Is It Too Late?

ROXANE GAY IS AN ADVICE COLUMNIST FOR THE NEW YORK TIMESRecently, she’s received a couple of questions from new/unpublished writers who are growing concerned that middle-ish age (these folks are 47 and 65, respectively) is the wrong time to either start or build a literary career.

In response, Gay says, Throughout my 20s and most of my 30s, I was convinced I was never going to make it as a writer. My writing was constantly rejected, and I took the rejection personally, as one does.

Eventually (obviously!) she met with success—but it wasn’t early success. She says, It is easy to fall prey to the idea that writing success is intrinsically bound to youth. And continues to share her thoughts about the insights that older writers bring to the page—and the world, when given a chance to do so.

Read the entire piece here: Ask Roxane: Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?

There, if you’re a yet-to-publish writer whose 20s, 30s, or 40s are disappearing in the rear-view mirror, you’ll find solid inspiration and encouragement to fuel your literary tank for the next leg of your writer’s journey.

News of the (Fleeting) Moment!

DECEMBER CONTESTS! A fabulous resource, THE MASTERS REVIEW, has assembled a list of fourteen highly regarded literary magazines with contest deadlines in December, including the Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers, from BOULEVARD MAGAZINE, for writers who have never published a book. Prize: $1500 prize and publication in BOULEVARD. Entries must be less than 8000 words. Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: December 31st

And there are many MORE contests listed (thirteen, to be exact)! Take a look, here. Then, stuff one of their stockings with a potentially prize-winning piece of your own.

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POETS & WRITERS does the legwork for you! Before submitting to contests in 2018, visit POETS & WRITERS magazine’s online Writing Contests, Grants & Awards page. Their database of legitimate creative writing contests—including poetry contests, short story competitions, essay contests, awards for novels, and more—has been carefully reviewed.

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As of November 1st, INFINITE MAGAZINE is seeking submissions from visual artists as well as writers. In particular, they are looking for short-form work such as poetry, short stories, essays, and reviews.

Congratulations Station

One of artist/poet pal SUZANNE LAGRANDE’S paintings recently made the cover of CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. CALYX is a forum for women’s creative work. Each issue is packed with new poetry, short stories, full-color artwork, photography, essays, and reviews—all by women.

CALYX has discovered such important writers as Julia Alvarez, Paula Gunn Allen, Olga Broumas, Natalie Goldberg, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sharon Olds and was the first to publish the artwork of Frida Kahlo in color in the U.S.

Congrats, Suzanne! You’re in fine company, indeed!

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HENYA DRESCHER’S novel-in-progress, STOLEN TRUTH, is a Top Ten Winner in INK & INSIGHT’S Apprentice category. Here’s what a judge said: The hook is great. I read this in one sitting, and then read it again, immediately. It’s an exhilarating, harrowing ride. Congrats, Henya!

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Hey, there, RYAN G. VAN CLEAVE! TWO new books out on Oxford UP? Nicely done, sir! Van Cleave fans (and creative types), check out Ryan’s co-authored VISUAL STORYTELLING and his CREATIVITY: A READER FOR WRITERS. See what you think!

Also, thanks, Ryan, for your major shout-out to me in your recent THE WRITER magazine article on writing coaching. I’m thrilled to have been at your literary service!

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So happy to report that MARGARITA MCCARTHY’S poem “Cuba ’95” was a finalist in this year’s Royal Palm Literary Award contest, presented by the Florida Writers Association. May this be only the beginning, Margarita!

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Shout-out to CINDY KNOEBEL, whose short story “The Gun” was recently published by THE STRAY BRANCH in their 2017 Fall/Winter edition, which is now available online and in print. Ms. Knoebel is currently seeking representation for her first novel, a high-stakes, high-spirited Wall Street romp (complete with dismembered Barbie dolls and attempted murder).

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Heartfelt congratulations to JANET COLBERT, one of Broward County, Florida’s, 100 Most Outstanding Women of 2017, who has published her exposé of Florida’s opiate epidemic, STOPPNOW (Stop the Organized Pill Pushers). Visit the STOPPNow website to learn more about how Janet and the other members of the STOPPNow team are tackling this issue.

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OMG, adorable! That’s all I can say about new author FAYE REGISTER’S site! Take a look. And check out her book, CONFESSIONS OF A NAKED, VULNERABLE WOMAN, while you’re there (which is also available on Amazon).

The Plan, the Journey, the Destination

IT’S FRIDAY. THE INFLUX OF WORK HAS ABATED. After hitting send on the last edit in the queue, I pack up three tarot decks, two spiral-bound journals, a small herd of mechanical pencils, a bag of raw pumpkin seeds—and a plan.

The Plan
I’m going to drive the twenty-five miles to Writing Wench’s house out in The Actual Freaking Country, where she lives with her husband and fifteen cats (give or take; she doesn’t count them, she says, because she really doesn’t want to know how many she has).

Once there, I will hunker across the yellow Formica table from WW, and we will write, she, revising a chapter in her novel-in-progress; me, drafting a blog post for September—about tarot’s Hermit card. I hope.

The Journey
I continue to underestimate the plague that is Central Florida traffic, so I get stuck on Red Bug Lake Road near Tuskawilla Road, albeit in a drizzly rain that drops the temperature from a brutal 93 degrees Fahrenheit (do I need to qualify that as “brutal”?) to a semi-bearable 87 degrees. At the side of the road, where traffic has entirely halted my progress at the entrance to Willa Springs Village shopping plaza, a young man holds up a neatly Sharpie-markered cardboard sign: Homeless. Food. Clothes. Anything. Please help.

His not-quite-shoulder-length blond hair looks clean (not that it needs to; just a point of fact), as do his face and his long-sleeved chambray shirt. Drastically bowlegged, he pitches side to side as he walks along the berm, as if his pelvis has been broken at some point.

I roll down my passenger side window. “Can I get you something to eat from Publix?” I call. He lurches over. His face, I see now, is softly freckled, his eyes, pale blue. He looks young. Misplaced.

He’s not hungry, thank you, he tells me, but would really enjoy a bottle of whole milk.

(Whole milk? How wrong is it that I wonder for a moment if whole milk is somehow used to cook or otherwise prepare a drug I’ve never heard of? Probably pretty wrong. On the other hand, what do I care—even if it is?)

I pull out of the snarl of traffic and into the relative calm of the Publix parking lot, heart lifted because I have a mission. Inside the supermarket, I dismiss the idea of getting the young man organic grassmilk—milk produced by grass-fed cows—as it might taste too “green” to him, a bit sour. Instead, I settle on a quart of whole, homogenized T.G. Lee Dairy milk: Our Farmers Pledge NO Artificial Growth Hormones. I also get five dollars in cash at check out.

In the fifteen or so minutes it’s taken me to get back to the young man at the side of the road, the drizzle has stopped and the heat returned, so that, when he thanks me for the quart of milk and the five dollars, sweat is beading on his forehead and a rivulet trickles down his nose. After a moment, in which I realize there is probably nothing more I can do to help, I wish him the very best I can wish him and go on my way.

The Destination
At Writing Wench’s table, tea steeping, cats occupying various perches, I take out the Hermit card from each of the three decks I’ve brought and start to consider my blog post. But after a few minutes, it’s clear that all my pen wants to talk about is the young man at Publix. So I let it. Because, while by the bright light of this mid-afternoon sun I can’t see how that story connects to the Hermit, I suspect it does—and that tonight, by the gentle light of the seeker’s moon, I’ll see exactly how.

WRITING PROMPT
1)
Plan a (modest) solo journey.

2) Embark. Along the way, allow for interruptions. When one finds you, be curious. Lift the lantern of your heart to see what there is to see. And if you happen to meet the Buddha on the road, in whatever disguise, don’t kill him. Instead, ask how you can be of service. Then, having done what you can do, continue on your journey.

3) Once you reach your destination, pour a cup of tea and write about where you’ve been.

This post was inspired by the Hermit of the tarot deck. The Hermit, a loner, is often shown cloaked, in the moonlight, holding up a lantern to indicate a search for spiritual understanding. The Hermit’s quest, of course, can take him inward, as well as on the road. Ours, too. Because all of life is a quest and we, perhaps, all Hermits, seeking our truth.

This contemplative Hermit comes from THE PHANTOMWISE TAROT, by Erin Morgenstern, author of the hauntingly beautiful novel THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

 

Congratulations Station

Finally! Syndicated political cartoonist DANA SUMMERS’ debut novel is available. Winner of the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Award and Mystery Writers of America’s Freddie Award, DRAWN AND BURIED follows cartoonist Tim Ryder, who drew a cartoon series that earned him a Pulitzer, but drove a presidential candidate to put a bullet in his head. When we first meet Tim, local politicians begin turning up dead at murder scenes staged to resemble cartoons he has drawn. Uh-oh. Good luck, Tim!

Congrats, Dana! (And thanks so much for your appreciative note in your acknowledgements.)

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SHERRY TURNER’S memoir about her time spent care-giving for her beloved mother-in-law, LIFE WITH MOLLIE, BUT REALLY IT’S ALL ABOUT ME, has been selected by Kirkus Reviews’ indie editors to be featured in their magazine. (Click here to read the review.) That’s no small feat. Yay, for you, Sherry!

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Congrats, too, to CHARLENE EDGE, whose memoir, UNDERTOW: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, was awarded a gold medal by Florida Authors and Publishers Association this year and made BookRiot’s 100 Must-Read Books About Life in Cults and Oppressive Religious Sects.

Note to Central Floridians: On Thursday, September 14, at 7:00 p.m., at the Winter Park Public Library, Charlene will present Life in a Cult: How I Lived and How I Escaped, telling her story of the seventeen years she spent in a fundamentalist cult, how to identify a cult, how cults recruit, and how they undermine freedom.

Writing Prompt: Only Part of the Story …

IT WAS THE DAY BEFORE my father’s last Father’s Day. As was our custom, we were hanging out at Barnes and Noble, and my father told me to go pick out a book. Which I did. Then he inscribed it:

If tomorrow were Pal’s Day, instead of another tired Father’s Day, you’d get the flower for being the BEST PAL of ALL, signed, Daddy.

This sentiment may or may not have been accurate. But, at any rate, it was certainly only part of the story.

Another part of the story is this: My relationship with my father was like dancing with a lion in a cage. In this dance, a father-daughter two-step, I struggled to assert my own strength, while he unfailingly maintained the whip hand. Not, by the way, that this seemed much different to me than his other relationships—with his wives (all four of them), his other kids, his stepkids, his siblings, his colleagues.

A professor of philosophy, my father had little of the equilibrium, the perspective, the tolerance of his fellow human being you might expect of a person who has spent a lifetime studying higher thought.

Instead, he was often slashingly critical. Even vicious. Sometimes, even violent. And he was not to be questioned. For instance, once, when I asked if he had ever hit my then-adolescent stepbrother, my father rose up roaring and ordered me out of his house.

And he never really mellowed.

For my part, over the years, I alternately challenged my father and tried to appease the beast that lived inside him. For his part, he backed, against all comers, that beast—a beast that, to the end, was never done roaring.

Of course, this, too, is only part of the story.

WRITING PROMPT
Set aside thirty minutes of journaling time. Allow your writing to reflect on a less-than-perfect relationship—perhaps with your own father or a father figure. What power struggles occur within the relationship? What role do you play in that dynamic? Can you give concrete examples to illustrate the struggle?

Next, consider what might happen if you were to challenge the power dynamic, even gently—by asking a question, for instance, or changing your own behavior in some small way. Play out that potential shift by writing a scene about it.

If this personal approach cuts too close to the bone, write about a fictional character, instead, and spend some pages examining their relationship with their father.

This post was inspired by the Strength card of the tarot deck, which can refer both to our use of our personal power and to the taming of various instinctual aspects of our personality. Strength is a neutral attribute: Awareness, intention, and mastery of self all help us to use our strength wisely.

In this version of Strength, from LeGrande Circus & Sideshow Tarot, the lion tamer seems to have met her match. It’s up to the viewer to imagine how this dance will end. (Image used by kind permission of U.S. Games Systems.)

Congratulations Station

Congratulations to artist REBECCA SCHOENECKER on the publication of her stunningly beautiful, four-years-in-the-making CREATURES OF THE MOON: A Storytelling Oracle. This oracle deck’s 32 full-color cards, featuring both animal-totem guidance and moon-cycle guidance, is accompanied by a 308-page companion book, which includes original, fairy-tale-like stories for each image. I am so proud to have been project coach and first editor on this fascinating new oracle. May the Creatures be with you, Rebecca!

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A big shout out, too, to CINDY KNOEBEL, whose (brilliant!) short humor piece “THE GREAT METAPHOR” was included in the spring 2017 issue of online literary magazine PHREN-Z. (Click HERE to read the entire piece.) Cindy is currently seeking representation for her first novel, a high-stakes, high-spirited Wall Street romp (complete with dismembered Barbie dolls and attempted murder).

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Woo-hoo! Just one year old, South Florida magazine CYCLING QUARTERLY (which I am pleased as punch to edit!) is a finalist for two of FLORIDA MAGAZINE ASSOCIATION’S Charlie Awards—one for Best Advertisement: Self-Promotional (congrats, to CQ publisher MICHAEL GALE and to GARY DAVIDSON and BRUCE BORICH), and another for Best Writing: Column (yay, MARIAH REED!). If you’re a South Florida cyclist, grab the latest issue free from most SoFla bike shops.

 

Writing Prompt: A Horse to Water

SOMETIMES, A CHARACTER NEEDS A SWIFT KICK in the “but” to get going. Maybe he wants to quit his soul-sucking corporate job and study journalism, but the golden handcuffs of his benefits hold him back. Or maybe she wants to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, but her family’s conservative values give her pause.

A main character who hears—but ignores—the call of their story is known as a “reluctant hero.” Their motto? “I know I should, but …” Whatever their road to adventure, they’ll find a “but” to avoid it. When you have a character like that to manage, Dear Writer, you just have to take matters into your own hands.

WRITING PROMPT
Find a reluctant hero. Perhaps you have one waiting in the wings! Give them a concrete goal (to adopt a child? run a marathon? start a cat rescue?)—but not enough motivation to act on it.

Now, write a scene in which they demonstrate (and justify) their reluctance.

It’s late. Jenna passes the feral cat colony on her way to the mailbox. Wary eyes shine out at her from the bushes. Recently, she has noticed the cats seem thinner. She would love to help, she really would, but … There are so many animals in need, so many cats, and she’s just one person. Exhausted by the mere thought of yet another responsibility—on top of the kids, the overtime, the house that needs painted—Jenna grabs her mail and heads back, making sure not to glance at the bushes.

Next, create circumstances that kick your hero right in their “but.”

Jenna’s foot clunks against something. A plastic bowl. She picks it up and sees it’s filled with kibble. Someone must be feeding the cats, she thinks, relieved. And then she smells it. A chemically, garlicky odor. Stepping under the streetlight, she looks again. The kibble has been sprinkled with white powder. Rat poison, unless she misses her guess. And with that, Jenna feels the soft, heavy weight of the lives of dozens of cats descend upon her shoulders. Like it or not, it seems it’s up to her to save them.

THE PRECIOUS CHILD: Like Jenna, even the most reluctant of heroes is likely to jump into action if something they value—something that can’t fight back—is threatened. The literary term for that “something” is “precious child.” This might be an actual child, or it might be an adult whose spiritual or political beliefs make them vulnerable. It could also be a family home under risk of foreclosure, an imperiled natural environment, or a member of an endangered species, to name just a few possibilities.

As writers, we manipulate our characters however we must to get them fully committed to their story—even if that means putting out a bowl of fictional poison or dropping a lit cigarette in the dry brush at the edge of a fictional old-growth forest. But once they’re committed? We can only hope our heroes outgrow their reluctance and learn to meet the challenges of their story head on!

This post was inspired by The Chariot card of the tarot, which advises us to focus on our goals and harness our will to achieve them. In this version of The Chariot (cleverly combined with the Seven of Spades/Swords), from THE ILLUMINATED TAROT, by Caitlin Keegan, published by Penguin Random House, two horses, representing the “horsepower” of focused will, have left the confines and comforts of the barn and are joining dynamic forces to achieve new aims. (Image used by kind permission of Caitlin Keegan.)

Congratulations Station

Very heARTy congrats to two artist pals …

PAULA JEFFERY on her recently published collection of dog portraits, DOG DAYS: The Art of the Dog, available on Amazon, and JADE HERRIMAN on being tapped to illustrate the upcoming personal style book DEAR CONFIDENCE, now funding on Kickstarter. (P.S. The bonus waiting for you at the bottom of Jade’s home page, her free journaling ebook, contains 25 fresh ways to get your thoughts and feelings on the page!)

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Kudos, too, to SHARON SPANO, PHD, on the completion of her new book, THE PURSUIT OF TIME AND MONEY, which can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.

The (New) Illuminated Tarot

THE ILLUMINATED TAROT is a tarot deck that’s been created using just the 52 cards of a standard playing card deck (plus a 53rd card for The Fool), rather than the 78 cards that usually comprise a tarot. I’m not a playing-card reader, but I am an avid tarot reader, so I wasn’t sure how the deck would work for me. But the imagery in this tarot/playing card deck is so gorgeous—and the price so reasonable—that I was happy to take a chance on it just to see the images up close and personal. And they fulfill their on-line promise beautifully, in hand.

Bright, graphic, and personality-filled, the cards are a joy to look at. I assumed they would be standard playing card size, but in fact they are oversized cards. At 5″ high by 3.5″ wide, their proportions are closer to playing cards than to a relatively longer, narrower standard tarot. Their generous size allows the viewer to see all the details of the artwork (which is a particular pleasure for someone with aging eyes).

So, how does deck creator/artist Caitlin Keegan get a 78-card tarot into 53 cards? Very cleverly! First, she eliminated the four Knights, leaving her court cards as Jack (Page), Queen, and King. But all the other cards are there! Really! By finding some very sharp connections between the Majors and the Minors, she makes 21 of the cards to do double duty. For instance, the Ace of Wands is also Strength: That card illustration (did I mention clever?) shows a lion holding a wand in its mouth.

Some of the connections work better—that is to say, more immediately—for me than others, but all of them make me think, most bring a smile of recognition and understanding, and one, Seven of Swords/Chariot, brought tears to my eyes. (Not sure why. I do have thing for horses, though.) I won’t list any of the other pairings, as it would spoil the fun of discovering them for yourself.

Not that you’re left to decipher the “translations” on your own! Keegan provides a beautifully designed, full-color “little white book,” which reveals where the doubles appear. Her card meanings (key words, only) do not adhere strictly to standard Rider-Waite-Smith meanings, but stray a bit here and there, perhaps toward Crowley, maybe toward playing-card divination. However, although I’m neither a Crowley-style reader nor a playing-card reader, I found the images expressed themselves clearly to me. (Still, the combining of images and meanings make this a deck best suited for experienced readers.)

I did a quick four-card reading for a friend, to test drive the deck, and WOW! It really delivered! So smart, so spot on, and so easy to interpret. I was surprised and impressed! And, like every deck worth its salt, it gave me new insights about the cards drawn.

Like the playing cards their graphic vibe borrows from, many of the cards are mirror-image reversible. And the suits are Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades, rather than tarot’s Wands, Coins, Cups, and Swords.

Produced by Potter Style, an imprint of the Crown Publishing group, the beautifully designed deck and book are housed together in a useful, equally well designed hard-shell box that hinges on the left side. A ribbon lies across the well for the cards, which facilitates removing the cards easily.

My only disappointment is the card stock. It’s too “paper-y” for my taste, feeling a lot like cardboard, rather than playing-card or tarot stock. However, I’ve riffle-shuffled the cards pretty thoroughly, and they held up just fine … so far. But for sure I’m going to purchase another copy. Just in case. And because it rocks.

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