Monday, June 28, 2010


Daffodils are a promise
I tell myself
as I cross the threshold 
of what I don't know
but it's not a promise 
from a dead long poet 
with an aptly alliterated
name.  They're
not a promise from windy skies or 
stolen breath or words and 
empty nothings that don't count
as promises because they're broken 
before they're spoken.
But daffodils 
are a promise
I tell myself 
as I cross the threshold
into morning.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Blank Pages

Blank pages excite and
Discovery, challenge, and
fear rolled together.
Fear of inadequacy,
that I'll run out of words.
Life will suck them out of me
and when I site down to
try to talk about Life I'll have 
no words left because
Life took them all.
Life in its Past, Present, and Future
Me, Myself, and I personas.
The Past in its three-cornered hat and powdered wig
standing over my shoulder, 
tsk-tsking because I don't measure up 
to the maestros.
The Present in its orange tan skin
and too big fake boobs standing beside me,
talking too fast and too loud for my
words to be heard.
The Future stands before me,
tapping its foot and checking its
holographic concept pocket watch,
telling me to 
hurry up and get there faster.
Meanwhile, I'm sitting at a
new wooden desk meant to inspire
head in my hands,
staring at a collection of blank pages.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


This elegy was written in the style of John Milton's "Lycidas."  Teufel-hunden is German for devil dogs; this is what the German Army called the U.S. Marines during World War I (USMC Press).

Teufel Hund

My pen and heart are private matters
I do not share
Out of turn.
But some moments cannot be ignored
And warrant a poet's touch
To put in words what the heart
Won't say.
Death is a matter beyond
Words and thought and speech.
All that makes a poet worthy of commentary is
The muse with which she speaks.
And now I write because the mighty 
Teufel Hund
Has fallen.
So speak muse and give me words.
I have none to offer.
The Teufel Hund must never die.
I need him with me longer.
Once he led my whole
Wide world, and held me close,
His daughter.
He held my hand as he led me
Down the switchbacks,
Past my fear,
To see the beauty of the cavern
The large grand halls of 
Earth-old stone
And dripping stalactites growing
The moist stalagmites beneath them.
The stones as round and as lofty as 
Marble clouds.
He wrapped me in his own shirt and held
My hand so I was
Beside him.
Safe to marvel at the gaping hole in the earth that we
Thought was carved by Noah's flood.
My Teufel Hund walked with me
Through the red and yellow stone
So big it had to be fake,
Except the clouds left shadows I could
Wrap my hand around as I reached out
To touch the wonder of 
Stars above an open cave and the 
Waterfalls we walked beside, exploring
Our new home.  We didn't need the 
Fancy, fashionable vacations of resort
Hotels and grown-up roller coasters and 
Casinos or bikinis on the beach.
We went to Disney World, the zoo, and
The aquarium.
That was enough.
We only loved each other.
But now my Teufel Hund is gone
And I still say it came too 
We weren't ready yet.
I'm still not ready yet.
He's gone and welcomed home
By Seraphim.  Shaking hands and 
Saluting.  A Teufel Hund in Heaven.
He's not mine anymore.  I have
To share and let him go.  And
The canyon and the cavern are both 
Much more
Than I really cared to know.
And so I raged and screamed and 
Cried against a God of taking.
I blamed and argued and fought my way to my final
And then when I became no more 
My muse reached down to touch me
And showed me things not said
Before, and soothed away my aching.
But I still held on to my last breath,
The Teufel Hund inside me, and
Tried to find the one
So I could hurt someone more than I had been.
I looked back to find a time before grief and
I found the cause of all my hurt. 
The thief who'd stolen my home. 
He took by offering and
In offering took everything.
Eden was once pristine, mowed 
And combed.  Healthy, lively trees and 
Small pink roses just 
Blooming full of
Promise and hope
Created before Adam
The Master's touch tending His
Ivy and vines, the fish in the 
river and the funny gangly fawns the
way a mother watches her chubby baby rocking in the cradle.
Earth was the first creation and
Was just as pure as if an
air filter ran there,
sponsored by David Orick, only without
electricity and such,
and it didn't hurt human
beings to breath in and out and try 
to make it through the day to day.
The disgusting
Climbed around on his
Pre-detention legs
And slithered at the woman to 
Open Pandora's box.
Out came all the heathen gods and
Milton's disturbingly incestuous
Sin and Death.
I watched the latter
With his brother/uncle
Illness come and hurt my 
Teufel Hund.
And as much as I wanted to 
Go sock somebody in the nose
And make them bleed and splutter
Up their own cartilage
The muse held me back and
Pointed to the tensely waiting army of 
Seraphim, angels, cherubim,
And all the other -ims in Heaven
Armed and ready from the 
Dimming of the morning's son.
My Teufel Hund is with them.
So I will wait and write 
What I am told until dead Earth
Lets go its hold and I'm allowed
To live again and hold my Teufel Hund's
Familiar hand.
So the girl put down the pen and the paper
And walked into the cavern.
Turning back and forth along the switchbacks
By herself
Arm outstretched to some unseen guardian.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Whether I like it or not. . .

     We do not write the way we speak.  No matter how much I wish differently, people do not speak using what is often referred to as proper grammar.  Not even this blog is written with completely perfect grammar because I blog according to my rules of speech, not my rules of writing.  If we don't expect people to speak with proper grammar, then we shouldn't expect our characters to, either.  Think about it.  As writers, our goal with our characters is to create fictional beings that are as close to living breathing human beings (or otherwise, depending on your genre) as possible.  That means giving them authentic dialogue, even if authentic in its turn means grammatically incorrect.  The dialogue in your stories reveals scads about your characters, as you well know.  Let's look at an example of what proper grammar and vocabulary can do for a character.

     In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Curse of the Black Pearl, why is it funny when Captain Barbosa tells Elizabeth Swan that he is "disinclined to acquiesce to [her] request?"  (It was funny to me, at least, but I love dry, verbal humor more than anything else.  Slapstick doesn't do it for me.)  It's funny -- and unexpected -- because we know that those words should not be part of normal pirate vernacular.  This formal language throws us out of the traditional pirate character paradigm, and not only do we chuckle but we also have to reassess our first impression of this character.  We reclassify Barbosa as an intelligent man, not at all like the pirate buffoon scrabbling around on the floor for his wooden eye who couldn't tell an adjective from a barnacle.  Now, that buffoon wouldn't be nearly as convincing as a buffoon if he were given grammatically perfect lines.  In the same way, we as writers must check our dialogue and make sure it is appropriate to each character.

     I'll give you an example from my own writing.  I want one of the prominent character's in my novel to have dialogue that reflects his educated background.  Therefore, I make sure that when he speaks, his grammar is as perfect as possible.  But my main character is an entirely different egg.  She does not share this sophisticated background.  The novel is told entirely from her point of view.  When I write her dialogue, and when I write her direct thoughts, I have to remind myself that the grammar rules of writing don't necessarily apply anymore.  My goal is not to write as I have been taught by every university level grammar book I've had to study.  My goal needs to be to write as I would speak.  Let me rephrase that.  My goal should be to write as any normal person would speak.  That means she needs to finish sentences with prepositions, split infinitives, and commit other grammar sins every now and again.

     I'm not talking about writing dialogue that's so full of grammar mistakes that the reader can't understand what the characters are saying.  Read over your dialogue.  Does it seem okay to you?  Now, read it out loud?  Does it sound a little stiff and formal?  Is it like reading a school essay aloud?  It's because we've been trained always to write properly.  Take the sentence I just wrote.  It would be perfectly acceptable in an academic paper, where the rules of grammar must be strictly enforced.  But here's how we -- and our characters -- would say it: It's because we've been trained to always write properly.  Splitting the infinitive breaks the grammar rules, but it creates an authentic character.  Give your characters freedom to break the rules.  Your readers won't care whether or not dangling modifiers make it into your dialogue (for the most part).  They will notice quick as spit how natural your dialogue is, though.

     Check out a grammar book from the library.  No, I'm not contradicting myself, just keep reading and let me finish.  Breeze through it, just review.  You have to know the rules to recognize when they're broken.  Once you've had a grammar refresher, start listening to the people around you.  Pay attention to how they say what they say.  (Huh?)  Do they split infinitives?  Do they use "a" before a word that begins with a vowel sound? ("a invitation"  Don't get me started.  It's painful just to write it)  Listen for different ways that speech ignores written grammar rules.  Make notes of things you like -- and don't like sometimes -- and start incorporating them into your dialogue.  This is actually a fun exercise to get you focused on individual verbal idiosyncrasies and thinking about different ways to naturalize your writing. Written grammar rules do not apply to speech.  Your writing should be polished and edited, yes.  But your dialogue should be natural, with a smooth flow, and that means splitting an infinitive every now and then.  To boldly go.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Age Old Dilemma - Later Thoughts

This blog post is a reply to the last comment left on this entry.  I have appreciated everyone's feedback so much.  You have all given me a lot to think about and I have loved it!  This particular response is very personal for me; I spent a lot of time thinking through what I wanted to say.  Most of the time, I don't explicitly discuss my faith views, especially if the discussion is not with people that I am completely comfortable with and don't have to worry about offending.  My intention is never to offend.  My intention is to share and open my heart and be transparent about who I am, what I believe, and the God I love.

Your comments on writing about a war scenario remind me of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  It is full of many profanities, but it would not be such an accurate and chilling account of combat and its aftermath if it were not.  It would simply feel faked and would not have nearly as much impact without this faithful rendition of a soldier's vernacular.  I agree, the choices we make in our writing should be based on the contents and purposes of our works.  I have other stories where the issue of swearing would never come up as it does in this book.  The authentic portrayal of these sometimes amoral characters is where my issue as a writer comes to the front.  I do not want my book to be fake.

At the same time, I am a Christian, first and foremost in my life.  Do I think that swearing lessens my relationship with Christ or my salvation?  Not necessarily.  I believe in once saved always saved.  I've used swear words in the past and never thought that I was going to hell because of it.  Now I asked forgiveness from God afterwards because I do not believe that Christians should be comfortable with swearing.  The Bible tells me that my words should be becoming of Christ.  I don't think the day I dropped the f-bomb in front of my mother and several of her friends made God smile with pride.  Or my mother, for that matter.  ;)  Do I judge people who swear or do anything else that because of my faith I choose not to do?  Of course not!  I don't believe in judging.  That is not my job.  I'm here to love people as Jesus has loved me: unconditionally.  My job is to serve Christ as best as I am able.  That means failing more than once every single day and asking for God's unending grace and mercy each time I fall, always striving to overcome my sinful nature through His empowerment.

You mentioned that you don't think anyone in Iraq would have noticed if you didn't swear.  Maybe so.  Probably most of your comrades wouldn't give a second thought to it.  But I can speak from experience and tell you that even though we think no one notices, we can often be surprised down the road by what small act on our part touched and/or impacted someone else that we had no idea was watching us.  I have seen this in my life, and in my father's life among his Marines as a matter of fact.  I don't think people notice just because we call attention to these things.  Number one, we shouldn't be shoving ourselves in peoples' faces like that, in my opinion.  I don't believe in holier-than-thou attitudes.  Number two, we don't have to plaster things on a billboard so to speak to get someone's attention.  It can be the smallest act or word that makes someone take notice and realize that there is something different about the lives we are living and wonder what motivates that choice.  Do I think everyone notices?  Again, no.  But I do believe that someone always does.  I believe we are put into every circumstance in our lives for a purpose.  My goal in life is always to live so that if I am someone's only encounter with a Christian either that day, week, or lifetime, he or she will somehow see Christ through me and the life I am leading, through the words I am -- or am not -- speaking.  Again, I've seen this happen in my life before.  And I've been on the receiving end as well.  I have taken notice of little things in other peoples' lives, things they never had to point out to me, and realized that I was not living for Christ and I wanted more of what I saw in them.  

Yes, Christians are supposed to be self-identified sinners.  Allow me to self-identify.  I will be the first person to stand up and say that I am the worst of sinners and it is only through the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ that I am saved.  Every Christian I know would be standing up right beside me.  I am not perfect.  Like I said, I fail every day.  I still accidentally let out swear words and say unkind things and do a thousand other things that prove my sinful nature over and over and over again.  To me, though, it's not important that I fail.  I'm going to do that regardless of whether I follow Christ or not.  What is important is what I do with those failings, whether I try to overcome them or not.  Whether I accept the gracious working of Christ in my life to leave behind my sinful ways and try to be more like Him.  All of that long pouring out of the heart to say: as a Christian, I have a problem with putting swear words into my novel.  I'm not supposed to let unwholesome things come out of my mouth if I'm trying to be a Christ follower and let go of my sinful nature.

Yes, it comes down to a personal choice for each of us as to what goes into our writings.  These are choices we are responsible for.  That's why I decided to blog about this choice that I have.  Whatever decision I ultimately make, it will not be impetuous.  I want to make a decision that has been carefully considered from every perspective, with feedback from other people who can give me insight from personal experience and opinions, so I can take what I learn from those discussions, weigh it with my own beliefs as a Christian and opinions as a writer, and come to a decision that honors Christ without cheapening the work He has allowed me to create.

Monday, June 7, 2010


I have finished my novel.  

I can't even comprehend it.  This project started a year ago in a creative writing class.  The assignment was to write either a short story or the first chapter of a novel.  I had already written short stories and short screenplays for other classes, so a novel chapter seemed like the best option.  And by best, I mean easiest; I was under no obligation to have a perfectly contained ending to a single chapter.  

But then I liked what I had written.  I really liked it.  And so did the people in my class workshop, and the professor.  In one of the written critiques I received, a request was made for me to write the rest of the novel so the reviewer could read it.  And somewhere along the road of positive feedback and loving what I had written, I found myself wanting to finish the story.

So much for the easy option.

One year later, I have just typed the final words of my first novel into the computer.  Now, granted, there are several pages of handwritten work that have to be typed in, and of course there's the whole revision process, but the story is complete.

I will be the first person to admit I am not the greatest at actually completing projects.  Which makes this such a huge accomplishment for me personally.  It gives me something of a self-esteem boost to know that I can complete something that I chose to do, that did not have a grade attached to it.

In honor of this momentous occasion (Hey, it's a big deal for me. ^_^ C'est magnifique.  Pass the eggs.  Read the first blog post if that made no sense.) I have decided to share my favorite passage from the book with you. 

To give you a little bit of background, the novel is called Slayer.  It is set in 2172.  The main character is Clarise, a government assassin.  Her partner in legal crime is Peter, the leader of the assassins.  This paragraph reveals Clarise's thoughts on their relationship.  Without further ado, my favorite paragraph from the very first, now completed, draft of Slayer:

We know each other in an out, but we keep a wall between us still.  There are things we'll never say.  Sometimes he looks at me and I see it in his eyes, like he wants to ask me for something, but I never let him follow through.  To ask aloud and to give permission, both mean being vulnerable, giving the other person a chance to hurt you.  And neither one of us knows how to be gentle enough with the other to follow those impulses.