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Amazing Poet

Lee Ann Roripaugh.

Stunned by the language in her collection Year of the Snake, I then read On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year.  The insect poems in this second collection are gorgeous, and as I was reading, I got a notion to write about an orchid mantis (see vid below), I turned the page, and there Roripaugh was writing about an orchid mantis.  Serendipity, I tell you.

Here’s a link to a poem from Year of the Snake called “Dream Carp”–any poem containing a killer phrase like “the sizzle of firefly lights” must be read–and enjoyed!

A clip of an orchid mantis (Roripaugh’s poem’s are as cool as this critter):


Creepy GOOD

Just finished the middle-grade horror classic Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn.  Loved it!

This ghost story would have been sufficiently scary for me when I was young, and even today it still got my adult heart pounding.

When twelve-year-old Molly and her family move into a church-converted-to-house in the Maryland countryside, she discovers that her malicious little step-sister Heather has formed a relationship with a girl ghost who, Molly learns, has led a number of girls down to the pond to drown (I know–ahh!).  The rest of the family doesn’t believe Molly, so she must try saving Heather from the ghost by herself.

One thing Hahn does so well is give these characters’ stories emotional depth.  Yes, the book deals with fear of ghosts, but it also deals with fears that lurk even closer to our cores–the fears of being alone, unloved, and unloveable.  Also, Molly’s heroic trait is that she empathizes with her little step-sister and wants to save her, even though she warns Molly about the bad things that will happen when Helen (the ghost) comes.

A wonderful read–I’m excited to see Hahn has a long list of titles.

Tickle the Martian

Put your fingers to the keys and pretend you’re tickling a Martian.

Martians laugh obnoxiously, with plenty of snort and spray.

I write fast, and I give myself permission to write conversations and descriptions several times, in several ways.  I mean, something has to work, right?  And if I’m writing fast, I can exhaust the possibilities.  Writing fast for me doesn’t only keep me ahead of my internal editor–it’s also a method for rapid experimentation.  I don’t want to think merely, “How can I solve this problem?”  I want to think, “How many ways can I solve this problem?”  I want to generate several solutions to pick from.

Rodney Dangerfield knew how to generate endless variations on the same joke–after all, every one of his jokes is “I get no respect.”

He was also a master of riffing off a joke, and so much of the fun of listening to his riffing is observing his ingenuity.  Consider a few of his “With my wife” jokes:

With my wife I don’t get no respect. I told her when I die I wanna be cremated. She’s planning a barbeque.
With my wife I don’t get no respect. When I had diabetes she kept sending me candy grams.
With my wife I don’t get no respect. I told her when I die I wanna be cremated. She’s planning a barbeque.

See RD’s site,, for more amazing jokes.

Chuck Lorre’s Vanity Cards

Chuck Lorre, producer of sitcoms The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, writes silly “vanity cards”–usually a paragraph of whimsical musing or rant–that flash on the screen for a moment after the credits.  They’re often hilarious (you can visit his Official Vanity Card Archives to read them), and sometimes they’re quite poetic.  Here’s the opening of Vanity Card #219:

“On a recent trip to Las Vegas I watched a grim, beer-bellied man row a gondola filled with tourists through the ‘canals of Venice.’ This was his job. At some point he had to have filled out an application and undergone an interview process to determine if he had the necessary skills to be a pretend gondolier eight hours a day, five days a week. As he glided past me I found myself imagining him walking into his house at the end of a long day, tossing his keys into the cheap ceramic bowl by the front door and sadly calling out to his wife, ‘I’m home.'”

The Joy of Language

Stephen Fry–comedian, actor, and general enthusiast–has this wonderful spoken-word piece about the joy of language set to kinetic typography (text in motion).

I’m a terrible gardener.  The worst in Wisconsin.  I don’t pull weeds–I step on them and sort of grind them into the earth with the heel of my shoe.  I don’t stop the zucchini from squashing the cucumbers.  And this year I decided against waging war with the legions of slugs that slimed so many of my tomatoes.

Of course I approach my writing differently–more like the way a newt enthusiast (cheers for Gussie Fink-Nottle!) cares for his newts.  There’s an art to setting up an aquarium for aquatic newts such as the Alpine newt below.  They need water that is cold and clear of all contaminants and not too acidic or basic, and they like aquatic plants to hide in and attach their eggs to.

I think of my writerly self as my little newt–tend to his habitat and he has a grand old time.

Leave It to Reader

I just finished Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable–it’s a great book, gripping and chilling in a sort of creepy way (Keir Serafian, the main character, is a pathological liar of the sort Hayden Christensen portrays in the movie Shattered Glass).

Something Lynch does so well–and it’s something I need to work on–is giving only what the reader needs to construct the story.  Lynch provides a few materials and the reader’s imagination then constructs the story.

One of the main plot points is that Keir Serafian cripples a player on the opposing football team.  Keir (who narrates the story) never mentions what the specific injury is, but he does describe in detail what hitting the other player feels like:

When you hit a guy with all your being, hit him the way a car hits a moose, you would expect it to hurt both of you.  But it doesn’t hurt the hitter, if the hitter has hit perfectly.  It is a strange sensation, almost a magical sensation.  The car takes a crumpling, and the moose takes a mangling.

But not the hitter. (17-18)

Lynch sustains this intensity for the rest of the passage, but Keir never describes what the injured player looks like–maybe because Keir never looks, maybe because Keir doesn’t want to offer that damning image.

Keir does describe the sound the injured player makes–“a kind of a grunt-cry voice forced up through fluid” (18)–and that detail alone is enough to suggest the horridness of the injury.

And maybe that’s the trick Lynch is using–suggestion.  Give only what the reader needs to construct the feeling or the scene or the person.

Last night I finished grading the last of a stack of 75 first-year composition essays that came in last week.  Grading along with having conferences all Monday and Tuesday (and other usual teacherly duties) forced me to put off my own writing for three days–I can’t remember the last time I went that long without writing.

I do enjoy reading student work–I like helping students become better writers (and readers and thinkers).  But when I stay in the evaluative mindset for so long, my mind becomes fixed in its motion, like a river, and I have difficulty switching from the critical mode to the imaginative.

When I returned to my novel last night and again this morning, I had a difficult time immersing myself in my story’s world.  I filled the page with many words but they don’t have much sparkle.

Tonight I’m going to read the opening chapters out loud just to help me inhabit my dual protagonists again.  I need to feel their needs, hear their voices, see through their eyes.  I need to remember so that I may conjure.

At the end of 1999, ESPN released this wonderful 7-minute video capturing the century in sports.  Much about sports parallels story.  The tension that mounts as the game’s end nears and the outcome is still in doubt.  The passion of people pursuing what they yearn for.  Climactic events.  And, of course, character.

In this video there are clips of those athletes whose heroism transcended sport–like Jesse Owens, who, during the 1936 Olympic Games, in the heart of Nazi Germany, won 4 gold medals.

There’s Lou Gherig, recently diagnosed with ALS and his body deteriorating, telling Yankees stadium, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

And of course there are Hail-Mary touchdown passes and home runs and knockouts and upsets (“Do you believe in miracles?”).