We Should Do Something

Hello from the Dogpatch. In December 2006, Dogpatcher Laurel Leigh’s 21-year-old nephew was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. Below is an excerpt from the book-length memoir Laurel is writing about the events, along with our comments on the manuscript. As always, your comments are appreciated.

anthony inmate pic

He never gets angry at me for saying I’ll do things that I don’t do, or for not writing very often anymore, or forgetting to send a book he asked for. I’m one of the few people on the outs as he calls it who bother with him at all, so he can’t afford to get angry with me for fear of pissing me off. How hard must that be, to ask and ask and then have to be content with the fourth or fifth that comes back, late and offhandedly?

“I love you, Aunt Laura,” Anthony says, after the next time Helga breaks in to say that we have one minute of talk time left.

Does he? I wonder. Can he? Can I? It’s harder and harder to sustain a relationship in this void, where he is frozen in time and place, his days composed of interminable sameness . . .

 

Jilanne: The Writer's Shadow

Jilanne: The Writer’s Shadow

 

Laurel, Laurel, Laurel,

I’ve known you forever, and I saw the first pages of this years ago when the story was raw and shattering. It hasn’t lost its power over the course of time. In fact, the story has deepened to the point of ache, a heartache so profound that I’m not quite sure where the pain is coming from because it seems to be everywhere.

I do hope you find a place for your memoir, because it needs to be out there for the world to see. And perhaps raise questions that will end with some positive result. I can only hope. And that leads me to the biggest point I’d like to make about your opening. Continue reading

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Horse Sense

Scarily, sometimes there is no way out, an example of which is delivered in this raw encounter with the grim facts of life in “Horse Sense,” by our very own Jilanne Hoffmann. We hope this story soon finds a home, because it packs a wallop you won’t want to miss, dealing with the cruelty of making choices where the only good choices are bad ones. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser and our thoughts on the story. Yes, it’s dogfight time, and as always, your comments are appreciated!

 

Florence Owens Thompson seen in the photo Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. by Dorothea Lange (source: Wikipedia)

Florence Owens Thompson seen in the photo Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. by Dorothea Lange (source: Wikipedia)

 

“Got another for you,” he said. “What happens when your Grandmother leaves alphabet soup on the stove too long?”

“What?” I asked and grinned with anticipation.

“It spells disaster,” said Gramp, his poker face completely blank.

I rolled my eyes again.

“One more,” he said. “How can marriage be both a word and a sentence?”           

“Don’t feed that child beer!” Gram yelled again.

In the years since my parents died, Gram had ruled my days until canning season started. Then Gramp took over, though his form of supervision was usually not up to her standards.

“She’s almost thirteen, not two,” Gramp muttered and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth. Then he yelled, “How’re those pies of yours a coming, Nettie?”

Gram tossed an exasperated shake of her apron out the door and returned to her baking.

“Always got to keep the cat distracted,” said Gramp, “if you’re ever to be successful in this life.” 

“What’s the answer?” I asked.

“The answer to what?”

“To the question,” I said. “You know, about marriage.”

“Annie, some answers you just have to wait and experience for yourself.” Continue reading

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A Course in Jazz Poetry

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!

Stephen Cramer

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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Natalia & Sarah’s Unauthorized Adventure: a.k.a. The Quest for the Elusive Allegra Salamander

We at Dogpatch Writers Collective are dismayed to report an unprecedented hack-in, resulting in the following completely unauthorized post. If anyone catches sight of these two miscreants, please notify us immediately. It’s way past curfew and at least one of them didn’t finish her social studies homework.

 

Natalia and Sarah on wall

Security footage of the two miscreants still at large.

 

We also sincerely apologize to Mr. Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow for any feelings of undue peer pressure or actual guilt this post causes. Please be assured that it was not AT ALL pre-authorized by DWC management, although it does have us ROFL.

 

THE HACK IN.

NATALIA: Sssshhhh, we have to be really quiet so we don’t get caught by the SITE ADMINISTRATOR.

SARAH: I’m not afraid of some dumb ol’ SITE ADMINISTRATOR. What’s a SITE ADMINISTRATOR?

N: Not what, but who, and in this case it’s our Aunt Laurel.

S: The Aunt Laurel who is shamelessly exploiting our kid cuteness and personas in this post, albeit for a very worthy event designed to encourage children of all ages to write and read poety?

N: Yep.

S: Does Mom know about this?

N: Who do you think gave Aunt Laurel ridiculously adorable photos of us to unabashedly exploit in support of SpeakEasy 16, a unique reading series produced in Whatcom County, Washington? This particular event on April 12, 2015, at 2 p.m. will feature young poets ages 5 to 16 reading their original poems for an audience of children and adults who will gather at the gorgeous Mount Baker Theatre to celebrate these young poets.

S: Cool.

speakeasy-16-othermind

THE UNFINISHED POEM.

N: Look, here’s the poem Aunt Laurel is writing for SpeakEasy 16.

The salamander went out last night.

As usual, it ended in a back-room fight.

S: She has no conception at all of what is age appropriate.

N: What do you expect from a prose writer whose characters enjoy a tenuous existence at best on the gritty fringes of mainstream society and are frequently undone by their inherent flaws?

S: She might do a much better job at this venture outside of her tawdry writing comfort zone into the wonderful world of children’s poetry if aided by an appropriately delightful and original doodle of a salamander, such as one that only that heylookawriterfellow could draw.

Mike Allegra, a.k.a. heylookawriterfellow: Will the famous children’s book author wield his doodling prowess to help the children of Whatcom County WA write poetry? We’re not even sure he’s ever going to read this post, but it could happen.

N: The right illustration fully brings the text to life and allows a poem to speak to its audience on multiple levels.

S: Should Aunt Laurel be forced to resort to stock art, the overall effect would clearly be diminished and lack artistic authenticity.

N: We better do something so our peers in Whatcom County aren’t subjected to an age-inappropriate and potentially emotionally scarring disaster of a poem. Continue reading

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Just Me and My Personalities: How to Juggle Multiple POV Characters

When I started taking classes from my writing teacher, mentor, and now friend Laurel Leigh (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), she gave me some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten.

Fortunately, I completely disregarded it.

Before I tell you what her advice was, why I ignored it, and why that turned out to be a good thing, let me provide some background for the subject matter: writing in multiple Point of View (POV), or as I like to call it, expressing your multiple personalities in a single work.

I grew up reading epic fantasy, and I’ve known since I was a teenager that this was the genre I wanted to write. If you aren’t familiar with the genre of epic fantasy, I’ll give you the briefest introduction. Basically, the hero always has nothing less than the fate of the entire world on his or her shoulders. Picture Frodo attempting to drop the ring into the cauldron of lava in Mordor while everyone he cares about fights for their lives. No pressure, right?

In order to succeed in such a monumental task, the hero needs a large and competent cast of supporting characters. Would Frodo have succeeded without Samwise? I don’t think so. Gandalf, Aragorn, and Legolas played important roles too, among others. In epic fantasy, the battle is always fought on several fronts.

Because the hero can’t be present on all these fronts at once, epic fantasy is often written in multiple points of view. In one scene, we’re in Frodo’s POV as he inches toward the cauldron; in the next, we’re with Gandalf, holding back the orc army in the last ray of light left on Middle Earth.

Now, the advice Laurel gave me was this: Don’t attempt to write your book with six-plus POV characters. Find your hero—she might not even be the hero you have marked out as the main character—and tell her story.

Given my background with epic fantasy, these words broke on barren shores.

I should start by saying that Laurel was absolutely right. I would have had a much easier time, and probably produced a much better first novel, if I had followed her advice. I should also mention that I have followed, or tried to follow, at least 90% of the advice Laurel gives me, with winning results every single time.

Unfortunately for me, epic fantasy is what I wanted to write. I needed to start there.

I should also add that there have been several incredible epic fantasy tales told with a single point of view. In fact, my favorite author, Robin Hobb, uses single first person POV in her first work, the Farseer Trilogy. So multiple POV isn’t a rule of the genre, though it is the norm.

When I told Laurel this, those many years ago, she replied that it may be a convention in the genre, but that doesn’t matter. You should tell the story the way the story needs to be told.

Again, she was absolutely right, and again I ignored her advice, but her response got me wondering why so much epic fantasy is written in multiple POV. To be honest, before she suggested maybe I should scale things back, I hadn’t really considered writing in any other format.

The answer I come up with is this: multiple POV epic fantasy novels are actually the story of several different characters woven into one book, united by plot and setting. Through this method, the writer explores the implications of the main event (usually, but not always, the end of the world, or some great and final battle) on the various POV characters.

The benefit for the reader is that they can experience several different personalities under the same conditions. The farmboy becoming the prophesied hero experiences the dramatic arc differently from the wise old magician, who experiences it differently from the inexperienced young battle Queen. As a reader, I can experience the same story in a variety of different ways. It’s like the difference between ordering off the menu and exploring the buffet.

One of my favorite things about this kind of epic fantasy is how opinionated readers get about the characters. Even when all of the “good” characters are drawn as sympathetic by a given author, all of them have their haters on the online fantasy forums. Entire threads are devoted to tearing apart these characters, evidence perhaps of how deeply epic fantasy writers are engaging their readers using multiple points of view. Continue reading

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Through a Distant Lens: Travel Poems

Hello from the Dogpatch!

My friend and mentor Dr. Alex Kuo (author of My Private China and the forthcoming shanghai.shanghai.shanghai) pointed me toward this poetry collection, and I’m so glad he did! Through a Distant Lens is one of those indie titles that launches with modest fanfare yet quietly and gracefully along the way promises to pick up more and more readers—this reader one of them—for its relatable, artful yet unpretentious poetry. Beautifully curated and arrayed, this assortment of travel poems is further enhanced by a sprinkling of gorgeous photography.

 

Through a Distant Lens

 

An invitation to “Depart” guides one into this eclectic collection of poetical musings, each piece navigating around the theme of travel, and with each of the four main sections prefaced by a striking black-and-white photograph evocative of the chapter’s overarching theme: A Buddhist Temple in the Himalayas opens the section entitled “Continental Drift; “Borders Less Defined,” the third of the quartet, is coupled with an approach view of Kells Priory in Ireland.

The book’s editor and publisher is Sheryl Clough, herself a well-published poet and essayist and founder of the Whidbey Island, Washington–based Write Wing Publishing. For this endeavor, Clough gathered the work of forty-six poets—the myriad voices offering singular definitions and experiences of journeys, from a memory of a boat trip on wind-blown Hawaiian waters to scatter the ashes of one’s brother to the hilarity of trying to maneuver the simple task of doing laundry in Dublin, Ireland. The layout of the book is accessible, letting the reader plot a straight course from cover to cover or simply thumb through and meander over land, on water, through the air and through time—en route finding beauty, surprises, angst, challenges, pain, and even joy in pain as in Sheila Nickerson’s “On Transplanting the Poppies,” commemorating both loss and gain of life.

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

“Funny how your mind takes you somewhere else,” Ann Curran’s “There, Not Here” [p. 5] comments at the opening, coaxing the reader to come willingly aboard this vessel of poem-stories to be carried away. The chapter “Continental Drift” drops the reader at India’s majestic Taj Mahal on one page, in the heart of an ancient Chinese dynasty on the next, then has one gazing off the Cape of Good Hope beholding a conspiring of life off the rocky headland. The poems filling this section gleefully dance among the continents, each most decidedly to its own tune while not only moving from place to place but between styles and perspectives. Diane Stone’s “Last Night’s Chicken Curry” [p. 14] delivers a vision of Nepal, distant and landlocked but easily reachable via the pleasing flavors and aromas of the recipe contained within this poem. Whereas Debra Marquart’s “Wild Thyme” [p. 24] is laugh-out-loud funny depicting the less-adventurous tourist compensating alongside her fellow intrepid explorers.

“In my rearview mirror Dallas fades. . . . Phoenix, where I am bound, materializes – / less like Brigadoon from Scottish mists, / than Petra carved from red sand” opines Ann Howells in “Moving On” [p. 28], the poem that opens the second main section, aptly christened “Snapshots from the Road.” Like “Odysseans, drunk on bliss,” to cull a line from Teddy Norris’s “Barging in Burgundy” [p. 43], the poems in this chapter invite the reader into a panoply of images and memories taken from the road. One encounters Marianne Patty’s touching image of “Our Lady of the Street” climbing “up the stairs of her broken world” [p. 29], jettisons back in time with Lois Parker Edstrom’s “Yellowstone Park, 1948” [p. 30], and then meets Gail Denham, who offers up a mix of memories married to that (in)famous war:

 

We had tea and succulent pastries at Betty’s

Café in York, a refuge for WWII airmen, where

they came to dance and forget war for an evening.

[“Treasured Journeys, A Memory Jumble, ” p. 38] Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts About Charlie

A protest sign — both very Gallic and oddly charming — spotted at the massive unity rally in Paris earlier this month to protest the recent terror attacks there, read, in effect (I’m paraphrasing here): ‘I have very conflicted feelings about this very complicated situation, but I’m out here marching anyway.’

images

And one thing you can say about the French: they know how to put on a protest.

images-1

But now that all the dust has settled, and after it seems the entire world has paid tribute to the murdered writers and artists at the satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo — I, too, like any writer or artist, would like to pay tribute to the lives of those poor, unfortunate staff members who worked there and died there.

And yet I too have very conflicted feelings about this very complicated situation.

I feel like I may be stepping into it by even bringing this up; but as the nation of France rushes with political unanimity into ‘war with the Arabs’ — as some of the French themselves are calling it — in response to the recent terrorist attacks, I can’t help but feel like we’ve seen this movie before.

And I thought perhaps now might be a good time to discuss the real-world, political ramifications of any writing, fiction or non-fiction.

 

I currently am at work on a novel with a small subplot involving a commune in 1970s California. This part of my story involves some rather sanctimonious individuals, the type of know-it-all, kale-eating Lefty liberals that people on the political right love to hate. If you grew up in Northern California, like I did, you know people like this. They are the humorless, holier-than-thou types that naturally lend themselves to satire.

Yet I find myself struggling to establish the right tone; I struggle to extend these characters some small modicum of respect — so that they will live and breath like any character on the page ideally should — and yet still let them do the same stupid, self-serving things that my narrative warrants and demands. I’ve been struggling with the tone of this section for months now.

In other words, I guess what I’m saying is, satire in freaking hard to do right.

Now my feeling on the subject is that if you’re doing satire right, you are upsetting the powerful, not the powerless. And when a publication like Charlie Hebdo, which prides itself on satirizing everybody and everything, goes after the sacred cows of Islam, the real targets for their abrasive brand of satire are, naturally, the radical imams and mullahs, the humorless ayatollahs, who deserve to be mocked.

Yet, in practice, the slings and arrows of Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of outrageousness do not land that far afield. They land — with some real force — on the heads of much closer targets, those Muslims immigrants who live in the miserable, squalid banlieues that surround most major French cities. And anyone who thinks the French Muslim population has any genuine cultural or economic power hasn’t spent much time in France.

So when Charlie Hebdo publishes an image of the Prophet on its cover, they are hardly going after what real power there is in the Muslim world — say, the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

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