The Sounds of Silence

The Sounds of Silence

When does an old song become new and change the world again?

Like most of my high school friends in 1964, I listened to WABX, the Detroit freeform / progressive rock station sometimes called “The station that glows in the dark.”  It was on WABX that I first heard Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “The Sounds of Silence.”

Image of Simon & GarfunkelI remember all of us – my circle of friends – being stunned by the simplicity of the single folksy acoustic guitar – remember, this was the same year as The Stone’s “19th Nervous Breakdown” and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheel’s “Devil with the Blue Dress On.”

But it wasn’t just the music that captivated us. Somewhere, deep inside, despite our youth and lack of real understanding of the world at large, the lyrics struck a chord and stayed with us. Perhaps I should say they stayed silent within us.

Here’s a link to a recording of the original version from 1964. If you’re like me, it takes you back, and in some way, makes you smile, makes you remember those carefree days.

Fast forward fifty years (OMG! FIFTY years!) and my son tells me to watch the YouTube Video cover of the song by a group called DISTURBED.  I have to admit I was disturbed to know that there was a heavy metal band called Disturbed, but that’s not the point.

Image of David Draiman, Lead Singer of DisturbedThis new version of an old song earned Disturbed a 2016 Grammy Nomination for Best Rock Performance. 

The cover video blew me away, made me realize that Paul Simon was a prophet as well as a songwriter.  We didn’t know it then. Perhaps we don’t want to believe it now.

Think about the lyric “…And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made…” in terms of today’s totally electronic world.

Think about “..people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening…” in terms of our primary method of communications – Social Media (which is no longer social and is anything but valid media).

Think about the images Disturbed used in their video.

And let them echo – in the Sounds of Silence.

 

 

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Ali Luke Book Review

Ali Luke Book Review

In just five days time I have read two fantasy fiction novels by British writer Ali Luke.

This means, of course, that I barely slept—not so much because of the fear-factor of a story masterfully woven between real and supernatural worlds, but because the roller-coaster ride in both books kept me glued to my screen. This is fantasy writing at its very, very best. Just one more chapter and I’ll go to bed… wait, just one more…

Lycopolis CoverLycopolis

I’m neither a gamer nor a fan of fantasy fiction, so it surprised me that I was unable to stop reading this magnificent story, and that I stayed up reading till the wee hours of the morning, till my weary eyes could not stay open.

If you find most fantasy genre stories predictable and trite (as I do), you’re in for a huge surprise with this one! Lycopolis is a masterful roller-coaster ride of dark and light, secrets and truth, danger and refuge, reality and fantasy, all tied together by seven young gamers and their online alter-egos. A 5-star read I recommend to my teenage granddaughter as well as my senior-citizen friends.

 

Oblivion CoverOblivion

We all have demons, don’t we? It’s just that in this second installment of the Lycopolis series, “demons” are both internal and external, psychological and physiological, sometimes simultaneously. While it can be read as a stand-alone volume, I recommend starting with Lycopolis so you have the background of the characters and why the things that happen in this book have come about.

Ali Luke has done a sterling job with Oblivion, dancing between the two worlds her seven characters inhabit, creating a roller-coaster ride just as suspenseful and engaging as in Lycopolis. I can’t wait for volume three!

And, if after you read this book, you ever hear anyone use the phrase “sink into oblivion,” you will have a totally different perspective of what that really means… and probably run away as if your life depends on it. Because it does.

 

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Rochester Writers Spring Conference Success

Rochester Writers Conference: Success!

I was completely stumped.

For months I’ve been bewildered, confused about where to take a story on which I have been working for several years. I some regards I had given up on it altogether.

Rochester WritersUntil yesterday, when I attended the Rochester Writers Spring Conference, given over 100% to fiction writers and the development of characters.

 

lin-klaassenLin Klaasen, a professional face reader who often works with attorneys for jury selection, showed us how the physical description of a character can give us clues about their perceptions of the world and the way they function in the world. Thanks to her sessions, I am now have several descriptors for a character who appears normal to most people but is on the verge of an explosive breakdown. If you want to give your character descriptions a real boost, Lin’s Introduction to Face Reading e-book will come in handy!

Roller CoasterIt was in “Creating an Emotional Roller Coaster for your Readers through your Hero’s Journey,” presented by the always fascinating Dr. Stanley Williams, that things really began to click for me in terms of my story line. He’s presented several times at the Rochester Conference, and I read his Moral Premise book a few years ago, so the material was not new to me in some ways. In other ways, it packed a wallop as I considered the story I’ve been stumped on and came to a realization of why it’s been going nowhere. Sometimes all it takes is a single concept presented at the right moment for the lightbulb to turn on! If you are serious about what makes a book or a film a must-see/must read, get to know Stan’s work.

lynne golodnerI missed out on Lynne Golodner’s Art of Dialogue session as I was busy in the other room presenting my “How to Interview your Characters” workshop, but I’ve heard good things about her session, and have seen her in action at other conferences. Still, I wish I could have been in two rooms at once!

 

Big Kudos to Rochester Writers co-producers, Michael Dwyer and Sonya Julie! This character-specific conference was inspirational. Hope to see the 2017 spring conference take on a specific topic as well, and THANK YOU for picking the speakers I needed to hear to dissipate my befuddlement!

 

 

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Rally of Writers

rally-logo

I hate road trips, growing restless, figity, after half an hour behind the wheel.

But today I hit the road at 6:30 a.m., taking the almost two hour drive from the north suburbs of Detroit to somewhere in Lansing, MI, in stride, because I was attending and presenting at the 29th annual A Rally of Writers put on by Linda Peckham and her awesome team.

The Rally was everything a writer’s conference should be: fun, informative, full of cool people, adequate time to learn and reflect, and as promised, great cookies.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • Lev Raphael, who teaches creative writing at Michigan State, presents all over the planet, and writes mysteries, was the keynote. He calls himself an “escaped academic” and was quick to say something I have said for a long time: Writing is not just an art, it is a business. Once the writing is done, we must think about marketing. He also said we should not shirk from reading bad work because we can learn from it. His example was 50 Shades of Grey, of which he said, “Her sex scenes were like a Picasso. You can’t figure out what is there or where,” which the audience, including me found hysterically funny.
  • Bonnie Jo Campbell facilitated a session on writing Very Very Short Fiction, presenting a number of short shorts from several writers. Great to study, great to know, that what we might have called a “vignette” years ago is now microfiction!  I especially loved the work by Stuart Dybek, whose books I plan to purchase. His short short called “Ransom” goes like this:  Broke and desperate, I kidnapped myself. Ransom notes were sent to interested parties. Later, I sent hair and fingernails, too. They insisted on an ear. Ha!  Would we could all write like that, eh? If you haven’t heard of Bonnie Jo,  head over to Amazon and purchase a copy of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. The opening paragraph of the title story (which is more than halfway into this volume of shorts) blew me away. I read it four or five times, just because I thought it was so well done! Bonnie also said, “Every one of my novels is a failed short story,” which I totally understand.
  • There are as many kinds of writers as there are people under the sun. I had stunning conversations with people whose experience and writing is diametric to mine, and what a delight it was.

I sold a few copies of Sweeping the Floors in the Full Crumb Cafe, bought a few from Lev, Michael Lauchlan, Clarice Thompson, and Robin Silbergleid, and am already looking forward to the 2017 Rally!

My Speaking Skills for Writers workshop went well, with a full room of delightful people willing (mostly) to come to the front of the room and share their work. I love helping writers make the most of whatever speaking opportunities they have!  If  you are in a writing group that might benefit from this workshop, let me know.

Oh, yeah, and I met a guy who shares my surname and as near as we can figure from comparing great-grandfather’s names, we may be some sort of distant cousins. How cool is that?

Have you been to a Writer’s Conference recently? Tell us where, and what you learned!

 

 

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Reading Young Writers

Reading Young Writers

Reading Young Writers

I wasn’t expecting eye-popping metaphors, exquisite poetic forms, and complex fictional characters. I didn’t think, going in, that I would have difficulty choosing the best of the best from the entries in a state-wide writing competition for secondary school students.

But that is exactly what happened.

This was my second year as a judge in this competition, which required me to read and rate 30+ poems, stories, and essays by writers aged 14-18. I read the entries multiple times, each pass cutting the list in half until I finally came to the top five.

That part was fairly easy.

The next step, picking the top three, and giving them final ranks, took me two days and a lot of angst.

In the end I knew my choices were right, but what blew me away in this project was the quality of work and the intensity of emotion in all of the entries. My granddaughter is just two years behind the youngest of these students, some of whom wrote chilling stories of abuse, contemplating suicide, and wanting to escape the worlds in which they live.

I worried that some were personal essays disguised as fiction. I wondered how these young authors were able to diagnose and comprehend such complex emotional reactions to life. Were they real, or did they rip their story ideas from the headlines like an episode of SVU?

What I detest is the number of children so painfully aware of the dark side of life in our overexposed culture. What I love is the focus given, in some school districts, on writing and story-telling, and the already deeply talented young writers learning to express themselves so clearly as a result.

I wasn’t expecting eye-popping metaphors, exquisite poetic forms, and complex fictional characters, but in the three finalists for this competition, that is exactly what I got.

It was delicious.

Is there a young writer in your world?

Feed them.

Read them.

They are the future.

 

 

 

 

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Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

The thought of walking to the shopping center a mile away where I can get a haircut, buy exotic groceries, and have an all-American hamburger, has never appealed to me. I came of age, of course, in the auto boom, in the metro area that put America on wheels.

But over the last 48 hours my spirit and mind have been altered by the story of a woman whose name I didn’t know until recently: Emma Gatewood.

Grandma Emma Gatewood“Grandma Gatewood,” as she became known, first hiked the 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 1955, at age 67. She left her Ohio home with a change of clothes, and less then $200 in her pocket on May 2, 1955, headed for Jasper, Georgia, the southern end of the trail. In early October she reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, in Maine.

Then she did it again a year later, and then a third time. In her 80s, she walked the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon.

But would I consider walking back and forth to the gym that is three-quarters of a mile away?

Not a chance.

Would I take a two-mile round trip walk to the hair salon or grocery store on paved sidewalks with no boulders to scale, no rattlesnakes hidden in the brush, no worries about not being found if I fell and couldn’t get up?

Nope.

At least not until today, when I finished reading Ben Montgomery’s Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the inspiring story of this humble, but amazing woman whose name and face has become synonymous with the movement towards pedestrian-ism, particularly in urban settings.

She didn’t carry a ergonomically designed backpack, didn’t have a tent or even a sleeping bag, and wore our numerous pairs of simple tennis shoes. She slept on beds of leaves when there wasn’t a shanty or friendly resident along the trail to lend her a bed. She ate wild berries, and one time even slaughtered and roasted a porcupine over her campfire.

This was a woman born in the 1800s who gave birth to eleven children while married to an abusive man she eventually walked out on – a woman who saw dramatic change in her own life and the world around her over the course of her life, and certainly as she became the first woman to thru-hike the trail at all, much less three times.

I’d tell you more, but I think I’ll take a walk… will you?

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A Simple Simile

chicken dinner

Simple and direct – that’s the way I like fiction and journalism., even though my poetry dances with similes and metaphors.

This preference came clear to me while reading Stephen King’s introduction to a 2011 printing of the classic Lord of the Flies.

Speaking of how he and his brother David found a stash of books in a deserted house, King says, “…we fell upon this trove like hungry men on a chicken dinner.”

like hungry men on a chicken dinner…

Not a pack of ravenous wolves. Just hungry men.

Not a sizzling steak. Just a chicken dinner.

For me there is an implied wildness in the simile, even though it evokes a civilized image. I see hungry men at table, busy with knives and forks, intent, but not out of control.  Chicken legs, mashed potatoes, maybe some green beans. An ordinary meal for ordinary men, and yet there is nothing, nothing ordinary about King’s use of this language. It is clear, it is direct, it doesn’t make us have to think too hard.

Isn’t that a goal to which we should all strive?

What is the most simple, but evocative simile you’ve read or written?

 

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Meaningful Moments

Meaningful Moments

Dan LaMon, a former World Champion of Public Speaking, has a lot to say about the four criteria for meaningful moments, which he says are:  Growth, Connection, Purpose, Self-Definition. He suggests we ask the following questions before we engage in any activity:

Growth: If I do this, will it promote my growth and development?

Connection: If I do this, will it promote connection with the people around me and my environment?

Purpose: In doing this, do I fulfill my purpose?

Self-Definition: Will doing this be consistent with the principles that define me and that I have adopted as my guides?

Meaningful Moments imageI went on Facebook several times today, and each time, I found myself asking these four questions. Each time, I was a  solid “yes” to only one of the questions (#2) and a half-hearted one to #3, and that was only relative to my business.

This brings me to an internal conflict. To focus on the things that bring me a YES to all four, I must give up or at least cut way back on the most common way to be a YES to #2.

Then I thought about how we were connected before Facebook and other Social sites, and the nature of the things I post. Back in those days, I would not have spent hours calling all my friends to tell them what I had for breakfast, and I wouldn’t ask what they cooked up, either. I would not call to report the ups or downs of every 15-minute segment of my days, so why would I post them on Facebook?

I’ve cut my scrolling time down to minimal amounts and occasionally checking in on specific people. I’ve found value in stepping way back.  My head is not congested with chatter about subjects that don’t concern me. I’m giving myself more time for me, getting deeper into the things I wish to study, the poems and stories I wish to write. Life has become more meaningful.

What about you? Do your activities promote Growth, Connection, Purpose, and Self-Definition?  What will you do in 2016 to bring more meaningful moments into your days?

 

 

 

 

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All Hallows Eve

All Hallows Eve

My favorite Halloween memory is from the year my son was in second grade. I dressed up as a witch and played “Miss Dracula, Teacher of the Haunted Classroom,” at the local elementary school party, giving a short lesson on the history of Transylvania. My son, dressed as a gorilla, hid in an upright coffin at the back of the room, next to the fish tank filled with “the brains of kids who didn’t pass the class.”

When the kids began to laugh at a silly joke I told, he burst out of the coffin roaring. Half the kids jumped up and ran out of the room, screaming! We repeated the class four times over the course of the evening.

But Halloween wasn’t always goblins and zombies, you know.

It wasn’t even a “holiday” just for kids, either. In fact, it wasn’t a “holiday” at all.

It was a holy day.

The ancient Celtic people who lived 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the UK, and northern France, celebrated Samhain (meaning “Summer’s End”), a celebration of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year.  Bonfires were lit, and the people wore masks through the night to confuse the spirits who were said to return while the veil between the worlds was thin.

ghost of John

 

My Favorite Halloween Song: The Ghost of John  


In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. He called it All Saints Day, and wrapped  the traditions of Samhain around it. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, which later became Halloween.

Fast-forward to the birth of the United States, where Hallows was celebrated in Maryland and the Southern colonies, but not in  the Protestant northeast. It didn’t spread nationwide until the late 1800s, when millions of Irish immigrants fled the potato famine in their native land. Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.

The ghost and zombie stuff didn’t gain a foothold until the 1950s, when Halloween began to morph from a religio-cultural holiday to one focused on kids and candy.

Anything to scare the bejeebers out of the kids, right?

And in case you are wondering, the voice of “Ghost of John” is my son, all grown up and scaring the bejeebers out of his own kids.

What is your favorite Halloween memory?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Poets Gather

When Poets Gather

When poets gather, the energy rises. Synapses fire, and even the air is charged.

When poets gather, words take flight, soar and flutter, or rage and rest.

Almost sunrise view from The Sunset Inn veranda, Lake Junaluska, NC. copyright Linda C. Anger

Almost sunrise view from The Sunset Inn veranda, Lake Junaluska, NC.
copyright Linda C. Anger

We were a handful of poets from the Carolina’s, Texas, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania, some highly recognized, others exploring their creativity for the first time. We gathered in an old summer home turned B&B in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

Our new friend Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, founder of YourDailyPoem.com and the leader of the weekend,  found us in the small parking area. Her hug and smile wiped away the fatigue of the 12-hour drive down from Detroit, and suddenly, we were home. The next two days rekindled my love for poetry, and gave me good reason to explore forms, topics, and concepts I have long laid aside for the ease of free verse.

The front room baby grand, Sunset Inn, Lake Junaluska, NC Copyright 2015, Linda C. Anger

The front room baby grand, Sunset Inn, Lake Junaluska, NC
Copyright 2015, Linda C. Anger

 

 

Richard Allen Taylor, review editor of The Main Street Rag literary magazine, talked about the poetic line. We learned that to avoid boredom on the part of the reader, there must be conflict in every sentence or line we write, and that poetry should never be predictable.

Dana Wildsmith, author of five poetry collections and a popular Carolina workshop presenter, talked about the use of imagery. Because she teaches English as a second language, she is particularly attuned to the concept of translation. We learned that what we, as writers mean, can be deeply misunderstood by a reader whose experience does not match ours.

The topic of “metaphors, similes and beautiful dangerous images” was covered by Joe Mills, Poet-in-Residence at Salem College.  Joe took us through an interesting exercise in blasting through cliches. We learned that the richness of great poetry is in the use of unexpected, and sometimes totally outrageous metaphors and comparisons.

Linda Anger and Phebe Davidson

Linda Anger and Phebe Davidson

 

By far, my favorite session was Trust the Language, a presentation by Phebe Davidson, founding editor of Palanquin Press, and a staff writer for The Asheville Poetry Review. this was the session that brought me back to the sonnet and villanelle, and introduced me to the minute, the sonnenezio, and the American cinquain – a form with five lines and total of 22 syllables, arranged in 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllable lines. Here is my first attempt, done in 60 seconds during the workshop, and I have no idea who “he” might be:

 

He said
the day would come
when I would know the truth,
When history would prove him right.
He lied.

Saturday night we were entertained by Twin Courage, a husband-and-wife team of songwriters and musicians. Listen to “The Fox” here.

Gather with us Next Year

When poets gather, there is much goings-on. There is laughter and music, there is quiet time for reflection, bonding, and learning.

We learned to shape our lines and images to make our poems stronger.

We learned to keep our readers in mind as we develop the images that turn our thoughts into poetry.

We learned local history, remembered some old songs, were admonished to never buy moonshine from a grocery store.

We learned that even a two-hour delay courtesy of the 220-mile-long construction zone known as Ohio is well worth time spent with Jayne Jaudon Ferrer and her circle of talented poets!

Hope to see you next year at the YourDailyPoem.com writer’s weekend!

 

 

 

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