WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE

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Hey all~

Because I am a teacher, I often get assigned by my college to read a book. This year I have been asked to read, When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. It’s a great, quiet, atmospheric, and brief historical novel about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. You should read it!

Buy the book here!

I came across an interesting interview with Otsuka where she talks about her writing process. It’s always interesting to hear how a successful book came to be:

JO Interview

HOW TO START A WORKSHOP AND KEEP IT GOING

Okay, who am I to give advice on this? I started my own workshop, and we are going on our 3rd year, and we meet at least 2x each month, every month. So, I feel a bit successful at this workshop thing.

What is a workshop anyway? Well’p, a workshop is a meeting, basically, for writers to get together to share, and get constructive criticism on, their writing. You’ll often hear actors talk about “the work.” I think creative people have trouble justifying the time spent in creative pursuits, and so they like to attach the word WORK somewhere, to something. It is important, when you write, to share your work, because you are so “in-your-head” when you write that you will never see what you have written clearly until you share it with someone else.

When you start a workshop, the first thing you have to do is find a place to hold it. I have a large kitchen table that my husband, Dave, made by nailing long boards to the top of an  Ikea picnic table. We are both madly in love with Ikea. In any case, this makes a good place for people to sit, have a spot to write, and put a coffee cup down. You may choose to have it at a coffee shop, or a library, but wherever you have it, it has to be a safe and stable place. I live in a little development in a small town, so my house is not a scary place to come into if you don’t know me. I do, though, have pets, and when I advertised the workshop, I included that information.

The next thing you have to do is to decide on a day and time when you will be able to be at your own workshop (you are running it, so for at least 9 months you will have to attend every meeting!). Pick a day/time that is good for you. If people can’t make it that is okay, you will find folks who can. I do mine every other Sunday (barring holidays and etc.) at 1pm ’till about 5pm.The end-time depends on the group size. And, come to think of it, what size group should you have? 10, in my professional opinion, is as high as you can go and keep things chummy and manageable. More than that and it will take too long, people will not get enough attention, and crabbiness will ensue.

Then you have to find other lost souls like yourself to join. Where I live all the little towns are Facebook crazy, so I posted annoucements there, in my library, and in the coffee shops. I opened a hotmail email named for the workshop, and used that as my contact information so that I could safely screen out anybody obviously wacky without giving away my location!

You should decide on what kind of material you want. I said fiction (novel/short story), poetry, and memoir. I didn’t want non-fiction that was not memoir because I am not interested in that, nor do I feel qualified to offer commentary on it.

Once you have found other people who want to participate, it is time to hold the first meeting. Ask everyone to bring 5-8 pages of material to read, and enough copies of it for each person to have one. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you get 10 people, or a slow reader, it could be more than enough! Another good reason to keep it to 10 or less people: less photocopies to make!

For your first meeting I recommend that you have both food and drink for everyone. Not booze, but coffee, tea, water, snacks, muffins, that sort of thing. I love to cook, so I made lunch. I absolutely fed people I had never met before, in my kitchen. I really want to write, and write often, but I do not do so without a nice hard deadline waiting for me, so, in my mind, food and drink is a small price to pay to lure people into making me write! Food and drink make everyone more comfortable, and for the first time it will be awkward, so any comforts are a good thing. Make sure, if hosting at your house, that you bathroom is clean and available. Nervous people pee a lot.

During the meeting, we let each person read his work while we look at our copy. Reading the work aloud is important, as the writer gets to “perform,” and knows that someone has heard her writing. We spot our own mistakes when we read aloud too!

For your first 9-12 months of meetings, I recommend that you continue to host, and provide food or snacks. I also recommend that you encourage people to say what they like about each others’ writing. It is okay, at this stage, to have some light critique, or suggestions for improvement, but, again, your goal here is to create a group that will keep going and going, and you won’t get that by giving heavy edits. You are teaching each other that you will all be respectful and friendly. This is important. Writers need to feel safe to share because we are, by and large, introverts. Let love rule.

If you make it to a year, wow! Amazing! Celebrate! We had a party, and I made something on Cafe Press with our name on it to give to the members. I really wanted people to feel that they are important to me, and a member of something. Why? Again, because I want them to stay, because I need them to help me keep writing.

Once you make it to a year, I think you can feel safe to ask for some things from the members. I asked for people to rotate food duties. It has been really nice, because we are all fairly good cooks, or shoppers (sometimes people bring something ready-to-eat from the grocery store, and that is perfectly lovely too!). I continue to host most of the time, though we do occasionally go to someone else’s house. What you cannot do is nickel and dime your members. If you like them, and you are enjoying the group, then you have to not worry if the food and hosting duties are not equally spread. What you want is for the group to continue, and everyone may not be financially or otherwise able to contribute food or host on a regular basis. Remember, you are getting a whole writing community that comes to your house! I have 2 absolutes though. #1. if you bring your work, you must bring copies for everyone. #2. you can miss a meeting here and there, but you cannot just pop-in a few times a year as you feel like it. You do not want your group to be treated in that way, so the folks who want to be in must be willing to make copies, and commit to attending. It is a sign of respect for each other.

If I think of anything else, I will add it to this post. For now, go forth and hunt thee down a workshop!

Good luck, and enjoy!

mw

 

 

 

HALLOWEEN IS COMING . . . FOR YOU!

halloween party

Cue the maniacal laughter…..

My first major publication has occurred in a short-story Halloween anthology.

Here is an excerpt from one of my two short stories in the anthology:

Defuncts’ Day

Annalie Perch had been a part-time professor now for 20 years. “Adjunct” was the dreadful word typically used to describe Annalie’s occupation:

ad·junct ˈaˌjəNGkt/ noun: a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.

An unessential part, well, no one could say it was a career choice, but it paid the bills in a barely sort of way, and kept Annalie from one of her least favorite things to do, being stuck at a random desk in a random office for 40 hours per week, where even pee-ing or eating were done on a measure tight schedule because the main thing the desk surfer was paid for was keeping his or her butt attached to the seat for as long as possible. The seat, paradoxically, usually had wheels attached, as if to further taunt the occupant with the forbidden mobility. So, though the title offensive, the pay low, the work take-home, and the hours odd, Annalie had yet to figure out another way to pay the bills and keep free, able to move. When she stepped outside after an hour or two at the podium (where she stood, moved, talked, and pretended she knew what she was doing), she was on her own until her next gig. She hopped into her car, and motored, maybe to coffee, maybe to her favorite plant store, maybe to the next podium, maybe to her bed, but she was free, and at any time she could make a wrong turn, on accident or on purpose, and get lost, and escape, and no one could stop her; there was no boss in the office by the door to ask for one last thing, or to note when she came and when she went. For all of these things, Annalie was very grateful.

And perhaps it was that gratitude that kept her late after class, pretty much every class. There was usually a line of students wanting to ask her questions, and Annalie never knew if it was because she was sort-of faking it, so in her teaching style she was a bit vague and dreamy, making some students need clarification, or if it was because they just wanted one teacher who knew them, knew their faces and their names, and cared if they showed up. Whatever their reasons, Annalie was happy to be there for them, and with them, clarifying, empathizing, hanging-out.

Tonight it was almost 11:30 when the last girl left. She was one of the many K girls, Kierstyn, Kailyn, Kristy, Keegan; Annalie was pretty sure this one had been Kiley, telling Annalie her tearful story of having been diagnosed with ADHD, and Annalie had spent no little time trying to prove to her that she, Kiley, or was it Kirsty, was not her diagnosis. “You’re going to do just fine, and I know, because you’re already doing fine, here, now. You’re a very good student.” Annalie had a lot of affection and sympathy for her, hugs had been exchanged a few times, so the time got away from them both, making it very late when little Kleenex finally wiped her face with Annalie’s tissues and went home.

Then Annalie had to pack up herself and get out the door. Tonight she had been teaching in the distance ed. room, so she had to shut down the system that broadcast her to the other two students at the remote campus: the phone, the many screens around the room, the cameras, and the sound system. As usual she did this all, and began then to erase the boards and pack up her own things. And, as usual in this large, old, musty, sound-prooofed room, the damn system phone started ringing. There was a glitch in the coordination on the other end, so even though Annalie turned everything off, the other system, 80 miles away, turned it back on, and tried to start up again. Next the room fan would respond and come back on, and the doors to the room, double doors in the far right corner, heavy, wooden, and swing-mounted, like church doors, started shooshing back and forth about two inches against each other and the frame.  Each time this happened, and tonight was no different, Annalie jumped about a foot. Yep, heart was still working. Good to know for a person without health insurance. That was her standard joke. Then she would run over to the command central and push the “hang-up” button, and the whole works would shut down again, and the overhead lights would re-dim to walking lights only. “Christ, what a pain in the ass,” she said as she walked back to the last board she had been erasing. She heard a whirr sort-of sound above her head, and her neck snapped back. One of the cameras above her was moving, searching for a person to focus on. “Fuck!” she said, and ran back to the command station desk. She quickly pushed all the shut-down buttons again, before the phone could start ringing, and then ran over to her bag, slammed the lid on her laptop, yanked its cord from the wall, and started shoving it into her bag. The doors did a shoosh again. Annalie froze, and stared at them in the dim walk light, looking for a shadow or form of a person. There was none. In the opposite corner from the door was the command desk. Annalie’s eyes shot left; no one was there. She jammed her cord into her bag without really looking at it, and started shoving books in on top, telling herself to calm down and hurry up at the same time. There was a whir. She stopped. She waited. She peeked under her brow, up at the ceiling. Whirrr! All 6 little cameras started spinning like mad in their little trapezes, searching for a person. “Fuck!” Annalie said. She shoved her chalk into the bag on top of the books, grabbed her little pack of tissues and her sweater from the chair, and ran for the door. Just as she went out the double doors of the room the phone started ringing, but this time through the speakers, loud. She looked up and down the dim halls. The building was empty. Her heart was pounding. She could see her car outside, under one of the light poles in the parking lot. It was alone. “Maintenance or the cleaning man can deal with it tomorrow,” she said, sprinting toward the glass door to the lot.

She reached her car. There was no one behind her. Unlike the doors to the room, the double doors to the building had opened because she had hurled herself into the panic bar, and closed behind her swiftly and with an audible click. She was safe. She pushed the button on the ignition key and the hatch popped open. She threw her bag in and slammed the hatch. She ran to the driver’s door, flung it open and threw in her purse. She grabbed the lever to flip the seat forward, and scanned the back seat for any psychos hiding there. She saw no one. She flipped the seat back and jumped on it; she slammed the door against herself and hit the lock button on the arm. She put her key in the ignition, turned it, and put on her high beams. There was no one in front of the car. She put on the interior lights and twisted around, checking again for psychos in the back, or the hatch; there was no one.

She buckled in and pulled from her spot and out of the little faculty lot, then she turned and went back in. She headed for the distance ed. building. She sat there, with her high beams boring into the glass doors of the building, about 25 feet away across the grass between the lot’s concrete frame and the walk to the doors. Inside she saw… nothing. No movement, no figures in the dark, no glitter of eyes looking back at her. The broadcasting room was soundproofed, and so had no windows or access to the outside. If it was going flaming bonkers mad in there, she couldn’t tell. “God bless the janitor!” she said, and slowly turned her car around, and left the lot again, winding her way through campus to the exit. When her wheels hit the road it was just midnight, November 2nd.

The whole world was black whenever she left this campus at night. Because it was in rural Maryland Annalie always made sure she had a full tank of gas before she went to school; the nearest station was 23 miles away. The nearest town was farther, and both were off the main road, which was itself a mere two-lane affair with a grassy median that was usually littered with carcasses of deer, coons, and cats. Luckily, at night, she couldn’t see the dead things. She couldn’t see anything, really, except to tell if the corn in a particular field was still there or not. The corn farmers let the corn dry out before they harvested, so it either stood in the fields like dead saplings, or, after cutting, left little dried stumps like stubble across the ground, giving it a post-apocalyptic look in either sense.  Because it was so light, it reflected the high beams while the rest of the landscape just soaked the light in, like raw wood soaking up paint.

The GPS said it was 1 hour and 45 minutes to home, said it was cold, 47 degrees, and painted a little purple line to lead her to her bed. Annalie turned on NPR, as usual. She lucked out on an interesting interview show. John Hockenberry was interviewing an author who’d just published a compendium of religious holidays. “And so tomorrow is All Souls Day, as you said, but you put in here that it is also called Defuncts’ Day?”

“Indeed. That was the name given to it by Pope Stephen the VI, and by all accounts it had to do with him digging up his predecessor and putting the corpse on trial.”

“Well, how do you mean?”

“He, Stephen, decided that the dead who had died in while out of favor with the Papacy, or God in general, would not even be given the dubious blessing of going to Purgatory to work through their sins; no, rather they would become ‘defuncts,’ because, dying without giving proper due to The Lord, they were no longer relevant to God, so why would God waste effort torturing them in Purgatory when they were really not-functioning souls according to His doctrine?”

“In other words, Stephen thought that Purgatory was a punishment, but one the wicked had to earn?”

“Undeniably. To be sure, he was not a nice man, nor a very beloved Pope.”

“Wow, so, was there no recourse for sinners during his reign?”

“Well, Stephen enjoyed money, as much as he did power, and people could buy indulgences for the lost, just as had always been the way in the church.”

“So the poor people became the majority of the defuncts?”

Annalie’s eyes stared wearily at the glowing lines on the edges of the black road, flicking up to check the purple trail on the GPS. Hockenberry’s voice was so soothing. She might have to switch to the rock station.

“Well, you’d think so, but one could always trade a person for an indulgence.”

“You mean give a son to the priesthood?”

“No, I mean donate yourself, or your wife, or your child, give a person, in the literal sense, to the Pope.”

“What would the Pope do with a person?”

“Enslave him or her perhaps, maybe prey on the sacrifice sexually, maybe take out his frustrations in torture, maybe simply murder the person, give the blood to The Lord.”

“Really?”

“Oh my God!” said Annalie, reaching for the dial, “the freaking crazy Catholics!”

“Oh John,” said the speaker, “this was not limited to Popes, in my book we have hundreds of religious observances all over the world, from China to Quebec, that involve some form of human sacrifice to redeem a family member who has died out of favor with the tenants of the time. It’s usually, of course, been daughters who were sacrificed, or a very young son, people known to be kind-hearted, those willing to take on others’ pain.”

“That’s fascinating, and so…”

“OMG, I am falling asleep John!” yelled Annalie. She twirled the dial, but there was nothing but static. She tried to find her way back to the NPR station, but that, too, seemed to be gone. “Shit! How long have I been in this fucking car?” She looked ahead at the road while turning down the volume on the static where John Hockenberry had been. She could see lights ahead. That was good. Lights meant she was coming into Ellendale, and close to home. The light grew closer. Annalie took off the cruise control and let the car slow down, because all the little towns in Delaware had speed limits of 25. It was odd, though; this looked to be a fair amount of lights ahead. Ellendale usually had only the light from the fire department, and the sign from the Southern Grille. Annalie kept squinting. It was a lot of lights. Her eyes darted back to the GPS. Still on the purple line. It said she had, still one hour? To get home? That couldn’t be right if this was Ellendale. The lights were collecting the fog around them, taking them out of focus, but then, like that, she could tell what she was looking at. That wasn’t Ellendale. It was the goddamn school!

Want to know what happens next?

Buy the book!

🙂

Halloween Party 2017

 

 

 

 

ABOUT ME

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Hi Again~

Well, it seems I’ve got Ms. Blog here going okay.

So, things you may be interested to know about me:

  • Graduate with a BA, MA, and MFA, focus was writing for all.
  • Married to another writer: David Yurkovich of graphic novel fame. And yes, it is tough to have 2 writers/artists in a house together. What did The Bard say, ~if two men ride on a horse, one must needs ride behind? It’s true, and more so true if there are children. One partner will get more creative time than the other. It is a complicated formula individual to each couple, and for us, personally, I think it can often relate to who feels more worthy of time. I struggle with that, still, because I often feel my child, my pet, my husband, my garden are the things I need to give my time to. I have 5 cats and 1 dog, and a large garden and a mess of house plants. Do I surround myself with things that need tending to avoid writing?
  • Hubster and I have one daughter in elementary school. We adopted her from China. She is cool. Super cool. The coolest. She is also an artist: draws, writes, plays piano.
  • I work as an adjunct professor, teaching, blah of all blahness, freshman composition. Can you say cohort, multi-model, rubric, pedagogy, and rhetorical strategy? Neither can I. BLECH! If you are in grad school because you want to be a writer, and your professors talk you into becoming an adjunct because “…it will give you time to write,” they a lie. I mean they are literally a walking talking lie. Do not believe in them or what they tell you. Do not believe their interest in you extends past the point where you are paying tuition either. Make money doing something you leave at the job when you go home, and where you have respect, and where you do not spend your entire working-life reading bad and boring writing, and trying to convince 18-30 year olds that they need a college degree. No, no, no, no, no.
  • I love semi-colons and the Oxford comma.
  • I am a white chick and a liberal. Very liberal. Go-gay-marriage-women’s-rights-black-lives-matter-welfare-is-good-pro-choice-free-healthcare-science-rules-pink-pussy-hat-liberal. You will not be able to change this about me.
  • Have lived in Philly and Los Angeles, and now in a teeny-tiny town in Delaware. First-state-pride-represent!
  • If I could marry something non-human, it would be NPR.
  • If you are in the market for a new laptop, because your old ones never last more than 3 years, seriously consider saving up for a MAC. Will cost you 1100 or more, but is worth it.

My writing evolution: in my BA college days I wrote plays. In my grad programs I wrote poems. Now I write fiction. Mostly short stories.

Favorites Writers (in no particular order):

  • Raymond Chandler
  • Dashiell Hammett
  • Walter Mosley
  • Tom Robbins
  • Douglas Adams
  • JK Rowling
  • Lemony Snicket
  • Neil Gaiman (the children’s books)
  • Jane Austen
  • Agatha Christie
  • Kinky Friedman
  • Arnold Lobel
  • Russell Hoban
  • Maurice Sendak

Hmmm…. looks like I have lipstick on my teeth in the above photo. Fancy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIRST BLOG POST

home

Welcome to my blog.

I am a writer living in slower-lower Delaware. I am a member of The Milton Workshop.

Will write more soon. For now, just trying to get this fucker set-up. 😉