UnSong update… and a few thoughts about Seuss… with an illustration

First off, the good news. I am almost finished with UnSong. Which means I’m looking for a few good…people…to read and review it. It’s in the Beta reading stage, then my art director gets to look over my illustrations and offer constructive criticism (or just fix my mistakes herself) and meanwhile I’m working on Scrivener to format it properly (page numbers and what not)…but it won’t be long before I am ready to send it out for advance reviews. Anybody interested?

Second, I’m finally ready to weigh in on the Dr. Seuss debacle (you know where the estate of Dr. Seuss took six of his books off the shelf because they contained racist imagery?). It took me a while to digest this and figure out how I felt about it because Seuss was a source of great entertainment when I was a child (though I admit I had a preference for the darker imagery of Mother Goose). Still, the Cat in the Hat was pretty creepy and fun.

Anyway, six Dr. Seuss books being yanked from stores and shelves and online dealers all at once caused a great deal of consternation among parents and teachers. How dare they? These are classics. True enough, though I couldn’t remember reading any of them except Mulberry Street and McElligott’s Pool. And though I didn’t recall any racist imagery in them, when I went back and looked, it didn’t take long to spot.

Still, surely it’s a bit of an overreaction to pull six books because of a few racist illustrations and words. Doesn’t the work itself outweigh those tiny infractions?

Not necessarily. As a librarian and a writer, I know books go out of print for a number of reasons. One of those is certainly outdated information, and Dr. Seuss’s talent for iambic pentameter and rhyme notwithstanding, his books were definitely guilty of that. Another reason for removing books from print and/or shelves is if there are other books and authors that provide the same entertainment or information value without the offensive characteristics. I can list a number of authors who can do this: P.D. Eastman, Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Marcus Pfister, Eric Carle… If you want to broaden children’s minds rather than limit them, just Google “anti-racist alternatives to Dr. Seuss”. There are some amazing books out there for kids. And there’s always the rather dark, twisted and melancholy world of Mother Goose where children regularly break their crowns or eat blackbirds baked into a pie.

Dr. Seuss definitely played a role in my childhood. It’s possible he inspired some of what I write today. It’s also possible I’m still fighting some of what he taught me.

Worth considering, don’t you think?

By Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

I don’t have a problem with Amazon. Not really.

This weekend a friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. It was an article by Adam Stern in The Chicago Tribune entitled “Independent Bookstores are More Than Stores”.

This article gave me a lot of feels.

First, as a reader, I totally agree with him. I remember as a kid haunting local bookstores. I would sometimes spend hours browsing bookstore shelves. That’s how I discovered Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony and even Jane Austen. We had a used bookstore in our town called The Book Nook. I would often trade books in there. I’d bring in a stack of dog-eared novels and leave with another. I believe that’s where I first made the acquaintance of Stephen King. There is absolutely nothing like browsing a bookstore’s shelves and taking home a new book by a new author you might never have tried before.

And yes, this experience is slowly dying off.

Second, as an author, I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. They make it easy for me to publish my books. It costs me nothing but time to put my book up for sale on Amazon. BUT they make it easy for anyone to publish their books. Forgive me for sounding a little uppity here, but when I decide to publish something, it’s gone through intensive editing. I self-edit, but I am an editor, so I can do it. My books are not the stream-of-consciousness, unedited, full-of-typos books that have given independent/self-publishing a bad name. In fact, I would venture to say that my books are better edited than some bestsellers. But it’s difficult for readers to trust self-published books because anyone can self-publish. Hence, the love/hate relationship.

I cannot hate on Amazon when they provide essential tools for me, though.

Third, as a bookstore owner. Okay, I should hate Amazon, right? Again, there’s mixed feelings here. My store serves a different purpose than Amazon. You will not find the latest Oprah pick (does she still do that?), the newest best seller, the trendiest hot read on my shelves. I have well-loved classics, dog-eared novels, a decent selection of nonfiction, and LOCAL, INDEPENDENTLY-PUBLISHED AUTHORS. So as far as that goes, I don’t have a problem with Amazon. When someone comes in and asks for Nicholas Sparks’s latest or the new book by Barack Obama, I cheerfully refer them to Books-A-Million or Amazon. “But I want to keep my money local and help you,” they say. “So browse the shelves and find something you like from what I have,” I reply.

That’s my problem (and, I guess, Stern’s) with Amazon. But it’s not just Amazon. It’s big publishing in general. And people like Oprah who presume to know what other people should read. They have the influence and resources to push the same authors over and over again. The same ideas get consumed over and over. Just because I can publish my well-edited, pretty damn readable book doesn’t mean it’s going to be discovered by readers who have been conditioned to want to read the latest bestseller, the latest trendy nonfiction, the latest thing Oprah said was good.

So, to those who call me up and ask for the book they heard about on Good Morning America this morning, I say, “If you truly want to help your community and keep your money local, have a look at our local author section. There’s some good stuff in there that you will never know about if you don’t give it a try.”

My independently published graphic novel.

Poem: Hell at Your Doorstep

Like many, I’ve been watching the developments of the riot at the Capitol Building last week. Probably more than I should…although, maybe not.

You see, at first, I thought it was a bunch of yahoos that overwhelmed an unprepared bunch of basically mall cops. Were the cops even armed with anything but batons and shields? I wasn’t clear. It seemed, at first, like a bunch of rednecks got out of control at a tailgate party.

Over the course of the past week, it’s become very clear, that’s not what happened at all. The rioting crowd was out for blood. And blood was spilled. Some theirs, but a lot of it from the courageous police who were all that stood between the mob and the fragile gears of our democracy.

I think it’s important that we all not only realize this but accept it. Maybe there were good people in that mob swept up by the evil and the hell. Maybe we all need to be on guard because if the events of January 6, 2021 are any indication, hellfire is just a step away.

Hell at Your Doorstep

By Michelle Garren Flye

Hell’s not far away

Pull back the shade

You know it’s there

It doesn’t try to hide

Watch people tumble

Unresisting to the flames

Follow, follow, the light cries

Come and meet your doom

The eagle’s flight wavers

Courageous profiles darken

When hell flames alight

At your very doorstep

Massive gates won’t stop

The press of fiery rage

Stone burns the same

As wooden crosses then

Thorns bleed tears of wine

Drip down marble visage

Don’t look out the window, love

Hell will greet you there

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Echoes: For Our Congress

Echoes: For Our Congress

By Michelle Garren Flye

Angry bangs and steps echo

In hallowed halls

While souls scrunch under chairs

And keep silent

To avoid detection

Anguished texts and last-minute calls

Words left unsaid must be spoken

Because time is suddenly ending

A doorknob rattles

(Is it friend or foe?)

Huddle down, small one,

Don’t grab attention now

The loud crashes might be gunshots

Those screams might be a friend

Don’t react, keep your cries quiet

Until someone calls the all clear

Then hold your hands up,

Follow directions through bloody halls—

And welcome the U.S. Capitol to the ranks

The domestic terror list that includes:

Parkland

Sandy Hook

Columbine

Listen to the echoes

And know what they endured

Because of your neglect.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

By Michelle Garren Flye

Merry Christmas we cry,

Admiring our tree,

Wishing we could fly

But there’s nowhere left to flee.

The soft glow of white light

Illuminates our night’s work:

Vision of loveliness to our sight

While we ignore what’s in the mirk.

It’s the last of 2020,

The year everything went berserk.

We know that our fates

Rest on whatever comes next,

On untested dates

That still may be hexed.

Maybe, just maybe, our lives will get better?

Maybe we’ll get past this year that was cursed?

Whatever lies in wait is just round the corner—

No time to waste, we plunge in headfirst!

Never mind, doesn’t matter; this year’s a goner.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

A Day of Promises: Happy Winter Solstice!

I try never to let the winter solstice pass unnoticed. Of course I was asleep at 5:30 a.m. or whatever ungodly hour the solstice actually happened, but today is one of my favorite days.

The shortest day of the year.

I’ve watched the days get shorter since the summer solstice (you really can notice it after a week or two). Once daylight savings runs out, it’s really noticeable. Suddenly I have to hurry to walk my dog before it gets dark.

And then you get to today. The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere at least. And that means tomorrow it will be light longer. Today is not a day of darkness. It is a day of promise.

Tomorrow will be brighter.

With that in mind, I thought I would share the first bit of something from my next comic, SeaGlass. Because that’s my promise. I’ll finish another comic next year.

From SeaGlass, my next comic. Art and words by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: The Why of the Drive

“There’s lightning in the sky, I’m on the run

As an overwhelming urgency explodes.

All my life been waiting to arrive.

It’s not the destination, it’s the drive.”

—Jason Wade “Paper Cuts”

So goes one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite musicians. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it…well, last week. It took me a whole week to realize how appropriate this song actually was.

You see, I think those words are very true for most humans. We’re not called a “race” for nothing. All my life, I’ve been racing for one thing or another. To get an education, to get a good job, to have a family, to reach a point in my life where I’m totally fulfilled. Waiting to arrive. I’ve been lucky enough to achieve many of my goals. Some have escaped me. One in particular—to create a story that will capture the imagination of more than me—still dances just out of my reach.

But I’ve reached a point in my life where I wonder if maybe that might not be best.

Alan Shepard, the first man in space, emerged from his capsule and said, “Man, what a ride.” He’d achieved his dream. He’d been to space. Guess what he did then? He started trying to get back to space. In 1971, he commanded Apollo 14 on its mission to the moon, where he became one of the few who have walked on that gloriously inhospitable surface.

Man, what a ride.

I will never stop trying to string together words and now pictures to make that story that will suddenly become the story everyone wants to know. It’s my journey. I may never reach the end of it, but I have to believe there’s a reason I’m on it. Maybe when I reach my end, I’ll know for sure what that reason was. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

The Why of the Drive

By Michelle Garren Flye

You start out fresh, focused and free

The window rolled down to feel the breeze

But you tire as the miles roll endlessly on

Each one passes but seems ever so long

Exhaustion sets in, dragging you down

You may nod off and miss a whole town

Muscles ache, discomfort draws your sighs

Why did you start this, your heart cries

But then you round a curve and know the why

You see it ahead where mountains meet sky

A creek bed that wanders hither and yon

A prairie or seascape that feels like a song

Oh God, help me enjoy the beauty you send

Even if it means I don’t make it to the end

Don’t take me away before it is gone

Just let me be where I know I belong.

By Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Gen X

I’m not sure where this came from except my frustration and angst boiled over a bit this morning. It’s sort of an apology to my kids. Give it some thought. Do you owe the next generation an apology?

Gen X

By Michelle Garren Flye

Let’s face it, we fucked up.

So long as we had our bite and sup

We didn’t care who had their way—

We just didn’t have that much to say.

The environment crumbles without our care;

Others struggle—we know it’s not fair.

But those others aren’t us, so why fear?

For them we will not shed a tear.

“We’re so laid back” is what we brag.

“We’ll leave it to others to piss and nag.”

The younger generation will have to fix

The mess we made when we were in the mix.

Retirement looms for us all now.

We’re almost ready to take a bow.

Our children shake their heads in wonder

At the world we’ve left torn asunder.

“Good times,” we say with wanton cheer;

“To better days,” we raise our beer.

All that’s left is to watch it burn

As we patiently sip and wait our turn.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Craving Heart

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Sometimes I’m attracted to a particular thing or sound or food/drink for no particular reason that I can name. My craving may attach itself to something I’ve known about and/or liked/loved for years. But all of a sudden, that’s all I want in my life.

What is this? It’s like a pregnancy craving. With my first son, I wanted milk all the time. Great, right? With my second, I wanted sweet tea, which sucked because I was living in Maryland at the time, and the only place to get good sweet tea was Bojangles. Thank God for Bojangles! My daughter was a different matter. I craved protein—in the form of hamburgers and steaks.

While I was pregnant, I figured cravings were trying to tell me something. I figure the same thing about these life cravings. Right now, all I want to listen to is Lifehouse and all I really want to read is manga/comics. I prefer drawing to writing, unless it’s poetry. What is my body trying to tell me?

Maybe it’s my spirit. Maybe it’s a type of spiritual pregnancy craving. I’ve completed my comic book (I’m moving away from calling it a graphic novel on my son’s suggestion), so it’s not that, but I can’t escape the feeling that my cravings relate to what’s happening in my creative life. In some way I can’t honestly name.

Craving Heart

By Michelle Garren Flye

Amorphous at first, like the moon’s touch,

Then filling the mind and life.

What is it you long for, want so much?

Sometimes sharp as a knife

Other times soft…you’d never hurt.

Give it to me, you whisper,

Give, and it’ll quench your thirst.

Resist you? Oh, that, I’d never!

I know how you get, my craving heart,

When I attempt to ignore

The insinuation of your persistent art.

No, I’ll surrender to wanting more

Of whatever you say I require.

I’ll see where this craving leads,

I’ll follow the road of desire—

And allow the nourishment of your needs.

Poem: Atypical Autumn…and a graphic novel update

We’re in the middle of autumn here in Eastern North Carolina. What does that mean? Beautiful trees and fire in the fireplace at night?

Hell no.

Most of our trees are evergreens, I think. We have a very few deciduous trees mixed in. But there are a few. And you catch glimpses of other color here and there. Temps are still averaging around 80 degrees although we’re no longer sitting on the Devil’s front porch (upper 90s). Still, there is beauty, and after living here for sixteen years, I’ve figured out how to find it.

Atypical Autumn

By Michelle Garren Flye

A fall like no other

With colors streaming

Like wild things at a party

Look there and there

Crimson poison ivy scales

The evergreen’s bark

And the pink magnolia seed

Gathers a fuzzy coat

Before it erupts to scatter

Scarlet hearts to unsuspecting birds

Spring and summer linger

In lemonade lantana

And late roses

If tradition is what you seek

Look to the dogwood

As its leaves brighten and fade

Chrysanthemums will blaze

And you might find a maple or two

But don’t expect too much

Atypical autumns don’t behave

The way you want them to

You have to adjust yourself

To see the beauty that’s there

And not wish for what

This season cannot be.

And with all that said, I should also add that I have recently completed edits on my graphic novel. Yeah, I know, that was fast! It feels weird that it went so fast. I think that’s the way things are when you’re driven to finish. Being completely self-published, I don’t have actual “deadlines”. Once I wrote this story, though, I knew I wanted to share it and my vision of it. Being able to do that in a visual way was very exciting to me. I’ve never been able to do that before except with my poetography. 😉 So, I’ll go ahead and announce that the kindle version of my graphic novel Hourglass is for pre-sale now on Amazon. The print version may take a little longer, and I definitely think it will be worth waiting for. I mean, who wants to read a comic book on their phone, right?