About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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War: Father of Nations

With a thunderous clatter of hooves & blare

of battered brassy horn

light cavalry swept down upon

doomed men in a crimson morn.

________________

A ragged band was backed to a wall

of towering metamorphic rock  

in a foreign land long leagues from home, 

grim faces white with shock. 

________________

How terribly fast the tide had turned! 

How cunning the savage foe! 

A turncoat scout led them roundabout

into ambush. Treacherous woe!

________________

For weeks they’d plundered, pillaged, burned

raped & drunken-reveled

till their captain, sated by gold & blood

cried, “Wheel, ye desert devils!”

________________

Laden with spoils the warband turned

back toward hearth & home

basking in martial glory built

’pon ashes & bleaching bones.

________________

Now cornered soldiers braced for the charge

of juggernaut-horsed cruel men 

slung low in the saddle, scything swords 

reaping again & again 

________________

leather-clad warriors who smote & roared 

in a frenzy of killing fear; 

the desperate band made a fierce last stand— 

spears splintered, horses reared. 

________________

Wet work was done ’neath the pitiless sun 

to a man the invaders died; 

their corpses left to ripen & rot: 

sweetmeats for the vulture sky 

________________

that dispatched carrion birds to feast 

on the bloating, rictused dead. 

Black buzzing hordes of feted flies 

swarmed ’round severed heads 

________________

& limbs that littered the killing field 

soon buried by drifting sand.

What matter the names of the men who fell 

in that vanished, sun-seared land?

________________

The victors that day soon found their homes 

destroyed by a stronger foe  

who invaded the land, bronze legions agleam 

in scarlet, azure & gold. 

________________

Thus ever it was; thus ever shall be: 

man butchers man for wealth 

lost in turn to cyclic hordes 

worshipping power, brute force, pelf. 

________________

If today you stroll under cloudless skies 

face turned to the warming sun, 

spare a moment to think of countless dead 

who died that you may hum 

________________

some insipid tune of patriarchy. 

Family, church & state 

sing the tribal song of triumph: 

Noble! Manifest! Great!  

________________

–Carl E. Reed

This poem employs galloping rhythm, a judicious use of near-rhyme, abandon-rhyme (note the long “O” of “foe” and “gold” in stanza 9: an example of what I mean when I argue for the primacy of semantics–at certain critical points of an otherwise sonorously harmonized formalist narrative poem–over the mere aural, or sound, consistency of end-line rhyme), internal rhyme (rhymes on the same line), alliteration, assonance, consonance, the lack of end-line punctuation except where necessary to aid comprehension and regulate rhythm (a minimalist choice which also enhances reading speed and a sense of exhilarating forward momentum) and other poetic tricks to enhance euphony and over-all impact upon the reader. I hope the work imparts the same shock of lexical energy I felt in composing it; moreover, I hope these particular words arrayed in this particular fashion speak to the reader in a meaningful and authoritative way re: our collective guilt and responsibility for continuing to engage in the transfixing, tragic and (uneasily acknowledged) ecstatic social practice of war.

The formatting of this poem (if ever published) will follow the traditional formalist practice of indenting the 2nd and 4th lines of every quatrain. (Try accomplishing that in WordPress. ARRRGH!)

PS. Mellow: start sharpening that critical knife, heh!

PPS. I am pleased to announce that three new poems of mine will appear in issue #15 (July, 2021) of Spectral Realms Journal: “The Call of Lizzie”, “Shuffling Horror”, and “Bat-winged Battle Cry”. https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-15?zenid=qqgjdp8a4gt5fgkuuinkcr7vm0



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A Writers Co-op Forum?

In last Monday’s post, Carl E. Reed was wondering if there were any other forum where writers could interact besides social media. I instantly thought of Book Country, Penguin’s old site where we posted multiple threads about any aspect of the writing life, including current works, requests for critique, thoughts, ideas, and general tomfoolery. The point is to allow for discussions beyond a single weekly blog.

Googling for possibilities, I came up with bbPress, a project of WordPress.org.
It is a plugin that adds a forum to an existing WordPress site. You can take a look at it at:
https://bbpress.org/

We may need a domain name and a hosted WordPress website. I already have the domain name, WritersCo-op.com, and website hosting is cheap these days.

The forum would be easy to add. We simply log in to our WordPress admin area and go to Plugins » Add New. Search for bbPress and then select bbPress from results. Install and activate the plugin. Upon activation, the welcome screen for bbPress comes up.
https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-add-a-forum-in-wordpress-with-bbpress/

Do you think we might benefit from having this? Members could post threads for open discussion whenever they liked. A forum would allow members to post excerpts from their WiP for critique, Carl’s poetry to flourish, Mimi’s drawings to delight & entertain, facilitate Tom’s anthology updates for Rabbit Hole 4, etc. and ect. It’s an idea worth kicking around and I for one am all for more general tomfoolery.

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book promotion, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Writers Co-op

Goodbye Facebook

In 2017 I discovered Facebook as a mecca for networking. Recently, Facebook has become a censored banality. In between, I was fortunate to find over 3,000 “friends” living the writing life. Many taught me, some edited and published my stories. I cannot thank Facebook enough for the opportunity to interact with so many talented people. But all things change and now the politicians have infested Facebook to get around the First Amendment and promote their own agenda while censoring that of opponents.

“U.S. Code § 230, (2)Civil liability, permits social media to censor content “whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
Yet, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians have used their regulatory and financial relationships with big media to exert a control over public opinion that is otherwise denied to them.

The result is a leveling of public discourse to the lowest common denominator.

And then, of course, Facebook algorithms ensure that writers who don’t buy ads get scant exposure for posts promoting their books. I left Facebook after scrolling down my feed to find any “friends” book promotion to share on my own timeline. I spent literally forty-five minutes enjoying posts of pets, whines, humor, look-at-me-chit-chat, amazing science (I’m a sucker for amazing science,) and feel-good platitudes. Abruptly, it dawned on me: Not one book promotion! This is all gossip! Critical thinkers have crept away while I wasted my time pretending that I was still networking.

What a waste of time. Goodbye Facebook. Gossip bores me.

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The Ballad of Annie Croft

Narrative poetry (in English) has long fallen out of fashion. English narrative poetry arranged in rhyming quatrains = outdated + are you fuggin’ kiddin’ me?! (Exclaim post-modernist poetic arbiters of taste — such traditionalist poetry openly mocked as hopelessly outmoded, tired, played out. FYI: Writers of such formalist “drivel” are regarded by the apparatchiks of the avant-garde as vulgarians of the worst sort: unimaginative hacks who perpetrate tired moon-june-spoon rhyme schemes upon a jaded, seen-and-heard-it-all-before reading public. This is arrogant dismissive nonsense, of course: early 20th century faddish criticism that still holds unaccountable sway in many quarters (especially the academic) of the Realm Poetic. Such prejudice against formalist verse is as risible and wrong-headed as it is laughable. Summoned to give testimony for the defense: Robert Service, George Sterling, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Yeats, Frank Coffman, Robert Frost, et. al. Hmm . . . lotta “Roberts” in that list. Change first name?)

To be sure there is still power, potency and picturesqueness a-plenty to be found in the rhyming (and occasional near-rhyming —”missed” rhymes inject semantic tension and suspense into a work) narrative poem. Especially the ballad. The form has not yet—even now, in the early part of the 21st century—been exhausted. In fact, I would argue that formalist narrative poetry is having a bit of a moment here in 2021. Furthermore, I assert that the poetic form of rhyming narrative verse will never be entirely exhausted. How could it be, given the fecundity of literary imagination and the richness of our language?

Exhibit A (or should that be Y?) rejected by divers editors “with regrets” as being “too long for publication” (in truth, it’s asking a lot for an editor to devote 10-12 pages of a poetry magazine to one writer–especially an obscure unknown):

……………………..

The Ballad of Annie Croft

A Tale of New England: circa 1660

Part I.

_____________

Annie Croft had brown eyes soft

as sable fur, her hair

red as sun-kissed roses—carriage

& deportment exceeding fair.

_____________

Her charms caught the attention

of the village magistrate;

William Moore was married

but desired to fornicate

_____________

with the woman who had acted 

as mid-wife to troubled births —

Tom & John: William’s sons

bawled, & kicked, & nursed

_________________

at the breasts of rigid Constance Moore:

helpmete of grim, hawk-eyed mien;

ten years frigid, the magistrate’s wife

praised God, & hearth, & kin

_____________

“for the bounteous beauty of new life

predestined for Hell or Heaven;

scourging rod & dour prayer

shalt ensure their souls will leaven

_____________

the afterlife with willing thralls

obedient to God—

though here they’ll hunt, & fish, & farm,

& praise our loving Lord.”

_____________

Alas, but this was not to be;

sickness swept the village.

Tom & John died three-month’s-old;

warpath Indians pillaged

_____________

& burned surrounding settlements;

shallow wells ran dry.

Barley, corn, & oat crops failed

fully half the pilgrims died.

_____________

’Twas in this monstrous starving time 

Anne’s ministering hands

eased divers aches & ailments;

she served both God & man.

_____________

Her potions, salves, & ointments

brought relief to those in need;

ancien’ practice/hallowed tradition:

medicine of roots, & barks, & leaves.

_____________

’Midst Indian war & famine, 

sickness & internal strife,

the magistrate’s bold lustful eyes

turned from his somber wife

_____________

to smiling, sun-kissed Annie

who shrank from his loathsome touch.

William schemed to catch Anne alone;

his hands itched to feel her up.

_____________

A man of means & property

respected by the Church

Wil manifested Falstaffian vices:

greed, lust, & drunken mirth.

_____________

Anne spurned the magistrate’s advances;

William sulked & called her bitch.

He grabbed her bosom; she slapped his face—

Wil lodged the charge of “witch”.

_____________

Constance Moore took up the cry;

unhinged by woe & grief

she echoed William’s charge of witch

declared, “A vile, sneaking thief

_____________

crawls odious as an ambidexter

amongst God’s very own.

This wretched girl culled souls for Satan;

let Satan call her home!”

_____________

The magistrate issued a warrant 

for the arrest of Annie Croft.

She was jailed: stripped naked, poked & prodded

devil’s marks were sought

_____________

& duly found by venal men

who understood in times of strife

a scapegoat—preferably peasant class—

must sacrifice their life

_____________

that godly folk be reassured.

Noose, burning brand, & bludgeon

were educative instruments

in the inculcation of religion

_____________

& unquestioning blind obedience

to clench-jawed grim authority.

Majoritarian Calvinist polis:

control, consensus, conformity.

_____________

Anne Croft was given the water test;

William Moore was seen to gloat

as “witch-woman” Annie forbear to drown

but perversely deigned to float.

_____________

A trial was held: rank mockery

of fairness, truth, & justice;

hysterical children testified

that evil Annie corrupted

_____________

their innocent minds with devilry.

They capered, gibbered, danced

naked beneath an argent moon:

“Ann hexed us with a glance.”

_____________

Devil’s marks, failed water test,

unexpected deaths & sickness;

the testimony of dancing children—

“I trust we’ve proved the wicked

_____________

intent & malicious mind-set 

of a peasant girl so bold

as to forge a pact with the Prince of Lies.

The devil take her soul!”

_____________

So saying, the magistrate hammered hard

’pon the table with his fist;

closing argument thus concluded, 

he added, “Think on this—

_____________

Divine Providence hath gifted us

a New Canaan: virgin lands;

though witches, warlocks, heretics

pervert our blessings—all are damned

_____________

who ally with liar Lucifer.

In New England let us begin

to lead lives of shining righteousness

& root out the enemy within.

_____________

Will ye stand with Christ our Lord?

Will ye stand with God?

Or will ye suffer a witch to live

in defiance of the Law?”

_____________

Jittery men & tittering women:

a jury of Anne Croft’s peers

threw reason & good sense to the wind,

took counsel of their fears

_____________

& returned a shameful verdict: 

“Guilty as charged,” they said.

“Thou shalt be hanged from good stout rope

’till thou art surely dead.”

_____________

A fortnight later Annie Croft

mounted the gallows afore a crowd

 of stern-eyed men, women, & children—

shaved head upright, unbowed.

_____________

Anne’s countenance was ashen

as the noose slipped about her neck;

& though she trembled, no tears flowed

when she drew a final breath

_____________

& dropped hands-bound & shoeless

through the banging scaffold door;

she fell, jerked to a violent stop—

kicked—and knew no more.

_____________

The crowd: a dark-clothed murder of crows

turned as wrenching wail

scythed knife-like through that awful scene:

I—sister Abigail

_____________

to poor dead, convulsing Annie

vented oaths & shrill, hot screams

of horror, fury, shock, & rage

at act so vile, cruel, obscene.

_____________

I aimed a shaking finger

dead-straight at the magistrate:

“Ye days are numbered, swill-belly Wil!

Ye stand before the Gate

_____________

of Judgement with thy viper wife.

Repent! Afore it’s too late.”

& shouldering through that gape-mouthed crowd

returned home to seethe with hate.

_____________

Part II.

_____________

One month later, in the misted dark

of a cold November morn’

a band of grim-faced men & I

stood ready to greet the dawn

_____________

around the cut-log, thatched-roofed home

of the murderous magistrate

& hawk-eyed, forked-tongued Constance Moore.

We’d come to congregate

_____________

& exact a fiery vengeance

for the death of Annie Croft;

our blood had boiled to see fair Annie

dance at the end of a rope.

_____________

At a silent signal the torch was passed:

fire moved hand-to-hand;

we ignited the resin’d clapboard sides

of Wil’s home with burning brands.

_____________

The pitch-smeared tinderbox house inferno’d—

hellfire flames leapt high;

crimson tongues of fire crackled;

smoke boiled into the sky.

_____________

Minutes later piercing screams

sounded from within:

the magistrate & his false-witness Mrs.

burning for their sins.

_____________

The roaring fire flared & spit;

Constance cried & called

out to Heaven for mercy denied.

Wil burst out the door

_____________

wreathed head-to-toe in guttering flame—

he hit the ground & rolled.

I knocked him flat, raised keen-edged blade

to end his life & send his soul

_____________

down to the sulfurous, burning Pit.

The magistrate’s vulgar life

voided there in blood & fire

at the bitter end of my knife.

_____________

Wil’s face was charred & smoking —

flesh cracked & purplish-black;

burnt hands fumbled at blistered throat.

I crowed: “Woe & alack!

_____________

ye lusting, lying, swill-belly dog!

A sweet soul sent aloft

was mine own precious loving sister:

mid-wife Annie Croft.

_____________

Ye works condemn thee! Murderer!

Foul Magistrate, farewell!”

& planting steel in smoldering skull

I sent his soul to Hell.

_____________

Part III.

_____________

No other “witches” were ever hung

in that old New England town;

the arsonists who’d burned the Moores

were hunted, though never found.

_____________

Decades passed & life went on;

guilty consciences tread soft;

& the subject was ever swiftly changed

when arose the name of Annie Croft.

_____________

— Carl E. Reed

https://weirdtalesweb.wordpress.com/

Afterword: “Annie Croft” is a composite character who lives and dies three decades before the outbreak of witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts. Let us a take a moment to remember the actual people who perished in the madness of 1692 (WIKI):

Died in prison:

  • Ann Foster (née Alcock) – died in custody in December 1692
  • Sarah Osborne – died in prison May 29, 1692, at age 49

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Literary critique

Write Club

Apart from the online Book Country, I’ve never been in a writers’ group, simply because there isn’t one where I live. There was a time I thought I was missing out, but I’m not so bothered now. All the same, I’m interested to know how they operate, and when Shirley Weir, a contributor to one of the first anthologies I edited, said she was in a group from the UK’s Open University, I asked her if she’d like to write a piece about it.

In 2014, I completed my 3rd and final (so far) course on creative writing with the Open University (fondly known as the OU to its students). As writers and students, we were used to brainstorming with each other during the course, and quite a few of us wanted to keep in touch.

‘Why don’t we create our own writer’s group?’ suggested one bright spark.

And from that idea, Write Club was born. The group is a perfect example of a democracy with even the name being chosen by ballot, with fans of Chuck Palahniuk coming out on top.

Write Club is open to any OU participants past or present. The only other requisite is an interest in writing. Fiction, life writing, poetry, or something unique – any type of writing is welcome. Membership increases every year as more students start studying with the OU. The original committee, with a couple of persistent exceptions, has mainly given way to new members with fresh ideas. Changes for the better are always welcomed.

Socially, members meet in a Facebook group. It’s a relaxed group with daily prompts, but any writing is kept to short (mostly fun, but often dark) pieces. Members are supportive, congratulating fellow members on any achievement from having work published, to becoming a writer with the receipt of a first rejection. This group is also useful for passing on details of writing competitions and other tips.

Any serious writing is kept for the forums nestled on the OU student servers. These are secure and private. So, members can put in writing for advice or review, even if planning to submit elsewhere. There’s no obligation to use the forums, but peer review can be very helpful. To get the correct support, members are encouraged to include headings with abbreviations such as

  • BEG – Beginner,
  • INT – Intermediate,
  • ADV – Advanced
  • JFF. Just For Fun. -You don’t want any critique. You just want to brighten our day with your piece!
  • GF – General Feedback. You want to know if people like your piece, if they would read more, and you require some general opinion of areas of improvement.
  • GP – Grammar and Punctuation. You don’t want feedback on content or techniques, you just require grammar and punctuation feedback.
  • AF – Advanced Feedback. You are happy to receive an in-depth critique, with areas of underdevelopment highlighted, suggestions of improvement in various areas, and an analysis of the literary techniques you have used, and those you may like to consider, should they strengthen your piece.
  • FE -Final Edit. You have received feedback and re-drafted your piece several times. You would like one last check for the purpose of ‘polishing’ up, before submitting to comps or agents.

Although most of the groups’ interactions are in the online forums, we also meet up live once a month online.

We currently have six forums. The original for any short writing piece and announcements of activities, Novel Support, Poet Tree – a poetry forum, Children’s fiction, Non-Fiction and Monthly Meet Up Work-Sharing Space for any homework we give ourselves in the monthly live meetings.

Having a break between OU courses is no excuse for sitting back. Over the summer, the committee, steered ably by the amazing Cinnomen McGuigan, provides weekly writing tasks such as Cluster Club and Character Lab.

As well as our own forums, Write Club helps the OU Students Association to run a monthly online book club, where members chat for an hour a month and share thoughts on a specific read. The reading group uses a Goodreads group to keep book choices together.

It’s common taking part in writing courses run by other institutions (such as those run in the past by Iowa) to come across fellow WC members. And For NaNoWriMo and its camp, Write Club members often share a cabin together. (None of us snore.)

Over recent years, if there is one thing that has kept me writing through my ‘imposter syndrome’ spells, it’s Write Club. I’ve belonged to a couple of local groups, but one gradually died out and the other survived only until lockdown.

But Write Club keeps going. An online group, lockdown holds no problems for it. When members leave, there are always new students joining. And new members bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

When I struggle to write, the daily tasks keep me going. Many are just a matter of writing a few quick sentences (Sundays are six words). It makes the difference between writing (however short) and not writing. I love contributing to this and reading the other contributions.

With so many members, work in progress will always find someone in the forums ready to advise and encourage. Even when I think a story is finished, I’m grateful for suggested improvements which help me improve my technique.

But perhaps the chief advantage of Write Club is that I can be quiet for months, but when I come back, it’s still there going strong.

Over the years, group members have contributed to a number of charity anthologies, held together by a few dedicated members. Participation is as always voluntary, but there are plenty of members happy to contribute.

The next anthology Where’s the Manual? And Other Thoughts on Parenthood is in its final stages. Profits from it will go to Homestart and Save the Children.

Already published anthologies are:

The Other Side of the fence: Real Social Housing Tenants

The Gift

Generations

Footprints and Echoes

2020 Together: An Anthology of Shorts (published to support NHS Charities Together)

2021 Still Together (published to support NHS Charities Together)

I was in on the ground floor of Write Club and although I haven’t put as much time into it recently as some members, I still take part when I can. My own books are written under the pseudo name of Sam Speed and currently are

Flora the Fearless

Three short stories and a novella of a feisty octogenarian.

Dinosaur Diet

A not so cosy murder mystery first in the Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives series.

With Jurassic Justice, 2nd in Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives, due out shortly.

Shirley-Anne Weir

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Advice to Authors, circa 1907

Arthur C. Benson, Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge

I had imagined that being a successful author was easier a century ago. More people read books, there were fewer competing entertainments. A work was printed in a finite edition, and except for the most popular offerings, eventually went out of print, it did not linger in cyber space for all eternity. You browsed book stores, and joined lending libraries. There were mentions in the press, and word of mouth. It was a small world, compared to today.

Publishers promoted their books. Almost every piece I have from that period has one, sometimes several pages, of enthusiastic blurbs for works by the same author, or works in a similar vein.

If you have a use for laugh-your-ass-off reviews, find them in front and back matter for ancient publications on guttenberg.org. FOR INSTANCE: Percival Pollard (an American literary critic, novelist and short story writer) in Town Topics (a quarterly New York-based magazine of fiction, humor, and light verse, published in the late 19th and early 20th century) wrote (of a schlock romance by a now-overlooked contemporary of the wildly successful Elinor Glyn): “Be as sad and as sane as you like, for all the other days of your life, but steal one mad day, I adjure you, to sit and read this stunning . . . ” 

Arthur C. Benson, in ‘From a College Window’, has a few words for hopeful writers. A modest level of success was a high hurdle even way back then. He says:

“I have been sometimes consulted by young aspirants in literature as to the best mode of embarking on the profession of letters; and if my inquirer has confessed that he will be obliged to earn his living, I have always replied, dully but faithfully, that the best way to realize his ambition is to enter some other profession without delay.

“Writing is indeed the most delightful thing in the world, if one has not to depend upon it for a livelihood. One must not hope for much monetary reward. A novelist or journalist of the first rank may earn a handsome income; but to achieve conspicuous mundane success in literature, a certain degree of good fortune is almost more important than genius, or even than talent. It is necessary to have a vogue, to create or satisfy a special demand, to hit the taste of the age.

“The literary writer pure and simple, can hardly hope to earn a living wage, unless he is content to do, and indeed fortunate enough to obtain, a good deal of hack work as well. He must be ready to write reviews and introductions; to pour out occasional articles, to compile, to edit, to select. He will have little of the tranquility, the serenity, the leisure, upon the enjoyment of which the quality of the best work depends. Unless a man has private resources, he can hardly afford to turn his attention to belles lettres.”

Benson had a considerable reputation in scholarly circles. His books of essays sold like hotcakes, apparently. All the works I see touted in back matter are advertised as being in the third to tenth editions. He wrote biographies. He wrote poetry. He wrote lyrics.

And (so it appears from some of his titles) he wrote fiction. I’d like to see what his fiction consisted of. It will certainly include a moral. That a sinner must repent and/or be severely punished was a given for the era. And Benson was the pious son of an Archbishop of Canterbury. Morality was the core of his being.

_________

No, it’s never been easy, on any level.

A compelling story is the tip of the iceberg. We must be as relentless in promoting our work as we were in writing it.

I have created a series of posters. If summer art fairs make a come-back, I have a fine backdrop for a retail effort. (I am going to print-publish. The story pairs with a paper doll, to be cut out and played with.)

To release a work in installments is frequently cited as a useful strategy. The more your name is out and about, the better your chance of being noticed. I am considering that also.

The big problem would be the extra ISBN numbers I’d need, and the publishing fees for three-four-five pieces. The big plus would be–I’d have room for more illustration, by which I mean, of course, additional outfits. I would dearly love to get the Bird of Paradise costume into my (as currently laid out) already packed sixty pages.

Sixty pages is a monster of a paper doll book, which is what Maisie pretends to be. I expect the paper doll to be the major factor, at least at first, in grabbing attention and generating sales.

You will find the beginning of a Maisie website here

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Welcome

Welcome To My Coffice

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg

As I write this, piped in music is playing in the background. On some occasions, live music happens here. I look up and see some of the art works of my friend, Carl Berges. Around me there are people reading—books or newspapers or magazines or online feeds. Kids sometimes open up board games and play them with gleeful abandon. Politicians sometimes arrive to ask for voters’ opinions. In one corner, a small group of people are planning a business venture. The staff’s culinary efforts have made available a variety of breakfast items, and made-to-order lunch sandwiches. On one wall, people have created a multicolor inked communal graffito. A little over three years ago, a history professor and a literature professor lectured here, about solar eclipses. Poetry has been aired here.

I’m an advocate for the humanities, the subjects that involve the celebration of our most human activities: music, art, literature, philosophy, languages, drama, sculpture, architecture, and more. Often, a person who wants to experience one of these will go to a particular venue or event and experience that one kind of humanities subject: drama in a theatre, music at an auditorium, etc. Where, though, might people go if they want a mix of these wonderous arts?

The savvy reader will already know that I am at a coffee house, in particular: Madisonville Kentucky’s Big City Market Café. If in Owensboro, I might be ensconced in an egg-shaped chair (channeling Mork) at The Crème Coffee House. If I was in East Lansing, MI, I might be admiring the tattoos of the baristas at the Espresso Royal. Back in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in my youth, I sat for hours at Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe, guzzling cup after cup while reading the Riverside edition of the complete works of Bill Shakespeare. The downtown coffee shop adorned its walls with used burlap coffee sacks.

While wintering in Florida this year, I spent time at Cocoa Beach’s Juice and Java Café, and the Osario’s in Cocoa Village. I prefer independent coffee houses, but am pleased that Panera and Starbucks provide alternative locations. In the environs of Vernon Hills suburban Chicago Illinois, I rotate between four different Panera’s Bread Co. shops. According to the anniversary email they sent this Spring, my Unlimited Coffee Subscription saved me $338.52 over 138 cups.

Currently, I have succeeded in getting a dozen of my writings published since I began this effort last September, nine months ago. I have another twenty under consideration at various journals. All of these, and more, were written at coffee houses. I know many prefer to write at home, but I think there is an argument for not doing this work there. It hasn’t become popular yet, but I offer the word “coffice” for those like me who rely on the coffee house to conduct business.

At the coffice I am not distracted by laundry, food preparation, and having to straighten up after myself. At the coffice I can focus on my writing. There is just the right amount of activity to keep me awake. And then yes, I like coffee.

Coffee was discovered in Africa in the 9th century AD. Its use became common in the Middle East in the late 1400s. Turkey and Morocco became deeply invested in it. It arrived in Europe in the 1600s, and the English coffee house became a fad in the 1700s. Turkish and/or Greek coffee is a particularly strong drink made from a powdered coffee, found like a muddy estuary at the bottom of the cup. I like mine “orto”—slightly sweet. One of my favorite memories is of ordering an espresso at an outdoor café in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, France, under the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse. In homage to Hemmingway, I sipped a cup at the Café du Dôme, which was just around the corner from the apartment where I crashed for a few months at my cousin’s apartment in the early 1980s.

While the tavern had an earlier history of drawing people together for discussion and predictable argument, the coffee house encouraged more serious and sustained discussion, as the patrons there were stimulated by caffeine rather than depressed by alcohol. Today’s version of the coffee house is augmented by technology—so that wireless internet access is mandatory, and people are commonly found staring at laptops and using their smartphones while slurping down a cappuccino or frothy latte.

So the coffee house is the bastion and bulwark of the humanities, to an extent. I note that the addition of coffee shops in some places indicates a gentrification effect, suggesting a kind of cultural invasion, or an economic upsurge—good or bad as that may be, depending on who is losing or gaining as a result. I have been to the original Starbucks, in Seattle, WA, and have my obligatory memento: a Pike’s Place coffee mug. It’s huge! While I’m pleased at this, I know that some believe that the Starbucking of America is a kind of blight—and that “baristas don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” I would bet cold cash money that more people recognize the Starbucks logo/image than they do the Presidential Seal.  

After a hectic day, there is nothing better than sitting back with a cup of coffee at my local coffee house. This is when I can reflect on a variety of subjects, such as coffee houses, and write about them! I soak in the ambience—art, music, whatever I’m reading—and the caffeine—and walk away refreshed, ready to take on the rest of the day’s challenges.

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Uncategorized

One Night at the Poetry Circle

The leader of our poetry circle

insists that a poem

should say something true,

that a poem must speak

in the writer’s authentic voice.

_____________

One night not long ago

after many beers & queer

hawk-eyed combats concerning

the meaning of white space

group sex, the haunting

rhythmical hitch of the line break

our leader turned to me & said:

Why don’t you gift us

an extemporaneous poem?

_____________

Root it in the earth

but reach for infinity.

Craft your words to encompass

all of cosmos & the void.

_____________

He favored me then with hipster smile

steepled beringed fingers

fattened by rich food & drink

beneath his wobble chin.

Triple piercings of ear & nose

glittered

as did his knife-like eyes.

_____________

I thought for a moment.

A thousand fire-green voices

ghosted Yeats & Shakespeare

Heraclitus, Ginsberg

Clark Ashton Smith

Blake & Poe & Dickinson

in the maelstrom of my mind.

_____________

Breath in.

Breath out.

_____________

I spoke:

You will die one day.

An inevitable sorrow.

_____________

At your funeral service

a poem

maybe two, maybe three

will be voiced by the cleric

instructed to grieve in your name.

_____________

The dead are comforted by poetry

& prayer

or so we are told.

_____________

In the years following interment

your stardust, O Leader

will be carried off in the bellies of insects

& the black gulfs struck incandescent

by the fires of a million million suns

will whisper one harsh word:

Oblivion.

_____________

When I finished there was silence

a hard set of mouths, guarded eyes

& a soft monkish shuffle

of fashionable $200 shoes.

_____________

That

said our Leader

is a very interesting poem.

_____________

—Carl E. Reed

For more of Carl E. Reed’s poetry see Spectral Realms Journal issues #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15 (July 2021), #16, #17, & #18 (2022 & 2023). https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms

Also: Penumbra #3, 2022

Black Petals: https://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/blackpetalsissue72/ (“Vampiric Threnody” and “Ghost: A Working Definition”)

(Note: “Lost”, “Succubus Seductress” and “The Crime of Frankenstein” will appear in the October, 2021 issue.)

Santa Claws is Coming to Deathlehem: An Anthology of Holiday Horrors for Charity:

Inflections in Horror (spoken word album): https://carlereed.bandcamp.com/album/inflections-in-horror-the-weird-worlds-of-carl-e-reed

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Freedom of Writing

Is Writing Dying

  • by Michael DiMatteo

What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….

As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.

I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.

Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook, a person began their question to the group thus: “I’m sorry if this is triggering for some of you but my question is about my story which involves a cop. Is it hard to sell a story with a heroic cop?”

That alone isn’t the icing on the cake, but the responses were. One said, “Trying to find a hero among state issued killers is a tough sell…” Another said, “It’s harder to make believable now than 37 years ago” I still can’t figure out the 37 years ago thought.

The question alone bears examining. Why is someone is asking a question about selling a book involving any topic? I get it, if you’re writing for profit, as we all try to, but…write your book. If it doesn’t sell, so what? For some reason, that book was pushing to come out of your head and needed to be birthed, so write it and let the chips fall where they may.

I can’t imagine Voltaire, the great French writer, playwright, and social observer dithering over whether or not to write the Philosophical Dictionary or Candide. Did Erasmus ask around if he should write The Praise of Folly, a rather controversial yet humorous story poking fun at the Catholic Church in the 16th century?

I wonder, did Thomas Paine ask for permission as he penned his masterpiece Common Sense which actually advocated for revolution? Luther—well—he wrote critical works on the Popes that almost guaranteed his death, yet he not only survived but thrived in an age where papal criticism was truly a death sentence. I’d say Luther triggered a number of people, and we know he did—but pressed on despite said triggering.

Laura Cereta, the great 15th century feminist writer wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while being vilified for doing so as it was not a woman’s place during that historical period. Dante Alighieri penned the scathing The Divine Comedy, skewering with extreme prejudice his political enemies and causing a rather significant uproar during his lifetime. I’m sure triggering anyone was the last thing he was concerned with.

So, too, one must one take into account historical context. Without getting to philosophical here, dangers in previous centuries meant danger to life and limb, not cancelling. Those men and women were not deterred in their quest to write, so why are we in our time?

The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.

Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.

It would seem we’ve reached the point of know return…and many willingly embrace it, intentionally silencing their own voices that otherwise would announce their presence with grand gestures and loud huzzahs, laying their stories out for all to see no matter their acceptance or rejection.

What have we become, this once open stage for the creative? What are we becoming and where are we going? To silence anyone is not to deny free speech, but rather to deny one’s ability to listen—to anything—the first step toward self-imposed totalitarianism. It is a slow creep, almost imperceptible in its movements, but moving just the same. It will be the death of true writing—just as cancer spreads silently throughout one’s body until too late.

So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.

Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?

The only way to know is to flesh it out…to write…and let the critics and now, the oversensitive, be damned.

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