Archive for the ‘Michigan’ Tag

When Your Fiction Hits Reality   Leave a comment

Bath_School_Disaster-east

 

Sometimes we have an idea for a story, and we research it, we outline it maybe, it’s a great idea. We get ready to write it, and then something happens in real life that gives us pause.

This happened to me within the last 6 months. When we moved to Michigan, I began learning all I could about the history of our newly adopted state. One event that really fascinated me was the Bath School Massacre, in which a local farmer and school board member blew up the school as well as his house. He then blew up his car, killing himself and the school principal in the process.

What drew me to this tragedy the most was the fact that I’d never heard of it before. In a world where Columbine and Virginia Tech have become bywords for senseless violence against students, why were commentators and historians not mentioning a school killing where over 40 people died?

There was also the question of the killer, Andrew Kehoe, who seemed to be very friendly with the children, and yet had no problem murdering them. There’s a disconnect between the act itself that has never been fully explained by any of the books or articles I’ve read on the subject.

So, I planned to write a story, both to bring attention to a disaster that deserves to be remembered, considering it’s the largest mass school killing in American history, and as a way for me to try and get into the mind of Kehoe.

Then, the day after I decided that I was done with the research and knew in which direction I wanted to take the story, Newtown happened.

For at least two days, I was physically ill about this latest senseless killing in a school. I’ve been to Newtown, I have friends in Newtown. The children murdered were the same age as my middle child. There wasn’t the distance of history to allow me, or anyone else, to absorb such an appalling act.

I shelved the Bath story. For months. My husband told me I should get back to it, that it might help me explore my own sorrow, as well as possibly help others. He himself had a story come out shortly thereafter that got people talking further about gun control. The interesting thing about his story, The Proper Name for Killing Birds, is that it was written at least a year before Newtown. The act of a six year old child pretending to shoot a gun in the backseat of a car was just something we’d seen children do for years. There was no hidden meaning, no foreshadowing that the child in the backseat might grow up to become a sociopath.

But that’s how, in a post Newtown America, many people chose to interpret it. They missed totally the theme of a father realizing his son knows more than he thinks he knows, that the child is no longer a baby.

I didn’t want something similar to happen to my story. I wanted people to acknowledge the Bath Disaster for what it was, and not use my story to bring further attention to Newtown, a community still raw in mourning.

I’ve finally written the story, four months after Newtown. While some of the members of my writers’ workshops think it’s brilliant as is, some don’t think I’ve gone far enough. That I could push further into the horror. But I don’t know if I can. I’ve submitted the story to a few places, and as of today I haven’t heard anything back. So, we’ll see.

The question is, when is it too soon to write or publish a work of fiction that mirrors in some way a national tragedy? Is it the right thing to do, or would you feel about such a story that it tries to take something away from those grieving in the wake of such a massacre?

To read Gav’s story The Proper Name for Killing Birds, click here:

http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-proper-name-for-killing-birds-by-gavin-broom/

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The Potomac Journal 2013   Leave a comment

The Orange Chorus

The Orange Chorus (Photo credit: FreeWine)

 

To read the poem, click here:

 

http://thepotomacjournal.com/issue13/Poetry/Peterson.html

 

My poem Greek Chorus was recently published in The Potomac Journal’s winter issue. It was great to see this poem in print for two reasons. First and foremost, it’s been awhile since I’ve gotten something published. Life has been pretty hectic with the big move to Michigan and a new routine, so I haven’t been submitting as much as I have in years past. So it was a big help to jump start my motivation to get submitting and writing again to see this poem up at the Potomac.

 

This poem also reminds me a lot of what I left behind. I wrote it after a particularly bad episode during my illness last year kept me in the hospital for the weekend and prevented me from attending a Dire Literary Series event in Cambridge Mass. Joking with friends who attended, I said next time I’ll just have them escort me in an ambulance and I can read from a gurney before being wheeled back to the ambulance. A close friend of mine replied, “That seems doable, they have hospitals in Boston, right?” It was a line too good to NOT put into a poem!

 

Greek Chorus reminds me how far I’ve come personally, and how much I’ve been able to overcome in a short period of time. As difficult as the past few years have been, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s given me plenty of inspiration, as well as the strength and patience to be a better person than when I was diagnosed. I thank the Potomac Journal for picking it up when they did, and giving me the opportunity to reflect upon it.

 

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.

 

A Reading at Wyld Chyld: Long Island Welcomes Me Back   Leave a comment

I’ve read in a lot of different places in my career. Bars, bookstores, bakeries, all have been subjected to my literary genius at one time or another. But until the lovely and amusing Peter Dugan invited me to come on down to Long Island and read at the Wyld Chyld, I’d never read in a tattoo parlor before.

Helen R. Peterson reads her poetry at Wyld Chyld

Reading to the crowd at Wyld Chyld

Wyld Chyld is part tattoo parlor, part café, divided down the middle so the whir of the needles doesn’t disturb. Located in Merrick NY, it offers a unique intimate setting for a reading. I was the first to read, something I don’t usually like to do, as I like to riff off of what others present when deciding what to perform. But, in the end, it almost seemed as if the open mic readers had read my mind, bringing poetry that had similar themes and influences as mine did.

The other feature was Lloyd Abrams, a local Long Island poet and former educator. His poetry was entertaining and thought-provoking. He and his wife were kind enough to invite me to spend the night at their place and not make the three-hour drive back to Connecticut, but I politely declined, as I had kids to get on the bus in the morning.

The Wyld Chyld crowd

Listening to Lloyd Abrams read while sipping my green tea.

I always enjoy traveling to Long Island, as the audiences are always welcoming and encouraging. That’s why I’ll be traveling down that way again this Friday, May 18th, to feature at George Wallace’s series at the Barn. This will probably be my last Long Island appearance before the big move to Michigan in late August, so if you’ve wanted to see me live, make a point to be there!