Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Seven: Emulate another poem or poet

Emulate another poem or poet

I picked up a copy of The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics by Diane Lockward. In the Craft Tip #3 Poem and Prompt section, she talks about “Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop” by John Murillo. This poem is based on “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Take a look at both poems side by side.

both poems from Poetry Foundation
move the center line to the right or left

I really enjoyed this example of emulating another poem. John Murillo took the idea of learning to lose and made it his own. Lockward points out that Murillo does more than keep the theme. He uses repetition as Bishop does, repeating the many forms of “lose,” using many words that start with L, and like Bishop, he writes in imperatives as if giving directions.

So one way to emulate a poem is to write to the theme. Another is to make a list of techniques employed by the poet.

My redrafts emulating three different poems

Back in Part Four of this demonstration I announced which poems I had chosen and did some research into the poets. For this exercise, I chose Dead Stars by Ada Limón, Ode by Jane Huffman, and News by Ben Purkert.

So here’s my process for emulating a poem so far:

  • read lots of poems
  • pick a few poems I like
  • research the poets, learn about their process
  • learn about the poem

What’s next? I need to decide how emulating this poem will improve the poem I’m working on. I’m going to ask myself some questions as I read the poem again.

  • Why did I choose this poem?
  • What do I like about it?
  • What technique(s) do I want to try?
  • How will this improve my poem?


Dead Stars by Ada Limón

Ada Limón gives us a clue into her intent and feelings about “Dead Stars” in this video

Why did I choose this poem? I chose this poem because I enjoy the creative combinations of imagery. I was drawn to the mundane becoming philosophical and daring.

What do I like about it? I like the spoken words in italics (not quotes) used twice. I like the questions and what ifs that are somewhat random but make sense because we are all part of the big band, the dead stars.

What technique(s) do I want to try? She uses questions, speech, and of the senses in her details. She creates some interesting double turns/twists in the set up with: It’s almost romantic . . . until you say . . . And it’s true.

How will this improve my poem? I think this twisting language could help improve my poem. My narrator is in a dizzying, swirling, vertigo of facing facts that lead to sudden and life-changing reality, so her language dealing with it could be more twisty. Some dialogue in italics is worth giving a try as well.

Dirty Dishes

In kitchen sinks full of ideas, there’s an impression that even arrests fruit flies
Summer’s sandpaper tongue down our throats
jealousy, worry, rage all frozen mid-irritation
like tinnitus so acute it becomes a wasp nesting in your ear

I am a woodpile of ants in heat: a carpenter of denial

My view telescopes through the broken pane
to his sweat on her body behind the bale

I almost believed him as he twisted his favorite cap
until he said, A man has needs, but she’s not you

Which is true, but doesn’t mean he didn’t lie
when he said it was the last time

The dropped dish shatters like we all do

its pieces, still holdable, I toss into the trash

with my colors, light, hopes and ambition
because the glue has lost its flavor and the scissors
their artistry

Though broken, I still hunger and itch

the clicking, clacking pieces find junction. How

will I survive without? After indelible
marks topple to the tongue?

What if I can ignore and forget? What
if he says Stay. Please stay, and I cave.

I didn’t burn the curtains and the bridge?

What would happen if I left with nothing
opened, bare, clean of sticky coating

with hope of refreshment in bonding
earth nutrients growing, bonding

if I find new understanding wriggling
among the moles under the tent of solitude

will I be scraped as a plate after a feast?

Ode by Jane Huffman

Why did I choose this poem? I like the repetition and how it builds movement.

What do I like about it? The subtle changes and double meanings of words in repetitions.

What technique(s) do I want to try? The repetition of words in slight rearrangement creates the idea of smaller and larger circles while also talking about small and large circles.

How will this improve my poem? Because my poem talks about swirling and vertigo. I think I can use some of this style of repetition to get some of the spin my narrator is going through to come to life.

Chores

An impression arrests fruit flies. The fruit
flies are arrested in kitchen sinks full of
ideas. The ideas, frozen in mid-irritation
are like tinnitus introducing vertigo. I am
dizzy with vertigo. I hear buzzing. I am
spinning, spiraling, falling. I am falling.
The ground falls away and I am dropping,
my arms and my dress fly above my head
as I plummet, my pinky toe the stoical point.
The pinky toe somehow holds on. Like a pin
holding strings connecting to what got me
here, to a truth, or many truths long forgotten.
That pinky toe pointed, curled and maimed
from point-shoes leads the other toes and the
foot stepping from the spiral and though dizzy,
dizzy and disoriented I see clearly, my view
telescopes to his sweat on her body, not hidden
by the bale, the dry wasted bale that should
have sold, should have fed. I see the clarity
distorted in his drops of sweat on her younger
body as if finally finding the source of wafting,
wind-blown odor of putrid, rotting decay.
The putrid decay of our love that had swirled,
dizzyingly around until arrested by an impression,
here, now, as I stand at the kitchen sink.

News by Ben Purkert

Why did I choose this poem? I related to the wind talking and asking my to see.

What do I like about it? I like the juxtapositions creating a different, broader meaning

What technique(s) do I want to try? Again, the spoken words in italics. This time using italics as a shape the wind turns the grass into as well as speech. It’s a great idea. In two quick lines, he turns a believable news fact about sardines into a derogatory accusation.

How will this improve my poem? My poem already has some interesting juxtapositions. What could I cut to make the mind jump? Is there a “news” fact that would paint a picture juxtaposed against an unfounded judgement that would bring the reader to make interesting connections?

The Recall

An impression of fruit flies in furious flight
sketches the words, Think. Can you imagine?
contentment empties glue of flavor
and steals scissors of sharp
cuts. Today, Ms. Winters, the Mayor of Little Town
was recalled for having a litter in her office
Her predecessor was quoted as saying, I told
you she could never do the job as well as a man.

She wouldn’t stop licking the blood
from their heads: blind and mewling
in the box. Think. Can you imagine?
The hunger says this is dying season and–
What indelible marks will topple to the tongue?
Like a bridge burner
who can’t turn around
Maybe refreshment is nothing but
moles digging holes under the tent of solitude
I will get there, won’t I?
To the dark fresh-earth tunnels
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish understanding

Summing up redrafting

There are so many options for redrafting a poem. I’m excited to try some new things when I revise my next poem. For this demonstration, however, we’ve covered a lot. I think the most important thing for redrafting are the questions I asked myself at the beginning:

  1. What are my motivations for redrafting this poem?
  2. What do I like about it?
  3. What don’t I like about it?

If you recall from Part One of this demonstration, I said, “It feels cluttered. There’s too much that isn’t clear. I want to know more of the story, the character, motivations, and conflict.” Toward that end, I think writing the narrative poem was a great first redraft. The opposites game draft, combined with the original then split lines, were the next most helpful generative drafts.

The new redrafting techniques: Thesaurus game and Put a color on it, didn’t influence this poem very much, but they were enormously helpful with some other poems I was revising.

I’m very excited about the new digital tools I found: Poemage and Scandroid. I imagine I’ll have a lot of fun with them as I continue revising my poems.

Now that my redrafting toolbox is overflowing, an important part of the Review process will be choosing the correct tools for an efficient and effective redraft.

Next Steps

I will read over all of my redrafts and let them inform me as I make some decisions about changes to my original poem. Then I will post it to Scribophile for critique.

While I wait for some feedback, I will continue to learn from other poets. I realized, while writing the post about meter, that I haven’t focused as much on listening to poetry as I have reading poetry. I will work on that through the How Writers Write Poetry MOOCs, YouTube videos, listening to the audio on Poets.org, and exploring some poetry Podcasts.

I enjoyed this video of Naomi Shihab Nye talking about revision.

I also liked some of the things that Juan Felipe Herrera said during this talk. He said once you’ve thrown the words on the page, anything else is a new poem. “If you revise a poem long enough, you have a whole book.”

Using the revision process I’ve been demonstrating, I find his statement is so true. This one short poem, the first one of thirty from NaPoWriMo, has already generated thirty new poems! Think of it: if I took each of the new drafts through the entire process so far, I would have 900 poems and then if I redrafted those . . . One of them would have to be good, right? 😉

Revising at the Scene Level

Fixing It – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

In my last post on revising a short story, I mentioned the many things a scene needs to do:

  • have a goal
  • have a conflict
  • have an action that leads to a new goal
  • character development
  • world building
  • reveal new information
  • provide sensory information
  • have a grabber or payoff

For my revision, I assigned each of these scene needs a letter, and starting with the final scene, worked backward through my story, evaluating each scene. Here’s an example:

Scene 14: Maria’s POV after feeding in the town [one of my MCs is a Mexican-American named Maria (not me 😉 )].

G – To leave town
C – a farmer tries to help her, grabs her wrist
A – She uses aspects of the chupacabra to get away
D – She feels / wields the chupacabra’s power, misses old life
W – describes the nearest town to the river
N – Maria can bring out the chupacabra for defense when scared
S – sounds: door slams, whistling; texture: grimy
P – She hurt the farmer to get away

This quick analysis of each scene did wonders. I completely deleted one scene and combined two others. I discovered areas that needed more description and sensory detail and a section of exposition that I was able to show in a scene. I had printed out a more detailed “Deconstructing a Scene” worksheet I created a couple years ago, but I didn’t use it because this system worked. I plan to use it as part of my revision process in the future.

After analyzing each scene, I typed in all my changes, saved the draft and let it rest.

But the Distractions – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I found joy in editing a different, shorter story while letting this one rest. In that story, the main issues were filter words. It really helped the piece to remove sensory filters: saw, heard, and felt. I also added specific details like “mahogany” instead of wood. By the time I finished revising the story, I enjoyed reading it aloud. The words felt good in my mouth.

Doin’ the Work – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I brought the feeling of accomplishment and the specific issues I found in the shorter story to the next phase of revision: paragraphs, sentences, and word choice which I will talk about in my next post.

How is your revision is going? Have any tips or tricks?

Any questions?

Please share in the comments.

Revision Process: An interview with author Shelly Campbell

Cover for the book Under the Lesser Moon by Shelly Campbell

Last week I really enjoyed the TBRcon21 writing conference. The editing panel was fun and informative and the moderator even asked my question–Did you ever receive a piece of advice that made revision easier or more enjoyable for you?– near the end. If you missed the panel, you can watch it on Youtube.

After the panel, I asked one of the panelists, Shelly Campbell, if she would be interested in sharing more about her revision process here on Experience Writing and she so kindly agreed to answer some more questions I have about revision. So today, we are in for a treat!

My Interview with Shelly Campbell

After you finish your first draft and you are letting it rest, what are you up to? 

When I’m letting a manuscript rest—three weeks usually does the trick for me—I tend to take a total break from similar writing. Right now, I’m working on a fiction manuscript and, when I eventually reach the final pages of that first draft, I have a non-fiction project waiting in the wings. 

I also enjoy drawing and painting and find that I am usually inspired to create art when I’m taking a break from authoring. Visual art provides an almost instant gratification compared to the slow-burn fulfillment of novel writing, because I get the satisfaction of a finished project after a few hours, days or week, as opposed to the months or years of effort leading up to a completed book. There’s the added benefit that, if I’m really wound up in a draft I’ve just put down, I can always tackle character art, letting me revisit the story while still giving my brain time to switch gears into a more objective editing mode.

After (or during) your first read, how do you go back in? Do you summarize, outline, scene card? What are your tools?

I was very much a discovery writer when I wrote my first two novels, and I hadn’t done a lot of research into structure and form. While it was fun to just build a world with no restrictions and then play in it, it resulted in some long-winded, slack-paced manuscripts that needed significant developmental edits. I knew the books needed work, but in my inexperience, couldn’t pin down what they needed. 

My first reads for those books consisted of a lot of line-edit polishing, make-every-word-shine sort of thing. I didn’t know any better. But I would learn later that, without the bones of good structure and pacing, eloquent prose that doesn’t go anywhere won’t hold a reader’s interest! Much of those painstaking line edits were wasted when I trashed or changed large chunks of the manuscript later on.

With some resources under my belt, and having learned some of my own fallibility, I now have an editing bullet list that I run through on first reads. I’ve moved from pantsing to more of a three-act screenwriting structure, so the first thing I like to do is compare my manuscript with my initial outline. I chart out my chapters and their word counts and look at the big picture items first. Have I started the book too soon? Do I need to chop initial chapters and dive in closer to the inciting incident? Are all my major beats falling where they should? Is my midpoint a big enough pivot point—and is it actually occurring midway through the manuscript! 

When I’m comfortable that the draft is hanging properly on its structural skeleton, I dive into my first read with nothing on my mind other than, does this hold my attention? Anything that I’m tempted to skip over or skim needs work, because if it doesn’t hold my interest, it certainly can’t be expected to hold anyone else’s, right? After I’ve tweaked my tension, I read through again. My first drafts are skimpy on conveying internal emotion, need trimming when describing physical actions, and benefit greatly from tighter dialogue, so I’ll have a read through focusing on all of those things. Then I’ll go through my list of crutch words (words I overuse) and trim those out. After that, it is off to my beta readers to see what they think of the project! 

How do you approach your characters once you know them? Are they like friends that you talk to and hang out with, or is it more like sculpting, chipping the rock away for the fine details? Or something else?

Initially, it’s very much a chipping away process as I get to know the character. Often, by the time I’m ready to read through a first draft again, I can pick out things early on that I now know is out-of-character for this person, because I know them better. Many times, when I get stuck, I realize it’s because I’m trying to push my character in a direction they just wouldn’t take. Usually a re-examination of their goals, biases, fears and misbeliefs will point me in the right direction. So, yeah, my characters let me explore dead-end roads a lot, while patiently waiting for me to turn around and follow them onto the proper path.

What was the most challenging part of revising your novel? How did you come to a solution?

Honestly, my first novel was a mess. It was discovery writing. It wasn’t even one novel, it was two rambling manuscripts full of dead-end roads, but it had potential. My beta readers enjoyed it. Editors liked parts of it. I was fortunate enough to find a small publisher willing to take a chance on it with the caveat that I needed to do some significant developmental edits. I heartily agreed. My editor there, suggested a new outline for the combined manuscripts, and once I saw it summarized step-by-step, it didn’t seem so overwhelming to cut out a novel’s worth of words because I could see that the same story was still being told, just far more effectively and entertainingly than I had originally written it. I had a road map. And that’s when I realized, I really am a writer that needs a map! I need to outline or I end up exploring all those dead-end roads and lose my destination. 

When you get bogged down with the work, what do you do to get out?

I listen to my characters, or I revisit my outline. If my characters are responding in a believable manner, I have a look at my outline and see if I need to tweak tension. I normally get bogged down when I can’t pin down the intention of a scene. Is this supposed to further character growth? Provide a quiet moment to contrast with coming mayhem? Ratchet up tension by showing our reader something our main character doesn’t know? Ideally, each scene can multitask and, if I’m stuck, I often find I’m at a spot where this particular scene doesn’t need to be here at all, or what I’m trying to accomplish can be done by merging it into another scene. I’ll often enlist the help of my critique group because sometimes you just need a different lens on the problem to see the way out!

To what degree and at what point do you use beta readers or outside feedback during the revision process?

I rely heavily on beta readers because I’m lucky enough to have found a wonderful online group of writers and readers in my genre who offer great constructive advice. It’s hard finding good beta readers. You need someone who reads a lot in the genre you write in because they all do follow certain structures and rules that readers may not be able to list, but they certainly sense when you get them wrong! You need someone who is not your friend or family—in most instances they are just going to tell you your work is great because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And you need beta readers who you just jive with. If you can’t take harsh criticism, a heavy-handed reader who only leaves you scathing comments is probably not a good fit for you. Unfortunately, this means a lot of trial and error finding the right beta readers for you, the ones who are able to help you lift up your work to a level you could not get it to on your own while still keeping your individual voice in there. I have been exceedingly lucky to find a crew of people who are honest in their comments and who each look at my work from a different angle, giving me the confidence to send my manuscripts out into the world.

I also want to point out that more beta readers is not necessarily better. Every person will have a different opinion and the more people who comment on your work, the more conflicting the advice will be. I use the rule that if multiple people comment on the same issue with the same feelings on it, it is likely something that needs to be fixed. If the correction would go against my character’s grain or cause my work to totally lose my voice, I tend to stand firm in my initial choices.

Where do you find your motivation to finish?

Initially, I didn’t! What eventually became Under the Lesser Moon rattled around in my brain and on my computer for decades. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but I had a story in my head that wanted out and, damn it, if I wasn’t going to finish it! So, I suppose, at first, what motivated me to finish—very slowly—was the fact that I’d put so much work into this one story and I felt I owed it to myself to at least finish it. 

Now, since the first book in the series is out, I’m motivated by deadlines (as well as readers who contact me to let me know how much they loved the first book and are looking forward to the second. Readers, have you any idea how very much that boosts a tired author?)

How do you know when you are finished?

I have to stop after I’ve addressed all my beta readers’ comments to the best of my abilities and have run through my own editing list. If I can write a good query letter that sparks interest when it is sent out, then I know I’m finished…for now.

Any other advice for writers new to or struggling with the revision process? 

What works for me may not work for you, but you do have this in you, revising. You learned how to write and revising is a skill you can learn too, one that you can hone with a bit of practice. Find a book on writing craft that resonates with you. Find a writers group. This is a lonely journey, but there are other people who are struggling just like you, and writers are some of the most helpful people I know! Don’t forget to feed your imagination. Often when you can’t write, you just need time to fill that creative well elsewhere. Read, garden. Do you! The well will fill. It always does 🙂


A headshot of Shelly Campbell.

At a young age, Shelly Campbell wanted to be an air show pilot or a pirate, possibly a dragon and definitely a writer and artist. She’s piloted a Cessna 172 through spins and stalls, and sailed up the east coast on a tall ship barque—mostly without projectile vomiting. In the end, Shelly found writing fantasy and drawing dragons to be so much easier on the stomach.

Shelly’s tales are speculative fiction, tending toward literary with dollops of oddity. She enjoys the challenge of exploring new techniques and subject matter, and strives to embed inspiring stories in her writing and art.

Her debut grim dark fantasy novel Under the Lesser Moon released with Mythos and Ink Publishing in November 2020.

https://www.mythosink.com/books/utlm/

She has a horror novel releasing with Silver Shamrock Publishing on April 2021.
You can find her here:

www.shellycampbellauthorandart.com 

https://twitter.com/ShellyCFineArt

https://www.instagram.com/shellycampbellfineart/

https://www.facebook.com/shellycampbellauthorandart

#WriterInMotion ~ Final Thoughts

WIM A Storys Journey Banner

I entered the Writer-In-Motion Challenge hoping to get some big break-through information from a professional editor. I wanted that sword that would cut down rejection and get me to YES!

Truth is, I got more than that. I got, “Wow, Maria, the voice in this is amazing!”

Voice. That magical, unteachable thing. That how do I get it, thing!

And then I got– Now take out a lot of it. You have to choose.

The fun part is, it made sense. It was not that hard to choose what to keep. I even asked my mom who never reads my blog and she and I agreed on the way to cut, but she still wanted the first one (blockade).

This story was huge. It could be a novel. I over-wrote, over-double-wrote, for the first time. I am usually concise in my writing, like the lyricist I am, but for some reason this image created a real idea on so many levels that I care about.

The original word-count cut wasn’t easy, but it was a great exercise and I think the final cuts I made, were personal experiments to see how people would react. I chopped in unnatural ways and my readers did not find them interesting or experimental. They were awkward. Something to think about for future awkward characters. I know how to make a reader uncomfortable.

Overall, I think I learned that having to prune so many words, I was able to get to what was necessary to the story.

Thank you again to my critique partners and editor for their time. And thank you Writer-in-Motion for the experience.

 

 

 

#WriterInMotion : The final draft

Writer in Motion Week Four

This week I received feedback from professional editor Jeni Chappelle of Jeni Chappelle Editorial. Jeni is the co-creator of this challenge as well as #RevPit on Twitter. I want to thank her for her time, encouragement and suggestions.

Here it is. The final draft!

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on Josette and me.

Who is it, Daddy?” the child said from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day,” the man said.

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you. I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile door.

What?” he yelled.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced Social Services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass, telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out, axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. A sudden square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace,” the man was saying. “He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel-and-coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

The man addressed me cautiously, “Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

Did you hear that, Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

Eugene tried to interject. “But–”

And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

She jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut, and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned to me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran back outside.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open.

I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.”

She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

 

Fun news!

While I was writing this post I received an email informing me that Writer Shed Stories: Vol. 1 which includes my story “More Than He Could Chew” is now available in paperback.

#WriterInMotion: Critique Partners’ Feedback Revision

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Three

This week was exciting. I sent my story to two people and received their stories to critique. Based on their feedback I made revisions, creating this new draft of my story that will now go to a professional editor.

Before talking about the changes, I want to thank Neta of NetaQBlog and Nicole of The Usual Bookspects for the time and consideration they put into critiquing my story.

Because I had to cut so many words out of my original draft, I experimented with some cuts that I thought might be interesting. Turns out they were just awkward. Luckily, my critique partners suggested some other lines I could cut, so I could reword the awkward places and smooth them out. They also pointed out some areas that needed rewording for clarity.

Now the newly revised draft:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on us.

Who is it, Daddy?” we heard from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Did you hear that Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

Craft Book Review: Story Fix

Story Fix coverStory Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks is intended to help authors “reinvigorate” rejected novels, but I found it lacking in tangible instruction and full of discouragement.

Why I picked it up: I was looking through Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors at Writer’s Digest and started looking up the different authors who had written chapters. Because I am focused on editing and revision, Larry Brooks’s book looked like a good choice.

My Expectations: I was expecting a book on revision and editing with specific guidelines to follow as I revise my draft. With the bold title STORY FIX, I expected a plethora of tools and boxes to check.

Intended Audience: This book is for writers whose manuscripts have been rejected so many times that they are facing a major re-write or abandoning their novel to the drawer of despair, or the locked trunk in the basement. The author also assumes the reader has attended conferences.

What I liked: The examples of Mr. Brooks coaching authors at the end of the book are  worth reading. Before I got to the three case studies, I was having trouble finding anything I liked, but they were interesting. I recommend reading the case studies first and then, if you’re curious about Mr. Brooks’s terminology, going back and reading those sections of the book. I found the questions Mr. Brooks asked the authors during these story coaching sessions to be eye opening while evaluating my own manuscript.

What I didn’t like: Until the coaching examples (and somewhat during), the book comes across as very negative. Mr. Brooks appears to think he’s being honest and frank, 200 pages of tough love, one might say, but it comes across as cynical and impugning. Until I read the case studies, I felt like I had read 150 pages of how to write an elevator pitch and fifty pages telling me I might as well give up trying.

 

Rating:  ♦ ♦   2 out of 5 – only because of the coaching examples at the end.

 

Books on revision and editing I would recommend instead:

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I reviewed this book as my first Craft Book Review. It is not only for authors of children’s and YA novels.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

Craft Book Review: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

The Magic Words book cover

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book for writers who are ready to take their manuscript to the next level. As an editor for Scholastic, Cheryl has experience that makes her an authority on the subject of revision and editing MG and YA novels. She shares first hand stories about the revision process that bring difficult subjects to life.

Why I picked it up:

It was one of the books recommended by Denise Jaden at the end of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days for when you’ve finished your draft and you’re ready to edit.

My Expectations:

Because the book is about writing for children and because Magic is in the title, I expected it to be focused on magical thinking and getting back to the child mind. I expected exercises in discovering stories that appeal to children and using language geared toward different age groups. This book wasn’t like that at all.

Intended Audience:

The ideal reader is a fiction writer who has finished a first draft of a novel fomiddle school, high school or adult readers. To get the most out of the exercises, you will want to have read through your draft and created a “book map.” The book map is a lot like the story grid from The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne that I talked about in the Editing Focus sections of my Final Days of 2017 posts. Cheryl Klein uses a post from Anita Nolan as an example. The book map is also a lot like Susan Dennard’s index card outline.

What I liked:

I liked the examples from her work as an editor working with authors. Her experiences were informative and brought the concepts into the real world. I also liked the extensive exercises in every chapter. The exercises raise poignant questions to get you analyzing your work.

Since I focused on plot last fall, I enjoyed that this book presents a fresh take. I learned yet another plotting structure called Freytag’s pyramid. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Based on Poetics from Aristotle, it describes the five act dramatic structure of classical plays, but also works as a model of rising action.

The Magic Words is thorough, covering every aspect of writing and revising your novel.

For your convenience both the plot chart and the character chart discussed in the book are available on the book’s page of Cheryl’s website.

What I didn’t like:

I got tired of Harry Potter references. If I didn’t write adult fiction as well as children’s fiction, I would have found most of the examples (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight) to be geared toward older kids and I would not have found this book very useful. However, as a book on the craft of writing, it was excellent.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  5/5 Highly Recommend

 

Writing Reviews

I have a favor to ask. This year, I plan to write a review each week. I’m trying to come up with a format that is both fun and informative so I would appreciate your feedback of this review.

  • Did you like the layout?
  • Was the review helpful?
  • What else would you like to know about the book?
  • What didn’t you like about the review?
  • How could it be better?

Please respond in the comments. Thank you.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

All The Colors Of Santa And Snowmen: Final Days of 2017 Day 21

All the Colors of Santa and Snowmen

I found these wonderful little light covers yesterday. If I hadn’t been playing with pink flamingos the other day, I wouldn’t have recognized what they were. The rainbow santas and snowmen will probably be riding pink flamingos for Christmas at my house.

#vss very short story

In all the hustle and bustle of the Annual Santa-Snowman Convention, they hadn’t noticed that some of the santas and snowmen weren’t actually supposed to be blue. One santa froze to death and a snowman choked on his own carrot. Was it foul play? They decided to sweep it under the snowbank.

Word Of The Day

I stumbled across a new word this morning and it’s a good one, so I thought I would make it the word of the day.

inanition: noun  1. exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation.  2. lack of vigor; lethargy.

May you never know inanition.

Today’s Poetry Prompt and Poem

Prompt: Write a poem about a place that you do not like.

MoSt included some great suggestions for this poem:

Use a crazy number of metaphors and similes. Give that place a costume, a cliche, a smell, a bon mot, an emotion, an inner life, a bunch of lies that lead to a truth, a bunch of truths that lead to a memory that isn’t quite true after all, give it a persona, a breath, a sound — what music would be in that place? what sounds would be just outside? What person comes in and goes out and what do they say? And…you can totally make something up. Remember, you have little obligation to truth. Go wild.

The Office

It doesn’t matter the proprietor
Or even the town, state or country
This room is my living hell

A life of recurring, compelled visits
Empty of answers
though full of testing instruments

The horror-show of the human machine,
Laid bare, completely bare
With the opening at the back

Tortures and fears all created here
Weapons of “health” line the wall
Posters threatening death for non-compliance

And the joke in on me, this torture’s not free
The poking and prodding’s expensive
I pay with my innermost secrets.

 

Editing Focus

As I continue to go through my scenes looking at value changes, I’m also going to highlight all the passages that show my MC’s inner life as recommended by James Scott Bell in Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction)‘s Ultimate Revision Checklist.

When I’m done highlighting, I’ll read through all the highlighted sections in order and ask myself:

  • Is the flow of the interior life understandable and believable?
  • Are there places that seem inconsistent?
  • Are there gaps that need to be filled with other interior insights?

#FlashFicHive

ff21

graphic by Anjela Curtis

Sharing lines will be fun today because I wrote a lot of Creepy Christmas flash fiction over the last few days.

Don’t Forget To Read!

Great news! Gator McBumpypants in Shelley Comes Out Of Her Shell is now available for Kindle!

Happy Reading and Writing!

Final Days Of 2017 Day 20: Fight For Your Right To Party!

Santa in a box

This glittery Santa ornament still lives in its box. I thought about taking it out for the picture, but then he reminded me of The Prospector from Toy Story 2, so I left him in his box.

#vss very short story

Tears pushed at the corners of the collector’s eyes as he lifted Formalwear Santa to his place of honor on the center of the clear latex boxes that lined the wall. One specifically crafted staging area for each of the Waterforce ornaments.

He stepped back and admired his work, his life’s work, now completed. Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, he let the tears flow down his cheeks, no longer able to fight them back. He dropped to his knees.

At first he thought his legs had given under the weight of his accomplishment, but then the ornaments began to jump and dance along the wall. Dust fell from the ceiling in larger and larger pieces. The floor shifted beneath his knees. The wall cracked and splintered behind his display. A roar like a freight train filled his head and the last thing he saw was Formalwear Santa shattering in his box as the room collapsed.

Today’s Poetry Prompt and Poem

Prompt: Write a poem about an action or event you were directly involved in that makes you proud. Consider writing this poem in quatrains, rhymed or unrhymed, but as many four-lined stanzas as you’d like.

The Royal Bear

As we moved my belongings to my new abode
We passed a club on the side of the road called the Royal Bear
Now that’s a great dive, I thought to myself
If I find a band here, I want a show there.

So far from the city, it was hard to find gigs
I tried to fit with heavy metal, but who was I trying to kid
I gave up for a while and poured my all into work
But I missed the music and decided to renew my search

An announcement on Craigslist made my heart skip a beat
A group needed a bassist and practiced right down the street
I had promised myself college was the end of playing covers
But location was key and I had no luck with the others.

I had a huge list of songs to learn in a hurry,
A gig in two weeks at a motorcycle rally
Learning not only bass lines but an alternative world
Of chapters and rides, rodeos and leathers.

We played The Royal Bear on a semi-regular basis
I recall one show of which I’m particularly proud
My whole family came and had drinks together
My mother didn’t even complain it was loud.

Then came the moment when my life was complete
My mother and father got up from their seats
Joining their kids on the dance floor, they danced
As I played Fight For Your Right To Party!

Editing Focus

Today, I’ll expand the Story Grid spreadsheet.  According to The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyle, the next step is to evaluate each scene for Value Shift, Polarity Shift and Turning Point.

Value Shift – Human experiences that can shift in quality from positive to negative or negative to positive. (e.g. happy/sad, love/hate, innocence/experience). Every scene must turn a story value.

Polarity Shift – Is the visual representation of  the value change in the scene: +/- or -/+. There may be some scenes that move from good to great or bed to worse, +/++ or -/–.

Turning Point – The precise moment/beat in the scene when the value shifts. Turning points either occur through action or revelation. It is important to track your turning points to make sure there is variation.

#FlashFicHive

fff20

graphic by Anjela Curtis

Oblique Strategy:

Look at a very small object, look at its center.

I like this idea. For today’s story, I’ll practice starting in a universal perspective and then quickly diving in to tighter and tighter view until I get to the center of a small object. Oh, I think I have an idea! Following today’s theme, I’ll use this technique at a party.

Don’t Forget To Read!

Don’t forget to read Christmas gift books: I don’t always have the time, but I like to try to read the books I give as gifts, so I can discuss them with the people I give them to. I especially like to read the books I give to my nieces and nephews to make sure they’re appropriate.

For the next few days, I’ll be evaluating–

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

The Best of Talebones edited by Patrick Swenson

–as possible Christmas gifts.

Happy Reading and Writing!