart now beat faster, although that was owing to the fact that Stubble had been in a hurry to make off with yet another stolen organ (and Passion’s bling), not because of eternal love. But how could she have gotten mixed up with such a dishonest doc in the first place? She’d met him at the cardio convention in the San Francisco Marriott ballroom—the cocktail weenies were to die for. She knew it was love at first bite since Stubble had some vampyric qualities, although the scoundrel claimed he was just measuring her electrolytes in case she ever needed surgery. Plus she’d always had a thing for men with aluminum legs since they reminded her of the metal bats in her fast-pitch softball league in Schenectady. And then there had been the nights of wild monkey-love in Pittsburgh (Stubble had a pet capuchin instead of a parrot) and an uncomfortable romp on his stainless steel lab table, followed by his request that she count backwards from one hundred. When she reached sixteen, the impatient Stubble knocked her out with a mallet. “Damn the chloroform!” he bellowed. And here she was, her heart having been ripped off (well not exactly—he’d at least bothered to suture her ample double D chest) by the handsome man with a Louisville Slugger where his right patella should have been. Such is love. She went to the Castaway Diner for Scorned Heroines, feeling hungry from copious blood loss. When the waitress asked if she wanted mayo on her BLT, she, like Jesus, wept. She subsequently married an insurance salesman and got her own TV show—Passion’s Gift Baskets—on cable access.

Picture: Public Domain

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Martian Zombies with Heaving Bosoms and Dynamite: A Question of Genre


Writtenwyrdd and Bernita have both alluded to something that has perhaps baffled many of us lately: splitting hairs when it comes to labeling genres. Written has a great post about fantasy vs. urban fantasy vs. Christian fantasy, etc. In response, Bernita raises a great question: how does one know who to query when these categories start to become so arbitrary?

I first saw the term “urban fantasy” last year and thought it might have something to do with magical realism, such as setting a story with elements of fantasy in a real environment. I thought of W.P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, the basis for A Field of Dreams. Well, no, because Shoeless Joe doesn’t have much to do with an urban setting.

I have always thought the lines between thriller and suspense were intentionally blurred by publishers in order to get a marketing edge for various titles. And then there was Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story last year, which was supposedly King’s first foray into romance. The dust jacket even had an endorsement by Nicholas Sparks. I read the book and thought it was a typical King story (apart from endless repetition and a questionable editing job--SK switched editors for this one). Yes, it had a romantic slant but was by no means a romance IMHO. In fact, it bore a very strong resemblance to his Bag of Bones, based just as much on romance as Lisey’s Story, but which was clearly marketed as horror. Lisey's Story seemed a shameless attempt at cross-marketing by manipulating its genre designation. I guess a publisher can do that when the author gets a sixteen million dollar advance.

As several have commented on other blogs, genre comes down to an agent’s definition. Unfortunately, agent definitions don’t always tally. The more I think of it, however, the title of this blog just might stand a chance in the slush pile. It might grab someone’s attention for that all-important thirty-second first impression! I hereby copyright the title and will take everyone out on my yacht when I make my first ten million bucks. I mean, it can’t miss, right?

Picture: public domain.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hemingway, Grisham, and Karma


I’ve never read a John Grisham novel. Hollywood always gets his work to the silver screen before I can get around to buying one of his books. Grisham, a laidback, amiable fellow, was interviewed on WNET by Charlie Rose last night. He said writing wasn’t really a job for him, claiming that it came too easily. He admitted that he didn’t like outlining very much and wasn’t fond of the editorial stage, but all in all, he counted himself a lucky man. He said he produced one novel a year and that each one took him only six months to write, leaving him plenty of time to spend around the house.

Even more interesting was his admission that he isn’t very interested in character development, in getting inside the head of his creations. He claimed that he was far more interested in what was going to happen in the next scene. The gist of his comments was that he wanted to write enjoyable books that would keep people’s minds engaged for a two or three days.

I suppose that some might feel he should pay more attention to character development—indeed, might even regard his statement as heresy. Whatever he does seems to work, however. By analogy, I don’t think Dan Brown’s novels would be such page turners if he delved into characterization. His forte is pacing--IMHO.

I must admit that I felt a little envious of this charming, unaffected man as he spoke of the ease with which he practices his craft. After a little introspection, however, I decided I’d have better karma by saying, “Good for you, John.”

Hemingway said that writing was simply a matter of getting the words right. It’s a simple definition that works for me. Not bad work when you can get it!
Picture of Papa: Public Domain

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Literary Fortune


Many years ago I submitted a horror novel to about fifty agents. Ten requested the manuscript. Five loved the style but not the story. Five loved the story but not the style. I yearned to be a mad scientist who could combine one agent from each group into someone who would say, “Great style, great story!” I realized, however, that it was just a matter of taste. No hard feelings at all. At least they all responded.

We all have our own stories about submissions, and one needs a sense of humor. I laugh when I think back to a novel I wrote, very quirky. I sent it to several agents whose listings or websites said, “Send me a story that breaks the mold, a story that creates a new genre! Be creative! Find a narrative voice that's never been used!” The responses I received all said, “This is great writing, but it’s too different. Study the market.” Go figure.

Agents are human, and most have treated me well. They have a tough job, not to mention slush piles that would make anyone weep. I respect them, and most reputable agents are tireless advocates for their clients. But some could ratchet down their pontifications a bit in light of the following.

I get cheesed when reputable agents demand professionalism and then send rejection letters with multiple (and glaring) grammatical errors. I get equally cheesed when they fail to respond to requested manuscripts. There’s simply no excuse for this. One top-of-the-heap agent (I'm talking big) once told me she had indeed received my manuscript but was behind in her reading, had jury duty, needed root canal work, had the flu, yadda, yadda, yadda. She finally stopped responding altogether after a year and a half … and then wrote a book on how to snag the perfect agent. Seems like she found some time somewhere, huh?

I don’t like wasting postage.

Picture: Public Domain

Monday, January 28, 2008

Zen in the Art of Writing


If there’s a better book on the craft than Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury, I don’t know what it is. You don’t have to be a Bradbury fan to savor this fantastic book on how to jangle your muse out of lethargy. Most writers I know, regardless of what genre they work in, have read this book numerous times. It energizes one to the point that simply sitting at the keyboard gets one excited, and hence the title.

And while we’re on the subject of Bradbury, I think people are mistaken when they regard him as only a sci-fi writer. His novels Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes are lyrical and beautifully written. They’re not “space tales”; rather, they delve into issues of fear, courage, love, the human heart, and childhood.

Not many people realize how versatile Bradbury has been during his career. He did much screenwriting for television and wrote the screenplay for the original Hollywood production of Moby Dick. He started writing it while in a taxi in London, one of the great stories in Zen in the Art of Writing.

Picture: Public Domain