From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scrambled Eggs


     My life has become so hectic of late that I haven't been able to tend to my blog. I haven't been able to tend to my fiction either. The novel that had been coming along so effortlessly for so many months, has been almost entirely pushed aside. Partly for life demands that gushed forth all at one time like a no longer dormant volcano, but also, for poetry.

egg-broken.jpg (387×310)
      Since this is National Poetry Month I've decided to stop fretting over it and just go with it.

     This push back to poetry was ushered in when I was asked not too long ago to serve as a judge in the Poetry Out Loud competition at a local high school. So many powerful poems delivered so eloquently! Soon after, I was invited to visit another high school's poetry class to read my own work and mentor the students for an afternoon.
     At about the same time I was asked to work with a group of interested adults in something called a Creation Circle, part of a multi-month project designed by my city's current poet laureate. Her project has really reengaged my brain in making new poems. In fact, I find myself frustrated that I do not have more time to devote to the work we are doing.
        I was also asked to participate in other public readings this month. Two are to launch and celebrate The Widows' Handbook, a new anthology that I am thrilled to be included in.
       Another is new and exciting to me, and at least has some bearing on the novel I have been distracted from. Hosted by The Seacoast African American Cultural Center I will be one of twelve writers participating in a panel called "What Langston Heard: Seacoast Poets Read and Respond to the Work of 12 Harlem Renaissance Poets". I am exploring the work of Alice Dunbar Nelson.
        And best of all, because it is National Poetry Month, I get to hear many other wonderful poets read and share their own work. Last week, I had the privilege of hearing visiting poet Naomi Shahib Nye share her work and found her having a strong influence on me. I loved the humor and humanity in her words, and that she shares my avoidance of formality. I began penning a poem in the balcony before her reading was even over, and by Sunday morning (through a mutual friend) she had read and responded to the first draft. She said she loved it. That was kind of her. I know it is still a troubled poem (like this stage of life I'm struggling through right now) but that I will work it out in time. I believe she saw the potential in it though. It was a thrill to have her read and respond to it. And I hope she knows what a gift it is for one writer to influence another to create something they never would have had she not given of herself in the first place.
     I am giving over the month of April to do all that I am being called to do, it so clearly filled with surprises. A little lush lawn where poems I hadn't planned to write have been hidden like beautiful and fragile little eggs. I'll seek them out, one by one, and get back to my novel when the gathering feels done.





     Upcoming Readings:

1. Thursday evening 4/24 What Langston Heard: Seacoast Poets Read and Respond to the Work of Harlem Renaissance Poets
      7-9 PM, Kittery, ME Recreation Center (donation suggested)
2.  Wednesday evening 4/30 Book Launch and Reception for The Widows' Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival
      6:30-8 PM Portsmouth, NH Public Library (free admission)
3.  Sunday 5/4 Mass Poetry Festival (This is a major conference.) Another reading for The Widows' Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival
      12-2 PM Hawthorne Hotel Salem, MA. (probably not free) The roster of poets will be different than in Portsmouth.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lessons I'm Still Not Learning

       I have been struggling all week to come up with a worthy post about my attendance last weekend at NH Writer's Day (sponsored annually by the NH Writer's Project). The highlight for me was definitely what felt like a fairly successful pitch of a picture book I have been working on for years to a team of publishers. I do hope to hear back from them soon. I also really enjoyed hearing the 2014 champion flash fiction piece read by its writer, a Mr. Ting. I was hoping to meet him later but did not get a chance. And I sold a book at the member's sales table, which is always a thrill even when it is only one copy. I wish I could have stayed for the awards ceremony as I had several friends receiving accolades for their work.

     Honestly though, I have been struggling to talk about what I learned this year as I generally take away quite a few valuable lessons from the variety of speakers brought together to share their expertise.

     Probably the most helpful information for me came from a literary agent, who gave the inside scoop about her work at a Boston firm. These are her tips to finding an agent;

1. Get involved in a reading community.
2. Get involved in a writing community.
3. Polish your manuscript. Read it aloud.
4. Build a platform.
5. Learn about the publishing industry.
6. Research agents.
7. Write a strong query letter.
8. Review the excerpt you're sending.
9. Follow up.
10. Don't get discouraged.

      I have been doing all of these things, and will keep plodding on.

     I also attended a session given by novelist Michelle Hoover. I was pleased that she has written historical fiction, but I am not sure I can use much of the ideas she shared about locking in the first pages of your book. She spoke of how there must be a wounding event, an inciting incident, and then a point of attack in your opening. I readily concede I have trouble taking direction and following rules when I admit that I had a lot of trouble with this advice. It feels so formulaic to me that I just can't embrace it. To me these step-by-step prescriptions of how to write effectively are the literary equivalent to a paint-by-numbers creation, that is that they lack creativity. I think you are likely to end up with something pleasant enough, unlikely to provoke or offend, and very much like somebody else's "creation". I'm just not ready to give up the free write!

     I believe she was the same presenter who advised us all to use the word processing software for writers called Scrivener. I have looked into it since and that just isn't for me either. It looks so complicated and time consuming I could barely tolerate reading the description!

      I realize all of her advice might (probably would) make my work better; more organized, more appealing to the masses, simpler, but none of that works for me right now. Those are not the reasons that I became a writer. I don't want to be conventional, but I do want my work to be read, so I'm left wondering where do I draw the line? I used an unconventional format in my debut novella Broken Buckets, and I am getting the impression that many readers do not appreciate the approach (a multiple point of view format similar to the one Faulkner used to great effect).

     For now I'll continue to ponder these lessons successful writers are sharing with me, and will keep plodding on.

      http://www.michelle-hoover.com/the-quickening.html

   


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

So Happy For My Friends!

       I've been active in the New Hampshire Writer's Project for a few years, and have followed their annual awards program all of that time. This year has been particularly fun to follow because I count almost all the award winners as friends! How wonderful is that? My name is even in one of them (you're welcome Tim). I don't know Andrew or Elizabeth, but maybe I should.

       Here is the official scoop;

      The NH Literary Awards ceremony will be held immediately following the conclusion of Writers’ Day 2014 on Saturday, March 22 at 4:30 p.m. in the Hospitality Center on the campus of Southern NH University. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Voting is now open for the Readers' Choice Awards! For the next two weeks, you can vote for your favorite New Hampshire book and author. There are many wonderful nominees. Click here to vote
In addition to the Readers' Choice Awards, the following writers will be honored for their inspiring achievements. Hope you can join us on the 22nd to celebrate the NH literary community.
OUTSTANDING WORK OF FICTION
Understories by Tim Horvath
OUTSTANDING BOOK OF POETRY
Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs by Andrew Merton
OUTSTANDING WORK OF NONFICTION
An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson
OUTSTANDING WORK OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever!
by Rebecca Rule, Illustrated by Jennifer Thermes
OUTSTANDING YOUNG ADULT BOOK
The Good Braider by Terry Farish
DONALD M. MURRAY OUTSTANDING JOURNALISM AWARD
Elizabeth Kelsey
OUTSTANDING BOOK-COVER DESIGN
World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down
by Christian McEwen, Cover design by Henry James
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Ernest Hebert

     I'm also really happy to share the latest review of Broken Buckets from a reader in Kansas.

"... I wanted to let you know that I'd very much enjoyed reading it. In fact, I gobbled it up. I've been so affected by school shootings and such, have written several poems about it - so very disturbing - and felt that you'd dealt with a horrific story in a very compelling and compassionate way. Thank you SO much for sharing - it was an exquisite tale."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What Langston Heard

      The following was written by poet John-Michael Albert. One of the many reasons I have been too busy to post lately is that I have been researching my writer. Her life is fascinating.

What Langston Heard: Contemporary Poets Read and Respond to Langston Hughes's Contemporaries; sponsored by Seacoast African American Cultural Center; at the Kittery Community Center; Thu Apr 24, 2014, 7:00-9:00 pm. Very proud of this project. Hope many of my friends take the plunge and witness the greatest array of local poets I've ever seen at a single event. 

WHAT LANGSTON HEARD
Contemporary Poets Read and Respond to Langston Hughes’s Contemporaries
Sponsored by The Seacoast African American Cultural Center
Thursday, April 24, 2014, 7-9 pm; Kittery Community Center, Community Room; 120 Rogers Road, Kittery ME 03904


The Seacoast African American Cultural Center has adopted the theme “The Harlem Renaissance” for this year’s activities. In recognition of National Poetry Month, they have asked me to curate a poetry reading on Thursday evening, April 24, 2014 and suggested that it focus on Harlem Renaissance poets other than Langston Hughes. I have also chosen to exempt three other famous poets from the era, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, and Claude McKay. When these famous men went to a poetry reading, who did they hear?

I have invited contemporary poets to select a Harlem Renaissance poet to introduce with a short bio, to read a poem by that poet, and to write an original poem in response—a sort of poetic dialogue. The following, in chronological order, are the HARLEM RENAISSANCE POETS that have been selected by the following (contemporary poets):

ALICE DUNBAR-NELSON (1875-1935) (Tammi Truax, journalist, seacoastonline.com/Portsmouth Herald)

GEORGIA DOUGLAS JOHNSON (1877-1966) (Pat Frisella, immediate past president of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire)

ANGELINA WELD GRIMK√Č (1880-1958) (Alison Harville, Business Systems Analyst, Liberty Mutual)

EFFIE LEE NEWSOME (1885-1979) (Royaline Edwards, Artist in Residence, Eliot Elementary School)

FENTON JOHNSON (1888-1958) (Bruce Pingree, Manager, The Press Room; Heart of Portsmouth Award 2013)

STERLING BROWN (1890-1960) (James Rioux, Lecturer in English, University of New Hampshire Durham)

JEAN TOOMER (1894-1967) (Mark DeCarteret, 7th Portsmouth Poet Laureate)

GWENDOLYN BENNETT (1902-1981) (Maren Tirabassi, 3rd Portsmouth Poet Laureate, Pastor, Union Congregational Church Madbury)

ARNA BONTEMPS (1902-1973) (Gordon Lang, 2011 New England Association of Teachers of English, Poet of the Year; teacher, English and Journalism, Kingswood High School Wolfeboro)

LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967) (the single exception)(John Perrault, 4th Portsmouth Poet Laureate, lawyer and balladeer)

HELENA JOHNSON (1907-1995) (Kathleen Knox, student of S Stephanie, New Hampshire Institute of Art Manchester)

MAE COWDERY (1909-1953) (S Stephanie, teacher and mentor, New Hampshire Institute of Art Manchester and Peterborough)

I am very excited by the array of poets who have responded to my invitation, and by the array of poets they’ve chosen to represent at the event. When the evening is over, you’ll have no doubt about the rich poetic community Hughes, Cullen, Johnson and McKay thrived in. And you may have discovered a new favorite poet from the period as well.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day teaser

     Saint Valentine's Day features prominently in my novella Broken Buckets. Here is an excerpt.


      Richard parked in front of the school, pulling into a “no parking” area. He reached over and opened the glove box, slowly pulling out the Valentine’s Day card he had bought for Sarah a couple of weeks ago on a whim but had ended up shoving away when the whim had passed. He knew he couldn’t interrupt Sarah at this time of day, but he thought he would quickly drop the card off in the office for her and then make his way up to his lookout bench along the jogging path. He found a pen and opened the card to write something inside. Struggling with the words that he really wanted to say, he scrawled simply, “I’m sorry. Love always, Richard,” his signature almost illegible. He concluded that there really wasn’t much else to say to anyone when you are going to off yourself. He tossed the pen aside and put the card in the envelope.
While raising the open envelope to his lips, he looked through his windshield at the front doors of the school. With his mouth agape and his tongue slightly protruding, he stared as the school door closest to him opened wide. He withdrew his tongue and shut his mouth, his face hardening one micro-movement at a time. His hands froze in front of him, the card dropped in his lap, and moments later, without turning his head, he reached for the gun. Swiftly he removed it from the bag and shoved the bag aside.
      He opened the car door and stepped out into the small space between his car and the car parked beside him. As he did so, he held the gun beside his right leg, in a familiar fashion. He shut the door and he began marching toward the building. With a slow to and fro, the valentine wafted to the pavement.


     Broken Buckets is available from all eBook sellers, and will be delivered free of charge to book reviewers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Alice Dunbar Nelson

      I will be one of the participating poets in a celebration of Harlem Renaissance poetry to be held in my hometown this spring by The Seacoast African American Cultural Center. (See link below for more information.) Each participating poet will read one or two poems by a specific writer from the period, and then read one or two original works that they have written in response to that writer. I have chosen Alice Dunbar-Nelson. I am now studying her life and work, and would love to hear any thoughts or ideas you might have about how I can best represent her.

      http://www.johnmichaelalbert.com/2013/11/30/what-langston-heard/

      Here she is;

And here is a bit about her...



Alice Dunbar Nelson, writer and critic helped Harlem Renaisannce | African American Registry

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Digital Short Story

       Yesterday, inspired by my friend John Herman, I published a little digital picture book as part of a writing contest. The contest was created due to a need for beginning readers that are of interest to those over the age of thirteen, but just beginning to learn to read in English, or any language. Even though I have an extensive background in early literacy I found this to be very challenging. You must limit not just the number of sentences you use to tell a story, but also the length and structure of the sentences themselves. Especially tricky is to rely on the 100 sight words (Fry's) that are first taught and need extensive reinforcement. Ideally too, you are expected to choose an image for each page that helps the reader make sense of the words.
     I ended up writing a little travel story, about my enrollment at A Room of  Her Own's retreat for women writers in New Mexico last August. You can have a little look at my book here if you'd like.

http://tarheelreader.org/2014/02/01/a-long-way-to-go/

www.tarheelreader.org/2014/02/01/a-long-way-to-go/

     For more info about the contest visit www.storysharecontest.com