Monday, April 29, 2013

Boston Marathon poems and more

Two weeks ago the Boston Marathon bombings racked our world. Ever since I’ve experienced uncontrollable tears and deep sadness whenever I read or hear anything about the dead, the injured, the survivors, the heros, the young men who allegedly did the deed.

Times like these bring all the pain of losing my son back. Especially the suddenness of his death. They also remind me how important it is to take care of ourselves in whatever way we can. Writing usually helps me. I’ve been journaling like crazy lately, and I selected three of Robert Lee Brewer’s prompts for the April Poem A Day challenge to write about that unconscionable event in Boston.


15. write an infested poem. There are many different infestations–from physical infestations to infestations of the heart and soul.

Infested with Violence

Guns abound used for
mass killings at our schools.
North Korea's young leader
with an itchy trigger finger
gets ready to nuke the world.
A Ungandan named Kony
steals children, training them
to be murderers and whores.
And today we found
it isn’t even safe
to compete in a marathon.
Bombs awaited the runners
just as they sprinted
through the finish line.

16. a Two-for-Tuesday prompt. Here are your options:
  • Write a possible poem.
  • Write an impossible poem.

It is impossible to fathom
what goes on in the mind
of someone who decides
to kill and maim total strangers,
people who never did any harm
to the perp.
How does a mind
like that work?

22. write a complex poem. Complex is a complex word that can refer to mental state, apartments, difficulty of a situation, and so many other complex situations.

 A Complex Question

As I asked my husband this morning,
shouldn’t a sales person alert the authorities
if someone from out of state
(she took his name and address)
came up to her and wanted to know,
about the most powerful material in the store,
and then bought two bags of that stuff
paying over $400 in cash?
Now I realize this was a clerk in a fireworks store
and buying gun powder is like buying guns,
and  people have a right to do that.
But I can’t help just asking.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thoughts about novel beginnings

Chuck Sambuchino is always a wealth of information – about writing, about publishing, about platforms, about finding an agent. In a guest column on the Writer Unboxed website today, he quotes many agents’ thoughts about:

What Not To Do When Beginning Your Novel

I’ll just share a few quotes that resonated with me. Please go to Writer Unboxed to see the full list. I just signed up to get it regularly. You may want to as well.

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

“I know this may sound obvious, but too much ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing’ in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me. The first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.”
Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency

“One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

Chuck is the editor of the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2013 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and author of Red Dog/Blue Dog: When Pooches Get Political, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, and Create Your Writer Platform. Please go to Chuck’s website for more great information (I’ve been reading his stuff for years. I have a blog post up there too.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

A wonderful resource for all writers

The Heart and Craft of Writing Compelling Description needs a new name. It should be called “Every Writer’s Bible.” It needs to be read and reread. It needs to be carried around with you. It needs to get worn and tattered with underlines and margin notes because you keep referring to it so often.

Author Sharon M. Lippincott likes the word savor – a perfect word for this book. It’s one to be savored throughout all your writing endeavors no matter in which genre you write: nonfiction, life story, memoir, fiction. You’ll find what you’re looking for to help you write better descriptions in this book.

This wonderful resource is an anthology of Sharon Lippincott’s posts from her blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. She says,

“I find the topic of writing description endlessly fascinating and will continue to explore and post about it as long as my fingers keep moving. Meanwhile, use the tips in this anthology to practice writing and stretching your imagination. Your writing will build stronger connections with readers and lift them aloft on the wings of vivid, effective description."
Other reviewers have quoted their favorite passages from this book. Here is mine from the section on looking closely:

“…if you look across an expanse of meadow, you primarily see an even green field. But drop to your knees with a magnifying glass, and look closely. You'll see blades of grass growing in different directions and an infinite variety of shades of green. Some grass is glossy and other types are a bit rough and ‘fuzzy.’ You may see clover, a few dandelions, some oxalis, or plantains. You may see buzzing bees, gnats, ants or ladybugs. Smell the scent of loam, or the cow pies nearby. Feel the sunshine on your shoulders and the coolness of the damp earth. Up close, that meadow is a busy, fascinating place, full of life, sensations and fascinating reminders to write…with scintillating description.”

Isn’t that a great word – scintillating? But I’ll bet Sharon will tell you to avoid using it when writing description. She’ll ask you to write down the details to show what you see, as she does in the paragraph above, instead of using telling descriptive words like scintillating, sparkling, amazing, awesome. In this book, she shows you how. And I predict you’ll have lots of fun learning.

I’m writing a novel now. The Heart and Craft of Writing Compelling Description will stay by my side until I’m finished.

About the author:
Sharon Lippincott is hooked on all forms of life writing, especially memoir and journaling. She’s a dedicated lifelong learner and loves sharing discoveries with others. She teaches classes and workshops on basic memoir and lifestory writing as well as specific skills like writing vivid description in the Pittsburgh area and online. Her book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing has helped thousands create written legacies of their lives and her award-winning blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, which began in 2007, has been read by hundreds of thousands of visitors. She serves on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Memoir Writers and mentors lifestory writing groups in Allegheny County libraries and around the country. 

Google +: Sharon Lippincott 
LinkedIn: Sharon Lippincott 
Twitter: @ritergal 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Could writing help the Boston survivors?

The bombings in Boston have left me in tears. Every time I hear the news, see the photos of those who died or were wounded, I want to curl up and block it all out. It is much the way I felt after my son took his life in 1999. These kinds of tragedies bring all those sad feelings back.

Perhaps this will help. In my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, I told how I survived through writing. It is my belief that those who have experienced such a tragedy – and I suspect that is everyone – need to find a creative outlet. Hopefully the survivors of the Boston tragedy will also find their way.

Here’s how writing a memoir helped me heal:

Writing has been part of my life since I was in grade school. However, when my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and after his suicide, I began to write down my feelings daily. I needed to. Writing in my journal became an obsession, a balm, and the only way I could express my feelings. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. I had used journaling during an earlier stressful period of my life to rant. This time I turned to writing during what turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.

Three months after my son Paul’s death I also signed up for a writing class. The assignment was to bring in a journal entry to share with the class each week. At first I was afraid to put my grief out there in public. But, when I apologized for continually writing about the same subject matter – my son and his illness and death – in my assigned journal entries, my instructor said, “It took Dostoyevsky five hundred pages to write Crime and Punishment, you have a long way to go.”

This same instructor also taught me to write with a deep voice, meaning that I should share the deepest, darkest truths of my life. Come from the deepest part of your belly, he said, encouraging me to bare all my secrets in my writing. And after several years of patiently listening to my material, he told me I had to put my story into a book. He and the rest of the class felt certain there were people who needed to know my story and who could be helped by it. So I kept writing my journal entries – not only for class, not only as a comfort to myself, but also for material that I could use in creating my memoir. I also wrote poems.

About this time I met a young woman – a former literary agent – who read my poetry and some of my prose and suggested I organize my memoir based on the sequence of my poems. For a while she gave me advice and writing prompts – all useful to the content of my book. Then when I finally had a book together with each chapter starting with a poem, I hired an editor, who was a writing teacher, to read and give me comments chapter by chapter. And once I incorporated her comments into my draft, she read the book as a whole and gave me more comments. I used her comments to revise my draft again and then began querying agents and publishers. I sent out that completed draft out when one of these prospects asked to see my manuscript.

When I finally had a publishing contract I hadn’t read my manuscript in over two years. The first thing I did before embarking on the hordes of revisions I had committed to do before publication was read my memoir front to back, noting typos, repeats, inconsistencies, and most important of all, places where the information was outdated. It took me five months to complete the revisions with the help of three writer friends. I knew I was finally finished when I stopped thinking about what more I could do to it and when I felt comfortable letting it go.

Writing was my therapy. It became a habit and a huge help in getting myself out of the mire after my son’s death and the tragedy that had hit my family.

I thought if I could tell my story in the most truthful and realistic terms possible, I could help other parents with children with bipolar disorder that in many cases results in their suicide. Otherwise I felt it wouldn’t be useful to anyone – including me.