The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic
It goes without saying the world has changed since I wrote the March edition of Words to Live By. Today is April Fools’ Day. Some joke, right? I woke up last night after turning in early. My phone said it was two minutes to midnight, and I thought, who’s going to be the fool tomorrow?
Fear is a funny thing. I think most people often get buried under the pressures, politics, and pleasures of everyday life and tend to ignore their fears, to in essence ignore their own shadow side. Well, lucky you, now none of us has a choice. I imagine these things as waves sweeping across the world. Maybe one moment you feel fine, completely on top of things, and the next you’re hit by crippling fear. Which is why toilet paper and ground beef are so scarce at the supermarket, why some people have parked themselves in front of the news one terrifying hour after another, why incredible boredom strikes and sometimes you can’t help but take it out on the poor sods stuck indoors with you.
Carl Jung, of course, believed in a great collective unconscious, an ocean of emotional and motivational currents that rage below the surface of our conscious minds, connecting us in the most primal sense to everyone else on the planet. It sort of takes the Eastern theological concept of oneness to a new place. Can we feel what others are feeling halfway across the globe? I have to admit, as someone who suffers from severe mental illness, I’ve spent much of the last few years in fear anyway. In some fashion, it makes this whole thing easier. But it also ratchets up the tension already winding away inside me. Because I know I’m not alone, I don’t mind admitting I’ve had a few freakout moments in the last couple weeks. I imagine I’ll have a few more before this whole thing is through. Anyway, what does “being through” even look like? Won’t COVID-19 be with us in some form or another for years to come? And what about the next pandemic, the next war, the next social upheaval? Folks who throw around the word apocalypse don’t seem to understand. Human history has seen the rise and fall of many such apocalypses, it’s just that no one living today has had the misfortune of witnessing one before.
They also didn’t have Twitter during the Bubonic Plague. Imagine if they had. Does our incredible electronic interconnectedness help or hurt us under these circumstances? General awareness, assuming you’re getting accurate information, has never been higher. But neither has the fear, the fear mongering, the spread of a wholly different, much deadlier virus that has been with humanity since the very beginning.
There are ways I’m learning to cope with my fear. Creativity is chief amongst them. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a writer or some other type of awesome creative person. I’ve heard stories of folks rediscovering their artistic side while under the constraints of lockdown. That’s a magical thing. Think of everyone having heart-to-hearts, making love with each other for the first time (or maybe the first time in months or years), beginning new creative projects, getting their life and living situations in order, or simply parking their butts in front of Netflix for hours on end instead of working themselves half to death, which is the only thing many of us have come to know.
You want my advice for keeping those pesky quarantine blues at bay? Make something cool. Like real cool. Write if you feel like writing, edit something you cooked up last year, paint a portrait of your cat, engage in this new and burgeoning Age of Aquarius in the proper way. Go outside if you live nearby nature, put your bare feet on the ground and soak up some sun. I mean, it’s early April and it may snow or something, but would you rather feel alive or inert at a time like this?
Fear is not necessarily an evil. When it causes us to lose control and rush down to the store to buy an entire stockroom’s worth of frozen peas, okay fine, then maybe it’s gotten out of hand. But fear can also show us the flaws in our lives, the things we wish could be different. Maybe you didn’t know you absolutely loathed your job until you had to work from home and found out … hey, I’d rather just be at home. A situation like this can change people, will change people, and it’ll change them on a global scale. God forbid you or someone you love suffers health consequences because of Coronavirus, but assuming everything is okay in your world otherwise, you might see this little siesta as an opportunity for personal growth. Read a self-help book, take up meditation or yoga, investigate the mysteries of the universe, snuggle someone nice and warm in bed at night, and then wake up and do it all again.
The point is there’s a lot of win in this win/lose scenario. Especially if you’re the creative type. Nowhere in your official I Survived Coronavirus contract, decoder ring, and commemorative t-shirt did it say you had to engage with a shock and terror obsessed media every waking moment, with bathroom breaks, meal breaks, and shopping trips baked in for added texture. In fact, I’d say if you’re a creative person—and especially a writer—it’s your obligation to make something that reflects your mood and the moods of individuals and collectives all over the world. Maybe just journal your feelings at night. That could go a long way toward making you feel better on a day-to-day basis.
Creativity is catharsis. Always was and always will be. I believe in the power of creation even when the world is comparatively stable. This, in perfect harmony and truth, is the only proof you’ll ever need for the existence of salvation. Faith can be enormously powerful in times such as these, and I believe you can place a little of that faith in your own ability to cope simply by being a bit more creative.
Nobody knows when this rollercoaster ride will come to a halt, and most certainly, no one can see what things will look like afterward. Maybe this will be the hardest collective test we’ll have to face as a living global generation. Perhaps there will be harder. Regardless, it’s very true you may not have much control over what transpires now, then, or far in the future. But you can control your own ability to create, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
Stay safe and aware, everybody. Until next month.
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It was a great honor to be asked to be a judge for the Western Writers of America’s 2020 Spur Awards, but I had no idea what I was signing up for. I envisioned hours of luxurious reading in one of my favorite genres, while leisurely sipping wine and taking bubble baths, and once the event opened to entries last August, for a while, a new book came in the mail every day or two and it felt a little bit like Christmas.
I began reading the first entry right off, and kept steadily working my way through them. The inflow trickled off mid-September, although there were a few later entries that didn’t come until November and December. The stack of books were large, but I’ve always been an avid reader and I felt confident that I could manage it easily.
Then, as often happens, life got in the way. I lost two dogs within a month and a half of one another, and in November, had a death in the family, and for a time my life was turned upside down. My work schedule received adjustments and travel arrangements were made for the viewing and services, and writing and school were shoved lower on the list of priorities. Suddenly, everything was up in the air and all my leisurely reading time disappeared like a magician’s rabbit. Abracadabra. Poof!
During the last part of December, I started trying to get back on track and found some reading time to begin trying to catch up on the Spur entries. At this point, the stack of books I had left to read seemed immense, and I began to wonder if maybe I should be worried about getting all of them read in time. I admit, I had to cram at the end and read every night until my eyes wouldn’t stay open, but I managed to read every entry and send in my judging choices before the deadline.
It was harder than I thought it would be to be a Spurs judge. Not because I ended up playing catch-up on the reading, but because there were some many really excellent stories submitted to the western romance category, and I had to narrow it down to the top five. Making the choices as to which were best was really tough. The opportunity to read some of the best westerns of 2019 made it worth every struggle. It was great!
I took my role as a Spur judge seriously. While reading I noted things like how well-crafted the story was, how prominent the elements of western and romance were in the story, how historically accurate the story was, and how well the story captured and held my interest, to base my choices on. Now that the winners have been announced, I am able to provide you with brief reviews of the ones that were my own personal favorites. All of the books reviewed below I found to be well written and historically accurate to their time period, and each would receive a five quill rating in my regular book reviews. They were my top picks and they include the winner in the romance category and one of the finalists.
Mollyfar, by Bonnie Hobbs: This is one of those stories that is just a fun read. It has strong western elements in a classic romance tale, but the unique and interesting characters are what carry the story.
Sometimes in the old west you had to grow up fast, and life wasn’t always kind, especially to members of the female persuasion. Molly finds herself on her own in the west at a young age, at a time when the choices for a girl on her own were very limited. She’s on her way to becoming a soiled dove for a life of squalor when she meets Wade and it’s love at first sight. Wade vows take care of Molly, so there will be no need for her to go down that road, but he is young and there are several obstacles preventing him from following through. Then Molly met Heeshe, the new amorphidite brothel owner and they saved each other, but there was always a place in her heart for Wade, if she could only admit it and let herself surrender to him.
This New Day, by Harlan Hague: This book made Finalist. It has the strong western element of a true pioneer tale with a sweet romance that just feels right. The story line draws the reader in and doesn’t let go. It made me cry.
When Molly’s husband dies, there’s nothing left to go back to. They sold up all their worldly goods to make the trek across the mountains to Oregon, and she is determined to complete the journey with her two children. She meets hardship and heart ache along the way, and Micah, a mysterious rugged rider, who turns up just at the right moment to save her from Jeb, an unsavory member of their party, who has had his eye on Molly and grown tired of just watching. Soon Micah is riding with she and the children, and bedding down near their wagon at night, working his way into the children’s hearts, as well as her own, but she has to wonder where he goes when he rides off for days and then, reappears. She has doubts as to whether she is strong enough to make it at times, but soon finds she doesn’t want to make it without Micah.
The Express Bride, by Kimberly Woodhouse: This story has western and romance elements that are prominent. Likable characters make you care, and a fun and playful story line makes you want to keep reading. Jaquelin (Jack) is a strong, gritty female protagonist, who you can’t help but like.
Since her father died, Jack has run the Pony Express station in his stead. And why shouldn’t she? Even if she had to mislead to corporation heads a little, implying that she was male by signing her letter Jack instead of Jacquelin, she knows the workings inside and out, and the riders all like her and look to her with respect. Then Elijah Johnson looking for a mystery woman from the past arrives, along with a U.S. Treasury agent, Mr. Crowell, enlisted to help uncover a suspected conterfeiting ring operating in the area. As she unravels the mystery surrounding her own past, she ponders who she is, and who she wants to be, and struggles with the nagging feeling that Elijah Johnson may hold the key to revealing the truth.
The Outlaw’s Letter, by Angela Reines: A classic romance story with a strong western element and a hint of mystery. Good, solid story line that is everything a romance should be.
Harriette “Hetty” Osgood is just school teacher in Kiowa Wells, but when a dying man stumbles into her school house, she vows to deliver a letter to his brother, Grant Davis. Dressed as a boy for safer travel, she sets off on an adventure to find Davis, and crosses paths with Conover Boggs, who she sent to prison in the past, and would like nothing more than a chance to make her pay. Boggs catches up with her just as she catches up with Grant Davis, who has ridden with Boggs in the past. To save them both, they claim to be married to fool Boggs. They have little choice but to help one another, but Grant is on a quest to clear his name and leave his past behind him. Could they each be what the other is really looking for?
A Slip on Golden Stairs, by Joanne Sundell: I actually reviewed this book before I was asked to be a judge. You can see my original review of this book here.
This paranormal western romance is really two romances, one in the present and one in the past, in one tragic searches for both love and riches. Sundell does an excellent job of weaving the past into the present in a tragic and heartfelt tale of lost love and possibilities.
The Yeggman’s Apprentice, by C.K. Crigger: Winner of the western romance category. Great characters and a captivating plot that draws you in and keeps you reading. Light natural flowing romance within a western setting and a truly enjoyable read.
Wilke thinks her first solo job in Butte, Montana will be a piece of cake. Simply, lift the ledgers for the designated accounts from the bank safe for the client. What could be easier? But things quickly go awry when she finds there are two sets of ledgers and they don’t tally. Suddenly, she finds herself being pursued by the shady lawyers who hired her uncle, who will go as far as murder to cover their tracks. When Hixson rides her back to her hotel on his motorbike, they discover her uncle dead, Wilke finds herself on her own and in need of getting out of town with the falsified documents.
Hix agrees to help her, but gets more than he bargains for, when the shady lawyer’s henchman is waiting at the train station. Wilke isn’t sure she can trust Hix, there are several signs that he might have a shady past and could be an outlaw, but she doesn’t have much of a choice. Hix has reasons of his own for wanting to get out of Montana, but he finds that Wilke is full of surprises, as they try to evade the bad guys.
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Today, I have talented children’s author and poet, Victoria (Tori) Zigler, visiting Writing to be Read to tell us about her favourite poem and poet.
What is your favourite poem?
As I’ve often said, I always struggle with picking favourites, and the fact my favourites will generally change depending on my mood doesn’t help. My three favourite poets are Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, and Dylan Thomas, with Emily Dickenson and Edward Leer right behind them – the latter especially when I want something light-hearted. But as for a favourite poem… Now, that’s a little more difficult. Like I said, that changes constantly. However, this poem by Emily Dickenson entitled “There Is No Frigate Like A Book” is definitely among my favourites:
“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.”
This is a beautiful poem, Tori. A great choice.
What is your interpretation of this poem?
Something I learned quickly as a child, and know all too well now: a book can take you to all sorts of places, both real and imagined, without you having to leave home. The kind of traveling even those without much money can afford, and even those with ill health can manage without too much difficulty, and that’s a wonderful thing.
I also read a huge amount as a child, Tori, and it also brought me a huge amount of pleasure.
What emotions does this poem invoke in you?
Sheer joy, because it reminds me of the hours of pleasure reading has so far given me throughout my life, and makes me think of the many places I’ll get to visit, and worlds I have yet to explore, between the pages of those books still on my to-read list.
I also still derive great pleasure from books and reading. My formats have expanded to include ebooks and audiobooks recently too.
If you could choose to write like any well-known poet, who would it be?
I’ve never really thought about it before. I mean, a couple of times I’ve used the style of someone for inspiration, but mostly I just write my poems, and if the ones in my head are similar in style to those by others, so be it. But if I had to pick someone, I’d probably have to go with Edward Leer, especially since he is someone I’ve consciously mimicked the style of in the past, as demonstrated in my poem “A Pair Of Chinchillas Went To Sea” – which I’m sharing for you below.
“A pair of chinchillas went to sea,
In a boat that was painted bright red.
They took some oats, and plenty of nuts,
And some hay to use as a bed.
They sailed away for a month and a day,
To a place where it always snows.
Their only regret was that it was wet
Upon their little toes.”
The above poem can be found among those in my poetry collection, Puppy Poems And Rodent Rhymes – one of a pair of similarly titled pet themed poetry collections, the other being Rodent Rhymes And Pussycat Poems – which was published in 2018, and is available from a variety of online retailers in multiple eBook formats, paperback, and audio. In fact, both titles are available in all those formats, along with the rest of my books.
Thank you for sharing this lovely poem, Tori. I have read this book and you can read my Amazon review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1YCKVTULTFA4V
What is special to you about this poet’s writing style?
His poems are so fun. They’re great for lifting the mood. The style also lends itself well to writing for children, which is likely a large part of why it appeals to me enough that I consciously mimicked it, since most of my stuff is written with children in mind.
I also enjoy fun poetry, Tori.
Waves of Broken Dreams and Other Poems
What Amazon says
A collection of poems of various styles and lengths, which are about heartache, loss, pain, and broken dreams.
Note: Some of the poems in this book may not be suitable for younger readers.
This is the third poetry book I have read by Victoria Zigler and it is just as beautifully written as the others. This one has a darker theme as it focuses on themes of loss, rejection and broken dreams, as the title suggests.
I have often thought the the best poetry is about sad and emotionally disturbing topics because circumstances and situations that provoke great passion in the poet facilitate the flow of strong words and ideas. Victoria Zigler clearly shares this perspective and says so in one of her upfront poems entitled “When Poets Write Best”. I have extracted the following stanza from that poem:
“I’ll tell you if you want to hear
The reason I think why
Poets write the best when
They feel they want to cry.
The reason is quite simple
And to me it seems right
Writing poems help them heal
And makes their hearts once more light.”
I enjoy Victoria Zigler’s poetry because it is not overly complicated. Her words and messages are straight forward and for me, that makes them much more powerful than verses where I have to look up words and scrabble to understand what the poet meant or intended.
Her love of children and people in general comes through strongly in a lot of her poems. One poem that made a strong impression on me was “Your Penny”. The second stanza of this lovely poem goes as follows:
“There are children everywhere
Who need it more than I
Whole families who’s greatest gift
Is the fact they didn’t die
So, let them have your penny
Show them all your care
Let them know that this year
Somebody is there.”
A lovely book of poetry by a talented poet.
Purchase Waves of Broken Dreams and Other Poems
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.
I have participated in a number of anthologies:
- Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
- Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
- Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
- Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.
I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Treasuring Poetry” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.
Sometimes it takes a claw,
one claw that you can, with great struggle,
grow out of your soul. With that claw
you can grab something, anything,
to hang on to. It may be a branch, a stick,
a crevice in the mighty cliff of Being, no matter.
Your claw gives you purchase. Hang on.
No matter what. Hang on. You’ve made a claw.
It isn’t the last thing you’ll make. It’s enough
for now, to survive, gain strength, pull pull
The energy is in the claw.
Pull, up, to where the sun shines.
Along the way, there may appear
another claw, or a finger, something
left over from before, from the dark.
Claws change into hands. Then the hand
sprouts an arm. And the arm is connected
to all kinds of things, your body, now humanized,
now breathing. You pushed this sharp, arching bit
of dross, the last clipping on your floor
and it became a means for getting up and out
of the deep well where you thought you might die.
Sometimes it takes a claw.
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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Death Wind, by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto is a paranormal western, also known as weird western, that makes the reader believe in legends, if only for a short time. In a time of war between the white man and the Indians, there comes a foe of unspeakable power and cruelty only known through the stories of the native American people.
There is a great evil on the horizon, bearing down upon White Pine and the Lakota Souix reservation following the Wounded Knee Creek Massacre in 1891. The evil is hungry and it feasts on anyone in its path, threatening to consume them all, no matter the color of their skin. The only hope of survival lies in the ancient legends of the native peoples of the land and will unite white and Indian in a common goal.
Carefully crafted to produce graphic imagery and a captivating story line, Death Wind kept me reading until the last page. I give it 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.