Archive for the ‘Books’ Tag

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!

 

Advertisements

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!

 

Gone Sane by Christal Rice Cooper   Leave a comment

 

Ms Cooper’s new book, Gone Sane, is a 197 page collection of poems based upon the lives of the famous and infamous. The book is split into six sections, each focusing on a particular point of view.

 

Christal’s experience as an editor and a free lance journalist is quite apparent throughout the book. There is a level of confidence in the facts of these cases that can only come from thorough research. At the same time, there’s an empathy that transcends the “just the facts” attitude of a reporter. Nowhere in the book is this more evident than in the poem Mark. It is prefaced by a quote from Cooper’s own story in the Altus Times about the case. Mark Gomez, at the age of one, was beaten to death. In the quote the journalist lists the injuries, in the poem the poet relates the purchase of a baby’s outfit which is then laid out over the grave,

 

as if I were dressing a baby

 

just before he climbs on a beer stained couch

to sit by Mommy’s boyfriend,

to feel his whiskered face.

 

The poem ends with Mark Gomez’s murderer’s death penalty sentence carried out, and the poet visiting her own child’s bedroom

 

His clothes are laid out for tomorrow:

red onesie, toddler jeans.

 

Someday I’ll say I knew

I’d hold him safe-

 

The skillful way she pulls the story full circle, into her own home, touches the heart and soul of every parent without being over sentimental.

 

If there’s anything to criticize within the book, it’s that certain sections don’t seem to mesh with the overall mood of the book. I’m not sure, for example, what a poem about Jim Carrey or the band U2 contributes to a book where the majority of the poems deal with murderers, rapists, and massacres.

 

Along the same lines, while most of the poems dealing with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis are quite lovely, they dominate the first half of the book to the point where you turn the page and groan to see yet another one. For the purposes of this book, Cooper and Onassis would have been better served focusing on either her life immediately after the assassination of JFK, or her life with Aristotle Onassis, but not both.

 

Finally, the artwork in the book, pencil sketches, appears unfinished alongside the professionalism of the poems they are meant to enhance. It might have been better for the artist to create artwork that more closely mimicked photography, or the heavier, cleaner lines of pen and ink drawings.

 

Overall, Gone Sane is a book that will make you think and make you feel in equal parts. It is well worth the read, and is available on Amazon as both a paperback:

 

http://www.amazon.com/gone-sane-christal-rice-cooper/dp/096507644X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342543371&sr=8-1&keywords=gone+sane

 

and an E-book:

 

http://www.amazon.com/gone-sane-ebook/dp/B007HDVGNI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1342543371&sr=8-2&keywords=gone+sane

Dire Literary Series, June 1st 2012   2 comments

I was delighted this past month to be invited to feature at the Dire Literary Series, hosted by Timothy Gager. It’s one of my favorite readings to attend on the east coast. For good reason, the features are always well chosen, and the open mic never fails to surprise and delight. Add to it Gager’s monologues, and you’ve got the best night out in Cambridge.

Writer Tim Gager speaking at teh Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge Mass.

Tim Gager, warming up the audience

Tim opened the night by sharing his thoughts on the recent incident in Miami involving a man eating another man’s face. He was able to make a very gruesome story humorous and entertaining. The highlight of the open mic portion was series regular Shannon O’Connor reading from her collection of vignettes on riding the T. Shannon’s stories and her deadpan presentations of them are always engaging.

Shannon O’Connor reading during the open mic portion.

The difficult thing for me that night was to find something new to read, while still promoting my new book, Melons and Memory. I’d read a good chuck of it already at Dire during open mics last year, so the material was already familiar to the majority of the audience. I chose to begin with two new poems, The Fear of Big Words and Migratory Patterns. Big Words is especially tricky, as it begins with a word that’s 15 syllables long, and I’d never attempted it live before.

Explaining to the audience that I’m about to pronounce a really big word, for the first time.

Overall it was a fantastic night. As with Long Island, I will probably not have a chance to get back up to Cambridge before the big move to Michigan. It was a great way to end my New England career, surrounded by friends and fellow writers whose work I admire.

So long Out of the Blue Gallery!

3K Down, and No Ending in Sight!   2 comments

Zombie Love Forever

Image by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

Writing during the week is difficult. By the time I get home, get kids, get everyone fed and washed and asleep, there isn’t much drive left. On the weekends, however, even with kids, I get a nice little gap of time to write. Naptime is my time, and I squeeze as much as I can out of it. Today, that squeeze got me over 3ooo words, and 6 pages. I don’t think I’ll have a whole novel at the end of the month, and I haven’t even touched the project I went into NaNo with the first week, but progress has been made, and I’m grateful for the push into longer projects.

Today I introduced new love interests for both of the main characters, creating two separate love triangles. Oooo, tensiony, right? I mean, especially considering two of the four people involved are zombies??? Jane has a best friend as well,  and her favorite pizza is Hawaiian barbecue chicken. The back story is just about wrapped up, and a lot of the action is going to pick up very, very soon. Considering I myself don’t have a clue as to where it all ends, I’m pretty pumped.

Alas, tomorrow the project goes on  the back burner, as I will be in NYC at the Bowery Poetry Club at 4 pm doing a reading. If you’re in the neighborhood, you can come. If you aren’t, you can watch it live. Find more here: http://www.bowerypoetry.com/#Event/85825

Day 3   Leave a comment

Plate with various land slugs

Image via Wikipedia

Today’s word is torpid, because sluggish is how I feel after running five kids every which a way after work. You’ve got to be so fast, when you finally get to slow down, the hurt catches up to you.

To be honest, it was like pulling teeth just to keep my head up long enough to write a poem. Meh. The novel and short story can wait another day. Or two. Still 27 days left in the month, no?

Haruah: Breath of Heaven   Leave a comment

Northern lights on the road

Image by Tom Olliver via Flickr

To read this poem, click here

2007, when “On the Shores of Gitcheegumee” was published in Haruah: Breath of Heaven, seems like a lifetime ago. Even more distant is the even that inspired this inspirational piece about grieving, loss, and hope.

My grandmother died almost 20 years ago, but the trip to Montana my family took is fresh in my mind to this day. Growing up we made the trek to Montana by van many times, but this particular trip was fraught with roadblocks along the way. The minivan broke down in Michigan, the part needed had to be ordered, the only campground nearby with a spot for us was run by a crazy old man who hated kids.  It was like something out of a movie, but the best, and worst, was yet to come.

At weeks end, we sped across the prairies, not stopping at night, my parents taking turns sleeping. During one of the brief stops along side the road so Mom could wake up and take Dad’s place, we were blessed to see the Northern Lights, my sister and I for the first time. The next day we learned that my grandmother had passed around the time we witnessed Aurora Borealis.

My family, my life, have always been a main source of inspiration for me, and this poem is representative of some of my earliest work, drawing on one of the bigger moments. Over time, of course, I have to delve further, draw from memory buried over time, more subtle. It’s nice to look back and remember a simpler, bittersweet time.

How deep into your own memory do you go for inspiration? Have you simply skimmed the surface in your writing, or have the layers slowly been peeled away? Do some free writing, quickly writing down scraps of memory, phrases, words, see what might be hiding, waiting to come into the light.