Consider Contests

consider contests
The May/June 2018 issue of Poets & Writers has arrived! And it brings thoughts of contests. The listings are very helpful. Each listing tells the genre(s) accepted, the size of the prize and other perks, the approximate number of submissions, the number of awards, the names of recent winners, the new/typical deadline, the frequency of the contest, and an online link for more information.

 

consider contests
The good news about this listing is that it has offerings for single works, collections, and books across genres. It includes publication awards, prizes, grants and fellowships—for writers at any level. The bad news is the same as the good news. You might want to take a more focused approach.
consider contests
If you google contests for self-published authors, you will find a plethora of websites offering lists of possibilities. And you will soon find that the same contests are listed in multiple places.
You can find info for any genre this way. I may be the last person to realize this, but the internet can make your search for outlets a gazillion times easier!

 

Bottom line: consider contests as a way to enhance your visibility and boost your ego—and do it as efficiently as possible.

Tai Chi

tai chi
Come on down! I’m going to be there, performing tai chi moves and qigong breathing with other members from my class. Participants and watchers are welcome. There’s to be a lion dance in the opening.

 

I got involved in tai chi because I wanted to try something new and my sister-in-law had been practicing tai chi for years and telling me I should do the same. Now, this sister-in-law tends to think that everyone should think and do what she does—for she does things for good reasons. This is pretty much the first time I’ve succumbed.

 

So, tai chi is a Chinese martial art. (For alternative spellings of tai chi, go online.) Tai chi is practiced both for its defensive training and its health benefits.

 

tai chi
Tai chi, rooted in Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, has been found to be beneficial for meditative movement and for general health. Focusing solely on the movements of the form bring mental calm and clarity, good for general health and stress management. The three main aspects are health, meditation, and the martial arts.

 

tai chi
My tai chi teacher explains the martial arts application, but the focus is on slow movement, meditation, and health. We also practice qigong breathing. Seated tai chi moves are suitable for older people. Research shows that seated tai chi can make big improvements to a person’s physical and mental well being, including improvements in balance, blood pressure, flexibility, muscle strength, peak oxygen intake, and and body fat percentages.

 

tai chi
Which brings us back to World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. It is the last Saturday in April, annually. At 10:00 a.m. local time, people participate alone or in groups. The idea is that the wave of energy and goodwill will circle the globe, starting in the earliest time zones of Samoa and then traveling around the world until it ends with events in the last time zones of Hawaii, almost an entire day.

 

One of the stated goals of the day is to provide a global vision of cooperation for health and healing purposes across geopolitical boundaries, and also an appeal to people worldwide to embrace wisdom from all the cultures of the world. Who can argue with that?

 

tai chi
One breath… One world.

Setting as Character Notes

setting character notes
 
Some of you will remember that last week I spent a day in Savannah, GA, taking a NOGS (North of Green Street) Garden Club tour of “Hidden Gardens.” They do one about this time annually. These gardens were small and walled. And as we toured, I thought about what theses gardens  said about their owners/creators.

 

setting character notes
Of course there were flowers. We could, perhaps, talk about the language of flowers and what the selection of plants might reveal. But, frankly, that seems a bit esoteric. instead, I want to focus on what people chose to put in their gardens in addition to the flowers.

 

setting character notes
Below I have grouped pictures of artifacts by garden. For each grouping, consider the character/s of the people who created and/or enjoy these gardens. As you page through, just jot down your first impressions.
Garden One
 
Garden Two
 
 
Garden Three
 

setting character notes

Garden Four

Garden Five

 
At this garden, the Garden Club woman hosting made a point of mentioning that this bronze fountain was imported from France in 1830.
Garden Six
 
In addition to the chandeliers in this garden, there was a gas grill, a bar, and a half-refrigerator.
Garden Seven
 
 
Garden Eight
 
 
Using setting elements as character notes is a fine old tradition. Consider Jane Austen’s Rosings Park, Pemberly, and Cheapside houses. Although these pictures emphasize garden ornaments, but objects reflecting character could equally well apply to paintings, bric-a-brac, furniture, Hummel figurines, etc. Think about it.

 

setting character notes

Reading Whatever Comes to Hand

From April 13 to September 30 the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is displaying sculptures by Kevin Box. Each piece begins as a paper-inspired design. His process of turning that paper inspiration into bronze, aluminum, and/or steel requires 35 steps and takes 12 weeks. I read about it in Volume 1, Issue 1 of the new Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Magazine. Also included in the magazine are five tips from a nature photographer and using natural enemies for pest management, among other articles.

 

reading whatever comes hand
By reading the back of the map of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve I learned that the Indian Shell Ring is 4,000 years old and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
And there you have it: I read virtually everything that comes to hand—and usually learn something from it! All last week I was on Hilton Head Island, with a day trip to Savannah, GA, for a tour of hidden gardens. The tour ticket included a “southern tea” at the Green-Meldrim House.
reading whatever comes hand
The information card about the house gave all sorts of facts about the history, construction, and ownership of the house. But it also included this bit of information: “…upon the invitation of Mr. Green, General William Tecumseh Sherman used the house as headquarters when the Federal army occupied Savannah during the Civil War. It was at this time (December, 1864) that General Sherman sent his famous telegram to President Lincoln offering him the City of Savannah as a Christmas gift.”  Who knew? Not I—in spite of growing up near Lancaster, Ohio, home of William Tecumseh Sherman, having toured his home, and having written several short stories set during the Civil War.

 

Not surprisingly, this little freebie contains an article on how tides work—always relevant to sailors—along with the legend of the Jake, the Salty Dog. I had to laugh when I read the 2-page spread on why dogs aren’t allowed at the Salty Dog Cafe these days.

 

reading whatever comes hand
Back in 1987 dogs of all shapes and sizes accompanied their owners to lunch, dinner, and happy hour. That ended when the owners realized that “If you allow several dogs of any variety in close proximity to each other, add children with cheeseburgers and ice cream cones, throw in a margarita for the dog owners, the problems can and will begin.” Duh! The info then went on to give examples. BTW, food at The Salty Dog was excellent.

 

reading whatever comes hand
I found this religious tract in a restaurant booth. Even here I found something to enjoy. I read the Bible twice, cover to cover, in my youth and memorized verses at church camp in the summers. Every page of this booklet contains a quote from the Bible, and seeing which verses were attached to which misbehaviors was interesting.

 

reading whatever comes hand
As I recall, this booklet was included with a Virginia Rep play program. I can’t imagine why, so maybe I’m mistaken. But here it is, and very interesting it is, too. Did you know that the first Civil Rights Act was passed in 1866? It gave African-Americans the right to make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, “give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings… as is enjoyed by white citizens.”

 

reading whatever comes hand
This publication follows the history of housing in Virginia from those earliest days through 2011, and it’s well worth a read.

 

reading whatever comes hand
My penchant for reading virtually anything and everything is so well known that one of my daughters sends clippings from her local paper that she thinks might interest me. For example, Sweet is the story of a family whose attic filled with thousands of honeybees, producing so much honey that it dripped down the side of the house.

 

reading whatever comes hand
My most recent read is the April/May 2018 issue of Discover Richmond. As usual, there are lots of good things here, but as a former college teacher, I was especially interested in the article “Then and now: new views of old textbook passages.” Virginia history textbooks in use from the mid-1950s into the 1970s presented a view of the past so warped as to be laughable—if it weren’t also so hurtful. For example, “ON SLAVERY—The slave ‘did not work so hard as the average free laborer, since he did not have to worry about losing his job. In fact, the slave enjoyed what we might call comprehensive social security. Generally speaking, his food was plentiful, his clothing adequate, his cabin warm, his health protected and his leisure carefree.”
reading whatever comes hand
BOTTOM LINE: Read whatever comes your way and you, too, could know that kites were used during the Civil War to deliver letters and newspapers, that drinking water after eating reduces the acid in your mouth by 61%, that 9 out of every 10 living things live in the ocean, that the University of Alaska spans four time zones, that peanut oil is used for cooking in submarines because it doesn’t smoke unless it’s heated above 450 degrees Fahrenheit…

Pets: A Treasure Trove for Writers

pets treasure trove writers
This insert with the Sunday Richmond Times Dispatch has been lying around since March 11, thoughts of ways it might be useful to writers niggling at me. It’s finally come to fruition. And I can testify—on the basis of my middle daughter—that the points made in this brief article apply to pets other than dogs!

 

pets treasure trove writers
Most obviously, you might have a character who is overboard on his/her pet. (If your character owns a cat, surely you can get comparable info online.) Indulging a pet could lead to teasing, ridicule, even ostracism.
pets treasure trove writers
But moving on: What about the pet service providers? Suppliers of pet party items. People make and/or sell pet gifts and toys. Someone who runs a pet daycare. People who design, make, and/or sell pet clothes. Any of these could provide an interesting job for a character.
 

What about pets as a source of conflict?

Last year pet owners spent almost $70 billion on their pets, approximately a 70% increase over a ten-year period. Money spent on pets could be a source of conflict between characters, or a source of financial difficulty. The American Pet Products Association says dog owners shell out about $3,000 per year, depending on the breed. But owners say they spend $8,000, $10,000, or more on everything from pet health insurance to new furniture to travel. (Nearly 40% of dog owners take them on vacation.)

 

pet vacation
And what about other heirs of the 44% of dog owners who provide for their dogs in their wills?

 

More than half of dog owners let their dogs sleep in their beds. What if the spouse/partner/love interest doesn’t like that?

 

The Emotional Upside to Owning a Pet

pets treasure trove writers
 
Scientific studies have documented the positive effects of pets on mood. Your body produces oxytocin and endorphins, hormones that lift mood and strengthen the emotional bond between owner and pet. Oxytocin is the hormone that creates bonds between mother and child or between lovers. So how dependent is your character on animal love? And at what cost?
 

Other Bits that Might Come in Handy

 
My oldest daughter trained with her rescue dog to make therapy visits. Is that something your character might do? What about a character who is the recipient of such visits? Where might that lead?

 

My youngest daughter is surgical veterinary technician. During a recent visit, she gave us a tour of her workplace.
pets treasure trove writers
Most of us are vaguely aware that animal hospitals do things similar to human hospitals. But to actually see the oncology lab, the MRI equipment, the physical therapy suite, the surgical areas, the precautions for animals in isolation, the incubator for preemies, and the site of the future serenity garden brings home the parallel.

 

pets treasure trove writers
But one unusual bit: this hospital maintains blood banks for dogs and cats.
 
pets treasure trove writers
The dog blood bank is filled by donations from the pets of staff and clients. Star donors (like Bruce Lee, above, who is a universal donor) donate blood every six weeks or so. Each donation can be used to treat more than one patient.

 

The hospital maintains colonies of cat blood donors. The cats come from animal rescue. At the hospital they are treated, vaccinated, and spayed. Even so, there are separate colonies for males and females. The cats are maintained as donors for a year and then placed for adoption.

 

  • Cat donors must be 1 yr old and at least 10 lbs
  • Dogs must be 1 yr old, at least 50 lbs
  • Both: no blood born diseases, no condition requiring chronic medication except NSAIDS, hypothyroidism, or meds for flea/tick/heart worm
  • Bruce Lee (the dog donor pictured) is 6 yrs old, has been a donor for 18 mos., and donates more than 6 times per yr. He’s a universal donor, like Type O for humans.
What if your character has a pet that is or was a blood donor?

 

I would have adopted Olaf in a nanosecond but he isn’t yet available. He’s affectionate AND has one blue eye, one green one.

 

pets treasure trove writers
Bottom line: Consider the value of pets in your writing!

Hop, Skip, and Jump Reading

I’m an all-or-nothing sort of reader.  When I get into a series, I start at the beginning and binge straight through. But recently I find myself sampling broadly among one-offs.

 

There’s still fiction. On Kindle I just finished What Comes Between Cousins. I find Jane Austen fan fiction enjoyable escapist reading. This particular one has a fresh story line, so I read it through—though I must admit it could use a good edit. I’ve nearly finished The Mad and the Bad, a fascinating mix of craziness and gore. And then I will move on to Elizabeth Strout.
I loved Olive Kitteridge, so the Strout is pretty much a sure pleasure. The DeStephano book is an unknown quantity. A friend passed it on, saying it’s a well-written, creepy tale of genetic engineering. I’ll keep you posted.

 

hop skip jump reading sister age fisher among friends
At the same time, I’m involved with nonfiction—memoir, for example. I’ve long been enamored of M.F.K. Fisher as a food writer. Recently I came across two memoirs by her: Among Friends, about growing as a non-Quaker in the Quaker stronghold of Whittier, CA, and Sister Age, a collection of fifteen stories she wrote over the years about the art of aging and living and dying.

 

And then there is Sherman Alexie, poet and story teller, about whose You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “Emotionally spring-loaded, linguistically gymnastic, and devastatingly funny.” And besides that, my husband loved it!. He often laughed aloud and read excerpts to me. It’s an impressive blend of narrative, dialogue, and poetry.
[Source: Feminist Texican Reads]
If memoir doesn’t appeal to you, consider some of these other Sherman Alexie books.

 

hop skip jump reading
Of course my food reading continues. I recently acquired collectable copies of these two books.The Art of Eating is actually a collection of her first five books:

 

hop skip jump reading
How to Cook a Wolf is a long-time favorite, but Consider the Oyster is gaining ground. Who would ever have thought a whole book about oysters could be enthralling?

 

Last but not least on my current revolving bookcase is The Physiology of Taste—which I admit doesn’t sound like entertaining reading. Originally published in France in 1825, this work by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is the most famous book about food ever written. If you search online, you can find several sites that offer from a few to as many as 1567 quotes. Many are already familiar, such as, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

 

M.F.K. Fisher’s translation, published in 1949, is incredible, not only because of the readability of the 30 “Meditations” and the 100+ pages of “varieties” but also because Fisher’s annotations themselves are informative and enjoyable.

 

So, for the time being, I am happily hopping, skipping, and jumping among these eight books. How many books do you have in progress? And what are they?

Accidental Gems

accidental gems
My husband’s doctorate is from Penn, and so I was fortunate enough to have access to their spring/summer issue—a treasure trove for writers. You, too, can read these gems at omnia.sas.upenn.edu!

 

accidental gems
Carmen Maria Machado, current Writer-in-Residence, combines sci-fi, horror, folk tales, and pop culture in stories focused on women’s experience. Her debut collection Her Body and Other Parties was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award. She responds to three questions.

 

  1. What do you like about the short story format?
  2. How do you start writing a story?
  3. Your stories reference folk legends and contemporary pop culture. How are those tools for you as a writer?
accidental gems
Jennifer Egan, class of ’85, won a Pulitzer Prize for 2011’s A Visit from the Good Squad. In her interview, she answered numerous writing questions.

 

  1. When did you first feel like a writer?
  2. What is your writing and research process like
  3. Do you seek input from other writers?
  4. Many reviews of your latest book, Manhattan Beach, have noted how different it is from your other fiction. Did you feel that it was a departure for you?
  5. What was the experience of writing Manhattan Beach like?
  6. How did your undergraduate experience shape you as a writer?
  7. What advice would you give to students interested in a career in writing?
accidental gems
I’m not a translator of literature, but really good translations are out there. Apparently Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey is one of those. “I think because I’m living in, writing in, thinking in my particular cultural context, I’m able to see things in this old poem which maybe weren’t visible before, and I don’t think that’s about imposing something on it that isn’t there. It’s about bringing something out of it.”

 

I doubt it’s my background as a psychologist that makes me see the work of Angela Duckworth, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, as relevant to character building and plot development. Her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was on the New York Times Bestsellers list for more than 20 weeks. Read more about her!

 

accidental gems
But wait! There’s more! This magazine has fascinating articles on everything from history to economics to micro-science. Enjoy!

Poetry Power

national poetry month
 
Since 1995 April has been National Poetry Month. I’m not a poet, but when my Creative Nonfiction teacher (Amy Ritchie Johnson) gave the class an assignment  to write a nonsense poem, I had to come up with something—and here it is!

 

SCHIZO
What’s the difference between a beet,
A round, red, sweet beet?
It must be trees—a trillion trees
With billions of buds and billions of bees.
Why that answer? Why? Why?
Because two salmon swim in the sky.
A motorcycle has no doors,
No roof, no windows, no mats for floors.
But that’s okay. It does not matter.
We’re saved by chocolate peanut batter.
And Grandma rides old lady bikes
With three tall wheels. She vaults over dykes.
And when those thoughts go bump in the night,
They leap from corners to laugh in the light.
I cover my eyes. I cover my ears.
I shake in my shoes and scald in my tears.
My brain is swollen, cracked and black.
Six special spiders sit stitching it back.

 

It was a fun exercise.

 

poetry power
I first became aware of poetry in high school when Mrs. Fischer, my English teacher, gave us a quote for the day to memorize. It was often Emily Dickinson, but sometimes Shakespeare or Poe. I memorized “The Raven”—also “Bells” and “Annabelle Lee.” Poe has been a favorite ever since, along with Sherman Alexie, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan.

 

poetry power
The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 in New York City with a mission of supporting American poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry. On their website, poets.org, you can buy books, keep up with poetry, and sign up for a poem a day—for free!

 

poetry power
If you’re not a poet, why bother? Consider the words of Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate.
poetry power
Who are your favorite poets?