I get a bit obsessed with rejection, but I write anyway. I've received two today with the encouragement to keep writing. Sigh.
What if I don't get a lucky break? What if my picture books constantly get rejected?
I will still write. Why? Because I have ink in my veins. I bleed cobalt blue.
Why do I want this so badly? Is it to prove my English and Art teachers wrong? Yes!
Is it because I have goofy ideas that make me chuckle and wake me up at night demanding to be written down? Yes!
Is it because this is an evil world when we learn that eight-year-olds in England might not be safe? That someone applauds great evil, and I want to write and share some goodness to brighten a little child's eyes and bring a smile as they cuddle on the couch with Mom to read my book? Yes!
And so, let the rejections come. I'll write anyway. Because writing isn't what I do; it's who I am.
Our collection of grocery bags is pretty amazing, but our passion does take up a lot of room.
We have sacks everywhere. Sacks in the bedroom, of course; and sacks on the dining room table, sacks in every closet in the house, and lots of sacks in the basement. Visitors always notice that we have sacks on the couch.
Mostly, we have conventional sacks, but we like to get unconventional sacks when we travel. If we find a store with bags with a unique logo, we'll buy some bags; so, yes, we occasionally pay for sacks.
We have sacks in public. When we hold a garage sale, we have sacks right there in the driveway.
Our sacks give us a common passion. I can't say enough about the joy of sacks. This world would be better off if more people enjoyed sacks as much as we do.
“Do you have your nose in that book again?” Mom demanded.
“It’s homework,” I lied.
“Someday you’re going to disappear into one of those worthless stories. Come set the table.”
“Coming.” I rolled off my bed and marked my place.
It was late when I returned.
Sophia waited, clothed in Power.
“Have you decided?”
She held out her hand. Our fingers touched.
My alarm clock jangled until Mom stomped in, slapped it off.
“Lisa, where are you? Lisa?”
The book lay open on my still-made bed. Had she taken the time to read, she’d know where I’d gone.
# # #
Some writers never run out of ideas. Yes, I know a couple. I envy them. Sometimes I loathe them--it depends on how my own ideas are flowing. Inspiration can be pretty elusive sometimes. That's why I have a file. Two files, in fact.
Sometimes, story ideas start as snippets--parts of a scene or two out of context. You probably have hundreds of these running around in your imagination. Don't waste them; write them down at the earliest opportunity. Keep them in a file and read them over occasionally. Make additions and changes as they occur to you during your periodic perusals. Eventually, something will click and a complete story will emerge.
Poets, you're not exempt from this exercise. Perhaps a lone metaphor rolls across your consciousness, or a quatrain dances at the edge of your awareness. Scribble it down and save it. Blow the dust off occasionally and see if the next snippet introduces itself. No need to obsess. When they're ready, the right words will appear. The important thing is to review and add more material consistently.
Jack London said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." My method is a little more civilized, but it's just as effective. Invent your own means of accumulating ideas if you like. Some people use pictures or music to get their juices flowing. The main thing is to have a reservoir for those times when the well goes dry.
How often are we told that writers write? We supposedly set aside an amount of time each day to ply our trade despite busyness, mood, writer’s block, or any other hindrance. And I have succeeded in managing all those circumstances to meet a deadline or simply to hone my skills. One recent circumstance, however, paralyzed my initiative (and my sales). I simply did not WANT to write. I did not care if my skills were laid to waste or if my words would never again visit any publication’s pages. Tired of the ever-shrinking market, the confidence-eroding rejections, the snail’s pace responses, and the equally lagging compensation, I could no longer motivate myself to enter the fray. My submissions log shriveled and my keyboard gathered dust.
Throughout this time, my mind served as cheerleader but my body never left the locker room. Comparing this dry spell to my earlier writing droughts, I realized that those involved a lack of impetus that could be overcome by a change of schedule, a replenishing respite, or a variety of writing strategies and exercises. But I had never before lost the desire to write. How would I re-ignite desire?
I considered the mind/body/spirit aspect of writing. Was the remedy cognitive – no more than mind over matter, forcing myself to confront the various aspects of the predicament and write, write, write? Was the solution like what might be found in a struggling relationship, where people re-visit what originally attracted them to each other? Or would a spiritual approach such as praying suffice since most of my sales were to religious publications? As it turned out, the answer was yes to all. Exploring mind/body/spirit paths provides revelations that are as unique as the individual, and the process served to rekindle my desire to write.
Sit down with Billie-Fae Gill over a cup of coffee and the stories flow. Told with intelligence and humor, The Sergeant Major’s Wife: A Reflection is an organized compilation of those stories stemming from the twenty years she joined her husband Bill in serving their country in the United States Army. At the end of that time, Bill held the rank of Command Sergeant Major; Billie-Fae was simply designated as dependent/spouse.
But don’t let the lack of exalted recognition fool you. Mrs. Gill is a member of a select society which reaches back to the very foundation of our country—the military spouse. While the details are unique, any military wife will find herself nodding in recognition of the challenges and rewards this lifestyle presents. Military members will be allowed to see the other side of the coin—the life of those who “also serve” while their mates fulfill their duties. Civilians will learn what makes the lives of those who choose this lifestyle something to be honored. And everyone will learn a bit of history that is no longer taught in schools but is essential for understanding today’s world.
Written in an easy, conversational style, The Sergeant Major’s Wife: A Reflection tells the tale of a Cold War American Army wife from a whirlwind courtship, two tours of duty in post war Germany (one with the Army of Occupation) through the Korean Conflict, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. Along the way, she gives concise history lessons, notes the idiosyncrasies of the places she lived and the people she met, translates acronym-laden military jargon into “civilian,” and chronicles the melding of the brash Yankee girl and the smooth Southern sergeant into a lifelong romance in an active family of seven children.
I feel lucky to have participated in the critique of an earlier draft of The Sergeant Major’s Wife. Since then, the stories have been expanded and all the details fact checked. I’m a retired army wife, and I believe my favorite part of the experience was watching the wonderful reactions of our civilian colleague to the world service members and their families consider “normal.” Or, maybe, my favorite part (being an army wife from 1972 through 1993) was the confirmation that the experience of being a military wife hasn’t changed in a significant way from one generation to the next.
What I am certain of is that, whether you enjoy reading memoir, romance, adventure, or history, you will enjoy reading The Sergeant Major’s Wife: A Reflection by Billie-Fae Gerard Gill.
Title: The Sergeant Major’s Wife: A Reflection
Author: Billie-Fae Gerard Gill
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (September 8, 2017)
Available at amazon.com
Here's our first "become the villain" response. What do you think? -N.K.
Tis but my destiny to be the cruel and heartless one. The bastard, if you will, for I am Hyde. I am the monster. I am the embodiment, the avatar of evil.
While Dr. Jeckyll is feted and lauded as a rock-solid citizen, I am feral-hunted and reviled as a stone-cold killer.
Yet are we not the same soul?
Did he not create the potion that created me? Did he not willingly drink it--not once--but again and again? Why is that part of the story lost, abandoned?
Aye, does he even regret the damage that has been done? I do not know.
I only know that I am Hyde.
But if I am the monster, who is this Jeckyll?
Getting inside a villain's head is fun. Try it and let us read the results.-N.K.
I kill people. No excuses; I enjoy it. There’s no better way to ease the tiny frustrations of daily life than to savor the comforting crack of a breaking neck, the sweet song of a sucking chest wound.
My specialty? I haven’t any. I’m a generalist. I can’t help it; I like variety. I love stalking new victims … and trying out new MOs. Don’t want to get stale. I’ve employed them all—gun, garrote, bomb, poison, biologicals, suffocation, drowning, the asphalt splat … you name it—eventually, some medical examiner does.
The Peoria Poisonings, The Truck Stop Stabbings—that was me. I’m The Side Street Stalker, The Diner Doser, The Bloomington Bomber, and I introduced Donnie Ciccone to the wonders of free flight. Not my fault he was a slow learner. BeBe Burkowski? He really should have held his breath.
I’ve done in dames, too. I’m an equal opportunity eliminator, not a civil rights scofflaw. Leslie, Barbara … nobody's found them yet, but Marilyn and I go way back.
I believe this is where I’m supposed to introduce myself. But I won’t. My identity intrigues the investigators, baffles the bobbies, confounds the cops ... and in the end, some poor schmuck gets caged for cadaverous clutter while I lounge along the sidelines, too crucial to the investigation to attract suspicion. Usually, I get paid for my trouble. What’s that they say about never working a day in one’s life?
They also say confession is good for the soul. And you’ll never tell anyone about our little chat, will you? No, of course not. I do know where you live. Yes, I feel much better.
You’ll have to excuse me, now. I have a deadline (if you’ll pardon the pun). And I don’t want to disappoint my publisher.
Contrary to popular belief, free verse poetry is not uninformed chaos, the equivalent of a two-year-old's crayon scribblings. Nor is it a format for the essayist who doesn’t want to learn punctuation. (N.K. wanted me to tell you that. She probably wanted it couched in diplomatic language, but if she requires diplomacy, she should have assigned this sit-down to someone else. Ol’ Em calles ‘em like she sees ‘em. And what she sees … let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.)
Y’see, free verse ain’t at the bottom of the poetry ladder. It’s at the wa-a-ay tippy-top. It’s not meant for the beginner. It’s for the trained, experienced, creative poet who no longer needs—and probably feels hemmed in by—formal structure. At least some of the time.
Hear that? Trained poet.
Whazzat? They’re the poets who’ve learned the rules, wielded the tools and won’t look like fools once their poem is in print.
Okaaay, you say with all due caution in case ol’ Em has been tipplin’ the toddy a tad before tea time, without devoting the 50 years I don’t have left to taking classes, how do I become a trained poet?
Well, you’re in luck. Remember Roses are red, / Violets are blue? Way back in kiddie-garden you were finishing up that little quatrain with inventive insults aimed at all your cute little friends. Oh! Now you remember! No point blushing. We all did it, whether we admit it or not. While most of us knew our way around nursery rhymes long before the Roses gig, this is where we learned to use the meter and rhyme we’d been hearing from infancy to create something of our own.
So what happened? Where did we go wrong?
I’ll tell you what and where. We began to take poetry seriously. Our teachers were there, demanding that we understand and copy the classical poets. And we tried. But suddenly something we did for laughs became work, loading us down with words we didn’t know about characters we had never heard of feeling and thinking things we knew nothing about.
It was a disaster! Incomprehensible verse was stuffed into our ears like disgusting medicine-soaked cotton balls because it was good for us. Oh, you are so lucky my Ode to Mr. Feathers (our first grade class’ parakeet who refused to talk and loved to peck fellow pet Henrietta Hamster’s tail) has long since crumbled to dust, or I’d show you what I mean.
To make matters worse, somewhere along the way we were forced to memorize terms like metaphor and simile and that one no one but a spelling bee champion can manage—onomatopoeia. And to use them even when they didn’t apply to what we wanted to say. Because no one cared what we had to say. They only cared about the form in which we said it. And so, most of us learned to hate poetry.
As it happens, eventually some of us figured out we had a knack for word games beyond Wheel of Fortune and crossword puzzles, and we ventured out on our own. We found real, live poets (rather than the dead ones celebrated in textbooks), who were willing to nurture our clumsy attempts to harness our thoughts and emotions and nudge them into one or another framework to help us along.
We weren’t writing for a grade or to impress a teacher. We were writing for us. And something magical happened. Poetry became fun again. And anything fun is worth getting better at, right? So we took some classes or ventured out onto the internet to learn more and began experimenting with new forms, new rules, new challenges. We frolicked in a world of foreign and ancient formats but with modern language and ideas. Along the way we cranked out the odd poem that someone we trusted said wasn’t half bad, and that’s all the encouragement we needed to go on learning and having fun.
As our competence grew, we began making adjustments to the the formal templates we’d been using. We modified them until they only sort of resembled those we’d started with. We carefully chose from among our tools until the thing we created carried our personal stamp instead of someone else’s.
And when the sky didn’t fall and our mentors smiled instead of fainting dead away, we bent a few more rules, nudged aside a few more impediments to creativity. Began to invent our own frameworks and to pick and choose which poetic devices suited the needs of each particular work. Before we knew it, we’d crossed a line. Our beautiful imagery and unique phrasing wasn’t confined to a quatrain or sonnet or triolet. It was something as unique as our vision. Free verse.
And we looked up to discover time had passed. We were in charge. Words revealed the music of our souls, and we could use them to share that music with others. We had paid the necessary price of learning our craft: mastering structured poetry.
Because free verse is freeing, but it isn’t free.
Don't you love a thoughtful gift? When our youngest daughter handed out our birthday presents, my husband Richard unwrapped folds of white tisssue to reveal a handmade mug. He held it and examined it at eye level. She explained how when she saw it she thought of him. He loved the weight and pronounced it to be perfect..
When he flipped it over we saw LUCY scratched across the base. In this mad, busy world it helps to know there are artisans out there who craft beautiful, useful objects.
Now, although we expressed paroxysms of delight at our mugs it was the thoughtfulness and love behind the gift we appreciated.
Also it spoke to our tradition. We love to sit on the porch, hand curled around a cup, sipping steaming espresso to savor the day. That contemplative time spent talking, laughing and listening symbolizes our family.
We are spread apart. Our oldest daughter lives in Cambodia. Her coffee is often a cold brew over ice in sweltering hot, 100 degrees. Her commute is via tuk-tuk or lately bicycle and trailer. Our grandchildren are strapped-in-helmet-wearers as she pulls them through Pnom Penh. In that city we found out that which side of the road you drive on is a suggestion. That means traffic is chaos. Imagine schools of fish tagging alongside a tiger shark as they swim en mass.
Weddings take place in the middle of the street. There's no land or gardens so for a week families celebrate in the middle of busy thoroughfares. This means traffic must reroute as able tuk-tuk drivers negotiate back roads. When we left Cambodia I'm ashamed to say we drove right through a wedding marquis on the way to the airport. I waved and smiled at the people eating cake. Our driver shouldn't have done it but as he told us later he didn't see any chairs and we didn't have the extra hour needed to negotiate back roads. No one seems to get angry at these things there.
And when we Skype with her usually we are sipping coffee. Ours steams while hers is icy. It is the constant.
We do not see our family state-side often either. So our visits are extra special like strung pearls on a necklace. When we are together good food, fun and laughter ensue. We hug and cry when they leave.
But this time we have a handmade mug to hold as we sip to salute the day.
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.