Writing from Writes of Spring

This spring, I had the pleasure of joining Delaware poet Maggie Rowe for a day teaching prose and poetry at the lovely estate of former federal judge and Delaware native, Hugh M. Morris. The fieldstone house known as the Judge Morris Estate was built in the late 1700s, and is decorated in the style of the 1930s, the period when Judge Morris resided there. The home is now part of White Clay Creek State Park.

JME frontOur day was called Writes of Spring because we wanted to use the season as inspiration. My group met in the historic kitchen, and 12 of us crammed into a room with an open hearth and brick floor, surrounded by kitchen utensils used long ago. The ambiance alone was inspirational, so in the afternoon, we did a free write using the space. The instructions were to look around, choose an object that spoke to you, and write a short piece about it.  Jane Miller chose the window. George Petit chose the soup tureen. Wendy Schermer chose the cooking bowl, and went home to complete a full short story about it. Jane, George, and Wendy have generously shared their pieces below.

In the poetry room, Maggie had her group browse through a variety of postcards, old books, magazines, and other paper ephemera. The work of Otis Scott, Greg Wright, and Jean Youkers are posted below.

I am very pleased to be sharing the words of my fellow Delaware artists. The Writes of Spring workshop was supported by the Delaware State Parks and the White Clay Creek State Park, and the Delaware Division of the Arts.

Most of the writers I know toil away every day in libraries, coffee shops, offices, or tucked in some corner of our homes. To spend a day in a beautiful historic setting, with poets and prose writers who can find inspiration in a utility item from the past or an old piece of paper, is a gift.

My purpose in sharing the work below is to, first, share the work of these talented artists. Second, to demonstrate that inspiration can be found anywhere if you look for it. Third, to encourage people to cherish our history and historic sites. Visit an old home! A poem or story may find you there.

 

 Window

by Jane Miller

He was a man so he didn’t notice things. But I noticed right away the curtain hanging straight without a tie-back, the way it never was, black and white gingham threadbare in the weak morning light.

The bloodhounds found a bit of it later, on a prickle bush and later, tied muddy round her hands. She had made those curtains herself out of scrap cloth Mrs. Denton sold at the general store. Hand-sewed them because she had no machine.

I ran my fingers along the edge of small stitches after they dusted it for prints even though the detective man told me I couldn’t. I wanted to touch what her hand had once touched, what she had made with love as she made me. Her hands were gentle, not meant for cruel things.

 

Grandmom’s Soup Tureen

by George Petit

It was Christmas morning and the kitchen was in its usual state of barely controlled chaos of dinner preparations when Nancy’s mother sent her hunting for a bowl to serve the mashed potatoes.  The pantry dishware cupboard was already mostly denuded of any of the acceptably ornate serving dishes for a holiday dinner table, but after a frantic few minutes of searching Nancy pushed aside a wooden mixing bowl in the back of the lowest shelf and spied her grandmother’s delft-style soup tureen, with its maize-colored prints on white-glazed porcelain, tucked deep in the darkest corner of the shelf.  Success at last!

As she pulled it out an image popped into her head of her grandmother from all those past Christmases before she passed standing at the front door holding the soup tureen containing her famous French onion soup in front of her, and her late grandfather standing right behind her wearing that silly Santa Claus hat and balancing a tall stack of Christmas presents; both of them grinning gaily.

“Look, Mom,” Nancy called out to her mother as she emerged from the pantry.  “I found Grandmom’s soup tureen.  We can use it without the cover and it should be just the right size.”

“As soon as her mother turned and saw the soup tureen her complexion paled.  After a few seconds of hesitation she said, “No, that won’t do, Nancy.  Please find something else.”

“But, Mom,” Nancy argued, “it really is a perfect size, and it’s been years since…” She stopped herself in mid-sentence, remembering exactly when it had last been used.

“Okay,” Nancy then said, and turned back to pantry with Grandmom’s soup tureen.

 

The Mighty Tor

by Otis Scott

 

I was a giant if a man, all bone and muscle and structure complete. A booming voice

to enthrall, a chest that could crush barrels while the other men retreat.

My forearms and grip were the size of another man’s legs. My mustache could smother a lion’s dregs.

So when you see a crowd parting

in the midst of the day,

Or a mad rush for hiding from my anger – don’t stay!

Run to protect your innocent family,

run to keep alive

for I am the Mighty Tor

right in front of your eyes!

Search for satiation of my frustration only after gathering your

cannons, swords and the like.

Remember, I am the Mighty Tor! and I am angry tonight!

 

Poem Plucked from a Postcard

by Greg Wright

Our train slides by snow-covered Glaciers as sunrise finds weather-hardened fishermen cutting contrails across the lake. The stillness after the engines die allows for idle chatter and casual conversation to carry to the eagles and osprey bathing in the beauty of the lake. Trees on a small island shelter and shade both beachcombers and those who work the lake for a living. The island and the eagle call across the mirrored surface as the mountains stand silent watch over the eons.

 

 Postcard Calling

by Jean Youkers

 

the card calls to me in pink

cherry blossoms line the walk

where pedestrians glide by,

wearing kimonos and grace

outside the charming tea house,

horizon echoes matching pink

blue waters meander by

nostalgia for beach days reigns,

my mind  breathes the scents of spring

though far away, the tea house

brews peace and beauty for me –

my teacup overflows

 

Nana’s Cooking Bowl

by Wendy Schermer

When Emily entered her Aunt Irene’s kitchen for the first time in 22 years, she immediately saw the large wooden bowl she had known as a child, but hadn’t seen in decades.  Emily placed her hands on the bowl, feeling the smooth wood beneath her fingers.  She picked it up off the shelf and smiled.  This had been Nana’s bowl – the one she’d used to make cookie dough when Emily and her sisters came for Christmas.  They had worked together in the hot kitchen, with Nana letting Emily, Gretchen, and Vicki (short for “Victoria”) take turns stirring the batter as Nana told stories about baking cookies with her own grandmother, using the same bowl.

Emily couldn’t understand how the bowl had ended up with Aunt Irene, who had no children, instead of her mother, Karen, who had three daughters, all of whom had baked cookies with Nana.  She only knew that her mother and Aunt Irene had stopped talking 22 years earlier and it was only now, with Aunt Irene’s death, that she was allowed to enter her aunt’s house.

Hearing a car door slam, Emily looked out the kitchen window and saw her mother, Gretchen and Vicki heading up the walk toward the back door.  Emily threw the door wide open, stepped onto the back porch and as they climbed the steps, hugged each in turn.  Ushering them into the kitchen, Emily pointed excitedly to the wooden bowl she had placed on the kitchen table.

“Remember Nana’s cooking bowl?” she asked.

Her sisters both grinned, but when her mother saw it, her mouth set in a grimace.  Seeing this, Emily faced her mother.

“What?” she said, and then added, “And don’t say it’s nothing!”

Karen looked at each of her daughters and sighed.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh no you don’t,” said Emily.  “It’s time you told us what happened between you and Aunt Irene.”

Gretchen and Vicki nodded in agreement.

“Time,” said Gretchen.

“Talk,” said Vicki.

The four women sat at the kitchen table.  Karen reached out and touched the bowl gingerly, then pulled her hand away.

“You loved baking cookies with Nana, didn’t you?” she asked

The girls all nodded.

“All right, I’ll tell you what happened, but it will sound silly.”

“Don’t care,” said Emily.  “Tell.”

Karen sighed.  “When you girls were young, I told your Aunt Irene that I was going to ask Mother – Nana – to give the bowl to me, for you girls.  That made Irene angry.  She said that when she was a little girl, Nana had told her that the bowl would be hers because she was the eldest daughter and the bowl had always gone to the eldest girl.  Irene had then reminded me how much she had loved making cookies with Grandma Shannon – your great-grandmother.  She also said that just because she and Uncle Richard couldn’t have children wasn’t any reason for her not to have the one thing that provided her with happy memories of Grandma Shannon.  We started yelling at each other, then.  I thought Aunt Irene was being selfish, she thought I was being selfish.  I should have just dropped it, but I didn’t.  I called Nana the next day and told her about my fight with Aunt Irene.  I also told her that Aunt Irene had no use for the cooking bowl, so it should be mine, for you girls.”

“What did Nana say,” asked Gretchen.

“She didn’t say much.  Just that the wooden bowl went to the eldest daughter, and that was Irene.  I was so mad that I didn’t speak to your grandmother for a couple of weeks.  We only started talking again at your birthday party, Vicki.  She had made that beautiful quilt for your bed, just like she’d done for Emily’s and Gretchen’s 10th birthdays.  Remember?  She said that when you reached the double digits, you got a special gift.  I couldn’t stay mad at her.  But I stayed mad at Aunt Irene.  I don’t know if you noticed, but Aunt Irene and I were barely speaking to each other at your party, Vicki.  Anyway, when she was leaving that day, she told me she was heading to Nana’s, to pick up the cooking bowl.  She had convinced Nana that it would be best to give it to her then so the matter was settled.  I couldn’t believe she had done that, and told her that I’d never to speak to her again if she took the bowl.  She just laughed and said that would be fine with her.  And that was that – we never spoke again, even though Nana talked to both of us about how stupid we were being.  And we were stupid, weren’t we?  But it didn’t matter.  Neither of us would budge.”

Karen reached out and touched the bowl, again.

“Nana said she wished she’d never used this bowl to bake cookies with all of us.  Baking cookies together was supposed to build pleasant memories, not painful ones.  Poor Nana, Irene and I made her so sad.  And for no good reason.”

Karen stood, lifted the bowl and handed it to Emily.  “It’s yours now, Sweetheart. Promise me you’ll never let it divide you from your sisters.”

With that, Karen gave each of her daughters a big hug, and headed out to the car.

Why Writing is Like Childbirth

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgIf  you’ve ever given birth, you’ve probably heard the old saw that women forget the pain of childbirth. The concept is simple. A new mother forgets because, if she remembered the contractions and the pushing and the panting, she’d never do it again.

What I remember about childbirth is sitting on the edge of my bed chanting to myself, “Don’t forget. Don’t do this again.” Continue reading

Spring Forward with these Events!

Delaware is small, but we have a mighty big and mighty active writing community. Ahead are a few local events scheduled in the coming few weeks.

 First, a reading of Irish poetry:

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 Poets’ Corner Reading Series presents     

James Keegan & Anne Colwell

reading Irish poetry

Saturday, March 18, 2017, 4:00p.m.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 276 S. College Avenue, Newark, DE

Free-will offering.

Co-sponsored by St. Thomas Parish And the University of Delaware Department of English

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Second, a workshop on writing for contests:

DE writers studio

Third, a workshop day for writers and poets:

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WRITES OF SPRING

Poetry and Prose Writing Workshops
at the Judge Morris Estate, White Clay Creek State Park, Newark, Delaware.
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Delaware Division of the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship recipients, author Ramona DeFelice Long and poet Maggie Rowe, will conduct day long workshops on Poetry or Prose.
 Registration includes lunch and snacks.
$15/person. Call for more details and to register. 302-368-6900
This program supported in part by a grant from Delaware Division of Arts.
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Fourth, a free workshop at a public library:

Liz DeJesus

Writers and Poets Workshop Day

with Liz DeJesus

Are you a poet, a writer or would like to be one? Successful authors and poets share their experiences through stories, techniques and tips for crafting, marketing and problem solving along our creative paths.

Saturday, April 1 at 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Bear Library, 101 Governors Place, Bear, DE –  Meeting Room 1 A&B

Registration is FREE! To register call 302-838-3300

And fifth, a spoken word festival:

Stands Alone

I hope you will check out one of these offerings. A lively artist community depends on participation.

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Living in the Active Voice

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgLast night, after several months of absences, I attended the Open Mic offered by my town’s arts alliance. I did not read. I don’t always have short pieces to share, but that’s okay, because listeners are as welcomed as participants. Readers shared poetry and spoken word, short prose pieces, some novel excerpts, a music duo, and a haiku plus bongos performance. You never know what will happen at an Open Mic, and that’s the fun of it.

In my day job as an editor/instructor, I advise writers all the time to use the active voice. This is not a rule. The passive voice is often appropriate, but for the crime writers I work with, active works better than passive. This applies to character as well as writing style. An active protagonist drives a plot. A character who is pro-active is more engaging that one who is reactive.

Active characters make things happen. The active voice is more direct and lively. These are standards about writing and not really news.

So why am I writing about what’s not news?

Because of the Open Mic. And the vow I made last week to submit one piece of work every day, for 40 days. (This is Day 8. I’m 7 for 7, and have until midnight to be 8 for 8.)

Since my announcement last week about my submissions vow, three other writers have contacted me to say they have been submitting regularly, too. One received an immediate acceptance! This reinforces my vow to keep up the daily work of putting my writing out there for review.

And it is work. My goal was to get myself in gear again, but I also wanted to resurrect some pretty good pieces of writing that have been languishing in the virtual drawer. Some were never quite finished to my liking. Some were rejected a couple of times and needed review. Making a public vow to submit meant making the private promise to polish. After the polish, there’s the hunt for the proper market, and once that is defined, the cover letter and bio. I seem to write a new bio every day. It is, to be honest, a drag. But, it’s part of the gig. No one ever said the gig was 100% fun, or easy.

There’s also the rejection factor. 40 days of submissions means the possibility of 40 rejections. Just because I’ve been published and received fellowships and awards, does this mean I am no longer bummed by a rejection? No. Every rejection is a blow, but the counteraction to the blow is to hit back with another submission. The other option, to put the work back into the drawer, to be passive, means there is NO chance at all to be accepted.

Action.  Reaction. Counteraction. Submitting is a lot like living in a thriller novel. If you stop moving, the bad guys will surely get you. If you keep moving, your chances of survival grow stronger.

Even if every single submission of my 40 days is rejected, well, there are 325 other days this year, too.

It’s easy to become lazy or complacent. It’s easy to put aside a story when it becomes frustrating. Passive is easier than active. But passive also means missing out. It was raining last night, and I was tempted to skip the Open Mic, but I didn’t. I was tired yesterday and I was tempted not to submit, but I did. Today, I could have blown off writing this blog post, but I was charged up by the Open Mic and the news that a friend had taken my challenge and had a piece of writing accepted for publication.

That is life in the active voice. Getting your work out there. Making things happen.

But, as I noted above, there are times when the passive voice is appropriate, both in writing and in life. From time to time, it’s good to kick back and listen to the words and music from other artists who are brave enough to stand up before a crowd and share what’s in their hearts. It’s helpful to absorb the energy, to participate without being the one on stage. Every artist needs an audience, after all.

i-am-an-artist

 

 

 

A Submission a Day x 40

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI am writing this on Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day in my childhood that meant spending all day wearing a princess costume and scrapping like a prize fighter for cheap throws at a parade.

Good times, those were.

The next day began Lent, the 40 days of reflection and sacrifice that, for me as a child, meant no chocolate until the Easter Bunny came. After six weeks of deprivation, I was so desperate for a hit, I chomped the ears off an innocent rabbit while it was still warm from my Easter basket.

I’ve moved away from places that have carnival though I still wear three strings of beads (purple, green, gold) on Mardi Gras day. And while I no longer observe Lent in the traditional give-up-something way, old habits are hard to break. I still do some kind of reflection, and sometimes I do a project, like 40 Days of Book Praise. That was fun

I’ve decided I’m not crazy about deprivation but I can get behind action. So, for the next 40 days, I am going to act on an area of my writing life I have neglected: submitting.

My vow for the next 40 days is to submit one piece of writing, or send a query, or fill out a writing-related app, per day. I have a backlog of pieces waiting for a home, and I need to supercharge my efforts so my little writing orphans can make it out into the world.

One submissiony thing a day. For 40 days. I’ll be so busy submitting, I won’t even worry about the chances of rejection.

What is your take? Is sacrifice or action your kind of thing? Or a combination?  And who wants to join me in doing 1 writing thing – your choice – per day, for the next 40 days?

 

 

 

Lessons from My Father

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI could write for a hundred years, fill up every blank journal on my bookcase, and never run out of material about my family. And, probably, so could many of you.

The last few days, I have been sifting through memories of my father, who passed away suddenly last week. As I process his loss, I am also considering his legacy. I won’t get overly personal, but I want to share three lessons that guide me in business, and in life in general.

My father was not a writer, but like many writers I know, he had a day job in the oil industry that paid the bills, plus a second job in the family cattle business that was his true calling. He was hard-working and responsible in both, and when I took the leap into professional editing, his work and personal ethics gave me guidance.

Lesson #1 – Be professional.

Daddy loved his cows. He fed his Heifers, checked on them daily, and kept them healthy. He planted new grass in a fenced off field and waited until Christmas Day to let them feed on it, as a holiday present. He stayed up all night when a cow was calving. When he lost a herd in a flood during a hurricane, he was devastated. If our house got too noisy, he’d go off for some peace and quiet with his cattle. When he was sad or worried, he went to his pasture because “sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow.”

But raising livestock was not a game, and when the time came, he loaded the cows into a trailer and off they went to the slaughterhouse. It wasn’t personal, it was business.

How is this a lesson for me? When I review a manuscript, I must put aside my personal feelings and remember that this writer—maybe a friend, maybe a stranger–is paying for  honesty and help, not sweet compliments or hand-holding. The author-editor relationship is a business arrangement between two professionals, and the only way it works is to keep it that way.

Lesson #2 –  Be a good boss.

Daddy’s first job was at a small town movie house called the Joy Theater. He was 12. When he was older, he was lied about his age and got a job as a roustabout on an oil rig. He worked in the oil industry for decades, finally as a workover supervisor. At his funeral, so many men introduced themselves as former oilmen, and I remember at least half a dozen said Daddy was the best boss they’d ever had. “He was tough but he was fair,” one man told me, with tears in his eyes. When your passing makes a former roustabout cry, you know you left a strong impression.

I am my own boss, so managing time and juggling jobs falls to me. If I can’t find balance in my home life and my professional life, both will suffer, and I’ll be a bad boss to myself. Sometimes it’s tough to say no to someone who asks for a too-fast turnover, but I have to be fair—to the work and to myself—so that the job is done well.

Lesson #3 – Make your deadlines.

Daddy was impressed when I started my own business, but I’m not sure he ever quite knew what it was—exactly—that I did. “You read books and people pay you?” he asked once, somewhat incredulously, and I answered, “Something like that.” He might not have understood the ins and outs of professional editing, but he got the gist: people sent me projects, I did them, and the people paid me. Every phone call, he wanted to know if I had jobs lined up. He was most happy when I told him I had projects queued for 6 or 9 or 12 months ahead.

One thing about my job never baffled him. When I reported that I’d stayed up late or missed an outing because I had a deadline, he didn’t say, “Poor you.” My father was early to every appointment and he always got work done on time. He never let his cows go hungry because he fiddled around instead of feeding them. He didn’t force a crew into overtime because the project  plan was sloppy. Being late was not an option for him, and it can’t be an option for me. When work is due, I get it there–on time.

I could tell you many other things about my father, but those are personal. Bits and pieces of him have always appeared in my stories, and that won’t change or be lost. He may be gone, but his legacy runs through me and my siblings, our cousins, and many friends. I hope you’ll find these lessons good guidance along your own path, whatever it may be.

From him to me, and now from me to you:

  1. Be professional.
  2. Be a good boss.
  3. Make your deadlines.

And, as lagniappe, a picture from his cattle pasture, because sometimes a person just needs to look at a cow.

cow

Humanities Are US

What are the humanities?

The humanities are language, literature, law, history, archeology, religion, ethics, art, heritage, traditions. The humanities make us feeling, thinking, creative, caring, compassionate human beings. Without the humanities, we become soulless creatures without a past or future.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is the government agency that spearheads projects to preserve and explore our national heritage.

Have you seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on The Civil War, Prohibition, the Roosevelts. Huey Long, the Dust Bowl, the National Parks, Baseball? Of his body of work so far–27 documentaries–15 have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Do you know the Library of America, with support from the NEH, focuses on a writer of the week? This week’s writer is Ursula LeGuin.

Did you realize the NEH, since its inception 50 years ago, has published 7,000 books and, through its Chronicling America Project, catalogued and preserved over 63 million pages of historic newspapers?

This is the NEH’s mission statement:

Because democracy demands wisdom, NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans. The Endowment accomplishes this mission by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.

“Because democracy demands wisdom”- can anyone argue with this statement?

The NEH needs support to continue its work to preserve America’s history. Please contact your legislators to express your appreciation for the NEH, and grab a poster below.

 

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because-democracy-demands-wisdom-the-national-endowment-for-the-humanities

 

history-can-take-you-anywhere-support-the-neh

 

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