Sunday, December 25, 2011

To Be Oneself

Chesapeake Bay Sunset photo contributed by Sharon Ewing


The Telling that Changes Everything II

December 11, 2011

 Being who you are won’t fix
everything, but it is something
each of us can do, whatever
our circumstances. We can be
killed, maimed, have lies told
about us, but our truth will
shine into their darkness,
whoever they are, whatever
their intentions. Their humanity
is as frail and needy as our own.
They also have the choice: to be
who they are or betray themselves,
the worst evil there is, and so
often not named in our world,
more and more confused about
what matters. It goes back to
steamrollers. When I told that
professor I was dropping out,
he, who’d said he didn’t know
if I had a mind for literature
but I certainly had a heart
for it, said to me: "The steamroller
will get you." Our society now
has so many steamrollers and so
many already flattened people
who act like cardboard cutouts of
themselves. But why not be a grain
of sand? In time the steamroller
will get you, too, but you might
contribute to the clogging and
malfunction of one machine.
When the machines fail, maybe
the cardboard cutouts will remember
they’re human and speak their
truth. What other weapon do we
have that is as potent a catalyst,
as sure to defeat pomposity and
power seized by the small-minded
and those frightened by their own
shadows? Let the shadows out of
Jung’s dark closet. There is plenty
of light to dance in, and our
suffering, paradoxically, can all
be felt as a necessary part of
self-hood and a happiness that,
if not eternal, won’t easily be
destroyed, even if we die. You
see, the ecstasy the true self
experiences is outside time, and
it’s contagious. It doesn’t need
steamrollers to make its point.
It relies on light–the Light that
is the Universe’s way of being,
the Light we were all born to
see and to live by. We may
stagger in our darkness,
but if we move confidently
forward, we’ll see the gray light
of Dawn, then the yellow saffron
of her mantle, the rosy fingers
with which she lights our day,
and what, then, will steamrollers
matter to such tough-spirited,
joyous individual grains of sand?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Christmas Cactus in the Kitchen Window

The Telling that Changes Everything III. December 18, 2011

 The Christmas cactus in the kitchen window
snuck up on me. I did notice that its
floppy stems were putting out buds at the
tips, but suddenly on this cold December
morning, with frost heavy on the chickweed
and making the feathery weeds enchanting
in their hoarfrost bonnets, it achieves
full bloom. It gets summer heat and wintry
blasts since it faces west. The cold is as
necessary as the sun to its health and
well-being. There was Ruth Pope, years
ago, whom I visited with my baby girl,
who took me into her dark bedroom
to see her cactus blooms. Mine lives
and blooms in a lighted room, but it
does need that cold. The slender,
many-layered, deep pink blossoms
seem far too exotic for my simple life,
yet here it lives, sandwiched between
the compost bucket with its eggshells
sticking out and the cobwebs on the
other side, but nothing in the created
order looks less dismayed. Pink
is such an exultant color. I do have
my moments of pink, or call them
heightened consciousness, when
the words take off, or the sky has
streaks of yellow and rose after the
sun has swum below the horizon.
Most days are essentially ordinary,
following my daily routine, reminding
myself of chores and things to finish
before nightfall. Some mornings I
feel disconnected even from this
ordinary world, like being up too
high and unable to get my feet firmly
on the ground. Proust said, as we age,
the stilts we walk on get taller until
we can no longer balance, and then
we fall and die. The stilt consciousness
passes once I’ve fed the hens, made a
fire, eaten toast, drunk my lemon-ginger tea.
There’s another state, the one I hate the
most, of fear. So many things I never
thought about, simply doing them,
risky or not. Now I have to summon
courage for a late night drive or before I
venture by car along unfamiliar roads.
Something in me that once was tough and
unconcerned, now quails, imagines
being lost, alone, cold, far from home.
I have to remind myself that I’m canny,
that people have always helped me,
that I may be scared, but "inside fear
is courage," as Mindi wrote in her book.
True, I am rewarded for getting myself
down from those stilts and back on
terra firma.  I write poems. My
Christmas cactus blooms.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And the Words Came Early--Deborah Meyer

Photo of Judy Hogan by Deborah Meyer


And the Words Came Early by Deborah R. Meyer

Judy Hogan lives in a rich world of words.

They are in the poetry and prose books tucked into the nooks and niches of her Moncure home.

They are in her head, tumbling around, waiting for their chance to be put to permanence.

They breathe on the pages of diaries and her numerous unpublished manuscripts.

They flow effortlessly out of her as she teaches workshops and classes around the Triangle, inspiring fledgling writers to forge ahead, inspiring seasoned writers to explore their untapped resources.

But it was just one word that she used when asked what she felt when she received an email this past October notifying her that one of her fiction manuscripts had been accepted for publication.

"Ecstasy." Hogan said.

Anyone who knows Judy will not be surprised that her work is so highly regarded but will be astonished to learn that the accepted manuscript, titled Killer Frost, is a mystery novel.

Since she arrived in North Carolina in 1971, Hogan has been helping to advance the state’s state of poetry as she was also writing her own. In 1969, Hogan was living in Illinois, and a friend, Paul Foreman, who lived in Berkeley, where Hogan had worked on a Ph.D. in Classics, suggested they found a poetry journal. So Hyperion was born.

When Hogan moved to North Carolina, she began including North Carolina poets. In the mid-70s she started organizing readings for poets.

"The women’s movement brought some angry stuff out at first but there were just a lot of women starting to write. So I started collecting women’s poetry and with a grant from the National Endowment from the Arts I published a women’s issue of Hyperion in 1980. Then in 1981 I published an issue with Southern poets," Hogan said.

Foreman, by then living in Austin, Texas, had started in 1970 Thorp Springs Press and Hogan would send poets to him. Foreman suggested that Hogan, who was living in Chapel Hill, should start a press in North Carolina and in January of 1976, Carolina Wren Press was born.

"I published Jaki Shelton Green. I left in 1991 but under my editorship we did 33 books, including one children's book. We did a play, but I was most interested in the people coming up around the fringes of the establishment. I wanted to publish the people that weren’t fitting into the place where there was already a lot of help," Hogan said.

She helped to found the North Carolina Writers’ Network in 1984 serving as its President until 1987.

Born in Zenith, Kansas, Hogan discovered the joy of writing when she had to spend a year in bed at the end of the first grade due to rheumatic fever. "Mother brought me lots of library books and then I started writing little stories and drawing pictures. That was the beginning. I was building my own imaginary world I guess. I told my father when I was 10 I was going to be a writer," Hogan said.

She was 14 when she began the habit of keeping a diary, which she still does today, filling about 200 pages a month. This includes some emails that she keeps. "You tell some things in letters you don’t say in your diary," Hogan said.

Hogan recovered from the effects of rheumatic fever but never from word fever. She said her first published piece of poetry was in the Hyperion if you didn’t count her church bulletin when she was 13. "It was a poem about being an adolescent," Hogan said.

She has published five books of poetry with small presses and two prose works.

Through a lovely, chance encounter, Hogan began a lifelong friendship with the people of Kostroma, Russia. Her first visit there was in 1990, and Hogan said she feels a great kinship with the Russians. "They care about their souls. We had such terrible images of Russians from the Cold War. Every image of them was grim and hostile," said Hogan, who found this was the opposite of truth.

In 1980, Hogan began reading mysteries before she went to bed. This habit was noticed by the landlady of a bed and breakfast that Hogan would stay at when she went to Wales some summers to write poetry. "I would walk on the foot paths of the Gower Peninsula and find a spot to sit and write."

In 1990 she sprained her ankle there and had to spend a few weeks in bed. Like the year of rheumatic fever recovery, Hogan discovered something new about herself. "My landlady said I should write a murder. So I started plotting it then and set it in her bed and breakfast with Mrs. Merritt in it. Her fictional name is Evelyn Truelove. She always had opinions and made a good character," Hogan said.

The heroine of this first novel is Penny Weaver who has gone to Wales to get away from her responsibilities for a while. She falls in love with a Welsh policeman. They get around the transatlantic issue by spending six months in Wales, and six months in central North Carolina in a fictional town of Riverdell, county of Shagbark. The town according to Hogan has elements of Pittsboro, Saxapahaw and Moncure.

Is Penny Weaver Hogan?

"Pretty much," admits Hogan.

Like Hogan, Weaver works against things that bother her, like unsafe nuclear waste. One of the mysteries takes place in the local farmer’s market. Hogan has grown food she sold at the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. Now she is a regular customer, taking some of her homegrown produce to trade for things she can’t grow.

Hogan has written eight mysteries that feature Penny Weaver and is about to start her 9th. The Killer Frost manuscript is the sixth in the series and was a finalist in the Malice Domestic contest. Despite this achievement, no agent answered Hogan’s queries about representing her. So using her own knowledge of small presses and the knowledge she has gained being a member of Sisters in Crime, an international organization she joined in 2007 that promotes "the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction," Hogan became her own agent. In early October she sent the manuscript to Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut.

The book will come out on September 1, 2012 and cost around $15.00 though it will be available on Nook and Kindle for $2.99.
Without giving too much of the plot away, here are the delicious opening words of Killer Frost.

 "It was a love that came upon her out of the blue, which she knew she would never understand or be able to explain to anyone else, not even to Oscar and especially not to her husband."

There is murder of course, with the setting being St. Francis College where Weaver is teaching remedial classes in composition.

Gene Dillard became good friends with Hogan while taking her poetry classes. Dillard said, "I think Judy stands as a good representation of someone who hasn’t lost the excitement of life. There is always something new and exciting around the corner for Judy. That is something we all can strive for."

Hogan’s backyard is home to an orchard, a garden, and 14 chickens. In 2010 Hogan had 600 pears on her pear tree. She canned 23 quarts of them, froze many, and made pear preserves. She bakes her own bread and makes soup, freezing her bounty for when the garden is fallow. She lives on $1000 a month.

She needs her food to eat so this does take up some of the routine of her days. But it is the words, the writing that get the most time. For without that, Hogan would starve.
Debbie Meyer lives in Pittsboro, NC, on a 17-acre farm with horses, pot-bellied pigs, dogs and cats, and her family. She works in science publishing and writes about art and animals, two essentials in her life.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the December issue of Chatham County Line, and is used by permission of Debbie Meyer and Julian Sereno, CCL editor.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Michele Drier's Edited for Death

Photo of Michele Drier, whose book Edited for Death came out recently from Mainly Murder Press.  She's blogging for me today.  JH


Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz to a pioneer family and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state and has called both Southern and Northern California home. During her career in journalism — as a reporter and editor at large and small daily newspapers – she won awards for producing investigative series. She lives in the Central Valley with cats, skunks, opossums and wild turkeys.

Her most recent book is the traditional mystery "Edited for Death", available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

To entice you: Amy Hobbes never expected to solve anything tougher than a crossword puzzle. When she left her job as a journalist in Southern California, she planned to give the adrenaline a rest, but her next job, managing editor of a local newspaper, delivers some surprises. After a respected Senator and World War II hero dies, and two more people turn up dead, the news heats up. Both victims had ties to a hotel owned by the Senator’s family. With the help of reporter pal Clarice and the new man in her life, Phil, Amy uncovers a number of shadowy figures, including a Holocaust survivor who has spent sixty years tracking down Nazi loot. It’s a complex and dangerous puzzle, but Amy can’t walk away until she solves it.
Visit her website at


Writing a Wrong
 I write. I’ve written news stories, magazine articles, white papers, grants, solicitation letters (not THAT kind) and in the last two years, two novels.

Even though I didn’t set out to write for a living, I liked explaining things to people. I could have chosen teaching, but instead I chose being a journalist. Ranging from a staff writer at the San Jose Mercury-News to the Executive Editor of the Manteca Bulletin, I left and came back to my newspaper career a couple of times.

In between stints in the media, I made a career of managing non-profits agencies, large and small. And there, I wrote grants, position papers for government departments, draft legislation, annual reports and fund-raising letters.

So I guess I’m a writer and because of that, over the years, I’ve threatened to write Strongly Worded Letters to a variety of people. One most recent was going to go to my local Congress member about the TSA personnel at Sea-Tac Airport. I’d flown up from California to watch my youngest niece graduate from high school and packed a new can of hair spray.

Nobody at my originating airport (large, metro, international) batted an eye.  They waved me through, but on my return flight, I was asked to pull up my sweater (granted, it was bulky—so am I), was wanded and pulled over to have my carry-on searched. Turns out the can of hair spray, which breezed through in one airport, was a no-no in Sea-Tac and, after 20 minutes of rude and invasive orders by three TSA people (including one who asked "Can’t you read?") I was given the choice of buying a baggage check for the hair spray ($25), taking it home (!!!) or throwing it away ($15), I was out a new can, humiliated, and embarrassed in front of about 150 strangers.

Now, I’ve traveled a fair amount, including three trips to Europe after 9/11. I watched luggage being blown up in De Gaulle in Paris, had my purse searched on a flight from London to Dublin and been politely questioned by English security after coming in from Greece. In all of these cases, the questioners were polite and explained what was happening.

The Sea-Tac experience was going to be a Very Strongly Worded Letter.

By the time I got home, I simmered down. No letter was written. But I haven’t forgotten the incident, the people or my humiliation.

As writers, we all have these incidents. Sometimes it’s years of humiliation or anger at a person or event. Sometimes it’s just an everyday occurrence that steams us. What we do have, though, is an outlet for our feelings of anger, humiliation or frustration.

We write about it.

Maybe it’s using that person’s name in your latest book for a nasty.

Maybe it’s putting your characters in a situation and letting them blast away at the know-nothings who acted as pompous fools.

Maybe it’s using the event as a springboard for a short story or novel.

We’re lucky because using the incidents as fodder for our storytelling allows us to write the Strongly Worded Letter in a form that reaches a broader audience.

I haven’t yet figured out where I’m going to use my TSA experience, but in some future book, the protagonist is going to run across these rude people and get even. Maybe they’ll get fired, maybe an irate traveler will punch them out, maybe their supervisor will get tired of complaints about them and publically castigate them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but something surely will, and I’ll have my cold dish of revenge without endangering anyone!

What a great way to communicate and write a wrong!