Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only plot here is that which you might find in anyone’s life. The book flows through Bishop Latour’s years without relying on external forces of any kind. A quote toward the end of the book expresses the way the work itself moves:

“He realized also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories…. He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.”

Click on the link above to read the rest of my review of Death Comes for the Archbishop.

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The prison doors shut tight,

The only key: the Light.




LUKE 1:26-30

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

Christ the babe was born for you.


Recently I had cause to ponder the self-appellation “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1).  I’ve struggled with this concept before.  Perhaps it is because none of us wants to be a prisoner of anything.  We want to be in complete control of our lives.  Of course, this doesn’t stop us from making ourselves prisoners of addictions, social expectation, political dogmas, materialism, fear, and any number of other things.  Perhaps it is because my understanding of Christ is that He makes us free, and I have a hard time calling myself freeman and prisoner in the same breath and by the same source.  Today I found this post on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir blog and it sparked a new thought.

We refer to the time people spend in prison as time spent “paying their debt to society.”  Therefore, a prisoner is one who is paying a debt for a broken law to some entity which has authority to see that the law is upheld.  There is also a sense that the prisoner is making recompense to a party that has suffered because of his or her choices.  Both of these applications fit our relationship to Jesus Christ.

I have had several loved ones spend time in jail.  Some have used that time well; others have not.  Those who have done well first had to accept responsibility for what they had done, humble themselves and accept that they were there because of their choices, and stop trying to find a way to circumvent the consequences of their actions.  Once they let go of their anger, defensiveness, excuse-making, self-pity, resentment they were able to learn and to make the experience one that benefitted themselves and others.  Those who would not let go of these things never moved beyond them.

This is a lesson for all of us because we are all prisoners.  The question is are we at the point where we are willing to experience the odd mix of pain, peace, and joy that comes when we truly begin paying our debt to Christ (a debt, incidentally, that can never really be repaid) or are we “on the outside,” unaware or unwilling to admit that we are still subjecting ourselves to jailers that have no power to open the prison doors for us.

Camp NaNoWriMo

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Confession time: I have avoided NaNoWriMo for years.  I did make a stab at it once, and that was a major factor in my realization that I am not ready to novel.  I prefer to write poetry and nonfiction, and I’m tentatively entering the fiction world with short stories.  Whether I’ll ever write a novel, I don’t know.  I don’t feel like the novel is the apex of literature, though it does seem to garner more attention and $$ than anything else.  I am very happy developing my skills in the areas I enjoy.

Which is why I decided to try Camp NaNoWriMo.  There is no requirement concerning word count or genre.  I set my own goals.  This is good for me.  In 2013, I did the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  My reasoning then was essentially what it is now: this will push me, give me an external framework that I hope will help me establish better discipline with my writing.

I also signed up for a cabin.  I could have chosen to “room alone,” but I thought, What the heck?  I’m interested in new people.  I’m feeling pretty nervous about that part, though.  I’m kind of an introvert, and I have been told I’m not much fun at parties (by some troll who didn’t like a comment I made on some Facebook post–haha…).  I’ve always been anxious about meeting new people and, oddly enough, even now, knowing that I’ll never really see my “cabinmates” and that I can probably just don my quiet, sit-in-the-corner persona if we don’t get along, I’m feeling the strain.  But this is all about pushing myself, so…

Wish me luck!  And if you’re interested in finding out more about CNNWM, click here.

WoHeLo!  (Yeah.  I was a Camp Fire Girl.)

Camp NaNoWriMo

I was doing a little research on an obscure poetic form, the Hsinku, today.  I found two sources that were somewhat helpful in understanding it beyond the basic definition I’d been given by the South Arkansas Poets of the Pines chapter of PRA: “Line count 4, syllable count optional; Lines 2 and 4 rhymed; line 4, twist or surprise ending based on subject.”

The first source is a translation from an address by the innovator, Dr. Fan Kuanling, of this Neo-classical Chinese form.  Apparently Hsinku also involves an element of oil painting, although I have no idea how the two actually interplay.  In my ignorance, I limit myself to the poetic form and hope more information will come with time.  Dr. Fan gives this definition:

“What is Neo-classical poetry? Neo-classical poetry is written in verse; a modernization of ancient Chinese poems.  Basically four lines each poem. There’re foot rhymes on both the second and fourth lines. But rhymes can be in a natural sense of music. To copy ancient sayings and verses are not encouraged.

The entire address, including his own example of the Hsinku, can be found here.

My second source was Nathaniel Hellerstein’s blog, Paradox Point, in which he mentions his first experience with Hsinku and Dr. Fan, himself, in 1993.  Hellerstein includes a group of his own compositions.  One, in particular, prompted me to write a response in form.  The original renders praise to the clam for being the creator of the pearl.  (I looked it up–although the preponderance of pearls come from oysters, they occasionally develop inside mussels and clams as well.)  My response, and my first Hsinku, follows.

Why praise the clam?
Little Reactionary secreted nacre
thoughtlessly. Pearl: choice creation
unchosen by its maker.


Black Pearl and shell by Brocken Inaglory (I know. It’s not a clam. But it’s gorgeous!)

In his New Republic article, Adam Kirsch agrees–and disagrees–with Jeremy Paxman on the relevancy of poetry.

It raised some questions in my mind that I would LOVE to get a discussion going on.

  • What makes poetry “relevant”?
  • What does “relevancy” mean?  Popular?  Important?  Applicable?
  • Must poetry be “accessible” to be relevant?  To whom?
  • Should the poet write to the average reading level or attention span in order to be relevant?
  • Must poetry appeal to the masses (be commercial) to be relevant?
  • What elements of poetry exactly does relevancy involve?
  • Is it possible to have universal relevancy?  Is relevancy relative?
  • Do the universal themes feel relevant or must the subject be current political and social trends/philosophies?
  • Does relevance involve technique as well as topic?
  • Must one adopt current popular styles (such as slam or rap) to be relevant?  Does employment of traditional styles (sonnet, epic) increase irrelevancy?
  • Should the poet really be concerned with relevancy?


Last weekend (June 6-7) I attended the Arkansas Writers’ Conference in Little Rock.  The conference celebrated its 70th year in 2014.  It was small, but there were some worthwhile elements, including 15+ presentations, 35 contests, and a visit from Governor Beebe.  I missed out on the last two items in that list, but I did glean some useful information from the speakers I attended.  Here are a few of my favorites.

“There are no ‘special snowflakes’ in publishing.”  (Sandy Longhorn)

The Published Poem: How to Write It, How to Get It Published, Sandy Longhorn

One of Longhorn’s main points is to do your research, find out submission requirements, and follow them!  You may have written THE great American novel (poem, essay, short story, screenplay), but that does not give you a pass in the publication process.  At the conference, Longhorn discussed poetry publication specifically.  Poets begin publishing in literary and regional journals and she suggests identifying potential matches in Poets & Writers Tools for Writers section and indices of Pushcart Prize anthologies.  When you’ve reached the point when you are ready to publish a book-length work, Sandy suggests checking out Small Press Distribution for likely fits.  Regardless of where you choose to submit, remember to follow the guidelines.  Not only is it a sign of respect, it also lets the publisher know you are willing to work with them throughout the process.

Longhorn also suggested some useful books for those who are still honing their skills:

E-Publishing Tips & Tricks for Beginners, Heather Sutherlin.

Walking beginners through the steps of epub, Sutherlin brought up some points worth noting including the unnecessary isbn, a brief discussion of DRM, ACX, and the importance of checking chapter breaks, headings, table of contents, etc., for all formats in which you are publishing.  Along with this, she discussed different available tools for formatting ebooks, particularly KDP/KDP Select, Smashwords (she wasn’t a fan), and a newcomer to the game, Draft 2 Digital (she was a fan).  David Gaughran provides a good, unbiased comparison of the two on his blog.  (This was published in August, 2013, and according to Heather, D2D has made some improvements.)

 Impulse + Structure = Productivity  (Phillip H. McMath)

Three speakers discussed characterization.  Tamara Hart Heiner gave a severely abridged version of her talk, managing to squeeze enough information about Establishing Voice with Multiple Main Characters to make me regret that circumstances beyond her control had forced her to condense 45 minutes into 15.

Jan Morrill gave a hands-on (my favorite kind!) workshop on Interviewing your Characters.  The concept seems pretty self-explanatory and simple, but I found it useful and intend to use the method again.  Some of the keys to success:

  • Before you being, write down several questions you want to ask.
  • Envision an interview setting in which your character will be comfortable.  (Writing down the description may help you get in the spirit of the thing and give you a nice warm-up besides.)
  • Carry on a conversation.  Ask your question, and listen to the answer.  Don’t try to force your character’s response.  Ask further questions based on answers rather than sticking adamantly to the agenda.
  • Record the conversation without lifting pen from paper or fingers from keyboard.
  • Don’t censor or edit.

The Seven Characters Needed to Tell a Story, Del Garrett

Garrett opened with the assertion that a Hero is a reactant character, one that needs something to react to.  He emphasized strong development of the villain.  His seven characters fulfill the demands of the Hero’s Journey structure and include:

  • Hero (protagonist)
  • Sidekick
  • Villain
  • Minion
  • Damsel in distress
  • Mentor

[Yes.  There are only 6 listed.  I got a little distracted, apparently, and my notes are incomplete.  Sorry.]  Something to remember–that “damsel” does not have to be a female or feminine, nor does the hero have to be male/masculine.  These are roles, but how they are filled is up to the author.  Garrett also suggested a couple of books:


“If you were the last person on earth, could you get the lid off that pickle jar?”  (Cara Brookins’ dad)

 Building Your Dreams, Cara Brookins

Brookins presentation was definitely of the motivational ilk, a “genre” I’m not particularly fond of.  But her approach to dream-come-true-ing is rooted in hard work, hard experience, and hope.  Because of this, she turned out to be one of my favorite speakers.  I’m not going to retell her story, but if you get a chance to hear her, take it.  I will share a few of the nuggets from her talk.

  • Dream big.  I admit, I hate this line.  But add to it a purpose and it moves beyond pie-in-the-sky positive thinking.  Wimpy dreams are the stuff of fearful hearts.  Be honest!  Set real goals, things you really want, not goals you know you can reach because you are afraid of failure.
  • Your effort must match your goal.  Recognize that you are going to have to work extremely hard to make that big dream happen.  It may shock you when you first realize what building your dream will take; it will certainly require more than you originally expected.  Don’t let it overwhelm you.
  • “Use a Sharpie.”  Be committed.  Set the goal, face the reality of the effort required, and do it!  Be all in.  No pencils allowed.  Once you have a dream/goal, exhaust everything in you to reach it.
  • “Your future is an achievement, not a gift.”

One of the great things about writers’ conferences is the opportunity they provide to move a little further from the fantasy of writing and a little closer to the reality of it.  Brookins’ and the other presenters at ACW 2014 did a great job of making that happen.

10 Books on Writing

Posted: May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
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10 Books on Writing

I ran across this list while searching for a book whose title I had forgotten.  The book is here (The Artist’s Way) along with 9 others, some of which I have read, others I would like to.  I am posting the link here in case of memory lapse and in the hope that it might be worthwhile for someone else as well.