Monday Morning Writing Prompt–Exploring Opposites.

Yin and yang stones

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A useful skill for a writer is to be able to enter into the mind of his or her point-of-view character. Empathy and imagination combine to create a richness that would be absent if we remained content to parrot our own way of seeing life.

For today’s prompt, I’d like to challenge you to write flash fiction, poetry or essay in which you “become” someone who expresses life in a way that is opposite of your own experience. For example, if you are progressive in your thinking, write from a conservative point of view. If you are religious, try to imagine life as an agnostic. If you’re male, female. And vice versa for all of these and anything else you can think of. And try not to slam that contrary way of looking at things–truly espouse it.

For my second novel, I decided it would be fun to write from a male point-of-view. I haven’t shown it to a man yet, but let me put a small excerpt out there. I truly welcome your critique…especially from you men out there.

This begins the second scene. The protagonist, Matt, has just attended his mother’s death in a nursing home. Before she died, she confessed to him that she had lied to him about his father leaving her when he was a baby. She told Matt that he had been conceived in an act of rape.

 From The Sin of His Father:

Matt leaned against the rough bark of an ancient oak tree. Employees were beginning to make their way into the building through the glass door across from where he stood. He watched them slide ID cards into the time clock then scurry down the hall to the nurses’ station for report. One woman, an aide Matt knew, heaved her bulky frame onto the park bench to sneak in a few puffs from her cigarette before heading on in to learn at report that Ellen Margaret Maxwell had died a couple of hours earlier.

 Across the lawn, large crows helped themselves to bread crumbs. Matt knew that it had been Edward Riley, a resident of the facility, who’d scattered them. One of the birds interrupted breakfast to stare at Matt—Matt would have sworn it was so—and his skin tingled at the thought of stories his mother used to tell him of dead people coming back as black birds. Beside the predator, strewn feathers told of a smaller bird that had lost its struggle to keep on living. Matt’s grief came pouring out. That it was because of a fragile creature stunned him at first before he recognized the similitude. Like the wren, his mother fought her whole life for food and survival. She’d known a dark monster, too. Not one that would destroy her suddenly, mercifully, but one that most likely haunted every moment of her adult life. One that tore her down from the inside-out and in the end defeated her

The sadness Matt felt for his mother weighed heavy in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed air then swallowed again. The taste of the bitter coffee he’d sipped a few hours earlier crept up his esophagus and caused him to gag. 

Then another notion caught his attention. Why hadn’t she ever told him? Why had she borne this pain alone? Anger had always come easily to Matt but this was different. This was an energy that blinded him like the sun that shone with full force now, burning its way into the core of his being. His rage at his mother’s deceit caused his whole body to shake. Matt took a long draught from his pipe and felt the effects of nicotine spread inside him. He tried to go with it and relax, but couldn’t avoid the sense that everything in his life was a sham, a lie. He sank into the grass at the base of the tree and leaned against the rough bark.

It wasn’t long before guilt joined the fray. His mother had left him before he had a chance to absorb the full impact of what she’d just revealed. She’d died without his absolution, without his even being able to feel forgiveness.

Matt took in another mouthful of smoke and let the flavors roll around on his tongue. He blew it out slowly and smelled the slightly nutty aroma of the Cavendish blend. The crow had flown into the branch of a near-by tree and waited, perhaps for another victim. Matt watched the bird as it sat frozen in time. When, at last, it swooped off into the horizon, Matt caught his breath in fear.

 What if he was like that crow? What if he was a predator? What if he, too, carried genes that could cause him to be violent? Or deviant, like his father?

Now his mother was dead. He hadn’t had a chance to ask the questions that pressed him for answers. Before he could even name the deception that snaked among the crevices of his existence. Before he could understand the enormity of its impact on her life and on his own. Before he could forgive her deceit.

I look forward to reading your response to this prompt. Please leave your link in the comments section of this post so we can share what you’ve written. Have a happy, productive week.



Wordsmith Wednesday–A Potpourri of Thoughts about Poetry

Quill etc

While Wordsmith Wednesday tends to focus on fiction writing, from time-to-time I find it compelling to write an article about poetry. This is because many of the people who visit my blog are from the poetry communities I participate in, but even more so because poetry is the handmaiden of superb writing, whatever the genre.

For today’s post, I would like to reflect on a few reminders that can serve poets as well as fiction, or for that matter, non-fiction writers.

  • Don’t shy away from poetic forms. The discipline of adhering to prescribed forms such as those that define rhyme, meter and syllable count can serve as an aid when you run up against a brick wall. I turn to a haiku, an etheree, a quatrain, tercet or any number of “recipes” for writing when it seems as though my muse has gone into hibernation. This has never failed to help me jump-start my writing. There are a number of Internet references to teach you about form. Try Luke Prater’s Word Salad at
  • Write quickly but revise with care. Poetry deserves the same careful attention as prose. Often, words and ideas rush in at you and it pays to jot them down as they come. First drafts of poems will often pour out in mere minutes. I’ve dragged myself out of bed in the middle of the night and jotted down almost-illegible epics that I don’t recognize in the morning. But then the work begins. I once read about a poet who excused himself from a writing conference because he had to revise a poem. He returned hours later and when asked how it had gone told his colleagues that he spent a few hours before deleting a comma and then, a few hours later, added it back in. I hope my days will be a bit more productive than that, but you get the point. I belong to an online poetry critique group and the advice I receive is invaluable. But, as with fiction, remember that you have the final say.
  • Sensory details make your writing come alive. Many beginning poets use their craft to probe emotion, to champion causes, and to express their opinions. Indeed, these are functions of poetry. But to be more effective, it behooves you to pepper your writing with devices such as metaphors or similes that employ those delicious sensory observations that you have picked up in the course of a day. I strongly suggest that you keep your senses, all of them, on high alert and then in the evening, take a few moments to jot down a dozen or so things you remember in your writing journal. You will be amazed at the inspiration you can cull from this exercise–for poetry or fiction.
  • Don’t quit your day job. Most likely you will not get rich selling poetry. You will not find an agent to represent your tome or make the NYT’s best seller list. You will find joy in the writing process. You’ll find that your prose takes on a literary quality whatever genre you dabble in and you can build up a platform for marketing your work if you engage in Internet poetry communities. There are a myriad of these that invite both seasoned and budding poets to post their work. A few of my favorites include Poetry Potluck:; One Stop Poetry: and Poetic Asides:  All of these sites offer prompts and a forum to post or link your work. I also post a writing prompt on Monday morning which invites both poetry and short fiction.

Delete and Dump or ?–On Revising

Mac OS X trash icon when it contains files.

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Today I took some time to garden, cutting back some of the plants spent by the early onset of cold weather in Reno (it was 36 at our house this morning). Grass has invaded the flower garden and only a few splashes of color remind us of the beauty that visited us during the long spring we had this year.

As I was pruning and dead-heading, my mind wandered to the manuscript inside, waiting for me to get serious about completing a third edit. A writing buddy, Pam, is the first one to have read it and she returned the manuscript with her notes a week or so ago. I’ve avoided sitting down and facing those comments. I remember the pain of cutting scenes when I was rewriting “Winter is Past.” I confess to falling in love with my words and having to abort them hurt me to the core. But they didn’t move the plot forward…or worse, they dragged the reader, kicking and screaming, out of the story.

What did I do with those short descriptions or lengthier scenes? Sadly, some of them ended up in the recycle bin or wastebasket, only to be annihilated when I cleaned computer files or emptied the trash, but after a while I got smart and made a file where I cut and pasted my discarded work. A few have woven their way into or even inspired a poem. One became the basis of a (very dark) short story. Others are on hold, waiting for me to rescue them from the limbo of sub-existence. Maybe I’ll pay them a visit and see what happens.

I have another idea brewing, though. It came to me when I was struggling with the climbing rose, trying to get her to go in the direction I wanted. Maybe we could start a little dump site for these rejected pieces of prose or poetry…a place on my blog where you can share your beloved rejects and give them another chance at life. Any thoughts on this? Please comment, if you would.