A Burst of Life

By Susan E. Wagner

We’ve all seen grenades explode on television or in the movies. It’s dramatic. It can make changes in a story and in real life.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, Grenade, provides a vivid visual to the reader. A Vietnam veteran, who served in the army as a reporter during the war, Komunyakaa’s complex and powerful poem caused an immediate physical and emotional reaction in me.

The Vietnam War defined my entire childhood. It was on the news every night and in every Sunday newspaper. From sixth grade on, we discussed it in school. It was almost always our current events.

So, when I felt such a powerful reaction, I knew I needed to dig deeper. Everyday, I reread the poem. Because the imagery is so concrete, I took from individual words, phrases or a sentence, to jumpstart my daily journal writing. Continue reading “A Burst of Life”

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Just Another Day of Adventure

By Susan Wagner

I’m a bit irritated today at the dreariness of winter. I can’t run off to a completely secluded life on a warm island somewhere. Damn. Instead, I plan to run into writing and see where that takes me.

Writing in my childhood, I wrote about small things or things I imagined. I read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology. So, sometimes I wrote characters or stories set in that time period. It was a lot more interesting living there in that story than on an old farm.

I branched out to natural wonders – mostly mountains and woods. This was due to seeing the movie, Heidi, and having miles of woods behind our property. To this day, I love mountains. I love woods. Continue reading “Just Another Day of Adventure”

The Road Not Taken

By Susan Wagner

My first experience with analyzing poetry came in my eighth-grade English class. One of the poems we discussed was “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. I clearly remember writing about how choices define a life – heady stuff for a young teen.

Flash forward to a recent day when this memory popped into my head during my journal writing. So, naturally, I do what millions of other people do – I jump immediately onto the internet. I justify this interruption of journal time with the thought that it would be interesting to see how I feel about the poem now and how that would compare to what my younger self believed.

By phone, I visit the Poetry Foundation website to read the poem. The site is easy to use and also gives you short author biographies. I read the poem and I discover it has a Poem Guide, written by Katherine Robinson. I read that too. Continue reading “The Road Not Taken”

Writing Rules – Part II

(Yes, I’m thinking of making this a series)

By Bob McCrillis

Who knew?

While poking around on the internet to find some of Ray Bradbury’s earliest short stories, I discovered his twelve rules for writing. Elmore Leonard wasn’t the only one – imagine. A celebrated author, presumably with a busy schedule, took the time to codify his rules and tips.  His willingness to share them with the world was, to me, even more shocking – why encourage competitors?

My much-boasted-about short story per week for a year effort came from the first of Mr. Bradbury’s twelve rules:

  • Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. “Worth waiting for, huh?”

Continue reading “Writing Rules – Part II”

Writing is Ruining My Reading

By Bob McCrillis

Escape Denied

Since I learned to read, books have been my ticket to adventure and a means of escape from…well, escape from lots of things. That is not to say that my reading list runs in any particular direction. For example, the last book I finished was Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain, which details his search for God. Ultimately Merton was accepted as a monk at a monastery in Kentucky where he spent the rest of his life writing and advocating for social justice. However, this weighty tome is bookended by Michael Connelly novels featuring the flawed detective Harry Bosch.

The problem? Instead of becoming, for a time, a hard-bitten Los Angeles detective on the trail of a psychotic killer, I’m pondering whether Connelly should have taken us deeper into what triggered Harry’s flashback to Viet Nam. With Merton, I filled pages with notes. Not on his lifelong struggle to find meaning in life, or the superficiality that he found in the Church of England, but comments like “too many clauses” and “why not simplify” or “these damn euphemisms are frustrating me!” Continue reading “Writing is Ruining My Reading”

In Celebration of Deadlines

By Bob McCrillis

Did you know the origin of the term deadline? It arose, among many other horrors, at the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The Confederate guards established a line about twenty feet inside the stockade walls which no prisoner was allowed to cross. Should a prisoner cross, or even touch, the line, he was shot by the tower guards. According to War Department records, this policy was strictly enforced, leading to the term deadline.

It’s not too difficult to see how the concept could migrate to the newspaper world in the days of manually set type and travel-impaired distribution. With such long lead times between presentation of copy and delivery of a finished newspaper, getting copy in time to print it was very serious business. I was unable to find a verified instance of an editor shooting a delinquent reporter of columnist but I’m sure punishment was severe. Continue reading “In Celebration of Deadlines”

Rules for Writing

By Bob McCrillis

Elmore Leonard, as we all know, is fabulously popular in the crime genre. What I didn’t know was that his work is popular with literary people – the kind who actually have a shot a Pulitzer. Understand, I don’t personally know any of those writers, but read it in the New Yorker.

I was also unaware of his very cold-eyed approach to the business of writing for publication. When he left advertising to write novels in the early Fifties, he found that Westerns were popular so he wrote Westerns. When Westerns dropped out of favor, he switched to Crime.

A writer like this should be my hero, right? Work intended for publication is a product. It needs to be within a recognizable genre. Then I found his Ten Rules for Good Writing.

My work breaks every one – I’m doomed! Continue reading “Rules for Writing”