And then there is November

I don't know why I am surprised this time of year when temperatures plummet and winter begins to close around us. I know it is coming. Feel the pull of winter as fall air cools the house and summer furniture gets pulled inside and wrapped up for the season. I even like the falling of a million leaves in our back yard as all the green of the lawn gives way to copper and brown. In many ways it is the crisping of the season I am drawn to as a welcome change from the high humidity of August. I look forward to the relief from the temperamental back and forth of September and October until finally we slip into solid and definite winter air.

I've always lived in the Northeast so I have never experienced the dark long winters of the Midwest or the milder winters of the South or the all year sunshine of the West. So this revolution of seasons has been all that I've known. Each season holds things that draw me in and are familiar. In many ways the seasonal change is a constant I can depend on; spring will be warm and rainy, summer hot and humid, fall crisp and cleansing, and winter cold and snowy. But for some reason winter, for me, is a time for  reflection and missing and longing for things and people long gone.

I know I tend toward a sort of poet's melancholy most of the time but it becomes so much more enhanced this time of year. I don't make lists of what I am thankful for on Thanksgiving or feel the excitement of the new year on New Year's Eve. And I have to force myself to not watch It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve because I will be filled with my own ghosts that will not be whisked away by morning. My ghosts will stand at my shoulder and remind me that they no longer exist in the tangible.

They will rise when released as I unwrap Christmas decorations and holiday plates. They will call to me with aromas I will duplicate while cooking and gather around me as I decorate the tree with their memories. They will forever be a lost parts of me that I will never fill again. These little ghostly holes that are etched into my skin like ancient crumbling lace from some sad Dickens character hoping for the past to close like a door that can lock them away.

I will name them. Speak of them. Miss them. But never will I ever be able to replace them. Any of them. I realize now that I will feel their loss forever; these missing voices. Their smiles, smirks, anger, laughter and tears are still all here within me and I will hold these things close to me like a candle's flame so I can somehow feel their warmth near me once more.

Blog Roll

I was invited to participate in this Blog Roll by Katie Burdis, Editor-in-Chief of Glassworks Magazine, published by Rowan University where Katie teaches in the Writing Arts Department. Please see below for a Bio on Katie and a link to visit her site.

Here are the questions for the Blog Roll. I hope you enjoy a little peek into my insanity as a multi-genre writer.

1) What am I working on/writing?

I recently finished a full-length poetry collection called, The Miracle of Mercury. This collection grew from some of the darker images in Threads (Finishing Line Press) and brought in some new character studies that I had wanted to write about for a while. While it is a bit darker than Threads, it pulls a little further away from the strict autobiographical nature of the original poems and looks more outward than inward to the influences that formed many of the perspectives in the smaller collection.

I also have decided to go back into my original roots of writing fiction. Most people know me as a poet, but what many do not know is that I really began writing in the science fiction/dystopian genre. I have spent most of this summer expanding and completing a project I began about two years ago. This is a dystopian novel that tries to shed some light on how resilient we are as humans, even in the face of adverse governmental mind control. Although it is in the dystopian genre it is very much a character driven novel with some potential for development into a series. I like the idea of a trilogy that goes beyond the initial set of circumstances and as a writer the idea of following these characters through to the ultimate end of their journey is very exciting. I find as a reader I always walk away from books wondering where they go from there and developing a series is very satisfying to me, not only as a writer, but as a reader as well. I get so attached to my characters and really don’t want to let them go so easily, so a trilogy gives me the opportunity to selfishly keep those characters with me. 

 2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

Since I have worked in poetry, fiction and nonfiction I admittedly borrow craft technique from all three and mesh them together in whichever medium I am working. I don’t know if this exactly breaks the rules, but I find it hard to separate the craft techniques across the genres. I try everything to bring all the subtext to the surface and I think it gives me a different voice. I can be realistic with my characters from techniques in nonfiction, can reach for the farthest limits in story development from fiction, and when I need to bring the language to something softer, I can borrow from the poetic language. I like to tell stories, whether I am working in poetry, nonfiction or fiction, and I use every technique I can from any source to do the characters justice.

3) Why do I write/work what I do?

I really like being able to move through poetry, fiction and nonfiction. It gives me a range of possibilities for the story I want to tell. I have always been fascinated with human nature and why people do the things they do. I am most fascinated with motivation and the influence the world around them has on particular personalities. And, yes, I am really drawn by the darker side of our nature. But I am mostly drawn to the aftermath of the thing that happens next. For instance, if there are certain childhood influences why do some people grow up being cruel while that same influence creates kindness and empathy in another.

I like to explore these questions through character or persona. Even when I am writing autobiographical poetry, the narrator is the voice of the person I see myself as at the time: a young girl trying to reconcile her confusions as a young girl, a young wife confused by where she finds herself, a woman looking back at some instance of cruelty. These are the voices and the perspectives that they speak from and become characters that make some sort of sense of it all.

4) How does my writing/working process work?

My process is very different depending on the genre I work in. When I am writing poetry or nonfiction I get very serious and lock myself into a room and work in relative quiet. Sometimes I will play music but usually only if I am trying to channel something specific like trying to force a sense memory for the imagery.

When I am writing fiction I am kind of a maniac: its all energy, loud music, insomnia and a 24/7 obsession. Once I hit a trajectory it demands all of my concentration and everything else becomes secondary to the writing. This summer I have been waking up at 4AM and writing all day sometimes into night. I take breaks but pretty much am putting in twelve-hour days on the writing, with loud, driving music blasting in my head the whole time. The music helps to feed the energy, which feeds the writing. I have to say that I love this type of submersion in my work. I enjoy this writing process a lot. It becomes a kind of physical process that gets me in tune with my characters. The energy loops from me and into the writing and back again.

Now a little more about Katie Burdis:

Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Katie Budris completed her undergraduate work at Hope College in Holland, Michigan and earned her MFA at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Albion Review, After Hours Press, From the Depths (Haunted Waters Press), The Kelsey Review, Michigan Avenue Review, Outside In Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, and the anthology Crossing Lines (Main Rag Press). Her first chapbook, Prague in Synthetics, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. The focused collection is centered on her experience studying abroad as part of Western Michigan University's Prague Summer Program. Katie lives in Philadelphia where she is a professor of Writing Arts at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey and at Community College of Philadelphia and also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Glassworks Magazine. In addition to writing, Katie dances professional with The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, for which she also choreographs and serves as assistant director. When she isn't writing, grading, or dancing, she's spending time with her English Mastiff, Harper.

Read some of her work and learn more about her at:

What Would Your Twenty-Year-Old Self Say?

I have, over the years, haphazardly written many beginnings of stories and ideas, even had a few outlines (something I rarely work from) and also tried expanding a short story (which is actually coming together nicely). But I kept coming back to when I first began writing in long form and the energy and excitement I had as a very young and inexperienced writer. I could never recapture that energy and excitement. I knew I had lost something along the way that really effected how I approached my writing. It was more than apathy. It was something much, much deeper.

What most people don't know is that I began writing science fiction, specifically, dystopian stories. And I must admit, I had more enthusiasm than talent, more pure idealistic energy than realistic goals. But it was a form and a genre that I enjoyed writing. I couldn't stay away from the manuscript and spent late nights pounding out (and I do mean pounding out) the manuscript on my old manual typewriter. It didn't matter who would read it. It didn't matter if it was published. It was the sheer act of writing that I enjoyed. The sequences falling into place, the characters coming to life and the movement of pages piling up telling a story that was the accomplishment.

But then life got in the way. I was suddenly a single parent going through a nasty divorce and the rejection slips kept piling up and I lost faith. I lost faith in the process. I lost faith in the energy and the simple act of being a writer. But mostly I lost faith in myself.

So how do you get faith back in yourself as a writer? I would remember those fearless days of writing when I didn't second guess myself; when I didn't worry about being judged or publicly facebooked or Goodreaded with abusive tirades from readers thinking all those years of effort deserved only one star for whatever frivolous reason they could come up with?

It's odd sometimes what can spark you. I was bored. I was burned out from reading to write reviews, or analyzing stories to prep for student lectures. I was especially burned out from four years of reading pieces for consideration for publication in the literary journals, which I loved working for, but suddenly all of my reading had become work. Work I enjoyed but work non-the-less. I simply wanted to read again just to read. To fold myself so deeply into a book that the whole world fell away like when I was younger and would  stay up all night because I didn't want to leave the characters, the stories or the world they inhabited.

So I did just that. I began to read for the sheer joy of it. For fun. And halfway through a trilogy, which pulled me in so completely that I read all three books in one sitting each, that thing in me that had been asleep for so long suddenly woke up. Twenty year old me said, What is wrong with you? You can do this. You've always been able to do this. What are you afraid of?

And then I remembered the quote from my patron Saint: I am not afraid. I was born to do this.

Okay, so I'm not saying this was a religious experience or anything. And my affinity with Joan of Arc goes well beyond my catholic beginnings for so many reasons. Mostly as a symbol of a courageous woman who, even in face of death, wholeheartedly believed in and had the ultimate faith in herself. This was the thing I had lost over the years. I had lost faith in myself so far down into the events of my life that my inspiration and creativity were draped in nothing but sadness and loss.

But whatever it was, sleep deprivation, inspiration from another writer or even the muse from my patron saint; something broke through for me at three AM during a marathon reading session and reminded me of who I had left behind: that young idealistic twenty-year-old writer that believed, above all else, that she could do it.

So many times we think of what we would tell our younger selves if we could: stay away from this or make that other choice or don't go down this road or this will happen. But we rarely think about what our younger self would think of the people we have become. What would they think of the talent we wasted or the chances we let slip by? Would they be disappointed in how we turned out, moved away from or failed the many things they thought we would accomplish?

So take a minute, or an hour, or a month; whatever it takes and try to see what your twenty-year-old self would say to you. Mine kicked me in the ass in the middle of the night and was just a bit disappointed in the things I had let go, or forgotten, or thought were no longer important. Can I get any of those back? I don't know. But I have a feeling twenty-year-old Joannie is not going to let me forget again any time soon.

Getting A Little Dirty In The Muck

If you haven't heard yet, Threads (Finishing Line Press, 2013) was named a Finalist in poetry for the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I am so excited to have Threads named as a Finalist! It's easy to live with these poems for so long and forget that for others they are new and fresh and can still speak. I look at them everyday and think about the new layers I see or images that are clearer now. And many of these new layers that seem so concrete now is the reason I have moved into a full length manuscript, tentatively titled: The Miracle of Mercury. Some of the poems from Threads have inched their way into the new manuscript because they are the poems that set me on the path of this new collection. Maybe your favorite will be there!

In case you missed it, here is a link to an interview about Threads posted on Author Exposure. I talk a bit about how I approached the poems and my experiences with publishing this debut autobiographical chapbook.

I have been wondering how to try to explain this new collection. It's a bit darker, not so much in a melancholy or gloomy way, but in a grittier more punch-in-the-gut kind of way. I realized that I was trying to give equal weight to the many characters that find their way into my poems but as I was finishing work on the poems that eventually made their way into Threads I began to see a darker layer rise to the surface. I was tired of trying to place each thing on this imaginary scale of fairness and balance. But something clicked and I found I wanted to explore the people in my poems much more deeply; much more honestly. I was tired of doing the fiction thing with them. And by that I mean I was tired of trying to make the protagonist in the poem (if we can see them that way) likable or sympathetic. I wanted to really dive in to the realism and get a little dirty in the muck.

So that's how this collection is shaping together. Stronger characters, deeper into the Frey, staring boldly into the abyss. I guess I realized that this first book was about what happened. The second book is about what happened after that happened. Stay with me: there is the thing and then there is the thing that we become because of the thing. There are the hidden emotions, reactions and psychological responses that now become a part of it all that put you on a new path because of what happened. So, no, I am not done with these topics and themes yet. They simply will not let me be done with them. But the things still hidden in shadow are the scariest and, at times, the most rewarding when we pull them out. So stay tuned:  I am just starting to get a little dirty in the muck of it all.