A Writer’s Window

Wingmaker Art Collaborative~Part VII: Jennifer Halls

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part VI: Caroline Coolidge Brown

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part V: Karon Luddy

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part IV: Martha Whitfield

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part III: Rebecca Haworth

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part II: We Become

Wingmaker Arts Collaborative~Part I

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Writing-In-Place ~ A Hub City Experience

Bob Strother – Shug’s Place

Sharon Leaf – Lady and the Sea

There’s a Word for That . . . Ekphrasis

November Challenge – Not for Writers Only

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I’d issue a challenge this month. Well, I’m issuing it!

The challenge is based on two things – the Mary Oliver quote I still have up on Cottage Quotes, and the other is from a response I received from a poem I recently took to my poetry group. I’d written a poem about a woman who loses her identity when she loses her ability to ‘do’.  One of the members returned her copy of my poem with this written across the bottom:

“Having a ‘to do’ list doesn’t mean you have a life”

I’m a list maker so I know the sense of accomplishment when crossing off those little tasks. I’m also a multi-tasker. This morning while downloading pictures from my camera I was also eating my breakfast and listening for the washing machine to stop, and my mind was working on a handful of tasks that weren’t on my list!

Even when I’m relaxing I’m usually doing – like reading. But I remember the sense of discovery, awe and joy the morning I sat on my deck and listened for 15 minutes. I wasn’t reading. I’d taken a break from morning prayers. I wasn’t ‘doing’ anything but being present and paying attention.

My challenge this month is to sit quietly for 10-15 minutes and pay attention; to become aware of the sights, scents and sensations around me. I’m going to keep my mind focused only on those senses – which will be difficult because my mind will want to start wandering and creating something out of those observations  😉

How about you? Can you sit for 10-15 minutes, empty your mind of wandering thoughts and do the proper work of paying attention that Mary Oliver challenges us to do?

I’ll post some of my observations and I want to hear about yours, too. I hope mine will help me in my writing. But we may be surprised to discover some things we’ve been missing.

Here is what my neighbor saw. I was of course sitting in the chair, but I’ve not perfected bilocation so couldn’t actually take the picture of me in it from this vantage point.  You’ll just have to imagine me  there.  Don’s yard is beyond the tree line.

But I wondered what Don was thinking. There are no trees providing shade – not that I needed it in the rain – or shelter from the drizzle. I didn’t appear to be doing anything but sitting. And I sat there for 20 minutes. I could almost hear him say, ‘What is my neighbor doing? Is she crazy sitting out in the rain?’

Here’s the story. It was the first day of autumn, my favorite season, and the day blessed me with a wonderful, steady soaking rain. I was determined to be outside so I was doing morning prayers on my front porch when my eye caught movement at the edge of our woods. Now we have a yard full of rabbits, birds, squirrels, lizards and deer, but this was something different. This creature’s creeping was slow, methodical, and stop and go – nothing like the skittering, soaring, hopping movements of our other critters.

It inched across the yard and stopped beneath our Bradford Pear, so I grabbed my camera, moved my camp chair and waited to take just the right picture. And I waited. And waited. I hunched over and protected my camera with my torso and baggy shirt, settled in to wait for what ended up being those 20 minutes. And here is the pic I finally got. I was waiting for his head to poke out.

Since I tend to think in metaphor,  these thoughts on writing popped into my head while I waited:

* Writing takes patience – from choosing just the right word to finding the right agent

* Writing takes diligence and steadfastness – like this little guy’s hike across my yard

* A lot of writing success is being in the right place at the right time

* Part of the excitement of writing are the unexpected surprises (aren’t all surprises unexpected?)

* Stories come from everywhere – What was this box turtle doing? It didn’t eat anything. It wasn’t chasing anything. The climate wasn’t any warmer/dryer than in the woods. So many stories, from the informative to the silly, could come from this one question

* And most important, writers have to be willing to let their neighbors think they’re a little crazy

There is nothing permanent except change~Heraclitus

We have a small deck off our bedroom and last night I finally slept with the door open again.  It was the first time since May or June the night air has been cool enough to allow in.  Tree frogs sang me to sleep.  Today’s open windows allowed the pecking of a woodpecker to rat-a-tat-tat through the house.  And tonight the outdoor chirping of critters is white noise while I write.  I’m an Autumn person so these seasonal changes are welcome.

My week started with a weekend of changes . . . I attended my high school class reunion!  This year a group of guys headed it.  A couple women lent a hand, but the two-day event definitely had a guy’s touch.  A classmate opened his sports bar to us one night, another opened his home the next.  We had a pig-roast and home-brew instead of a sit-down dinner.  Not to take anything away from previous reunions, but this was a fun change.

Other than the expected balding heads and spreading middles, we all looked pretty much the same.  Really.  But there were changes within the class.  We’re 29 fewer than when we graduated.  A number that seems too high for our ages.  One of my buds from elementary school was recently divorced after a long marriage.  He’s finally looking forward to the changes this new life brings.  And while many of us are welcoming our first grandchildren, one of my classmates married for the first time and is just starting his family!

The week ends with the anniversary of the event that changed all of us.  My week reminds me that sometimes even those things that matter the most are not permanent.

But some things are . . . as you can read in Cottage Quotes.

Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves  

So how important is a title?  Would you have read Pride and Prejudice if it had been called by its original title, First Impressions? How about Trimelchio on West Egg, instead of The Great Gatsby?  And for me, All’s Well that Ends Well seems a little weak for Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

For those of us who enjoy browsing brick and mortar bookstores, used book shops and libraries, the title is often the first hook.  We may eventually be disappointed in the story, but the title at least made us give the book a shot.

For a colleague, another Kim, the title meant getting her book in the door and signing with an agent.  Kim wrote the manuscript under one title, with the word ‘kudzu’ in it.  The title fit the story Kim was telling.  An agent didn’t know what ‘kudzu’ was and suggested Kim change the title.  Kim did.  She attended a conference and ‘pitched’ her book.  Another agent suggested a title she thought fit the real story.  Kim agreed, tweaked the suggestion and a few weeks later signed with an agent.  Follow The Wisdom of Hair

So writers know the importance of a good title.  But believe it or not, finding those words to get your attention is a challenge.  The title of my first manuscript was of course BRILLIANT! As the story grew from short story to novel length, the title took on new and different nuances.  BRILLIANT! . . . until an agent read the first 10 pages and said, “I like how the story is going, but the title doesn’t do anything for me.”  We talked about it then she said, “It’ll make sense once you’ve read the book; it doesn’t leap off the shelf and entice me to read the book in the first place.”  Sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it.

Writers want you to notice their books and hint about the subject . . . but not give away the story.  We should tease you into picking our work . . . without sharing all the secrets, twists and turns.  And all in just a few words.  Choosing the right title is important for all writing.  Maybe that’s why so many poems are titled, ‘Untitled’ . . .

Writing involves a lot of editing, revising and trying to find the perfect words and images.  I wrote a short story prompted by an incident I witnessed 20 years ago.  It took that long for the story to form, then weeks of writing.  I submitted it to an editor for critique and she absolutely loved it.  She wrote back, “. . . the only thing I can really suggest is you change the title.”

Some titles leap off the shelf.  My Rowdy Readers pick some of their books off book lists.  How do you choose the books you read?

Rick Rothacker has been a reporter at the Charlotte Observer since 1998, covering banking since 2001.  He received the Gerald Loeb Award for beat writing in June 2009 for his coverage of Wachovia and has also won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the North Carolina Press Association. 

In the two week period Wachovia was being sold, the Charlotte Observer stories written by Rothacker and his colleagues received more than a million hits on the paper’s website.  He has now expanded his Observer coverage into Banktown: The Rise and Struggles of Charlotte’s Big Banks.

Prior to the Observer, Rothacker worked for Legi-Slate news service in Washington, D.C., where he covered Congress and the Pentagon.  He also interned at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Rothacker lives in Charlotte with his wife, Jennifer, and their sons.~ bio from Rick’s website

Recently Rick answered a few questions about his book.

KMB-H: How was researching and writing Banktown: The Rise and Struggles of Charlotte’s Big Banks different than researching and writing the articles for the Charlotte Observer?

RR: Probably the main difference was the diversity of resources I consulted, from books to academic journals to newsletters from the 1920s.  In a typical newspaper story, you are relying mostly on interviews and perhaps some documents.  Particularly with some of the older materials, it was fun to feel like a researcher uncovering facts in musty archives. The challenge in a book is synthesizing all those different materials into a fast-moving narrative that hopefully doesn’t read like a textbook.

KMB-H: Believe me, it doesn’t read like a textbook!  What did you find the most challenging about writing the book?  What did you find the most helpful?

RR: One of the most challenging aspects of the book was that facts were changing as I was writing it because new revelations were emerging in court documents and congressional hearings.  I adapted as best I could in the body of the narrative and then updated the epilogue right up to the end.  The book also covered a long period of history, essentially from the 1800s to the present day.  My goal was to have interesting scenes, anecdotes and character sketches from all periods so the book had a fairly consistent feel throughout.  It was very helpful to have a thorough outline ahead of time, which served as a road map for the reporting and the writing.

KMB-H: What do you wish you would have known before you started writing the book, either in the process or the material?  Or both.

RR: That’s a tough one.  I knew it would be a lot of work to write the book, but it really became an all-consuming project, especially when you’re on a fairly tight deadline.  In my case, it would have been nice to have been able to set aside more free time to work on the book, but in the end I was able to get the time I needed.  You, of course, always wish you could have done another interview or polished some part of the writing a little more.  One positive thing I learned is that you can read a book pretty fast when you’re fact-checking it for the 15th time . . .

KMB-H: I imagine so! There are so many ‘Oh my gosh!’ moments in the book.  What surprised you the most as you researched and wrote Banktown?

RR: I think the most dramatic moment comes on Sunday September 28, 2008, when Wachovia truly comes close to failing.  When Wells Fargo decides not to pursue an unassisted purchase of Wachovia that afternoon, some Wachovia executives think they might be out of options.  Later, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair briefly considered failing Wachovia like she did with Washington Mutual but other regulators pushed back.  Of course, in the end, Wells Fargo ended up buying Wachovia days later.  Obviously, the failure of Wachovia would have been more damaging to employees, shareholders and the city of Charlotte.

KMB-H: What are one or two pieces of advice you’d offer to someone interested in writing this same kind of investigative book?

RR: Make sure your family is on board.  You will need to be very focused on your project, and you and they will have to make some sacrifices along the way.  With that said, try to enjoy the process as much as possible.  It should be fun meeting new people, learning new things and getting a chance to turn all this into prose.  It’s a very fortunate thing to have the opportunity to write a book.

KMB-H: Thanks Rick.  Read my review of Banktown: The Rise and Struggles of Charlotte’s Big Banks On the Bookshelf.  To read more about Rick, click here.

Some of the Best Storytellers Aren’t Writers

Hubby and I spent a recent Saturday with my Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Roy.  I won’t tell you how old they are, but they’ll celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary next month.  It was the first time we’ve seen them in far too long.

When my sisters and I were growing up, visiting our aunt and uncle was a regular event and always an adventure.  Sometimes we’d go to COSI (Center for Science and Industry), where we played with science.  Sometimes we’d eat together at the Kon-Tiki, a restaurant with Polynesian food and decor.  I remember riding with them through downtown Columbus, Ohio, to look at the large department store windows decorated for Christmas.

Roy always has a joke and his comedic timing is impeccable.  He holds the punch-line until just the right moment, relishes our looks of anticipation and is barely able to contain his own laughter.  But what my sisters and I remember best is how Uncle Roy holds a conversation.

Well, talking with Uncle Roy isn’t always so much conversing as it is listening to stories.  He colors with details and nuances, elevating the simplest event to something between hilarious and poignant.  His enthusiasm for life and his positive attitude makes everything fodder for a story – like the time he had the opportunity to buy my aunt a large freezer.  This was way back in the beginning of those 69 years together, and he asked the police to block both ends of their street so the appliance could be delivered.  I can’t do the story justice so I won’t even try, but it had us laughing Saturday night and then through the weekend whenever we thought about it . . . or saw a cruiser.

We listened to him describe the arc of the Challenger lift-offs, as they watched from their condo balcony.  No matter how many launches he’s witnessed, his eyes still shine with excitement like it’s the first time.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but listening to Uncle Roy reminds me of the importance of telling a good story.  And to keep my eyes open because life is full of good stories.

And to Uncle Roy and Aunt Myrtle, because I know you’re reading this, Have a Happy  😉

Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative

As a life-long reader, it’s hard for me to imagine not wanting to read.  Even more difficult, not being able to.

In 1994, the J. Marion Sims Foundation was formed with the “mission to support programs and projects of prevention and education that enhance the health and wellness of the citizens of Lancaster County and the communities of Great Falls and Ft. Lawn.” ~ excerpted from the J. Marion Sims Foundation website.

A question the Foundation asked was what are the key components for a healthy community?  One of those answers was literacy.

In Lancaster County, 60% of adults read at or below the 7th grade level.  In Chester County it’s 68%.  Here are some statistics taken from the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative materials:

* 43% of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty

* Almost 50% of adults on welfare do not have a high school diploma or GED

* Those who cannot secure sustainable employment for lack of basic skills are a financial drain on the community because they cannot purchase goods and services or pay taxes.

* Children of parents who do not have a basic education are severely disadvantaged when they enter school and are twice as likely to leave school before graduating.

In 2002, the J. Marion Sims Foundation helped facilitate the formation of the Literacy Initiative.  Originally comprised of 15 independent projects to combat the county’s low literacy rates, 12 of those projects are still in existence embedded in other community services:

* Home Literacy Trail – Brooklyn Springs Elementary School

GAPP – Chester County Literacy Council

Up with Literacy and Basic Skills – Christian Services

Southside Adult Family Literacy – Deliverance Word of Faith Church

The Community Powerhouse – Faith, Hope & Victory Christian Church

Fort Lawn Adult Literacy – Fort Lawn Community Center

Maps to Success Family Literacy – Housing Authority

Reading for Workplace Success – Lancaster County Literacy Council

Empowering Our Future Today – Multi-Cultural Information Center

Skills for Success – The Children’s Council

Career Success Network – York Technical College

Each project targets a specific demographic or service and those agencies are all members of the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative.

The Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization has a mission to promote cooperation within an integrated framework of literacy providers by providing an effective forum for advocacy, for sharing resources and expertise, and for facilitating sustainability of programs.~ excerpted from the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative website.

Since 2002, 15,000 individuals have been helped through the various services; since the last month 600 individuals have received non-overlapping services.

“The good news is we’re not alone. The bad news is, we’re not alone,” says LALC Director, Kathy Wilds.

Remember the first time you realized you could read? Are you like me and can’t imagine not reading something during the day?  Take a little Field Trip and read about Second Glance, Second Chance, a special program sponsored by the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative.  They couldn’t have picked a more perfect name.

An Event-Full Weekend

Government funding for the arts disappears by chunks every year.  I know there are those who think the arts are ‘extras’ and if people want them, they’ll come through with the funding.  This weekend I experienced what those grassroots efforts can produce.

Friday evening hubby and I attended a concert at our Andrew Jackson State Park, its wooden amphitheater rises through the trees.  The seating winds around the hardwoods, the leafy canopy offers shade from the South Carolina sun.  The concert was an evening with the Rose Tones, a sub-choir from our Community Chorus.  Their play-list ranged from Big Band to Beach Music to the Beatles.  The singers and most of the 100 or so members of the audience had already seen their 50th birthday; a handful of the listeners had not yet celebrated their 10th.  They were the ones dancing while the rest swayed and tapped their feet.

On Saturday was the 5th Annual Writers’ Intensive organized and hosted by the SCWW writers’ critique group I belong to.  From past experience we planned for 40-45 attendees and hoped for 50.  Thanks to a late article in The Herald, 85 people registered!  Authors Judy Goldman and Rick Rothacker inspired them to write their own stories.  To have so many come from such a small area was unbelievable.

Sunday was a reading by the contributors of the latest moonShine review.  Readings are always fun, but this one was particularly enjoyable.  It was held at the editor’s home, around her pool.  There was a gathering of around 30 contributors and guests, a lot of appetizers and a little wine.  The featured speaker was my friend, Bob Strother.  Between readings the fifteen year-old daughter of a co-editor entertained us on her guitar.  It was the perfect, relaxing evening after the hustle and bustle of Saturday.

Sunday evening I thought about how many people were involved with these events – from the volunteers who made them happen to the participants who made the work worthwhile.  I thought about the ages of everyone touched by events  – from the very young to the very young at heart.  I hope there will always be people  to carry the arts, but they can’t do it all alone.  The arts aren’t ‘extras.’  The arts bring a community together.

Full Plate

The past month, this is what my writer’s plate looked like –

I’m writing the second draft of my second novel.  I’m working on chapter 4, haven’t started on chapter 5, but have chapter 6 pretty well finished!  That’s how it happens sometimes.  I’m also ‘shopping’ my first novel – that means looking for a literary agent.  That requires a whole different set of skills and time not actually writing . . . except for query letters.

In April I learned my short story, Searching for China, had been accepted for moonShine review.  I was really excited – my first published short!  Then, just days before I left for Ohio, I received the list of edits suggested by the editorial staff.  Luckily it wasn’t a long list and edits are part of the process.  The deadline was a crunch. . . . but that’s part of the process, too.  I’m working on edits for my second short story and researching journals for it.

The end of May was the deadline for a poetry chapbook competition I was entering.  Chapbooks are short collections; usually 24-36 poems and there are short story chapbooks, too.  My poetry chapbook consisted of 27 poems, several I revised before submitting the collection.  I’m working on my second chapbook.  I only have 16 poems so I have a way to go.

I belong to three critique groups and one of them, the Rock Hill Chapter of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, is hosting a Writers’ Intensive this Saturday.  We hoped for 45-50 attendees . . . we have 80 registered with more wanting to come!  So helping plan has taken some time.  I’m an SCWW Board member and we’re planning our annual conference that takes place in the fall.  I’m head of one piece this year, the Silent Auction, so I’m gathering notes and volunteers and writing posts for it on the SCWW blog.

And of course there’s A Writer’s Window!  This blog has proven to be more fun than I anticipated and I missed writing it while I was gone.

And there are all the books I read and want to read and need to read . . . My plate is wonderfully full, but no different than others writers I know.

Cottage Music

Last week I stopped at the cottage, just to check on the place.  When I got out of the car I heard what I thought was someone’s car or home alarm going off.  A sustained drone echoed through the woods and I tried to figure out which direction it was coming from.  Then I saw them – thousands of flying insects whirring through the air and making the trees shimmer in movement.  The Thirteen-Year Cicadas were back.

Thirteen years ago I still lived at the cottage when these cicadas were born and burrowed into the ground, waiting in the darkness to emerge.  They lulled me to sleep.

I called hubby, as if he could hear the depth and volume through the phone.  A friend recently said the insect noise drove her crazy.  I stood under the trees, surrounding myself with the reverberations and got carried away with the music.

Yesterday hubby and I attended an outdoor concert at one of our favorite places, Kilburnie, the Inn at Craig Farm.  This is a beautiful bed and breakfast I’ll write about in a future post.  Each May the Innkeeper hosts a concert; this year we heard Guidonian Hand, a trombone quartet from New York.  They were amazing.  The notes of Haydn, Bach, Debussy, Bruckner, and others floated over our heads and across the lawn.  Softly playing under the music was the song of the cicadas.

I’ve read several blogs about the return of the cicadas – musings on how a life changed in those thirteen years, how the shells are metaphors of our own casings we break free of.  I thought about writing something along the same lines, but obviously it’s been done.  And besides, sometimes we just need to sit back and enjoy the music.  Especially the kind my kids used to ask for, music without words.

The Guidonian Hand

Write from Where You Live

Last November I attended the Pee Dee Literary Festival in Florence, SC where Silas House was a presenter.  House is the author of A Parchment of Leaves, Clay’s Quilt and The Coal Tattoo.  He draws his readers into the people and language of Appalachian Kentucky.

That doesn’t mean his characters are hillbillies who drop the ‘ing’ off words.  Some are as strong as the mountains they come from and they faith they hold on to.  Others are beaten down by the same.  House makes the reader want to meet all of them.

During the Q & A portion of the session, someone asked how he does that so well and how we writers can do the same.  His answer was simple.  “Write from where you live.”

He wasn’t talking about the location of one’s mailbox, but the place that resonates from the heart.  We all come from ‘some place’ and each of those places has its own language, idiosyncrasies, and personality.  They are defined by the ancestry of the inhabitants – in the foods that are shared, the names that are common, the faith practices passed down.  They are defined by geography – how they make their living, the houses they live in, how the weather and climate affect their lives.  And each is defined by the social mores and attitudes of current inhabitants.

There are intangible elements separating the Midwest from the South, the Northeast from the Southwest.  Each of us who lives in those areas recognizes what ‘it’ is, even if we can’t name it.  It’s up to each writer to capture those elements and convey them through his writing, without slipping into stereotypes.  House made us laugh, and think, with this example.  ‘When I say the word f-i-r-e, it comes out fahr.  Saying fi-er makes my mouth twist funny.  But when I write dialogue for my characters, I would never have one of them say fahr.’

Last week I visited where I live.  Come over to the Cottage and I’ll tell you about it.

Windows Open to the Thursday Night Poetry Group

KB-H: Describe the kind of poetry you typically write – subject matter, characteristics, form, etc.

Earl: I am inspired to write about anything and everything.  Usually, I’m fascinated by the universal in the everyday (think Bradstreet, Collins, Frost, Wordsworth, Ryan, et al). So up comes stuff about birds, baseball, flowers, a biker couple in a diner, a dress in the attic, the name of a beauty parlor, memories of a rural childhood (violence, romance).  I’m seldom inspired to write about things in the abstract, such as poems about moods, colors or abstract art.  My satisfaction is in completing a poem, in creating something that did not exist before the poem took shape and found a reader who responded to it.

Julie: Most of my poetry tends to be narrative, free verse, ‘mom’ poems.  Motherhood has been such a giving muse for the past seven years!  No matter what topic I write about, my Catholic faith often plays a role – if only in the language I choose.  My first chapbook, Lemons and Rumors, includes poems on motherhood, pregnancy, marriage, childhood memories, faith, life and death – something for everyone, right?  Despite (or maybe ‘in addition to’) the array of subject matter, I think my narrative style and conversational tone helps make my writing accessible to a wide audience.  I am currently working on a collection of poems on motherhood.

Evelyn: I write from personal experience with occasional commentary, and while my pieces are extremely short I like to think they pack a lot of punch in the few lines they contain.  I don’t know enough about poetry to know what form my writing takes, I just write what feels right!

Donna: Some of my poetry is categorized as ‘confessional’ while other poems have a nature or seasonal theme, such as summer, Christmas, spring, etc.

Judy: I write narrative, humor, family situations.

KB-H: Do you have any special writing time, rituals, inspiration . . .?

Julie: If I could better discipline myself, I might write more often.  As it is, I write when I can.  Often that means 30 minutes before I’m due to go to the monthly workshop group meeting!  I have scribbled poems on napkins, backs of business cards and used envelopes.  I have tapped them out on my BlackBerry while outside with my kids.  I used to do well at keeping a journal, but that has waned.  I feel most comfortable writing at the computer, ear buds in, listening to Pandora.com sometime around 3:00 a.m.  And, as I mentioned, my kids are my most reliable source of inspiration.

Evelyn: I have two muses, my husband and my nephew.  No special writing time, but I carry a pad and a pen with me wherever I go, just in case . . . I write in the car, in church, at work, in bed . . . you name it, I’ve written there.  I do hand write my poetry, and then put it on the computer.  I don’t think I’ve ever written directly onto the computer.  I will also jot some ideas down and then come back to it a few times, not necessarily editing all the time, but fleshing it out first, then editing.

Donna: No special writing time.  What usually inspires me to write poetry is a deadline for a contest or submission as well as an upcoming poetry group meeting.  Don’t have time for a visit from the muse.

Earl: . . .  I am so thoroughly a believer in the mystery of the creative process . . . No particular hour of the night/day, though I am way too tired to be writing at 4 AM or 11 PM.  Somewhere in between, probably.  I have to be well, physically, relaxed, my mind has to be free to meditate (really!) on whatever topic I’m considering, even when I’m simply searching for the next word.

KB-H: What draws you to read and write poetry?

Evelyn: My ability to concentrate has waned over the last 10 years, so I have to really try hard to read longer works.  I started reading magazines, novellas, and short stories.  Poetry was a natural, because most of the poems I read are one page length, and often require deciphering.  I’m not necessarily a puzzle person, but when I write I consider a good poem like a puzzle waiting to be put together in an interesting order.  When I read poetry I try to decipher others’ puzzles.  It’s fun!

Donna: I’m a romantic and love to share life’s drama and emotions in a poetic format.  Also, writing poetry helps me to express deep feelings of loss and disappointment which contributes to my personal healing.

Judy: It is soothing and/or electrifying.  It is great fun to read something which is peeled down to the ‘essence’.

Julie: I used to write because I was depressed.  I wrote reams of terrible ‘poetry,’ horrid angst-ridden stuff with forced meter and rhyme.  Then in my senior year in high school, my creative writing teacher – who preferred prose over poetry – managed to break me out of the habit when he introduced me to Strawberries by Edwin Morgan.  I don’t think I had been exposed to contemporary poetry before then.  I still wrote bad poetry, but at least it wasn’t forced.

I still write as a kind of therapy, though now, fortunately, I’m not treating depression.  Now, writing helps me to process and capture memories I probably should have written in baby books or letters.  It is sort of record keeping for me.  I might not get all the facts ‘right,’ but I think it is more important to capture the essence of a moment than the particulars.  Sometimes that means adjusting – or occasionally exaggerating – the details.

I’ll admit I don’t read as much as I should.  I have a hard time quieting myself enough to concentrate, but I try to attend readings at least every other month.  I get SO much more out of hearing authors read their own work!  That’s one of the reasons why I really enjoy our workshop group.

In either case, reading and hearing others’ poetry helps to share the human experience, and when a connection happens, it’s a true thing of beauty.

Julie’s comment is a good place to close these windows – ‘poetry helps to share the human experience, and when a connection is made, it’s a true thing of beauty.’  I think Dana Gioia was hoping for a similar response when he asked ‘Can Poetry Matter?’

On the Bookshelf are the poets these poets enjoy reading for that connection.

Jonathan Rice’s Window

KB-H: Jonathan, how long have you been writing poetry?  What do you most enjoy writing about?

JR: I’ve been writing poetry since I was a teenager, but probably became more serious about it 15 years ago, when I worked at crafting the poem and submitting work to literary magazines.  I like writing about what I observe, whether it’s by a pond fishing with my son, or on a street where a homeless person is panhandling, how people interact with one another.  If I can capture a moment in a person’s life, or a scene in nature, or my own reaction or feelings in a family situation, then I’ve done what I set out to do.

KB-H: Can you describe your writing life?  Tell us a little bit about your book and chapbook.

JR: I like my quiet time, and I basically need a chunk of quiet time to write.  These days I stay busy with my magazine, Iodine Poetry Journal, and spend time reading submissions, editing, etc., as well as painting, (I’m a visual artist as well), along with my regular job, so I haven’t made as much time to write.  Although lately I have taken time to sit at a cafe or bagel shop with a cup of hot tea for an hour before work, to journal and note some ideas for poems.  There was a poet in Austin, Texas years ago, Albert Huffstickler, who wrote a book of poetry, “Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners,” which I really loved partly because that’s what I did for a long time.  There is just something about being in a little spot in a cafe where you can watch and listen to people, which sometimes sparks that creative moment when you hear a word or a phrase in passing conversation, or notice something unique about a particular individual  Then you shut out the noise and start writing.  When I do write, I write early in the day mostly, and not so much late at night; that’s when I’m winding down and I tend to paint late in the evening.

My chapbook, Shooting Pool with a Cellist,  came out in 2003.  I had knee surgery that year, and while recovering from that, Scott Douglass at Main Street Rag called me and told me he’d like to publish a chapbook of my poetry.  We had spoken before about it, and I had already begun assembling the manuscript, so it was about ready for publication.  I was very pleased when this little book came out.  Three years later I put together Ukulele and Other Poems, my first full-length collection of poetry.  Main Street Rag published this book as well.  Once again Scott  Douglass did a fantastic job editing and designing a book for me.  I was fortunate enough to have blurbs by Fred Chappell, Tim Peeler and Virgil Suarez, and there were some nice reviews as well.  Oh yeah, about the books…there is not a running theme in these collections, but I suppose if you read through them the thread would be the characters in the poems, that is the people they are about, whether it’s my dad, or Jasper, a Korean War veteran, or a woman on an escalator.  There are also musical connections and nature connections.

KB-H: When reading poetry, not for Iodine, what do you look for?  What makes you go  ‘ahhh’ or ‘Wow!’ ?

JR: When I’m reading poetry for pleasure I am looking for fresh language or perspective.  I like what makes me think, what surprises me or provokes me, what makes me laugh or want to cry.  A writer or poet has accomplished his or her task, if the reader is jerked from his reality or comfort zone into the world the writer created.

KB-H: Dana Gioia asks the question, ‘Can poetry matter?’  How do you answer that question?  With the success of Iodine and Jackson’s Java Open Mics, what do you think this says about poetry today?  What changes have you seen in poetry content, who’s writing, etc.?

JR: Well, poetry does matter, so does art, theater, music, sports, etc.  I suppose my take on this is that what matters to the individual ultimately matters to society as a whole.  If poetry is something that contributes to society by engaging people, poets and readers alike, in the process of exchanging ideas in a constructive and creative manner, fostering a creative and thinking community, then it matters.  Does it matter outside that smaller community?  Yes, because I think it informs the way we engage with other people in an open and objective way.  I am also part of the visual arts community. I see the same thing there. 

Does art matter?  Of course it does.  I like to think that poets and artists are not the eccentric introverted types that some people may think we are.  Most poets and artists make a living in the real world teaching, bartending, selling furniture, books, cars, working in manufacturing, you name it.  We are part of the real world.  We respond and interact through our writing and our art.

Poetry today is quite alive, not just at the readings I host, but at Poetry Slams here in Charlotte and around the country.  The type of poetry being written, read aloud, and published is far-ranging from form poetry (I heard someone recently read a sestina at a reading and another poet I know just wrote an excellent sestina as well) to that which can only be performed in a Slam Poetry context. 

I started the readings at Jackson’s Java in the spring of 1999, and Iodine Poetry Journal a year later.  I never thought I’d still be hosting those readings, and I thought I’d close Iodine after 10 years. But they are both still going.  I measure success at the readings both at Jackson’s Java and Green Rice Gallery – no relation – where I host one with Scott Douglass.  The day no one comes to the readings will be the day I stop doing them.  As long as I break even with the magazine, I’m a happy camper.  But people do need to realize a lot of work goes into publishing a literary magazine, and we are dependent on sales.  I operate a small business.  I am not funded by a university or foundation, nor do I have nonprofit status.  I depend on the support of our readers.

Find out more about Jonathan’s Iodine Poetry Journal On the Bookshelf

Click here to read more about Main Street Rag and check out Jonathan’s books of poetry.

Martha Robinson’s Window

KB-H: Since this is National Poetry Month and you’ve recently been nominated for a Pushcart Award, let’s start there.  Could you briefly describe the Pushcart Award?  How does it feel to be a Pushcart nominee?

MR: First of all, I’d like to say thank you for interviewing me.  I feel very honored.  I checked the Pushcart Prize website but could determine very little beyond what I already knew.  The Pushcart gives authors whose work appears in small press publications a chance to be recognized.  The blurb on The Pushcart Book of Poetry lists the poets who have appeared as Pushcart prize winners who go on to win more prestigious awards – the Pulitzer, National Book Award, etc.  I know that this prize was the dream child of a man named Bill Henderson, and that he began his work by working in his garage.  And I think he still works in his garage.  Here’s a link to the website.  Pushcart Prize.

I’m still stunned by the fact my poem Matches was nominated for Pushcart!  As soon as I found out about the nomination, I tried to find a Pushcart to read, but neither the local library nor the local bookstores had a copy.  So I ordered The Pushcart Book of Poetry: Best Poems from 30 Years of the Pushcart Prize. What a thrilling book of poetry! Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Mary Oliver, Kim Addonizio are included as well as many, many more!  Kwame Dawes and Li-Young Lee are also in it.  It’s a wonderful smorgasbord for poetry lovers!

KB-H: Where did the inspiration for Matches come from?  Can you walk us through the steps of how the inspiration became the poem?

MR: The inspiration for Matches was a small box of matches which I shook back and forth as I sat down to write.  I immediately flashed on a short story I started several years ago in which a young female is kidnapped and held captive in the basement of an abandoned building.  She is bound and blindfolded by the two men who abducted her.  In my poem I deliberately selected words that create a sensory image of what the woman would hear, smell or feel in that basement that also included a bit of dialogue between the two men.  My aim was to create the sense of fear the woman would feel.

KB-H: Having read your poem, you made her fear real!  What kind of poetry do you enjoy reading?  What do you look for when you’re reading poetry?

MR: Right now I’m delving into the Pushcart of Poetry.  I also love reading the poetry selections that appear in The Herald (Rock Hill newspaper) every Sunday that Ted Kooser selects.  I really don’t have any favorite poets at this time.  In general I listen to the rhythm of the words, the clarity of the images presented, and the connections that are often made between something tangible to something intangible, and if the poem resonates with my own personal experience.

KB-H: Martha, I know you write everything – poetry, flash fiction, short fiction, novel and personal essay.  Is anything particularly easier?  Do you prefer one form over another?  How do you choose which story fits which genre?

MR: I do write a bit of everything – although I don’t really see myself ever completing a novel.  I am often torn between fiction and writing poetry.  When I sit down to write, I deliberately plan to write fiction.  That’s my heart’s desire.  But sometimes poetry just comes to me – I might hear a phrase or see something, or feel something, and something resonates inside me, and what appears on paper is a poem.  As far as genres, since I love to read suspense and mysteries, those are the types of fiction I write.

KB-H: What is your writing routine like?  Where do you find your inspiration for fiction and poetry?

MR: I really do not have a writing routine when I’m working.  I have more time during breaks from school and the summertime.  Writing is the first thing I want to do every morning.  I always have a small notebook with me, and I am constantly jotting down phrases, images, thoughts, etc. that might go into a future piece of writing.  And of course when I’m stuck on a story, as I am now, I am constantly thinking about the plotline and the characters.  What would happen if this character did this?  When should this character appear?  What should the dialogue be like?  Where will the conflict come into the story?  How will it be resolved?  That’s the biggie for me right now.

KB-H: Best wishes on resolving your conflict and thank you for letting us peek into your Writer’s Window.

MR: Thank you again for interviewing me for your website.  I feel doubly honored to be the featured author/poet.

“A poet’s mind is … a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.” T.S. Eliot

Makes it sound like we have attics for brains! And sometimes it feels like my brain is an attic.  I do think we observe and store things in ways other people don’t.  Speaking only for myself, there are times when I’m not even sure why a particular item is stored.  I just acknowledge that little catch in my throat, the clutch in my stomach, the prickle on my skin or the tear in my eye, then tuck away the image and the reaction, trusting it means something.

One of my first published poems was Walker Lake (Iodine).  It’s a poem about my grandma.  My children and I were visiting family in Ohio and Grandma insisted on visiting Walker Lake, where she and my grandpa used to go.  So determined, she said she’d drive herself – she’d not driven for years.  Dad postponed our dinner plans so he could take her.  When he returned, a little exasperated, he said they’d found it but it was all dried up.  Those last three words made my stomach clutch.  On our drive back to South Carolina, I kept my thirteen year-old son busy writing snippets of poetry on any snippets of paper he could find.  By the time we reached home the poem was finished.

A similar thing happened with my daughter.  I’d written several poems about our journey through her two bouts with leukemia.  But there was never an ending poem.  When she was 18 she joined a ministry team to travel the US putting on retreats.  We took her to the airport and once she got through security off she went.  In the car I said to Hubby, ‘the little snot never looked back.’  I had my ending for the final poem.  The rest of it came together within an hour.

Not all my poems are poignant, or as my kids would say, ‘Can’t you write happy poems?’  Of course I do.  I’ve written one about watching my children playing on the beach.  There is the one about being a maid at Cedar Point, Voyeurs, (Kakalak).  It’s just a matter of waiting ‘until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound’ become present.

But so far, no new bunny poems.

Meet Grace Looper

Grace writes all types of fiction.  She has won a total of 34 awards over the last few years from the Southeastern Writers Conference, South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, and the Charlotte  Writers’ Club.

She has published in the Evening Herald, Touch Magazine, Charlotte Writers Annual Award Anthology, SCWW’s anthologies – Catfish Stew and The Petigru Review, The Rocking Chair Reader:Memories from the Attic, and Nancy’s Christmas Eve Visitor.  Grace has also had a story published electronically by Charlotte View Magazine.

Grace has written a series centered on her character, Aaron Gilbert Fowler.  The series follows Aaron from a young boy to his service in WWII and after.  The first three books in the series have been published by Bella Rosa Books – Molasses Making Time (2004), Great-Grandpa’s Hidden Treasure (2006), A Call for Courage (2009). The fourth and final book in the series, A Second Chance, will also be published by Bella Rosa Books.

She has two books out by Thomas Max Publishing, a collection of short stories – My Apologies, Mr. Poe: And Other Stories to Chill the Soul, and a romance, Southern Fire.

She is currently finishing her murder mystery/romance, Pom-Pom Murders.

Kim: Grace, thanks for letting us peek into your Writer’s Window. When did you start writing seriously?  Which was your first book and when was it published?

Grace: I started writing seriously in the 1980s when I joined the Charlotte Writers’ Club and the Romance Writers.  I won a number of contests and had some short stories and novella published in The Herald (Rock Hill newspaper).  My first published book was Molasses Making Time in 2004.

Kim: I know you write in a variety of genres.  Do you have a favorite or one that seems easier to write?

Grace: I have written children’s stories, middle grade stories, young adult stories, inspirational stories, romance novels, sci-fi and horror short stories.  I find young adult easier to write.

Kim: What are your writing habits – particular time of day? Method?

Grace: I really don’t have a particular time to write, but I prefer morning or early afternoon.  I do a lot of mulling the plot in my head and then just write – no outline or anything.

Kim What’s the story you haven’t written yet?

Grace: I’d like to write a sequel to Pom-Pom Murders, which I’ve almost finished.

Grace is a veteran conference attendee and her publishing success is a direct result of the advice she’s gained through them.  On our Field Trip, Grace shares some advice of her own.  And you can read more about Grace and her books on her blog.


Odd Shaped Drawer

I have an odd-shaped drawer in my kitchen. It’s hard to miss, literally tucked into the corner of the counter looking like two drawers opening into each other.  Or like Hubby says, like it has cross-eyes.  I assume it was designed by a man who didn’t want to waste an inch of space.  And I appreciate the effort.

When we first moved into the house and we had to remember where we put the measuring spoons and spatulas, we’d refer to it as ‘that odd-shaped drawer.’

After twelve years, it’s just another drawer – except when someone new comes into our kitchen.  “That’s an odd-shaped drawer,” they tell us.

“Oh yeah, guess it is.”  Realizing, again, we’ve not seen another like it.

Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to point out the strangeness of things we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.  We all have friends who let us know if our shirt is a bit too tight or too out of style.  They tactfully suggest maybe a change in our stance on the tee will help our drive down the fairway.

Writers have critique groups or critique partners to do the same thing.  We spend hours writing, editing and revising our work, then open it to new eyes and invariably they find what we missed.  Sometimes it’s dialogue that sounds a bit off or a word that we’ve not used correctly.  Sometimes what we’re not hearing in our work is more substantial, like the story’s flow or a character’s development.

While writing my first novel I let one of my beta readers read what I had and one of her comments was, “I have no interest in this character.  It’s not that I don’t like her, I just don’t know her enough to have any feelings toward her one way or another.”

When we get feedback like that and if we’re serious about our writing, we rewrite, edit and revise until the problem is fixed.  That’s what I did with my character.  It took several months and added several thousand words.  When another of my beta readers read the novel later, this character was one of her favorites.

We have to trust those friends who let us know when something is a little peculiar.  But there is nothing I can do about my odd-shaped drawer.

Thirty-Seven Times

In South Africa there is a parasite, the Guinea Worm, which enters feet that are standing in stagnant water.  Water used for bathing, drinking, tending animals.  From the feet the worm burrows through the body, leaving raised trails marking its path from feet to legs, legs to torso, from torso to exit sites on arms and face.  It leaves the victim scarred, weak and arthritic.

Today, I waste water as it runs to hot before I step into the shower.  The water stays hot and mists the windows and mirror while I lather and rinse – twice.  Once with soap, once with shampoo and conditioner.  Downstairs a gush of water fills the barrel of the washing machine, sloshing clothes and carrying away the dirt.  While working out, I refresh with water that filters through a system on my faucet and is purified.

Throughout my day I release the flow of water.  Pipes mark the trail into my home from sources I can’t see, but I control the flow.  Thirty-seven times I count the flick of my wrist as I twist handles, push levers and pull knobs.  But not once do I think of the Guinea Worm.

I’ve always been blessed to have water.  Even when Hurricane Hugo slammed South Carolina almost twenty-two years ago, and we were in its path, we didn’t go without.  We had a well.  Our electricity was out for a little while but once it was back on, we had water.

I can’t imagine what the Japanese are going through and other than writing a check to a relief organization, I know there is little I can do to help.  I offer my prayers for everyone there and to Japan’s slow rebuilding.  And I offer a grateful heart for those ordinary things that become extraordinary when we’re challenged to look at them.

Transitions

In Cottage Quotes today, I write about being created and undone.  Transitions.  When a writer speaks of transitions, it usually means a shift between paragraphs or ideas.  But like my son, we writers face internal transitions as well.  We have moments of being re-created and becoming undone.

Sometimes becoming undone is, well, literal.  The characters just aren’t behaving the way we want them to or we realize this Chapter Ten we’ve spent two days revising is voided because of something in Chapter Two.  The best thing I’ve found to do, after some shouting and hair-pulling, is pulling weeds.  So if my flower beds are pristine, don’t ask how the writing is going.

Coming undone is also in the subtle, or not so subtle, changes needed for the new creation of a full-time writer.  For three years I was the Contest Chair for the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, a position I loved.  For two years I also served on its Board of Directors, another position I enjoyed immensely.  But once my term was up I knew it was time to transition out of both.

I killed the Enjoli Woman a long time ago – fodder for another post – so to keep my mental, physical and spiritual balance, I have to work out and do something prayerful every day.  For a number of years I’d sleep until 7:00 and slip out of bed when hubby went in to shower.  If I want time to write and accomplish the non-writing things I have to do, I need to roll out of bed by 6:00, probably earlier.  What’s a little less sleep?

Outside of my colleagues – my critique groups – my time with friends is limited.  If all goes well we have lunch together once a month.  But among good friends that’s sometimes enough.  And of course my colleagues are new good friends.

I’ve become a more creative cook, though not necessarily a better one.  Simple meals are healthier anyway, right?

It was a breakthrough the first time I allowed myself hours to read in the middle of the day.  Reading is part of my job now, not just a leisure activity.

And I’ve had to learn all this computer and social media stuff, hands down the most challenging but also some of the most fun.

Thomas Moore says the transitions aren’t a negative thing, just a movement from one place to another.  I agree.  It’s all been good so far.  And so far I’ve not had to resort to an idea I saw on the Internet – putting a mousetrap on my alarm to keep from hitting the snooze button.

I Wrote a Poem on Wednesday

. . . and it took me only 8 hours!

In my first post I mentioned a friend suggested I have the luxury of writing all day – to the extent I do nothing else.  Having spent 8 hours writing a single poem would lend some credence to her opinion.  But ‘Mildred’ – I’ve given my friend a pen name as she may show up on occasion – and I have very different ideas about writing.

Mildred is 80-something and we met at a poetry reading years ago.  We were in a critique group for several years after that.  She wrote some interesting poems, but her idea of critique was, ‘Just tell me what you like about my poem.  I don’t really want to change anything.’  Huh?  Mildred’s theory was poetry comes from an emotional place so whatever comes out intuitively on the paper is the true poem.

I agree poetry has an emotional element and too much revision can dilute it.  My first chapbook is about my being a mom to a daughter with cancer, then being a daughter whose mom has cancer.  Believe me, I know about pouring emotion into my poetry.  Revisions kept the poems from being sappy or maudlin.  That’s where Mildred and I part company.

I wrote a poem on Wednesday.  But on Monday I spent 2 or 3 hours studying its photo inspiration – a woman in front of a window reading a letter.  I jotted down all the real, physical details that struck me.  I noted anything symbolic/metaphorical.  Finally I wrote down questions like, ‘Why is there a picture of someone reading a letter?’

On Tuesday I spent another 4 or 5 hours doing research.  There was a houseplant that made a presence in the photo.  I found its name and characteristics interesting.  The style of dress indicated the early 1900’s, but I wanted to narrow that window.  The photo was printed on a postcard.  I found this custom started in 1903.  What was going on 1900-1910 that made a letter significant?  Immigration!  In my research I found a nugget about the steamship, Baltic, that carried 1,002 young ladies from Europe to America for the sole purpose of marriage.

On Wednesday I wrote a poem.  On Thursday I spent an hour or two revising.  On Friday morning I spent 30 minutes tweaking the poem before submitting it to a critique group.  They suggested a few minor changes so Friday afternoon I spent 30 minutes making final edits.

Mildred would never understand.

Meet Ginny Padgett

KB-H Thanks, Ginny, for letting us peek through your window today.  First, tell us about your writing life.

GP – I have started two novels, a southern women’s suspense and a southern romance that spans the lifetime of the protagonist, but this romance is bittersweet.  I’ve written short stories and nonfiction.  My latest project is a series of magazine articles chronicling my journey through a drug trial for the medicinal therapy for Friedreich’s Ataxia.  Once I have the articles published (and I think that’s a real possibility) I hope to catch a publisher’s interest and parlay them into a book.  Also, I’m trying my hand at essays.

I have always written.  My first work was a play I wrote and tried to produce when I was twelve years old.  My players, siblings and cousins, didn’t share my creative vision, and it closed before it opened.  (I’m a big Lillian Hellman fan.)  I was my high school senior class poet.  Unfortunately or – in all probability – fortunately, I can’t locate that poem.  I was the yearbook editor; I was publicity chair for my sorority in college, in addition to earning my degree in advertising and public relations.  For a number of years my writing was confined to 10-,30-, and 60-second blocks for local TV ads, with the occasional brochure copy thrown into the mix.  After I quit advertising and my children were in school, I began attempting character sketches that went nowhere.  In 2004 we moved back to Columbia after my younger son graduated from high school (more time and fewer distractions), and then two years later I had to quit driving because my ataxia had worsened to the point I was a hazardous road condition.  Those are the events that pushed me to work more seriously on my writing.

I like to work in the mid-afternoon to early evening.  Ideally, I’d take a break and go back to work later into the night, but that doesn’t fit well into my family life.  In the half-conscious state between waking and dreaming, I hear conversations and conflicts that capture my imagination and fire my creative engine.  I don’t use an outline because I’ve found some of my characters don’t behave in the same way I planned, taking my plots where I really hadn’t intended they go.  (That seems a recurring theme since my twelve-year-old playwright days.)

I have been Columbia II’s Chapter President since 2009, and the editor/publisher of the Chapter’s blog since October, 2008.  I love my Chapter!

KB-H – I saw pictures of Trixie Delight during the UNBOUND performance.  When was she born?

GP- Trixie Delight came out of a need for some kind of entertainment for a college rush party.  I volunteered to sing because I’d been in talent shows, beauty pageant talent performances, and singing – as well as playing the organ – in church.  Performing was not a big deal for me.  Somewhere I found the sheet music for “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Kern/Hammerstein for Show Boat.  I fell in love with that song, and it inspired in me the image of a torch singer in a hot, smoky club; and voila! Trixie Delight sprang forward (her dress was already in my closet!)  Trixie only sang that one song for several years.  She didn’t dance, but slithered provocatively around the piano player and audience.

KB-H – What is Friedreich’s Ataxia? How does this affect you physically?  Has it changed your writing – your system, focus, etc?

GP – I was diagnosed with Spino Cellebellar Ataxia (my younger son used to tell his friends when he was little that I had Sara Call a Taxi) in 1988, but symptoms began around 1972.  After the Human Genome Project was made public in 2002, I was diagnosed as having FA after having a gene test in September 2006.

Wherever there is a nerve in my body, function of that part has been affected – inside and out.  Some of the symptoms of FA are loss of coordination and balance, gait disturbance, spasticity, choking, slurred speech, and tactile loss, proprioception – not knowing where my limbs are unless I’m looking at them.  It’s hard to describe unless I’m trying to accomplish something specific like reaching for toothpaste without knocking everything off the bathroom counter; getting food from the refrigerator, dialing the phone, etc.

I concentrate on writing now because it’s the only thing I can do with some ease and safety.

KB-H – Had you written about your condition before your essay for UNBOUND? What was it like seeing your life performed through dance?

GP- The essay for UNBOUND began as a little something I wrote for the Columbia II Chapter of SCWW to explain my disease.  They were so accepting of me and my writing when I began going to that critique group.  Everyone was too polite to ask about my physical condition.  When I read that piece, my fellow writers were very supportive and said it should be published somewhere in some medical related magazine.  I worked on it with an eye toward magazine publication, and it was ready to go after a little tweaking when I heard UNBOUND was looking for these kinds of stories.

The dance performance was a little surreal.  The dancers did a phenomenal job accurately portraying my FA progression.  It was a little like watching home movies.   However, it was extremely hard on my family and friends.  My older son had to leave the theater.  Afterward my younger son said it was almost too difficult to watch, but “I was much more graceful” handling my disabilities.  I think that must be his perception of me because I thought the movements in the dance were all authentic.

Thank you, Ginny.

To read how UNBOUND transformed Ginny’s words into dance, visit my Field Trip page.

To learn more about Friedreich’s Ataxia visit these sites

FA research  Cure FA

Spino Cerebellar Ataxia

On Being A Little Left of Center

My husband is an actuary – a person who calculates insurance risks and premiums.  He’s a numbers kinda guy.  He appreciates art – as long as it actually looks like something.  He’ll wrap Christmas presents – the square ones.  He likes symmetry.

But he married me – a writer.  He describes me as, ‘ a little left of center.’  I think it’s a term of endearment.  I appreciate outsider art, or what he calls ‘weird-ass art.’  I don’t like wearing coats, even in the winter, because I find them confining.  I love the wild growth of our forsythia bushes.  Even my hair is naturally curly and refuses to be tamed.

But in all my seeming resistance to order, a sense of order is one of the reasons I write.

An agent critiqued the first ten pages of my novel and, while she liked them, thought one character said something she thought was pretty harsh.

In one of my short stories, something occurs with a mother and her two sons that left my critique group unable to say anything.

In both works of fiction, the incidents that caused the most discomfort were the only things that were true.

Each happened at least twenty years ago and stuck with me.  I couldn’t imagine saying my character’s words to someone I loved, like he did.  Being a mom, I tired to understand why a mother did what she did.  I wondered what happened to her two little boys.

I think sometimes after witnessing great tragedy or great joy, we gather our emotions and express them through art.   Finally writing about those events was the only way I could make sense or order out of things that were pretty harsh or unbelievable.

But it’s not always tragedy that inspires.  This is another view from my window.  The sun was shining through our bushes and ‘painted’ these shadows on my curtains.  It looked like a Japanese silk painting and I’m writing a poem about it.  It’s a traditional Haiku – a form poem about nature, with a set number of lines and a specific number of syllables.  Even hubby can appreciate that.

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22 Responses to A Writer’s Window

  1. roxie says:

    A little left of center – what a great way to describe a writer! There’s something to be said about not seeking balance. Beautiful art needs to be seen, thanks for showing us this inspirational view (on many levels) from your window. I can’t wait to hear your Haiku! 🙂

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  4. Pat FitzGerald says:

    I was so delighted to read your interview of Ginny because it gave you both such depth. Boy, I would have loved to have seen that dance. It must have been so “right on” to cause her children’s reactions.
    Left of center is waaay better than right. And I LIKE your curls!

    Pat

    • lol! Pat, the curls are here to stay so I guess it’s a good thing you like them and in my ‘maturity’ I’ve grown to accept/embrace them! If my post about the dance gives readers even a little taste of what that evening was like, I’ve done my job. UNBOUND is working on their Spring performance so I’ll let you know when it is. ~ Kim

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