Summit

Four writing projects—that’s all I’ve ever finished. Self-imposed major projects with self-imposed deadlines for the sake of the right to call myself A WRITER.  The fourth being my first attempt at a novel. I finished.

In all honesty, I finished the major points of the story necessary to build the novel I had in mind. There are still line edits, plot polishing, and lord only knows what else to be done to actually make it THE NOVEL (it’s away with first readers right now). But the point in all this is to say, I finished what I set out to do. I am done with a lowercase d in a satisfactory amount of time. Not by the first self-imposed deadline, but within a time frame that I can live with.

If it sounds like I’m giving myself a lot of leeway here, it’s because I am. This is my eleventh draft of a story whose main character whispered her name to me 9 1/2 years ago. My first earnest attempt to turn a three-segment short story into a book started four years ago almost to this day. But frustrations pushed it back in a drawer. If I were to list those frustrations in a single post, I’d sound like a crazy person. So, I’ll spare us all that for now.

The image of that mountain with all the blue mist and mystery was taken by Stuart Bennett and shared on Unsplash. I nabbed it about two years ago and put it in a collection of images to stare at when thinking about the novel I was going to write … someday. If I ever figured out a title, and if I figured out what the main character really wanted, and if I was ever able to articulate what the story is about.

 … a story of grief, friendship, horror, love, home, and badassery, all told in Holly’s southern voice.

That’s a sentence I came up with yesterday. YESTERDAY. In an attempt to make a one-line pitch if ever asked what my story is about. People have asked—when I make mention that I’m writing a NOVEL, hey what’s it about—then I go on and embarrass myself by talking and waving my hands until those unfortunate people’s eyes glaze over.

In my collection of images I have one of an old mountain cabin that looks like it emerged from the land covered in age and ivy rather than being man made. There is also a big white Jeep Rubicon with fog lights and a wench and a lift kit. There is a man with broody brows, and the photograph of a Memphis office building with a mile-long view of the river.

There are maps of narrowing roads stretching across the state of Tennessee, of mountain passes in Afghanistan, and enough gun searches on Google to put me  on the ATF’s watch list. Not to mention a copper tipped brass cased forty-caliber S&W bullet in  my makeup bag—I’ve been carrying that around for a year now. Tangibles are important.

Writing a novel that contains people you adore is difficult. Like, spine crushingly heart wrenching, cold sweating difficult. And guess what I’ve discovered?

That’s not even the hard part.

 

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Up To Date Updates

Monday, January 22nd I made a trip to the ER that resulted in being admitted and kept in the hospital until the following Thursday. Being the impatient idiot that I’m famous for, I then rushed back to work on the 30th and ended up with a complication that left me on the couch until this past Saturday. I’m better now, but taking one more day at home before tiptoeing back to work tomorrow and hoping for the best. (I’ve only got one more vacation day left. Cross your fingers for me.)

Since being clear of the pain meds for a few days, I’ve been able to concentrate long enough to write an essay about what Dr. King’s movement means to me. You’ll find it here, along with a link to the unabridged version of the beautiful Letter from a Birmingham Jail. This is the first piece in a series I hope to write in honor of Black History Month, which will include an impressive list of women authors and activists I didn’t learn about during Black History Month in public school.

My work toward submitting individual pieces of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables, and No Voice of Her Own to lit mags has been delayed for obvious reasons, but I intend to pick that back up today. There are still some mid-February deadlines I can make.

Anyway, those are the updates. I’m alive and writing. Hope you’re the same. Go read my essay.

Completion of a Chapbook in a Mad Messy Dash: It’s Cold Outside, but I Have Coffee, a Lap Blanket, Fuzzy Socks, and Internet

By 5 a.m. it was confirmed that outdoor activities, such as driving to work, were out of the question for me. I sulked for about five minutes, then poured coffee and got on with completing the latest editing of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables to send back into the world.

Since embracing the fact that I want to be a writer (a poet, an essayist, a novelist …) I’ve devoured everything at hand written by writers about writing. And still, deliberately organized process fascinates me. Eludes me. Stumps me. While editing my pet project (again) this morning, and indulging in way too much coffee, I got distracted by the realization that I’m a mess. I approach writing the same way I approach everything else—swinging on the latest mood swing.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Natalie Goldberg, to name two of my favorites, aren’t really as strict as some others concerning the methods followed in completing a project. However, they both describe a certain dedication, a recognition of the necessity for daily work. Butt in the seat, regularly. That’s how they both say insight, inspiration, and good work finds them—when their butts are in the seat, and pens are in their hands. Many other writers go into great detail about putting together the project with the help of outlines, plotting out the format long before sitting down to tackle actually filling in the pages.

Their dedication to work structure and method are astounding. I can’t get a handle on it. I’m jealous. Similarly, I have several relatives and friends who insist on cleaning their kitchens immediately after dinner, and making their beds every single morning before leaving for work. They do it automatically years after embracing it’s the thing to do, the thing that makes the rest of their day go smoothly. I remain puzzled by the faithful frequency of these accomplishments. I’ve tried, promise. I’ve even written out schedules and set reminders on my phone. Pfft.

Truth is, I crave structure. I recognize that it would greatly improve my life. But.

Ramshackle  was my very first finished project. I decided I wanted to be a writer in 2009, the original version of this poetry collection was submitted to a contest in 2015. Total honesty? The only reason that collection got completed and submitted was because I got laid off from work and new I’d be unemployed for several months, so I had a talk with myself and said get over yourself, set a schedule, get it done in thirty days. And I did. The collection was shortlisted for a book award two months later.

It was a desperate situation. I got the work done, then rested on my laurels for two years before trying to send it out again. Another desperate situation arose. This time, a panic attack after realizing I’m an idiot. Back in 2015, with at least eight hours a day free to work on nothing but the poetry, was the first and last glint of structure I’ve experienced. I showered, walked the dog, ate breakfast, and put my butt in the seat every day by 8 a.m. Three weeks in, I looked like a demented hoarder half buried in printer paper and cigarette ashes. The structure kind of got set fire to by the last days of that month, and I was nutcase.

That version was fifty pages. The second, forty-eight, with a new title. The third is down to thirty pages. Between the 2017 and 2018 versions, I’ve spent seven months just THINKING about the changes. Refusing to allow myself to pen anything to paper. When not thinking it out, I would read pieces aloud to see which flowed into the next, and would mentally cut what didn’t work. I set myself a deadline for January 15th, and HEY! one of the mags I had in mind sent out notice their deadline was extended until the 16th. (I’m thinking that snow day turned out to be just for me.)

Anyway. Once I sat down with my coffee this morning, first thing apparent was two bad decisions during my thinking time. Over the weekend I’d typed out the table of contents and sipping my first cup of coffee I could clearly see three pieces were all wrong. I made the changes, polished up the title page, and OMG I almost forgot to edit the table of contents! Imagine if I hadn’t noticed that before submitting. How embarrassing!

Five cups in, I had the chapbook completed, read through two more times, then raced over to Submittable. An hour later, I had three individual pieces in another document to send to another lit mag. All in all, I did about six hours work between Saturday and today. Maybe a record for me, if you don’t count the seven months of thinking.

Is that the worst process you’ve ever heard of or what?

Will I ever get better? More productive? Drink less coffee? I don’t know. Despite this being my quickest and possibly finest finished project (the single project that is my total life’s work thus far), it was stressful. Messy.

I have another chapbook in the works, fifteen poems that need to be twenty-five poems. Cento, actually. And I know I’m in trouble because I keep getting distracted from finishing it. The idea for this particular project has been stewing around my life for three years now. THREE YEARS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Exploration of Richard Wilbur’s Work And How Poetry Is An Inevitable Expression Of Religious Assertions, Part One

We have lost a lot of greats since 2016. The most recent great who touched my poet’s soul and was among my list of favorite writers left us on October 14th. Upon hearing the news, I reached for the one book of his I own. Later on, I remembered this—a piece written for a poetry assignment back in 2014. Apparently Part Two is still in a notebook somewhere. If you haven’t yet read the poem referenced below, I encourage you to do so.

 

In a 1968 interview, Richard Wilbur said:

 … that poetry is essentially religious in its direction. I know a lot of people, poets, who are not consciously religious, but find themselves forever compromised by their habit of asserting the relevance of all things to each other. A poetry being a kind of truth-telling (it’s pretty hard to lie in poetry), I think that these people must be making, whether they like it or not, what are ultimately religious assertions.

Being a student of poetry, and still an overenthusiastic one if not wholly adequate, this is first what struck home for me. Early on, I developed the expectation of poetry to reveal sacred secrets—I believe poetry’s purpose is to demonstrate, celebrate, and even to evoke individual spiritual awakening. There is no need for a poet to sit down with that expectation from his/her work … it will happen.

As Wilbur touches on in this brief talk, poetry is a truth telling. A writer sits down with words and delves into their center … the writer mines a multitude of meanings and sensual impact and emotive qualities of each word, then combinations of those words in phrases, then the metaphorical weight of those phrases in relation to what is going on in that writer’s life, or memory, or some intellectual or emotional preoccupation.

Human beings simply cannot help “their habit of asserting the relevance of all things to each other”, and creative humans do this with their art. We categorize, define and redefine, poke and prod until the investigation of self becomes spiritual epiphany—the pursuit of language becomes the pursuit of truth, and the pursuit of truth always leads to the revelation of a universe so much greater than ourselves, then somehow, that vast universe turns back on itself to acknowledge the sovereignty of “I”, “me”, “we” .

We simultaneously categorize ourselves as mere human and a Creator’s holy vessels of inspired messages. We are dust and we are ALL. We are immortal and mortal. We are the very language that Earth and Heaven speak and, therefore, both will listen. Of course not every poem will move every reader to the ultimate awakening. Readers are as individual as the writers they read. Real beauty is discovered when one individual stumbles upon the other.

I found Mr. Wilbur quite by accident, running the opposite direction of anything that remotely resembled formalism; I tripped over him and all his billowing, breathless colors confined in the blank verse “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World”. The narrator of this poem, I believe, is caught for a while in that half-dream state we have all experienced—that airy, floating, borderless place where we can observe in quiet astonishment as Heaven flutters among the most mundane Earthly things.

In these precious few moments the narrator saw souls (rather, representations of the human spirit) celebrating the freedom of being loosed from the weight of sinful desire, responsibility of labor, and that all-too human thing, worry. Those precious few moments end with the man who, irreparably human, yawning and waking, makes his Earthly preoccupations clear with a demand for order according to those preoccupations, and so “the soul descends once more in bitter love”.

My own definitions of the words “soul” (the very essence of our humanness that does indeed embody desire, intellect, and will; the very thing that tethers us to this world) and “spirit” (that bit of sovereignty imparted by God that may very well long to be free of the body and soul to reunite with the Creator) defy Mr. Wilbur’s usage. Nonetheless, his depiction of the “soul” does not hinder my enjoyment and understanding of this outstanding poem. In fact, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” does it all for my poet soul, and was the first to reveal that spiritual epiphany I had so long desired from poetry.

It is in Mr. Wilbur’s works that I am finally free to admire the simultaneous expression of ecstasy and discipline, of humanity and sovereignty.

 

 

RIP, Mr. Wilbur. Thank you for your words.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Another Brief Project?

The ten days of letter writing did something for my writer soul. I started with no idea of how long it would last, no goals or list of names at hand. For now, it feels complete. And, I’m pleased to say, a complete tiny body of work I look forward to reading over and over again.

I hesitate to deliberately begin another project … my favorites are always those ideas that come out of nowhere. It was reading Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty that helped along the idea to write letters. It was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary that inspired me to begin my own. And it was recalling a lighthearted old middle school assignment that inspired me to write cento and found poetry. I still indulge in the latter two quite often. Sometimes, reading a news article will inspire me to do research on particular topic. Or just start ranting.

For now, this very moment, I’ll concentrate on getting Ramshackle Houses out into the world (or at least a few literary contests). The month of June is already slotted for finishing up my first honest-to-goodness chapbook (of cento poetry) … maybe the next will be all love letter poems?

On Studying And Writing

Have y’all discovered Coursera? FREE college courses! Unless you’d like to earn an official certificate of completion, then the prices vary. I’ve participated in ModPo once — which was beyond terrific — and I’d love to do it again. Meanwhile, I have signed up for two other classes: Sharpened Visions (A Poetry Workshop), and The American South (It’s Stories, Music, and Art). I’m so excited.

When I’m studying poetry, I’m writing poetry. Why this has become my truth, I don’t know, but it’s a fact. Typically, after completing a course or a new book, I will produce poems (and a large slush pile) for about a month. Then pfft. Studying other genres doesn’t result in the same. When immersed in fiction or essay I gather ideas like a mad bee after pollen, but I don’t typically write profusely until weeks or months later.

Is that odd? Do y’all find that studying helps you produce?

 

Free Time: A Blog Post About Looking For Writing Jobs

So, there’s this thing called The Pitch. Somewhat like a query letter, only not. I get the impression that magazines have been requiring The Pitch for quite some time, even if it is a new-to-me phrase. I’ve had my head in the sand a while, apparently.

Or, maybe I have spent an inordinately small amount of time making earnest searches for writing work. Maybe that’s it. As it happens, there are magazines out there with virtual ESSAYS WANTED signs. How about that? I feel kind of silly right now.

Today marks my first step toward those virtual ESSAYS WANTED signs. I have spent the last few hours staring at them, pondering the very necessary Pitch that I must compose for the chance to have an editor read me. Or, at least, read my Pitch. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to get a response. To get a positive response. Tingly?

The easiest to begin with (and shouldn’t I start with the easiest?) would be the thin stack of personal essays tucked into the middle desk drawer. Memoir pieces, really. Now all I have to worry about is how to write a convincing Pitch: Read all about me, me, and me!

Reckon that would work?

Tell me what you know.

Name That Project – A Blog Post Complete With A Request For Reader Participation At The End

WordPress stats informs me that I have published eighty-nine posts here on generationKathy. Not surprisingly, at least sixty of those posts have been about my attempts at writing.

During February I alternately chirped with delight and whined like an irritable toddler about compiling my first poetry collection intended for submission. During March I mostly bitched and whined about the difficulties of trying to carry out the goal of revising old short stories with the intention to put them all into a collection — the former has been shortlisted for an award, the latter has been returned to the old slush pile.

Nowadays my early morning hours are spent shuffling feverishly through job listings and sending off copies of my recently revised resume rather than working diligently at writing (as I did throughout February).  Almost three months of unemployment have allowed me the luxury of dedicating upwards of thirty hours a week to writing. As I’m counting my blessings, I’m also noticing there are less and less zeros in the bank account. I need a job.

Even so, now that I’ve finished my coffee and breakfast, and applied for two more jobs (that’s six since last Thursday), I can’t help but think it would be silly to waste anymore time on NOT WRITING. Until I start getting interview offers, I need to make use of this time. Right? Right. So, it’s time to start brainstorming for new projects. Three, in fact.

1. Submit individual and small groups of poems to at least three online publications.

2. Begin organizing a new chapbook for submission by July.

3. Choose a theme (or interrelated themes) for a framework on which to build a collection of cento poetry.

Each of these goals present problems, but the most  prevalent (at the moment) is my complete lack of knowledge in submitting cento poetry for publication. I would think that it would be required to make an official request to include a previously published author’s work in my own, but I’ve no idea how to proceed. Although many cento collections are mentioned online, I cannot find any solid information on exactly what procedure the publisher followed in order to not infringe upon original rights. Am I on the wrong track here? Where can I find answers?

Since the need to create such a collection is absolutely crawling beneath my skin, I can only trust (for now) that answers to all my questions will arise. I’ve got to get to work on this thing! It’s a must. Possible themes include the usual suspects: poetry, literary history, personal history, nature, relationships, and so on.  I am, however, hoping that inspiration will strike and light me up with more vibrant thematic ideas. Meanwhile, just the thought of conducting research through piles of poetry books gives me happy shivers.

As for #2 on my list, July is not set in stone, but I would be seriously devastated if another chapbook isn’t completed and submitted by year’s end.

So, there’s my tangled thoughts, unwound and splayed on the page for now. Care to discuss your own organization process when putting together a new project? Or three?

Writing Around Doses Of Coffee And Sleep — An Actual Blog Post

My renewed obsession with cento poetry is truly an obsession.

Obsession: an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.

Early in the month, I became so enthralled with this form again, even the April prompts for Brigit’s Flame seemed to flow perfectly with the emerging intent to create a collection solely dedicated to ‘patchworking’ together the words of great poets to create a story in verse. Working within the Act and Scene structure (not demanded by the writing prompt, only offered up for interpretation) has taken me to incredible new levels of personal challenge. Challenge! has been missing in my writing life for a while. I’m a challenge junkie, and withdrawals from such are sickening and painful.

Fiction was challenging me in all the wrong ways… I can’t yet articulate precisely what problems arose to bring my fiction writing goals to a screeching halt. Perhaps I may never gain the words to describe how inadequate I felt while trying to transfer the mental images surrounding, and passionate voices pouring from the fictional characters I love so much. The whole experience became so frustrating, so stifling, that I had to put all that work away … for a while. Who knows how long?

Once the twists and turns of cento were reintroduced to me, I did realize that fiction writing was presenting all the wrong challenges — I was working within the confines of an old vision, rather than a new. There was no room for reinterpretation, no vibrancy. Luckily, I suppose, the second I turned away from the story boards and piles of crumpled papers, there was the cento, vibrant and absolutely shimmering with limitless possibilities.

I haven’t yet sat down to examine the bizarre reality that I am indeed working within a form that demands the use of old works — many times read, interpreted, critiqued — works embody very specific thought processes and authoritative intent, and I am more comfortable with puzzling out and piecing together an entirely different narrative from these old works than I am with any other writing prospects just now. Abstract much?

I’ll think about all that later. Maybe.

All I know for certain — because it’s all I can really think about lately — is that a vision has taken over. A vision that is slowly, steadily becoming clearer and clearer, the more I read of great works that pushed the boundaries of 19th and 20th century poetic tradition. I read through and mine out lines from the likes of Eliot and Rich, and lesser known but brilliant Beat poets, and discover the fragments of the story I want to tell.

Act I and Act II are my contributions to the ongoing April contest for Brigit’s Flame, as well as my initial attempt to create something extremely different from any poetry project I have ever undertaken. Tell me what you think of the persona, the narration, the emerging story. Do you find it too abstract to gain an image of the narrator? Or, is it interesting enough to guess at where it all might end?