It's National Poetry Month! You didn't think I'd let that slip by unnoticed, did you? What better way to pass the time while waiting for spring's late arrival than to read—or write—a bit of poetry? Short on inspiration? Look no further than the things you encounter every day.
That's the advice of this week's guest, Cristina Trapani-Scott. I first met Cristina fourteen years ago at Bear River Writers' Conference. After the conference, we formed a writers' group with another writer we'd met there. The result was the Sister Scribes, an Ann Arbor-based group that eventually added three more members and became a source of support and motivation for all of us.
An author, educator, and former journalist, Cristina now lives and writes in Northern Colorado. Her debut chapbook collection of poems, The Persistence of a Bathing Suit, published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press, explores the moments that fill the space between surviving a breast cancer diagnosis and accepting the inevitability of change and uncertainty. Cristina's work has appeared in the Patterson Literary Review, Hip Mama Magazine, the Driftwood, Bigger Than They Appear: An Anthology of Very Short Poems, and Sweet Lemons 2: International Writings with a Sicilian Accent. She holds an MFA in poetry and fiction from Spalding University and currently teaches creative writing and composition online.
Find Poetry in Everyday Things
Author Lene Fogelberg is visiting today to share some tips for kick-starting a sluggish creative engine. You may remember meeting Lene (pronounced LEN-ay) when she visited HeartWood more than a year ago to talk about writing, health, and her memoir, Beautiful Affliction.
Lene's Ten Creativity Boosters
Lately, I have been thinking about creativity, especially since I recently experienced a surge in inspiration after returning from our holiday in Sydney, Australia.
Even before I had recovered from jet lag, new ideas for writing projects kept popping up into my mind. I felt compelled to examine this process further, by pondering how, why and when I have experienced bursts of creativity in my life.
Attend to Your Health
Our health has a great impact on all aspects of life, creativity included, but I also know from experience that doing something creative can be a great source of comfort and even alleviate pain. Since this post is about boosting creativity, the first step would be to do what we can to feel healthy and well-rested. But, as I told you, in the midst of jetlag and general post-holiday/travel fatigue, I still felt a surge of creativity that consequently must have been generated from other sources of inspiration.
Get Out In the World
Since we had just come back from our travel to Australia, full of new impressions, my first thought was that this must be a great booster of creativity. To experience new places, sights, sounds, scents and tastes, and to interact with new people. To marvel over the wonderfully cheerful Australian accent, to be called "love" and to "ooh" and "aah" over the fireworks next to strangers who helped us get the best viewing spot over the harbour.
Meet New People
Yes, this, to meet new people, should be its own item on the list. To talk to them, to listen to their stories, and to—just as important for a writer—observe them. Not in a stalker-ish way, but just as they go about their ordinary business. In Sydney, I couldn’t help but notice the street singer who always stood on the same corner in his washed-out jeans and blond curls, singing Hallelujah with a silky voice to the tunes from his worn guitar; the tanned, muscular woman working on the ferry, lassoing the thick ropes like a cowboy as the ferry docked; the cashier in the corner supermarket, interrupting the loud stream of words into his cell phone to look up at us with a soft "How can I help you?"
Kick Back With TV or a Book
And in the evenings, when we were sprawled out on the living room sofa after having walked all over Sydney, we enjoyed watching TV: news, series, comedy, anything that gave us an additional flavour of the Australian culture, and insights into the people and their stories. For example, we watched the miniseries called Hoges about Paul Hogan, the real life Crocodile Dundee. It was really enlightening, and helped me understand just how big a phenomenon Hogan was and still is in Australia, and how much his story helped shape the Australian brand overseas and domestically. Whenever I encounter a new place, I also enjoy to read up on people and places, to more fully understand the culture. A while back I read a lot by novelist Patrick White, and it was such a great experience to visit the country he so vividly described in his novels.
Get a Move On
I already mentioned that we walked a lot, and I mean A LOT. Wow, we got so much exercise, and even though I was very tired in the evenings, it must have done me good, since I’m having this surge in well-being and creativity. We rented a small townhouse by Barangaroo Reserve, in the heart of Sydney, with harbour views from nearly every window. I took this picture a few steps from our front door, and it was wonderful to breathe the ocean air, and watch the sun set, mirrored in the silvery water.
This, to spend time in nature, seems to always recharge my mind, body and soul in every way. Somehow I feel happier, stronger, more alive and more like myself, when I am surrounded by trees, rocks, earth and water. It seems to sharpen my senses, make me more aware of the details in every leaf of grass, flower and every ripple of the water surface.
Capture the Beauty
These beautiful views seem to urge me to capture them, when I was younger on canvas, and nowadays more often using photography. This in turn, I believe, helps me see more details, moods, shadows and shades, that I otherwise might have missed. Learning photography has turned to be a great source of inspiration in my writing. Come to think of it, the first chapter of Beautiful Affliction starts with a photograph!
Indeed, all crafts tend to cross-pollinate each other, which is why, I believe, so many writers are also artists, musicians, designers, gardeners, photographers, bakers etc. To do something crafty, seems to stimulate our creative minds in all directions.
Connect With Other Creative Types
And as we engage in our favourite crafts, we tend to gravitate to, but also attract, other creative people, who can be a great source of inspiration. These days we needn’t create in solitude, instead we can find like-minded friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in the blogosphere, and of course, IRL: in real life.
Accentuate the Positive
Learning from and about other creative people can also help us cultivate positive paradigms on craft/creativity and lift our spirits when we suffer setbacks or when we feel like the well of our creativity has dried up. I love the uplifting "can-do" spirit that is often shared on Instagram, and the many tips from bloggers, and the never-ending jokes and shenanigans on Twitter. Perhaps especially for me, a Swedish writer living in Asia, social media has proven to be a valuable source of inspiration, connection and a place to find friends, now that I live so far from home.
For the past three years, I've been delighted to find photographer Gail Howarth's calendars for sale at Artsplace in Fremont. I've been a fan of Gail's photographs since I saw a collaborative exhibit of work by Gail and painter Renae Wallace at Artsplace a few years ago.
Then Renae Wallace, a painter from Fremont, Michigan, began asking me if she could paint some of my images. Of course, I was shocked, honored, and so pleased. That eventually turned into our exhibit at NCCA - Artsplace: Of Time, Transition and Reflection. Words cannot even begin to describe how wonderful that experience was. Renae is a gem. A dream came true when Lindsay Isenhart said yes to the project. Everyone at Artsplace was incredibly supportive. Faune Benson Schuitema even helped me pick all the materials to frame and mat my work. The community came out in earnest to support both Renae and me. It was then that I knew I was on my way and felt like a real artist.
My approach is different, as I take more time with setup and take fewer images versus taking too many images and then sorting through for the best one. That was very time-consuming. I also ask for opportunities to photograph things that interest me. In the past, I would miss many opportunities because I was too shy to ask.
In early 2016 I began to feel more and more unsettled in the career I had loved. As the year progressed, I found myself thinking more about photography and writing and less and less about my job. One day when I was training the dental staff at Mel Trotter, I mentioned to Janice Keesman, Director of Clinics, how I was feeling. I told her I was considering leaving my job to pursue my passion. I mentioned that if they ever needed help, I would still like to be considered. That resulted in many discussions, and finally a job offer. I work in the clinic three days a week and spend the rest of my time cultivating my life as an artist.
The project was born soon after I began working in the dental clinic. Patients often said the same phrases to describe what was happening in their lives. They went like this: No one hears me. No one sees me. I am invisible. I thought perhaps I could help. With my camera and writing skills, I could give them a voice, a face, and increase public awareness of homelessness.
Mel Trotter Ministries publishes my pieces on their website. I will be including the blog posts on my own site soon.
Additionally, I would like to create an exhibit for ArtPrize and/or other venues to increase awareness.
But, I would also say, I feel a bit more of a burden of responsibility in caring for those less fortunate. I find it difficult to leave the building between 4:30 and 5:15 pm. That sounds terrible, but I have a tender heart and my mind has a hard time wrapping my head around the extent of the issue of homelessness. That is the time when the homeless women check in for the evening. They wait in line and security goes through their sparse belongings before allowing them entry where they will receive a meal and bed for the night. I often see the same women day after day. There is no age limit. Some are very young and some very old. Some appear to be frightened, angry, resigned, and yet others quite joyful. And I wonder, where are their families, why does no one care enough to open their doors to these people, and what does the future hold for them?
As an artist, I would say it has been a call to action. I am one person. What can I do? I can and will use my words and camera to do whatever I can to help.
I am also starting a small gallery by appointment at my home in Holton.
I met Janet/J.Q. through the writers' group at Fremont Area District Library, and I've enjoyed reading her imaginative stories (and indulging our mutual weakness for ice cream). Terror on Sunshine Boulevard is one of my favorites.
Here's a quick word from J.Q., followed by a Q&A. More details about her and her books can be found at the end of the post.
Readers: Please leave a comment below because a lucky commenter will win a PDF copy of Terror on Sunshine Boulevard. Winner will be drawn on Friday, January 19 at 9 p.m. EST.
I chose this setting because the scene one pictures of a retirement community is exactly what you describe--a place where people who have worked all their lives have a chance to enjoy the good things in life. I love the juxtaposition of the bright fun-in- the-sun feeling with the darkness of murder and mystery. Even the title includes the contrasting views—terror and sunshine.
I base my characters on real people in my life. We meet many interesting folks in our travels. And I might add, there are some real characters in Michigan too! I take bits and pieces from personalities, gestures, accents, speech and put them together in one character. I also create the background story of the character to understand his relationships with other characters and his motivation for doing something like stealing, cheating, even murder. All of that information, such as his favorite color, is not spilled out on the page for the reader. The more I know about the character, the more believable he’ll be.
In all of my stories the setting is very important. I have mysteries set in the retirement community, a church, and a funeral home. Each location is a message to the reader to understand the reason for the drama within the pages of the book and to set the mood for the scenes. Often the twist comes when a character doesn’t fit into the setting. I think the setting is an element in the story, but I’ve never thought of it as a character. I guess we need to discuss the definition of the character.
Yes. I’m concerned watching “civilization” encroaching on the natural habitat by paving over acres of ground that is home to many animals and native plants. Developers tear out huge areas of property to build malls and subdivisions. Roads and highways cut through ancient areas, disturbing the trails and habits of generations of animals. No wonder wildlife raid garbage cans in subdivisions. Their food supply is no longer available because the homes are built in their habitat. The natural environmental balance is disturbed and the animals’ survival is at risk. We must be better stewards of our resources.
I think many folks believe retirees are no longer useful to society. Don’t believe that! They have not been put out to pasture. A vibrant new chapter opens for them. Seniors have skills and talents polished by their life experiences. They are assets to their communities in many ways and guides to warn the young’uns about their mistakes and to show them how they have triumphed. They are storytellers when they share family stories around the dinner table as the kids sit enthralled learning about the funny, crazy uncle or the accomplished pianist in the family. Seniors are eyewitnesses to the world and our country’s history and will not allow anyone to slant the truth for their own purposes.
To tell the truth, I was a writer way before being a teacher or entrepreneur. I actually started writing stories in second grade and I never stopped. I’ve had mentors and supporters along the way encouraging me to keep writing. First was my Grandmother Maw and teachers. Judy Corey and Mary Zuwerink started the North Country Writers many years ago. Esther Jiran (who writes as Joselyn Vaughn) was the force behind starting a writers group at the Fremont Library. I met many folks excited about writing there including you, Nan. Also a critique group of talented authors not only helped me brainstorm story ideas, but also encouraged me to submit my first story to publishers which resulted in signing a contract with a small publisher. Esther, Wendy Sinicki (pen name W.S. Gager), Theresa Grant (Tess Grant), and Nan continue to be important advocates in my writing life.
After we sold our flower business in 1995, I had time to sit down and write. So I did. I asked Rich Wheater, editor of our regional newspaper, if he could use a few stories for the paper. He said, “Go ahead.” I learned a LOT from him and branched out into writing freelance articles for magazines, newspapers, and online magazines. After reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries and Janet Evanovich’s funny mysteries, I decided to tackle fiction. And I’m glad I did!
I’ve discovered writing the book is the easy part. After publishing comes the difficult job of promoting the book. I spend many hours a week, every week, on Facebook, my blog, and guesting on blogs to get the word out about the books and urging folks to review my books. Reviews get the attention of Amazon so they promote it; the review helps readers decide if it’s a story they would enjoy.
Yes. Daily routines change, but I learned I had to schedule an appointment with J.Q. Rose to sit down every day and write for half an hour or more. No marketing, no emailing. After lunch, I put on my author cap and write no matter if I’m up north or down south.
I take photos—of everything! I love capturing people, places, things, a tricky bee landing on a flower. I also enjoy “creating” quote graphics at canva.com using my photos.
Yes. My mission is to encourage everyone to take time to write or record their life stories. So what if you didn’t discover a medicine to cure disease or help build a ship to fly to the moon? Your life is worthy because it can inspire others by sharing your experiences of overcoming obstacles, making mistakes or celebrating success. Your stories will allow generations of your family to get to know you and be empowered by your life story. I’m writing a memoir now about the first year we moved to Fremont and started our business. What an adventure.
Do you have a story inside you to share? Go ahead and do it.
Thank you for visiting today.
Back of the Book: Rescuing a naked woman lying in a geranium bed or investigating mysterious murders are not the usual calls for first responder Jim Hart. He expects slip and fall accidents or low blood pressure emergencies in his retirement community of Citrus Ridge Senior Community and Golf Resort. The ghastly crime scenes turn the winter time fun into a terrifying season of death and mystery when the authorities cannot track down the predator responsible.
Jim and his wife Gloria could escape the horror and grief by returning to their northern home, but concern for their friends and residents keep them in Florida. With the entire community in a dither over the deaths, the Harts participate in the normal winter activities of golfing, dancing, and pool parties with their friends to distract them from the sadness and loss.
Can Jim and Gloria work with the authorities to discover who or what is killing the seniors on Sunshine Boulevard and stop the increasing body count?
Terror on Sunshine Boulevard is available for purchase at these digital booksellers.
After writing feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and online magazines for over fifteen years, J.Q. Rose entered the world of fiction. Her published mysteries are Deadly Undertaking, Dangerous Sanctuary, and Terror on Sunshine Boulevard, released by Books We Love Publishing. Blogging, photography, Pegs and Jokers board games, and travel are the things that keep her out of trouble. She spends winters in Florida and summers up north camping and hunting toads, frogs, and salamanders with her four grandsons and granddaughter.
Connect with J.Q. Rose online at
J.Q. Rose blog
Books We Love Author Page
Everything I Know I Learned From Hermit Crabs
by Mark L. Winston
I'm a university scientist reaching the end of my career, and recently calculated that I've had 115 co-authors on research papers over a 45-year period. Clearly partnering with students and colleagues was a signature element of my research style, but my first experience collaborating was not auspicious, almost destroying a friendship and derailing my career before it really got started.
I was living and working in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1973 after graduating from Boston University with a B.Sc. degree in which my performance was considerably less than stellar. The "Hole," as we called it, was home to the renowned Marine Biology Laboratory (MBL) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), both sources of the short-term research jobs that paid my bills for the next couple of years.
I worked as a research assistant investigating chemical orientation in lobsters, and then landed a summer job for the nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture Gypsy Moth Laboratory, evaluating the use of pheromones to confuse gypsy moths, a serious forest pest. I also had an opportunity to work with a professor in Mexico for two months who was studying wasp social behavior at various latitudes.
I filled the in-between times with a few weeks of warehouse work here and there, and a three-week stint as a substitute teacher for high school biology classes.
Two years of this insecure work in varied underling capacities convinced me that I needed to go back to school if I was to ever rise above being someone else's assistant. I decided to pursue a Masters degree in marine biology, and enrolled in the Boston University Marine Program, based in Woods Hole.
I soon was focusing in on a thesis topic, stimulated by conversations with a postdoctoral fellow at WHOI, Stu, to consider hermit crabs. Stu was loquacious, with an excellent moustache, a productive seaweed-fertilized garden and a young family that was exceedingly generous in inviting me over for meals.
Very excited, I got to work, collecting crabs in the field and spending many long days and late nights in the laboratory recording their behaviours. I forgot just about everything else, including Stu, in my fervor to get some results. Night after night I worked late, observing the crabs and recording their interactions, building up an array of data that would definitively prove or disprove our hypothesis.
by Ruth Daly
A Total Eclipse Pilgrimage
by Sally Cunningham Kane
On average, a total eclipse is visible from any one spot on Earth about once every 375 years. On August 21, a total solar eclipse cut a seventy-mile wide swath, coast-to-coast, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.
My husband, Mark, wanted to experience this event at a one-hundred-percent-totality site.
The spiritual pilgrimage metaphor emerged when I began researching the eclipse online and looking for lodging. Webster defines "pilgrimage" as a special journey to a sacred site. This eclipse event had taken on epic proportions, engaging millions of people across the entire continent.
Erected round the slowly-filling parking lot, on the grass and under trees, stood colorful shade umbrellas and tents. People, representing many ages and ethnicities, were assembling their lawn chairs, coolers and cold beverages. Realizing we forgot to bring a ground cover or chairs, we snatched our yoga mat and raincoats, some snacks and water, and secured a spot under a shade tree. Mark wasted no time getting horizontal for a nap. The thermometer registered ninety-four degrees, still climbing.
All around the grounds stood cameras. High tech cameras mounted on tripods, lenses covered with dark film. Hand-made cardboard box cameras. People tried out their safety glasses, through which the sun became a dark orange circle against a black background.
Noon. I joined Mark on our shady, makeshift ground cover. We ate a snack and gulped down water. I tested out my safety glasses. The sun was a complete, round, orange ball. I ducked back in the shade. Twelve fifteen. A tiny Pac-Man bite showed in the top right section of the sphere. Someone shouted, "It’s starting!" Over the next half hour, we kept checking. The Pac-Man effect increased and the air began cooling, even though the sun cast shadows. By twelve-forty or so, standing in the sun no longer felt intolerable.
By one p.m., the sun appeared as a slivered, orange crescent. One-fifteen. Like sentries on cue, several hundred people wrapped their eyes in safety glasses, bent their heads back, and stared skyward.
I've been a fan of Colleen M. Story and her blog, Writing and Wellness, since I came across her posts on Twitter a year or so ago.
When I learned that Colleen has a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy. What writer could resist a book titled Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, with this tagline: "Stop drowning in your to-do list and start living a more joyful creative life!"?
Though the book has "Writer" in the title, the advice in it applies to creative folks of all kinds, and even those who don't consider themselves creative.
Art of any kind takes a ton of focus and mental energy. And most of us are working it in between our day jobs and family responsibilities. But in today’s world, writers must also market themselves, and that’s like adding on a third job. Marketing takes a ton of time and education, and so we’re squeezing every second out of the day blogging and interacting on social media and running giveaways and learning about what else we need to do to promote our work.
In the midst of all those activities, we’re losing time to write. That was hard enough to find in the first place! On top of that, we’re living in a world of constant distraction. There are just so many things vying for our attention, and we often lose the battle and succumb to watching YouTube videos instead of writing (or painting or composing).
My last post of 2016 has taken me all year to write. I haven't wanted to admit this, but here's the truth. . .
Do you ever feel inexplicably drawn to read a particular book? This happened to me recently at Barnes & Noble, when I looked over at the new releases section and felt the mysterious pull to read FORWARD, a memoir by soccer player Abby Wambach. Mind you, I don’t like soccer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game in my life. And I had no clue who this woman was or why I should care about her story. But the tug toward the title wouldn’t relent, and I took it home.
Turns out, the universe was right. I wasn’t far into the book—12 pages to be exact—when this passage hit me over the head:
I love [soccer] for what it gives me: praise, affection and, above all, attention. When I’m on the field I don’t have to plead to be noticed, either silently or aloud; it is a natural by-product of my talent. I loathe it for the same reason, terrified that soccer is the only worthwhile thing about me, that stripping it from my identity might make me disappear…Already I know I’m incapable of falling in love with the game itself—only with the validation that comes from mastering it, from bending it to my will.
Fast-forward a few decades, to 2007 when I sold my first novel. It hit shelves in 2009. I was writing young-adult at the time, which was a perfect fit. I thought, this is it, and I kept going. My second book came out in 2011, followed by my third in 2012.
In 2014, I sold a trio of small-town romances at auction, giving me enough money to quit my full-time, big-girl job and take something part-time while I pursued this new venue. For a hot second, it was great. Until it wasn’t. These books didn’t sell well either, and when I pitched my publisher on a new series, they didn’t bite. They washed their hands of me and moved on.
My editor wasn’t a fan of the book at all—a historical middle-grade novel about a young girl who works at a logging camp for a winter in the Wisconsin Northwoods. I’d called it the book of my heart. I think if she could, my editor would have called it a hot mess.
To which he would continually reply, “Just hang out in this uncertain place. Don’t fight it, just face the not-knowing and see what comes up.”
So I hung out in the not knowing and, it turns out, my husband was right. I was still a writer, just maybe not a novelist. Or not only a novelist. I discovered I loved copy writing and was awesome at it. I found I had a passion for nonfiction and realized that I could to put pen to paper to fight injustice. I even got an awesome new business idea, which I’m in the process of starting up.
Fear no failure. There is no such thing.
You will know real love. The journey will be long, but you’ll find your way home.
You are so brave, little one. I’m proud of you.
by Colleen Newvine
I love hosting parties, from intimate dinner parties to jam-packed cocktail parties. When people come to our parties, they sometimes say wistfully, "You’re so good at this. I wish I knew how to throw a party like this."
Become a regular at a bar or coffee shop near you
Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called The Great Good Place in 1989 that spoke of the "third place"—someplace that's not home and not work, but another spot where you connect with your community. Going to your third place isn't just about scheduling a date to meet people you already know but about chatting with whoever’s there.
The development of the individual depends on meeting people from different walks of life, and getting to know them. That’s good for the individual, and it’s good for the community. Coffee shops are great, and bars are great — they offer an edge because of what you consume, and you can relax and warm up to other people.
- We went to several places in our neighborhood early in the evening on weeknights
- We sat at the bar and talked with bartenders, asking them what they like to make and what’s good on the menu
- When we found a bartender we liked, we'd ask his or her name and when he or she works. For us, a good bar experience is about how we’re treated and that varies greatly from person to person so we don’t just go to a place, we seek out an individual who gives us a good experience.
I once read about two moms who swapped helping each other clean. They'd both spend an hour cleaning one family's house, talking as they did it, then they'd switch to the other house. It turned a grudge task into bonding time.
I hear a lot of people, especially in go-go-go New York City, saying they just don’t have time to socialize. They work long hours, wrapped in a long commute on each side, then maybe they have the demands of parenting waiting at home.
from the heart of the woods
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.
Last Wednesday Wisdom