“After the Flood” by Jeffrey S. Hillard wins Cincinnati Public Library Garden 2012 Poetry Contest

Congratulations to teacher, mentor, and friend Jeffrey S. Hillard of Cincinnati for writing a winning poem in the Cincinnati Public Library Garden 2012 Poetry Contest. The contest was held as part of the 2012 Poetry in the Garden series sponsored by the Friends of the Cincinnati Public Library.

A panel of published poets and literary professionals selected four winners from among the nearly 300 entries in this inaugural contest, co-sponsored by the Grailville Retreat & Program Center.

Jeffrey Hillard’s “After the Flood,” one of four winners In the Garden 2012 Poetry Contest, is a poem from Jeff’s unpublished manuscript called HAVANA RIFFS: Poems on Cuba, based on his three trips to the country in the 1990s.

The other winners included “Father’s Day” by Leslie Clark of Clifton, “Crowning” by Karen George of Florence, and “Paean” Mary-Jane Newborn of Winton Place. You can read the winning entries  online at http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/news/2012/poetrycontestwinners.html.

The winning poets will read from their work on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the Main Library’s (800 Vine St., (513) 369-6900) 2012 Poetry in the Garden series which is being held on the Tuesday evenings in April at 7:00 p.m.

It’s a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month.

After the Flood by Jeffrey Hillard

at La Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba

In a painting the curator wipes dry,
the wet, bedraggled condor, now a dark blue,
lifts its wing into the shape of a mountain.
The wing’s shine, gone. On her knees, the curator
pins the painting to a blanket in the courtyard
outside, pats dry each delicate inch of painting
thick with floodwater stain. She dries rooms
of floating colors
and clips wet books dangling
like tents from wires strung across the courtyard,
her knees reddened raw, the sun continuing to cook
the ground, mud wrapping around her ankles.
After twenty straight hours
of no sleep, one recurring dream now balances
her on a bank as she plunges both feet
into a swift
river to plug its flow.
Up and down, on and off
her knees, with days yet to scrub and dry,
she once even dozed on a charcoal drawing.
When she woke, the river had ebbed
before she could drown.

Jeff is the publisher and editor of RED!Webzine.  He has also contributed numerous stories to the local Cincy Beat street newspaper. From 1989 to  2005, Jeff  published or served as editor for five books of poetry. More recently Jeff has self-published a youth book for readers 9 to 14 years old,  A Bunch in a Month – seeing Bible, imagining lives .  Available on Smashwords, A Bunch in a Month is a devotional created to be read and re-read over and over, with flash-fiction stories connected to a Bible verse that inspire the reader to reflect on the story – and his or her day.

For more information about the 2012 Poetry in the Garden series, visit www.CincinnatiLibrary.org.

While we are sleeping — or where memories meet

The human brain is an incredible organ. We notice how fantastic it is most easily when we witness it in dysfunction. So many things we take for granted like the ability to use our fingers to type letters onto a computer screen expressing our thoughts. I do it every day without thought. Or at least without conscious thought.

I hear noises behind me, or in another part of the house, and can often imagine what is going on there.

When the human brain is fully functional we can stand up, sit down, turn in a circle, chew and swallow our food . . .speak. All without apparent effort.

We take it for granted.

I’ve been working, slowly, on two new writing projects. They are both in the very early stages of interviews and research. One is about two or three women I know who gave up babies for adoption in the 70s. The other is about my dad.

Several years ago my dad asked me when I was going to write his story. I don’t know where he got the idea that I was going to, perhaps from the family genealogy books I had researched and written a while back. I don’t remember my response. Maybe I said, “Whenever you want me to,” or something equally ambiguous.

A little time passed. I graduated with a degree in English. Took a job as an assistant communications director. Quit the job as an assistant communications director. And began wondering how to fill my hours and days now that our children were grown and in college or beyond.

Dad asked me a second time when I was going to write his story.

I had started trying to make the hour-long trip to Dayton to see my parents at least once a week. They were in their 70s and still taking care of my disabled sister Annie at home. I thought I might be able to assist them in some way if I started visiting them once a week. I decided to bring a notebook and tape recorder when I went. Beginning in August of 2008, Dad and I spent hours at the kitchen table, or outside on his bench,  talking about his early childhood, teenage years, and into young adulthood. I recorded every word.

Then Annie got sick and the interviews stopped in June of 2009. I didn’t resume the interviews until almost eight months after Annie’s death in April of 2010. By then Dad’s memory was beginning to fail. Eventually he wasn’t able to make meaningful responses to my questions.

While I was sleeping this morning, or in the early minutes of waking, my brain figured out a solution to how I might tell Dad’s story: His story beginning when he was born and moving forward. My story beginning now and moving backwards. Our stories ending where memories meet.

The human brain is an incredible thing.

April 2010

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s Power of the Pen

I read her name before I spoke with her. I talked to her over the phone before I met her. When I finally did meet her, I had no idea that such a huge influence on my career as a writer would come from such a tiny, yet feisty, well-loved woman.

When I decided to go back to college for an English degree, I found Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s name in the College of Mount St. Joseph promotional materials. I was tentative about going back to school. I had quit my career as a chemical engineer (1979 degree from the University of Dayton), after working for Procter and Gamble a mere 3-1/2 years, to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. I really didn’t know if I had it in me to tackle college work again with other students less than half my age.

Photo from Cincinnati.com story

I found the courage to call Elizabeth Bookser Barkley and she steered me to the right course with which to begin. She continued to subtly steer me, something she excels at, through the remaining years I spent at the Mount working on my degree. I took five courses with her as the professor; when a position opened as a Writing Center Consultant, she recommended me; when she needed an editor for the school’s newspaper that she monitored, she asked me to do it.

Both of my stories that were published in the national magazine, St. Anthony Messenger, (The Joys and Challenges of Life with Annie – October 2008, and Sister Mary Beth Peters: A Heart for the Poor – April 2008) came from one of her classes.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, known as Buffy by her students and colleagues, is a professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also a freelance writer who contributes to a variety of Catholic publications. You can do a simple google search of her name and find multiple articles and books written by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley.

The article I’d like to draw your attention to is one that was published yesterday (January 4, 2012) in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is now available online entitled, “The power of the pen.” I hope you take a minute to read it. I think it will make you smile.

The ones that get away

I woke up three times in the night trying to solidify a blog post idea for today that was flitting around my mind. But like the beautiful,  colorful, yet elusive butterflies that grace my gardens from the spring to the fall, the idea flitted away. I woke with nothing.

I have been carrying a small notebook in my purse for a while now to catch these elusive ideas, and sometimes I do. I bought a tape-recorder many years ago and kept it in my car for those times when my mind loves to play as I drive along a highway. I rarely used it. Instead, when a wayward, yet interesting thought pops into my head, I try my old memorization technique of repetition until I can get someplace where I can write it down. That usually works during the day. But at night, not so much.

Perhaps another little notebook on my bedside table?

My next task is to get myself organized and collect the snippets I do catch somewhere I can find them again. Maybe next year will be the year.

So here’s to the fascinating post that never made it out of my head and you and I will never read.

Do you ever lose great ideas? What do you do to catch and keep them?

From Butterflies of Brazil —2011 Butterfly Show at the Krohn Conservatory

Sticky issues with memoirs and what I lost in the rewrite

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I ran into trouble with my memoir when I tried to get release forms signed by my family members who were in the book. Two of my siblings wanted to be omitted from the story. At the time, I was afraid I no longer had a book. You can read about my initial reaction in my Project Derailed post from July if you missed it.

I reexamined what I had left after I took my oldest sister and brother out of the book, and I believed that Annie’s story still shone through. I decided to rewrite the book as if we were a family of five people instead of seven, leaving out any mention of these two siblings as they requested. The main story is intact.

But I did lose things I really liked. Here are two abridged stories that got cut:

When we were young, a bat got in our house. I was fairly young, maybe four or five years old. I was in the bathtub by myself, with the door to the hallway open, when I heard screaming and then saw my siblings running down the hall towards the bedroom. Carol and my brother came first, and then my oldest sister, who probably wasn’t older than seven-years-old, came hurrying down the hall carrying Annie in her arms. She had never carried Annie before. Annie’s body, cradled between her arms, was dipping down to her knees. My parents must have been in the living room trying to contend with the bat. But my oldest sister, instead of just running and saving herself from the darting winged creature, stopped, picked up Annie, and saved her too.

The other story I hated to lose was at my oldest son’s wedding. We were in a hotel in St. Louis having breakfast in the lobby at the breakfast bar. I was sitting beside Annie when she got very excited. I had no idea why. There were a lot of people milling about, and a jumble of voices, so it took me a moment to realize that I could hear my brother’s voice. Annie hadn’t seen him in many months, or possibly even a couple of years, but she was able to pick his voice out of the crowd. He was the reason for her excitement. It brought tears to my eyes at the time.

My brother lives about six hours away and wasn’t home during Annie’s last days except for a short visit right before she died. So he didn’t participate in the main story line except for making frequent phone calls home. But my oldest sister, who lives close to my parents, was there all day, every day. She brought in groceries and frequently cooked dinner for all of us. She ran to the store for medicine. She sat with Annie and sang to her. Her presence was felt throughout the whole ordeal. She wrote and delivered a lovely eulogy that I had to cut from the book. I was very sorry to leave her out of the memoir. I desperately negotiated with her about editing and revising, but she opted out.

It has been a bittersweet experience for me.

But I rewrote the story, and continued onward with my self-publication project. I think it is still a good story. After all, it’s really about Annie, and possibly me, and we’re still there.

Have you ever had to make a large compromise on something you were writing or a project you were working on?

Writing Dancing in Heaven

A note to my loyal, and greatly appreciated, readers:
I’ve decided to generate a few behind-the-scenes posts about Dancing in Heaven to use on my website as part of my fledgling marketing plan. I did manage to get a one-page website up yesterday. It is not perfect and basically is a landing page to send people back here to the as-yet-unfinished “Dancing in Heaven” page tabbed at the top of this blog. I designed my web page around one of three images Anna created when she was brain-storming. It’s not likely we’ll stick with this design, but it beats a blank. If you check it out, I hope you’ll let me know here if there are problems. The text on the right should be contained within the dark rectangles.

Dancing in Heaven — a sister's memoirIn the spring of 2005, while taking a creative writing class at a local college, I wrote a short story memoir about my sister Annie. It was in a collage format and my teacher loved it. She said, “I think you’ve found your genre.” She encouraged me to revise it, polish it, and seek publication. I put it in a drawer.

Talking about, or writing about, Annie has always been emotionally draining for me. I carry deep-running, ill-defined, emotions about her, and likely always will.

Some of Dancing in Heaven was written on the day it happened. When Annie got sick in the early summer of 2009 and later died in August, I wrote bits and pieces, snippets really, of what I was experiencing and what I observed my family members were experiencing, as we walked through these uncertain, frightening, dark, and sad days. Some of these writings took the form of e-mails to friends. One writing was scrawled on a napkin I found in my car after I pulled into a rest area on my way home, crying too hard to continue driving, needing to put down on paper the events I had witnessed that day at my parents’ house.

Seven weeks after Annie died, I considered the collection of materials I had: my initial short story, the e-mails and journal entries at the time, and memories flooding my mind. I decided to write a story in journal format of the days leading up to Annie’s death. I wanted to fill in as much as I could about the person Annie was and what she meant to us, so I added a vignette or explanation at the end of the chapters. I acquired Annie’s medical records from her doctor, which included her hospitalization records. My parents gave me an envelope that contained records of Annie’s initial testing and diagnosis. I asked for and received the notes from Hospice.

I worked pretty well on this for a while, reconstructing Annie’s illness and creating vignettes, until I got close to the last few days of her life, and then I stopped writing. I put it away.

All along, I thought of this project as something I was doing for Annie, to give her a legacy.

As the first anniversary of Annie’s death approached, I committed to finishing the story by writing each day what had occurred on the day the previous year. My mind fully cooperated, without fail, waking me by 4:00 am with scenes nearly fully composed. I would get up, go to the study, and write with a box of tissues close at hand. It was a difficult task, but I kept Annie’s picture nearby and the idea that I was doing something for her helped me continue.

Gosh, I just made myself cry again. But then, I do it easily.

Once everything was written, then it was just a matter of sorting and arranging the pieces to make sense. I couldn’t tell you how many times I rearranged things.

Now that I am so close to publishing Annie’s story, I have mixed feelings, especially in light of the fact that two of my siblings opted out. More on that tomorrow. But overriding a sense of insecurity that encroaches at times, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I’m telling Annie’s story. And if only five people, or 10, or a couple hundred,  read Dancing in Heaven, well that’s something.

To rephrase words my dad said in his anguish after Annie died, it won’t “all have been for nothing.”


How about you? Are you working on a long project? How do you keep going?

Self-Publishing Update— round two of proof copies

Monday night I sat in my study in Cincinnati with my marked-up proof copy of Dancing in Heaven talking to Anna, over the phone, who sat in her apartment in Columbus, Ohio in front of her computer. We incorporated the corrections and changes into the InDesign document of Dancing in Heaven. I had 24 pages marked with corrections and this was after extensive reading, re-reading, and revising.

“On the back cover, in the summary paragraph, get rid of the extra space between the words ‘back’ and ‘for,'” I said.

“Yeh.” Anna said. “You had a lot of those in the book. I did a search and replace and got rid of them.”

“Why didn’t I notice that?” I ask. “Thanks. On page 22, fifth paragraph, change ‘My dad was back home with the rest of us’ to ‘My dad was back home with Carol and me,'” I said. I must have missed that change I needed to make when I had to rewrite to remove my two siblings from the memoir.

“On page 38, change ‘Day 5′ to ‘Day 6.'” We already had one Day 5; I didn’t think we needed two. Probably would be better to add the ‘Day 8′ which was missing. How did that happen?

“On page 65 the paragraph has a blank line in the middle,” I said.

“Oh,” Anna replied. “I missed that one.”

“Page 80. Get rid of the orphan quotation mark.”

“Page 118. Put ‘the’ in front of ‘cabinet.'”

So many mistakes, still. With self-publishing no one has my back.

Anna made all the changes I requested. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll upload the revised copy to Createspace.”


“Wait a minute,” she said. “On the back cover, do you see an apostrophe between ‘Annie’ and the ‘s’?”


“Probably should be one there.”


We both laughed. It’s never going to end.

Our Voices — and “speaking the truth to power”

I’ve been thinking about the importance of having a voice since yesterday’s post about the silencing of voices by the Nazis. The recent Egyptian revolution that captivated the world was largely possible because people’s voices were heard through the electronic media. The voices were not silenced.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to be silenced for all kinds of reasons, but primarily for our own benefit or self-preservation—from the grade school kids who remain silent when a classmate is being bullied, to a corporate worker who recognizes corruption or unethical behavior but remains silent to keep his or her job.

Our voice is one of the most fundamental and powerful aspects of our being. How are we using it?

In November of 2006, Nick Clooney came to the College of Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I was a student, to speak about telling the truth.  His words could not have been more pertinent to beginning and even experienced writers.  “Sometimes you have to speak the truth to power,” he said.

As a journalist, for 55 years Clooney made the effort to tell the truth.  He would go get the story, investigate both sides and put it on the air.  Telling the truth, he said, “Is tougher than that.”  It’s tougher because sometimes you have to tell a story that people do not want to hear and you do not want to say.

Clooney’s message was about courage and being willing to speak out when we see or know something that is contrary to popular thought or opinion.  He used the example of the pre-school incident that occurred in L.A. years ago when he first became a newscaster there.  By the time he arrived in the area, the story had broken that two women had been abusing the children at a pre-school.  All the news programs and newspapers ran the story and the entire community was outraged about it.  The two accused women were in custody.  The evidence largely consisted of the work a single therapist had done with the children and her statement that children never lie about things they know little about.

Upon further investigation, Clooney was convinced that the accusations were bogus.  He had numerous psychiatrists speak to him off-the-record who supported this position.  The psychiatrists were unwilling to go on-the-record, however, because of the public sentiment involved in the case by this point.  Clooney wanted to go forward with the story using unnamed sources.  He took the story to his director who basically told him he would be committing career suicide if he reported the story on the air.

“I did not do that story, though I knew I was right,” Clooney said.  He said he “folded” because of the pressure on his career.

The two women served three years in jail, the community was split apart and Clooney, to this day, feels somehow responsible because he did not tell the truth.  He was a big name at the time, and he said, “People would have paid attention.”

Clooney said he often expresses and writes opinions contrary to the main stream.  It has cost him jobs and it has cost him friends.

He is a powerful role model.

Clooney sympathized with today’s students who he said are in a much more difficult time than when he was young.  News is coming at us from all angles.  We can see one atrocity after another on the web, on the television, in the papers.  We see and hear contradictory information.  We don’t always know what to believe.

Clooney’s parting advice?

“Look for the people who are trying to tell you the truth,” he said.

Successful Self-Publishing —Assignment #7

Copyrights and registrations for your book.


As you may already know, ISBNs are the International Standard Book Numbers assigned to any physical book that is commercially sold. The numbers are unique 10 – 13 digits and must be purchased from the only agency allowed to distribute them in the U.S. — Bowker (http://www.bowker.com). Some publishing companies purchase large blocks of numbers from Bowker at a reduced rate. They then give or sell the numbers to authors whose books they are publishing. If you purchase ISBNs from Bowker yourself, it costs $125 for one number or $250 for ten numbers.

At first I considered buying a block of ten ISBN numbers from Bowker  because I do plan to publish more books if all goes well. But as I don’t have any other books written yet, I thought I would take the easy route with this first book and use the free ISBN numbers I can get from both Createspace and Smashwords.

Since Createspace will be the publisher of record according to Bowker’s, it will be listed as such in Bowker’s Books in Print listings. And since Createspace forbids authors to list them as the publisher on the copyright page of the book, (for protection against future legal action), my LLC will be listed as the publisher there.

Down the road, if I decide to publish more books, I can always buy a block of ISBNs at that time. Not being the registered ISBN owner will limit my ability to list my book with wholesale catalogs, but I believe the Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and Ingram or Baker &Taylor catalogs will be good enough. I think the $250 I save from not buying a block of 10 ISBNs can be better put to use on marketing materials.


Createspace will generate the barcode for me even if I provide the ISBN. So it shouldn’t be a problem even if I decide to buy my own.


My book is extremely personal with family photographs included. I will take my chances with the automatic copyright protection I receive without formal registration. I can always register later.


Because the Library of Congress runs the Cataloging in Print (CIP), I understand if I don’t register, it may not be possible to get my book into libraries. The CIP number is needed for library cataloging and Dewey decimal classification. I also understand that most self-published books aren’t likely to be stocked in libraries or ordered by educational institutions. So this doesn’t seem like a high priority. If I realize this is not the case, and libraries and institutions of education are clamoring to buy my book, I can always apply for the Library of Congress Preassigned Control Number program later. From this, I should be able to obtain a CIP listing if I need one. I will think about this later if it becomes an issue.

I’ve looked ahead at Assignment #8 and it is all about money: production costs, royalties, break-even points, etc. I may have to dust off my calculator.

Read Assignment #8

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

For Mother’s Day  my son and daughter-in-law gave me two books on writing: If you Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland, and Writing About Your Life — A Journey into the Past by William Zinsser.

I’ve started reading Ueland’s book a chapter at a time, and although I haven’t gotten very far into the book, I find it refreshing, uplifting and inspiring. This is particularly true because of  the negative environment I often encounter on the web in terms of the likelihood of getting an agent, the validity of self-publishing, and the general question of are you good enough?

Ueland writes:

“Now perhaps the thoughts, ‘There is no money in it,’ and ‘It may never be published,’ dry up all the springs of energy in you so that you can’t drag yourself to a piece of paper.

“I have experienced this often. I have cleared it up for myself in the following way:

“At the time of the Renaissance, all gentlemen wrote sonnets. They did not think of getting them published in the Woman’s Home Companion. Well, why write the sonnet at all?

“A Renaissance nobleman wrote a love sonnet for a number of reasons. [. . .] But the real reason was to tell the lady that he loved her.”

Ueland continues with an example of an artist:

“If you read the letters written by the painter van Gogh, you will see what his creative impulse was. He loved the sky, for example. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how  beautiful the sky was so he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it,” (Ueland pp 20-21).

I find this very inspirational. When I began writing my memoir, I did not think of getting it published. I loved my sister Annie, and I loved human beings. I simply wanted to show human beings how beautiful Annie was, so I wrote it for them. And that is all there is to it.

In the late 50s when my sister Annie was born, sometimes families placed severely disabled children in homes where they could be cared for. When Annie was born with severe brain damage my parents’ family doctor told them, “You have two choices. You can keep her and take care of her, or put her in an institution.” My parents took care of Annie in their home for 51 years, until her death. The following is an excerpt from Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir.

Dad said, “All I know is that very early on we were both quite young and had no idea what was down the line. We made a decision. She’s the way God gave her to us, and we agreed to take on that responsibility. There was no pressure from anybody else to do it or not do it. We chose to do it.” After a moment he added, “She’s been a major pleasure to me on a one-to-one basis.”

“And she has been a major pleasure to a lot of other people, some of whom do not even know her,” Mom said. “I think it’s because she just smiles. She has some kind of charisma there that doesn’t have to be spoken. She’ll look up at people and just smile. And they’ll melt right there.

“You can take her to the store; you can take her anywhere, and the way she’s sitting back, she can see people’s faces good. And she’ll just look up and smile, and you’ve got everybody in the place smiling at her. But I think any ordinary person could do that too, I just don’t think we do.”


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