Today is the start of a new poetry appreciation series here on Writing to be Read where I will be introducing you to a number of wonderful poets in our blogging community, discussing well known poets and their poetry and reviewing poetry books. I hope you will participate in the discussions and enjoy meeting and greeting the poets, both new and known to you, and discovering new books of poetry.
My first guest is accomplished poet and writer, Sally Cronin, of Smorgasbord Blog Magazine blog. Sally has recently published a new book of poetry, 99-word flash fiction and short stories called, Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in words which I have reviewed below. Before we get there, however, Sally is going to share her thoughts about her favourite poem, The Law of the Jungle by Rudyard Kipling.
Over to Sally
What is your favourite poem?
That is an extremely tough question and had me stumped for a couple of days as I wanted to revisit the poems that I have loved since childhood to make sure that this really would qualify as my favourite poem.
The Law of the Jungle by Rudyard Kipling
(From The Jungle Book)
Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.
The Jackal may follow the Tiger, but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a Hunter — go forth and get food of thine own.
Keep peace with Lords of the Jungle — the Tiger, the Panther, and Bear.
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair.
When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken — it may be fair words shall prevail.
When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.
If ye kill before midnight, be silent, and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop, and your brothers go empty away.
Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man!
If ye plunder his Kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.
The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies;
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.
The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf. He may do what he will;
But, till he has given permission, the Pack may not eat of that Kill.
Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling. From all of his Pack he may claim
Full-gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same.
Lair-Right is the right of the Mother. From all of her year she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same.
Cave-Right is the right of the Father — to hunt by himself for his own:
He is freed of all calls to the Pack; he is judged by the Council alone.
Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of your Head Wolf is Law.
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!
Robbie: This is a wonderful choice of poem, Sally. I also love it. Interestingly enough my favourite poem is also by Rudyard Kipling and I will share it later in this series.
What is your interpretation of this poem?
This is about living in harmony within a society whether it is a wolf pack or amongst a human pack. Having social etiquette and respect for others is essential if all are to avoid conflicts, get enough to eat, be accepted and to thrive. There is a natural order to things and if you learn that when you are young, when you leave your pack you are well equipped to survive on your own with the skills to begin your own pack. And whilst is sounds draconian, those rules are there to protect the young as well as teach them manners. It applies to both wolf cubs and man cubs….
Robbie: A wonderful interpretation of this poem and of life in general. I have similar thoughts on how societies can best achieve success and one of my favourite key words in this regard is the need for discipline.
What emotions does the poem invoke in you?
When I first read the Jungle Book I was too young to really appreciate the undertones in the story about life, survival and the human and animal parallels. But I loved the book and this poem was rich in both words and intent, and when I was ten or eleven and read for the second time, I could see how this philosophy of life in the pack, related to life in a family. It made me feel secure to think of my father as the Head Wolf, and it also made me very protective of my other family members including my younger brother, who probably did not appreciate all the attention I lavished on him as I would like to believe! It also brings back memories of our time with Sam [Robbie: Sam is a lovely dog who was part of Sally and David’s family for many years before he passed. He has his own book called Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story] as our own small pack and how interestingly he adopted his own social rules of etiquette that run parallel to those in the poem. For example he considered us his alpha male and female and he would not start his own dinner until we were eating our own. He was very protective of any young family members who visited and also the elderly, sticking close to them. If he spotted something that he considered might be dangerous to us, he would always put himself between us and the threat. Whenever I saw him exhibiting these kinds of behaviour it always bought this poem back to me and made me so proud.
Robbie: Isn’t it wonderful the powerful emotions and associations a poem can invoke in a reader. Sam was a wonderful dog. You can read my review of Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story here: Goodreads review
If you could choose to write like any well-known poet, who would it be?
That is another tough question Robbie as there are many poets who have stirred my emotions and also my imagination. And whilst I would love to be able to write like Rudyard Kipling both in prose and verse, I am always drawn to the young and sometimes short lived war poets. They conveyed the reality of war, stripping it bare of glory but telling a story in a few short lines. Their legacy is that we never forget those who died, even if we might not always learn the lessons we need to from their passing.
Rupert Brooke for me is one of the finest examples of these poets, and if I could convey the depth of emotion, intent and storytelling in my poetry, I would be very happy indeed. Whilst The Soldier is the most often quoted poem, certainly at military funerals, it is one of his peacetime poems that always resonates with me especially as I get older and celebrate married life.
Kindliness by Rupert Brooke
When love has changed to kindliness —
Oh, love, our hungry lips, that press
So tight that Time’s an old god’s dream
Nodding in heaven, and whisper stuff
Seven million years were not enough
To think on after, make it seem
Less than the breath of children playing,
A blasphemy scarce worth the saying,
A sorry jest, “When love has grown
To kindliness — to kindliness!” . . .
And yet — the best that either’s known
Will change, and wither, and be less,
At last, than comfort, or its own
Remembrance. And when some caress
Tendered in habit (once a flame
All heaven sang out to) wakes the shame
Unworded, in the steady eyes
We’ll have, — THAT day, what shall we do?
Being so noble, kill the two
Who’ve reached their second-best? Being wise,
Break cleanly off, and get away.
Follow down other windier skies
New lures, alone? Or shall we stay,
Since this is all we’ve known, content
In the lean twilight of such day,
And not remember, not lament?
That time when all is over, and
Hand never flinches, brushing hand;
And blood lies quiet, for all you’re near;
And it’s but spoken words we hear,
Where trumpets sang; when the mere skies
Are stranger and nobler than your eyes;
And flesh is flesh, was flame before;
And infinite hungers leap no more
In the chance swaying of your dress;
And love has changed to kindliness.
Robbie: An amazing poem, Sally, thank you for sharing it with us. The war poets certainly know how to highlight the best and worst life has to offer.
Thank you so much for inviting me over today to share my love of poetry and thank you for your wonderful reviews for my work which keep me motivated.
Robbie: Thank you for your contribution to Treasuring Poetry, Sally. Your thoughts and input are greatly appreciated.
Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in words by Sally Cronin
What Amazon says
Life’s Rich Tapestry is a collection of verse, microfiction and short stories that explore many aspects of our human nature and the wonders of the natural world. Reflections on our earliest beginnings and what is yet to come, with characters as diverse as a French speaking elephant and a cyborg warrior.
Finding the right number of syllables for a Haiku, Tanka, Etheree or Cinquain focuses the mind; as does 99 word microfiction, bringing a different level of intensity to storytelling. You will find stories about the past, the present and the future told in 17 syllables to 2,000 words, all celebrating life.
This book is also recognition of the value to a writer, of being part of a generous and inspiring blogging community, where writing challenges encourage us to explore new styles and genres.
This new book sees author, Sally Cronin, delving into new genres in the form of a variety of styles of poetry and 99-word flash fiction pieces. It also includes a number of her delightful short stories, although those differ from others that I have read by this author as many of them feature an animal as the main character.
The poetry is beautiful and is split into sections, namely, Seasons of the year; All things human; Fairies and other folk; The natural world; Remembrance, Celebrating pets and Random thoughts. The poems included in the sections entitled Season of the year and The natural world largely feature the natural environment, including the various seasons and the different creatures that inhabit it, and makes use of all the senses to wrap the reader in the specific joys and pleasures of the flowers, the light, celebrations, birds and and other natural phenomena including drought, snow and frost.
The poetry sections entitled All things human, Remembrance and Random thoughts as well as some of the flash fiction and short stories utilize the writer’s amazing ability to invoke great emotion from her readers towards her characters and their circumstances and situations, while being easy to relate to and highly believable.
The poems and stories that feature pets and animals showcase the authors love of the animal world and convey the special relationships that frequently develop between people and their pets.
I appreciate the undertone of happiness that is generally present in this authors books and stories. It is a wonderful thing to be able to read a book that makes you feel great emotion and still come out on the other end with the impression that life is a wonderful and great journey. This is definitely a skill that Ms Cronin has and uses to its best advantage in all her books, poems and stories.
Purchase Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in words
About Sally Cronin
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another twelve books since then on health and also fiction, including four collections of short stories. My latest book is a collection of verse, micro fiction and speculative short stories titled Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in Words
I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books.. as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
My blog is https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com
And for more information on my books listed here at Amazon please visit
You can connect with Sally Cronin on the following sites.
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Dan Alatorre’s Santa Maybe is a delightful tale that will make you believe in the magic of Christmas at any age. This story is brief, but it will keep you smiling all the way through. A brief trip to the store and a bearded man in a red shirt lead a dad and his daughter to ask, “Could it be?” What they discover may not definitively resolve the existence of Santa Claus, but it proves that the magic of Christmas is real and everlasting. This is a great seasonal feel good story to brighten the holidays and capture the Christmas spirit in all of us.
Some stories you just judge by the way they make you feel inside. I give Santa Maybe five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
I’ll Be (Writing) for Christmas
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
The holiday season brings a lot with it. Presents, pie, turkey, presents. I like presents, always have. Not just receiving them, though when I was a kid, that was the absolute pinnacle. I also like to give, which is why in this month’s Pep Talk, I’m giving the gift of solace, a little thing called the holiday writer’s blues, or as you might know it in the common tongue, loneliness.
It creeps up on us when we least expect it. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. Like a perfect trifecta of sadness and stress, unbidden yet punctual, the same time every year, and it can be a bummer for people who don’t have anyone special in their lives. Most fortunately, and thank God this is the case, I’ve never had to be alone for the holidays. I’ve got a very loving family, a loving wife, but even so, there have been occasions when I’ve had to do the one thing I don’t want to do when everyone else is decking the halls, drinking eggnog, and crushing into department stores to return those awful socks.
Writing is both a noun and a verb, and so, it turns out, is the word writer. If you consider yourself a writer in the subjective sense, you are perhaps the thing not doing the thing, potential energy instead of energy realized. In the active sense, though, you’re a writer who is, you know, as energized as a red-nosed reindeer. Regularly, it is to be hoped. If you follow the Pep Talk, you’re familiar with my attitude toward cutting yourself a break and taking time away from the craft whenever you need it. I hate seeing writers burn out, and I’ve seen it a lot.
If for the holidays you find you have to put the laptop down and decompress after a long year of hard work, I say go for it, no shame necessary. In fact, if a writer feels the need to take months or even years off, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. We practice a unique and distinguished artform, one which engages the intellect as well as the emotional center. Sometimes you need to feed your creative engine rather than letting it burn, and burn, and burn. If you can do that comfortably, while at the same time allowing yourself the freedom to recognize your desire to write is safe and sound right where you left it, then to my mind you really have the best of both worlds, because you’re the writer who writes, but only when your mind and emotions are strong, fresh, and ready enough to make it possible.
But sometimes we’ve got to work on Christmas, right? Or on any other holiday. If there’s one thing young writers learn pretty quickly, it’s that solitude is essential to the craft. But it can in fact get lonesome. Especially during a time of year traditionally reserved for friends and loved ones. So how do we work when all we really want to do is socialize and rest? How do we keep those words flowing, locked up in our writing spaces with the door closed, about as merry as a stocking full of coal?
It comes down to this: ambition is costly, and sometimes, we must choose our dreams over our immediate desires. Again, if you’re seriously in need of a break, I say take one. In any other case, though, it’s for the best if you can produce every day, or damn near every day. This season is meant to be about love and a deeper kind of appreciation. So appreciate yourself properly. Follow your dreams whenever you can, as steadfast and as boldly as you can, because to do the opposite cultivates regret. I hate regret. It’s like opening a big box with a big bow only to find novelty gas relief pills inside. I did that to my brother one Christmas, by the way. He laughed. Sort of.
The most basic thing to provide yourself, not just in the month of December, but throughout the whole year, is a daily word count limit. Now, it may seem prudent to make that limit high. A lot of writers like to do a bare minimum 2,000 words per day. That’s a great habit to get into if you can manage it, but in the long run, depending on your proclivity for exhaustion, it might turn into a liability. For the holiday season, at least, I’d recommend dropping your daily word count goal to something more manageable.
For instance, in my general daily habit, I’ve started writing a scant 430 words per day. That’s nothing, a half-hour commitment at most. But at that pace, I can lay down just over 3,000 words per week, which works out to almost 157,000 words per year. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty good sum total. In other words, you could literally write two whole standard-length novels in a year if you write for just a half an hour every single day.
Now in terms of the holidays, an easy half-hour commitment allows you to enjoy the festivities and skip the Quasimodo act. Sanctuary! Sanctuary! You could even fit in some revisions or edits between that first football game and the precise hour and minute your uncle starts snoring on the couch. The other good news with such a low word count goal is that it’s common to overshoot the target, which means in a year’s time, you’ll have written far beyond that 157,000 word benchmark. If it suits your needs, just pull back a little. You can still be productive, be the writer doing the writing, the thing doing the thing, without behaving like a hermit.
I can offer another piece of advice here, ironically the exact opposite of what I’ve told you thus far. I know, that tricksy Bowles and his tricksy ways. Yet this might help you deal with unavoidable loneliness directly. I’m not the first guy to suggest it, and I sort of wish it weren’t the case, but it’s possible the only way to combat the holiday blues is to work even harder than you normally do.
Now I wouldn’t recommend this for someone with a lot of family obligations, but look, workaholism is a thing because it actually can be effective on some basic emotional level. To paraphrase the Christian aphorism, idle hands (occasionally) do the work of loneliness. Sometimes it does no good to stay stuck in your head. Maybe try expressing yourself and your feelings on the page. Pour that pent-up stuff into whatever you’re working on, and don’t be afraid to get real about it. As Ernest Hemingway said, writing isn’t hard. What you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. Now, I’m not suggesting you bleed all over your nice, brand-new, Santa’s workshop custom Dell notebook, but look, people choose to soothe themselves in a lot of ways, some of which are pretty unhealthy. Writing a whole bunch? It’s not the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Loneliness sucks. So if you’re doing it to yourself by working too hard, or conversely, if you don’t have a choice about it because at this point in your life, you really do feel alone, adjusting your regular work routine may be the ticket to feeling a bit more jolly this season. Don’t overdo it. That’s all I ask. Look after yourself first and foremost. I really do mean that. And don’t forget that nice shiny sense of pride and fulfillment. This is a high calling, after all. Maybe not as high as buying Jeff Bowles some presents, but you know, pretty high.
By the way, that’s:
1234 Nowhere Street
Care of the Grinch living on top of the mountain
All right, everyone. Thanks for reading, and Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Now for some John Lennon! War is over, if you want it. The war within yourself, that is. Cheers!
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In his 2012 Relevant article, “Where Did Good Christian Fiction Go?“, Micah Levi Conkling claims that Christian fiction has been marred by the Left Behind series and Amish fiction, and is very difficult to find. So, in September, we’ve been seeking out Christian fiction to see if Conklin’s claims are true. Is there really no good Christian fiction out there anymore?
To start off, I want to define what Christian fiction really is. It’s not really a genre. Not really, because as you’ve seen if you have joined me in my search, Christian fiction comes in many genres. The two books I reviewed from the Thanksgiving Books & Blessings collection, Texas Tears and Mail-Order Misfire, are both western romances, and I also had the pleasure of interviewing the author of each, Caryl McAdoo and Davalynn Spencer respectively. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest, Angela Hunt writes historical fiction, historical romance, heart-warming tales of love and friendship, and children’s books that can all be classified as Christian fiction.
Christian fiction is really a category that other genres fall under. The aforementioned Left Behind series might fall under the science fantasy genre, given it’s futuristic, alternative universe setting. As Christian novels can be so varied, let’s take a look at what they have on common like the portrayal of Christian lifestyles, and an underlying message of a loving God. A book in virtually any genre could be considered Christian fiction if it has these two components, even if the message is subtle and remains in the background of the story. According to the Christy Awards website, the award is “designed to nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview and showcase the diversity of genres.”
In spite of Conklin’s claims, not all Christian stories boldly shove the message of God down the readers throat. (Many children, and adults as well, turn tail and run from a story that give a hard push to moralistic messages, as is discussed in this month’s “Growing Bookworms” post.) I think the message in good Christian fiction is delivered subtly, in small doses, giving the reader the option to take it or leave it while still being able to enjoy the story.)
Christian fiction really has a bad rep in some circles, where any story with no sex, no violence, no cursing, and no vice, it is believed that the reading of which might be comparable to eating white rice with no seasonings. Christian fiction, from my view, is a tale which portrays Christian beliefs and values in its character’s lifestyles. I think the historical may even be flavored a little more heavily with this, because in days of past Christian lifestyles were more prominent. That could explain why historicals and westerns, like those we’ve looked at here lend themselves so readily to the Christian aspects. I’m guessing that it would more difficult, although not impossible, to work Christian aspects into a futuristic work of science fiction or fantasy, but I have seen them worked into thrillers and mysteries, and they are easily worked into contemporary romance.
Most Christian fiction stories that I’ve read are heart-warming and inspirational, and I’ve walked away with a warm feeling at the story’s end, as if there might actually be hope left for this world, or for love, or humanity, depending on the individual story. In short, Christian fiction works are stories which are written for Christian readers. But you don’t have to be searching for something with Christian undertones to enjoy one if you come across one. A good, well-written Christian story lets the characters carry the reader through without being preachy and moralistic. The power of God shines through in the character’s lives.
In the 90s I lived in Marin County, in the San Geronimo Valley. The Valley is something like heaven. It’s undeveloped land full of hiking trails, hills and valleys, winding roads and custom built wooden houses. It has its own culture. The San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center is a meeting hall and multi-purpose space where events can happen. Some of the Center’s regular features are readings of poetry. It’s a frequent venue for local bands. I participated in a lot of the Cultural Center’s events. I appeared frequently for poetry readings. I assembled my band, “The Cryptic Research Orkestra” and played songs like “Barking Platypus At Midnight”.
It’s gratifying to be known, to have a small following of people who will show up because my name is on the flyer that is pasted up and down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
On this night my “peeps” were there, all the fans who knew that I might provide the unexpected, or do something funny, play drums or read poetry.
My poetry first finds expression in one of my black notebooks. These are bound books of clean pages, two hundred pages per volume. I purchase them at book stores or online. My closet is home for a dozen of these volumes. I keep the latest two or three books in my top drawer, so that I can read from them at live shows. Eventually I type my poems into the computer and add them to my master volume.
When it was my turn to read I carried one of the volumes onto the stage while I put the other two behind me, behind my drum set. Then I did my thing: I read. I entertained, enchanted, lala lalala, I sprouted wings and floated to the ceiling. When the mushrooms began to wear off I realized that I had read a single poem of eight lines. It had seemed like twenty minutes. Don’t perform on psychedelics. It promotes delusions and confusions. Anyway, I had a spare fifteen or twenty minutes left, so I turned to claim one of my other books. I saw a tall furtive figure creeping off the stage with my two notebooks in hand. “Hey!” I yelled and he took off on lanky legs, flying like an antelope. I ran in pursuit but when I got through the door there was no sign of him.
Why would anyone want to steal my books of poetry? Was this a case of lunacy, over -the- top fan-dom, both, or neither? Was the thief going to read my poems and claim them as his own? I would never know. I spent days musing on the nature of my loss. I hadn’t computerized those books yet. My memory was inadequate. I knew there were some really good poems in the books. One of them was a game I played with time, space and words. The words occupied strategic parts of the page. The poem began in the upper left corner and said, “From which Point Of View” then it dropped to the middle of the page and said “Ever Shifting”, then dropped to the left bottom corner, said “Changing” and that’s all I could remember of how I structured this marvelous statement about the ephemeral nature of reality.
I had lost all those poems. Shit. I felt hollow in my belly, like I was hungry, but it was more like a mist of needle-like molecules of loss. Emptiness. Helplessness. I could never get back those poems. From that moment forward I vowed to make back ups. And I said goodbye to two or three years of excellent poetic momentum, my precious “middle period”, before I got old and detached from the world. Before I could see the world as a toy or board game or a scratchy reel of film from the twenties. Because…that’s what the world is, isn’t it? A game? A farce? A fraud.
A test of love, of strength, a breeding house of character. The world is so many things that as I age I appreciate senility…I mean, how much crap can a mind contain, anyway? This is why the memory folds like an origami and seemingly disconnected concepts join up in new ways. Origami. Poetry. Aha! I remember! My “from which point of view” poem was supposed to be folded up, then opened in a strict sequence. But I’ll never reconstruct that. It’s gone.
Here’s one that’s not gone.
I talk to the world
I know, I know,
you’re wondering what
it all is,
why it’s so damned
and why you can’t just
and make it good
why it’s so freaking hard
to work out
why there’s no answer: no,
not even an answer,
just a way
that isn’t painful
out of tune….
I know, I know…
What the hell is it?
What started it to go this way
and not some other
some way deeper,
than the squalid human consequences
of being here
with all this motherstuff
What is it that made our world
that to get a drink of water
to own a house
to dig a well
to marry a total stranger
means ten generations
of violent feud
to human beings
how did we miss everything
why aren’t we quiet enough
to see a hundred fifty shades
in a sunset cloud
why are we so noisy
so sloppy and clumsy
why do we breathe all wrong,
BREATHE ALL WRONG
what does it take
to be right with the world?
Look in the eyes of your baby.
Remember what you see.
Try very hard to remember
look in the eyes
of your lover
remember what you see
and its intricate rich depth,
It’s so easy to forget
it takes but a heart beat
were we talking about love?
I don’t remember.
There was something that confused me,
and now, see,
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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Who Influences the Influencers?
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
Are you an influencer? You might want to think about it a moment before you answer. In our culture, to influence is to make a big splash, to inform what individuals and groups value, how they think and interact. I’m an influencer because I’ve got a Mom and Dad, a wife, a brother, friends. I’ve had a huge impact on them, and it goes without saying, they’ve impacted me. We all influence each other, right? We can’t help it. If I know you and you know me long enough, we’ll start to get under each other’s skin. Science even suggests we’ll start to look alike, as terrifying as that sounds.
Human beings are the influential type. We’re social creatures, and usually, when one of us has trouble, there’s a whole baying wolf pack of supporters and naysayers coming up behind. One of the things I dislike most about our modern storytelling ecosystem is the fact writers today tend to favor death, tragedy, betrayal, all the nasty things in life. Whereas love, respect, loyalty, they seem to get left in the dust. So you’re a writer. You like to tell stories and communicate complex ideas that might otherwise mystify people. You’re an agent of truth, an avatar of righteous disclosure, and you need a clear mind and a firmly rooted foundation.
Enter the influencers. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be that grade school teacher who first read you your favorite book. Or the acclaimed author who, after forty years of alcoholism, workoholism, and abject failure, produced that one brilliant novel that sets your soul singing every time you read it. You can be your own influencer, too. Who is it that forces you to sit down at the computer and write? Is it your work ethic? Where’d you pick that up? I’m an all-or-nothing guy, much more comfortable working in bursts and spurts. Also more likely to face periods of intermittent burnout because of it. But even I get uncomfortable when I’ve allowed myself to rest on my laurels too long. Knock me down, I get back up (eventually). Who influenced me to perform this way?
It may sound sappy, but I don’t believe people come into our lives by accident. I learned to work hard from my family. They taught me to laugh as well, which means my stories are par-boiled and strange as hell. I didn’t know I had talent until people close to me told me in no uncertain terms. Even as an adult, there have been those moments a special person has come out of nowhere and made me feel suddenly and delightfully valuable. A little encouragement goes a long way, right? And thank god for that.
But let’s not forget the negative influencers in our lives. The people who tell us we can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, that we’d never. Sometimes, especially when we’re just starting out, our naysayers seem more numerous than our supporters. I was an indie singer/songwriter until I turned twenty-three and decided I was a writer. Just about everyone in my life, my family, friends, even my fiancé, were puzzled by the sudden turnaround.
“Don’t you still want to do music on the side?” they asked, oblivious to the fact I might interpret their concern as doubt in my abilities.
I wasn’t born to write, not really, and neither were you. We worked at it, honed our abilities to finely pointed instruments of literary destruction. Sure, people like us have a natural aptitude for this sort of thing. But for crying out loud, my first completed short story was such a godawful mess I haven’t had the strength to look at it in all the years since. No, my family wasn’t super supportive of my choice. I think they wanted to be, but perhaps they didn’t know how. To say they were unequivocally negative about my chances wouldn’t be fair, but I was their golden boy when I had a guitar in my hands, something substantially less than that when I started cranking out sub-par stories. Like you do. Because we all have to crawl before we can crawl just a tiny bit faster.
Here’s the thing. I’m grateful for their doubt. I recognize now that if not for a little healthy adversity, there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today. Do you feel the same? Who influenced you? Who told you you could or couldn’t? You may be surprised to realize you needed both groups in equal measure. We never really know how bad we want something until it’s denied us. Ask any hard-case of unrequited love out there, it’s always so much more romantic when the answer is a resounding “no.”
I’ve got a brief writing exercise for you, a small motivational tool to unearth where you’ve been and help you ponder where you’d like to go. Write down the top ten people who have influenced you on your writing journey. Could be anybody, teachers, authors, loved ones. Now for each one, assign a numerical value from one to ten. Your high school language arts teacher, what was her name? She gets a seven because she’s the first person to compliment your out-of-the-box ideas. Tally up the final score for all ten influencers and answer one very simple question: did you do this alone?
No! Of course you didn’t. There were people ushering your progress the whole time, laughing at you, cheering you, doubting you, praising you. There were ghosts of old writers in all the books you collected, urging you to follow in their footsteps, to find truth in their work, such that it could be found. The sheer joy of the struggle, the artistic and cerebral strains, buoyed by hearts buoying hearts, the ability to sit down and craft a narrative that takes everything you are, were, believe, love, hate, condense it into chalky baby formula, slap it in the food processor, and then ka-blam! Gourmet word smoothies (literally speaking, of course).
It’s no small thing to think about these people from time to time. For so many of us, real support doesn’t manifest until we’ve been working for years and years. Imagine you were raised to go into business. Mom, Dad, I want to be a writer instead. Professors, Dean, sorry I’m leaving your wonderful but boring academic program. I’ve got the bug, you see, and there really is only one cure.
The older I get, the clearer it seems to me our desires don’t come to us by chance. Plenty of people try their hands at penning their first novel and never make it further than a chapter or two. So take for granted the fact that if the urge to create is so strong in you you’ve never been able to lay it down, obviously, much gratitude and respect, you are MEANT (that’s all caps, MEANT) to keep working. Saying nothing about MEANT to be super rich or super successful, MEANT to win awards, MEANT to change the world. No, simply MEANT to write, which is no small MEANT at all, thank you very much.
Do yourself a favor today and give some gratitude to all your many influencers. Without their love, support, disinterest, and bad advice, you wouldn’t be able to influence others in kind. Oh no, you didn’t think you were getting out of it that easy, did you? Of course you’re the biggest influencer of all. We don’t live in bubbled slip-space isolation, present state of geopolitical affairs notwithstanding. You never know who’ll come knocking on your door. That special individual may become the most important author of the millennium. Then again, they might just be a friendly guy or gal who needs a friendly pep talk and a kind word or two.
Don’t make your job harder, and don’t make them feel they should abandon theirs. Writers who make a point of discouraging others give me indigestion. Probably for the best, in the long and short of things. I never really listened to their sort anyway. Until next time, folks. Dream large. After all, if you don’t, who will?
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