Supernatural Tanka

Recently, I saw a call-out for poetry based on the TV show Supernatural. Given that I am a fan of the Winchester brothers, I thought I’d try my hand at penning a few. Sadly, haiku were not eligible for this project, since the poems had to be at least five lines. (You can read some of my Supernatural haiku here.) So, I decided to write tanka (or, at least, modified tanka). Two of my poems are still under consideration for this book  – yay! – so I thought I’d post my rejected poems here. Only, let’s not call them rejected. How about under-appreciated?

ANOTHER DAY

beside a devil’s trap
painted with blood sigils
dusted in rock salt
the Winchester brothers
survive
and endure

FOR DEAN

If I could
I would bake you
a lattice-topped cherry pie –
pit-free, sweet, with no lingering aftertaste –
just the safety and comfort of home.

Have you written poetry based on a favorite book or TV show? Let me know in the comments!

Ten Signs You Were Raised in the Desert

 A few years ago, I saw a call for haiku about the desert experience. Having been raised in California and Utah, I was eager to submit to this anthology. My poem appears in Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga (Dos Gatos Press, 2013):

thermals rising
all across the valley
prayers for rain

When I was working on the submission, I found myself slipping back into my childhood and I wrote up this list. If you are also a desert flower, I’m sure you’ll relate. 

Ten signs you were raised in the desert:

1) You don’t own a raincoat or umbrella, or if you do, you bought them for a special occasion.

2) When you step out of the shower, you expect to be dry before your hand hits the bath towel. Sometimes, you don’t even use a towel.

3) There was a cactus in your yard when you were growing up, or you knew someone who grew them.

4) Your mother worried that you would fall into the cactus and poke your eye out.

5) If you hear the weather forecast calling for any chance of rain, you expect to get damp, but never drenched.

6) You’ve lived through several rounds of water rationing.

7) It seems weird when servers bring out water at a restaurant without anyone asking for it.

8) You can tell the difference between smoke from a wildfire versus a fireplace by smell alone.

9) You’ve been evacuated during a wildfire or know someone who has. 

10) Every place in the U.S. east of Colorado looks too green.

If you can relate, like this post & share it! 

Evolution of the Poem: at the barre …

pia04937orig1Recently, I was combing through old poetry, and ran across an early draft of my scifaiku poem “at the barre …”, complete with a list of markets that had rejected it.

Now, I love the completed version of this poem, which reads:

at the barre
the graceful arms
of a spiral galaxy

— first appeared in Rattle‘s Issue 49, Fall 2015, Tribute to Scientists

And I was excited when this scifaiku won an award, placing second in the 2016 Dwarf Stars Award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

But the poem didn’t start out that way. In fact, the early versions were downright terrible.

My inspiration for this poem came from my daughter, who was taking dance class at the time. One of the ballet positions – fourth, if I’m remembering correctly – had one arm curved over her head and the other curled around her front. She reminded me of a spiral galaxy.

So, I began to research spiral galaxies, and discovered that their arm positions determine whether they are classified as spiral galaxies or barred spiral galaxies. The shape that reminded me most of my daughter was barred – an SBc.

I thought this was a nifty comparison, and conjured a row of little galaxies standing in front of a ballet barre. Such a lovely image should be easy to put into words, no?

This is an early draft of my poem (yes, I actually sent this out):

spiral galaxies —
intergalactic dance troupe
in “b” position

Um, yeah. It’s my poem, and it doesn’t even make sense to me.

But I knew I liked the concept, so I hung in there and kept editing. Barre was a lovely word to use because it both evoked the ballet and gave a nod to barred spiral galaxies. Once I put that word in there, I could take out the line about “b” position (the “b” stood for barred anyway), and I didn’t need to use the word dance. Elimating that clunky verbiage allowed the poem to flow from there.

So, please, my poet friends, hang on to your poems that speak to you, even if they start out rough. Haiku or scifaiku, in particular, can be deceptively tricky to write. Some short poems practically write themselves, but not this one. “At the barre …” needed distance, perspective, and research to come together.

Photo credit: That’s spiral galaxy Messier 81 above, as imaged by NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Four Ways to Outwit Writer’s Block

The key to outwitting writer’s block is to attack when its back is turned. Ironically, when you lull yourself into a safe place in which you don’t expect to produce writing of value, you will make a breakthrough.

How do you accomplish this? It helps to know why you’re stuck. Here are four common types of writer’s block and ways to get around them:

1) You can’t write out of fear of failure.

There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. Shouldn’t writers be able to produce verbiage 24/7? Don’t worry; this happens to everyone.

Write in a different genre, try a new poetic form, scribble something just for fun. Give yourself permission to take your writing less seriously.

As an undergraduate, my professor stressed the importance of long, narrative poems. I became so obsessed with literary quality that I couldn’t write! I didn’t publish any new poetry for nearly ten years.

Instead, I switched to working on creative nonfiction and magazine articles. I started a family-friendly science blog. While researching topics for my blog, I stumbled onto scifaiku – a curious and oddly specific poetic form. Before my conscious mind could take over – and remind me that I couldn’t write poetry any more – I began to crank out scifaiku. It was so wildly different from narrative free verse that it slipped past my mental filters. That was eight years ago, and I am now a published short-form poet, with awards for both haiku and scifaiku.

2) You can’t write because you don’t know where to begin. You have too many ideas!

The best way to escape this block is to write outside of your comfort zone. Tailor your work to a specific market. Search for “poetry contest” or “fiction contest” on Twitter and hit up calls for submissions in places like NewPages.

I made my first speculative flash fiction sale (apart from microfiction) to Mad Scientist Journal, a publication that seeks stories about – you guessed it – mad scientists. I wrote about a sweat sock researcher who got arrested for hiding in a communal dryer. Quirky? Sure. But it helped me to get past my writer’s block AND I made a sale.

3) You’re out of ideas.

Take a writing break. Don’t write anything – not even a shopping list – for a few days. Muses hate to be ignored. Similar to not chasing after a promising date, running will scare your muse away. Ignoring them has a way of making them return to woo you with flowery words.

4) Your writing career has suffered a setback that causes you to doubt yourself.

If this is your situation, you have my sympathies. Writing is a solitary business and nothing is harder than facing a word shortage when you have doubts about your ability to produce quality work.

If steps 1-3 fail, start another creative endeavor, one entirely outside the field of writing.

In 2015, I finally broke into a paying poetry market that I had been trying to crack for months. But by the time my work was set for publication, the editor was embroiled in controversy and some poets boycotted the journal. I found the whole situation so uncomfortable that I couldn’t write poetry. Again!

So, I turned to crafting. Instead of writing small poems, I made tiny wreaths, hanging adornments instead of adjectives. It took a few months – and over 100 ornaments – but finally, the shock wore off and the lure of writing called again. Only now, I also have to keep track of an Etsy shop too!

Do you have a technique for outwitting writer’s block? Let’s talk about it. Tell me in the comments or tag me on Twitter (@MamaJoules).

Writing in the Desert

I don’t know how it is for you on your writing journey, but I have blank periods of time where words elude me. I don’t mean that my writing is trite or banal; I mean, the words don’t come at all. It’s like they’ve migrated to a tropical climate and left me in the throes of a dull, gray winter.

I’ve tried a few techniques for getting away from writer’s block. What seems to work best for me is switching my focus from one type of writing to the next. When poetry evades me, I write creative nonfiction. If fiction is challenging, I try magazine articles. Generally, this has served me well. 

However, last summer I got burned out on creative writing in general. You can see that reflected in this blog – I quit writing much of anything. Largely, this had to do with my disillusionment with the poetry community. It seemed like every time I turned around, there were accusations – some well-founded – of sexism, racism, and cultural appropriation. As a community, these discussions are vital. They serve to further understanding among groups if we actually take the time to listen to each other. But as an individual poet, I found it disenheartening that there was such an undercurrent of exclusion and unhappiness in my happy place. I like to believe that poetry is this magical, mystical playground where we all explore words together and seek a greater awareness of life. Sadly, this is quite an idealistic view.

Disillusioned, I quit writing. And then the words packed up their baggage and left, leaving me feeling even emptier than before. I’ve spent the past six months crafting instead. It’s not the same. I still yearn to write.

Many years ago, I belonged to a small community of faith. We were a little group that met weekly to encourage one another on our journey with God. One of our members referred to these times of existential crisis as the desert portion of our journey. Believing in God is easy when we are happy and things are going well. But our faith is challenged during times of pain or struggle.

I see a similar parallel with writing. Every time I lose touch with my ability to write, I feel a desperate panic. And I am always greatly relieved and comforted when the words return.

How do you handle the desert days of your writing life? Do you write your way through them, trusting that if you prime the pump, the words will come? Or do you turn to other creative endeavors to get you through the bleak times?

Keeping it Real

I have a confession to make. I’ve been following the reality train wreck that is True Tori. I’m not going to provide any links here – that televised fiasco doesn’t need any more promotion. Either Tori Spelling and her husband are going through an actual marital crisis and have decided to document their troubles in real time, or, more disturbing, they’ve invented a marital crisis to milk on reality TV. Either way, the idea that their children are living through this messy, murky, very public pseudo-reality is highly disturbing to me.

However, as a stay-at-home mom and writer, I have some sympathy for Tori. A couple of years ago, I wrote a weekly green living column for a local online newspaper. During the school year, with my youngest in preschool a few hours a week, the job didn’t conflict much with my mommy duties. But during the summer, with three kids under twelve to herd and a weekly column to write, I was swamped. I found myself looking for any way to combine my two jobs. Could I interview the invasive species sculpture artists that I bumped into while taking the kids to the local butterfly garden? (Yes. You can read that column here.)

My kids and I did a lot of fun activities together that summer, but they weren’t happy about it.

“It’s like you were home, but you weren’t really there,” my older boy observed.

Ouch.

I have the utmost respect for working moms. And having been a stay-at-home mom, I know what a difficult and isolating job it can be. Women who successfully combine the two are amazing.

I was not amazing. I couldn’t even handle a part-time job mixed with full-time parenting.

And so I wonder, as I watch Tori Spelling flail and founder, if she’s completely lost the line between work and home. Is she wreaking havoc in her life for the sole purpose of selling her story? Has selling reality become more important than what is actually real?

I can see how it can happen. And I was lucky – I wasn’t in very deep, just writing on nice, happy topics that weren’t personally damaging to my family. But that experience still left me wary of writing about myself.

My new rule of thumb is that I can write non-fiction, but only after it’s happened. I’m not going to warp reality in order to write about it unless I can do so in a way that doesn’t involve my kids.

How do you keep your writing life from negatively impacting yourself and your family? Do you have any writing rules to keep you grounded?

Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

What it Takes to be a Real Writer

As part of my quest to branch out from poetry to short fiction, I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction. If you like to read short, speculative pieces, I highly recommend joining their mailing list.

However, despite close and careful study, I haven’t yet cracked DSF as a writer. So I usually read the authors’ notes after each piece, curious about those who have broken through. Recently, I saw a story by James S. Dorr, a name familiar to me because of his involvement with science fiction poetry.

My thought upon reading the man’s name was, “Oh, I’ve heard of him. He’s a real writer.”

And then I stopped. I sat there, dumbfounded. “Wow. Did I really just think that?”

Because the implication here is obvious: at a subconscious level, I don’t see myself as a writer. Not a real one, anyway.

How is this possible?

For eight years, I wrote government reports professionally. I penned a weekly green living newspaper column for a year. My poetry has been published internationally. My work can be found in anthologies. I’ve even won writing awards.

None of that matters to my subconscious, apparently. I still don’t qualify.

Is it because I write fan-fiction? Because I haven’t published a book (even though I’ve been included in a few)? Because I can’t pay the bills with my words? Because I’m desperately insecure and needy?

What is it going to take to convince myself that I am a real writer? That all of us who pick up a pen or tap on our iPads with the intent to communicate are real writers?

Real writers write. Period. That’s it. There are no other qualifications for entry.

Now, if I could just convince myself of that …

(Clearly, I need coffee. Real writers sit in coffee shops, right?)

P.S. BTW, my congrats and a hat tip to James S. Dorr. My subconscious says that you have arrived. 😉

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