Sunday, December 30, 2012

Say Cheese!

Reading something recently, the piece stated the author was from Belarus. Something in my gut said Slavic (the woman's sir name possibly), but I could no more picture or remember a country called Be-lar-us. My last formal geography lesson was 1967 when Russia was the United Soviet Socialist Republic, and all those little countries were clumped together in a big pink blob on the map.
My memory on a good day is like Swiss cheese. I sit on the aged block of yellowing, curdled milk and contemplate the holes. In comparison, my engineer husband has a perfectly symmetrical mind, filled with boxes, stacked for easy sorting. Like an aging Alice, I jump into one of the holes and ask my spouse, "Where's Belarus?"
Of course he answers immediately, "It's part of Russia," correctly pronouncing the name (byel e roos). In his mind he sees the shape of Belarus and which countries it borders.
"How do you know that?" I demand, standing in the shallow, smelly hallow, wishing I had some crackers.
"I look at maps."
I continue my quiz, wanting to know the last time he saw Belarus on a map. I have the small satisfaction he can't quote a date and time.
Memory is a wonder to those of us who operate daily without one. Sitting and chewing the cheese, I realize there's a reason for the haves and the have-nots. My world functions on imagination while the memory people of the world rely on their neat boxes. Life would be dull for those poor spherically-challenged slobs, if they didn't have us cheese heads mixing up the symmetry with concentric ideas and circular fiction.
So while my  husband opens his boxes with care, I will continue to rip mine open, leaving a trail of torn paper and ribbon, wearing the bows in my hair to cover the holes.
Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Present

I just finished a book my daughter-in-law gave me for my birthday called The Family Fang, written by Kevin Wilson.  An intriguing read, I recommend it as a stocking stuffer, especially if your gift-getter likes wacky, thought provoking humor.
The story revolves around two grown children whose artistic parents' love for the avant-garde has shaped their lives for good and otherwise. Raised as child A and child B, props and pawns in their parents disturbing performance art, they leave the nest running, in search of normal lives. Flashbacks reveal a childhood of family outings in crowded malls, a favorite with the Fang parents, where staged performances elicit the worst of human nature from unsuspecting passersby and create chaos--the only true "art." The children feel sad (and a kinship) for the unwitting audience that is video taped and used in the elder Fangs' abject art to procure grants and fellowships to produce more and wilder performances. Chaos dogs the adult children, as poor life choices ultimately bring them back home to face their art and their fears.
The author does a great job suspending the reader's disbelief. I found myself laughing out loud as the parents torture their children with embarrassment for art's sake. Wilson masterfully pokes fun at all the arts through the lives of The Family Fang.

The link below is performance art at its BEST--a Holiday Gift to you. Peace.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Preparations

The space heater whirs at my feet. A red cinnamon-apple candle smells delicious. The artificial tree, just decorated yesterday, feels fresh. Old scared, scratched ornaments, inherited hand-me-downs, crocheted Santas and wreaths, children’s art projects, bread dough Clauses and gingerbread men—dates penned on their backs, adorn our sentimental corner of Christmas.

I’m late this year. Hauling the decorations down slowly from the attic, one plastic tub at a time, I’ve been searching for my Christmas Spirit. “Joy-filled,” we are told, yet the season seems lacking amid school shootings and church statues smashed. My friend’s mother died, reminding me of my own sweet mother’s passing. Thinking of friends sick in the hospital or nursing homes, I’ve been fighting the urge to stay in bed.

This year our children and grands are circling the tree to celebrate after the New Year. This has left more time for preparations, yet it seemed I was caught in an invisible tangle of tinsel, drawn up like cuffs around my wrists. In my youth I had it all under control, scheduled—marching orders written and performed to the tap of the little drummer in my head.

This past weekend, in lethargic desperation I decided to accomplish ONE TASK—mail a box to the relatives up North. It took two days, but this accomplished, the Holiday cuffs felt looser. Yesterday, I awoke and pulled the covers over my head, thinking—only a week away and no cards have been sent. Guilt crawled under the covers and tugged at the tinsel. Remembering my earlier ONE TASK premise, I got up, grabbed the first card on the stack, wrote ONE line, and signed my name. At 5:30 am on my way to the gym, I mailed my first holiday card. I shook the tinsel to the ground and decorated the tree in the afternoon.

Today I’m enjoying the stockings hung on the mantle and the musical snow globe sparkling in the morning sun, but there’s one more tub that must be procured from the dusty attic. A spot has been cleared, ready for the crèche, prepared for the Baby.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


It's cold. The sun is shining outside, but the humid Louisiana air chills my fingers and neck. Damp-cold, like a curse word.

The trees on the far bank of my river shiver their reflection in the brown water as it trembles along. The silver-dollar sized leaves of the pear tree chatter to the ground from the slow breath of the North wind.

My old terrier licks her arthritic paws. Blue eyes beseeching, I give her a doggy ibuprofen. It's time to scavenge the closet for the space heater before we both turn into ice cubes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Living Word

Happy Hollidays Y'all.

Jonah 2: 1-10 paraphrased
I remember praying to the Lord my God from the belly of my selFISHness, saying,

 “I called to the Lord out of my distress,
   and he answered me;
out of the belly of the refrigerator I cried,
   and you heard my voice.
You cast me into the back,
   into the mass of leftovers,
   and the food surrounded me;
all the syrup and salad
   covered over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
   from your sight;
how shall I look again
   upon your holy temple?’
The Tupperware closed over me;
   the gravy surrounded me;
spaghetti was wrapped around my head
   at the bottom of the bowl.
I went down to the crisper
   whose drawer closed upon me forever;
yet you brought my life up from the Pit,
   O Lord my God.
As my life was ebbing away,
   I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
   into your holy temple.
Those who worship vain idols
   forsake their true loyalty.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
   will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
   Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” 

Psalm 55:22 paraphrased

Cast your crap upon the Lord,
for he will take it and fertilize the most amazing fruits in your life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Les Bon Temps Rouler

There’s a party at the river this morning. Looking out my window, you might not see it. The cool November air swirls a mist above the warm sienna water, and an eerie morning glow dawns through the silence.
I’ve been remembering my family and friends, saying prayers for loved ones, living and dead. The holiday season with its television worldview sometimes spills onto my life, gravy smeared across the red and green pressed tablecloth. But my heart drums a back-beat of blessings today.  I begin to sway to the melody of memories and laughter. A few tears mix it up, as the sax wails its mournful notes. Gratitude catches the upbeat, and my soul fills with harmony.
There’s no need for annoying conversation at this party. My ten-year-old housecoat is the perfect outfit. No one cares about my bed-hair or chipped nails, witty comments, or if spinach dip is lodged between my teeth. What a great party. Thank you, Lord. You really know how to throw ‘em.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


She went to court today, shackled at her ankles and wrists.  2 ½ years she sat, waiting for justice, refusing to plead out -- 30 months, 913 days, 2 birthdays, sleeping on bunks in a dorm with 29 other women, lights on day and night, toilets and showers in view of the deputies, no ac in the summer, one fan, and little heat in the winter, unable to hug her kids. Yes, it's jail, but where is the speedy trial guaranteed by the constitution?

Mug shots flash across the television. The D.A's charges announced, no sensation in the rebuttal--found guilty by a jury of local news.

Bail is revoked. Family can't afford a lawyer? No problem, by law everyone must be provided legal counsel. Assigned to one of twelve public defenders, who handles 500 other clients, "a deal" is worked out with the prosecution. "Plead guilty to a lesser charge, and get out sooner." Keep it out of court -- less work, less money spent, looks good on paper, move on to another case. But WAIT, what if she's innocent? "Plead out. It's in your best interest," repeated over and over for years, as she sits, her life on hold.

What's the cure for a broken system not accountable to taxpayers? Certainly not a society driven by fear. "Mercy, Lord," it yells. "They're in jail. They must be guilty," It chants over and over before plunging headlong into a rerun of Law and Order.

She shuffles from the van with 4 others dressed in orange, INMATE stamped across their backs.  Chains clank with each step, as they drag on the ground between the ankle bracelets. Back from court, she is one of the fortunate. Time, patience, and a frustrated judge has garnered a temporary release to her ailing mother's supervision.

A court date is set in 4 months, but this is subject to change. Unprepared because of time restraints or budget cuts, counsel on either side can beg the courts forgiveness and postpone the hearing again and again. Ironically, a simple clerical error, a stroke of the computer key, has been known to send a person back to jail on a technicality. Due process?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Name is Chris and I'm A Writer

Ahhh, Blogspot, I have not forsaken thee. Forgive my transgression. Life has attempted to choke my creativity. My priorities were askew, but fear not, I have not forgotten thee. I have come to make amends. My soul has been revived by the Bayou Writers' Group 9th Annual Bridge to Publication.

This past weekend, BWG hosted six excellent presenters for a full day of fun and networking.
  • We were inspired by the poetry of author Stella Nesonovich who warmed our hearts and walked us through the streets of N.O. 
  • Poet and story teller Mona Lisa Saloy  gifted us with her stories and singing, as we pulled up a chair and sat with her family.
  • Novelist and BWG past president, Jess Ferguson  is still educating, encouraging and inspiring us with "the power of a made up mind."
  • Humorous editor and author Linda Yezak explained the need for a professional editor.
  • Agent Brooks Sherman , listened to our pitches when he wasn't answering questions concerning what New York wants. 
  • Saturday's finale and my favorite, mystery writer C. Hope Clark  encouraged us to join contests and be proud to say "I'm a writer." 
I walked away from this conference with a renewed commitment to myself and my writing. In the next week I will set long and short term goals and revisit them regularly. I plan to enter multiple contests, being persistent and methodical. I will continue to write what I know and research what I don't. Educating myself about technology, I plan to increase my electronic presence. I've made up my mind. How about you?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Wed. Oct. 17, 2012. I always start my morning writing with the date. It keeps me grounded. My mind tends to move like a breeze from one updraft to the next. Wouldn’t that be fun, Wispy Chris floating on the wind, moving not by a clock that pushes me from one have-to to the next?
Time: a manufactured force of human design. Like wind you can’t see it, but it moves. The minutes do roll by; you can count them if you’re anal, but it’s a man-made device, a tool of control. I live in fear of losing track, being late. What would life be without that little torture device?
I sit in the mornings (if I’m fortunate) and read my daily devotional, write my prayers, listen to the birdsong, and write some pages of thoughts. It’s a natural ordering of my mind not governed by a mechanical device that is mathematically correct. Math and I struggle. Numbers are transposed, formulas disseminate in a mind unable to memorize.
Memory: the mental ability to retain strings of information. Wispy Chris floats over this definition. She sees the words, hears the sound, then a bright light and her mind moves to an alternate universe, one that doesn’t think in linear fashion. The phone rings – crap, what time is it? The world calls. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  
Hyperbola: the set of points in a plane whose distances to two fixed points in the plane have a constant difference; a curve consisting of two distinct and similar branches.... yada, yada, yada. Have you ever seen one of those wind whirligigs that twists in a circle with a breeze? The equation for a hyperbola: x2 /a2 – y2 /a2  = my mind

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Memoir

Working Girl
Eighteen, invincible, and preparing to graduate from high school, I was sure the world was out there, waiting for me. It was 1972. The part time job I held for the past three years felt like a strait jacket. Working at the local county hospital since age fifteen, I had been trained as a ward clerk to process admits and discharges, moving from floor to floor pushing paper and a time clock. I was a glorified gofer, with more responsibility than most high school students wanted. At thirty hours a week—3-9 shift, five days per week, rotating weekends, I couldn’t participate in clubs or attend most sporting events, extracurricular activities normal and fun for someone my age. My pay, commensurate with an adult, pushed me beyond my immature peers and mentally tethered me to the work world. My plan was to get out on my own as soon as possible. Why? I’m not sure, but the world was waiting.

School was a drag. I had taken college prep courses because my folks held high hopes I would attend college. Running with a working crowd, four more years of school sounded like a death sentence. Spoiled and independent, life equated to an apartment. Steeped in the 60’s lore of freedom and love, I was eager for both. I was ready to start the glamorous life of an adult, better known as a rut, so I started looking for full time employment.

The hospital posted several job opportunities opened for employee bidding. The position I qualified for, a surgery technician, required no education only on-the-job training. I was certain it was my calling to be gowned in green scrubs, splattered in blood while standing under high intensity lights, slapping instruments into the waiting surgeon’s hand. In those double-aught days of fairytales and spies, I was born for such a mission. However, the hospital didn’t hold my lofty opinion.

Refused, rejected, I was sure it was solely because the hospital didn’t want the hassle of training another ward clerk, the job I had become proficient preforming. They were surely afraid they couldn’t find another teenager to overpay who was as dedicated and efficient. Stunned that life had handed me a lemon, I decided to hand the fruit to my father, along with my car note on a lemon yellow AMC Gremlin. I would go to college and show that hospital and the world.

My parents were ecstatic, but it was June, and I hadn’t applied anywhere. Luckily, (if you believe in such random destiny) I had taken a vocational course my senior year where the forward thinking teacher had given us an assignment to pick three vocational schools and send away for information. We researched our choices and wrote an essay. Because decorating an apartment was all that interested me, I had chosen interior design by default. The brochures from Harrington Institute of Interior Design, located on the third floor of the Roosevelt building in beautiful downtown Chicago, Illinois had won hands down. Only three interminable years of school, and 150 miles from Mayberry, Michigan, it seemed I had the perfect fallback plan.

Undaunted, I applied and by July my mom and I walked sunny Michigan Avenue while the breeze blew my hair and the Windy City wooed me to come stay. In September I held the key to my first place. It was a 12x15 foot cracker-box on the sixteenth floor in a dorm off Canal Street that I shared with another woman. With sturdy hotel type furnishings and a gang-john down the hall, it wasn’t exactly the apartment I had envisioned, but the adventure was just beginning. Country come to the city, I fell in love with art and architecture. Unable to tolerate the noise, crowds, and impersonal urban lifestyle, I stayed all of nine months—one semester at Harrington and one at the School of the Art Institute.

A wiser and humble young woman, I moved back to Michigan. I spent one last semester at another design school in Grand Rapids before love prevailed. After forty years of marriage and raising four kids, I hold no regrets. Life has been full to overflowing. I’ve served on boards and committees, remodeled two homes, and went back to school part-time to get my BA in English—and it only took ten years! Oddly, when I get the yearly statement of Social Security benefits, their records show I haven’t worked since 1972.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To Do List

The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron, have you read it? The complete title proclaims, “An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.” Of course this immediately appealed to me, but as Cameron points out though essays and example, “We come into life as writers.”  She believes we all have an innate need to write whether we profess to be a writer or not. I tend to agree.

I’ve known for years journaling is healthy. I easily get my feelings hurt or sit down on my pity-pot, yet from the depth of despair I have been lifted, simply by creating what I call a gratitude list—things we are grateful for—starting with the air we breathe, warm socks, or air conditioning. Hope springs from gratitude, and from a list of simple thanks bubbles joy. It is no small miracle available to anyone with pencil and a sheet of paper.  

Many years ago, I took a linguistics class where the professor pointed out the obvious—we are the only creatures with a written language. All animals have their own language, some seem to understand our dialect, but no other species besides the human animal have the ability to write and record. This was a revelation to me; something I never considered. It is not our intellect, but the ability to write that separates us. I am humbly grateful for this gift to clarify my thoughts, order my day, use metaphor, or write music.

Julia Cameron acknowledges and encourages each of us to utilize this gift on a daily basis. Each chapter in The Right to Write is an essay of poetic prose, contemplative, and designed to encourage the reader to write whether a proclaimed writer or not. She debunks writing myths and phobias of perfection, and I have found the exercises at the end of each chapter fun and helpful.

Someday meeting Julia Cameron – it’s on my bucket list. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

C'est la Vie

I go to my journal, my mentor, asking my spiritual muse to direct my hand, not just for commercial success, but for courage to share insights that speak to the greater good. I hope my words can touch the heart and spark a flame for change or contemplation. This sounds somewhat like a lofty ‘vision statement’ popular in today’s business world. I see this goal in my novel writing. Not so my blog. I have suffered over this blog, trying to write “something” each week, something worthy of printing.

Every conference I’ve attended in the past ten years has stressed the need for an electronic presence. In January I committed to blogging weekly. The whole thing seemed ego centric. Why would anyone want to read my words? Yet, I have learned to honor a deadline – not always successfully. I have written poorly and poetically, through personal good weather and bad. The words have tossed me or swung me gently into admission. I realize my best blogs are personal. Those honest glimpses of fatty humanity I tend to hide under blousy adjectives. When I’m willing to share, exposing those hidden rolls where we all live, that’s when I’m worth reading. I’m finding it’s not about the product, but the process. This is true with my writing as in life.  

Keep your feet on the path.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Foot in Eden

A classic tale of passion and murder, One Foot in Eden, holds few surprises, but it's poetic prose captivated me. Ron Rash, a true Southern storyteller, kept me glued to the page with his drawling details of a crime from five different perspectives -- the sheriff, the murderer, his wife, their son (eighteen years later), and the deputy (after the fact.) The culture of Appalachia permeates the pages with mystical dark lore and human characters of the flawed type which everyone can identify. Pulled into rural South Carolina where murder and mysticism mixes with the rising waters of a modern damn, One Foot in Eden transcends ordinary with irony, leaving the reader with a sense of melancholy and satisfaction.
A great read from my Pulpwood Queen's Book List. 
I can't wait to read more from Ron Rash.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Suthern Priide"

Sitting in my living room, I can spot a small alligator in the river that flows past our little slice of Eden. We just returned from a stay in the stomping ground of our Yankee youth. Visiting with relatives both living and dead, we tramped through the cemetery and drove seventy-five miles both directions to hug the neck of my ninety-eight-yr.-old aunt. Life is good.
A dirt road provided exercise complete with blue sky and low humidity. A breeze under huge shade trees was the spot for lawn chairs and our cheering section, as children foot-raced with their grown cousins across the softest grass lawn.
I loved the visit, but my roots have grown deep into the Louisiana mud. A lifetime in this corner of the state has successfully grafted us "suthern." Cradled in hospitality and warm winters, we've been lulled into the slow lifestyle among the swamp grass and long-legged herons. Satiated with jambalaya, boudin, and pralines, we rocked willingly into a our pleasant lifestyle.
For thirty years we lived in the city, raised four children, and I used to get angry when ignorant Northerners queried about the alligators in our back yard. Now I sit on the wharf and smile sweetly, "Yes, Ma'am, his name is Gumbo."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Windy Moment

It's hurricane season and for Southwest Louisiana it officially started with Issac. It's been seven years since Rita, our Nemesis, and her better known sister Katrina swung into town on Poseidon's shoulders. Those of us who cleaned up after the whores' party in 2005 remember, so it's no wonder poor little Issac is making the news. Unlike the spontaneity of a tornado or the manic energy of an earthquake, the media has days with an approaching hurricane to whip the fear factor. Like a good book everyone loves a good disaster it seems. The slow dis-ease of uncertainty creates a suspense novel while the fear of the known, what could be, creates a thriller.
The appliance repairman came by yesterday and asked what was happening with the hurricane. He was surprised I didn't have the television tuned to the weather. Still officially a tropical storm, I figured Issac would mature without my mothering. A teaspoon of fear for leavening, mixed with a cup of truth, add gallons of media attention and a frenzy has baked, albeit lopsided and raw in the middle.
It's a good thing for writers that people love drama. I wonder if it's our spoiled fat culture that doesn't have enough to do, so we create exercise equipment because we sit too much, and we create excitement because we lack joy and worthwhile human interaction in our lives. I don't know, but It's a beautiful day in Southwest Louisiana. A strong wind is blowing the humidity to Mexico, and I think I'll take the dog for a walk before the excitement rains. Who knows maybe I'll meet some dark mysterious evacuee from the east who loves dogs and wants to know my take on the weather situation. Maybe I'll come home with a plot for a new story. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I love a good movie. It's maddening for me to spend two perfectly good hours of escapism and walk away feeling I could have been mopping the floor. You know that pile of burning brown bag on the Blue-ray player with the stupid dialogue or predictable plot. My husband and I make sport of each other, depending who chose the last stinker.
Recently, I was reading pitches and watching trailers to find the perfect evening entertainment and decided to rent a DVD called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Since it didn't boast bloody neck biting or mutant muscled super heroes, I thought we'd give it a try. Billed an inspirational comedy, it definitely passed the popcorn test. Not a sappy romance, but superb acting, this film's subtle message that faith in God is not unique to any one religion, nor is violence and fear, was a significant lesson in the wake of the recent shooting deaths at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.

Ultimately, when the popcorn's gone, we are all alike, struggling with our humanness. Keep the faith and try Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I've given up coffee, or more accurately, my body has given up on me. I had the flu about a month ago and ever since coffee hasn't held much appeal.

To many people that might not seem like a big deal, but I haven't missed my morning java since 1972. That is forty years of black ecstasy. I live in the land of Community Dark Roast where your spoon wilts if  not removed after stirring. Multiply that fact by several large mugs per day and you have a caffeine addict -- but not any more. If I make the mistake to override my taste buds to share coffee and camaraderie, my stomach rolls and flips tanking with gas. It’s just not worth the discomfort.

For years, magazines, special reports, my dentist all told me to give it a rest, but I wouldn’t listen. Now, I wonder if it was the flu or just a directive from the Big Guy to “give it up." What's next - sugar?

Since the forth grade, I’ve struggled with diets and eating correctly, but several years ago I realized my desires hedge (or slither) into the idolatrous realm. I want what I want, and damn those consequences.

The great 1st century writer, Paul of Damascus fame, once penned, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” I'm not sure what Paul was struggling with (chances are not a chocolate brownie topped with Blue Bell ice cream), but if a man, said to be a saint, admits he can’t shuck all his bad habits, maybe there’s hope for me, nuts and all. Ooh, pass the pistachios.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Orchid House

My book club, the Pulpwood Queens of Southwest Louisiana, just finished reading The Orchid House by the British author, Lucinda Riley. A few too many "darlings" in the dialogue for me, but everyone else who came to our monthly meeting raved. So, it wasn't my style, but that's the great thing about book clubs, you read stuff you might not pick up normally. A plot set around the British class system and the changes brought by WWII, it's steeped in romance and history. Well written, the story moves from war-torn England to exotic post-war Thiland and back.

The "Queens" Skyped the author on our meeting day. where we caught up with Lucinda at her home in Southern France. A querky, well traveled, outspoken woman with four school-age children and a passion for writing, I can't wait to read her newest release in the States, The Girl on the Cliff. Coming out in the U.S. in October, this book is set on the Irish coast where the author was born, and promises to reveal much of herself in its character.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Raising Baby

Our son, daughter-in-law, and baby grandson are visiting us for a few days. It's been awhile since last I bounced a child on my knee, and its pulled some muscles in my memory.
It wasn't chic to have four kids when Gloria Steinem and Sandra Day O'Connor made news. I can recall going from one store to another looking for maternity clothes and having to order from a catalog because selection was nil to nothing. I know other women were pregnant; the schools were full.
Today raising kids is the media and industry favorite. Popular TV and magazine talk about who, why, and how couples  procreate. Women stretch spandex shirts across swollen bellies where my generation hid behind tented dresses. Crying bundles from Storkville were seen as an uneducated "choice" of the love generation. I'm glad today having a child is cause for celebration. It seems okay to choose to have a large family even envied, while talking about the struggles is accepted and encouraged..
As I watch my daughter-in-law pack clothes and food for today's excursion, I'm amazed. (I used to do that!) Besides the massive diaper bag, now the video monitor is a must in this techno-phobe world where constant contact is a must of safety and convenience. I remember my mother's gift of a Commodore 64, "It's the future."
Each generation  seems to evolve. I can see my grandson at three years, looking around the room, checking for surveillance, before he acts out. Go for it, Honey.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How to Write a Great Novel

As a writer I'm always dissecting a good book, trying to figure what makes it compelling. Discussing a book with a friend recently, she told me to STOP--I was ruining it. Probably, but it's what I do.

Just finished Stieg Larsson's last two books in the Dragon Tattoo series, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who  Kicked the Hornets Nest. Too detailed, over-written in places, and in desperate need of editing, I couldn't put the darn things down.

Normally my critical misgivings would have quashed my reading, but in this case, I kept on devouring everything Larsson penned. His characters, of course, are one of the most significant reasons to keep reading. The female protagonist, Salendar, is the ultimate underdog, abused as a child with no legal rights as an adult, she is a survivor to the extreme. Dark and cunning, she is the defining 'woman hear me roar,' in control of her environment against all odds. And Blomkvist is the apex male character, loved (literally) by all women, the average man-next-door, who fights for truth and justice, and he's not conceited. Female readers are intrigued by him and male readers want to be this mythical man adored and sought by women and successful in business and private with no strings attached.

Larson's twists and political plots drag the reader through some of the writer's over attention to detail to cliffhanger endings that make an undeniably good read. This is proof that a persuasive, intriguing story with great characters is impossible to keep unpublished.

I better get back to it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scratching the Bones – Writing and Revision

Being brought up with a strong work ethic, my roots sometimes ache when I say I have chosen to be a writer as a vocation. A dull pain nags—I’m not producing an income, therefore I’m not productive. But creative writing is a gift. Art in any form is a product of creating. Cultivating words on the blank page is my expression of love for the gift of my creation, allowing me to share in the excitement of forming something from nothing. Of course nothing includes past knowledge from reading, teaching, training, or the personal baggage a writer is willing to address. The white page transforms into something other than what it was before we colored it with our life experiences.

Prose, for me, must have a purpose, a theme, not necessarily didactic, but it must satisfy my ‘productive’ requisite that causes the reader to think about an issue. Poetry, however, is like the wind that pops my creative sail. Starting not with a theme, but feelings, poetry is more personal, more spiritual. Poems are moments caught like a snapshot in words—each person sees something different in the picture. Ideally a poem should touch the reader, but the feelings generated depend on the reader’s experience, not the emotions conjured by circumstances the writer provides, as in details of a story. For the reader to connect, the poet must become the critic, changing her personal abstract passions into pictures of feelings. In this process the critic/poet releases her work, allowing the reader freedom to absorb it into their experience.

Creative writing, although inspired, is also a process. Just as the reader perceives something fresh from a different vantage point, the writer too must be open to change, new insights in her work. The process of revision after the inspiration demonstrates the craft of a writer. It is in the revision process that the work becomes shareable, the personal inspiration becomes universal. True revision can only come with time. When the ink is dry, and the page is a little foreign the writer can read her work from a different place in life. After the labor pains are forgotten and the baby can sit-up and look at the writer she can see with fresh eyes to be objective and analyze the work without the sentimentality of the moment.

It is impossible to critique one’s own work without good help. We can write and take time to be objective, but only an outside source can fill the subjective blanks. The poet/critic must be strong in her original inspiration to accept criticism and try variations. The original is never lost, but if a work is to be universal the writer must realize how it is perceived by others. Some works of creation will always be mine, poor and needy, a crying, angry child—not meted out for public viewing.

I like to think of my writing like the great Methodist preacher, John Wesley said about faith; it is a process of “becoming.” The revision process is the work part of writing, but it is in this becoming process of revision that my work goes from raw feelings to a universal space to be shared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I Say, Son.

VBS went great last week. I was stellar on the tech team. At one point during each opening presentation a foghorn was required. The first day we skipped over it. The second day a sixteen year old showed me how to retrieve the sound effect from the Internet, and the kids fell out laughing. Wednesday, I found a sound effect site and made the necessary arrangements. My finger poised for the one job the team felt I was capable of preforming - the cue came, I hit the button, and "I say. I say, son, it's Foghorn Leghorn here."

I blew it. But I say, son, it was a learning experience!

(No child was injured in the performance and process of this event.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

No Moss Growin On This Sissy

Last week a recluse, this week a volunteer. My yearly dose of Vacation Bible School taken every morning until GONE.

VBS isn't for sissies.
I agreed to work the sound board this year. This is high tech fun with three interactive DVD's. Now those of you who've read this blog know my aptitude for all things technical, and you might be thinking this wasn't a very kind and charitable thing to do to the young woman coordinating the program. You might even whisper, "She doesn't want them to ask her next year," but I figured, how much do little kids notice screw ups anyway? I'll let you know.
Here's a poem from my files...

A Rolling Stone

Unh, unh,
patches of mildew,
gray shadows on the north side,
moving like clouds up my leg.

Unh, unh,
bright green fuzzies
grow roots in wrinkle lines
along hands frozen by time.

Unh, unh,
sandbag levees,
acrid shrines to middle age,
brace against creative failure.

Unh, unh,
rolling stones once,
now inertia
at the bottom of an hour glass.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Hermit Crab

I balance my shell, this borrowed security so easily plucked. Why do they poke and prod – curious enemies? Scurry. Tide’s out, time to clean house. Push out the sand, unload the baggage, move on – hurry to the next hole.

Safety shell I carry, a cool space with curved edges, lit with grace. This pen – my sanity – my self place, a broom to sweep away the sand and dirt. Mercy massages my tired thoughts, sooths my aches.

This shell, sometimes heavy, other times turned up – a buoy, I ride the waves. Uncertainties splash, and I retreat inside. My umbilical ink to the Spirit provides nutrients of inspiration.
The sand it irritates me, now. Cramped – my shell, it doesn’t seem to fit. I’ve grown and didn’t notice.  I must move on to something bigger. It’s scary to leave, but Faith insists. She lives in here with me. She cleans the corners of doubt. Mercy, too, crowds in. I must find a larger shell – my guests insist we move.
I grab my pen, closets full of stuff, we leave to find a larger view.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Truth in Packaging

Looking through a notebook, I found this piece I wrote in a class I took last year. The class was fun and stretched me. (I need another one.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reality of Grace

Mayhem – I love the T.V. commercial with that slick, quick-witted character, who preys on our fears. The commercial is funny, because it so characterizes our society’s thinking – you can’t trust people and disaster is right around the corner.
But I’m here to tell you, it’s not true.
The Open Door
Re-entry Center
Changing one life at a time
This past weekend I had the honor to work along-side over a hundred people from different faiths and backgrounds who came together and gave of themselves – their time, talents, and money to benefit those who are incarcerated and hoping to leave jail never to make the same mistakes.

The event was The Hogs and Dogs 3rd Annual Benefit Ride, and the proceeds went to The Open Door prison ministry where I volunteer. Not a trendy or popular topic to benefit, the event was a success for one reason, the people. We are all children of this Earth and fall short of our designed purpose, but last weekend we worked for the common goal of ‘Restoring Hope’ to those who desire to change but need a helping hand. Watch-out, Mayhem, Faith is going to get ya.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poetry of Grace

I'm still celebrating National Poetry Month. Some of the most beautiful and beloved poetry are the Psalms of the Bible. The Shepherd of Psalm 23 has lead and guided the reader down quiet paths, restoring souls for centuries, but the verses have come alive to me lately. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies."

I have volunteered myself into a job beyond my expertise. That is part of my nature, to 'barrel-in" as my mother would say. Years ago, I was told you know an idea is great and of God when it's scary. Knowing it's out of your control, you have to rely on Him to succeed.

Well, the table is set with a feast of blessings, and my enemies are heckling me all around. Fear is under the table, and she won't come out because it's dark. Self-righteous Indignation is on my right, banging her fork on the table. Perfection sits next to Jesus, her elbow defiantly on the table, starring with intense blue eyes, silently trying to egg him into a stare down. He just laughs. "Don't worry," he says to me, "Goodness and Mercy will be her soon, and we'll say grace." Thank God!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April - Poetry Month

April , if you have not been informed, is National Poetry Month. Only two weeks into this month and it has been full to overflowing, ALREADY. A few days ago, I planted our little garden patch, and I'm living on Ibuprophen. Hallalujah, Spring has Sprung (my back).

But it's a beautiful time of year, especially in Southwest Louisiana. Because of my many committments, I'm finding little time to ply my trade of writing, and I'm hungry. Poetry is what I need--verse compacted, a good measure, tamped down, spilling over and covering the junk that needs to be done. My good friend, Marsha Kushner reommended . I went this morning and had a fiest. Enjoy.

Poetry in Progress...,

My mind cloudy,
floating, white, puffy
mass of moist possibility.
Imagination molocules
rise through the formless void.

Linear thoughts
obstruct the view,
vaporized per chance to dream.
Awesome wonder decorates
my clouded mind.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Live Tapestry

Recently, I remembered a large tapestry I saw in Normandy, France when I visited in 1992. I kept thinking about the immense size and wonderfully hand crafted piece of art that was supposedly created by a queen and her handmaids while the king was out conquering. To refresh my dry rotted memory I did an Internet search and rediscovered the Bayeux Tapestry.

My trip to France was one of those student tours, twenty castles in 14 days. I was an adult chaperon for my son's sixth grade class, and my recollections are hazy at best. I remember a simple museum in a contemporary building that, I think, only housed this one enormous tapestry. Mounted on the wall it snaked for 230 feet (according to my sources). I remembered it wider than it's actual 20 inches, probably because it was encased in something and for good reason. The tapestry is actually an embroidered cloth handcrafted in the eleventh century (possibly by monks) to depict the 1066 Norman Invasion of England. Its age and size alone make it fascinating, but the spectacular stitching, which I do remember, tells the story complete with horses, noblemen, spears, armor, and Latin subtitles, definitely worth a look if you're ever in Bayeux, France, if not check out Wikipedia.  Of course this doesn't do the magnificent artifact justice, but you get an idea.

My point to all this is my musings. I've been thinking about my life like a thread in Creations Tapestry. A single strand woven with millions of others, but together it produces a story. Sometimes my thread strings along the underside in the lower Story where the jumble of string and knots look messy, but once-in-awhile, I'm in the right place. My thread loops through to the top and shines gold (I hope), reflecting the magnificence it was meant to produce in the upper Story.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Passing on a Nice Thing

It's Lent. In the Christian tradition followers of Christ take forty days to reflect on the gift (or suffering, depending on your glass' fill-line) of Christ and what it means to each disciple. As a Christian subscriber and member of the human race, I'd like to pass on an interesting website that I think makes the big man proud.  Debbie Tenzer published a book in 2009 revolving around the phenomena. It's an uplifting website and food for thought.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Constructing The Query Letter

OK, I promised a quick review of query letters according to John Pipkin, author of Woodsburner. This is what I brought away from his class a few weeks ago.

Like the synopsis, this is business and not a test of my creative writing. A ONE PAGE letter, business format, introducing myself and my book to an agent. Simple and to the point, Mr. Pipkin does not subscribe to the theory that I must scour the Internet for agent details, personalizing each query letter. (Yea! And he got 'discovered' and published.) His thought is that everyone involved knows why I'm sending an agent a query--just get to the meat in the first paragraph. (I love it!)

       1st Paragraph: the hook (that same summary sentence used in the synopsis, but reworked.)
                                          Be sure to state the title and genre. 
       2nd Paragraph: summarize the characters and plot.
       Optional Paragraph: historical background (optional according to the story), relevance 
                                                  (if not stated earlier), and the potential audience.

       3th Paragraph: the writer's bio. Tell why I am qualified to write on this subject, why I'm

        4th Paragrapha formal closing, thank you, and length of manuscript.

For more info on the hook, check out my post on 'Writing That Synopsis'.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tag -- You're It!

Wow, I haven't played tag since 1962, But ouch Jan Rider Newman just punched me in the arm. 
I'm new at blog tag.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writing That Synopsis

Nothing solicits groans faster in a group of seasoned writers than the word synopsis. After years of reading and attending different seminars and workshops devoted to the process, my most recent composition still didn't inspire confidence. BUT there is hope.

This past Saturday, it was my good fortune to attend a Writers' League of Texas workshop focusing on writing a synopsis and query letter worthy of submission. I thought  I'd share some of the high points of composing the dreaded one page synopsis as outlined by our terrific instructor, John Pipkin. John is the author of Woodsburner, a historical novel that I can't wait to read. Check out his website - .

I knew already a synopsis must be like a book report that hits the major points, but where John caught my attention, he said it's not a summery--but a sales pitch. No one had ever explained this so clearly. We all know we have few words to catch the proverbial attention of those over queried agents and publishers, but its not about my manuscript, its about how, why, and to whom would a potential agent SELL my story.

That in mind, here are John's five elements that must be stated in the hook--that first sentence or two:
Title + Genre + Character + Conflict + Consequences/Relevance = Opening Sentence or HOOK.

This sounds daunting, but I started by simply writing each element, then I constructed sentences begining with the ONE element that makes my story unique. In my case the protagonist (character) is bipolar, what she has to overcome (conflict) in my story (title, genre) in order to find (consequences/relevance). Not a dust jacket logline, but just the facts developed in a grammatically correct sentence. It isn't easy, but doable. After the hook paragraph, I must develop 3 to 4 concise paragraphs and the conclusion. This is how my single spaced, 12 pt. font, synopsis, sales pitch would break down.
  1. Opening hook
  2. Summarize the story, intro main character
  3. 1st character description (typically protagonist) 
  4. 2nd character description (antagonist)
  5. 3rd character description (important to plot development)
  6. Conclusion, stating story resolution and relevance
This model works for both my Women's Lit fiction and my Mystery novel with some slight modifications. The Plot-driven, Mystery/Action synopsis would read -- 1. Hook, 2. Summary, including three major characters, 3. Intro with initial conflict or what launches the story, 4. First twist, 5. Second twist, and 6. Conclusion including resolution and relevance.

Next week, my post will feature some of John's suggestions on the illusive (at least to me) query letter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not For the Faint of Heart

Many of my musings (or maybe more accurately rantings) in this blog concern technology. My mother-in-law is visiting, and she has procured a flip cell phone (for cases of emergency.)  Being ninety-yrs-old she finds the concept of mobile technology very daunting, but she is committed to learning to use "the darn thing." I was impressed with her dedication to process. She'd been practicing at home and brought a folder with written step-by-step instructions which she retrieved from her luggage, so we could practice.

Send and End were still anomalies which I decoded as call and hang up. We surfed through the menu trying to find contacts to practice calling, when finally she dialed 911 and SEND, because the instructions were written that way. After apologizing to the 911 operator, we decided to give ciber space a rest, but not without pledging to a call a day until she gets the hang of it. Her words struck a cord in me. "If I just wouldn't resist it."

How true at any age. Our fears of failure, looking stupid, or making a wrong call keep us from achieving our potential. No one learns to walk without falling, or hits a home run without swinging, or gets published without being rejected. Life is about struggle, a journey down a path of uncertain terrain that is bound to have loose rock, boulders, or sink holes and scat to maneuver. We just have to keep hiking, one boot in front of the other.

I'm getting there too. I want to thank all my friends and family who usher me along the path, or drag me by my hair, whatever it takes on any given day. Be sure and check out my interview on the Bayou Writers Group Blog. Keep posting, keep pitching, keep plugging along, you will get published.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reading, (writing?), and Resting

I've been reading a lot the past few weeks. Last week I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the one that's currently keeping me from my writing is The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. There's nothing new I can say about Dragon Tattoo that hasn't been said better, except I can't wait to read Larsson's sequels!

However, Wingfield's novel was released in 2011 and the February reading selection for my book club, The Pulpwood Queen's of SWLA. A debut novel set in Arkansas in the early 50's, it deals with good and evil, family and loss, rolled up in a compelling read. I'm on the last seventy pages. How compelling you ask? This blog needs my attention. It's a sunny day. The lawn is screaming to be mowed before the weather turns ugly, and I'm still in my housecoat at 2 in the afternoon. Good job Jenny.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love Hurts, and Technology Bites

January I made the commitment to further my writing career. Attempting to blog once a week, I failed yesterday (Valentines Day) due to writing pains. My unrequited pen had lost its creative ink. Looking for inspiration, I turned to my friends Jess Ferguson, Jan Newman and Angie Dilmore. (Check out their blogs below.) Jess' manuscript has won a contest, Jan has recently created a website, and Angie is jumping into professional editing.

Not there yet, I'm trying to create the proverbial electronic presence that all agents and publishers herald. The all important following of readers, friends and relatives who will potentially purchase my long awaited novel. I am trying to open my mind to the vault of information that houses technology, but it's scary in here; I can't seem to find the damn light switch, let alone get my picture attached to my posts. Time seems to run out before I can leave a comment. I have updated this blog with a 'new look' and can't figure out how to get to my post. I left this page to check some information and returned unable to open the draft. I was forced to print my first version and retype. Google wants my impute, but I don't understand the terminology in their questions. I'm not complaining--they don't answer my email anyway.

I wrote something a few weeks ago referring to a shock collar, but possibly a leash would suffice.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dark Night of the Soul

A particular woman I know is bipolar. I have had the privilege of talking with her for the past two years as she served time in the local jail. Recently during one of her low emotional swings, she shared her despair, her aloneness, and dark feelings. She struggled with her spiritual dryness, equating it with a lack of faith. I could only relate what she told me from my experience with mourning.

This morning reading (again) from the book Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, I was struck by something Foster said concerning solitude. He describes a pilgrimage into the dark night of the soul as a tool for spiritual growth. His portrait of a 'dark night' reflected what my bipolar friend had tried to relate to me.

Although Foster was not talking about what we would call an emotional, chemical mood shift, his insight excited me. Society wants us to shun our dark dispositions, but Foster's thought is to accept them as gifts of God. These emotional and spiritual dry places are part of our journey. They are not places we must "get over it," but places we must sit and contemplate our point in this universe. Giving ourselves permission to walk through or even sit down in the valley of darkness gives us the freedom to become better human beings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Adventure in the Desert

I read a short meditation today by Mary Lou Redding. She is the Editorial Director of the daily devotional I enjoy called The Upper Room. She equates a huge change in her life with the Bible character Abraham, who at 75 moved away from his home to a new land because he heard God say, "Go." Mary Lou reminds us, if we want something different in our lives, we must act and do things differently. "As we step into the unknown this new year brings, God asks each of us to risk and trust."

Our journey, like Abraham's, may lead across a desert, but I realize along with the desert's heat, it is a beautiful and exotic place. Adventure begins with a step away from our arm chair. For me, writing is not all creativity and indulging the muses. It's work to sit, research, and revise. It's also a gift. But a gift is only a possession unless it's given away.

This January I set goals, cleaned my compluter, renewed my professional memberships, enrolled in writing classes, seminars, and conferences -- these are all good, but safe. Redding speaks directly to me when she says, "We can slip into the paralysis of preparation--planning and re-planning, organizing and reorganizing, discerning and trying again and again to discern. Preparing can be a way to avoid acting. Finally we must take the first step."

This blog is my first step across the desert of uncertainty to sharing my gift.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Assimilation Required - Maybe a Shock Collar

A new year, new beginnings, and a new responsibility - I'm treasurer of the Bayou Writers Group for 2012. I could say I was elected, but it was more like it was handed to me by default. No one else was willing to step up, so I thought how difficult could it be? I can add and subtract. Wrong.

It's not just about balancing a checkbook. I'm learning all about spreadsheets, non-profit 990N tax forms, and more information than I care to know about grant writing. Lucky for the club, Sherry Perkins, our President, has over the top energy plus experience in finances. She's coaching me, encouraging me, petting me, dragging me along kicking and screaming, as I assimilate. I'm trainable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Beginnings

It's January, and I want to clean closets. The winter gray and chill puts me in the mood. No new year resolution needed. Throw it away. Clutter be gone. I'm also organizing my computer, and how about a blog? Here's a poem I wrote a few months ago while dust bunnies gathered and played at the corner of this page.

My Mother's Laugh
Something was said,
Something funny.
I heard mom laugh.
A sweet sound, so clear
I wanted to turn,
to see her,
but that laugh--it was ME.
What was funny?
I can't recall.
I heard mom laugh.
So clear, a sweet memory
I wanted to turn,
to see her,
but she's been gone for years.