Poetry For Yourself

The Many Faces of Poetry 2

 

Poetry For Yourself

Poetry has an odd position in the hierarchy of creative media. It’s too personal and intense to be an instrument of mass exposure. How many famous poets are there? Five? Ten? Who comes to mind? Mary Oliver. Of course.

So why do you write poetry? Asking that question is like asking “Why do you fall in love?” You just do…because the love is in you, wanting to get out. It’s a way of falling in love with yourself. Having created something beautiful, you sit back and think…”Oh..did I do that? Where did it come from? Did I channel it from some ethereal spirit?” Sometimes the poems we write seem to belong to independent spirits. They are alien and strange.

face in space with stars

Ghost voices grow

like weaving spires in the corridor of the night.

Stalactites of moonlight,

they hum and fade

through the wake of other minds.

A sheet of star rain glinting light,

a mist of moon- heat lost from sight

these spectral hints emerge

from the night floor in the dark.

Silver waving plants recede forever

in a song of twinkling echoes.

Ghost voices, shadow worlds

arise and converse

while my sleep waits beyond the hills,

listening.

 

If I wrote that it would be evidence that I am certifiably nuts. It must be read carefully, like drinking a fabulous milkshake one mouthful at a time.  Poetry can be a vessel for deadly serious topics, or it can offer room for comedy.

Shit

There’s shit on my shoes;

cat shit, dog shit, I hope that’s all shit.

Every step I take I risk stepping in shit:

Is this not life? There’s nothing wrong with shit.

We need it, like we need bugs

to nourish with its noxious stink the most natural growth.

This poo is for you, it says, as I wipe it off my shoe

with futile hope of avoiding my hands, then washing

again and again. How often in a day do I inwardly exclaim,

“Shit!”?

More than I would admit.

My mind is full of bricks, pies and purges.

Cats, dogs, owls, horses, all shit. People shit,

the cosmos excretes Dark Matter on these very shoes

which I try so hard to keep clean. Many are obsessed

with the minuscule taint of e.coli. Why should I bother to say

“Relax, we are exposed to e.coli and far worse

every day. We are sturdy,

knocking off shits and bugs heroic, undaunted

by the invisible stools of imagination?”. Instead I spread this blessing:

“You must be crazy in whatever way you want.”

Not every disease is preventable, nor is every affliction brought on board

by the shit on our shoes. When you stroke the cat, the dog, the horse

your hands investigate bacteria, resist infection.

After all, shit is the most common thing in the world.

 

 

I’ll be honest. “Shit” is one of the best poems I’ve ever written.  I think. I always feel that way about my latest poem.  It’s got rhythm and it makes people laugh.  What’s better than that?

I know, I’m taking up a lot of space, and I think I’ve posed enough questions. No matter how personal a matter is poetry, its importance is immense. It is filled with our most private introspection. If others read it, so much the better. I didn’t write these things to live in the dark. Some day they may find an audience. Meanwhile, I offer them for the pleasure of a small number of readers who may enjoy them.


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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Poetry And Word Play

The Many Faces of Poetry 2

 

May 29 2019

 

 

My poems are always stimulated by the first line. The line appears in my head. I know it’s a poem, so I write the rest of it, then and there. I make a few tweaks, and I’m finished. Poetry is not an elaborate process for me. It just happens. I would be interested to hear how other poets go about writing, how their experience may differ from mine.

I was reading through the book that I regard as my “Collected Works”. It consists of poems that I considered worthy of putting down on paper or computer. The earliest poem goes back to 1965 and is a verbal commentary on a passage of music by John Coltrane:

 

The beast of the cosmos staggers,

wounded by the weapon

of its own life.

 

You may find this piece to be incomprehensible. Yet there it is, surviving in my book for more than fifty years. A piece that I love for its vivid image of a wildly animate universe, suffering through the changes that nature brings, accepting that life and death are intertwined. Stars live and die, galaxies too, even whole universes must come and must go. Coltrane played a long screaming guttural tone, a note suffused with paradox, with agony and triumph, and it captured my imagination.  I kept returning to it, listening, and wondering, “Did I really hear that?”  I did.

Out of curiosity, and to locate more fuel for this essay, I just googled “Poetry +Word Play” and I got a poem by Marianne Moore, a much-honored poet who is often associated with T.S.Eliot and e.e.cummings. This poem says a lot, so take your time.

 

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance
of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

 

I regard this as a magnificent poem. The subject is Poetry, and the play with words is so subtle and precise that we barely perceive it in the flow of the piece. She gives us a recipe for what is required for a collection of words to be a poem. She closes with the final ingredient, “Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” She equates being a poet with being a magician. I can’t argue with that. I should put this poem on a T-shirt.

Here are two poems that play with words, poems that emerged from me as always, virtually without thought.

 

Wholes

2003

 

There is no part of you

that is not a whole.

There is no hole in you

that is not part of you,

whole and alive.

There is no whole without holes,

no healing without wounds

no making without

unmaking

that which is a whole,

to begin again,

be born, again, whole.

What crying is this,

in the hole, in the hurt,

yearning to be whole?

Leave yourself alone,

quiet, make everything work

for you, everything,

the base and the noble,

the useless and the crucial,

whole is what is, resting in the center

of the hole.

 

Jonah

 

The moment is the whale

that swallowed Jonah

deep inside the body

where the juices reside.

The whale swallowed the moment

deep inside Jonah

deep inside.

Jonah swallowed the whale’s moment

inside the deeps

the deeps inside

the deep’s inside.

 

Thank you once again for your attention. Let’s put this essay in the “hmmm” pile and move forward.

 

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


Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s The Many Faces of Poetry segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


We Can’t All Be Prolific Writers

writer

Not all authors can be prolific, turning out one, two, or even three books a year. To be sure, there are prolific authors out there. If you’d like examples, think Stephen King, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling, or take a look at my interview with the most prolific writer I personally know, Kevin J. Anderson. The words just seem to flow onto their manuscript pages with the right words, settling in just the right order, to say exactly what the author intended to say, requiring minimal editing and revision, churning out quality stories in mind boggling volume.

I am not a prolific writer. This is an epiphiny which came to me only recently. I know it can be done, but it’s just not me. Realizing this actually explains a lot about me. Now I know why I never could complete a NaNoWriMo. While it is true that I did once write a 35,000 word novel in nine days, it wasn’t the quality writing that I am capable of. It was a draft that was nowhere close to publication. I have to struggle through the plotting, and work things out in my head with my characters until I get it just right.

With Delilah, the first book in my western frontier saga, I completed the first draft and put it through a first read and revised, and ended up rewriting at least a third of the book because I changed one scene that impacted and changed everything that had come after, but the book came out better for it after two years.

The problem is that I’m a perfectionist, so anything that is less than as perfect as I can make it be isn’t good enough to go out there with my name on it. I don’t want to pump out a huge volume of sub-par writing just to bring in the green. My readers deserve more than that, and I won’t settle for less than the quality writing and well crafted stories that I long to create.

Delilah2 homecoming thumbnail

With the second book in the saga, Delilah: The Homecoming, I didn’t even get the first draft completed before the first rewrite. Around 40,000 words into the first draft, Delilah told me that the story was all wrong. Somewhere along the line, my plot had taken a wrong turn, and the story wasn’t going in the intended direction. (Yes, I talk with my characters with the stories in this saga.) When I reread what I had, I realized the truth of it. I had no idea where to take the story from the point it was at.

I tend to be a seat-of-the-pants writer. I get an idea and I have to get it down, so I just start writing. With short fiction, that’s not a bad thing, but when it comes to novels it can be. I could see a couple of places where I thought the story should go in a different direction, but the enormity of the task weighed on me and there were spots where I couldn’t see around what was already written. I set it aside for a month while I pondered the possibilities until I realized what needed to be done.

I may not be prolific, but I am obsessive/compulsive about writing, always having two or more WIPs in different stages of completion. While writing Delilah, I was also working on my thesis novel, which has now become book one of my Playground of the Gods science fantasy series, The Great Primordial Battle, along with completing several short stories during that time. Currently, along with crafting the first draft of The Homecoming, I’m working on two anthologies, preparing The Great Primordial Battle for publication, and working through the snags I’ve hit with my memoir, Losing Michael. It’s no wonder my books take years to write. Yet, I have the satisfaction of knowing that when I’m finished, they will be well crafted stories.

The soil of my mind is fertile and can produce an abundant harvest of stories. The children of my creativity just require longer gestation and growth periods. Stories don’t just spew out of my brain, ready made. They must be honed and crafted until they become the works of quality writing that my readers have already come to expect. But another thing that I’ve realized, with as many projects as I have going, when they all are finally published, and they are all lined up across my author pages and my website, it will appear that I am prolific to anyone who doesn’t know better.

The point is, as authors, we’re all heading toward the same goals, quality crafted stories. The path we chose to get there, they way that we approach the writing process, isn’t nearly as important as the fact that we complete the job. And we can all do that. What kind of writer are you?


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Who Influences the Influencers?

Jeff's Pep Talk2

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?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Big C(riticism)

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Big C(riticism)

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.

I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?

And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.

But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.

Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.

So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.

Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.

Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…

Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…

Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”

To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”

…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.

Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.

And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!

“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”

“Really? And how did that make you feel?”

“Like we should have used a safe word.”

Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.

[end of joke digression]

Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!

Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


The Making of a Memoir: Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks

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His Name Was Michael

I’m starting this bi-monthly blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will chronicle my journey as I write my memoir of my teenage son’s suicide and my life without him, breaking down the memoir process into stages. I am sharing thios process for several reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. Three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself. And four, I believe there are those of you out there who are interested in the methodology behind creating memoir.

Before I can begin writing the my memoir telling the story of my son’s death and the story of my own journey to find closure and my need to be sure that he will always be remembered, I must know what it is that I want to say, and have some idea of how I want to present it. After Michael’s death, I went through his writings and artwork, I went through every picture of him over and over and over. I listened to his music. And I cried and cried, and I thought I would never stop. It never has. At least not completely, but I did gain control over it by putting all his things away, to be dealt with at a later time. I knew I needed to tell his story then, but I wasn’t ready. Not then.

I actually made several false starts at writing his story at different times, I wrote poetry, some of it semi-epic, but the emotional wounds were still fresh. I was angry and overcome by grief, and I wanted by son back. I wasn’t able to portray what I was feeling with the depth of emotions I was experiencing. I had to set it all aside and heal some before I could undertake this immense task.

In addition, I wasn’t a skilled enough writer to undertake it at that point. I’ve since earned my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, published three books, and have short fiction and poetry featured in several publications and anthologies. Does that make me an expert now? No. But it has taken me down that path, and certainly I know more about writing books and my writing skills are much improved. I believe that I’m ready now to undertake the writing of my son’s story and my own.

There is no doubt in my mind that this book will be the most difficult book I could ever attempt to write. It is difficult because there is so much emotional investment in this book for me. I’ve collected and saved a mass of materials which may or may not end up in this memoir, but it first must be sorted and compiled. This is a difficult task because of the emotions attached to every piece of material I’ve collected and with the memories associated with each one. Michael has been gone from my life for a decade, but the compilation of these materials still must be taken slowly, a little at a time.

On the other hand, emotional investment in the author lends authenticity to the story and that, according to some, leads to best seller material that people want to read. If you go by that thinking, the more difficult the book is to write, the better it will be. You can let me know if I’m right after you’ve read it.

I thought I had the title. His Name Was Michael: How I lost my son to teen suicide. The title, “His Name Was Michael”, is perfect, for it reflects the feelings I had as time passed and others went on with their lives. Sometimes, I felt that everyone had forgotten about him except my husband and I. A title that would make people remember is a must, and I think it does that. But the subtitle, “How I lost my son to teen suicide”, although clearly and concisely telling the reader what the story is about, it doesn’t roll off my tongue smoothly when I say it aloud. I came up with the idea of  replacing it with “No Happy Endings”, and although it states a truth about this story, the potential reader picking it up off the shelf or spotting it online, might pass it over because it sounds depressing and doesn’t really tell them what the book is about. At this point, I have to wonder if a subtitle is even necessary. Comments on Facebook reflect the idea that the title is strongest without any subtitle. So, I am rethinking the title and I’m open to suggestions or thoughts in the comments.

There is still much to do in addition to compiling material and deciding on a title, before I can begin the actual writing of the story, pre-writing tasks, if you will. There are still more materials to gather and research to be done. I know you may be wondering what there is to research. Don’t I know my own story? After all I lived it. But the fact is there is research to be done on every book. On this one, I need to know things like statistics on teen suicide, and I need resources for warning signs of suicide and other information on the subject. I may not use everything I dig up, but I will have it available if I decide that it has a place in this book. I believe it does but I haven’t worked out how I want to present it. There is so much that I want to say, but not all of it belongs. Finding my voice for this book will mean finding my true voice.

There are several people I need to interview, people who I haven’t seen since Michael died, people who have something valuable to contribute to his story. I must learn to control the emotional whirpool that surfaces when I anticipate these contacts, the memories connected, cause turmoil within me. But, I know his story must be told, and to tell it in the manner it deserves, and so, I must contain my emotions and silence the memories in order to what must be done. The very act of doing this very difficult task for the sake of his story will become a part of my own, for it is my story, as well.

There must be at least a vague outline, which is now begining to take shape in my head. I believe I know how I want to begin the story and the structure I need to use. The next step will be to get it down in print, so I have a clear direction in which I want the story to go which I can refer back to to ensure that I stay on track. Outlines are a valuable tool  in giving any story direction and making sure it doesn’t veer off into left field and lose the storyline and the way I’ve chosen to structure this particular story demands that guidance.

I’m starting this blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will break down the memoir process into stages, for two reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. And three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself.

Since I hope to get this memoir published traditionally, I will also need a book proposal, a query letter and somewhere around the first three to five chapters for that. We’ll cover that in the April segment The Making of a Memoir: Stage 2: Selling the story. I do hope you will join me on my journey.

 

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Jeff’s Pep Talk: “Doing the MFA Thing”

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“Doing the MFA Thing”

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.

When I was deciding to go back to school for an MFA, I noticed that a lot of writers—particularly those working in Science Fiction and Fantasy—looked down on the need to earn a secondary degree in what is essentially a field dominated by outsiders and formerly independent upstarts. Most successful writers have no MFA, after all. They learned to write successfully on their own. Teachers and professors need MFAs, but not writers. That’s the general feeling out there.

And I had no intention of becoming a teacher. I did, however, have a strong desire to tell stories at a higher level than I was capable of at that time. The thought of going back to school was both exciting and nausea inducing. Like many writers, I’ve got a touch of anxiety and isolationism. Meeting new people, lots of new people, it can be tricky for me. I also knew if I chose the wrong program, it’d set me back in my career rather than push me forward.

If you are considering a creative writing MFA, know there are basically two categories these kinds of programs can fall into: literary and traditional vs. everyone else. I write genre fiction. I’m a hopeless pop culture nerd and it never occurred to me to write anything else. Luckily, that made my decision much easier. Sensing correctly that most traditional master’s programs can get snobby about what and how you write, I knew I needed to place myself among like-minded people. At the time I decided to apply, the early part of 2013, there were only a few programs in the United States that specialized in genre fiction (that is to say, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Crime; you know, the good stuff). Two of these were clear across the country, and all had a ‘low residency’ requirement, which is just another way of saying students have to live on campus a few weeks of the year.

The third program I found was a fairly new entry into what has since become a growing category of alternative MFA programs and certificates. It was also in my home state, Colorado, about 150 miles west of the little prairie town where I live with my wife. Western State Colorado University is a small but growing mountain college nestled in the Gunnison Valley, absolutely beautiful place, especially in the summer. The setting is rustic, but I’m a rural Colorado guy anyway, so it suited me just fine. Like I said, I was pretty nervous about meeting a whole new group of people, but I was hopeful in the very least that I’d come out of the program a much better writer, ready to take on the literary world in all its many serpentine manifestations.

During the two years I attended Western, I wrote an enormous amount of material, the majority of which I published. Actually, I started publishing it in the middle of my coursework, which impressed my classmates. I’d already been writing seriously for seven or eight years, and that’s kind of a stereotypical calibration mile marker at which point writers ‘stop being just okay’ and ‘start getting good’. Anyway, maybe the timing was on my side. Make no mistake, writers can be a jealous and fickle lot, and many who doubt their own abilities fall victim to popular whims and the nasty habit of clinging to others who, ehem, smell like success. That’s actually a constant in entertainment industries far and wide, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that nastiness and in-fighting can and do occur in MFA programs.

So while I can honestly say I produced a large amount of quality (and more importantly, saleable) work, the sum total of the experience was perhaps not exactly what I expected. For one, if you find that you’re a bit of a loner—as many authors are—you may consider other avenues. The notion of community is indeed important, but in programs such as these, group dynamics are a factor. You may experience interpersonal drama as the natural course. Heck, you may even participate in it. Some people think competition is good, that it breeds character, dedication, and an overall positive, can-do attitude. I don’t agree. I think it usually brings out the worst in people. The problem is that folks get into the mindset there is only so much success to go around, a grand lie if there ever was one. And really, a high-stress creative environment can only exacerbate insecurities, anxiety, and small-minded thinking. It’s entirely possible you’ll experience nothing of the sort during your time at an MFA, but then again, you may find yourself crawling through a big stinking pile of it.

The other thing worth mentioning is that if you as a writer are prone to overwork or burnout, you may consider getting a certificate or simply attending a really good writing workshop or two. There are plenty of those to go around, and they don’t require tens of thousands of dollar to attend, either. I wouldn’t trade my time at Western for anything. Really, I wouldn’t. The experiences I had, the people I met (even the ones I ended up disagreeing with), shaped me in unexpected ways. Pressure cooker situations can make you better at what you do, but they can also cause a slowdown or even complete stoppage of your natural creative drive. Ultimately, this is what happened to me, though luckily, writer’s block is perfectly surmountable given enough time and patience.

As I’m sure you well know, creative writing can be pretty difficult, especially when we as writers are put into situations or contracts under which we’re required to maintain constant output. But writing isn’t like most other creative professions, in that it doesn’t just require your creativity and imagination, but also your intellect and higher reasoning skills. To string one word after another, continuously, until a fully realized narrative emerges, that’s pretty hardcore, right? So again, if you are prone to periods of overwork or burnout, if you make a habit of pushing yourself too hard or of not being forgiving or gentle enough to allow yourself time to recoup your creative energy, an MFA may not be for you.

Yes, you can teach with one, and that may be the most useful outcome. Not every writer wants to teach. In fact, I think most don’t. But if you’ve been doing this a while, I’m sure you’ve also recognized the very real truth that superstar authors are few and far between, and even fewer simply got lucky on their paths, as opposed to agonizing over their craft for years and years before anyone showed even the slightest interest. So to teach or not to teach? Well, a paycheck is better than an empty bank account under any circumstance, and since reality is (unfortunately) rather persistent, you may find you need to pay some bills before your incredible new urban fantasy novel sees the light of day.

At the time I attended Western State, the school’s Genre Fiction program was still pretty new, and as such, the faculty still had a few things to iron out. This led to an uneven learning experience at times, but as far as a basic academic progress went, I always felt satisfied. Some of my classmates had a bad habit of complaining about certain aspects of our coursework, but I was always of the opinion that you get out what you put in. In other words, I never even bothered second-guessing individual assignments or their value. I simply treated them as writing challenges, opportunities for me to have fun and excel. And I loved to write, so I committed myself to telling the best stories I could, and at least in the short term, it paid off for me.

One thing is certain, if you go into an intense learning environment with a bad attitude, you’re already behind the eight ball. I had a great attitude, though my somewhat imbalanced mental health picture (at the time I suffered from some pretty bad depression) set me apart from my classmates, in that I occasionally needed extra help and time in order to get my work done. My teachers were more than willing to accommodate me, and thanks to them, I graduated on time and with (mostly) straight A’s. I used that lovely piece of frameable paper to bounce myself into some editing and freelance work, but if I’m being honest, sustained productivity become an issue after that. Perhaps I was just dog tired. Can you really blame me?

When all is said and done, the choice to pursue an MFA comes down to what you value and what you think you can accomplish on your own. An intense, focused experience like this can make you a better writer. I know it made me better. But it’s also true that you can get better on your own, through dedication, persistence, and a healthy work ethic. I think I was open and ready for something that allowed me to hone my abilities in a safe, nurturing, and output-driven environment. I’d like to thank all the faculty and staff at Western State Colorado University for their generosity of spirit and willingness to pass on their considerable knowledge and expertise. Don’t forget, folks, this is your story. Tell it how you want to sell it!

Until next time!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

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