A short, but excellent, poetry lesson

Jeffrey S. Hillard, writer, poet, editor of RED!webzine and professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph
Jeffrey S. Hillard

I’ve mentioned Jeffrey S. Hillard here before. He was one of my professors when I returned to college at Mount St. Joseph University for an English degree in the early 2000s. I took two creative writing classes from him: Short story, and Poetry.

Jeff is a gifted poet. I think you’ll agree when you read it. It is accessible, and it sings. This year he received the honor of being named the Cincinnati Public Library Foundation’s Writer in Residence. You can read all about it here.

He is also an inspiring teacher.

This week Jeff published a blog post on the library site entitled, Anatomy of a Poem (1). If you have any interest in reading good poetry, understanding poetry, or writing poetry, this is a must-read. This is where Jeff really shines.

 

 

An opportunity for readers

I want to share with you a newsletter from an emerging great fiction writer, Trace Conger, in which he announces a Countdown sale of the Kindle version of his latest novel Scar Tissue. (He also gives my upcoming Kindle Countdown deal for Where Memories Meet a plug.) Tomorrow, for one day only, you can buy Scar Tissue for $0.99, a savings of $4.00, at Amazon. It’s a great opportunity for readers to try Trace’s work.

I met Trace when he joined the writing group I have been participating in for about five years now. I’ve enjoyed reading and providing feedback on Trace’s works-in-progress. He is a talented, entertaining, and highly productive writer. I believe he has what it takes to be a successful fiction writer.

“Conger is known for his tight writing style, dark themes and subtle humor.” (Amazon)

I’ve read everything he’s published so far, and will continue to do so. I’m hooked on Finn as a character. Here is my review of Scar Tissue from the Amazon page:

Trace Conger has done it again, and for that matter, so has his lead character, Finn Harding. Finn is an unlicensed private investigator who gets embroiled with large ruthless criminal organizations. Finn’s bravado, quick wit, command of the internet and research, and generally ingenious and devious mind, as he works to solve the case while saving his own skin, make for a fast-paced and riveting read.

One of the things that sets Conger’s Crime Fiction apart is his integration of the humanity of Finn. We see Finn’s fierce devotion and protectiveness to a precious daughter and his estranged wife, who is not only hot but has the right mix of vulnerability and sass. And perhaps even more entertaining, we get to witness the escapades of Finn’s father Albert and his old codger vigilante friends up at Meddybemps Lake in Maine who provide us with a second, equally fascinating, story line.

With the addition of Finn’s long-lost brother Conner, who plays a significant role in Scar Tissue, we are offered a deeper look into Finn’s engaging character through his family ties. And as we watch the interactions of the Harding brothers, we realize these two apples did not fall far from the tree.

I loved it. I can’t wait for the next. Highly recommended.

Trace

An Update on Mr. Finn #3

Hello friends. I’ve received a lot of emails asking about the next Mr. Finn novel. I’m hard at work on THE PRISON GUARD’S SON (Mr. Finn #3) and hope to have it available this fall.

I’m really excited about this book and it’s been a blast to write. As I’ve written the series, I’ve always tried to “up the difficulty” when it comes to Finn finding his man. The first book focused on an anonymous hacker and the second on a nomad criminal banker.

The third book finds Finn trying to track down two individuals in the witness protection program. I think it’ll prove to be his toughest case yet.

I can’t share too much about the plot, but if you want a glimpse into what Finn is up against, I’d suggest checking out a recent piece I wrote for Hardboiled Wonderland, a crime fiction blog. You can find that here.

SCAR TISSUE Available for $0.99
The ebook version of SCAR TISSUE (Mr. Finn #2) will be on sale at Amazon for $0.99 on January 25, 2016. (That’s also my brother’s birthday, so happy birthday, Dave!) 

The ebook price will steadily increase that week until it’s back at its normal sales price. So, mark your calendars if you want the book and want to save some cash.

A Touching Tribute
A good friend of mine recently published a fantastic memoir, WHERE MEMORIES MEET. It’s the author’s story of losing her father to Alzheimer’s as well as her father’s account of the defining moments of his life.

It’s more than a story about Alzheimer’s though. It’s also a touching tribute to a man who meant so much to her. Sure, it can be dark at times, but so can life.

WHERE MEMORIES MEET will also be on sale for $0.99 from February 1 to February 4. Of course, if you want to snag it at full price, you can do that too. Check it out here.

Thanks all.

Trace Conger

“People don’t run out of dreams. People just run out of time.” — Glenn Frey

You can contact Trace and sign up for his newsletter at his website, TraceConger.com.

 

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My mother believed

My mother always believed in me.

The past few days I have been on a cabin-fever mission to clean out files. I have a lot of files. Today, contained in a file I labeled “bits and pieces” which I recall creating to store future writing ideas, I found a manila envelope with “Christine Writings” written on it in my mother’s handwriting.

I wasn’t surprised. I knew my mother, who rarely saved anything sentimental, had saved some of the things I wrote when I was younger. There is a three-page handwritten essay on “Childcare and Babysitting.” I was probably in junior high.

“When a girl gets to a certain age she needs more money of her own and needs more responsibility. Babysitting gives you both. It also gives you in a roundabout way lessons for homemaking and childcare. Although you have to know some basics and important facts before you start, each time in some way, a new experience occurs.

The age that I find easiest to handle is around seven to ten . . .”

In it, I spelled “allowed” as “aloud.”

There is a sheet torn from a school newsletter we put together in 8th grade. The type is a script and is purple. Remember the smell of mimeograph copies and how they were a little damp at first? I wrote a poem about the snowflakes.

“. . .They drift on sometimes furiously, sometimes serenely, but always beautifully, ever journeying on to the end where they finally rest on even the smallest twig. And the twig is proud.”

I remember sitting in science class beside the window, watching the snow fall and composing this poem in my head. I did a lot of day-dreaming in grade school. I probably should have been paying attention.

My mom kept an essay I wrote in freshman English class, period 6 entitled “My Favorite Place” about the beach. My teacher wrote on the top, in red pencil, “Check some spots for awkward structure. Watch modifiers.” But he gave me a 4.5 out of 5.0 anyway. I got a 5.0 on “The Typical Mixed-Up Teenage Girl.”

“Carefree is her name and rule to live by; or often she wishes it were so. Actually insouciance (insouciance? Where did I come up with that word?) is one virtue she lacks. It would be so easy for my friend if she didn’t take things to heart so hard.”

I have a feeling I was writing about myself here.

Then there is the short story, “The Power of Giving” that I wrote in December of 1971. I think I might have been a better fiction writer then than I am now. I knew how to write a hook in the first sentence.

“The memory of it all is still as fresh in my mind as it was the first few days after the accident, and probably always will be.”

It’s a sentimental story, written in first person (I guess I liked first person even back then). A young girl gets in a car wreck right before Christmas and ends up in the hospital. She’s self-centered, and feels sorry for herself that she won’t be home for Christmas and throws a tantrum of major proportions. Later a little old lady named Auntie May visits her.  They strike up a friendship and spend a lot of time talking. The girl knits Auntie May a scarf for Christmas. Auntie May has no home to go to and is headed to a nursing home. The narrator gives her the gift she made. “That was the first real Christmas I ever had,” the narrator says, “For that was the year I discovered the power of giving.” The teacher liked it. He asked me to read it out loud to the class and I couldn’t get through it without crying. That’s still true of some of my writing.

My mom kept a poem I wrote in 1975 about our neighbor who was from Germany. I illustrated it with a drawing I made of the little old man with his cane, walking down a sidewalk under a big branching tree with bare limbs. Convincing me yet again, lest there be any doubt, to stick to writing and not drawing.

“. . .
Wonder if
While walking down the street
He yearns to be
Where he is not
Out of place;
Lonely for his home,
A place to understand,
That understands
Him.”

His name was Mr. Gronauer and he did not speak English well. My dad used to go over and visit him from time to time to talk about Germany. One day my two sisters and I went over, maybe to give him and his wife Christmas cookies or something. They used to give us those gigantic Hershey’s chocolate bars. I’m not sure Hershey’s makes them anymore. On this particular occasion, they invited us in to have a seat on the sofa and they poured each of us a little glass, maybe about a shot, of liqueur. It might have been brandy. I took one sip and wondered how I was ever going to be able to drink it all. My oldest sister didn’t seem to be having any difficulty with it. I think Carol and I surreptitiously pawned ours off on her. I might still be sitting there today otherwise.

Yes. My mom believed in me. When I’m doubting myself and wondering what to do next, my mom’s belief, in the form of a manila envelope, calls me forward, still.

 

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Two excerpts from Where Memories Meet

Today marks three years since my father’s last birthday, his 80th.

Where Memories Meet is two stories in one book. It is my memoir of losing my father to Alzheimer’s, and Dad’s account of the defining moments of his life. My story begins at the end of Dad’s life and proceeds backwards in time. Dad’s narration begins with his birth and moves forward in time. Eventually the timelines, or the memories meet. 

These two excerpts concern Dad’s birthday. The first is his account in Part 1: “The End (2013) & The Beginning (1933).” The second is from Part 2: “The Last Year (January 2013 to January 2012) & The Early Years (1933 to 1950)”

Jerry with his parents 1933JERRY
January 18, 1933

I came in on the 18th day of January 1933, at 715 Manier Avenue, Piqua, Ohio. My Aunt Agnes said that my dad’s mother, my Grandmother Smith, insisted on naming…

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Bailing on the blog-a-day

Two weeks ago I took up the challenge to post a blog every day. I’ve lasted exactly two weeks. But I’ve learned a few things:

  1. I still enjoy blogging. I had forgotten.
  2. I really enjoy the online community of bloggers who read and comment on each other’s posts. This group, however, can quickly grow and get out of hand. At which point it becomes either a time-consuming burden, or a guilt-ridden neglect.
  3. Having a goal in mind, to post every day for example, does motivate me to think more, write more, shoot more photos, and enriches my life.
  4. On the other hand, posting every day causes me to write more drivel and less meaningful posts which is counter to my life’s beliefs and goals. See yesterday’s post.
  5. I had hoped that the pressure of writing something everyday might lead me to a theme that I could center on instead of the randomness I continue to pursue.
  6. I need to spend more time on my longer term goals (next book for example) and less on coming up with something, anything, to fill this page.

I could probably come up with a few more points, but won’t burden you with them.

So, my post-a-day challenge has come to an end. I’m going back to my willy-nilly, post on a whim approach. Best of wishes to the other women who continue to blog on and in particular to Joss Burnell, who sent out the challenge that I temporarily accepted. She wrote a thought-provoking and inspiring post today that is well worth the read: The Third Third.

As for my blogging future, I hope to settle into some kind of regularity that you and I can count on. Time will tell if I succeed.

Now, I have an interview to transcribe and notes to organize for my birth-mother project. More on this as it progresses.

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Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown

Reading Steinbeck makes me yearn to write excellent fiction, and at the same time despair of ever doing so.

To a God Unknown is one of Steinbeck’s earliest novels. I don’t pretend to fully grasp all that the author intended to convey. But it did provide me with a lot of food for thought, primarily regarding mysticism; humanity’s desire to worship or commune with something larger than the here and now; and the struggle between changing worldviews, in this case between “pagan” ritual and Christianity. Always fascinating to think about.

We don’t write the way we used to, or at least the authors of the books I’m reading don’t. Maybe I’m not reading the right books. Steinbeck’s story is loaded with content, and concepts. Let’s face it, it’s not a fast car chase along Highway 1, a natural disaster, or a gripping tale of betrayal with guns blazing. A modern reader might think To a God Unknown is, frankly, slow.

We can’t read a novel by John Steinbeck with the same mindset as we read Dan Brown. Steinbeck writes, “Her crying was as satisfying and as luxurious as a morning’s yawn,” (37). Chew on that for a moment. The author achieves a lot of description and understanding with this simple 12-word sentence. There is nothing earth-shattering here, but there is a very clear portrayal or understanding of not only how it feels to unburden one’s heart with tears, but also to yawn—satisfying and luxurious.

Former school teacher, young wife and new mother, Elizabeth says to her husband, the protagonist Joseph Wayne, “I  used to think in terms of things I had read. I never do now. I don’t think at all. I just do things that occur to me,” (114). And when Joseph’s brother tells him, “You love the earth too much. You give no thought to the hereafter.” (117) These statements convey something rather profound about differences in the ways we live.

After Joseph’s wife tragically dies, he returns to his house:

“The clock wound by Elizabeth still ticked, storing in its spring the pressure of her hand, and the wool socks she had hung to dry over the stove screen were still damp. These were vital parts of Elizabeth that were not dead yet. Joseph pondered slowly over it—Life cannot be cut off quickly. One cannot be dead until the things he changed are dead. His effect is the only evidence of his life. While there remains even a plaintive memory, a person cannot be cut off, dead. And he thought, ‘It’s a long slow process for a human to die. We kill a cow, and it is dead as soon as the meat is eaten, but a man’s life dies as a commotion in a still pool dies, in little waves, spreading and growing towards stillness.'”(136)

To be a great writer requires more than a talent with words; it requires a great depth of thought.

Our attention-spans have grown shorter in the fast-paced computer age we live in. We don’t read the way we used to. We shouldn’t write the way we used to. But we should be pushing the boundaries of thought  forward. Taking time to observe. Contemplation. We can’t write and complete a John Steinbeck novel, a great novel, in the month of November.

Work cited:
Steinbeck, John. To a God Unknown. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

 

 

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