Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wording Wednesday--Three Martinis

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first three prompts herehere, and here.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Tracy Dinnison whose work can be found here. The story it inspired for me can be found below the picture:
Three Martinis

The bartender raised his elbow as he poured to hide the smirk on his face as another would-be Don Juan sidled up to the bar to hit on Eloise. Not that he didn't understand why they tried. She was stunning, especially when she wore blue, and she was clad in a jewel tone number tonight that made her skin glow like polished sea glass in sunlight.

She'd been waiting for an hour and the man in the soft suede vest was the third Lothario to try and charm her tonight. He obviously wasn't used to being ignored. He'd gone from suave to petulant in the space of one lit cigarette, which she accepted without a word or a smile.

The bartender didn't seem too worried. Eloise was hard to phase, and none of these men were drunk enough to start a public scene in one of the nicest hotels in the city, no matter how much their egos hurt. It was unlikely he'd have to intervene.

Another hour went by before Agnes arrived. She was a vision, too, in her own way, swathed in a sherbet-colored ensemble that clung in all the right places. Unfortunately, her husband Reginald clung to her as well, fingers firmly clasped around her elbow. She hadn't been able to ditch him.

Eloise turned to the bar then, and picked up the first of the three martinis sitting there, one purchased by each would-be lover who had failed to win her over. She knocked it back, then pulled the olive off the stick with her teeth. It should have been sexy, but the ferocity was nearer to threatening.

She cozied up to the second glass and ran her ungloved finger around the rim, staring daggers at Reginald and Agnes who had settled at the opposite end of the bar. The bartender began to look nervous, brandishing the shaker like he might need to use it as a weapon. Eloise ate the olives and then swallowed the drink, leaving the stick in her teeth.

She had reached for the third martini--the one that would lead to dangerous choices--when I intervened. I walked up and leaned against the bar, dropping my purse between her and the third martini. "God, what a night, huh?" I gestured at the room as if the plaid carpeting and green walls were somehow responsible for all that ailed the world.

She looked at me, startled, then leaned to reach around my purse for the glass. I grabbed her wrist, stroking the velvety skin over her pulse point with my thumb. It was a bold move, but she liked boldness. "You're too good for her anyway."

She pulled her hand away and cradled it against her chest in the other hand, which still wore a gray leather glove. A small smile lifted the corners of her gorgeous mouth still perfect in plum lipstick I longed to taste.

I took the third martini, swirling it briefly in the glass before taking a sip. Her eyes widened. I had her attention now. I pulled out the swizzle stick with my tongue, maneuvering the olive into my mouth. It had taken me hours to master that trick, but it was worth it to watch the color rise in her cheeks. I set the unfinished drink on the bar and pulled my purse toward me. "It's a lovely night for a walk," I said.

I took a few steps before I looked back over my shoulder. She was standing beside her chair, purse in hand, one glove dropped from her lap onto the floor. I went back and picked it up, offering it to her. "You dropped something."

She pulled the cloth from between my fingers slowly. "Indeed," she said, her voice as dark as her skin was bright. "And you picked it up."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wording Wednesday: Left Turn at Albuquerque

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first two prompts here and here.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Erinn Komschlies whose work can be found here. The story it inspired for me can be found below the picture:

Left Turn at Albuquerque

Misting rain blew against her cheek and Genevieve wiped her glasses on her sweater. Without the aid of her lenses, she couldn't make out much detail--the world became smears of color and abstract shapes. She pocketed the glasses for now. It was prettier this way, and she didn't need to be able to read right now.

She clutched her small red suitcase in her hand, resisting the urge to spin in circles like a happy child. Excitement about her impending journey bubbled inside her like champagne bubbles and left her feeling as intoxicated as if she really had been drinking. She'd never done anything like this before and it felt wonderful.

The light shining from the streetlights made rainbows in the water pooling on the platform. Genevieve shuffled one foot in the puddle she stood in, flinging a light arc of droplets out into the air in front of her. "Hey!" someone yelled.

"Oh, sorry!" Genevieve fumbled her glasses back out of her pocket and shoved them on quickly. In the shadows of the opposite wall of the waiting area she saw a woman brushing at her skirt and glaring at her. "Sorry," Genevieve said again. "I didn't see you."

The woman frowned down at her skirt, but her face softened when she looked up at Genevieve. "Bit fidgety, aren't you?"

"Guilty as charged."

"What's got you so nervous?"

"Oh, I'm not nervous so much as excited."

"About going to Wichita?"

The doubt that clouded the woman's voice threatened to make Genevieve break into giggles. She cleared her throat to suppress the urge. "I'm going all the way to Albuquerque."

The woman laughed. "Albuquerque?"

"They have a balloon festival."

The woman shielded her eyes and looked out at the train platform, awash in a new spray of rain that beat against the side of the train with a dramatic thump. "I hope the weather is better there."

Genevieve lifted her face into the spray, imagining how she might miss the rain when the desert wind whipped against her cheeks. She bounced a little on her toes, heels smacking against the wet ground with a sound like applause. The whistle blew and a shiver of anticipation went down her back. She grinned at the woman. "Oh, I'll be fine. You can't rain on my parade."

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Favorite Fierce Fictional Mothers

For me, there is a fierceness to motherhood, a mama-bear willingness to fight. As soon as I gave myself over to being someone's mom, this determination and protectiveness bubbled up in me out of nowhere. I had no idea it was there.

I've been lucky. I haven't had any cinematically intense battles to fight for my children. They've been the more ordinary battles with educational systems, friendship, love lives, disappointments, etc. We're fortunate.

But still, that fierceness is there, just under my breast bone, burning like a hot coal.

That's probably why so many of my favorite fictional mothers literally fight for their children:

1. Ellen Ripley, Aliens.

Ripley didn't get to raise her own daughter.

When she left on her mission for Alien (the first film), she promised her girl she'd be back for her birthday, but after an accidental 57 year cryo-sleep, she found she'd missed not only that birthday, but all the rest of them.

Her daughter was dead.

But mothers are made under a variety of circumstances and many mother someone they didn't birth.

The lengths she goes to in order to rescue Newt show the depth and intensity of that love. In the end it's mother vs. mother with Ripley fighting the Queen Alien.

2. Helen Parr (Elastigirl), The Incredibles.

It's not easy when life takes a left turn, depriving you of work you were passionate about and forcing
you to find your happiness in a smaller life. But Helen Parr knew that her family's safety and well being mattered as much as her personal satisfaction. She threw herself into making the new life work.

And, then, when the call to action came, when her children were in danger, she didn't hesitate to bring every skill she had into play.

And when it came to it, she knew when it time to let her children grow up a little and come into their own:

"Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because your children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance." 

You might think Elastigirl would be all about flexibility, but in the end, she's about balance: family, career, personal satisfaction, happiness in her marriage. She working to have it all, and if anyone can do it, she can.

3. Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

What do you do when you learn that your child is the one hope for the planet, the future leader of the Resistance?

You become the kind of mother he's going to need.

Yeah, Sarah might have started out as a damsel in distress, but she didn't sit around waiting to be rescued for long.

No. She went out and got an education, and we're not talking about a liberal arts degree from a community college.

She learned self defense, security, weapons, and guerilla warfare. She kept her son and herself off the grid and out of the hands of their enemies. And when that didn't seem like enough, she went on the offensive (which unfortunately, landed her in an asylum).

Everything was always about her son, but the real hero of this series is his mother.

4. Briar Wilkes, from Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

In an alternate history steampunk story, Briar Wilkes is a pariah. She fell in love with the wrong man and there are those who blame her alongside him for the release of blight gasses that left the Pacific Northwest a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But she tried to protect her son from all that. She never talked about the past, never let him know what kind of a man his father was, wanting to save him the pain and suffering. Tried to let him have as normal a life as was possible.

It backfired, as secrets are wont to do, and young Ezekial set out in search of his father, into a dangerous world full of people who would use him or kill him.

Briar didn't sit on her hands, fretting at home or seeking a hero to save them. She became the hero she needed: she put on her goggles and breathing mask and set out into the poisoned world to save her son, facing her inner demons and some outer ones along the way.

5. Molly Weasley, of the Harry Potter series of movies and books.

Not every mother wears her fierceness on her sleeve. Some might seem to be a homemade cookies and sympathetic ear sort of woman, taking a supporting role in her children's lives. But, threaten her babies? You'll see a whole new side of Molly Weasley, one that looks a lot like Ellen Ripley:

6. Alana of the Saga series of graphic novels by Fiona Staples and Brian Vaughan.

Alana is complicated. She makes rash, impulsive decisions. She acts before she thinks.

She joined the military to escape her abusive situation, but wasn't willing to take orders thoughtlessly.

Then, she fell in love with an enemy soldier, someone outside her species, and ran away with him even thought it was likely to get them both killed.

Not the best circumstances for motherhood.

I love Alana because of her complexity. She has conflicting motives and emotions and makes bad choices, but her love for her child is a constant, something she'll undergo tremendous trials to protect and rescue.

So, there's my Mother's Day list of fierce mother characters I love. Who's on your list? Or are you a fan of another type of fictional mother? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wording Wednesday Prompt: Dream Come True

Last week, I decided to start participating in a weekly writing prompt group. I enjoy playing with writing prompts to reconnect with the lighter side of a writing life (where I write things just because it's fun).

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too.

This week's picture prompt comes from artist Vladimir Volegov and is titled "Sunny Breakfast."

Here's my take:

Genevieve had long fantasized about a moment like this one, surrounded by luxury with time on her hands. She'd had often imagined what it would be like, and, for once, the difference between her imagined version and real life did not disappoint. She didn't care what society had to say about how she'd arrived in this seat. It was hers now.

She leaned into her hand and let her gaze wander the landscape outside her sunlit window, the orchestrated greenery and placid lake glistening with the first brightening of the sky. She had always loved the gardens and walkways of the house, but looking out at all the finery and realizing it was her own made it shine all the brighter in her eyes.

Steam drifted from her cup, warming her forearm. The hand resting against her cheek was already softening. The callouses that had thickened on her palms from years of laundress work were still rough, but there was a spongy feeling to them,  less like pumice stones and more like flesh was meant to feel. They'd never be smooth and unlined like a real lady's, but they were softer than she could ever remember them being after a few weeks away from lye, bleach, and hot water.

She'd begun her life "in service" when she'd been barely ten. Her mother had gone straight from the orphanage into the kitchen herself, and since she had refused to reveal who had gotten the child on her no one knew who to call to take care of little Genevieve when her mother was killed by a kitchen fire.

The Old Master felt sorry for her, so had kept her alongside Alexander and Abigail,  his own children, taught by the same governesses until she was deemed old enough to work.

"Old enough" came abruptly one Sunday afternoon, after the lady of the house caught Alexander and Genevieve playing "wedding" in the garden. Genevieve didn't understand what the problem was then, but smiled to herself now, realizing that Alexander's mother's fears about what kind of "association" her son might make had proven all too real.

So, Genevieve who had been yanked from the servants quarters to the nursery, was flung back down the back stairs into the resentful arms of the other servants and into a long, pocketed apron over an itchy black dress.

Nothing like the silken blouse she now wore, purchased in Paris along with all her other clothes, as part of her honeymoon.

A slight squeak alerted Genevieve to the opening of the door into the morning room. Alexander came in, fumbling with the cuffs of his shirt. Genevieve rang the silver bell on her tray and hurried to her husband's side, deftly fitting his shirt cuffs into his jacket. He was hopeless with buttons and ties. Smoothing his lapels with her softened hands, she smiled up at him and leaned up on her toes to give him a kiss just where his ear met his cheek.

Alexander colored, pleased and embarrassed. He took her hand and walked with her to the window, both of them standing and watching the sun finish its climb into the heavens and politely ignoring the  busy sounds of the breakfast being laid behind them. Genevieve leaned her cheek against her husband and he curled his arm across her shoulders. "Happy, darling?" he asked.

"Oh yes," she whispered. "It's a dream come true."

Monday, May 6, 2019

A to Z Blogging Reflection

Another A to Z Blogging Challenge has gone by. I so enjoyed writing my posts this year.

My theme of "Letters to Dead Writers" gave me an excuse to revisit authors whose works have mattered to me across my life and think again about what made them so wonderful. I think this might be my favorite year yet, though I enjoyed all the themes I've explored this way.

2018: Poetry! posts about some of my favorite poets.
2017: Places in my Heart
2016: Superheroes
2015: My Publishing Journey
2014: Evocative Words

I didn't make it out for as much reading of other's blogs as I wanted this year. There are never quite enough hours in the day!

I did enjoy Rebekah Loper's series on Worldbuilding, Patricia Lynne's series of "learn a word in 100 words" short fiction pieces centered around an interesting word, and Deborah Weber's Cabinet of Wonders.

Here's the full list of all my posts:


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Wording Wednesday Writing Prompt: A Happy Life

I'm a fan of prompt writing. It keeps the playful part of a writing life alive for me, letting me write something new with no expectations for its future.

Sometimes a piece that began as a prompt turns into something that I can expand upon and publish, but most often, it's about keeping in touch with my creative joy.

I write every day, but when you're working on something large-scale, it can become a slog, and leave you struggling to remember why you love this.

All that is a longwinded introduction to this piece. Fellow author Andy Brokaw is the host of a writing prompt each week. She calls it "Wording Wednesday" because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too

Here's this week's prompt and my take on it: "A Happy Life."

"Graniaile" by Nicole Chartrand  
"Motherhood looks good on you." Giovanni waggled his thick eyebrows, making the baby laugh, a wet, sputtery giggle that left Louisa's shirt further dampened.

She grimaced down at the infant in her arms. "How can something be so cute and so repulsive at the same time?"

"Are you going to keep it?" Angelo came up beside his brother, swinging an arm over his shoulders even though he had to tiptoe to do it. Louisa inhaled so sharply she choked on a strand of her long auburn hair. The two brothers looked at each other and shrugged. Angelo sounded disappointed when he said, "Guess that's a 'no,' then?"

Louisa held the child out at arm's length, noticing that it wasn't only her shirt he'd left dampened. A circular stain expanded across the thigh of her trousers and a sea breeze lifted the scent of fresh urine to her nose. A life at sea meant that she was never completely dry, but in the few days since they'd rescued this baby from the remains of a shipwreck, she'd found whole new worlds of damp and sticky and moist. She looked at her crew. "That's a no. Keep heading for the convent."

She leaned to set the child inside a woven basket on the deck, something Giovanni had found and cleaned out to serve as a holding pen and a bed for the little one. When she tried to straighten, she found that the little boy had grabbed the laces of her blouse. He looked into her face, his eyes wide and clear, free of malice or sadness, light blue as the sky above them. He was beautiful.

If life had gone differently, she might well have had a boy like this of her own. A strong boy clinging to her skirt while she kept a cottage in the mountain village where she'd been raised herself. It might have been a happy life.

The child's grip was strong. She had to pry the pudgy fingers apart to extract herself. Angelo squatted down to offer the baby his finger to hold, distracting him before he could start to wail. Louisa walked to the rail and lifted her head into the wind, closing her eyes to feel the caress of the sea air on her skin.

Yes, it might have been a happy life, but, then, so was this one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

IWSG: Overwhelmed

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin!

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here!

I forgot to post this morning. That's how overwhelmed I am. I mean, I can give you a list of excuses, but I really look forward to this post every month and it completely slipped my mind. That's not like me.

Obviously I'm juggling too much. But what can I drop?

I did say no to a few things this spring, trying to help find a better balance. I didn't apply for any conventions or author events in February, March, or April, giving myself back several weekends of time for other things. I also left my long time critique group, deciding to be a little more selfish with that time as well.

But then I said yes to other things, helping to organize a few events for my Friends of the Public Library group, and taking on teaching a new class for a local community college.

I think I'm still suffering from what I complained about last month: the demands of a full time writing life squashed into part time hours leaving me feeling a day late and a dollar short all the time.

I'd love to hear tips from others who manage a writing life while holding down a day job. How do you make it work without driving yourself crazy? What do you let drop?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers Zora Neale Hurtson

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Zora Neale Hurston

Dear Ms. Hurston,

I wish I could have met you. All accounts paint you as a vibrant and fascinating woman, so charismatic as to charm the pants off a snake.

And your words! They sung on the page, so full of life and wonder and determination. Their Eyes Were Watching God has taken a rightful place as your masterwork. 

Janie is an unforgettable character and her story inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. Rather like your own.

In reading about your life, I've learned that you never saw much in the way of financial gain from your work, that, when you died, a collection had to be taken up to bury you.

Your work, too, might have been lost to time if not for the interest of another writer, Alice Walker. What a loss that would have been!

Luckily for me, and generations of readers, Ms. Walker's interest started a revival of interest in your work and now we can all read your words.

I hope you're a star in heaven now, like you deserved to be on earth.


Monday, April 29, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Empress Yamato

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Empress Yamato.

Dear Empress Yamato,

I'm probably being very presumptuous to write you a letter. You're an empress after all, and I'm a middle school teacher living more than a thousand years and more than a thousand miles from your world.

That's the problem with us 21st century women. We just don't know our place. I like to think you'd understand that, as a woman ruler so long ago. 

There's just something about your story. Something comforting in knowing that a woman rose to power so long ago, and maintained it for eleven years. Something affecting in your words of grief and love.

I haven't seen much of your work. Not much has survived to this day, and even less has been translated and published in English.

Like me, you took special joy in observing the change of seasons, and the weather seemed tied to what you were feeling. My favorite is this one:

It speaks to me of the way grief can come along to smack you in the face at unexpected moments, when something innocuous and ordinary brings your lost love to mind and you feel the loss of them all over again. Those damp sleeves break my heart.

Your admirer from across time and space,

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Anne Sexton

 This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Anne Sexton. I'm cheating a little, using her for X since she has an X in her name, but I don't have a favorite writer whose name begins with X, so here we go!

Dear Ms. Sexton,

 What a voice!

When people talk about a whiskey and cigarettes voice, they mean you, I think, whether we're literally listening to a recording of you reciting your poetry, or reading it for ourselves on the page.

It's scratchy and hard-edged either way, sounding as if there had been a lot of shouting to get to where we are now.

Some people praised your work for its confessional nature, others use the very same words to dismiss it. But "confessional" is just the right word.

Reading your work gives a feeling like someone is sharing a secret with you, something not normally said aloud, something subversive and strange and fascinating.

 You weren't a good person. After your suicide, the sexual abuse of your daughter was revealed. It gave me a strange feeling when I heard about it, as it often does when you learn that someone you admire has done something that isn't admirable.

It brought up that whole art/artist controversy. Can I still admire the work, when I know something ugly about the creator? My answer, is yes, I kind of can. Art after all isn't necessarily about what is comfortable and easy. Sometimes, it's about confronting uncomfortable mixtures of emotions and conflicting beliefs.

And you Ms. Sexton, if nothing else, were certainly all about ambiguity and contradictions.

Thanks for disturbing my complacency,

Friday, April 26, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Edith Wharton

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Edith Wharton

Dear Ms. Wharton,

You broke my heart, one winter when I was about twenty.

With no idea what I letting myself in for, I picked up your novel Ethan Frome. My goodness, but Thomas Hardy has nothing on you when it comes to dark ironies of life and the cruelty of fate.

In literature at least, I have taste for having my heart broken. I like a good, sad story, one that hits me right in the feels. You were a master of it.

Much more recently, I read your Age of Innocence, another tragic love story where two hearts that seem destined to be together are kept apart.

You wrote longing and guilt and feeling trapped so beautifully, capturing the romantic ache of yearning for something you can't have like few artists can.

Some readers make a mistake in overlooking your work, assuming from the covers that it's another stodgy period piece more about corsets and hairstyles than about anything of worth, but about the depths of a person's heart.

It's true that a person could learn a lot about the circles you moved in by reading your novels. You're the main voice the world remembers when it comes to capturing "Old New York." But all that was just the setting in the end. The jewels were in the characters.

Thanks for breaking my heart so breathtakingly,

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Virginia Woolf

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Virginia Woolf

Dear Ms. Woolf,

I first read your books as a college student. First was Mrs. Dalloway, a book that is both about everything and nothing at the same time.  An entire life contained in the events of a single day.

I have to admit that I didn't instantly fall in love with your stream-of-consciousness style. But I was fascinated by your portrayal of the subtleties of a person's heart. You "got" sadness.

Unfortunately, you got it too well. You died at your own hand. People say now that you may have had bipolar disorder, something the medical establishment knew very little about in the 1930s and 1940s. Certainly they didn't know enough to help you. We lost you to suicide. I like to think it would have been different for you if you lived now. I hope it would.

I recently read To the Lighthouse, and gasped as I read, recognizing so many of the situations: the way men and women speak past each other, the difficulty of finding your way as an artist.

Your style may have been radical, but your themes remain universal. A Room of One's Own shouldn't be a radical idea, but so may of us still struggle for literal and figurative space for our art.

I wish you'd found a lasting place for yours.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Ursula LeGuin

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Ursula LeGuin
Dear Ms. LeGuin,

I haven't read enough of your work yet. A couple of years ago I was part of a book club that selected The Left Hand of Darkness to read.

I was reading a fifty year old book and yet the ideas felt fresh and new and so apropos to what was going on in the world. In a science fiction setting ostensibly about politics as much as anything else, the book explored gender fluidity before that was a term anyone knew.

I'm often not engaged by novels I'd called "idea books" where the concepts take precedence to character and plot, but all were so interwoven in this one. As soon as I set it down, I picked it up to read again.

I'll probably read a few times before I die. But in the meantime, I'm hoping to see what else you had to say. All the rest of your books are on my TBR.

Recently, probably because of your death, articles about you and your writing advice have been buffeting around the internet. It's good advice. No nonsense. To the point.

Even on the other side of the veil, you're still inspiring generations of women who write.

I already miss you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Sojourner Truth

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Sojourner Truth

Dear Ms. Truth,

For the longest time, I thought poetry was supposed to be decorous and calm.

The classic poems I'd been shown in school as a child were probably selected for their inoffensiveness above any other criteria.  Not to put down Mr. Wordsworth, but "I wandered lonely as a cloud" is definitely on the sweeter side of things.

But then, I found you. I wish I could remember the context more fully. But I do remember that I heard your famous spoken word piece "Ain't I a Woman?" performed by someone costumed as you. It must have been at some kind of history event.

It blew me away.

It was raucous. Loud. Funny. Angry. Sarcastic. Definitely not decorous.

Completely new to me. I was enthralled.

Since then, I've become a fan of good spoken word poetry. There is something special about poetry that is performed (not read) by its creator, where the voice and rhythm, appearance and movement, and words all combine to create the experience. I wish I could have heard you speak.

Reading about you later in my life, I was amazed by all you had overcome and how tirelessly you worked for social reform. Truly you were a woman. I'd love to become half the woman you were.


Monday, April 22, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Shirley Jackson

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Shirley Jackson

Dear Ms. Jackson,

Hello darkness, my old friend! Any time I pick up one of your books or stories, I get this tingle just knowing that you're about to scare and disturb and thrill me again. Even for the books I've read repeatedly (The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are perennial favorites), the effect lingers.

Your stories are all the scarier for the realization that the monsters are not supernatural in nature, but are just human beings exercising ordinary cruelty. The monsters are us.

Your most famous work is probably the short story "The Lottery." Thanks to its inclusion in many textbooks, most American schoolchildren have a chance to read it in middle or high school.

For me, that story shone, shocking me during a year where most things I was assigned to read bored me silly. Such an unflinching look at what people will do to one another if they believe it will protect them from pain themselves.

The worldview in your stories is dark and unforgiving, but deeply affecting and thought-provoking.

Thank you,

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Jean Rhys

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Jean Rhys
Dear Ms. Rhys,

I've only read one of your books, but it was a doozy! Wide Sargasso Sea was the first book of its ilk I ever read: a book that stands as its own work of art, but which draws inspiration from another.

I've become a fan of the entire genre: I call these stories backdoor stories, because they slip behind the scenes of another story and reinterpret them.

I already loved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It still ranks among my favorite books.

But your book turned that book on its ear, exploring who Bertha Mason was before she became Rochester's dark secret. Brontë doesn't give much detail about Bertha, so she left you plenty of room to invent and you created a masterwork commentary on marriage, the roles of women, colonialism in the Caribbean, and so much more.

It was stunning story. Brilliantly insightful and moving. I only wish I could read it again for the first time, not knowing what was to come.


Friday, April 19, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery (I know, I'm cheating a little to use her for Q, but I don't have a favorite dead writer whose name starts with Q).

Dear Ms. Christie,

My mother gave me your books to read many years ago. I'd long been a fan of Nancy Drew, and she thought I might be ready for some more adult mysteries.

So I spent a summer working my way through your impressive catalog. I don't know if I read all 66 of your novels, but I made a good attempt! I was an equal opportunity fan, loving both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

I recently revisited your work when the new movie edition of Murder on the Orient Express was made. It was gorgeous, by the way--I bet you would have loved it! Even though I remembered that one well, it was still wonderful to watch the mystery unfold.

That was what I enjoyed in all your books: the chase. Not just the one on the page, but the one between me (the reader) and you (the writer). I'd try and try to guess what the twist was going to be, who the real murderer would turn out to be, or how they did it. And again and again, I'd be wrong.

But I never felt cheated. Sure, there were red herrings, but when the drawing room explanation finally came, the clues had been there all along. No information had been withheld; I just hadn't spotted the details that mattered. It was a kind of literary sleight of hand, and you were a master.

Thanks for the ride!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Dorothy Parker

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Dorothy Parker

Dear Ms. Parker,

I first came to admire you for your quick wit and unapologetic snark. People quote you all the time without knowing it's you they quote:

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.

I hate writing, I love having written. 

If you were writing today, you'd be a superstar on Twitter for your brief and expressive poniards.Your Constant Reader reviews are works of art in and of themselves, though I'm glad my own work never passed under your laser eyes. I'm not sure my skin is quite that thick yet!

Your short stories and poems capture the brave front in the face of disillusionment. I suspect your black humor was a coping mechanism for a lot of pain. Your suicide attempts showed that "Enough Rope" --the title of one of your poetry collections--was not just a joke. Your struggles were real and difficult, even when hidden behind a witty remark.

Once you moved on to Hollywood, you worked on so many amazing projects, writing for A Star is Born and The Little Foxes, bringing your sharp tongue into play on some very memorable dialogue. Your words in Bette Davis's mouth? Whew!

I didn't really know about your political life until recently, but you were never afraid to take a stand, even an unpopular one. The world needs more women like you.

Thanks for teaching me that it's okay not to be nice sometimes.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Octavia Butler

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Octavia Butler

Dear Ms. Butler,

I'm sorry that I didn't find you before you died. Yours was not a name I heard until I was older. 

Even though you had built a career by the time I was born, I didn't find you in the used book store where I bought all my science fiction and fantasy as a child and young woman. The shelves there featured lots of the "big names" of our shared genre, Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne: white guys, every one of them. I read those, and thought I knew what was out there. I missed so much!

Because I'm a white girl myself, and I lived in a place where there were very few people who weren't, it was a long time before I even knew that my reading had been restricted, that I had missed whole other canons of work. It's hard to see outside a box when you're in it, especially when you're young.

Sometime in my thirties, I began to hear your name. I'd see a list of "must reads" and you'd be on it. I was curious, but it was still a few more years until I actually read your work. I met a woman through my writing life who was a big fan of your work. That was a recommendation that bore weight: she didn't waste her time on books that were not of consequence, and she admired your work.

So I picked up Wild Seed. Turns out that was kind of a strange place to start. It's neither your first, nor your most famous book. But I loved it. Sweeping and epic in scale, following immortals Anyanwu and Doro across time, and featuring fascinating powers, I was drawn in immediately. The best parts, for me, were the parts where Anyanwu used her ability to become different animals. I felt each creature with her through your words.

After that I picked up Lilith's Brood, intrigued by the title. Lilith, I figured was going to be the Biblical, mythological woman, a figure I knew little about. She was a whisper on the wind for me. And brood. Such an interesting word, with its implications of breeding programs and chickens and large numbers of children and at the same time a kind of pondering thought, lingering over melancholy and disturbing topics. Turns out that you couldn't have picked a better title for your exploration of the nature of humanity and the implications of gender through the story of a woman who helps humankind survive, in a manner of speaking, through integration with alien species. So much to think about in that trilogy!

You're still on my reading list. My daughter was assigned Parable of the Sower at college this year, and she had a lot to say about it, so I think that will be next. I look forward to learning what else you have to teach me.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Anaïs Nin

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Anaïs Nin
Dear Ms. Nin,

I found your work in college, as many young women do.

Newly freed from my parents supervision and the censorship of high school libraries, where work of a sexual nature was banned if it ever even found a way onto the shelves at all, I was instantly fascinated by your frank and explicit writing about eroticism.

I read your Delta of Venus alongside Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn. The movie Henry and June came out during my college years, and cemented my interest in you, your life, and your work. You me a vocabulary for feelings that were new to me, and a glimpse into a bohemian experimenting sort of life I would not have the courage to live myself.

You were so sexy and so smart at the same time, and it was important for me to learn that a woman could be both of those things at once.

It wasn't all just about sex, though. You had such beautiful language, and in the midst of your stories, there were such gems of philosophy and psychology, such deep understandings of the motivations of human beings. Your journals were fascinating for their insights as well as for the life they shared.

Thank you for sharing your life with me. I'm so sorry it ended in pain. F*ck cancer.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley

Dear Ms. Shelley,

Your biography is a full and varied one full of adventure. You traveled so much, and held your own with some of the biggest name writers of your era. But the part that amazes me is that you did it all when you were still so young! You were just 21 when Frankenstein was published.

Given the impressive nature of your family, it shouldn't be a surprise that you were brilliant. You had better access to education than was usual for a woman of your era, and the variety of your reading fed your mind and allowed you to create one of the most memorable stories of all time. Frankenstein is so instilled in our cultural memory at this point, that we all know the story, even those who have never read it.

I have read it. Several times now. And each time I am horrified not by the creature or the experiment, but by the inhumanity of his treatment by his creator. This intelligent and sensitive side of your creature was lost in early interpretations of your book for stage and screen, but has made it into the mainstream in recent years.

You lived a full and daring life, loving and living as you wished, even if it meant you life was more difficult and you struggled for money and position. I wonder what you might have been if you had lived in another era, one less constrained by limited views of women's virtue and freedoms.

You are definitely one of my literary heroes, one I'd love to walk with, listening to your theories and ideas. You amaze me across centuries.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Madeleine L'Engle

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Madeleine L'Engle

Dear Ms. L'Engle,

I often hear that readers, especially young ones, need both "mirrors" and "windows" in the books they read. They need to see themselves in the stories, and they need a peek into other worlds, a chance to see what's possible outside the boxes they've been raised in. Your books were both of those for me, at the same time.  

A Wrinkle in Time,  A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Wind in the Door were among the first fantasy books I ever read. Images from these stories have stayed with me my entire life. Who could forget the three wise women Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit? Not to mention Aunt Beast and The Black Thing?

More important to me than the story itself though, was Meg Murry, the main character. At this point in my life, I had never encountered a heroine in book like Meg. She wasn't hero material. She wasn't the bravest, or smartest, or most beautiful. Unlike Nancy Drew, another favorite of mine at the time, it wasn't clear that she would overcome every obstacle from the outset. Meg struggled.

So far as she (and we the readers) knew, she was just a girl, and an awkward one at that, one who didn't have a lot of friends and struggled to control her anger sometimes. No one special. Not a chosen one. Just a girl.

So many of us grow up feeling like Meg: lonely, ostracized, judged. Sometimes that just adolescence taking potshots at our self confidence, but it doesn't matter if the situation is the objective truth. It's how it feels. And you knew how it felt to be that girl.

Thanks for making me feel seen just when I was feeling very invisible.


Friday, April 12, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Helen Keller

This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Helen Keller

Dear Ms. Keller,

I first heard of you when I was in second grade. We were learning about biography, and yours was one of the names on a list of people we could pick to write a research project about.

When I took the list home and asked my mom and dad about the people on it, I learned that you were deaf and blind, but you had become world famous as a writer and speaker. It was clear that my parents thought you were amazing, so I chose you for my project.

I wasn't really ready to read your autobiography yet, since I was only seven, so I read some children's books about you and watched the movie The Miracle Worker with my mom. The part of your story that struck me at the time was the part about the power of language. You'd always been a bright person full of ideas, but because illness had robbed you of language, you couldn't communicate. Once you learned how, the transformation was as good as any enchantment in a fairy tale.

Around this same time was when I decided for sure that I would be a teacher (and I'm a teacher today, so obviously the idea stuck!). I wanted to be that person who made that connection and difference for someone. Anne Sullivan is certainly an inspiration for the difference one person can make in the life of another.

Sometime, when I was older, I read your autobiographies, The Story of My Life and The World I Live In, as well as Teacher and some of your Journals. I came to admire you all the more for your deep thoughtfulness and your advocacy for the rights of others: women, workers, people with disabilities. You had such a way with words, and such strong opinions.

I admire you still today, for the courage of your convictions and your use of your fame to try and make a difference in the world. I hope someday the world rises to your vision of what it could be.