Bad to the Bone

I’m gearing up for the Poetic Asides November PAD (poem-a-day) Chapbook Challenge:

For today’s Wednesday poetry prompt, we had to pen a “bad poem”. Here is my submission, in haiku form, of course.


Bad to the Bone
Wicked, evil, mean
Vengeful, noxious, malicious
Bad– in short, not good.

My hope for the PAD challenge is to pen 30 haiku in 30 days, but of course that could all go awry if Robert asks us to write another sestina, or something of the sort. Still, I wonder if you could write a sestina with every three lines being a haiku. Hmm…

A Whole Egg, or Humpty Dumpty Revisited

I recently came across this piece I wrote two-and-a-half years ago, right after I had completed the first round of treatment for breast cancer. I was rereading T.H. White’s: The Once and Future King with my son at the time. Can you tell?

The prompt came from writing group, and it was simply to take a well-known poem or nursery rhyme and insert text between the lines. Try it!

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
“Well okay, I just want to set things straight here. I have been accused of everything from clumsiness to having a self-destructive streak, but that’s just not true! I am a law abiding, self respecting egg. I went to sit on the wall because it was a lovely sunny day, and because I wanted a better view of the tournament. Being short and round, I needed to be higher up to take in all the sights and sounds of pageant day. Who would have known what was to come?”

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
“True, true, I did. And this is how it came about. I was perfectly perched on the wall, with my weight evenly distributed, when a great cheer rose up from the crowd. A black knight rode out, his face completely obscured by his visor, and charged toward his adversary. It was as he unhorsed his opponent with some of the most skillful lance work I have ever seen, that I in my excitement leaned a bit too far forward, resulting in the famous “great fall” that you’ve doubtless heard so much about. “Fall” it was, “great” is another thing. It certainly wasn’t “great” from my perspective.”

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
“This is the part I don’t like to think about. I mean, all eggs take a tumble from time to time. It’s due to our shape: “middle heavy”, you can call it. It really takes quite a bit of practice to find our center of gravity. So I guess what I’m saying is that it was really no big deal that I took a tumble just when I did. But the king made a federal case of it; I mean, he called off the tournament just at the height of the excitement and had all of his knights, all of their squires, I mean everybody, come on horseback to assist me in my humiliation. By the end of the day, there wasn’t a subject in the entire kingdom who hadn’t heard about what had now gone from a “little tumble” to a “great fall”.

Couldn’t put Humpty together again
“Okay, and this was the final straw. Its not as if anyone is absolutely perfect, or that they don’t age and change as they go through life. It’s not as if I was mortally wounded. So I’m a little cracked now, and not quite so round and smooth as I was before, but for goodness sakes, I’m still whole. I’m not exactly the same as I was before, but I consider the cracks in my shell battle scars from my own personal “tournament”, if you see what I mean. I’m still me after all, a little rearranged, but very much a whole egg, and back together again. Well, now you know the true story behind my very public tumble. I’ll just have to be more careful in the future, I guess!”

“So now that you know how it happened, here’s the preferred version of the rhyme:”

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
On a bright and sunny day
He took a fall off the wall
But now, he’s quite okay!

Book Review: Novel Shortcuts

Review of Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, by Laura Whitcomb:

I heard Laura speak last month as one of the featured authors in the Northwest Author Series. I enjoyed her talk, so that lead me to read Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, the book upon which the workshop was based.

I should say at the outset, that I have no novel writing aspirations for the near future. I am strictly a short story (and poetry!) writer at this point in my life, so some of what this book covers was not as relevant to me as it would be to its targeted audience, which as near as I can tell is fiction novelists actively working on drafts of their novel.

That being said, there were many helpful tidbits of information that I was able to glean from this book and apply to my own writing. Chapter One: Finding the Core of Your Novel covers discovering the heart of your story, and factors to consider in choosing the main character, setting, and story problem for your novel.

Chapter Two: Deciding How to Tell Your Story presents some of the mechanics of telling a story, including voice, tone, storytelling devices, and point of view. This was all equally applicable to the short story. Chapter Five: Balancing Scene, Summary, and Reflection has a good discussion of how to control the pace of a story through the judicious use of summary and reflection to tie action scenes together. Chapter Seven: Stealing Tricks From the Best corroborated my belief that the best way to learn about the craft of writing is to line up books by your favorite authors, and read, read, read.

The only section of the book I found somewhat troubling was Chapter Ten: Goals and Miracles, which seemed to imply that the end goal of writing a novel is to become rich and famous. Considering how few authors will ever make it to that elite status, I would say by all means write as if you will be picked up by a big-named publisher some day if it makes you feel good, but if your primary motivation isn’t the joy of the writing process itself, you’d be well advised to just hang on to that day job!

Books on Writing

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction books on the craft of writing lately. Some are more on the inspirational side, while others take you through the nuts and bolts of creating scenes, writing believable dialogue, point of view (POV), pacing and characterization.

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve read over the past year, from most recently read, going backwards in time:

1. Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, by Laura Whitcomb
2. Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, by Judith Barrington
3. Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, by Christina Katz
4. Half Past Perfect: Writing Simple, Personal Stories to “Re-Story” Your Life, by Barbara Allen Burke & Elizabeth Taylor
5. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
6. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg
7. Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page, by Lynn Freed

On Book Reviews

I had this great idea. I was going to write a book review for every single book I read, as soon as I finished it, while it was still fresh in my head. After all, I’ve read almost 150 books in the past three years alone. Surely that would have generated a respectable number of book reviews by now. But alas, it didn’t happen that way.

In the first place, how many times did Mom drill into my head that if you didn’t have something nice to say about someone, it was better not to say anything at all? It is difficult for me to write anything less than a 4-star review. Three stars is about as low as I go.

And secondly, who am I, who is anyone for that matter, to decide what is good and what is bad? There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to books. Our tastes in books are personal, as unique as we are ourselves unique as individuals.

It was my cancer survivor’s writing group, which utilizes the techniques and philosophy of the Amherst Writers and Artists Methodology, which pointed the way to how I might resolve this dilemma. In our group, we don’t critique each other’s writings, per se. We listen in silence, non-judgmentally, and only after the piece is read do we comment on what we heard in the writing, what stayed with us, what did we remember?

This gave me a new direction for my book reviews. Why not make them more like book commentaries instead? Write about what I learned from them, what stayed with me, what moved me, what was useful, entertaining, or enlightening? In that spirit, I think I’m ready to write about books again!

More Four and Twenties

Two of my poems appear today in the October edition of Four and Twenty: A Short Form Poetry Journal.

I discovered Four and Twenty last year, through one of those serendipitous searches, the kind where you follow links from other links. Since then, 9 poems of mine have appeared in this journal. I’ve been consistently delighted with this non-daunting poetry form. It is simply this: four lines (or fewer), twenty words (or fewer), and a short title (or no title at all). Now I’m absolutely hooked on the little things. Haiku are my favorite subset of four and twenties.

My two poems this month were both inspired by real-life events, as is probably everything I write. Five Bats at Twilight came to me at once, as I stood at the bottom of my driveway late one summer evening, after coming home from somewhere, and watched first one, then two, and finally five bats flit crazily around the greenspace near where I live. See, it’s taken me a whole paragraph to describe, but I wrote it in 15 words (with 4 more for the title)!

Stray objects is a tribute to my friend Robin, who succumbed to ovarian cancer almost exactly a year ago. She was days short of her 51st birthday. It was either in a conversation we had, or in one of her many humorous, touching and gutsy writings where she mentioned mismatched objects, and how by the time you had amassed three of anything, you could consider it a collection. I believe she was specifically talking of teacups at the time, but it applies to anything. Again, a long-winded explanation. My poem Stray Objects, one of my shortest, captures it in 7 words (with 2 additional for the title). That’s why I’m hooked on 4 & 20’s. Try writing one yourself. You won’t be sorry!

Komen Wrap Up

I wanted to take the time once again to thank everyone who supported me in my fundraising efforts this year on behalf of the Komen Portland Race for the Cure. Not only did I meet my goal of raising $385, but I actually exceeded it with the wonderful support of family and friends and raised $527!

Thanks again to Holly, Haldan, Avra, Jeff, Tom, Emilie, Robert, Myra and John for their generous contributions. Thanks also to Douglas, Evan, Gabi, Candice and Jason for walking with me this year. Together we can make this disease a thing of the past! It is not too late to contribute. Although this current fundraising drive ends tomorrow, donations are accepted year round.