Last year, the Dogpatch *forced* Mike Allegra to draw the cutest salamander, named Sully, for Laurel’s poetry gig. What can we squeeze outta him this year? Hmmm? Go ahead, enter the competition. You know you want to….
Author Archives: Jilanne Hoffmann
This poem came to me through Marcy Erb (http://illustratedpoetry.com/2015/04/14/john-coltrane-poem/), a poet/illustrator. The rhythm and imagery is amazing. Happy National Poetry Month!
It’s official. This Winter Semester, I’ll be teaching a course which has never before been offered at UVM. A course in Jazz Poetry.
It’s been so much fun pulling together a syllabus for this one. In the past months I’ve not only reencountered poems that I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve also discovered a slew of new pieces (particularly those in live readings). I’ve just recently hammered out the course’s time-line, which should look something like this:
In the first classes, we’re going to examine some of the less sympathetic, and even racist, poetry of the 1920s. Then we’ll quickly shift to look at some of the more discerning writers like Langston Hughes. We’ll spend some time reading and listening to the responses of a few poets associated with the Beat movement (Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Kenneth Rexroth). Then the course will culminate in some of the…
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The flickering headlamps halfway up the wall of El Capitan caught our attention as we stopped to look at the full moon shining across a meadow in Yosemite Valley. It was Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, and the climbers appeared to have covered about a third of the 3,000 foot wall since they started eight days ago.
If you haven’t been following the story in the New York Times, two climbers have been planning and practicing the free climb ascent of El Capitan for the past ten+ years. This is now the real thing. If you’d like a better perspective of the size of this monolith and their undertaking, the NYTimes article provides a terrifying composite image showing the climbers on the wall.
Anyone see a parallel between this ascent and writing a book? Our advantage over climbers?
We can’t see the size of the wall in front of us.
We’ve planned and practiced and tried and failed on numerous attempts. We’ve achieved smaller goals. We’ve said that if we don’t make it this time, there won’t be another. We’ve faced odds that would make a grizzly bear shudder, and still we are on that wall, refusing to give up. OK, so maybe we’re not facing death should we make mistakes with our climbing harnesses. For we climb WITHOUT harnesses.
We’ve got shredded fingers reminiscent of carcasses put through the meat grinder. We’re swaying in gusty winds. We’re facing the uncertainty of our uncertainties in the blackness of bitter, star-filled skies.
The night we saw the climbers, the moon underscored just how insignificant their goal was to the universe.
But it was important to THEM.
So that’s what I take away from this effort. A refusal to give up. A determination to do something that leaves others shaking their heads in disbelief.
Why climb the wall? Because it’s important to ME. When it’s no longer important, I’ll stop.
Until that happens, you can find me taping my fingers, casting a shadow, tapping away, and laughing at the man in the moon and his distorted sense of reality.
That’s MY new year’s resolution.
Got libations? Survival gear, including ibuprofen and rehydration tablets?
Ready. Set. Let it shake!!!!!
…900 authors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S., and the world.
Friday marks the 15th anniversary of Litquake, the best literary festival on the Left Coast. Sell-out shows include “The Best of Craigslist,” where writers give dramatic readings of found literature culled from REAL posts on Craigslist. I’ve got tickets.
I’ll also be at “Drivel,” where some rather famous writers read some of their less-than-stellar prose.
Who could resist?
Interested in poetry? Try “A Flight of Poets” or maybe “Dark and Stormy: Contemporary Swedish Poetry.”
Adventure travel? “Into the Wilderness” or “Bicycle book tours,” depending on what your idea of adventure and travel really is.
Sci-fi? Try “Into Tomorrow.”
Something from the heart? Try “Tales of Love and Longing,” “Hot Flash Fiction,” or “Family Secrets.”
Something edgy? Try “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Need to feed you inner chef? Try “Sausages and Syrah.”
The opening night party on Friday, October 10, will be celebrated quinceañera-style. Think pink taffeta and a shot or two of tequila. Oh, and don’t forget your tiara.
On the last night, October 18, the world’s largest Lit Crawl commences, 101 events in three hours.
See you there!
Just returned from the annual August tour de famille on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Well, that’s not really true. We’ve been back since August 26. Really late in the evening on August 25, but our keys were with my husband, and he wasn’t with us. So we arrived at baggage claim at SFO only to realize that it was midnight, and we didn’t have keys to our humble abode.
This event symbolized our August. But now that we’re back, what is my excuse for being late to the post?
Overcommitment. You know you’re overcommitted when you can’t recall what you’re supposed to do next because there are too many things competing for “next.” And overcommitment stalls my forward movement.
I’m working on picture book fiction and nonfiction and literary short stories in addition to giving my novel-in-training some gas. I’ve got two kidlit writing groups in addition to the dogs at the patch. I’m taking a nonfiction picture book writing class where I’m supposed to have a first draft to critique in two weeks. But I just discovered last night that my topic is too complex (or at least the way I’ve envisioned it right now) to move forward, so I spent the evening last night looking for a new subject. When I originally signed up for the class, I was going to do a biography, but it turned out that the living person I want to write a biography about is wary of saying “yes.” Sooooo, how many times can I go back to the drawing board?
And it’s a new school year with many library liaison activities, including planning for an author visit, creating a new library “wish list,” and getting new library volunteers up to speed on working with classes.
And new afterschool activities every night of the week. And….I’m supposed to be volunteering for Litquake and visiting my new writing group that meets North of SF.
And then there was the unexpected death of my mother-in-law the night of my father-in-law’s memorial in mid-August that continues to haunt me. I’m not sure if haunt is the right word, unless an intermittent replay of the middle-of-the night knock on the window and subsequent events qualifies. It does explain why my husband wasn’t with us when we returned without keys. He (the guy with the keys) took a side trip to his parents’ home to get things in order.
But I’m a writer, right? And I’m supposed to be getting something done. But at the moment, I’m not doing anything well. Getting anything finished, polished. I run from one thing to the next, often without making a single edit. Just enough time to get started before I’ve got to move on to something else.
The center cannot hold. And I wonder if there are writers out there who work best like this? If there are, I wish I were one of them. But I am not, and I have to make some changes. I hope everyone else out there is being more productive than I am right now.
Just returned from my writing retreat at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
The first panel (How Plot Works) discussed why literary fiction bores readers. Who wants to spend all that time in a character’s head if nothing’s going to happen? Say what?! Maybe they have a point.
So the panel chatted about how to keep readers turning the pages:
- Christina Meldrum, a former lawyer, creates tension through structure. She builds the first half of a story bell curve where the clues get more important to the story the closer she gets to the top. Something life-changing then happens at the apex.
- Christian Kiefer does not outline or have any idea about what’s going to happen in his stories. But a writer can’t expect the reader to care more about the MC’s life than the MC does, so he does make sure his characters are on fire for something. It’s even better if there are multiple fires to complicate the story.
- Janet Fitch said “you’ve gotta tie the girl to the tracks.” Don’t play the reader out so much that they lose interest. In scene, show character traits and then put pressure on those traits. The MC must let go of one or more traits while acquiring others to make a necessary life change.
- Michael Jaime-Becerra uses positive tension (information that is doled out to the reader logically) instead of negative tension (information that is withheld from the reader unfairly). “The Swimmer” by John Cheever is an example of brilliantly withheld information.
- Fitch added that suspense is fair, surprise is a trick. Build suspense.
- Meldrum observed that the power of perspective allows the writer to give limited information. Humans are fallible, so the narrator can’t know everything, especially about themselves.
They finished by discussing magic: how endings must be both inevitable and surprising. Sadly, writers can’t force that Eureka!” So keep your butt in the chair, keep plottin’ away, and run with it when inspiration strikes. Oh, and don’t let your readers fall asleep.
Christina Meldrum is the author of Amaryllis in Blueberry and Madapple.
Christian Kiefer is the author of The Infinite Tides.
Janet Fitch is the author of Paint It Black and White Oleander.
Michael Jaime-Becerra is the author of This Time Tomorrow and Every Night is Ladies’ Night.
Hello Dogpatchers! I just read this blog post by an editor/writer from a group called Write on Mamas. They are professional writers (and those just beginning their writing journey) in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. I think the post contains some valuable insights about “beautiful writing” and what the editor learned while shepherding the group’s first anthology into publication.
So often, a piece can be beautifully written (crafted) but feel lacking. A loooooo-n-g time ago, I took a poetry workshop and spent a great portion of the time discussing whether certain poems had “duende.” Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the word:
Duende or tener duende (“having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco.  The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the duende, a fairy or goblin-like creature in Spanish mythology.
I think this is sometimes the missing element in what would otherwise be called “beautiful writing.” So here’s hoping you are all out there inviting that little fairy goblin into your work.
Link to the blog post:
Write on Mamas’ new anthology: