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color analysis

February 26, 2016

a few weeks ago, i had the pleasure of interviewing a professor at the university of texas at san antonio.

that same institution to which i'd run in the months following the demise of a relationship with the only man who's ever really mattered to me (he mattered too much, which terrified me, and i didn't matter enough, which i knew... and so the thing was doomed to fail) and the cessation of my employment at borders (turns out i'd had the sense to jump ship before the thing sank) and the months prior to the death of my older brother.

to this day, i want to weep with the gratitude that i had that place to turn--i made wonderful friends there, and i learned from some of the most incredible professors i've had the privilege to know. i'd not been blessed to know barker--not until the other day. she'd been invited to speak at the small college here in town, to read her poetry. i'd been tasked with writing an article advancing the event. i sent her questions; she sent me answers.

i'd never read her work until a few weeks ago. she'd written a poem called color analysis. here are some excerpts that resonated with me:

Swatches of fabric held to my face
I am a “Summer,” am told
I mustn’t wear winter, clear, sharp
colors of gems: rubies, sapphires, emeralds

Nothing too strong, definite
I am semi-precious: amethyst, aquamarine, colors
of sky. I am probably an air sign
Think of breezes, says my color counselor

I am told to have nothing to do
with the press of bright yellow, liquid greens
that rush the landscape in April and May.

Autumn would overwhelm me. 

To what season, then, am I linked
apparently forever, floating
rootless on pale air? Am I simply
to sway here on wisps of gray
pale cloud, a little gasp of pink

i read this, and the whole time i thought... i am a winter.

i am winter
who longs for summer, for the warmth
the heat and the light
the brightness, the airiness, the softness
of the pinks and the pale yellows
the sweetness of baby blue
the joy and the fun and the peaceful easy
the long and lazy sunny day
i am winter clothed in sapphire
i am cold and stark and barren
frigid and chilling and dark
i am winded. i am crisp and sharp
bold and brutal, bleak and depressing
i am howling and blustering, wounded
and haunted. ruby red from the rage
and the weeping. i am bitter and broken
emerald green from the envy
i cannot for the life of me fathom
how anyone could want to be winter

the journalist and the novelist: two writers talking

February 22, 2016

the woodlands college park high school will host the montgomery county teen book festival feb. 27. in the past couple of days, i've corresponded with a few of the authors featured at the event. the one with whom i most enjoyed communicating is kathleen baldwin, author of a school for unusual girls, the highway came waltzing, diary of a teenage fairy godmother, lady fiasco, mistaken kiss and cut from the same cloth. here i have for you my questions and her beautiful responses:

when did you discover an interest in writing, and how difficult, or easy if that’s the case, has it been for you to pursue that interest?

As far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed telling stories and writing poems. Early on my mother and my teachers were convinced I would be a writer. On the other hand, I thought I would grow up to be a heart surgeon. Looks like they won the bet. It’s a good thing, too, because I love writing. In some respects, I still get to work on people’s hearts – just not with a scalpel.

Twenty years ago, I sold a few nonfiction articles and poems, but my real love was short story. Unfortunately, the short story market was dwindling by the time I started submitting. But I kept trying and garnered a tall stack of rejection notices. Later, the humor of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen drew me to writing full length novels and that’s when I met with some publishing success. My very first Regency romance novel was published by Kensington’s Zebra Books and voted best traditional regency by Cataromance readers.

what do you feel is your greatest honor or achievement, and why?

I am over the moon excited about being chosen for the 2016 Spirit of Texas Middle School Reading ProgramThe reason is: I absolutely adore talking with young readers and writers. Kids who like to read are incredibly fun to interact with – the astute and quirky questions they come up with amaze me.  Every time I get to visit a school I come home inspired to write more.

what do you love most about writing? what keeps you doing it?

Writing itself is a joy for me. I love developing characters, weaving them into a story and blending in themes that are important to me. I like integrating tongue-in-cheek humor in my books. Humor helps me deal with difficulties in life, and that’s one theme that drifts through everything I write.

Reader letters keep me going, too. It seems like every week I get one or two very emotional letters from readers, readers who are struggling with tough problems in life. They take the time to write me and tell me about how one of my books lifted their spirits for a few hours. If I can do that for a fellow human being I’ll keep doing this the rest of my life. 

what’s been the biggest challenge?

I am a highly visual/experiential writer, which takes and enormous amount of time. This can be challenging when on a deadline. Sometimes it takes me days to visualize a scene before I can write it. Then, I go back in and rework it over and over again until it aligns with my vision.

My second biggest challenge is your next question. 

how do you balance your work as a writer with the other roles, whatever those may be, you play in life?

Like most people, I have difficulty balancing life. I’m married to a man I adore, we have four wonderful kids and I like to spend time with them. Writing could absorb my entire life if I let it, and sometimes it does. There’s a huge danger in that, the danger of writing from an empty place. Living life balanced is essential for a writer, taking time to play – and for me that means getting out in nature – taking time to reflect, spending time with God, family and friends, helping those in need, taking long walks, exploring new places, all these things gives me the depth perspective I need to write full rich stories.

who are some authors you revere? what stories do you hold close to your heart—what i mean by that is… i am in love with rainbow rowell’s eleanor and park and landline, vanessa diffenbaugh’s the language of flowers, audrey niffenegger’s the time traveler’s wife, john green’s the fault in our stars, ellen shanman’s right before your eyes, dickens’ our mutual friend, rowling’s harry potter series and several of nora roberts’ novels. i go to these stories when i have lost faith in my craft, in love, in life… when my internal landscape is at its darkest. i have read some of these stories dozens of times and others only once or twice. i aspire to write as beautifully as these authors do. maybe someday i will achieve that goal, maybe not. regardless, these stories bring me much joy. what stories do that for you?

I loved Eleanor and Park, too! and Time Traveler’s Wife and Fault in Our Stars. Right now, I’m hooked on Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles – it’s almost living inside an anime. I’m blown away by how she weaves multiple story lines together. That’s extremely difficult to do.

I grew up reading Dickens, Alcott, Daphne du Maurier, and Twain. They’re my literary heroes. Mom didn’t allow a TV in our house when my brothers and I were little. Instead, she read to us at night, all those great old classics: Oliver Twist, Little Women, not to mention Heidi, Black Beauty and The Amazing Miss Polifax (I think that’s when I fell in love with spy stories).

In college I read C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert and Tolkien for pleasure. However, I studied and fell in love the great humorists, in particular O’Henry, Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde. You can see why Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer later became inspirations for my own work.

who's your favorite character in your work; in the whole of the literary realm?

That’s like asking me to choose a favorite from among my children. Can’t do it. But I have a really big crush on Lord Wyatt in A School for Unusual Girls.

I still love Heidi. She became my best friend when I was five, and I still love her.

coincidence... and the six ounces or so

February 13, 2016

today would've been a good day. it would've been. the weather in texas is glorious right now, which is a rare thing in february. i'm caught up at work. as in... not only did i turn in all the calendars i create each week, but also two of the three stories i'm to write for the upcoming edition. two of three because the folks i'm interviewing for the third failed to provide me with responses to the questions i'd posed them by the time i'd requested, which means come monday morning, i'll have to nag them, and that's not something i enjoy doing. but yall, usually i'm turning stories in on tuesday morning; that i got two of them turned into today is also a rare thing.

it should've been a good day. i know by others' standards it would be. one in five children go hungry... so far this year, two-hundred forty have lost their lives on the texas roads... there are children battling horrible things like osteosarcoma, and when i think of them, i think of john green's the fault in our stars, of gus who loses a leg and is fine for a while, of some line in that book where the narrator, hazel, says something about how that particular cancer takes a limb, and then if it likes you, takes the rest, and it takes gus... it could very well take the little girl i'd interviewed not so long ago, could be a tease and let her live ten years, could be a sneaky bastard and hide and then all of the sudden be everywhere at once. it could. i've met her mother. i've met her father. i've been to their house... there are people dying every second of the day.

one of my friends from high school... her mother died yesterday. there's a visitation on valentine's day. a day meant for love... for her it will be one of leaving, of loss.

last night, i put a picture of some ranunculus on her facebook wall because i couldn't give her the real thing, and i thought she needed the light and the love. ironically, she'd just finished ordering the flowers for the service right around the time i'd posted it.

i've no right to say it's not been a good day. none whatsoever.

but i'm going to say it anyway.

tonight i went to the come to the garden event at the woodlands united methodist church. i sat in the second row near the center and watched while a woman i'd interviewed a week or so before talked about her experiences with divine dreams and things, talked of how she'd dreamed of having five children to learn she can't have any because her body won't let her. she's made do. she's somehow found some sort of peace. or at least she seems to have done so. and it occurred to me tonight that maybe i'm not meant to know love... not that kind. it occurred to me that perhaps i need to let that dream die. it's been forty-two years, after all. almost forty-three.

i can do this life by myself. i can. i've endured decades of emotional and mental abuse. i've buried a brother. i've stood by the other while his family fell apart and his so-called friends fell away. i've traveled overseas by myself. i've moved from one apartment to another... one city to another by myself. i. can. do. this.

that list of reasons i have for living? the one i failed to mention, the only one that's truly kept me going is that i've had hope that i could know love, if i just wait. i just have to wait.

the woman i'd interviewed... i'd told her about the experience i'd had two days after my brother's death, of how i'd been coming home from running some errands, of how i'd taken the long way because i needed some time to myself, of how i'd all the sudden heard his voice like he was sitting right next to me:

you can do anything you wanna do, jenny.


i know that, you dolt. that's not the problem.


well, what do you wanna do?


the only thing i've ever known that i wanted for myself was to get married and make babies.


you will.


how do you know that?


because i'll find you someone.

and i believed him. i believed he could. i was twenty-nine and grieving and in the throes of some pretty significant inner turmoil before he'd departed this world, and his death, of course, compounded all that. but i believed him.

i don't wanna make babies anymore. but i do wanna know love.

and the men i've known... they've not been good to me. but i've had hope, despite this. i've prayed. i've clung to the dream even though i've known it's foolish to do so.

but tonight, i kept thinking, you should really let this go. it's time. it's time.

so i went to baker's street to see a friend who works as a bartender there. she's battled cancer. twice. she's spunky as hell, and i needed to see the smiling face of a strong woman... only it's been some time since i've been, and she's not there anymore.

and here's the coincidence...

the spot of bar i'd managed to snag was a patch near where my younger brother stood. my younger brother who's engaged, whom i learned tonight will be getting married--for the second time--in ten days. my younger brother who's there with some of his friends--those who have stuck by him--for his bachelor party.

i'd meant to have one drink. three ounces of liquor on ice: vodka, bailey's and kahlua. one drink, the first i've had this year.

i had two. the second didn't sit well with me. so i walked to the movie theater and watched how to be single.

and it's all about how you have to relish the moments... you have to be able to enjoy that time... those seconds when it's just you.

yeah. i don't have a problem doing that. i've been places. i've seen things. i've stood on the side of a very big hill in wales and marveled at the countryside. i've stood on the shores of the carribean, the atlantic and the pacific and reveled in the glory of the sun on the sea. i've driven the backroads at sunset and hiked in the mountainsides. i've sat in my father's chair in the living room and read and watched as the sun sunk below the black of the pines in the pale blue sky. i've known that kind of glory, thanks. i'm good. i know how to appreciate it. i have no trouble doing so.

a man has told me of how i'm beautiful twice in my life. twice. two different men. and both times they were drunk. the first time i didn't realize it was because he was trying to get in my pants. i'd never heard it before. it was so pretty. the second time, i didn't care why he'd said it. both times, when they'd said it, i'd believed them. foolish girl that i am. foolish because i keep wanting someone to send me some ranunculus. and not just anyone. someone special to me. but that never happens. foolish because i keep thinking a man could care. because i keep wanting one to do so.

one of the things the woman had discussed tonight was that coincidences... maybe that's god talking. if that's so, i'd really like to know what he's trying to say. of course, even if i could tell, i'm not sure i'd believe him.

how do i let go of a dream when it's kept me alive?

writing...

February 6, 2016

let me talk about that for a bit. because i never talk about writing. EVER. not me...

there's smartassy for you. and this blog hasn't had smartassy in so long i've felt like its web address is a fraud.

i've felt like a fraud. i call myself a writer, and the only writing i've done that i've been able to appreciate in the past year or so has been a handful of articles about the texas sentinels foundationeaster seals and its home buyers assistance programswill herndon and batten disease, big brothers big sisters and, most recently, a chili cook-off benefiting the st. baldrick's foundation that'll feature a nine-year-old girl who's successfully battled osteosarcoma. i've been privileged to have met some pretty fantastic people. i've been blessed to be able to share their stories. 

the only picky posts with which i've been pleased to have put out in the past year are wisdom wednesday: rainbow rowell, days like these, and what i don't want. three posts. three. the rest... whatever. it's a blog, not a bestseller. and not everything i write's gonna be badass.

that's the thing. i haven't felt i've written anything in badass in a very long time. even those pieces i just told you about. those three posts? those aren't phenomenal. the articles? i'm sure i could do better.

my characters? those four gals and their guys i created? i haven't played with them except for reading snippets at a writer's group to get feedback, in hopes that i might find for a lengthy moment a spark of the passion i sporadically have for their lives...

i go back and forth, vacillating between thinking i'm talented and i'm terrible. a couple of times in the past year, i've toyed with the idea of taking the some three hundred pages and tossing the ones that suck, so only the good parts remain and rebuilding the plot from that. but that's a tricky task when i'm bouncing back and forth from talented to terrible. it's taken me so long to write it, i'm not even sure it's worth writing anymore. i've had to reset the story's timestamps about a hundred times.

this week, i got to meet a woman who's written a book that will be featured in a technologically-ground-breaking stage production in the next week or so. she didn't have to write a single query letter. when she said that, i wanted to cry--both from envy and amazement. the sheer luck of that, yall, is pretty damned phenomenal.

this morning, i went to a workshop on query letter and agents and such presented by my high school english teacher who's making quite a name for herself as an author. it was helpful. i loved seeing her. i went knowing full well my stuff's not ready for that yet, but i wanted to see what she had to say. because i want it to be ready for that. i want to be writing. i want that kind of life for myself.

i'm happy for these women, yall. i certainly don't want to sound like i can't deal with their success. i am thrilled for them.

i don't want to be some version of james patterson, cranking out six thousand stories a year. i don't want that. that's much too much responsibility.

i can write better than half the crap i've picked up and put down in the bookstores. but i can't write as beautifully as i'd like, and it's pissing me off.

so... if you're the praying sort... i could use some prayers. i want to tell the stories of these eight characters who've been running around in my head for nearly two decades. they are my babies. i want to see them become as beautiful to others as they are to me.