Today is usually both a relief and a sad day for me because I love National Poetry Month. 🙂 In case you couldn’t tell. I enjoy challenging myself by writing a poem a day. I love reading others’ poetry, and this month I took it a step further and invited local poets to submit recordings of themselves reading one of their poems, which I then posted on my store’s social media.
It’s a been a good month.
If you’ve enjoyed my illustrated haiku, thank you. They’ve been a great deal of fun to come up with. I’m planning to continue through the summer (though not posting them online, sorry) and at the end I hope to have something I can be proud enough of to publish with the title “100 Warm Days of Haiku”. This one will be different since I’m getting more confident with my use of color. It’ll still be pretty cheap as a Kindle book, but the physical book may be a bit more expensive since I’d like to publish it in color this time.
In the meantime, please consider giving my first collection of illustrated poetry, “UnSong”, a try. It’s available online today. I don’t have physical copies in my store yet because I worked on it right up til the deadline to make sure it was something I could be proud of (and I am).
So here it goes. I’m releasing UnSong on the world. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much.
Now we come to what is probably the review/blurb I worked the hardest to get. Poet Sam Love was one of the first people I approached for feedback on UnSong. He agreed to do it. Thank God.
I’m not sure how difficult it was for Sam to be a hundred percent honest with me, but when he replied there was no hesitancy. My book was sort of a mess. It lacked focus, some of the poems just didn’t seem to belong and it wasn’t organized into anything like a book. Just a mishmash of poems.
Don’t rush it, he said. You’ve got the beginnings of a good collection here.
I’m a seasoned professional so of course I didn’t think about never speaking to Sam again.
No, really, I have been writing seriously for long enough so I was able to receive Sam’s honest opinion and be grateful for it, even if it was hard to hear. I replied a sincere thank you and let the advice percolate for a bit, deciding what to do. I could put off the publication date, or I could work really hard and fix it.
Being the seasoned professional I am, I fixed it. I worked late into the evening, I worked between customers at the bookstore. And I got more opinions from other writers. Frank Hutton, a photographer and writer I have been friends with (we met on Zoetrope.com and have worked on other projects together), gave me some invaluable advice about design, as well as well as some great feedback on the poems themselves. I have some blurbs coming up from other writers tomorrow who also gave me some awesome feedback.
So…I fixed it and went back to Sam. Would he be willing to give me a blurb? I had no idea. Maybe he didn’t want his name associated with this mess.
He replied a day later with this:
Unsong is a bit like a buffet with nuggets of wisdom you can choose to embrace until it fills your soul. Wonderful nibbles of hope that you will return to when you need a dash of light to repel the darkness.
—Sam Love, author of Awakening: Musings on Planetary Survival
I call it victory.
For more information about Sam and his poetry, check out his website. His books are also available in my store.
I am so in love with my new project I’ve been working practically nonstop on it since last week. It’s tough when you’ve got a project like this that you can’t wait to see finished…but you’ve got to stop and do mundane things like pay the bills and get ready for taxes and, well, eat and sleep. (Though I will say I’ve sacrificed a bit of the latter.)
So I’ve been working nonstop since last week and I’ve gotten about halfway with the illustrations. But I just can’t wait to share at least one. So I chose one of my favorite haiku. Here it is with the illustration I finished just last night:
If you’ve seen my graphic novel HourGlass, you’ll recognize where I got the idea for this one. This is half the battle, too. Though most of my poetry is pretty easy to illustrate, some of it isn’t. This one actually took me a while. If you’ve ever tried to draw rain, you’ll understand why. It’s not the easiest thing to draw. I played around with different “brushes” on my iPad and finally realized it was the hand that was the important part of the poem, not the wind and rain. And thanks to HourGlass, I already knew how to draw a ghost-like hand. Lol.
Anyway, I’m off to illustrate more poetry. Maybe write one or two as well. There’s one I’ve included in this book that I may not be able to use as I’ve also entered it into a contest. I’m at least half hoping it doesn’t win (which it probably won’t) because it’s the best one I have and could easily take up a two-page spread, and I have the illustration all planned out. Well, we shall see, right?
If it does win, maybe I can still include it and add a line to the front cover: “Contains the award-winning poem—————”
It seems I just can’t NOT share my excitement about this ongoing project. I’m up to about eighty pictures now, and I’m still going strong. I’ve been experimenting more with drawing people as well as places and things. I think it’s working out…
Of course, my strength remains in the words, but I have had fun experimenting with drawing things like fire, too.
I know, of course, that my pictures will not be the works of art I see in other graphic novels. I am not truly an artist. Most of what I’m doing is photographic manipulation. My strength is really in the five poems that are in this book. And the story I’ve woven around the poems and pictures. I am hopeful that they will find a place in the hearts of readers.
I have a new book coming out on May 28. Did I mention that? I scheduled that release date myself. I wrote the book, too. And edited it. And proofread it. Again and again and again… (I’m actually in the last round of proofreading right now.) And hired a book cover guru (Farah Evers Designs). I did all this on my own without consulting anyone (except Farah because she has a skill set I do not). No editors, no agents, no publishers.
This is my book.
Why don’t I get an agent and sell my book to a real publisher? I guess the short answer to that is I have no patience. I used to think that was the only way to publish legitimately. But over and over I kept hearing “You’re a good writer, but it’s not what we’re looking for.” Well, I heard that when I could get any response at all. And that was usually after six months to a year of anguished waiting and checking my email and wishing and hoping and praying…
Self-publishing, though. Wow, that’s freedom. You can finish a book today and put it out tomorrow. Well, almost. It does have to pass a vetting process through Amazon or Smashwords or whatever. Still, it’s really easy comparatively. When I realized this (after my first self-published book, Weeds and Flowers), it didn’t take long or many rejections to decide my next one would be self-published.
It also didn’t take me long to realize the universal truth behind Uncle Ben’s immortal words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I have spent the past decade perfecting my skills, not only in writing, but also book designing, editing, even a little cover design (though I still prefer Farah), and everything else that is involved in creating a beautiful book for my readers. I’ve studied and read articles, trying my best to learn to craft a perfect sentence or just to learn the difference between lie and lay (that one is my kryptonite, but don’t get me started on who and whom).
Am I there yet? Hell, no. Why do you think I’ve been reading and re-reading my book? I have not the slightest doubt there are mistakes in it, but tell me, when was the last time you read a 70,000-word book (whether it was professionally or self published) that didn’t? Most 700-word magazine articles have typos. Hell, CNN makes mistakes routinely in seven-word headlines. So, yeah, in spite of my best efforts, you may find a typo. But you’ll find fewer mistakes in Magic at Sea than you’d probably find in Secrets of the Lotus (my first novel published by Kensington Press).
(It’s worth mentioning, too, that any traditional publisher would probably have put off publishing Magic at Sea indefinitely considering the bad press that the cruise industry has received recently. Is that going to stop me? Oh no. I wrote this book based on a cruise to Alaska that my family and I took that is still one of my favorite vacations ever. I would do it again in a heartbeat.)
I often wonder what I would do if a professional publisher offered to publish my books. Purchase my whole backlist, professionally edit it, and put it out in paperback. It’s no doubt a pipe dream because, as I’ve been told often enough, I don’t write what they want to publish, but what would I do if someone made that offer after the love and care I know I’ve put into every one of my books? Sign or no?
Who am I kidding? I’d sign.
In the meantime, however, here are approximately 700 of my words that I’ve pored over (yes, pored, not poured, I looked that one up a while back) to entice you to buy Magic at Sea. Hopefully with no mistakes!
As they sat to partake of the drinks and snacks he’d arranged, Galen found himself settling into the unintentional role of Frankie’s escort. Yet it felt natural when Connor and Carole sat together with Kate and Alex next to them for Galen to hold a chair for Frankie.
“So you really get to live on this ship?” Kate looked around with appreciation, then back to Frankie. She sighed. “Just imagine the amount of writing I could get done.”
Frankie smiled. “For six months, as long as I behave myself.” She batted her eyelashes at Galen. “I wasn’t everyone’s first choice for onboard entertainment, though.”
Galen felt the full force of the little group’s curious gazes. How could he not adore Frankie? How could he not be certain she would be an asset to the cruise—not just this ship but the entire line? He shook his head inwardly. Though from what he’d gathered Frankie had only met Connor once before, she was already a part of the group. Maybe it was some sort of magicians’ code. More likely it stemmed from her association with their friends. Any friend of mine…
“You don’t approve of escape magic, then?” Connor’s good humor didn’t falter. “I’ve never tried any of it myself, mainly because it’s a whole different skill set that takes years to learn, and if you don’t know what you’re doing…” He shrugged and looked back to Frankie. “But I’m looking forward to seeing your show. Lydia and Tony speak very highly of you.”
“Thank you.” Frankie took a little sip of her champagne and glanced at Galen. Her eyes sparkled. Your turn.
He accepted the unspoken challenge. “Frankie’s show marks a bit of change in our focus as far as entertainment goes. The magic shows have always been more kid-centric.”
“I can do kid magic.” Frankie spoke up.
“Can you?” He shot back.
“Of course I can. I got my start as a kid, after all. I know the rings and the scarves and the cup and ball routine. Why don’t you let me prove it?” She leaned forward. “If you think the kids will be missing the magic show because you’ve made it the ten o’clock show, let me go to the kids’ clubs.”
“What happens when they want to come to your show that evening?” He raised his eyebrows.
She shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of my show. You’re the one who decided it needed a parental guidance rating.”
“I—” He hesitated. It sounded silly now. He hadn’t even seen the whole show, after all.
Alex looked amused. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you slap a parental warning on a show, the kids immediately want to get in even more. What’s wrong with the show?”
“It’s…” He couldn’t complete the sentence satisfactorily in spite of the polite silence that stretched uncomfortably.
Frankie appeared to take pity on him. “In his defense, it is a little edgy. And some of the effects might be a bit scary. Tense.”
“Has nothing to do with what you look like, then?” Connor’s voice had taken on an edge of its own now. He leaned forward, his eyes on Galen’s. “Because that wouldn’t exactly be the best standard to base a decision on, would it?”
Carole put a hand over her fiancé’s and he glanced at her, then returned to his original position. She gave Galen a curiously sympathetic look. “Not everyone judges women based on how they look.”
Feeling strangely as if he’d been given a rare compliment he didn’t really deserve, Galen cleared his throat. “At any rate, I did make the decision that Frankie’s show would do best in the ten o’clock slot. But if she’s popular enough, she’ll get an encore show as well.”
“And now I can do the kids’ shows, too.” She smiled happily.
“I didn’t agree to that.”
“I believe you did.” She looked around the table and the others nodded agreement.
He groaned. “Fine. But I need to see what you’re hoping to perform first.” His phone dinged and he realized he must have been there for more than an hour. The first day at sea had a lot of programs to run, and though they mostly ran themselves, he needed to make the rounds. He rose. “Sorry. Duty calls.”
Seriously, I’m kind of happy to be done with the poem-a-day challenge. Writing poetry—everyday, anyway—gives you a new respect for Emily Dickinson. Not appreciation. Respect. There is a difference! I’ve always appreciated Dickinson, but the volume of poetry she wrote is something I now respect. It’s hard to write a poem every day.
But on to other things. It’s May Day! Let’s celebrate spring in spite of quarantine. What better way than by anticipating my upcoming new book? This is my new romance novel that takes place, of all places, on a cruise ship. Lol, right? If you can stop laughing long enough, though, take into account that I began writing this novel three years ago after I went on a cruise to Alaska. It was an amazing, truly magical experience, and to me, there is nothing so romantic as the sea. So, if you can clear the tears of laughter from your eyes, here’s the cover and a brief excerpt.
“Do you want me to leave?” He turned his hand over in hers so he could curl his fingers around hers.
“I think it would be best. Yes.”
“I will then.” He dropped his hand from hers, but then he leaned forward and kissed her, very quickly and softly, on the lips. “I’ve got plenty to do and you don’t need me here. I won’t see you again before your show tonight, though, so I want you to think about one thing for me.”
She wasn’t sure she could think about anything else but how his lips felt on hers and how much she wanted to repeat that experience. “What?”
“Have you ever once worried about what would happen if this thing doesn’t work out? Or have you just wondered what will happen if it does?”
His words gave her a jolt as she recognized the truth in them. She hadn’t thought about what it would be like to be stuck working on a ship with a man she’d attempted to date, perhaps to see him start another relationship with someone else. Not even once had that occurred to her. Why wasn’t she worried about that?
Because it won’t happen. I feel it. If we let this thing get started between us, it’s not going to stop. And maybe that’s what I’m scared of.
He stepped away from her, his eyes still locked on hers. He nodded. “Neither have I.”
From Magic at Sea by Michelle Garren Flye
So go celebrate May Day with cake, dancing (even if it’s solitary, dance anyway) and singing. If you have a May Pole, decorate it. Smell some flowers. Enjoy life a little. We all deserve it.
Yesterday was April 1, 2020, the first time I’ve ever wished someone would declare the whole year thus far as an April Fool’s joke.
It didn’t happen.
But while I was waiting for it to happen, I did get something done. A little something, anyway. I took a picture. You can see it to the left.
Yes, I published a book of poetry. A couple of those poems go back several years to the first year I wrote a poem a day for National Poetry Month. That’s when I first realized I liked writing poetry. And that I was pretty good at it.
I’ve come a little ways since then. I’m more confident about what I can do and why I do it. I’m pretty sure I’ll write poetry for the rest of my life. I guess that’s why I decided to go ahead and publish a small collection publicly. If you know there’s more coming, why not, right?
Speaking of which, there’s never been a better time for whiling away the time writing poetry than now. A bookstore, the most essential place of business in the best of times, isn’t, exactly, right now. So, in the interests of the public health, I’m staying home. And since it’s National Poetry Month, I’m writing a poem a day. Since I missed yesterday, you get two today. Let me know what you think!
April 1, 2020
April Fool’s, I cry, wishing it applied.
If only the past four years could dissipate
And life go on with no reason to hide.
But go back inside and shut the gate;
No use waiting for a change in the tide.
Store’s closed, theater’s shuttered, all gone.
No more help from those in charge
Than that you give yourself alone.
No superheroes will arrive and barge
In to help you, so change your tone.
Would life be better if other decisions were made?
Oh yes, but we can’t live for yesterday when
Worries about tomorrow still pervade.
Close your eyes and count one to ten.
Then go on with life, there are debts to be paid.
April 2, 2020
How long until we trust a hug again?
How long before we open up to life,
And throw our arms around each other?
I’d like to buy the world a coke—
But that’s tough from six feet away.
They say it will happen eventually.
Slowly, we’ll see this thing go away.
Can a hug happen carefully,
Or is it more of a spontaneous thing?
Can we learn to embrace that way?
I guess it will work out for us, though.
When this is over, we’ll be delicate.
It’s better to be careful when you’re hurt.
And oh, we will be tired and we will ache—
When we get there, don’t squeeze too hard.
As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?
Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?
Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:
And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.
Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.
So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.
Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.
(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)
But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.