Readers make Writers   Leave a comment

Paul Bunyan and his cradle.

Paul Bunyan and his cradle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

The first piece of advice I give any aspiring writer is to read. A lot. Every day. Read a variety of things, fiction, nonfiction, books, magazines, blogs, whatever you can get a hand on, for at least an hour a day.

 

Why? Because even if the writing isn’t very good, you can learn something from it and become inspired in your own writing. If the sentence structure is poor, if there are misspelt words, if the plot is lacking, you’ll probably sit there and say, “I can do better than that!” Hold on to that thought, and once the hour is done, go for it! Write on the same topic, make it better, make it yours.

 

When the writing is good, take notes. Ask questions of the piece. What makes you enjoy the writing? Try to mimic these techniques. Don’t plagiarize the content. Ever.  Play around with the style and themes, try to build on them and make them your own.

 

And, finally, it’s good to research and read on topics you’d love to write about. This is just as important in fiction and poetry as it is in nonfiction. For example, I never know when I’ll stumble across a new unique word that I can use as a poetry title. I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s new novel, The Long Earth. In it, one of the characters uses the word tracklements, which are the accompanying foodstuffs used on or around the main course. It’s a fantastic word, and I wrote it down immediately on my vocabulary list.

 

I’m also reading up on the folklore of Michigan and the surrounding areas, especially the tall tales relating to Paul Bunyan. I have an idea of a story deconstructing Paul Bunyan’s myth in light of modern issues such as deforestation and global warming. I’m always looking for folktales I’ve never heard of before, or to learn something new about the ones I thought I knew, both for my own enjoyment and to use as springboards for new short stories.

 

What about you? What are you reading, and how does what you read affect what you write? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Fall Open Mic Night at the MSU Writing Center   Leave a comment

Microphones

The Mics are OPEN!!!!!

 

Last night I attended my first open mic reading with my husband since we moved to Michigan in September. It took place at the MSU Writing Center in Bessey Hall, on the Michigan State University campus.

 

We had been invited to attend by members of our writers’ workshop at the East Lansing Library. The group is also sponsored by the MSU Writing Center, and meets every other Thursday. We were happy to see that, as with the writers’ workshop, we weren’t the oldest people in the room at the Open Mic. The performers included several poets, some musicians, and a story teller or two. There was free pizza and drinks for everyone, and each person that got up to read received a t shirt. There was also a raffle drawing throughout the night. I won a 25 dollar gift card to Schuler Books in Okemos, which was a pleasant surprise.

 

The students were very open and welcoming to two old timers like us. There was a poet who went by the name Logic, about our age, who seemed to be a regular in local writing circles, who had a rapid fire delivery and had everyone laughing and shaking their heads at the way he would spin truth into poetry.

 

Overall, it was a good night out, and the perfect way to start November, fresh and inspired and ready to take on that novel I’ve been attempting to write for a year and a half. It’s been sitting dormant for about six months, so it’s time to get writing again!

 

How are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Any great open mics or writers’ workshops in your area? I’d love to hear about them!

 

Everyday Poets September 2012   1 comment

New interrobang tattoo

Interrobang tattooed on the arm of a fellow punctuation lover. (Photo credit: Emily Lewis)

Last week I talked about my recent move to Michigan. The reason for the move was because my new husband, the short story writer Gavin Broom, had gotten a job with a subsidiary of his company in that state. Gav and I have been friends for many years, both belonging to the same online writers’ workshop. A native of Scotland, he visited the US in August 2011, and we were able to meet face to face for the first time.

The attraction, which had been building gradually via email, text message, and Facebook, blossomed into a full-blown relationship.  Five transatlantic flights later, we decided our carbon footprint had grown wide enough, and he proposed in the baggage claim of Logan International Airport in Boston.

My poem in Everyday Poets on September 28th, Interrobang, deconstructs our relationship. It speaks of the questions that are brought up when one marries for the second, or even third, time. How two people used to having their own way come together as one, forging new ways of arranging a living room, folding clothes, raising children.

An interrobang is a unique form of punctuation, which is used for something that is both a question and an exclamation. I thought it summed up perfectly the feelings one has right before a move, a wedding. That feeling of excitement, with so many possibilities ahead of you that you feel the need to question every one. It’s the first form of punctuation that I’ve ever written a poem around, though I have challenged myself to write more.

To read the poem, follow this link, feel free to rate it and leave a comment!

http://www.everydaypoets.com/interrobang-by-helen-r-peterson/

New Digs   Leave a comment

Vector image of a Michigan state trunk line hi...

 

2012 has been a slow year for me as far as writing new material is concerned, partly because it’s been a very busy year personally. This year I remarried, and relocated in September from the East Coast to mid Michigan.

 

It’s apparent to me, now that we’re settled here, that I was spoiled living equidistant to Boston and New York City. It’s been difficult to find writers’ groups and readings close enough to our new home for us to visit regularly. We’ve found one, a writers’ workshop associated with Michigan State University, but it only meets every other week.  The off weeks I have of course my online workshops and social media, but I kinda miss the days I could jump in the car and find a reading any day of the week within 60 miles.

 

It isn’t all bad for the writer in Eaton Rapids. We’ve discovered the library, and have found that we aren’t the first published poets to live within the city limits. At the turn of the last century Elizabeth Rogers Kellogg was born. Having lived in Eaton County most of her adult life, her poetry gives some insight to me of the town we now call home. I can see in the buildings nearby what once was, can hear the clatter of horse and buggy on my way to Hamlin Square Coffee for my daily cup of chai, and that’s pretty cool.

 

I checked out Kellogg’s first book, simply entitled Poems. It was published in 1969 at the request of her mother. The poems were written in the 20’s and 30’s while Elizabeth was sick with tuberculosis. Many of the poems have a touch of the untrained poet about them, being simple in style and subject but having overly poetic words and turns of phrase strewn about. For example, the stanza

 

 

There is one memory of childhood days

 

Which starts the laughter still;

 

‘Tis when I helped my father feed

 

The hogs their corn and swill.

 

 

 

seems to try too hard, with rhyme and tis, to make pigs a subject worthy of poetry. There is self-consciousness there, either from her illness or from her upbringing in a different age from ours, that clouds the beauty of simple things. However, when her poems lean to more emotional subjects, like love and marriage, the stripped bare truth and pain of her topic shines through.  These are poems worth reading again and again, and make you want to learn more about this woman and her life in an earlier Eaton Rapids, living on the Rogers Centennial Farm, far from her parents in Goshen Indiana. For example, in the poem The Blue Bowl, she speaks of her husband’s great strength, unknowingly breaking a blue bowl on their wedding day. In the closing stanza she says:

 

I repaired things so well they were almost like new,

 

Even reveled in making them whole,

 

But I mended my heart with a costlier glue

 

Than I needed to mend the blue bowl.

 

 

 

With very little, she tells us much about their relationship and her role within it. Without complaint, without whining or pretty words, she reminds us that love has its cost. The way she swaps one thing for another, and the way her last line zings us with the truth, is very reminiscent of Dorothy Parker, without Parker’s self-effacing satire.

 

 

 

This week I’ve discovered that Rogers also wrote fiction. I look forward to reading her novels, and getting a chance to peek further into her world.

 

Doorknobs and Bodypaint 2012   Leave a comment

 

Red Shoes

Red Shoes (Photo credit: garlandcannon (on hiatus))

 

Doorknobs and Bodypaint 2012

 

Doorknobs and Bodypaint is a great online flash journal, where for each issue the editors set up certain parameters that submissions need to match for each section. For example, there might be a word count limit, a line or phrase that must be used, or a certain setting.

 

For their most recent issue the guidelines for the Tapas section required a story be 250 words or less, have a subtheme of weariness, and include the phrase, “they’ll burn you”. They not only accepted my story, The Red Shoes, but gave it top billing!

 

The Red Shoes is an ancient fairy tale where the desire for material gain leads to the protagonist’s demise. She is doomed to dance in her ill-gotten red shoes endlessly until she is worn away to nothing.

 

In my modern take, the protagonist is seeking an end to an illness, and the red shoes in this case are the medications and subsequent side effects that keep them from rest. It is an internal dialogue jumping, skipping, and dancing between the origins of clichés, exhaustion, and the false promises of doctors.

 

I was able to draw from my own recent bout with a serious illness in writing the story. Some of the medications I was on would make me restless, unable to concentrate. Writing it out in a flash was pretty much the only thing I could do to gather my thoughts enough to voice my frustrations.

 

To read my story and to check out the next challenge set for by DK&BP, click here:
http://www.iceflow.com/doorknobs/DOORBODY2.html

 

The One Website Every Writer Should Know   2 comments

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

When people find out I’m a writer, they’re full of questions. They tell me about this one poem or story they’ve written or thought about writing, but they don’t know what they’d do with it after it’s written. Should they publish it? Isn’t that risky, especially if they publish it online? How would they find a place to send it anyway, and how would they submit it?

For all these questions and more, I send them to duotrope.com. Duotrope has a database of 4,360 publications that are currently accepting work. These include both print and online literary journals, publisher of fiction, non fiction, and poetry, paying and non paying markets. Each listing has a treasure trove of information on the guidelines of each publisher, response statistics, and a link to the website for further information.

Duotrope also provides a submissions manager to allow members to keep track of where and when they’ve submitted work. There is a community presence, offering market news, writing prompts, calendars, and in depth interviews with the editors of publications listed. Even our own Waterhouse Review is listed. You can read the interview with fiction editor Gavin Broom and me here: https://duotrope.com/interview.aspx?id=5149

Duotrope has also introduced me to a number of great markets, like Niteblade. In fact, you may be reading this post because of the Niteblade blog train. You probably came from http://idreamagain.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/niteblade-blog-train-stop-15/, and next stop is, http://www.markrigney.net/Rigney/Blog/Blog.html
So if you’re in a rut and don’t know what to write or just need a new market to send your work, please check out https://duotrope.com/index.aspx

Everyday Poets 2011   Leave a comment

 

Child 1

Children, flexible in all kinds of ways!  (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

 

As anyone who has read my latest book, Melons and Memory will tell you, my role as a mother is at the very center of my being. More than my roles as a poet, librarian, sister, daughter, wife or friend, I am identified by others as being the mother of my daughter and two sons. The first thought on waking and the last fading off to sleep is how can I improve the lives of my children every day. It’s led to some easy decisions, and to others that were not so easy.

 

 

 

One of those tough decisions was made after my daughter was born. I had suffered from HELPP syndrome, and had had to have an emergency c section as my liver and kidneys began to shut down. She was fine, the healthiest and heaviest of the three, but in the process of giving her life, I almost lost mine. At that point I made the painful decision to have a tubal ligation. While I was still pretty young, I had had three children, I had my girl. The potential for more children was too great a risk to the well being of the children I already had.

 

 

 

Three years later, it’s a decision I’m comfortable with. I see my friends in their pregnancies, hold their infants, and that desire to have another one is no longer there. But in the beginning, it was very difficult to wrap my head around such a permanent decision. So, as I do with all the bumps in my road, I ironed it out with writing.

 

 

 

The poem, “Closing Down the Baby Factory”, was so good, Everyday Poets published it last year, and I’m so glad they did. While the beauty and joys of motherhood are so prevalent in poetry as to almost be cliché, the topic of choosing to let motherhood go rarely gets the airplay it deserves, in poetry or the mainstream media. It’s important that every woman can find herself somewhere in the arts. One of the goals I’ve set for myself in my writing career is to give them that through my own experiences, no matter how sensitive or graphic it might be.