Rainy Days and Bookstores

readerscornerKnowing we had limited time yesterday for a visit to Reader’s Corner in Raleigh, our favorite used bookstore, we struck a deal. “I’ll stay out of the airplane section,” said Johnpaul. “And I’ll stay out of the cookbooks,” I promised, right before we parted ways by Poetry.

What is it about a used bookstore on a rainy day? The scent alone–a combination of mildew, Grandma’s old linen, a dash of dog, I’m convinced–is an elixir, exacerbated by rain. There is also the promise of a literary adventure on an otherwise dreary February day. Simply put, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

noteWhere else but Reader’s Corner can you find an entire section on castles? Where else has such a marvelous display of literary knickknacks, such as those little notes left behind by previous owners? And where else can you find an overflow of Charles Dickens in the rest room?

The best part about a used bookstore is not what you go to get–you may not leave with this–but the serendipitous discovery of what you didn’t know you needed. And in my case, this was a compendium of wisdom on dreams, a definitive biography of Frederick Law Olmstead (the brains behind many famous American landscapes), and short stories by Henry James and Donald Barthelme. And for Johnpaul, for whom 4 copies of Moby Dick are not enough, he ended up with a portable Melville (letters and stories) and of all things, a witty guide to palindromes and anagrams.

In celebration of the approach of Valentine’s Day, here’s a sentence palindrome just for the Romeos and Juliets among us…”Won’t lovers revolt now?” If you think about it, this expression is perfect for book lovers too. We know that a tiny little revolution always happens in the bookstore. Because we’re never the same people we were when we walk out that door.

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Welcome Breath O’Spring!

breath of springIn spite of wintry weather, these lovely branches of “breath o’spring” are flowering. We brought these into our house when they were fat with buds, but they may be blooming in the wild very soon as well. I wish you could smell them. In my poetry, I’ve described the scent as “lemon and vanilla riding on the breeze that blows through a pine forest after rain” but my words fall far short of the real thing…..

What’s perking you up about spring?  The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory will be out in the world in just one month — March 2 — and I’ve been honored to be invited, along with other featured authors, to give a reading at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill on March 24.

And on March 3, as many of you know, I’ll be leading a workshop at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on how to craft your own flash fiction.  The class is full, but if you’re interested, please, please keep checking the registration page to see if any cancellations arise and for a future date of a repeat event. Due to high interest, I’m hoping to give it again, perhaps in the fall.

Leading a workshop brings me great joy, for many reasons. First, I get to spend time with people who love writing as much as I do, and second, I find the experience enormously stimulating as a writer. Right now, even as I plan for the class, I’m polishing up a number of short stories of my own and submitting “late-blooming” poetry.

Last year, I wrote one poem each day in the month of April as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project. A handful of these recently made it to the second round of consideration in a national poetry competition (note the positive phrasing here — I did not say rejected :), so I plan on continuing to revise and submit until they find a home.

Here’s wishing a great start to  your own spring. For inspiration, read what fellow writer, Arthur Plotnik, author of  8 books, including Spunk and Bite, a contemporary writing guide (and one of my favorites) has to say: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

 

What’s Buried in Your Winter Garden?

broccoliImagine my surprise when discovering that our broccoli plants had survived the six inches of snow that covered them for several days. After the thaw, I peeled away the dead, soggy leaves and lo and behold, check out this bright green head.

This lesson — never give up hope —  was reinforced when a short story, Running with the Bulls, was recently accepted by the editors of the 2018 Hardball Times Annual. This story was written almost 4 years ago, many years after the events inspiring the story first occurred. (A belated thank-you goes to Jonathan and Robert for their help with this piece.)

Do you have any old stories or poems that never found a home? If so, dust them off and see if any new markets have emerged that might be crying out for your work. Additionally, consider re-thinking any longer stories that might be shortened. While it’s not a true flash fiction, coming in at 2,440 words, Running with the Bulls underwent many revisions through the years, and every time, surprise, surprise, it ended up being shorter and shorter.

These days, I’m also taking a new look at older pieces, particularly poems. Because I’m primarily a narrative poet, I have plenty of work that might work for flash fiction. This is one of the strategies we’ll be covering at my March 3rd workshop on the exciting field of flash. Interested? Visit the CCCC website and reserve your seat today.

In the meantime, never give up hope. Is there broccoli in your garden? As a dear friend and mentor once told me, and this wisdom never fails to inspire me: A good story will always find a home.

What’s in Your Writing Kit?

writingkit2My mother gave me a lovely box many years ago. It’s covered with inspirational writing in a lovely gold script, and it’s become my nesting box for those little snippets of inspiration — favorite new words, quotes, articles, even bits of random conversation I happen to overhear. It also includes old postcards and pictures,  like the daguerreotype of a young married couple, circa 1840….

When my creative well dries up, this is the first place I plunder. My “writing kit” is particularly helpful for flash fiction because those “flashes” of inspiration can lead to instant stories. It has recently led the way to many new pieces, including poems in The Gyroscope Review (Summer 2017), “Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed into People” (Honorable Mention,  Women on Writing, Summer 2017), and most recently in The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, to be released by Anchala Studios on March 2, to coincide with the Read Across America campaign.

Participants attending my daylong flash fiction workshop on Saturday, March 3 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro will receive a starter kit for what I hope will inspire their own creative plundering. Right now, in preparation for the class, I’m compiling the most delicious prompts, tips, samples, and vocabulary words, all of which will help germinate our individual kits and lead to even more stories in the future.

Spots are filling quickly! Hope to see you there! To reserve your seat, visit the CCCC website.

Seeking a Refuge from the Cold? Write!

Got cold weather blues? Anxious about the holidays? Or are you just in a rut? If you’re like Baby Dog, you might just needbaby to surround yourself with your own creature comforts. In her case, it’s a nest of cushy autumn leaves. Can you find her?

For you, have you considered taking advantage of the comforts offered by writing? According to writer Edna Ferber, who wrote in her 1963 autobiography: “Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”

So why not embrace life by signing up for a creative writing course at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro? We’re offering a wide range of opportunities in Spring 2018 that are sure to lift your spirits!

In fact, I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on Saturday, March 3 on flash fiction. Flash fiction is irresistible; a joy for both reader and writer. Opportunities are better than ever, with a virtual explosion of contests and publications specializing in the form. Read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a complete “kit” of your own for future inspiration.

CCCC offers many other valuable classes and workshops this spring–including a workshop to help writers achieve publication led by recent novelist Michele Berger. I also recommend you consider the weekly course offered by the celebrated poet Mary Barnard titled “Write to Heal.”

For the complete list of offerings, and to sign up, visit the CCCC website.

Find the “Write” Tools to Heal!

Last week Johnpaul built a ramp for our beloved Buster, whose legs are too short to jump into the truck on his own. Guided by a treat at his nose—and the cheers of his brother Finn—Buster quickly mastered the “mountain” like a champ.

This little ramp is so much more than a slab of poplar. It symbolizes what it takes to recover from a traumatic experience that might be holding you back. With the buster“write” tools, and the support of loving friends, you too, can easily triumph over the obstacles of life.

Based on research by Dr. James Pennebaker, “Write to Heal” offers 21 different expressive writing tactics (or tools) in an upcoming 8-week class at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community College beginning Monday, March 5, 2018.  A pen and notebook is all you need for writing in timed sessions on assigned topics.  Most importantly, you do not share what you write, it’s for your eyes only.  Registration begins in December 2017.  Just search for CCCC Creative Writing Program and click on “View the Online Schedule.”

Accomplished writer and workshop leader Mary Barnard, certified in 2016, has led 3 sessions for cancer survivors at Waverly Hematology Oncology in Cary and one session at CCCC in Spring 2017.  You can make a positive difference in your health and well-being by giving “Write to Heal” a try!  One cancer survivor said she used to dread coming to the clinic, but now she smiles when she walks in the door.

As a reminder, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, I’ll be leading a separate, daylong workshop on Flash Fiction at the same location. We’ll also be providing the “write” tools to turn your experience and ideas into memorable short fiction pieces. Every participant will leave with finished writing and a “do-it-yourself” kit of inspiration for future works.

Hope to see you at one of these events, or both!

 

 

Apples, Cider, and the Oxford English Dictionary

Now that most of my jam-making is over for the year, my latest obsession is the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language. Etymology fans love it because it brings the history of a particular word and writers love it because it gives you the first known instance of that word in written English. This makes it a virtual treasure trove of inspiration. We are fortunate enough to own a hard copy but it is also available online.

apple_cider.jpgLast week, we made cider from our own apples, so of course, I was curious about the origin of the word apple. According to the OED, the early form of the word for a round fruit from a tree of the genus Malus has roots in the Old Frisian appel, Middle Dutch appel, and many more, including Old Saxon appul and even Russian, jabloko.

The word (and its countless spellings) shows up in Old English and Middle English documents many times, including a 1387 reference in Piers Plowman, an allegorical narrative poem by William Langland: “I prayed pieres to pulle adown an apple.”

Of course, one word leads to another, so then we looked up cider. This word is as old as apple (and has as many variations in spelling) and refers to a fermented beverage that came from other fruits as well as apples. It originates from Old French sidre (now cidre) and represents the late Latin sicera (medieval Latin cisara , cisera ). There are Greek and Hebrew equivalents, and it even appeared in the Vulgate, a late 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. It is mentioned in a 1464 document on the household: “He hathe ȝeven me a tone of syder.”

So how can you use etymology in your own writing? It’s obviously inspired this blog entry, but I regularly turn to it for poetry. As an example from a pro, check out how Nicole Cooley riffs on the word nostalgia in her poem Mad Money.

 

 

Mark Your Calendar: A Workshop on Flash Fiction!

flash fiction

“A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl of love or loss….” Robert Olen Butler

On Friday, I was honored to learn that 3 stories of mine were accepted by Anchala Studios for an upcoming anthology called Flash Memory. It’s a collection of flash fiction intended for memory-impaired readers, but the book may appeal to anyone who has limited time and just needs a quick fix of fiction (might this be you?). Stay tuned for the details.

I’ve written about flash fiction and its growing popularity before, for both readers and especially writers. I’ll actually be leading a workshop for Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on this very topic on Saturday, March 3, 2018 from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Flash fiction stories (usually 750 words or less) are irresistible, savory nuggets of human experience at your fingertips. Opportunities for writing and publishing are better than ever. Participants will read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a “kit” for future inspiration. Bonus: The editors of Flash Memory have also kindly agreed to share with me some of the insights they gained while reviewing and selecting these stories, and I plan to share their wisdom during the workshop.

Interested? Registration deadlines will be available soon at the CCCC website.

Fun with Haiku and Hibiscus

hibiscus

Ashley sees:

Hibiscus flower
Carousel for hummingbirds
Upturned parasol.

Johnpaul sees:

Hibiscus flower
More like a satellite dish
Or lethal ray gun.

What do you see?

 

Why I Write Poetry

To breathe….to exist….to affirm….the list goes on and on. But now in my first year of retirement from a wonderful (albeit hectic!) career in public relations and marketing, I am loving the opportunity to enhance my life through the exploration of poetry.

I live an ordinary life by most people’s standards. On any given day you’ll find me gardening, making jam, or just simply dreaming in my hammock swing. I write poetry because it gives me the chance to explore the mysteries of the little things and express gratitude for the profound joy they give me. It has also helped me in other writing that I do, especially short fiction.

A dear friend shared with me a fabulous newsletter called Brain Pickings, edited by Maria Popova, which recently revealed a treasure trove of wisdom by the fearlessly unconventional E.E. Cummings. In giving advice to a young poet, he said: “A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.”

Over the coming weeks, I hope to share more of my regular efforts to capture poetry of the moment, poetry focused on feelings, rather than of a particular belief or knowledge. We’ll start with one from last spring, slightly edited since it originally appeared in the April 2017 30/30 Poetry Project sponsored by Tupelo Press.

Afternoon on Whale Tail Road

Why, when looking down from the deck
at the dandelion tufts in the yard
the arabesque of the mulberry
stealing sun from the fig
and the cats lolling on laundry
blown off the line, does it feel
it would be a shame
to change anything?

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