Friday, July 30, 2010

Poetry Friday--"Blasphemy"

Somewhere in my travels I purchased an old anthology, A Book of Fireside Poems, William R. Bowlin, compiler, which I found had been published by Albert Whitman & Co. back in 1937. I never knew Albert Whitman had been in business that long! For curiosity's sake, I checked the website and found that as of 2009, they'd been around for 90 years!

Although Whitman publishes children's books today, I'm not sure that A Book of Fireside Poems is a children's book. It certainly wouldn't be considered one by 21st century standards!

I like the way the foreword to anthology prepares us for what's inside:
And so you should find herein something of the kindly, something of the laughable, and something of the majesty of the immeasurable, blended in the sacrament of a quiet hour. --William R. Bowlin
I looked for a poem that represents the kindly, the laughable, and the immeasurable; I think this one fits the bill. It is the first part of a larger poem called "The Heretic" that was published in 1914 in Louis Untermeyer's collection Challenge.

By Louis Untermeyer

          I do not envy God--
There is no thing in all the skies or under
To startle and awaken Him to wonder;
     No marvel can appear
To stir His placid soul to terrible thunder--
     He was not born with awe nor blessed with fear.

          I do not envy God--
He is not burned with Spring and April madness;
The rush of life--its rash, impetuous gladness
     He cannot hope to know.
He cannot feel the fever and the sadness,
     The leaping fire, the insupportable glow.

          I do not envy God--
Forever He must watch the planets crawling
To flaming goals where sun and star are falling;
     He cannot wander free.
For He must face, through centuries appalling,
     A vast and infinite monotony.

          I do not envy God--
He cannot die, He dare not even slumber.
Though He be God, and free from care and cumber,
     I would not share His place;
For He must live when years have lost their number
     And Time sinks crumbling into shattered Space.

          I do not envy God--
Nay more, I pity Him His lonely Heaven;
I pity Him each lonely morn and even,
     His splendid, lonely throne;
For He must sit and wait till all is riven
     Alone--through all eternity--alone.

Wow! What a thought provoking little poem! I guess Untermeyer's poetry provoked people a little too much because, as the Poetry Foundation bio of Untermeyer notes, "Sentiments of social protest expressed in the 1914 volume Challenge received disapproval from anti-communist groups forty years later."

I wonder what would be the response to this poem if it were newly printed today? With the influence of poets and poetry barely discernible within society, I'd venture to say there'd be no response whatsoever!

In 1961 Untermeyer was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate (back then the position was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress), so he must have redeemed himself somewhere along the line.

Check out this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up at Live. Love. Explore!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Women of Wednesday--A Precedent Breaking President's Wife

Sometimes women have to be patient in their desires to effect change within society. Baby steps add up!

Helen Herron Taft, wife of William Howard Taft, our 27th president, was a woman who knew changes would come, but she was willing to start small.

Mrs. Taft wrote about her husband's inauguration, in 1909, in her autobiography:
Since the ex-President was not going to ride back to the White House with his successor, I decided that I would. No President's wife had ever done it before, but as long as precedents were being disregarded I thought it might not be too great a risk for me to disregard this one. Of course, there was objection. Some of the Inaugural Committee expressed their disapproval, but I had my way and in spite of protests took my place at my husband's side.

Baby steps.

Here's a picture of Helen Taft. I bet she wasn't afraid of anyone's opinion!

President Taft's predecessor in the White House was Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt didn't refuse to ride with Taft for political reasons, it was simply personal--he didn't want to do it. Mrs. Taft told her readers that Mr. Roosevelt thought that riding with the new president back to the White House after the ceremony was "a precedent which he did not like and which he desired to break." But I think, that Roosevelt wanted out of Washington ASAP!

I love the idea that old, out of print works like Helen Taft's autobiography, are now available online, don't you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mentor Monday--Unusual Sites

I thought that today I'd share a few sites that can help you with your writing. These are not "how to write" sites, but rather sites to consult when you're looking for help with more practical aspects of writing--like finding things to write about.

The History and Geography of Inventions. Not much more to say!

In the First Person: An Index to Letters, Diaries, Oral Histories and Personal Narratives. "A free, high quality, professionally published, in-depth index of close to 4,000 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world."

Inflation Calculator. At the Bureau of Labor Statistics you can find out what a dollar was worth back in 1913 and any year in between 1913 and the present. Use it in your historical novel or to make comparisons for today's kids in your nonfiction works.

International House of Logorrhea. Obscure and other interesting words.

Macrohistory and World Report. From the site:
Macrohistory -- or big history as some call it -- describes connections as far back as the "Big Bang," and across centuries of human history. All of us have a picture of this past, some more vague than others. It's this picture that makes us Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Skeptic or what have you. Macrohistory creates perspective. Its purpose should be to make the big picture more clear.
State Standards and National Standards. Sometimes you need to know about educational standards so that you can put your writing in terms of fulfilling educational goals.

362 Nursery Rhymes. An alphabetic listing of nursery rhymes.

Time and Date. Lots of calendars, calculators for events such as full moons and eclipses, past and future time, etc.

Have fun!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: Sixty Thoughts

Dunkin’ Donuts is 60.

Beetle Bailey is 60.

Jay Leno is 60.

Ringo Starr is 70—but that’s another poem…

Soixante Pensées

The day my mother turned 60, she told me,
“I didn’t think it would feel like this.”
She meant,
“It’s surprisingly good.”
Her own mother at 60 was ancient, unsteady,
Living a life ruled by angina.
But my mother
Bowled on Tuesdays,
And traveled with Dad,
And watched her young grandchildren splash in the backyard pool.

When I turned 60, I told my daughter,
“I didn’t think it would feel like this.”
I meant,
“I didn’t think I would be 60 and alone.”
My own mother was just beginning to live again at 60.
But instead, I
Buried you,
And never got enough sleep,
And tired of thinking about all that had to be done, alone.

In 30 years, my daughter will turn 60 and I hope she tells her own daughter,
“I didn’t think it would feel like this.”
And mean
That she is just starting to live again at 60.
Tuesdays are for lunch with friends,
And she is traveling,
And she is watching her grandchildren splash in the backyard pool,

And, perhaps, because smiling at 60 skips a generation.

Aurelie Chimère Cinquante Poèmes Non-lu
This week's Poetry Friday is being hosted by Breanne at Language, Literacy, Love. Stop by!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Women of Wednesday: Ida M. Tarbell: Muckraker

Ida Tarbell was born in her grandparents’ log cabin in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1857. Later, her father bought an abandoned hotel for $600. He took the building apart and brought everything “…its iron brackets and fine doors and windows, and mouldings and all, and… much of its timber,” Ida wrote, ten miles away to Titusville, Pennsylvania and built the family home from all these parts.

It’s not surprising that having come from a pioneering stock who knew how to “make do” that Ida would grow up with a certain independence of spirit. She also grew up during the start of the fight for women’s votes.

Ida, who had a love of science, decided that the suffragists did have a couple of good points: “Out of the agitation for rights as it came to me, two rights that were worth going after quite definitely segregated themselves: the right to an education, and the right to earn my living…” Her parents agreed.

The way for a woman to gain some kind of financial independence in those days was to teach. So Ida prepared herself by entering Allegheny College in 1876. There were only 4 other women students at the time. As it turned out, Ida was the only one to complete her degree requirements and graduate. She wanted to do scientific research but first took a job as a teacher, hoping to be able to do research in her spare time. The job was too demanding and left no time for the study she loved. After two years, she gave up the job and returned home to think over her next steps.

There she met Dr. Theodore Flood who asked her to help out with The Chautauquan magazine. She worked there doing various editorial jobs for 6 years but again, she longed to do more. She decided to leave the comfort of steady employment and move to Paris. Once again her parents supported her decision. She saved enough to get to France and live for a while until she could sell American publishers articles about life in the French capital. She planned to write a book on a famous woman in the French Revolution: Madame Roland. She also interviewed scientist Louis Pasteur, criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, and astronomer Pierre Janssen. Her penchant for detail and research made her an accurate writer.

In 1894, Ida returned home to finish the Roland book. She contributed to the magazine McClure’s. This was the job that would make her reputation. She wrote serialized biographies of Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln articles increased McClure’s circulation. During that period, the Standard Oil Company—one of America’s first monopolies—destroyed her father’s livelihood and that of many people who lived in the Titusville area. Ida hoped to write a novel that would describe the effect the company had had on so many lives but the novel wouldn’t work. Eventually, she began a series on the history of the Standard Oil for McClure’s. The series was originally contracted for three installments but as Ida’s work and research continued, it stretched to 19 articles and was eventually reprinted in two volumes. Three years later, the United States sued Standard Oil for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Ida was now considered one of the “muckrakers” a term garnered from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt to describe this new kind of investigative journalist. She hated the name and considered herself merely a good and thorough researcher.

Ida Tarbell died in Connecticut in 1944.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mentor Monday: Then what happened? The Importance of Cause and Effect

I was visiting a childhood friend who lived in the south. While we were out one day we ran into one of her acquaintances. I don’t remember the woman’s name so I’ll make one up. The introduction went something like this:

“Mur, this is Tabitha. Tabitha is my southern Muriel. She reminds me of you.”

Of course I was curious. I was also prepared to like Tabitha very much. We must, after all, have some things in common if Old Friend was reminded of me when she spent time with Tabitha. A flurry of thoughts ran through my head. Did Tabitha and I like the same books? Did we have similar senses of humor or even just sound alike when we laughed? Was she a teacher, too? Maybe she had three kids like I did. I was anxious to have the mystery solved.

If I were writing this meeting into a novel, I would choose some interesting twist that would allow Muriel and Tabitha to connect and maybe give the plot a way to progress. Maybe they are two single mothers struggling to make ends meet. They join forces and start a business. Or, they’re two women who discover they both once worked in the circus. They left for very different reasons... Or, if it was a horror story, maybe Muriel and Tabitha are both serial killers. Nah… I’m not Steven King…

Writing a story is like building a roof. When someone builds a roof they have to climb a steep ladder (the tension builds) and while doing so, they tote nails, roofing shingles, and tar paper (details are added). Building a roof is methodical—and just like a story, must have structure. Finally, the hardest part: roofing the peak (the climax).

So, I’ve kept you waiting. I’ve let the tension build. Why was Old Friend reminded of me when she was with Tabitha?

Because we each had a small, brown, hairy mole on one arm.

I will give you a minute to laugh.

Imagine where the meeting went from there. Nowhere. There was nothing left to say. Tabitha and I looked at each other uncomfortably, trying of course, not to stare at the other’s arm to compare moles. Tabitha excused herself and we went on our way.

Basically, I’ve just told you a story with a dead end. I’ve left the roofer on the peak and the customer has cancelled the roofing job.

Every part of a story needs cause and effect. Every section should answer the question: “And then what happened?”

Otherwise your reader will excuse herself and go on her way.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Poetry Friday - Hot and Steamy

In keeping with the Mary Shelly theme of Wednesday, I had planned to offer up a little poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, but quite by accident, I came across another poem that made Mr. Shelley’s look like a 19th century pick-up line. So, to go with the hot and steamy weather we're having here in New Hampshire, here's a hot and steamy seduction poem by Pattiann Rogers.

The Hummingbird: A Seduction
by Pattiann Rogers

If I were a female hummingbird perched still
And quiet on an upper myrtle branch
In the spring afternoon and if you were a male
Alone in the whole heavens before me, having parted
Yourself, for me, from cedar top and honeysuckle stem
And earth down, your body hovering in midair
Far away from jewelweed, thistle, and bee balm;

And if I watched how you fell, plummeting before me,
And how you rose again and fell, with such mastery
That I believed for a moment you were the sky
And the red-marked bird diving inside your circumference
Was just the physical revelation of the light's
Most perfect desire;

And if I saw your sweeping and sucking
Performance of swirling egg and semen in the air,
The weaving, twisting vision of red petal
And nectar and soaring rump, the rush of your wing
In its grand confusion of arcing and splitting
Created completely out of nothing just for me,

Then when you came down to me, I would call you
My own spinning bloom of ruby sage, my funnelling
Storm of sunlit sperm and pollen, my only breathless
Piece of scarlet sky, and I would bless the base
Of each of your feathers and touch the tine
Of string muscles binding your wings and taste
The odor of your glistening oils and hunt
The honey in your crimson flare
And I would take you and take you and take you
Deep into any kind of nest you ever wanted.

Stop by My Juicy Little Universe for more great poetry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Women of Wednesday - Mary Shelley

Last Halloween I had intended to write about Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. As it turned out, Mary Shelley had a short, but very full and complicated life - a life that could have been a Dickens novel. Except for the ending. She’d need Poe for that. But I couldn’t find any way to scrunch her life down into a short blog piece and do it justice. Well, I still haven’t figured out how to do that, but I can’t get her out of my head, so I’m giving you the all-in-one-breath version.

Mary was born in 1797, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist, and William Godwin, a writer/philosopher. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and her father, forever in debt, raised her. For all his liberal leanings, he did not send her to school, but she did have access to his personal library, as well as to all the liberals he entertained at home.

Her father, being a famous man, spent most of his time being famous, which left little time for work. In order to pay off his creditors, he decided to write a memoir of his far more famous wife. What he actually wrote was a tell-all tale about her affairs and her illegitimate child, Fanny, who was Mary’s older half-sister. The public found it shocking, and the family was shunned by the locals. No friends for Mary.

Time passed and Mary’s father remarried, hoping to fill his pocketbook and gain a mother for Mary. Unfortunately, while Mary liked her two new step-siblings, Charles and Claire, she couldn’t stand her step-mother. Home was not a happy place.

At 15, Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley who was five years older than her. He was also married. He became a regular visitor and promised Mary’s father he’d help get him out of debt. But Percy didn’t have much money of his own. His wealthy family had disowned him because he didn’t want to own land and increase his estate. He wanted to use his money to help the poor. The idea appealed to him, but it wasn’t something he actually did. When he didn’t help Mary’s struggling father as promised, her father disowned him, too.

But Mary couldn’t live without him. To her, Percy was the ideal man, a genius of the kind her mother had written about and her father had taught about. Her father had also preached that marriage was a repressive monopoly, yet when it came to his own daughter seeing a married man, his liberalism went out the window. She was forbidden to see Percy.

Mary and Percy began to meet in secret at her mother’s grave. At 17, she ran away to France with him and her step-sister Claire. The then pregnant Mrs. Shelley was left behind to fend for herself. Mary’s step-mother came after them, but they refused to go home, and instead, they traveled through Europe, they read, they wrote, and they made love - until the money ran out.

The trio returned to England and surprise! Mary discovered she was pregnant. Her liberal father would have nothing to do with her. Since she and Percy were broke, they moved in with Claire and did more reading and writing and entertaining they couldn’t afford. Occasionally, Percy would disappear for short periods of time to avoid his creditors.

Meanwhile, the real Mrs. Shelley gave birth to a son and Percy was ecstatic. So ecstatic, he began an affair with Mary’s step-sister, Claire. He also pushed his friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, on Mary. Mary wasn’t surprised or stunned. She believed in free love. But she didn’t take Percy up on his offer. Percy was the only man for her.

At 17 ½, she gave birth to a premature baby girl who died. Just a few months later, she was pregnant again. Percy came into some money through a death in the family and they went on holiday, came back and bought a home. Mary gave birth to her second child. This time a son.

Four months later, Mary, Percy, their son, and Claire all went to Geneva to see Lord Byron, who was having an affair with Claire, now pregnant with his child. They did the usual reading and writing and talking, and one thing they talked about was Erasmus Darwin’s (Grandfather to Charles) experiments on bringing the inanimate to life with electricity. They decided they should all try their hands at a ghost story, and Mary immediately envisioned Frankenstein. She set to work.

Now the trio moved to Bath, England where they hoped to keep Claire’s pregnancy a secret. While there, Mary received a disturbing letter from her older half-sister - disturbing enough that Percy immediately set off to find her. When he did, she was dead, a laudanum bottle and a suicide note by her side. Two months later, Percy’s wife committed suicide by drowning herself. And then her family, his family, and Mary’s, did their best to see that Percy did not receive custody of his and his wife’s two children. His lawyer advised him marriage might help, so he and Mary, who was now 19 and pregnant a third time, wed. Her father began speaking to her again.

Meanwhile, Claire had a baby girl, Percy was declared an unfit father, and his children with his wife were given to strangers. Mary gave birth to her third child. They did more reading, writing, and running from creditors. Fearing debtors’ prison, they departed for Italy where Claire gave her daughter to Lord Byron and agreed to never have anything to do with her again.

Once more, the trio set off hither and yon, reading, writing and entertaining. Mary completed her novel and sold it, and it was published anonymously. Everyone assumed it was Percy’s work. Later that year, her daughter died, and the following year, her son died. In November of 1819, at 22, she gave birth to her fourth child, another son.

At last, her writing took off and she was making money and sending it home to her in-debt father. But she was also tackling depression, a state Percy helped with by having more affairs. Then two former servants, a husband and wife, accused him of registering a child as his and Mary’s. The servants claimed the baby was Claire’s, others said it was the servant’s. All Mary knew was that it wasn’t hers. In any case, the baby died later that year.

Yet again, they moved. Their little group expanded to Percy and Mary, (pregnant a fifth time), their son, Percy Jr., Claire, and another couple, the Williams’. Claire learned the daughter she had left with Lord Byron had died of typhus in a convent, and Mary miscarried and almost died. Mary, who by now had reached the ripe old age of 24, recuperated as best she could while Percy began an affair with Mrs. Williams, and when he wasn’t spending time with her, he was off with Mr. Williams on the Williams’ boat. One day, they decided to take a small excursion and ran into a storm. Both of them, along with the cabin boy, were found dead, washed up on the beach.

Mary resolved to make a living writing so she could support her one surviving son. She wrote stories and articles, transcribed for Byron, and tried to put Percy’s poems in order. Her father-in-law gave her a pittance to help her out, and warned she’d be cut off completely if she published a biography of Percy.

Between writing and eking out a living, she managed to fall in love with Mrs. Williams, who rebuffed her by telling her that Percy had preferred her to Mary. She became friends with Washington Irving and Actor John Payne who fell in love with her and proposed, but she turned him down. After being married to one genius, she said, she could only love another. Payne’s response was to try to hook her up with Irving.

At the age of 30, she helped some lesbian friends get false passports so they could live as man and wife in France. The next year she contracted smallpox, and managed to come through unscarred.

And at last, her life began to slow down. For the next twelve years, she wrote, edited, made money, and helped her father. She sold the rights to Frankenstein for 60 Pounds. In 1836, her father died and she spent two years putting his papers together in order to write his memoirs. It was his idea, not hers, and she never finished. Her main mission was to push Percy’s work upon the world. She sold a collection of his works for 500 Pounds, but her father-in-law insisted it couldn’t contain a biography. He didn’t want the world to know about his son’s lurid life.

Mary had several opportunities to find love in her ‘later’ life. She had several suitors whom she rebuffed, while the man she was interested in married someone else, and then he married another someone else. She did a bit of traveling and in 1844, her father-in-law died, leaving her son a bit of money. But the money brought more problems.

Blackmailers came creeping out of the closets. An old acquaintance threatened to publish some letters she had sent him. Her son bribed the police to get the papers which were then destroyed. Another man, claiming to be the illegitimate son of Lord Byron, sold her back some of the letters she had written Byron, and then Percy’s cousin threatened to publish a damaging biography of Percy unless Mary paid up.

Finally, in 1848, things took a turn for the better. Percy Jr. fell in love and married. Mary loved the woman he wed and moved in with them. But the happiness didn’t last. She began having headaches and some paralysis. In 1853, she died from what is assumed to have been a brain tumor. In her desk, she left behind a box which contained locks of hair from her dead children, as well as Percy’s ashes and what remained of his heart.
Yes, she saved his actual heart.

I think about Mary and imagine what a great book the story of her life would make. I think of learning to write a screenplay because it would be one heck of a movie. But mostly I wonder if she was really the intellectual free thinker she is often portrayed to be, or was she simply a lonely teenage girl, eager to get out of a house she wasn’t happy in, who fell in love with the first man to pay attention to her. Did she love him with an obsessive love that wasn’t really love at all? Did she ever wish she and Percy could just settle down and live a normal live? Did she ever wish he’d forget his philandering ways and love only her? And what about all those dead babies? Careless parenting, horrible luck, murder?

Who knows? Not me.

But, perhaps with a little more digging . . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just For Fun

Here's a little something I came across yesterday. But be warned. You may find yourself singing the refrain all day long!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mentor Monday - One Sentence at a Time

Brick may be strong building material, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make a strong house. Pile your bricks one on top of the other and you’ll find your walls collapsing and your house caving in. What gives brick strength is how it is positioned.

Words work the same way. You can use them to create something that looks like a novel but collapses upon reading, you can use them to create a readable novel that sells but doesn’t get much notice, or you can use them to create a re-readable, possibly award winning novel that stands above the rest. The key is in the words you choose and how you position them into strong sentences that will hold your story together from beginning to end.

There are lots of ways to do this. Here are a just a few.

The KISS rule. (Keep It Simple, Stupid.)

Don’t add description, similes and metaphors for no reason. Show what needs to be shown, and get out.

Let’s say Jane is playing jump rope, trying to set a new record for most jumps without tripping up.

Weak - Jane jumped over the blue plastic jump rope that her mother bought for her at Walmart on her last birthday. She jumped over and over beneath a cloudless blue sky.

Strong - Jane jumped over the rope again and again.

What matters here is that Jane is jumping rope, not the rope’s color or where and why it was bought, and not the state of the sky. It’s information overload. The reader just doesn’t care. And even if it's beautifully written, if it doesn’t advance the plot, it’s not needed.

Put Things in the Order in which They Happen.

Weak - Mary laughed when I slipped on the banana peel.
Strong - I slipped on the banana peel and Mary laughed.

Both are simple sentences, but in the first sentence, Mary’s laugh comes before the fall. The reader, for a few short moments, has no idea why she’s laughing. In the second sentence, cause and effect comes into play. I fall and then Mary laughs, which is not only clearer, but the way it works in real life. Also, the first sentence is passive and telling. The second is active and showing.

Clauses and Prepositional Phrases

There’s nothing wrong with clauses and prepositional phrases, but most times, they do more in the middle or at the end of sentences than they do at the beginning of them. Placing them at the beginning of sentences often creates clunky reading and passive writing.

Weak - Believing she might die if she entered the burning building, Mary refused to go in.
Strong - Mary refused to enter the burning building, believing she might die.
Stronger - Mary refused to enter the burning building. She didn’t want to die.
Strongest - Mary stared at the burning building. “I’m not going in there. I don’t want to die.”

Lots of examples here. The first is clunky reading and passive. The next two are easier to read, but still telling. The last one is easy reading and places us in the situation with Mary. We see Mary reacting, rather than being told how she reacted.

Word Placement

This is a bit trickier, but the idea is to take the important thought of the sentence and place it where it will have the most power. Let’s say Dr. Hackensaw is about to operate on his patient. This is the scene that will open the novel, chapter or paragraph.

Dr. Hackensaw sliced into his patient’s abdomen.
Dr. Hackensaw leaned over his patient’s abdomen and sliced.

The important word here is ‘sliced.’ That’s the image we want the reader to see. Sticking it at the beginning of the sentence (first example) gives it more power than placing it at the end of the sentence (second example) because it’s the first verb the reader sees. Their focus is on the slice rather than the doctor leaning over a man. It also gives the reader no frame of reference. Is Dr. Hackensaw a world-famous physician about to begin a delicate operation, or is he a deranged monster? Who knows? You have to read on to find out, which is what we all want our readers to do.

On the other hand, let’s say we want this scene to end the novel, chapter or paragraph. The second example would be the stronger choice because by now, the reader knows who Dr. Hackensaw is and what he’s intending. The goal is to leave the reader with a strong image. Placing ‘sliced’ at the end of the sentence does this. The last thing the reader sees is the image of that slice, which is much more powerful than an image of someone’s abdomen.

Choosing the Right Verbs

Once you’ve built your strong sentences, the next step is added value. A strong house is nice, but a house that’s strong and pleasant to look at is even better. Create sentences that are more than serviceable. Make them a pleasure to read. Choosing the right verb is the easiest way to do this.

In the above example, I could have said - Doctor Hackensaw operated on the patient’s abdomen. But what image does that bring to mind? Nothing visually distinct. ‘Operated’ is too broad. So what’s more specific? Dr. Hackensaw cut into his patient’s abdomen. Better. More visual. I can certainly see it. But I can’t feel it. Can I be even more precise? What does ‘cut into’ mean? That led me to slice. I can see it. I can feel it. And it even helps in creating a tone.

So where does your latest WIP stand? Have you built a novel that will pass an editor’s inspection? If so, is it a novel like so many others, or have you taken it a step beyond? Look at it again, one sentence at a time. With a bit of shifting and shuffling of bricks, you just might turn that little fixer-upper into the strongest, most beautiful house on the block.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Poetry Friday--"Come In"

The Write Sisters turn again and again to Robert Frost. Is it something about being a kindred New England spirit? Or is it simply because Frost lived so long and published so many poems that we have so much to choose from?

I have another reason. I live less than 10 minutes away from Robert Frost farm in Derry. I can see what Robert Frost saw, and perhaps feel the same emotions, as I walk the paths in back of the barn. That little bit of connection brings me back to Frost.

Here's a rather bittersweet little poem of his:
Come In

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music--hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went--
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars:
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked,
And I hadn't been.
Readers can take whatever meaning they want from this poem. The struggle between the darkness and the light in human nature. Impending death, either natural or by one's own hand. I prefer to see it as a celebration of the inner spirit of both the bird, who sings despite not quite as safe as he could be upon roosting, and the man, who prefers to gaze at the stars rather than be safe indoors. Have a great weekend and go outside to look at the stars!

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is found at Carol's Corner.


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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Women of Wednesday--Linda Richards

Once we've finished an "American Notable Women" series book, names of women we missed always seem to come up. Of course, after the Massachusetts book was finished, I came across a woman by the name of Linda Richards.

Linda was born in Potsdam, New York, in 1841. She had had experience caring for her mother who contracted and died of tuberculosis when Richards was only 13. She wanted to study medicine, instead she became a teacher, and then went to work in a factory. But, in 1870, she was was able to find a job at Boston City Hospital. Unfortunately she received little or no training at BCH. At about the same time, the New England Hospital for Women and Children started up a school for nurses. Linda enrolled in the new school and was awarded her diploma, said to be the school's first, in 1873. Four years later she traveled to England where she studied under the famed Florence Nightingale, and upon her return to Boston, Richards established a nursing school at Boston City Hospital teaching students according to Nightingale's system.

Richards went to Japan and spent five years there setting up a nursing school in Kyoto. She also set up nursing schools in Pennsylvania and Michigan. She was a busy woman!

In 1911, Linda's book, Reminiscences of Linda Richards: America's First Trained Nurse, was published. It is now available online if you'd care to read more about this fascinating woman. (The picture of Richards above, is taken from that book.)

July 27 is Linda's 169th birthday. Happy birthday, Linda, and I apologize for not recognizing you earlier as being one of America's "notable women."


Friday, July 2, 2010

Poetry Friday: The House That Goes Dancing

Not always but sometimes when I put on some music
the house it goes dancing down through the yard
to cha-cha the willows or up into town
to tango the churches.
The neighbors, appalled, they call the police.
The dogcatcher chases my dogs up the street.
Toward the house that goes dancing in raven black boots
or enormous bed slippers,
dragging one leg like an earnest old hunchback
through the midsummer gardens gathering garlands
to wrap round her roof, she goes dancing,
love's house she goes dancing her grief-stricken dance
for his unpacked suitcases, his detritus, his hair, his hairbrush,
his glasses, his letters, his toothbrush,
his closets of clothes where I crouch like a thief
when the house it goes dancing,
a stowaway hiding in big woolen coats,
the scent of his body, the smell of him rising.
We are shaken past the ending, his passing,
Who waltz out of town,
All our mirrors well shattered, our china, our crystal,
Our lightbulbs, our pictures have crashed from the walls.
A magnificent mess!—The doors off their hinges,
the windows wide open.
Let his spirit let go now and his big broken heart,
neither sky nor horizon, neither clay nor this dust.
It's as if he went racing his horse
past the house as we dance him goodbye
as far as we can, as we call out goodbye with our hands
round our mouths, shouting and dancing,
dancing and calling to the edge of the world
through the fields.

                                       -- Deborah Digges

"The House that Goes Dancing" by Deborah Digges, from The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Amy is hosting Poetry Friday over at The Poem Farm.  Grab a hoe and go!!!