The Matchbook Room

My piece was published on the Eunoia Review website! Check it out.

Eunoia Review

First performed by an actor as part of the Liars’ League Portland (now defunct)

What I wanted to tell you about was Grin. How she collected matchbooks and how it’s a dying art form. Her full name was Grinalda. She’d inherited her father’s modest collection when she was 25. At first, she didn’t like me, thought I was a know-it-all. Most people would agree with her, but I learned to soften my delivery, how to stop being didactic after a couple of shots of Four Roses whiskey. I liked it on the rocks and without flourish, but you don’t care about that. At first, Grin kept me around because of some familiarity or softness in my dark eyes. Later, I helped her make more money and became indispensable.

Tall, lanky, awkward. Grin muddled through the streets as if she were lost in a corn maze. We met when I found…

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Uncertainty

“In your diary, you quoted old Jiko saying something about not-knowing, how not-knowing is the most intimate way or did I just dream that?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think maybe it’s true, even though I don’t really like uncertainty. I’d much rather ‘know’, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.” – Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

Oftentimes when uncertainty comes rushing in and it is the only thing I see, the wave crashes into me, it can’t go through me like I want. The question marks pile up until there is no more than a curved line and a dot in everything I see, touch, or feel. That’s when I know it is time to breathe, to catch my breath, maybe cry a little, get the pent up and pushing away, out.

I like the idea that uncertainty keeps ALL possibilities open. That means, even the good ones. Oftentimes, I think of uncertainty as bad and anything that is uncertain is sure to result in some horrible consequence or catastrophe. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve seen so much good. People coming together to problem solve, to appreciate each other and to help one another out. Many of us didn’t see this coming, some of us may have been a little more prepared, but none of us knew how we would handle something like this until we were staring it down. Many were faced with job loss and others an opportunity to step-up without protective equipment to confront a serious virus. No one “asked” for this but we have ways to make our situation better.

We just watched Fellowship of the Rings and we knew that Gandalf was wise, but his words come in very handy right now…

And also, I’m so grateful for this time. My son is at an age where he doesn’t know what a global pandemic is, he isn’t talking in full sentences and he is simply happy to be home with his Mama and Dada and dog. He tells me he is happy after a glass of milk or when we cuddle tight. He gives me kisses on the cheek and big smiles that demand that I stay present and focused. I demand that I smile and share in his joy because these moments are small, fleeting things and we will be dealing with the fallout from all of this for a long time to come.

Wash your hands, support local businesses as much as possible, do what you can for others, and thank all of our essential workers.

Note: I did not mention that I haven’t blogged in a while. I’m not sure how often I’ll be blogging in the coming months, but I’ll let you know when I post!

 

Writing tips from other writers #authortoolbox post

For the next couple of #authortoolbox posts I decided to reach out to my writing friends both authors I know in real life and those I know virtually. Please learn more about their writing as well. They have a lot of insight into their own process and you never know what will work for you.

I love finding new nuggets of wisdom (I’m not talking about fool’s gold here!) or a twist on an old tip that helps me get inspired, write better, or grow as a writer.

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For every question you have about writing, read lots of blogs/articles/chapters on the topic, because there are so many opinions out there!

– Raimey Gallant: http://www.raimeygallant.com

This is particularly meta since anyone reading this post is reading a blog to gain some knowledge and help with their writing. I love that! Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with this writing tip. Read as much as you can until something truly resonates with you. If you need help with plotting, read about it many places. I’ve tried a few different ways to plot out my novel, either ahead of time or while writing, and I often modify my approach based on a couple of different techniques. In the end, that felt right and I read enough to feel confident that I would, at the very least, move my story forward.

Find the joy in writing. Don’t be afraid to genre jump, write bad drafts or fail, it’s all part of the journey.
–Author/Freelance Writer Melissa Uhles  http://www.melissauhles.com/
This particular writing tip is one that I have dabbled with, but haven’t fully embraced. I tend to write literary and add twists of speculative elements. I’ve yet to write a full-on romance or horror story. I love the idea though. I’d love to hear from others who do this and how it informs the way you move forward in your writing.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet and let you all think about these tips. I’ll have a couple more next month from various writer friends! And if you are feeling like a longer post, check out my interview with poet, Carolyn Martin, her newest poetry collection launches March 13.
I feel like I should apologize for my bad humor, the whole “fool’s gold” thing. It’s just how my brain works.

Author Q & A: Carolyn Martin (poet!)

This interview is an exciting one for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve never interviewed a poet before! I decided to open my interviews up to published and unpublished authors, but I want to keep a healthy mix of all different types of writers who are in various stages of their writing careers. Another reason this post is exciting is that I met Carolyn through my time as a fiction editor for VoiceCatcher journal where I was later on the board and managed their social media accounts. I love this connection because it really introduced me to a wonderful and giving community of women writers. Anyway, I’m happy to have Carolyn on my blog so let’s hear more about her.

 

Version 5From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has contributed poems and book reviews to publications throughout North America and the UK. Her fourth collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, was released in 2019 by Unsolicited Press. She is currently the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation.


You’ve published four poetry collections so far. What makes the fourth different from the first three?

A Penchant for Masquerades is different for two reasons:

First, rather than having a manuscript in search of a title like I had in Finding Compass, The Way a Woman Knows, and Thin Places, I found a title for this fourth collection first and it challenged me to write the book.

A few years ago, I read this quotation by Isak Dineson:  “Truth is for tailors and shoemakers … . I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades.”

I knew immediately this was my title – although I wasn’t sure what it meant. The poems are attempts to find that meaning.

The second difference is that I had discovered new forms to write in. For example, several poems contain not one word of my own except for the title  (i.e.,“Ten Variations on the Fifty Most Quoted Lines of Poetry” and “90+ Titles Appropriated from Poetry 180 Hosted by Billy Collins”). What fun to cut-and-paste and arrange and rearrange words into something new!

Then there are paratactic poems: poems that are a series of aphorisms that can be read in any order (i.e., “Prologue,” “Spoiler Alerts).

Both forms were new to me and added a broader and deeper dimension to my work.

Is there a difference between writing prose or poetry? If so, what do you think it is?

I spent most of my 40-year working life writing prose: business books, magazine articles, keynote speeches, workshop materials. Today, I occasionally write in prose via book reviews and a blog. And, while all these prose writing experiences are valuable, I’ve discovered that poetry is the way my mind interacts with the world – in images, rhythms, sounds, and intensities of language. So I’ve settled into the joyful challenge of translating experience into as few words as possible. My aesthetic is found.

In a comment by Sting, “All my life I have tried to find the truth and make it beautiful,” and in Galway Kinnell’s statement, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up … and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” My poems attempt to find beautiful truths as I grapple with the complexity of being on earth right now. Being me, I couldn’t do that in prose.

Everyone wants to know about a writer’s practice or discipline as if there were some silver bullet that would prompt their own success. What’s your “silver bullet”?

Here’s my secret: there is no “silver bullet.” At least, I don’t have one. Perhaps, it’s my age – going on 74 — and the fact that I don’t write to make a living, but I’ve taken the pressure to produce off. If there’s another poem published somewhere or another manuscript trying to be born, that’s fine. If not, I’ve had a good run. My mantra in my blissful retirement years comes from a Spanish proverb: “It is beautiful to do nothing and rest afterwards.”

Anyway, after years of discipline, it is very freeing to create days in the shape I’d like them to be or, perhaps, to let days shape me. I live a charmed life!

Where do you find inspiration? Or who inspires you?

In the first stanza of my poem “A Few Words on Inspiration,” I write:

It happens this way: the day collects stuff:

a squirrel in rigor on a cottage stone,

chem trails staining summer’s sky,

a white spider on the TV screen.

Every day is filled with sights, sounds, smells, perceptions, feelings that are grist for poems. If I can stay away from the computer long enough and stop the noise inside and out, I collect stuff.

Among famous poets, I’ve been influenced by Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop and have written poems that reference their work. Among contemporaries, I love Billy Collins, Natasha Trethewey, James Wright, Kay Ryan, and Wislawa Szymborska. Likewise, a number of my poems arise directly from their work. Also, they help me in my search for new approaches and forms that keep my work engaging and fresh. 

Finally, this goes without saying: Local teachers like John Brehm, Sage Cohen, Cindy Williams Guitiérrez, Kathleen Halme, Annie Lighthart, Andrea Hollander, and Paulann Peterson have inspired so many poems throughout my four collections that I’ve lost count. There’s nothing like being in a workshop with a brilliant teacher and dedicated students who inspire one another

The bottom line? There are possibilities for poetry everywhere if you’re attentive to  them. They’re waiting and wanting that attention. If you don’t grab them, someone else will!

Do you have any advice for someone who may be going through a hard time in their writing (might be due to personal issues not related to writing, but still effects writing)? What keeps you going through tough times?

Be gentle with yourself. There are weeks – and sometimes months – that I don’t write. These are my fallow periods and I’ve learned to respect their rhythms. When writing dries up and I feel like I’ll never write a poem again, I find other creative things to do: gardening, painting, creating greeting cards and jewelry, whatever. Anything to be creative.

See, I believe we create or we die, and one type of creativity leads to another to another to another. Of course, when you’re not writing, you’re reading and observing. You’re keeping files of new words, quotations, snippets of conversation you’ve overhead: all gems that may sparkle when the time and energy to write returns – and they will.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me/ the world?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but writers should spend some time writing about what they do not know. Science, art, music, cosmology, world religions, etc. offer images and ideas that will enrich anyone’s work. I remember reading articles that claim the sun rings like a bell, that North America moves closer to Japan by three inches each year, and that there’s a species of frog that listens with its mouth. Each of those images delighted me and worked their way into poems. I couldn’t make them up!


Find more about Carolyn here: www.carolynmartinpoet.com

Letting go

Recently, a friend (Rebecca) posted an old “note” I’d written on FaceBook. It was called 16 things about me. The #11 thing was:

I think letting go is one of the most important things a person can do… and one of the most difficult things a person must do.

 

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Image from pixabay

 

There were other really insightful nuggets on the list (like the horrid snake tattoo that had the word Truth coming out of its mouth I wanted to get in high school), but that one stood out to me. I still believe this and it got me thinking about how certain lessons or trials come up over and over again and you must continue to choose how to react to situations. When I think about letting go of something today, most of the scenarios involve giving up control. It’s something that I don’t have anyway, but think I have. The other side of it is that I only have control of myself and my reactions to whatever it is I need to let go.

I like talking in the hypothetical about this idea. It’s easier to grasp and feels less intimate, though it probably leaves the reader a bit baffled. So, I’ll give a couple of examples…

Have you ever encountered a person who decides they are more important than you, and everyone around them? You know they don’t act in this specific way just around you, but it still gets under your skin. They are arrogant, unyielding, and rude. You have a choice. Let it get to you when they treat you this way and allow it to taint your day, or move on and let go. You’ll have to keep letting go any number of times with this same person until they no longer exist in your sphere or you have to face the conflict in a respectful manner (who wants to do that?). It won’t go away, but your reaction to it can help you cope.

Another example is when you have no choice but to let go. When it’s the hardest thing to do, but the only thing that will allow you to get through the day. It could be when someone dies or when a friend moves away. It’s something you can’t change so you have to find ways to figure out how to cope. You are in control of the way you move forward, but not in the act of moving forward. Does that make any sense?

Right now I’m struggling with a few things in relation to letting go. I feel conflicted most of the time and it’s not a mind space I like being in. I know I’ll figure it out.

I still my brain, breathe.

It will come when it’s time.

The only control I have is coping and striving little by little.

The only control I have is the way in which I allow for space for that which I struggle with.

 

New parent, must write: Author toolbox post

This parenting thing is relentless and I am only 20 weeks in. Duh, right? Well, somehow I am finding time to write. It’s different now. My resolve is bound to the conviction that if I quit doing something I love … Continue reading

Publishing Q and A with Sheala Henke

Today our Q and A takes a slightly different angle. Sheala Henke, fantasy author, talks about her path to a traditionally published fantasy novel.

Born and raised in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and local CSU alumni, Sheala Dawn Henke is a veteran educator, with nearly twenty years in the trenches. She’s the author of an honored title for the ‘What’s New in Young Adult Literature, 2018 Edition’ with her YA Climate Fiction series, IDEA33 and the new release with Pen Name Publishing of her Literary Fantasy novel, Story Bends. Sheala and her husband and two children thrive in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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Name a few of your favorite books/how they inspire you.

I find that the books that resonate most with me are the ones that pull on my heartstrings. They sit in very distinct emotional chambers in my mind that stays with me for weeks, months, sometimes years. I actually go through a process of grieving over books I’ve finished that have this quality. Only when I realize I can read them again, do I feel at peace. One of my favorite books that I read aloud each year with my students is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This book is truly one of the most deliciously, tantalizingly magical books I’ve ever read for young and old. I particularly love to read this book out loud as I prefer the audio version of books with such a musical quality like this one. If “words were the sweets in the mouth of sound” this would be on my Top 10 list. Natalie is also very engaged with her audience, and she has been a source of delight for my students as they continue to fall in love with her prose. She shares her writing journey and is very responsive to independent inquiries. She even went as far as to respond personally to a letter from one of my students last year who wrote to her about how much she adored her book. She followed up by sending us some wonderful Snicker Swag.

Another author I adore for his unique and lyrical style is Neil Gaiman. His writing is leaps and bounds above anything else I’ve ever read and I’ve decided that if winning the lottery was in the cards for me, I’d happily trade it for a little whisper of his magical page dust to transfer to my own work. I also truly admire his dedication to improving his craft. I feel like he’s along the same lines as Steven King with his abilities and his commitment as a career writer.

I’ve also fallen in love with and stay true to a few classics that will always resonate with me. I’m a Jane Austin fan, through and through and I enjoy the disturbingly ethereal works of Nathanial Hawthorne, whose short story, The Haunted Mind was the initial inspiration for my Literary Fantasy, Story Bends.

I’m a fangirl for a good epic tale like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Kent Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. I enjoy the way they both write with such sensory detail enhancing the reader’s experience to ‘live the days’ with the characters. It’s a writing style I aim to emulate in my work as well.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you decide to self-publish and what were some roadblocks and positive experiences you encountered?

My publishing journey began in a room with over 300 people at a conference for the National Gifted and Talented community. Like a burst of bumbling brilliance, it came while listening to the Keynote author, Stephanie Tolan speak about creativity. At that moment the seed of an idea came to me while I was taking notes. I sketched out the most god-awful Frankenstein rendition of a thinking map outline for what later became my first novel, IDEA 33-A Regeneration. What sparked the ignition to move it from idea to page occurred the following day when I went back into my classroom and shared the experience with my students. They were full of questions. They wanted to know about the story, the characters. There was a wanderlust in their eyes I couldn’t put down. They wanted to READ this story. This story that didn’t exist…yet. They wanted more, and it was up to me to deliver it.

So, what did I do? What anyone else out of their ‘write’ mind would do, I went home that night to hatch a story and stayed up until the crack of dawn to get enough of it down so I could share it with them the following day. Even then, I didn’t come to understand what I was doing. I was writing a novel. My first novel. I was not well-versed with the writing coat of arms or a lifetime of craft study. My writing journey was as organic an experience as any other happenstance, and as the days wore on and the yellow bricks on my road to publication evolved, I evolved with it, laying each ever-loving bricks with the support and encouragement of my family, friends and most of all, my students. I wrote the entire book that year with built-in Beta readers and they stayed with me years after the maiden voyage. In fact, we hosted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a full manuscript revision with a professional content and copy editor team.

In that time, we began an after-school writing group called the Write Muses, operating on one mission statement, grounded on the ‘If you build it, they will come’ theory and working on our craft together. And, THEY KEEP COMING! The group has grown and changed over time, with a membership of over thirty young aspiring writers and purveyors of their own inner guide to feed their passion. We meet twice a month and the membership is free and voluntary. They mentor one another, they learn the art of critique and find a space where they can cultivate their interests. Many of the original group members have gone on to accomplish amazing things outside of our space. They are artists, speakers, engineers, and musicians and they know what it means to feed a curiosity with every breadcrumb of success.

How did you find your way to getting traditional pubbed and why did you decide to go down this path at this time?

I have always been somewhat of a closet writer, journaling the days away and writing poetry, and although some may see my experience with how I came into publishing as a Cinderella tale, I happen to believe in the magic of perseverance and grit. Where I’ve landed today didn’t happen on accident or with the swipe of the magic wand or as a result of my Fairy God Agent. I’ve had nothing but my core conscience and a drive to keep improving my craft. I believe I will be agented one day in the near future, and I look forward to that day, but I look more forward to a future of ‘manucripting up’ to write more quality books that alter perspectives for readers of all ages. It was with pure spirit and grit that I’ve moved from point A to point P in publishing. I also believe it was due to the fact that the kids have always served as my direct muse. Without their persistence and cajoling, I might not have been enticed to take the first, second and twelfth step on a journey toward the first traditionally published Literary Fiction novel, Story Bends with Pen Name Publishing. It was a promise I made to myself and to them and our story continues…

What advice do you have for other writers about deciding what pathway to publish to take?

Choosing the path to publishing is a very intimate, personal decision. In today’s market, it can take on an overwhelming number of forms, and it really depends on each individual’s goal. I would offer the advice to consider joining a writing group or take a platform building class on branding to really dive into the ‘Why’ behind your writing. That is what success-minded people do in every industry. If writing is just a hobby, and it fills you up, then that’s all it should be. If you want to pursue it further, join a local writing group or organization to start learning more about the industry and the market and take on the beast of the craft by writing each and every day. I’d recommend you sign up for one of the myriad of social media groups who share and create together. These communities are priceless, and you can stay as anonymous as you’d like as you choose what level of engagement you wish to pursue. I also highly recommend some low-cost conference opportunities like WriteOnCon which hosts an amazing three-day intensive online conference with an even more amazing lineup of writers, editors, agents, and industry professionals in a safe (put yourself out there at your own pace) space. For more information visit their website and full conference admission is only $10! It’s probably the best deal in the industry for anyone who needs a little help navigating where they stand and it is a great place for writers of all levels.

https://writeoncon.org

What three words describe your writing.

Versified, Lyrical, Expressive

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to those in the industry who embrace and support debut writers and who take a chance to build relationships with people like myself who are new to the industry. I am humbled by the kind and generous individuals, editors, agents, publishers, authors/agents who offer support and a safe commune for those of us who are new to the experience.

 

Find her here:

http://sdhenke.com/

Twitter: @HenkeSheala

Insta: @shealadawnhenke

FB: @authorshealahenke

Author Q and A with Erica Steele (this week includes author toolbox blog hop)

Before we dive into our next Q and A, I wanted to mention that I signed up to be part of a Blog Hop with Raimey Gallant. She contacted me a few months ago and mentioned that she would be … Continue reading