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Reviewing THERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE

There must be Some Mistake

 

Before I took off for Writers Conferences a couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Lori Roy’s Bent Road and asked readers to respond, giving me the titles and comments on good books they’ve read this year. Author Terry Persun did respond recommending Frederick Barthelme’s There Must Be Some Mistake. Here are his review and comments. Do join in!

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About There Must be Some Mistake

Review by Terry Persun

This book chronicles the life of a retired man who has an ex-wife, good female friend, and a girlfriend, plus a daughter. Surrounded by women, they still seem to confuse and evade him. But that’s not all. As a recent retiree, he’s unsure about what he has to offer anyone, including himself. He wonders who he is now that he’s retired. He wanders around, gets involved in all kinds of crazy things, etc. But that’s not why I like this book so much. It’s not the story it’s the writing. Frederick knows how to move your through a story, but he also knows how to use the language, how to craft long sentences that take you on their own ride. He plays with the language, with sentence structure, and with abstract and concrete idea. He goes inside his character’s head and outside, lets you see what’s happening and what the character is thinking about what’s happening. The book is beautifully written. 

Comment by Judy Kirscht

This is a different sort of read, for me anyway, and I agree with Terry that the writing is fluid, exploring interior and exterior, thought and event with an effortless grace that  keeps me reading. It is also disturbing, for it defies the readers expectation of a protagonist with a quest. This protagonist is adrift as are so many (especially males) cut loose from the world of work. You know people like this, whether unemployed or retired, who have lost their anchor, and Barthelme portrays the inner state with unerring honesty.  Some reviewers have found it a satire on our society, some not, but all comment on the thread of humor that runs through the book and on protagonist’s enduring optimism. Thank you, Terry, for introducing me to a very different sort of word artist.

Heidi Thomas on Writing Family Sagas

I’m delighted to present author-friend, Heidi Thomas’s account of the role of family sagas in her writing life.????????????

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 How many of you have read a book and become so invested in the character(s) that you hate for the story to come to an end? Whether it’s a likable detective or a boy who would avenge a traitorous plot against his noble family or the patriarch/matriarch of a homesteading pioneer family, you want to continue to count these characters as friends. You want the story to continue.

As social media maven, Kristen Lamb, wrote in a recent blog post, Why Series are Becoming Hot, Hot, Hot!: (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/why-series-are-becoming-hot-hot-hot-how-dragging-out-the-pain-is-good-for-your-readers/ ), “Every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback….With a series there is, bluntly, more time and more opportunities to 1) generate love and affection for a wide cast of characters and then 2) torture them then 3) wait for the comeback.

She continues, “The same urges that drive viewers to lose an entire weekend or night of sleep dying to find out what happens on a show…is the same phenomena that is driving series and novellas to greater popularity.”

The sweeping family saga has known much popularity through the years, e.g. Jeffery Archer’s “The Clifton Chronicles”, Ken Follett’s “Century Trilogy”, Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Amazon, Goodreads, and Wikipedia all have long lists of books that are “shelved” under the term family saga.

Little did I know when I was growing up on the isolated prairies of eastern Montana in the 1950s and ’60s, that my own family would be the source of a novel series. I, like most kids, undoubtedly thought my family was pretty boring, and the stories my parents and grandparents told flew over my head like geese heading south for the winter.

But as I grew older and knew that the “writing thing” was my passion, I turned to that family history to write what has become the “Cowgirl Dreams Trilogy”, Cowgirl Dreams based on my grandmother who was a bucking-steer rider in rodeos during the 1920s. And from researching and writing those books, grew a non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up!, about the old-time rodeo cowgirls of Montana, due out in September.

The next novel is actually the first one I ever wrote, but I am rewriting, and it will follow the Cowgirl trilogy with the next generation, based on my mother, who emigrated from Germany after WWII. I’m calling it An American Dream, and it may turn into two books, followed by a purely fictional story, starring the great-granddaughter of my original character, Nettie.

My readers tell me they have grown to like Nettie Brady Moser, that they root for her to overcome the prejudice against women riders, cry with her when she loses a baby sister, and are happy when she finds a cowboy to love and share rodeo with. And I hope they will continue on the journey with me with Dare to Dream and then on to the next generation.Dare to Dream

Our families truly are a source of rich information for our stories—if only we pause long enough to mine that source.

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 Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana. She had parents who taught her a love of books and a grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos.

Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalist award. Follow the Dream, a WILLA Award winner, is the second book in the “Cowgirl Dreamseries about strong, independent Montana women, and the third book in the series, Dare to Dream is due out in May. A non-fiction book about the old-time cowgirls of Montana, Cowgirl Up!, is scheduled to be released in September.

Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West, Professional Writers of Prescott, is also a manuscript editor, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes in north-central Arizona.

Website: http://www.heidimthomas.com

Blog: http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com

Buy links (my website) http://www.globepequot.com/dare_to_dream-9780762797004

The Inspiration of True Life Stories

Readers of fiction look for characters whose lives will rivet them, carry them places they dare not go. As an author of fiction, I greatly admire those who seek those stories among those around them—stories that need to be told. So today, I gives me great pleasure to introduce one such author, Jaana Hatton, who writes profiles of local people for the on-line website, Anacortes Now. I’ve asked her to tell us where she finds her subjects, and to share one story here.

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????????????As to where I find the stories, it is always people who inspire. Those, who take on challenges, bravely and with determination. So much in life is mind over matter, about finding the courage to push on even when the odds are against us. Talking about dreams is one thing, but actually showing how someone in your hometown achieved their dream is a much greater incentive for the rest of us to do likewise. We all get curve balls thrown our way. I like to tell about people who step up to the plate anyhow and hit a home run. I have had many comments from readers who are both delighted and surprised to read about the lives of the people they pass by every day but never really knew before.

Having lived in several countries both in Europe and Asia, I became accustomed to being on the outside, to observing. It serves me well now, when I am finally pursuing my own dream of writing. Watching and listening to life around me is the source of tales true, and lately also, fictional. Here is a true one.

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Finding Reason

In her mid-thirties now, Sarah is an adult student in a community college. She doesn’t seem different from her other tired, over-committed classmates. Not until you speak with her.

In conversation, her look intensifies and she pays close attention to your face. Sarah’s long, blonde hair hides the hearing aid behind her ear, and you would never know sounds cannot reach her. Her hearing is almost completely gone now. She has become good at reading lips.

“I never thought I would be deaf. I’m going to miss hearing my kids laugh,” Sarah laments, her smile momentarily fading.

She lost her hearing two and a half years ago in the rough hands of her husband. He squeezed her head so hard the tiny bones in her ears crushed, causing permanent damage. The condition is getting progressively worse, and soon even the hearing aid will be useless.

She got little help from the police or social services, but found her determination and got a divorce, moving on with her life. She is now happily married to a different man and a mother of two.

“The Disability Office at the college gave me amazing help. I’m now taking Office Technology courses, which help me to find a career that doesn’t require interaction with the public. With a hearing disability, that could be hard. I’m also learning sign language,” she adds.

Sarah mixes talking and signing in her conversations, and is gradually getting more comfortable with using her hands to communicate.

Initially she didn’t tell anyone at the college she was deaf, not even the teachers.

“I didn’t want anyone to think I was different,” Sarah states. “I never thought I would be deaf, but I was thrown into it. The blinders are off. I want to defend the hard-of-hearing, end the discrimination.”

Sarah had to gather her courage long before domestic abuse took her hearing away. She has a fourteen-year old daughter, Katie, who was born with cerebral palsy and now in her teens is also struggling with bi-polar disorder and asthma.

“We spent Katie’s first three years at Seattle Children’s Hospital. I wanted to prove the doctors wrong about her physical disabilities. When she walked on her own at fifteen months old, it was the proudest moment of my life.” Sarah recalls with a big smile. “Now she can ride a bike and also plays on the volleyball team at school.”

If it isn’t Katie’s frequent asthma attacks that require hospital visits, Sarah goes there to be at hand for her mother’s cancer treatments. At this point there is no certainty which way the disease will go, but Sarah remains positive—as always.

“God, family and school are my priorities,” she says without hesitation.

The statement “I Will Graduate with Honors” is attached to her refrigerator for encouragement. She seems to have no trouble reaching that goal. Straight A’s have been rolling in steadily.

“I’m already a success. I want to be more successful—an advocate for the deaf,” says Sarah of her future goals. “I believe everything happens for a reason.”

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For more stories by Jaana Hatton, Google Jaana Hatton + www.anacortesnow.com

 

 

 

 

 

Helping a Worthy Book to Make its Way Out into the World

Please welcome my writer/friend Priscilla Long’s blog on the value or reviewing books you’ve read.  Priscilla is well Priscilla_long_-210known in the the  Northwest and beyond for her book, The Writer’s Mentor, for her “Science Friction” column in The American Scholar, for many articles, and for her workshops.

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Okay, so you like a book. More than like it, you think it’s a terrific book. Perhaps this book is a great book, a work of literature. Or maybe it’s just the best damn novel you’ve read all year. I’m not talking about the book you wrote. I am talking about a book you’ve read. I don’t care who wrote it, whether a writing buddy or a total stranger. But I do care about: 1. You have read it from cover to cover; 2. You think it is a great book.

But this book is a poor little book, no matter how great. It’s a poor little book because it’s one of one million (1,000,000,000) books published this year (2009 figures from April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). This book wants to be read and you believe it should be read. Indeed, you believe it must be read. But reading a book is a big time investment and fewer people read and more books are published and they are read less and less.

But we are writers, members of this writing community. How can we effectively lend a hand to a book we wish to support? I’m not speaking of any corrupt practice—reviewing your own books, dissing competing books, reviewing books falsely under false names. All that bullshit.

Here’s an idea to effectively help a good book find its readers.

Take take care to write a short, telling, well-written “review” of the sort that appears on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Then post it. But not just on Amazon or on your favored habitual site. Post it (the same review, no need to change) on:

  1. Amazon.com
  2. Barnes & Noble.com
  3. Powells City of Books website (an important independent bookstore)
  4. Goodreads
  5. SheWrites
  6. LibraryThing  (important: librarians read it; the review shows up in the library catalog)
  7. Your Facebook page
  8. Tweet it
  9. Can you think of another? Add it to the comments to this post!
  10. Finally: Request that your library purchase it. Patron requests drive library acquisitions.

This is a way to make a bit of a difference. Or so it seems to me.

 

A Famous Dream

Friend and author, Priscilla Long, who writes a fascinating column in the American Scholar, shares this Priscilla_long_-210story by author, Brian Doyle, on the origin of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

FindingsSummer 2006

Findings: A Bogey Tale

By Brian Doyle

 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to Robert Louis Stevenson in a dream, in October 1885, on a wind-whipped night by the sea. He’d fallen asleep uneasily, and as his wife, Fanny, remembered, “my husband’s cries caused me to rouse him, much to his indignation. ‘I was dreaming a fine bogey tale,’ he said reproachfully”—the essence of the book he would write twice in the next six days, all the while confined to bed and hardly able to speak for fear of his lungs hemorrhaging.

He woke at dawn and wrote furiously. On the third day he came downstairs with the manuscript—30,000 words—which he read aloud to Fanny and his 17-year-old stepson, Lloyd, by the fire. Lloyd listened, “spellbound, and waiting for my mother’s burst of enthusiasm,” but it did not come: “Her praise was constrained, the words seemed to come with difficulty; and then all at once she broke out with criticism. He had missed the point, she said; had missed the allegory; had made it merely a story—a magnificent bit of sensationalism—when it should have been a masterpiece.”

Stevenson was livid, enraged, “his voice bitter and challenging in a fury of resentment,” and he stomped back upstairs; Fanny remained by the fire, “pale and desolate.” Then Stevenson returned. “You’re right,” he said quietly to Fanny. “I’ve missed the allegory, which is, after all, the whole point of it.” He threw the manuscript in the fire. Fanny and Lloyd shouted and reached for it but Stevenson stayed their hands: “In trying to save some of it, I should have got hopelessly off the track. The only way was to put temptation beyond my reach.” He wrote it again in three days.

As vastly popular as it subsequently became, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is far more than a tale. I think no truer thing about men and women has ever been written, for Stevenson captured that most maddening of human truths: we are capable of leering, squirming, unimaginable evil even as we are capable of astounding and incredible grace. We court and slay, we rape and heal, we lie and confess, we rant and pray, we rage at the Other even as we know, deep in our uttermost bones, that the Other is also us.

How will we win the war in ourselves, a battle of every hour, in every heart? A gaunt Scot dreamed the answer to this final human question long ago: the victory begins when we speak the hard truth about the Jekyll in us all.

 

Copyright, Pricilla Long. Reprinted with permission from The American Scholar, April 17,2013.

http://theamericanscholar.org/a-bogey-tale/#.UX68isqThc8.

 

Debra Borys: Postcards from the Streets

Let me introduce Debra Borys, another author who finds her stories in Chicago’s streets. She is the author of  Street Stories, a series of suspense novels (PaintedDebra Borys Black and Bend Me Shape Me, so far) . Below is the story of how she came to focus her talents on the homeless of the city’s streets.

 

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Words paint pictures, evoke memories and move hearts.

It was late at night and summer when I used to walk the streets of Chicago near LaSalle and Hubbard. I was volunteering once a week with Emmaus Ministries then and accompanied by a staff person. Armed with business cards, we would make sure people without homes knew where they could go for a home cooked meal, clean clothes and conversation.

Before midnight, in great weather, people spill out of the open doors of the clubs, dine at crowded outside tables, and wait in line to catch the next drag queen show. One night, less than two blocks away from Michael Jordan’s restaurant, a black man sat sprawled at the curb, limbs askew, weaving his head in the direction of everyone who walked past ignoring his red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech, and the blood that dripped from his mouth to splash in dusty red dots on the sidewalk.

We found a phone, dialed 911, and waited—helpless, afraid, unsure whether the man understood our assurances—until the paramedics arrived fifteen minutes later. The station was only a block away.  The wine bottle the man had broken against the curb to drink from lay in the gutter, empty, neck shards long and lethal like a weapon.

Bend Me Shape MeSome people, I got to know by name. Billy was around fifty-five, gray hair matted and dark from sweat and grime, beard grizzled and wild. Usually he was friendly and would joke around, but sometimes his gaze was glazed.  When that happened, he told us he sees horrific sights that no one else can see; his fingers shake, and he looks wild, cruel, daring someone for a reason to vent his anger and frustration.

Joseph liked his coffee with extra cream and extra sugar. The zipper on his coat does not quite close and he carries a plastic shopping bag from Aldi’s with the handles tied tight and the corner of a frayed airline blanket poking out from its tightly packed interior. Every month he scrapes together enough money to pay for a small storage area somewhere. He fills the space with books he finds or buys from the second-hand stores.

At the Night Ministry bus, Gus stuffs packages of cookies in his pockets and asks if we have any clean socks, any hygiene kits, any sandwiches, any more coffee. Anything?  He eats with his mouth open and there are always crumbs to clean up after he leaves.

These are examples of the many reasons I chose to write about street people in my STREET STORIES suspense novels.  Not to exploit them, or sensationalize homelessness, or advocate social change, but just to engender awareness.  If we open our eyes and our ears, what will we see?  If we open our hearts, what can’t we accomplish?

Street Stories

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AUTHOR BIO

Debra R. Borys is the author of the STREET STORIES suspense novel series. A freelance writer and editor, she spent four years volunteering with Emmaus Ministries and the Night Ministry in Chicago, and eight years doing similar work at Teen Feed, New Horizons and Street Links in Seattle. The STREET STORIES series reflects the reality of throw away youth striving to survive: Painted Black and Bend Me, Shape Me. Her publication credits include short fiction in Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Downstate Story and City Slab.

Debra-R-Borys.com

http:// www.StreetStoriesSuspenseNovels.com

 

 

Terry Persun: The Writing of my Historical Fiction

I’m delighted to welcome this guest post by Northwest author Terry Persun on the writing of Sweet Song, a historical novel which, like The Inheritors, deals with a mixed race hero.

I would never have guessed I’d write an historical novel. After writing science fiction short stories and a few mainstream Me in Thailand novels, historical fiction just wasn’t in my line of sight. But, “never say never” my mom used to tell me.

I’ve always been interested in the idea behind racial conflicts, mostly for personal reasons. My dad was of mixed breed (aren’t we all) and very dark-skinned. He was friendly with everyone, and genuinely liked the company of others. We often had people over to the house when I was little.

Anyway, like my dad, I had dark skin when I was young (it’s progressively gotten lighter). I went to a school with no black, red, or yellow children. We lived in the country, most of us poor farmers or laborers. My dark skin had kids calling me names (you can imagine), but I didn’t know that’s what they were doing. I thought I had a new nickname. When I came home one day from first grade and asked my mom what nigger meant, she got pretty angry, asking me where I heard the word and why would I repeat it.

That conversation caused me to look at the world differently for a while. We still had black friends visit us, and I’ve written a few poems about those times, but I never repeated the word again. I understood what the kids were saying about me, but couldn’t relate to their emotions. All our black friends were great.

Now jump forward in time though years of learning about prejudice and bigotry, whether I agreed with it or not.

So, prejudice has been with me, like most people, for a long time. I was a victim of it just like others only I was white when kids thought I was black. As I got older, as I mentioned, classmates mistakenly thought I was Italian. While oversees, people I met often didn’t know what nationality I was. All this teemed inside me for years.

Like most authors, I write what comes to me. I had been reading about the Susquahanna River, along which I grew up. Williamsport, the nearest town to our country dwelling in Cogan Station, was a stopping point for those escaping the south through the underground railroad. These books brought me back to my childhood, back to where I’d grown up, and I wanted to explore that place deeper than I had before.

Sweet Song-cover-lowSoon, the words to the novel began to come to me. Characters came to me. I could see them in my mind’s eye walking in the woods, meeting with other people. One morning, as it usually is with me, I got up with the sound of a narrator in my head. I went to my desk and began writing about Leon, the mulatto child who was mistaken for white, who had to figure out how he wanted to be seen.

I had gone through some of that same turmoil as my main character, and believe that my novel, “Sweet Song”, is how I relived that time, and thought through the circumstances. Most importantly, I wanted the truth to come out in the novel. I had read enough novels where blacks are treated poorly by whites all the time, almost in a good versus evil way. Even during the 1800s that wasn’t the case. My wish for the novel was to illustrate how there are good and bad actions by both sides, that people are individuals and should approach one another that way. I think we’re all innocent until proven guilty.

 

 

Writing About My Grandmother

Award winning author, Heidi Thomas, shares her story of the women who inspired her.Heidi Author Photo

I grew up in Big Sky Country, eastern Montana where the deer and the antelope roam. My grandparents bought me my first horse, and I helped my dad with chores, rode with him to gather cattle for branding and shipping, and rode the prairie with my grandmother.

Grandma was a petite woman who, I learned early on, was more at home on the back of a horse than behind a dust mop. She loved animals and being outdoors, riding and working cattle.

She died when I was 12, and in going through photo albums she had put together, my dad pointed out a picture of a woman riding a steer, and said, “Your Grandma used to ride steers in rodeos, and she was friends with (World Champion bronc rider) Marie Gibson.”

Being young, I thought that was pretty cool, because it was enough for me to ride my gentle strawberry roan. But I had no aspirations to ride something that was going to buck me off. I was more bookish than cowgirl, having inherited a love of books and writing from my dad.

So I filed that tidbit of information away in my head as something interesting, something unique, maybe something to bring out at cocktail parties later.

I went on to receive my degree in journalism and write for newspapers and magazines. Much later, I took a class in writing for children and the instructor mentioned that biographies of women who were not necessarily famous but perhaps had unusual lives were welcomed by young readers. My steer-riding grandma popped into the front of my mind.

It was still much later before I actually began to think of putting her story down on paper. I toyed with the idea of writing it as a biography, but couldn’t get past the idea of writing about my “real” grandmother. What I tried writing was stilted and uninteresting. I couldn’t step back and be objective.

I wrote another book first—a novel based on my mother’s experience of emigrating from Germany after WWII. That showed me I could change the names, fill in the gaps and build interesting characters and plotlines that followed (but not exactly) my parents’ lives.

When I finished that novel and sent it out to collect rejections, I turned back to my grandmother’s story. I had grown up as a strong, independent woman who didn’t go “along with the crowd,” and I came to realized how much my mother and my grandmother shaped me.

Cowgirl Dreams Women who wanted to compete on rough stock in rodeos in the early 1900s were discouraged, derided, and often considered “loose” women. This was a dangerous sport; they were dressing like men and traveling around the country with men. This was a man’s world and women were not supposed to exert themselves physically. They were delicate, and their role was to take care of home and babies. But these cowgirls—many of them from Montana—had grown up working their ranches and farms and riding alongside their fathers, brothers and husbands. So when the men took a break from their daily chores to compete in a neighborhood rodeo, these women said, “Why can’t we do this too? We’re just as good as they are.”

And they did. My grandma never went on to ride in national rodeos or win national titles, but during the 1920s many women riders did.

In many ways they were ahead of their time, the foremothers of the “women’s liberation” movement of the 1970s. Through their courage, their skill, and their perseverance, they competed in a man’s sport and they excelled.

That tiny bit of family history spurred me on to write two published novels, and a third (all based on my grandmother), Follow the Dreamwhich should be released sometime this year, plus a non-fiction book about those bronc-ridin’, steer-ropin’ champion cowgirls of Montana.

 

Describing herself as “born with ink in her veins,” Heidi M. Thomas followed her dream of writing with a journalism degree from the University of Montana and later turned to her first love, fiction, to write her grandmother’s story.

Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, has won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalist award.

Follow the Dream is the second book in the “Dare to Dream” series about strong, independent Montana Women and is a WILLA Literary Award winner. Her third novel, Dare to Dream will be released later this year. And a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! is under contract.

Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Professional Writers of Prescott, and the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She is also a manuscript editor, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes in north central Arizona.

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Imagination & Image-Making: Thing One and Thing Two


 As promised last week, poet Jane Alynn ( http://janealynn.com/) joins to our conversation on the role of the Jane Alynnimagination. Jane, a friend and colleague, is a frequent contributor to Skagit Valley Writers League workshops on creativity and poetry.  I’m delighted to have her here.

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Like the two mischievous characters in The Cat in the Hat, imagination and image-making sometimes cause confusion. Though they aren’t the same thing, they both involve new ways of seeing and have powerful effects on our writing.

Thing One is imagination, that mysterious, amazing, uniquely human capacity, which resides “beyond the command of reason,” as Judy says in her last post. It’s accessed through play, the wellspring of all creative acts. To play is to free ourselves from arbitrary restrictions, to break through those mental barriers that have severed us from what comes naturally in childhood—imagining, playing make-believe, creating whole worlds in our mind. Poet e.e. cummings said as much when he wrote, “As up I grew / Down I forgot.”

Thing One asks us engage in the free spirit of experimentation. To take risks. To leap. It’s the mysterious, non-rational impulse we want to fledge. Dreams, word play, juxtaposition, associative leaps—moves that don’t make sense—all subvert the logical, literal, lineal mind and lead to new perceptions. As Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux say in The Poet’s Companion, “Leaps of imagination give our work emotional energy, energy that we then experience” (130).

This springs into Thing Two.

Thing Two is image-making. Imagery and figurative language make it possible for us (and our readers) to experience the very world we’ve created in our mind’s eye.

But experience requires the presence of things, the thereness of an object or scene. When William Carlos Williams said, “No ideas but in things,” he understood that the mind translates ideas to images. “Death” conjures an image of a cemetery, gravestone, or coffin. “Love” invokes the face of a loved one, a heart, or maybe chocolate, as I just imagined. Images are “nearer to pure story,” Robert Hass writes in Twentieth Century Pleasures. “Their power lies in what they say—this is.”

Detailed sensory language, which includes all the five senses and the feelings, calls up physical sensation and gives the work that emotional energy. And authenticity. “Poems are imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” Marianne Moore once said. Images create a figurative garden where readers can stand long enough among the flowers to see them in a fresh, exciting, and vital way.

 

Take a look at the first three stanzas of my poem, “House Spider”:                                        

She is small and lovely. A flower—

a downy nub of the garden,

bowl-shaped and squat,

a little mottled rosette

surrounded by slender spurs of being

 

who’s crawled inside

to scribble her web on the ledge

of my desk window.

 

Half-out, half-in

the strangely woven curtain

elaborately spun of threads and dust,

she’s rapt and waiting

like a medium

for her world to vibrate.

 

It’s detailed enough to sustain the reader’s passage into the poem, and the particulars give the poem texture and depth. By particulars I mean she is not an arachnid, the most distant of descriptions, which lacks any specificity. She isn’t even a generalized spider; she is a particular spider—“a downy nub of the garden, bowl-shaped and squat.”

An image can be tangible, such as a woven curtain. Or an image can be a behavior, such as crawling inside / to scribble. . .  Or an images can be figurative, that is, stating or implying a comparison, such as “she’s rapt and waiting / like a medium / for her world to vibrate.”

There’s another thing about imagery: the way a particular thing or experience connects and is expanded when compared with another. In “House Spider,” she’s first compared with a flower, “a little mottled rosette.” Then she’s compared to a medium (psychic), expanding the image. Now I have access to words and images that relate to clairvoyants as well as to spiders and gardens.

Imagery should not be just a stage set. If it’s doing its full work it should reveal  some insight, bring the poem to a higher emotional pitch or to the larger idea in the poem.

Again, “House Spider” ends with a comparison of the spider’s efforts with the narrator-writer’s efforts:

Soon she succeeds

and I, as she with the fly, grasp

the twitching iridescence

of words, the hum

surrendering into silence.

No small triumph.

Alynn: Joy Door to Play Space

Through imagery, writing gains energy and depth and often surprise. The more you permit yourself to play and to experiment with imagery and figurative language, the more likely your readers will experience the world you are creating.

 

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Jane Alynn is the author of Necessity of Flight (Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove, 2011) and a chapbook Threads and Dust. Her essays appear in The Natural Enquirer and her photographs are widely exhibited.

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