Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another New Year’s Day by M.M. Gornell



Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her website or Amazon Author Page.


Another New Year’s Day

Had a birthday not too long ago—my marker for beginning a year, not January 1st. A day for assessment and commitment (more often than not, re-commitment!). And Writing, these years, is the first item on the dreaded list. And even with all the time that’s accumulated behind me, instead of stretching endlessly ahead of me, it’s a constant yearly amazement why I haven’t figured certain things out a long time ago. A New Year for me, means a lot of “should have known” head-scratching.

This year, number one, was my dissatisfaction with where I am writing-wise, and promotions wise. On the Writing-front, “No more excuses,” I’m telling myself on B-day, I have to physically write more.

Should be spending more time writing. Deciding that was easy. So far, writing one book a year is not enough. But trying to figure out when, how, where—all those little niggling details are the hard part. So, after my New Year’s Day introspection, I was whining to a friend about how I’m flitting around not writing, who in response looked at me like I was crazy, then said, “You’re always writing. What are you talking about?”

She pointed out things like: I’m constantly picking-up unusual people and place names, also asking details about places and people no one else would bother with, and saying things like, “What a place for a murder?” or “I wonder why that happened?” or “What else was going on then?” or “Where you around when?” etc. She also most candidly offered, I spend a lot of time “listening” in a particular way. I stopped there—too much personal insight. I didn’t want to know in detail what particular meant. She also offered, “I bet you wake up thinking about writing, and go to sleep thinking about writing.” Guilty as charged.

So why am I publicly sharing all this B-day stuff? When I first sat down to write this post, I was thinking maybe it would be a help to anyone else struggling with the question of not enough dedicated computer or pen-to-paper time. I.e., 1000 words a day, or 3 pages a day, or, or… Plenty of thresholds out there to claim as your own. But now as I’m wrapping up this B-day meandering, I realize it’s because I wanted to share an important insight I finally internalized. Knowing about my writing, knowing about me even, isn’t an exclusively inside-to-outside progression kind of thing.

The looking glass needs to talk back. And I don’t mean writing critique groups—something more encompassing I can’t fully articulate yet. But hoping you get the point. Writing is a great adventure—made even better with a few road signs. Feeling pretty lucky I have some people in my life who’ll tell me the truth. But I don’t think we can always count on that, so here’s a nugget to be taken away. Occasionally step back, then look in.

And for my "writing more" resolution. Decided I’m just fine. Ha! However, I did make some promotions resolutions; but they can keep until the next time I’m up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Poetry in E-motion 
by Jackie Houchin




Jackie is a retired photo-journalist, a book reviewer and blogger. She loves to travel, to read (of course), and has a favorite, very intelligent cat named Story (what else?). She is involved in her church ministries for children and the elderly and admits to being a "sinner saved by God's grace."





Several years ago I took a creative writing class at Glendale Community College, hoping to develop my skills in fiction writing. I was disappointed to discover in the first ten minutes of class that the instructor, Bart Edelman was a poet and that poetry would be the main thrust of the class. 

Great.

I confess I'm not a fan of poetry, perhaps because I don't know how to write it or read it.  Rhyming verse, as in hymns, ballads and old Rock 'n Roll songs, is fun, understandable, and easy, but all that "free verse stuff" (often without punctuation and capitalization) seems like words scattered on the page without thought or purpose.

I considered dropping the class, but in the end, I decided to endure. Maybe I would learn something.

Mr. Edelman soon had us learning about the types of poems – Italian, Elizabethan and Shakespearean sonnets, haiku, tercets, ballads and such. We reviewed meter, construction, and how to "cheat" by contracting words.

In each session our homework assignment was to write a poem to the exact standard we'd learned, submitting all our notes and scribblings to show our process. I picked up a couple books on rhyming words and grudgingly got to work.

Surprisingly I began to enjoy the task. I've always been a lover of words, and to see them coming together from the hidden recesses of my mind to form beauty and sense amazed me. I saw character, setting, description, even dialogue. Huh! And I found that as I wrote the poem, hidden emotions – hurt, anger, sorrow – came out on the paper. I read it and had to acknowledge the truth I'd written. Whoa!

Edelman made me rewrite that first poem titled "Change of Face" four times, but in the end I got an "A-" on it.  

Sonnets with their strict meter and line placements appealed to me.  And again, as I wrote and rewrote lines and thoughts, the beauty of the words amazed me. Humor and entendre also surfaced. Wow!

I wrote a sonnet about my work as a photographer of civic light opera productions, titled "Drama, Focused and Exposed." Can you guess the three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals?

In gauzy fog beneath the ancient stage,
The masquerading maestro longed to own
Christine, his light and life.  But now in rage
He damns his love.  She’s gone and he’s alone.

A requiem, a funeral most grim.
But Argentina’s eyes must cry no more.
A comet flaring fast then growing dim,
A queen, a saint, belov’d, adored… a whore.

The chosen son - among his brothers loathed -
In rainbow hues paraded, dreamed, advised.
From Potiphar and prison cell, unclothed;
He rose like worshipped sun, adorned and prized.

These images through lens; my claim to fame!
With help, of course, from the Sir-What’s-His-Name.


I wrote a Terza Rima Tercet titled "Rude Awakenings" which came from some deep emotions of disappointment, danger, and disillusionment.

A candy bar, a car; his tools to stalk
A sweet young girl. She smiles and reaches…“No!”
They cry, “With strangers you must never talk!”

A tender boy, experimenting, slow.
(He loves me true. He’ll marry me. He will!)
A plunge; I cry!  He smiles and leaves. I know.

An angry boy, a son not mine, but still
I welcome him and offer help and love.
Rejection. Threats! Then me, he tries to kill.

Apologies, in recognition of
his infidelities, to her he brings,
And candy too, and gems…but not his love.

The final day, collecting all his things.
“We’re downsizing,” they’d said. “Now take a walk.”
“Oh… here’s a watch for your retiring.”


When we came to Haiku – those weird 5 - 7 - 5 syllable lines – I wrote about a 65 year old memory of my father's death titled, "Daddy's Demise." I actually remember reaching on tiptoes into the casket and touching his cold hard hand.

Fatherless daughter
On tiptoes views him, reaches—
touches death’s cold hand.

Tears of grief squeezing
From a child’s eyes; bitter juice
pressed from unripe fruit.

Clods of earth; humans
Long returned to dust, welcome
box and body home.

Autumn’s crimson leaves
Drip like blood, blanketing earth—
Quilts warming the dead.

Like evening tides
eroding sand castles; life
fades from memory.

Okay, I know that was sad!  I also wrote a 35 line ballad based on the colorful life of someone I knew – but I won't include that here.  I had SUCH fun with that one!

The poem – an Italian sonnet – I am most proud of, which was also included in the college literature book that year, tells of my personal emotions about my boys growing up and leaving. It's titled "Empty Nest."

Flown far from home my offspring; eagles now,
Were embryos and hatchlings; homely, plain,
Then fledglings yearning for the sky.  “Unchain
Us Mom,” they begged, then fled my homey bough.

First came the empty chairs at meals, (Oh, how
I missed their narratives of pain and gain!)
Then girls arrived, and cars and wives to claim
My boys.  Now men, with rows their own to plow.

But all’s not lost.  There’s peace and calm once more,
And rooms reclaimed and far less work to do.
There’s time for hobbies, gardens and decor.

And wives become new daughters. Furthermore,
There’re children, grand and great, and one more due.
Returned; the progeny of those I bore.


I got A's on all these poems, often with an "excellent!" following. I thought I'd aced the class with a solid "A," then Edelman pulled me aside. He couldn't give me an A in class, he said, unless I wrote a free-form poem.

Ugh!  Just when I had begun enjoying the form and beauty of constructed verse, I had to let it go, throw words willy-nilly on the page and hope they passed the test.

For inspiration our instructor showed a film in class about a young Jewish boy hidden in a Swiss school during Hitler's reign of terror. Goose-stepping soldiers eventually found him and.... well, the atrocities I saw burned in me and eventually came out on paper in my poem titled, "Reparations."

Perhaps it's not the free verse poem Edelman expected, but I noticed he cringed and squeezed his legs together as he read it. Raw emotion, unrestricted by order and form can be strangely cathartic.

Shall I include it here?  I might get some backlash. Oh well, here goes.

Kill them slowly…
Murderous bastards,
all of them arrogant
in their Aryan race and place.

Kill them slowly…
Blue-eyed scum
coldly wrenching gold teeth
from bloody gums, greedily.

Kill them slowly…
Golden haired giants
gleefully blackening bodies
and bones of boys and girls.

Torture them, burn them,
peel skin from their backs!
Torment them, rape them,
rip babies from their bellies!
Pluck out their eyes
and teeth and hair and nails.
Castrate them! Punish them!

Please…

Oh, God! 
Forgive them slowly…

In their quest for purity,
they exterminated the brilliant and the wise.

In their depravity, they left the world
bereft of light and art and grace.

In looking for the “solution”
they sacrificed the sanctified;
the chosen ones…

Abraham’s race.


Emotion, controlled in strict style or released just as it comes out, enriches writing in all genres. I still don't write poetry as a rule, but the thing I learned is that beautiful (or terrible) images and emotions revealed in words is the substance of  good writing.

I got that "A" in the class. I even got the job of taking Edelman's author photo for the back cover of his book of poetry. (I made him look pretty good.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Looking for Meaning by Gayle Bartos-Pool


A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.” For more information about Gayle, visit her website!






For the past several months I have written blogs on the 5 Elements of a Story as outlined by Aristotle in The Poetics. Mine weren’t deep, philosophical discussions. They were just good, solid writing tips and techniques. So far we have covered Plot, Character, Setting, and Dialogue. Each of these is an integral aspect of a good story.

Without Plot, you have your annual Christmas letter. Without Character, you have a travel guide. Without Setting, you have an essay. And without Dialogue, you don’t have much reality to your story.

The final element is Meaning. Or: “What is the point to your story?” If you don’t have a point, why write the story? You might think the plot is the meaning, but the plot is simply what characters do in a specific time and place, enhanced by what each character has to say about it.

The Meaning is a higher concept. It’s the theme. There aren’t all that many concepts out there: Man against Man. Man against Nature. Man against Machine, Man against Himself, Man against God. Even if you have a dog as your hero, it would be Dog against Man, Dog against Dog, or Dog against Nature or Machine. (God loves dogs so there wouldn’t be any conflict between them. Sorry, I digress.)

Any good western has a guy in a white hat battling a guy in a black hat. Even in good, old-fashioned detective tales you have man against man (hero against killer) or maybe it’s hero against femme fatale.

The new movie, Everest, has men battling that mountain. My latest book, Caverns, coming out in October, pits man against nature until the heroes realize the rats in the caves underneath the city of Chicago aren’t their biggest problem.

The silent movie, Modern Times, has man battling the machine age. Or how about 2001: A Space Odyssey when the human is trying to outsmart the computer. (Obviously in real modern times and the real future, now, every gadget used in a CSI TV show works, nobody’s cell phone ever loses a signal or runs out of battery power. But that would be a different story. Sorry… Again I digress.)

Then there is Man against Himself. This is often a psychological tale where the man is trying to find himself or save himself. The Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend pit an alcoholic against the bottle in his fist. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or maybe a nymphomaniac female and her cravings, they are each fighting a battle against their addiction. And since they are the only one in the room, it’s the character against himself or herself. Society really doesn’t have a place in that scenario.

There are tales of man (and I use the term facetiously in this case) against God as in The Screwtape Letters. The devil is definitely having his issues with God.

And as in some instances, the man or woman doesn’t have to win. The Tale of Two Cities ends with Sydney Carton walking to the gallows. The plot might lead him to Madame Guillotine, but it’s his self-sacrifice that takes him on his final journey and the ultimate meaning of the story.

It is up to the writer to find those obstacles against which his or her characters can struggle. The writer creates a character with traits that either defy and overcome the odds or succumbs to them, because in the final analysis all stories are really about man vs. himself. 

Can the hero triumph over his limitations? Will the hero find himself, his courage, and his soul in that struggle?

What is your story trying to say?  What are you trying to say?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Publishing in Ezines by Kate Thornton



Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona. You can find out more about Kate at her Amazon page.





From BLUE MURDER, David Firks' ground-breaking classy online mystery magazine from the late 1990s to FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS, Tribe's incredible venue for edgy and raw - beyond noir - flash fiction, ezines have come and gone. These two fine ezines have unfortunately gone. But let's get back to them in a few minutes.

WHAT ARE EZINES? 

Ezines are online magazines. They range in visual quality from beautifully-designed and finely-illustrated to very plain to so ornate it's hard to figure out where the writing is. Fiction of all genres, non-fiction, self-help even specialty hobby ezines abound on the net – just Google your favorite phrase and you're bound to come up with an ezine in your field of interest.

WHAT DO THEY OFFER?

The most obvious advantage is immediacy. Ezines often have a submissions turn-around time measured in minutes or hours rather than months. No SASE required, just electrons. Usually you can submit via email and you can send either in the body of the email – just cut & paste your whole story in – or as an attachment if the ezine permits. Always read the submission guidelines to see what they want.

Archiving is a wonderful thing – most ezines will archive your work online as a matter of routine, allowing you (and your fans) to access your work in past issues. Most ezines will also take down - after the initial publication time -  any work you do not wish to have archived.

They also offer one of the widest readerships possible for your stuff – billions of readers from all over the world can access your writing. This is not to say they necessarily will, only that they can. Many have hit counters or readership statistics available, so you can get an idea of how popular a particular ezine is.

The most popular sites, like SLATE (which no longer publishes fiction) are operated just like a print magazine in many respects. Others are the online presence of actual print magazines, like THE NEW YORKER, and may even share editorial staff, guidelines and publication of submissions with their sister print magazine.

There is a certain amount of prestige accorded many ezines. Literary fiction ezines in particular serve a discriminating community, while many of the genre ezines are also routinely read by prize committees. The Pushcart Prize, Derringer and other prizes have been awarded to fiction published in ezines.

WHAT ABOUT MONEY?

Well, some pay quite well and some do not pay at all. Always check the guidelines for payment.

Some pay in cents-per-word, others in flat rate, still others in merchandise or print copies of sister magazines. Payment can be by check or through electronic funds transfer. I keep a PayPal account just for this.

WHAT ABOUT COPYRIGHT? WHAT RIGHTS HAVE I SOLD?

As in print magazines, the ezine usually copyrights your story for the duration of its run (the current issue) at which time the copyright reverts to you, the writer. As with other magazines, you need to read the contract or guidelines. ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE SOLD! (Back in the late 1990s, I sold all rights to several stories. At the time this sounded good as they paid me $100 per short story. But a few years ago a film company wanted to negotiate the rights to one of my stories and guess what – I didn't own it!)

Generally, the rights you have sold are First Electronic Rights and sometimes First World Rights which include First Print rights. This means you have reprint rights still in your bag to sell at a later time, either to a print magazine or to another ezine. Usually, with an ezine, you have sold your rights for a specific duration, and then allow archiving.

WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE STEALING YOUR STUFF?

Let me be very clear – publishing your work online in an ezine does not negate your copyright nor does it put your work in the public domain. That said, I just don't encounter it very often, and I do a regular net search looking for my materials.

WHERE CAN I FIND EZINES?

Here are a couple of guides. But Google is your friend when it comes to searching! And use your forums and online writing groups – many of them have market listings.

RALAN'S is one of the best market guides.

NewPages Guide to Online LiteraryMagazines is a good reference for literary fiction

LIFE EXPECTANCY

Well, ezines come and go pretty quickly. BLUE MURDER ceased production when the editor, David Firks, suffered a severe illness. FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS was taken down by the editor, Tribe. Others come and go as interest sparks or wanes or as editors shift gears or change directions.

Here's a current non-paying venue that is particularly friendly to mystery submissions and a joy to read: KINGS RIVER LIFE, Lorie Lewis Ham's delightful ezine. They publish new issues on Saturdays and always have a short story contest.


I miss the long-gone classic venues, but new ones spring up daily. So best of luck out there – I love the internet and the world it brings me.