Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Poem for the Season

Only recently was I introduced to author and poet Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881-1941). Although she lived before my time, I feel a kinship to her--native of neighboring state Kentucky and writer of historical fiction. Her titles are now on my to-read list. 

In the meantime, in this season of special times and special observances, I share one of her poems. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Morning

If Bethlehem were here today,
Or this were very long ago,
There wouldn't be a winter time
Nor any cold or snow.

I'd run out through the garden gate,
And down along the pasture walk;
And off beside the cattle barns
I'd hear a kind of gentle talk.

I'd move the heavy iron chain
And pull away the wooden pin;
I'd push the door a little bit
And tiptoe very softly in.

The pigeons and the yellow hens
And all the cows would stand away;
Their eyes would open wide to see
A lady in the manger hay,
If this were very long ago
And Bethlehem were here today.

And Mother held my hand and smiled--
I mean the lady would--and she
Would take the woolly blankets off
Her little boy so I could see.

His shut-up eyes would be asleep,
And he would look just like our John,
And he would be all crumpled too,
And have a pinkish color on.

I'd watch his breath go in and out.
His little clothes would all be white.
I'd slip my finger in his hand
To feel how he could hold it tight.

And she would smile and say, "Take care,"
The mother, Mary, would, "Take care;"
And I would kiss his little hand
And touch his hair.

While Mary put the blankets back,
The gentle talk would soon begin.
And when I'd tiptoe softly out
I'd meet the wise men going in.
                                                                            --Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881-1941)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Emerging Stories and What It Takes

"A good story, just like a good sentence, does more than one job at once. That's what literature is: a story that does more than tell a story, that manages to reflect in some way the multilayered texture of life itself." --Karen Thompson Walker

The picture turned out to be more than I first thought it might be. I was coming home from a walk and paused by the creek at the small bridge near my house. Leaves floating on the water's surface caught my eye. I pulled out my phone and took a couple of snaps with the phone's camera. Only later when scrolling through those snaps did I note the reflection of the tree in the water. A little tweaking--and a polaroid frame thanks to Picmonkey--and the final product, above, emerged. I like Karen Thompson Walker's definition of literature and a good story. A good story, like a good sentence, she says, does more than one job at once.  Maybe the same can be said of a photo. All those layers and texture, discovering more than what was first expected. A reflection, a mood, and story all wrapped up in an image. It's fun to play around with that's for sure.

November past left me with a similar feeling. The time was filled with lots of life's layers and textures: Thanksgiving, family, shared stories--and that thing called NaNoWriMo that I used as a goal setter and prompt. Glad to say, as busy as the month was, that there were some breakthroughs and increased word count in my WIP--and unexpected surprises and discoveries along the way, those layers and textures we're talking about. Hard work is still ahead, but it was a very good month for seeing a clearer image emerge. All it took was a little more commitment :-)

How about you, are you seeing breakthroughs in your writing? Added layers to a story, more texture, unexpected discoveries? Struggling with a slowdown--or seeing a pickup? Any words of advice for making headway next year as this year draws to a close?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

image: pixabay
"Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse." --Henry Van Dyke

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tale of Tables, Twists, and Thanksgiving

source: google images
"The fabric of history is often woven of surprising threads: the chance meeting, the extravagant whimsey of fate. No better illustration of this can be found than the string of events surrounding the table in Wilmer McLean's parlor upon which Ulysses S. Grant drew up the terms that brought the Civil War to a close." --Mary A. Benjamin

November is the month of tables--dinner tables, Thanksgiving tables, tables spread with a feast, baking project tables, maybe craft or gift-wrapping tables. Certainly this month of the ongoing NaNoWriMo challenge, computer tables (or desks) could be included.

Continuing the quest for more word count in honor of this month's NaNoWriMo, I've been reviewing old files in order to jump start ideas. A story in American Heritage magazine, dated April 1965, caught my attention. It's a story about how a special little table that would otherwise have been slated for obscurity now holds a place in American history all because of a chance meeting. Mary A. Benjamin wrote about it the issue's article, "Tale of a Table."

The main story revolves around the events of Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 when General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army, met General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, to compose and sign the terms of surrender ending the Civil War.

terms of surrender drawn up in McLean parlor
courtesy google images
The man who owned the house where the historic meeting took place there in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, was Wilmer McLean. Wilmer was no stranger to the war. At the war's onset he lived close to where the first major battle was fought--Bull Run, July 21, 1861. His house at the time was used as a hospital for the injured. He subsequently moved his family to Appomattox, seeking a quiet place "where the sound of battle would never reach them." By a twist of history four years later, it would be his house, his parlor, in which the meeting which ended the war would be held. That in itself is an amazing fact. But there's more.

McLean table given to Ord
Following the historic meeting, some wished to acquire mementos of the event and began offering McLean money for some of his furniture. One man, however, did not participate: General E.O.C. Ord. This man had a large family back home and didn't have any money to spare. Imagine his surprise then when McLean offered him one of the small tables as a gift. Why? McLean was described as a pacifist with Southern sympathies; Ord was on the Union side.

Ms. Benjamin digs into the back story by sharing from an Ord family biographical sketch. Written by Ord's granddaughter Lucy Ord Dunlop, a story is told of a young Confederate soldier, desperate with hunger and homesickness, who was said to have bolted for home and ended up stumbling into a Union army camp. "...He was grabbed by a sentinal," the granddaughter wrote, "and taken for questioning to the General. Shivering in rags, hungry and shaking from fatigue, the boy told the General that he did not know anything and did not want to find out anything...he was sick and just wanted to get home...The fierce looking General wanted so badly to get home! They were talking the same language. 'Get him a blanket, there!' he roared. 'Give him some food. See him through our lines and put him on his road home... (Oh) what a war to ruin boys like this! Good night, son, and don't come back.'"

The general? Edward Otho Cresap Ord. The boy? Wilmer McLean's son.

And so Wilmer McLean gave the table to Ord as a symbol of his gratitude. His thanksgiving. At a time when the nation and its families needed to start the long road to healing, one man forgave an offense, another reached out in a spirit of reconciliation and appreciation.

General Ord did insist on paying McLean for the table, giving him all that he had in his wallet, $40. In his lifetime, the table stood in the general's parlor, eventually being passed on by family to the Chicago Historical Society where it can be found today.

The image of a table is often used as a symbol for family. For home and shelter and place. But the table also represents a place of setting aside differences in order to grow closer to one another, to share, connect, forgive, appreciate. And to offer thanksgiving.

The humble table is surely underrated.

Hope the gatherings around your table this Thanksgiving season are blessed in many ways!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Revisiting the Basics: Scene

courtesy google images
"The lack of a scene goal is the number-one reason plots stall. There's nothing for the protagonist to do to drive the plot forward. She doesn't want anything, isn't trying to stop anything, she's just living her day or performing random tasks that aren't leading to anything." --Janice Hardy, featured at

Well, it's that time again--National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in which participants work to write a novel in the month of November to the tune of 50,000 words. While I'm not that ambitious this year, I do see it as an incentive to get back to a WIP that's been languishing for awhile. I'm determined to add word count this month as a personal tip of the hat to this month's challenge. We'll see how it goes!

As part of the process, I'm brushing up on novel-writing basics, starting with thoughts on scene:

1. "Scenes are the stepping stones and the chapter is the river, with the opposing shores being two different phases of your plot." --Deborah Halverson, Dear Editor

2. "Each scene has a structure, beginning, middle, end. This implies that something is happening." --Darcy Pattison, Scene 2: Elements of a Scene (Darcy ran an awesome 30-day series on scene a few years back. You can catch the entire series here.)

3. "Scenes are small time capsules. They are potent because they contain more than is openly revealed." --Mary Carroll Moore, "How Chapters Are Built"

4. "The shape of an effective scene is this: First, it orients us in time and place...(it) introduces a question we want answered... (it) finishes on some sort of slightly rising note: another question or a heightened emotion or a new complication or a change of situation--something to keep us reading into the next scene."--Nancy Kress, science fiction and fantasy author

5. "Think of a memorable scene as an inner tube designed to keep the larger work afloat." --Raymond Obstfeld, Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scene

6. "Understand scene and you begin to understand the essence of plot." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots

Time to rev up the motors and get this story moving, starting with the scene I got bogged down on in the first place. It will take more than luck; it will require getting serious. Don't want to be like the protagonist described above by Ms. Hardy--or the lady in the picture sitting on the sidelines...

Where are you in your writing--moving at a fast clip or in a stall? Will NaNoWriMo give you an incentive to move forward? What are some of your best tips for writing scenes?

p.s. Want some great links for National Novel Writing Month? Check out these links:
Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo, by Jenny Hansen
4 Visual Tricks for Writers Who Want to Rock NaNoWriMo, by Robin Rivera
15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track, by Heather Jackson
How Word Sprints Will Help You Win NaNoWriMo This Year,


Friday, October 14, 2016

October Gatherings

October 2016
"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." --L.M. Montgomery

There is just something about October. I always thought September was a special month, but October days--especially for taking morning walks--has been simply beautiful this year. Getting out in the air, clearing cobwebs from the mind, gathering thoughts, collecting ideas and images, going forward a step at a time in both distance and in plotting the story...

October is my inspiration month this year!

Thus a gallery of a few images and quotes I gathered along the way:

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air." --Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn." --Elizabeth Lawrence

"October gave a party, the leaves by hundreds came--
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet, and everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing, Professor Wind the band." --George Cooper

"Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day." --Shira Tamir

"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all." --Stanley Horowitz

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." --William Cullen

Hope October is bringing you smiles, too. What things are you gathering this month?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Inclination and Connecting the Dots

courtesy google images
"No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination." --James Joyce

The fourth quarter of the year is upon us (fourth? what happened to the other three??) and I'm determined to read this quote every day for the next three months. Simple words but very motivating. For the inclination (n: disposition or bent; something to which one is inclined) to write truly starts with something as basic as a pen. Add to that then a place, time, quiet...

And the dots begin to be connected, the story picture we have in our heads begins to be drawn. Inclination is fostered, not squelched.

Nothing new here, but reminders are always good!

What dots do you connect to actually get down to writing?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Unicorns, Expecting the Unexpected, and the BMV

image courtesy pixabay
"Writing is a journey of discovery because until you start, you never know what will 
happen, and you can be surprised by what you do. Expect the unexpected. " --Mini Grey

Funny where you meet the unexpected. This time for me, it was at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles where I went to renew our car tags. It's a place where you wait in line and hope this won't take too long since you have a bunch of other errands to run. You might pause long enough to notice some of the characters...I mean, people...around you and ponder if maybe they'd someday show up in one form or another in your stories. But really, you're just enduring it all until you're out of there.

But this time there was a new element introduced to help pass the time: an electronic slide-show on the screen behind the desk. Not much of note until this line came up: "The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn."

I'm not sure what I expected when I walked into the BMV, but I know I didn't expect that!

And as so happens when we start at one unexpected place, we end up at another...

For example, I never gave much thought to unicorns before other than they were some sort of mythical creature and part of my daughter's My Little Pony collection when she was small. But I found myself wondering why Scotland would name the unicorn its national animal. Research (including here), showed how much of the the unicorn's story is woven through centuries of history, mythology, religion, and heraldry. And so, Scotland's unicorn first shows up in the country's coat of arms as far back as the 12th century. And before that--who really knows where the unicorn came from? The figment of someone's imagination?  The misinterpretations of carvings early on, as some say, that depicted bulls and goats from a side-view showing only one horn? Marco Polo's confusion over the rhinoceros?  Certainly the unicorn's story is woven into symbolism and fantasy. Oh, as Dr. Seuss says, the places we'll go!

And then there's the subject of national animals themselves. Did you know that most countries have one? Ours here in the United States is the American bison. Interestingly, the national animal of Belarus is the European bison. Other countries' designated animals include Australia's kangaroo, Peru's vicuna, Greece's phoenix, Mauritius' dodo bird, to name a few (more here). Each one carries its own interesting story.

All of this also took me on a hunt for a quote and thus the above selection by Mini Grey. Maybe you're familiar with Ms. Grey's work, but this search introduced me to her--and I'm so glad for the discovery. For she is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator, noted particularly for The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon, The Pea and the Princess, and the Traction Man series. She is from Wales (neighbor to Scotland!) whose country's national animal is the Welsh dragon--fiery red--dating back to 1485. And beyond learning all of this (unexpectedly) about her, I had to chuckle at the source of her name. She goes by the nickname 'Mini' because, as she says on her website, she was born in the front-seat of a mini-car. Talk about the unexpected!

Stories, stories everywhere. Waiting to be plucked out of the air, or at the BMV as the case may be. What unexpecteds have come your way recently?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

At the Lake, with Quotes

Lake Cumberland 2016
"The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all." --Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, Chapter One

Well, our recent journey was not in the winter as was Laura's nor to Minnesota, and yet our tracks did take us to a lake that stretched far and to a destination that offered new and memorable experiences: Kentucky's Lake Cumberland. This is where we went for a 'mini-vacation,' kids and grandkids all in tow. We did most of those things you do when you go to a lake--fishing, boating, swimming, hiking--but mostly it was all about good family time and beautiful sights and sounds. Sharing favorite snapshots along with accompanying quotes. Hope they brighten your day as the trip did ours.

"Instructions for living a life: Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it." 
--Mary Oliver, from her poem 'Sometimes' 

" 'Now shall I walk or shall I ride?'
   'Ride,' Pleasure said;
   'Walk,' Joy replied." 
--W.H. Davies, Welch poet

"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes." 
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, 
somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. 
Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be." 
--Anne Frank

"Never be afraid to sit awhile and think." 
--Lorraine Hansberry, playwright

Where is your favorite place to sit awhile and think?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's In Your Picnic Basket?

photo courtesy google images
"For a slightly different approach, or for a Victorian picnic, you might refer to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, in which she lists 'Things not to be forgotten at a picnic.' Our idea of essentials is somewhat different from Mrs. Beeton's in 1859..." --DeeDee Stovel, Picnics with 29 Seasonal Menus (Story Books 2001)

When perusing Ms. Stovel's cookbook recently--one of many cookbooks on my shelf that have in the past few years only gathered dust (!)--I came across this gem of the past. Ms. Stovel continues to quote old-time Mrs. Beeton:

"A stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint-sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine-glasses, knives, forks, and spoons must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last-named article cannot be obtained in the neighborhood. Take 3 corkscrews."

Ah, glimpses of life in the past. Interesting selection, wouldn't you say? A stick of horseradish? Mint-sauce? Where are the strawberries and watermelon? The potato salad and baked beans? Maybe some chocolate chip cookies?

All on paper plates of course.

So this glimpse into the past begs the question: what's in your picnic basket? How many teapots do you pack? And how many corkscrews?

Hope you're enjoying the summer. It sure is flying by fast!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Voices of Our Pasts That Show Up in Stories

photo courtesy of Firefly Experience
"If you don't know what voice is, it's tough to define, but here's my definition: 'A writer with voice has the ability to illuminate the ordinary.'"--Kim T. Griswell, Boyds Mills Press Senior Editor

I've been thinking lately of summer nights--those nights as a child when we visited my uncle's place and played with cousins in the darkened backyard. There were the lightning bugs we raced to collect in mason jars, the games of hide-and-seek behind trees at the edge of the woods. "Ollie-ollie-in-free. Come out, come out where ever you are!"

Besides my cousins, I see grandparents and parents chatting away the evening in lawn chairs. I see the home I grew up in and how it eventually expanded from a four-room cottage to a four-bedroom sprawl. I see brothers when they were little, my sister and the room we shared.

History of Reynoldsburg
Some of this comes back as I go through a treasure that was just recently passed down to me--History of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a compiled history of the town in which I grew up, written by a home-town gal Cornelia Parkinson. The book was originally a gift for my dad who had a stake in the history of the town based on his work with the school district. And now, with the responsibility of sorting through our parents' things falling upon my brother, he has passed it on to me.

And my, what treasures I find between its pages. For example, I didn't know that in the late 1800s (certainly way before my time!), a prestigious horse breeding farm existed just two backyards away from mine. And then there's a picture of a young and beautiful Miss Berry, my first grade teacher in 1955, when she was a beginning teacher in 1939! There are also previously unknown facts about the first Civic Club, formed in 1922, that not only established the first kindergarten in town but also the local library--both institutions I benefited from some thirty-plus years later. Club members even furnished the first teachers' lounge. Many years later, my junior high home economics class helped redecorate the teachers' lounge of its era.

Oh, so many memories, so many faces that march by in the mind. Long-forgotten voices speak.

Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry once said, "I wanted to say something about listening because...each of us has our own voice, and it is not only our own voice but it is made up of all the voices we've heard and been influenced by all our lives. For most of us these will be family voices or people to whom we are, or were once, married. I can hear these other voices in all my books.

"They're not consciously put in by me, but they come forward in various ways. I can hear the voice of my grandmother. Just sitting over there, a few minutes ago, I suddenly thought of her and the place in one of my books where she appears. And the voice of my older sister: a voice, long, long still from a premature death, that has become part of my own voice.

"The absence of my father has become part of my voice. He was a real Army officer who spent years of World War II in the Pacific. I find that that I have wonderful fathers in my books, and I think that's because my own wonderful father was a long time coming back to me. All of those things combine in your subconscious and are part of the voice that will emerge from you."

And so a book highlighting my hometown is helping me listen for voices that might whisper to me as I write my books. Home. Family. Faces. Memories. The life of a writer, although often spent alone in thoughts and words, is never lonely, is it? The voices of our past keep us company and revisit us in our stories.

I'm enjoying the process. Are you? What voices of your past have influenced your writing? Do they come to you easily, or do you have to sit quietly and listen for them?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scattering Summer Smiles

June 2016
What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. these are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life's pathway, the good they do is inconceivable." --Joseph Addison

It's the smiles on the faces that stand out to me after a busy month of June...

Our church hosted first a festival then a children's week-long day camp. There were rides, game booths, hamburgers and hotdogs, live bands, and a guy on stilts at the festival. Games and dance, songs and crafts, creative ways to share stories and lessons filled the camp. But overall, what impressions lingered? The memories of beautiful faces and big smiles.

Antonia, Ne'veah, Adam, and Anthony. Erin, Luke, Elana, and Michael. Nicholas, Andy, Gia, and Lily. Beaming faces of those I know and of those whose names now escape me. Fifty kids at last count, including a couple of grandkids--and their new-found friends. The welcoming, the inclusion, the team work, the enthusiasm--all stand out. A microcosm of what we'd like the world to be.

Can we build on this in families, friendships, community? In stories we write, in our books? Not ignoring or sweeping away the realities of the harshness of life, of course, but offering hope and a sense of caring? Can it all start with something so simple as a smile?

It seems like it's possible, especially when you read the evidence. Some examples:

The Day I Learned the Value of a Smile, by Maya Angelou.

Have We Forgotten the Value of the Smile?, Lynn Morrison

Researchers Measure the Value of a Smile, provided by Bangor University

The Value of a Smile, GetMotivated.

What has been your experiences with smiles? Does a smile--yours offered or one received--make a difference? What stands out to you in your summer so far?

Cheers to all. Here's to going forward on our writing goals as the summer marches on--hopefully with a smile.

But I think perhaps without the stilts?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Rainbows and Inspiration to Get the Job Done

May 10, 2016
"I really love writing, but I am very easily distracted: my two cats fighting, a rainbow, a TV show...
I have to use every trick to keep myself at the computer." --K.A. Applegate, author of the 2013 Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan

Awesome. That's all I can say: awesome. While we rarely see one rainbow, in this past month of May we saw two. (Well, technically three since the first was a double). Awesome is often an overused word, but the images took the breath away both times. Where's the camera?!
May29, 2016
Like Ms. Applegate in the above quote, I may be easily distracted when I'm supposed to be writing. I may not always focus where I should focus. But I believe I'll always be in awe of rainbows. Super inspirational in my opinion...

Speaking of inspiration, here are a few links to articles, along with tips, that can help us stay focused on our writing (and stay at that computer!). I know they've helped me get back on track since the recently fantastic--but intensive--April A-Z Challenge 2016:

From 7 Tips to Write More with Less Will Power, by Joe Bunting: Make a plan.

From Write That First Draft, Six Ways to Generate Material for Your Book, by Lisa Tener: Make a schedule--an appointment--with yourself (and keep it!).

Recovering the Joy in Writing, Barbara O'Neal: Rekindle the wonder (think rainbows here).

Barbara Kingsolver: How I Write, by Noah Charney: Stay eager.

Can you identify with Ms. Kingsolver when she says (from above article): "My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it's because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head...It's a funny thing: people often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can't begin to understand the question. For me, the discipline is turning off the computer and leaving my desk to do something else."

Or do you see yourself in this quote from Psychology Today's article, Procrastination: Ten Things to Know, by Hara Estroff Marano: "Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure."

Or, continuing from same article: "Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, 'I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow.' Or 'I work best under pressure.' But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure...Another big lie procrastinators indulge in is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources."

What's the better choice: distractions and procrastination, or finding ways to stay at the computer? I have one more example of inspiration: my friend, Peggy Harkins, author of children's and YA fantasy. Peggy and I met a number of years ago at an SCBWI regional conference. She emailed me last week to share in her rainbow: all of her hard work has paid off and she now officially has an agent! I'm celebrating with her--and hope you do, too. It's been a long road to this point but, along with finding her own set of tips to stay at the computer, she has another strength: perseverance. Congratulations, Peggy! (Peggy doesn't have a blog at this time, but we expect to hear more about her in the future :-)

What tips can you share in the fight against distractions? Do you struggle with procrastination on your writing journey?

Friday, May 13, 2016

A to Z Challenge 2016, Reflections

A to Z Challenge 2016
I dragged my feet as is often the case with a new project. First there was some enthusiasm, a warming to the idea, a quickening that said, "why not give it a try?" But then the doubts crept in.

"I don't have anything to say." "What if I start and can't finish?" "Wow, what a commitment. When was the last time I produced that much writing in a month?"

"Tell me again, why am I doing this?"

Yet the day came when the pull to do grew stronger than the push to not. And so I signed up.

I'm talking about the A to Z Challenge 2016, 26 posts in April corresponding with the 26 letters of the alphabet. My subject of choice: haiku, posted from the viewpoint of a new student. My overall impression after the fact? It was a really good experience, well worth the time and effort.

The A to Z Team who sponsored the challenge has encouraged those of us who completed the challenge to write a reflections post about the experience. Many participants have already done so (see list of links here). So, a few of my thoughts:

Why did I sign up? challenge myself, first of all, to write. No excuses. see if I could actually make a deadline. No pressure there, ha! apply myself to learning more about my subject, and to share what I was learning. interact with others and learn from them on their subjects along the way.

What did I discover?
...time management is key. (Duh!)
...obstacles will present themselves--but so will surprises and unexpected words.
...there's a huge supportive community out there--both new friends and long-time close friends.
...more people signed up for this challenge than I could ever meet.

Jane Reichhold in her article Haiku Rules That Have Come and Gone, Take Your Pick shares a list of 65 "rules" for haiku, many of which are contradictory. While the article was in itself educational on the subject of haiku, it also presented what I think is a good take-away for the A-Z Challenge. "You've heard Robert Frost's saying that poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net and it is true also for haiku..." Ms. Reichhold writes. "As soon as you get proficient (you will notice your haiku all sound alike), it's time to raise the tennis net by picking a new rule or so..."

Well, it might be said that the A to Z Challenge 2016 was my tennis net. It raised the writing bar a little higher--and certainly made me work a little harder. Yet rewards abounded, including learning, stretching, celebrating small accomplishments, and 'shaking hands' with others along the way. And so, to round out the challenge, a final haiku reflection:

when words begin to 
sound the same take up challenge...
raise the net higher :-)
--Kenda Turner

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Haiku A to Z: Z is for Zoom In

photo google images
"...look out your window and describe what you see. Try to 'zoom in' on a small detail that contains the feeling of the larger scene." --How to Write a Haiku Poem: Haiku Examples and Tips

Zoom in. This pretty much sums up what haiku has come to mean to me as this Haiku A-Z Challenge comes to a close. Of course, in the language of haiku, the zooming technique is only one of many (as noted with Ms. Reichhold's article, quoted in my T is for Technique post) but for me the idea of zooming in has come to simply mean awareness. Awareness in the moment. Seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling. Experiencing. Connecting. Appreciating. Living.

Zoning in, not zoning out. With a little zest here, a little zip there.

Interestingly, we've come full circle in the challenge: A is for Ancient (day one)...Z is for Zoom In and A is for Awareness.

I've sure had fun on this project, and I've learned zillions of things. I give a shout out to all those who ventured by and especially to those who added to the conversation. I've learned from you, too.

So, before I go (with the intent to catch up on extra zzzzz's as a reward for making it all the way to the end), I share one more haiku, day twenty six:

a to z challenge...
mister bluebird, come on in
--Kenda Turner