This isn’t exactly a new poem. It was inspired by my oldest son but over the course of the past year I’ve seen more and more instances of strength in all three of my kids. They’ve been generous with that strength, too, loaning it to me when I needed it. Like a warm coat they take off their own shoulders to place over mine.
So thank you, kiddoes. Without you I wouldn’t be me.
Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating by writing, but not just writing. I’m writing whatever I want. I’m also going back and reading some of what I’ve written in the past. If that sounds like self-gratification, keep in mind that I write what I want to read. It’s the main reason I enjoy it so much.
But I wanted to share another little bit from UnSong. I’m still working hard on the illustrations, and I’ve done most of the easy ones (and by that, I mean the ones that lend themselves to illustration more easily—they have a definite image. Poetry being poetry, not all of the poems in my volume do…or the image they have is a bit difficult for a novice artist like me to put on the page.
My point is, I’m getting there. The book is taking definite shape now. And I’m using Scrivener to build it, so I’m kind of proud of that, too.
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.”
Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes and fill up my heart.” That is indeed what reading is for many today. But it’s also a privilege and a right that human beings of all races had to fight for.
Before the invention of the printing press, only the upper classes had books to read. They were just too expensive for the common folk. Too busy surviving plague and poverty, many of these people never learned to read. Bibles, especially, were kept to the clergy and the church, mainly because they were the only ones who could read it in its original Latin. God forbid that the lower classes read it for themselves and start thinking and interpreting religion for themselves.
But then came the English translation of the Bible—which was banned for that very reason. It was smuggled into English hands by determined bibliophiles, but William Tyndale, the translator who lived in exile in Europe in order to complete his life’s work, was executed.
Of course slaves were not allowed to learn to read. Not only were there no schools for them, it was against the law to teach them in most slave states. But learning finds a way. Some slave owners allowed their slaves to learn to read as part of Christian education, and some educators found interesting ways around the laws, including a floating school on the Mississippi River.
My point here is that all cultures and races have fought at some point for the right to read and write, and in an era such as the one Americans are going through right now, we need to preserve every last bit of that right. Our president threatens social media and the press, bookstores in Minnesota are battered by protestors and looters, and all of this is happening against a backdrop where independent bookstores and small presses are struggling for survival anyway.
So my plea is this: Don’t be part of the forces that would oppress you and take the light of knowledge away. Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.
Today’s anti-information, non-factual age is a dangerous one for local bookstores, the media and science. In the end, it is up to us to make certain our heritage and ways of life are preserved. Protect what generations of every culture have fought for. Keep our bookstores open.
In April 2017, I began writing poetry. As in writing a poem a day for all thirty days of National Poetry Month. I don’t even know why. I had never thought of myself as a poet. I’m not a classically trained one, anyway. My degrees are in journalism and library science. The only things I know about rhyme and rhythm and meter are the little bit I remember from high school—and what I feel in my heart.
Since April 2017, which I now realize was almost three years ago, I have written poetry often, usually to vent something, political or personal. I’ve taught a few elementary poetry classes to kids because I still remember the first time I read e.e. cummings’s “in just—” and I wanted to share that with them. I’ve read and written poetry for more than one voice, which is not something I learned in school. I’ve played with rhyming and not rhyming, sometimes in the same poem. I’ve written prose poetry and limericks and haiku. (Haiku, done properly, is much harder than you might think.)
Last year, I published a little booklet of my poetry because a friend had passed away and I wanted to dedicate something beautiful to her memory. I chose fourteen of my favorite poems, formatted them with some of my photography and sent them off to a printer. I have given away more of those booklets than I’ve sold (it’s only available at my bookstore).
And that’s what poetry is to me, really. It’s meant to share. I’m more than happy to charge you $9 for one of my romances, but poetry, to me, is something different. Most of what I write goes on my blog, if I think it’s any good. I’ve only ever tried to submit it to poetry magazines or contests once or twice, more because I wanted to share with a wider audience than anything.
So, you might imagine my surprised delight when I was notified yesterday that I am a finalist for the title of 2020 Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate. This means I have the opportunity to present my poetry and my view of poetry to an audience at the historic Turnage Theatre in less than a month. I’m thrilled, rattled, uncertain, ecstatic and pretty sure the selection committee sent the email to the wrong person, but at the same time, I’m gonna go for it. This is a huge honor for me, as well as the opportunity to express my love for this art form.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved reading. She loved reading more than anything else. She would wake, pick up a book and start reading. She read as she ate, as she brushed her teeth, as she walked… She even found a way to prop her book up on the bedside table so she could read while she dressed.
Eventually, reading wasn’t enough, so the girl began to write the words she loved. Slowly, she came to the point where she was writing instead of reading. Maybe not as constantly because somewhere in there she’d grown up and had more responsibilities. Kids must be fed and cared for, house must be cleaned, laundry laundered, jobs attended to. Still, she found as much time as possible for writing. She even wrote several novels and that’s how the girl became the author.
The author found a little bookstore—a friendly, charming place that welcomed local authors and sold their books for them. The owner of the bookstore was a lovely lady who enjoyed meeting new people and liked selling their books for them. But eventually the lady wanted to retire. She told the author the store would have to close, but the author was very sad about that. “Oh, you can’t do that!” She thought of all the books in the store that would no longer have a place on a shelf in a warm, cozy bookstore. Including her books.
“I wish I could keep doing this forever,” the owner said, “but it’s just time for me to let go. Of course, if I could find someone to take over for me, that person could keep the bookstore open. Would you be interested?”
The author had never considered such a thing. She wasn’t a businesswoman. She was a mother, a wife, a reader, a writer. She had two dogs and two cats to take care of. She had carpools and volunteer work and housework and laundry. Being a bookstore owner wasn’t something she could do.
But maybe it was.
And so the author took over the bookstore and found she loved it. The bookstore was even more charming and peaceful when she went into it every day. It slowly became hers, and she felt as if “work” was not a chore there. “Work” was love, and the bookstore gave it freely to its new owner, the author.
Author’s Note: All this is to say that I am the proud new owner of a bookstore that I really do love. The Next Chapter Books and Art in New Bern, N.C. It happened very suddenly and much as I wrote above. I’m still in the transition stage with limited hours while I get my kids used to me not being the stay-at-home writer/mom that I’ve always been, but come in and feel the good vibes there. The positive energy that soaks the place is worth the trip.
My “magic consultant” R.J. (Arjay) Lewis just happens to have released his own book today, possibly more appropriate to the date than mine is. I was lucky enough to get to read this book ahead of time so I could post a review for him. If you like horror at all and want an extra chill today, give Kept in the Dark a try. Plus, it’s free!
My review of R.J.’s “dark twin” of Dickens Magic:
“Everything will make sense once you know what I know.”
Arjay Lewis draws that line in the sand that you just have to cross. You have to know what he—and his protagonist Jake Hurd—know. And once you know it, maybe it makes sense…or maybe you wish you didn’t know it anymore?
Kept in the Dark is Arjay’s latest foray into the psychological thriller/horror genre. A delightfully frightening mix with well-developed characters and a chilling plot, it takes you through the experiences of Jake as told to his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Lucas. Sam has to face the fact that Jake may not be the delusional night guard who’s afraid of the dark, but instead a man who’s been damned by his glimpse into another dimension—and the monsters he accidentally released.
I loved the tie-in to the Ecuadorian legend of El Cucuy and the tragic and the chilling view of mental illness. Well done!
Full disclosure, I was provided a free copy of this novel, and Arjay has worked with me on a number of projects. But I have enjoyed his work since before I met him when I first read The Muse. I think you will enjoy this novel, too.