A Book, A Good-bye And a Sweet Memory

It's been a busy fall for all of us and 2012 is still proving to be a year of losses as well as good things happening. I find myself having to struggle between letting the bad consume the good. So far I seem to be winning the battle.

So for some good news:

My first poetry chapbook, Threads, is being published by Finishing Line Press. The launch date is set for March 9, 2013. The book is currently on the site for pre-sale orders. Most of you may know that the print run will depend solely on pre-sales figures. So, please order my book during the pre-sales time period. If you want me to read, visit, sign copies, wash your dishes or even bake you a cake, I will do it! But I think the dancing will have to be curtailed just a bit unless you want me to look like the monster in Young Frankenstein 'Putting on the Ritz."

 Here is the link for online pre-sales:


Tim Batten has designed this gorgeous cover. Check out his fine work at his website:  http://www.tim-batten.com 

About a month ago we had to put our puppy-puppy Odessa to sleep. She developed one or more herniated and possibly ruptured disks in her neck which first seemed to just make her unable to move her head to one side. It got to the point where she could not lift her head at all or move it from side to side. The pain eventually spread to encompass her back legs. The vet thought this could mean that there was now nerve damage caused by the disks. She finally got to the point where she couldn't go up any steps and could barely even stand. Any of you who knew her, know this was an active dog who only months before was still running around the back yard, hiding behind bushes to jump out and bark at and scare the neighborhood kids like she was still a puppy. This was her favorite most mischievous caper along with waiting while all the birds landed only to run though them until the yard was a mass of fluttering wings. I won't even get into the bunny hunting, her most obsessive and absolute favorite thing. She was about 11-12 years old. We were never sure of her age when we rescued her.

We had ten years with her and she was truly one of the stronger personalities of any pet I've ever had. I used to say she was a tough old broad. And she was. She also had a very silly personality and I swear there was just a touch of sarcasm in her droll stares and annoyed breaths when we didn't do what she wanted us to do. Right then. Immediately. When she wanted something done. Especially her nighttime treat.

We went through several bouts of severe pain cycles with her over several years, which usually subsided in a few weeks. But this time we just couldn't get it under control. Aside from anti-inflammatory and several types of pain medications. We even tried steroids, heated sonar and acupuncture treatments; but we just couldn't get her pain level to a livable level. So we had to say goodbye to her and we miss her more than I ever could have ever imagined.

She was truly my companion while writing Threads. Always sleeping and snoring loudly by my desk, which I never took as a criticism of the writing, but with her, you never know.  She was there with me through all the rewrites. Submissions. Rejections. And acceptances. Her presence is truly there between the lines of this book. She will always be one of the threads running throughout, not only this poetry collection, but my life as well.

I will hear her as if she were recorded on these pages: the faint clicking of her paws following me around the house, the soft sigh when she rearranged her blankets wondering if it was time for a break and a treat; the groan as she looked back at me when she wanted me to follow her to the door so she could hide behind bushes, scare neighborhood kids and chase bunnies through the back yard as if she were a young puppy with everything still ahead of her. Which, I have decided, is exactly how I will always remember her.

A Snip of Teaching, A Dash of Poetry, A Little Noir for Spice

It's been way too long since I have updated this blog. This is a sort of what's new post to catch everyone up on some of the things that are happening.

I am teaching Creative Writing at Rowan University and Comp classes at Gloucester County College and even though I am struggling with pain I am so loving teaching! I feel really lucky to be able to spend my day talking about my favorite thing in the world: writing.

 In case you haven't heard, my first poetry chapbook, Threads, is being published by Finishing Line Press. Pre-sales dates are November 27, 2012 through January 11, 2013. You may know that the print run will depend solely on pre-sales figures. So, please order my book during the pre-sales time period. If you want me to read, visit, sign copies or even bake you a cake, I will do it!

Tim Batten has designed this gorgeous cover. Check out his fine work at his website:  http://www.tim-batten.com

In other news, my Noir short, Burn, has been published by YELLOW MAMA in their Halloween issue. This is a site that publishes hardboiled and noir horror stories so it is definitely not for the squeamish or the easily offended. Hope you enjoy the story and everything else in the issue! Here is the link to Burn: http://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/yellowmama/id883.html.


Balancing on one Poetic Toe

2012 has been a decidedly back and forth year so far. I seem to be getting as much good news as bad and find that there is an equally disquieting quality to both sides of the coin. Although everyone would agree that the bad news is the hardest to control and respond to, many times when good things happen they can also trigger a certain amount of anxiety.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for the good news, and hope that by year's end the good will outweigh the bad but in another sense good news can be just as hard to navigate; especially when dealing with life changes. I don't want to go so far as to say "be careful what you wish for" because that is the only way we get out of the rut and move forward. What I am really talking about is how to handle it when life changes and the thing you hope for finally comes into your life.

Any of you that know me will understand that moving on has never been an easy thing for me. I  often take a cautiously long period to settle in, trust new surroundings and adapt to new places. Conversely, I also am not able to read the sign that tell me when it is time to move onto something else. I am always beating that proverbial dead horse to a pulp before I actually realize it is time to pack the boxes and move on to the next place, thing, job or relationship.

I got to thinking about how this tendency effects my writing. Especially when writing in such a short form as poetry. I tend toward shorter, less narrative lines in poetry. The few poems I have with a long narrative and boxy stanzas always feel like something I want to chop into smaller chunks and tinier, less elongated pieces. I began to realize that this writing philosophy of get into it quickly, shift into the metaphor neatly and find the exit swiftly is a kind of rhythm I seem to have developed that helps to keep my poetry crisp, sharp and fast moving. I most like my poems that hit hard and to the point like this; almost as if I want to hit the reader over the head before he has a chance to see me coming.

So is this ability to look back and be able to work out the poems with swift agility a perspective of time, as in, a distance from the events because they are no longer in the present? And, if so, how do I put this into everyday life as a technique for moving into situations and opportunities when the time is right and getting out when that opportunity becomes stale and worn out like a cliched line in a dusty poem?

And while I am not so sure that poetic devises and techniques are something that can actually become guidelines for handling the very personal details and decisions in our lives, I figure, what the hell? Why not try it out?  Maybe memory has no indicators on a time line. Maybe our brain can ingest and categorize much faster than our emotions give it credit for and that once stored in the brain our lives become instantaneous memory able to be dealt with like balancing a shaky poetic toe on a falling petal in a smoky poem.

Blogging In

I remember when I was younger and would suddenly realize that I hadn't touched base with several friends in months. Of course, back then I would get out note cards or my telephone book and would spend one evening either writing out cards or speaking with them on the phone. But today it's not that simple.  Today, along with just your personal correspondence there are blogs and social websites and organizations that all require attention, writing, and upkeep.

And, of course, there are the smartphones. I have multiple e-mails, websites, and social media apps all connected directly to my phone, which of course is with me 24-7. There are so many days my intention is to log to check e-mail. Then, since I'm already online, I check Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and several other websites, just to make sure I'm not missing anything important. Before I realize how much time has passed it's suddenly one or two in the afternoon and I'm ready for a break.

I think that all of this social media is necessary in the world we live in today. I've come to correspond  with so many other writers who have supported, encouraged and  strengthened me by sharing their experiences that I would never have met without the use of social media. It makes the singularity of a life as a writer seem far less solitary. And I have learned a lot about being a writer and the process involved in working on a manuscript, finding an agent, finding a publisher, and finally reaching launch day. I really think I would be at a loss without this extended writer's community.

But, how do we tear ourselves away to actually do the writing? Yesterday, I decided my blog needed to be  “freshened up” which I thought would take about half an hour. But I soon came to discover that templates I had used in the past were being retired and that once I tried on a new template I couldn't go back to my old one. So my refresher for my blog turned into something very similar to shopping for the perfect party dress. I tried on every scheme, color, configuration and added my own customizations but after four hours was still not happy with what I saw. So I started the whole process from the beginning.

Again, it seems to become a necessary effort though seemingly a huge time waste. We need the blogs to make an appearance, we need social media to network, we need to stay in touch with the community to make the connections. And I'm not sure if it's still the type of time waste that I used in the past to procrastinate. These things included: cleaning out my typewriter, washing dishes, organizing books, doodling and finally giving up and just going to read someone else's book.

But I'm beginning to see all these things as part of the process. As part of the movement toward creating something out of electrons sparking in our brain which become poetic phrases buried into our prose and poetry. And I'd like to think that someday I'll really get organized. I'll set up a chart for each day of the week. I'll choose which days to work which projects. I'll choose other days to work on e-mails and letters. I even fantasized that I'll have all of this organized in some sort of calendar with alerts that I will actually follow when the beeper goes off on my phone. But I'm finding it's the follow through to the notes and the organization that gets a little sticky.

I find this phenomenon present even when I'm working on projects that I'm really excited about. You know, those stories that just seem to come together and the poems that seemingly fall out of the air and onto the paper. But even they don't seem to hold onto my attention very long when I see that little number one, two, or three box pop up on the Facebook or email app on my phone.  I must have the instant gratification of seeing who said what about what.

Today I'm going to stay focused. I've organized the chapters that need my attention. I've opened the document on my computer.  I've even even pulled out my hand-written margin notes for the rewrite of certain sections. Oh, but, wait. The little number just popped up on my phone. I bet it's something funny, informative or just plain important that I must read. I bet it will help me finish this chapter. It'll only take a minute or two. Could use a little break anyway. All that organizing kind of made me thirsty and a little hungry. I'll just stop for a minute. And then it's back to the writing.

I like to think my mother-in-law, Marilyn, visited me on a quiet morning and co-wrote this poem with me for her service.

The image was taken and composed by my extraordinary sister-in-law Dawn Hanna. Check out her blog: The dawn of an older age (http://dawnofanoldage.blogspot.com)

Spring Is The New Black

My husband's mother, Marilyn, passed away last week on the vernal equinox which was fitting since spring was her favorite season of the year. During the course of preparing Marilyn's funeral the family shared stories about how much she loved spring and how she was always gardening. In fact, some of our fondest memories are about her garden and the plants she loved so much.
One of the first plants to sprout every year in our garden are the pink cleomes she gave us. They persistently pop up in our garden, along our sidewalk and even in the cracks in our driveway. The one plant she gave us that first summer in our house has spawned generations of pink flowers that bloom not only in our garden but everywhere the previous fall winds have carried the seeds. This year when these cleomes come up they will be even more precious to us now that she is gone.

Things were in full bloom in North Carolina; the cherry trees with their pink and white blossoms bursting color, purple bushes rising out of the green along the highway and dogwoods showy in their finest white.

I got to thinking how meanings change and how we assign our sense memories to react with different neurons as time moves on. My mother's passing in the spring of 2004 was expected. She had been severely ill for several months and it was no surprise to us when she moved on but spring became a reminder of her death and I lost any joy I usually felt when blossoms started to open in our gardens.

Marilyn, on the other hand, was more of a surprise and we didn't have the time to prepare. But it was interesting how spring followed us, paving the way for her passing. We left New Jersey with shrubs and trees showing some tightly closed buds but nothing in bloom. During our ten or so hour drive to North Carolina, the closer we got to our destination the more the terrain around us became alive. It was as though spring was blooming before our eyes.

The grounds around the hospital were fragrant with flowers and tiny inchworms cascading down from the branches that clung to our clothes, bright green against our sleeves. The weather grew warm, hot even for this time of year.  The scents of flowers and the blooming of everything around us became a comfort as we left the hospital after she passed. Out of the center of our mourning nature itself reminded us that after every sorrowful thing comes rebirth. But it was how Marilyn felt about this time of year that really created a comfort for us.

Nature has a way of renewing us even when we fight the desire to move on. So as we stood graveside dressed in black, nature bloomed with color and birds chirped with the arrival of spring. It was a fitting goodbye in spite of our grief and because it was her favorite season everything seemed to be in bloom just for her as if nature woke up to usher her to the other side.

Facing It

I spent most of this week catching up on reading, sending out submissions and teaching applications and trying to hold on while the universe seemed to be spinning without me. I found myself feeling that old tug to just get a 9-5 office job again and stop the struggle. Give up the fight. Just get on with it.

I stared at the edits I needed to make on the poetry manuscript. I flipped through the list of submissions and rejections I have collected over the last year or so. I opened and closed the file on the new novel, expanded from a short story, with a kick-ass lead character that I am really enjoying working on but can't find the mojo to really concentrate on this week.

And then last night I got some negative news. You know, it's not so much that the news was so bad, or that it was something that would negatively affect me, it was just something disappointing that came from an unexpected source. And I do have to admit, that I did let it crash me a bit. I felt slightly betrayed; felt that I had put my trust in someone, again, only to be let down.

So I woke up this morning in a somewhat defeated mood. I've been closed up in the house for about a week dealing with another back pain cycle and my dog limping from a paw with a large cyst and, of course, the aforementioned pile of writing that needed my attention. And it was raining.

When the Deerpark delivery man came to swap out my cooler I was like the old woman in a sitcom and started talking the poor guy's ear off. During our conversation about weather, and how lucky we are that we are getting all this rain instead of snow snow, he mentioned that he missed all the snow last year because he was in the hospital. I asked what had happened because I am a writer and always ask too many questions. And because I assumed it was a car accident or burst appendix or something typical. This 6 foot 3 man hauling 5 gallon water bottles around casually said "I had a pulmonary embolism." After telling me about his hospital stay, how close he had come to death and how hard it had been on his family, especially his wife, I asked him if he complains much after that. He kind of chuckled and said “No, not much anymore after that.”

So it got me to thinking about the close calls that we have in life. How we complain, or I should say, how I complain about silly things like being on hold when calling customer service, being billed incorrectly for something that is easily fixed, being frustrated if I have to reset a cable modem or slide the gate over for the 3rd time this year because the dog is getting old and keeps hurting herself.

After the delivery man left and the new cooler heated up correctly and didn't overflow, catch fire, or any of the other things that I worry about on a day-to-day basis, I went upstairs into my home office and pulled out the videos of my thesis defense last summer. I've done this a few times now when I get discouraged as a writer. When I think that I'm not good enough or not trendy enough. When I read other people's writing and think I will never reach that summit. I find that watching myself from the outside without everything that was attached to passing that defense, helps me to remember who I am and why I became a writer in the first place.

So I spent the rest of the day listening to the video,  pulling out the readings from the defense portion and posting them onto YouTube so I could update my links page on this blog. And I remembered why I went back to school. Why I wanted to have those degrees on my wall. And how far my writing has come in just the past 3 years.

So the next time you're down, feeling discouraged, or responding to something critical that someone has said about your writing. Or, more importantly, something critical someone has said about your potential. Do yourself this favor: lock yourself in a room, pull out all of your writing and listen to your own voice. Hear what your own voice is saying to you. Get back in touch with your own voice and reintroduce yourself to the writer within you.