Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What are you looking for when you write? (03/15/12)



Featured writer: Claudia Larson



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Cara Wasden
Carson O. Mouser
Catherine Crawford
Claudia Larson
Debbie Weiss
Gregory Gerard
Sara Baker
Susan Bono
Trista


Connections

by Claudia Larson

The sun melts a hole in the clouds so the morning pinks and oranges can build a column connecting sky to earth.

I breath contentedly.

The sheep, all three of them, leave the barn, jumping, twisting in the air, kicking their back hooves behind them.

I laugh.

The wind slips its finger beneath my collar.

I shiver.

The newly planted grape vines hold their buds tightly, but the young pear flashes a white corsage.

I nod slightly.

An acorn woodpecker knocks on a nearby tree, a flicker flashes orange under-wings, red-tailed hawks call to each other, the chickens mutter.

I listen, reminded of my own nature. That's what I'm looking for when I write.

This morning in Sebastopol, CA, Claudia Larson discovered that the young male cat had caught a small mole, grateful he'd not caught a bird. She's hoping he'll discover gophers.

Resonance

  by Arlene L. Mandell

I used to say, when asked why I wrote, that I was seeking truth, but that answer was rather pretentious, designed to impress, or at least to stop further inquiries. Today, struggling over the tenth draft of a poem titled "Diagnosis: TMI," I understand I'm just trying to deal with the realities of life in 2012 and hope that my words will resonate with others in the cloud.

TMI is, of course, "Too Much Information," what I get from Kaiser Permanente after taking what I hope is a routine blood test. What's "creatine kinase"? Should that purple line be going up or down?

Renowned California poet Ellen Bass says, "You should know something at the end of the poem that you didn't know at the beginning."

What I don't know, what I'm often looking for is answers. What I usually get is more questions.

Arlene L. Mandell’s latest essay, “Rattling Family Skeletons,” has just appeared in the anthology Women Writing On Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing from The Key Publishing House, Toronto, Canada.

Still Asking

  by Becky Povich

When I'm working on my memoir, I look for answers to questions, questions that are unanswered after all these years. Am I remembering certain events correctly, or simply the way I choose to remember them? I'm looking for the truth, or as close to it as I can reach.

In addition to unleashing those memories and discovering the realities for my own sake, I want the reader to believe, to feel, to live right along with me as they read. That's what makes a great memoir.


Besides writing her memoir, Becky enjoys blogging at:
www.beckypovich.blogspot.com
and she welcomes e-mail at:Writergal53@gmail.com.


What do I look for in my writing?

  by Cara Wasden

At this time in my life, I hope to appreciate just a bit of joy in my writing. That is my quest. I've dreaded the writing process my entire life, and have so admired those that seem to put pen to paper with such ease. I am absolutely in awe of those who so easily write with not only clarity and thematic ease, but also with such beauty and meaning. My hope is to eventually have a love, or at least great like for writing. I would also like to enhance my skills with similes, metaphors and awe-inspiring descriptive prose.

Cara Wasden in a Northern California writer of prize-winning speeches.

Kindling Possibilities

  by Carson O. Mouser

Here a mystery; there a mystery; see another mystery rising over yonder,
Words arousing, thoughts emerging,
Awakening a voice speaking into darkness
Kindling embers; illuminating what is hidden, what is possible
For an abundant, meaningful life.
Not a SHAZAM! kind of light, more a candle held in the hand, hoping to enlighten
By awakening another's voice speaking into darkness
Kindling embers; illuminating what is hidden, what is possible
For a thriving, meaning filled life,
Awakening still another voice speaking into darkness,
Kindling embers; illuminating what is hidden, what is possible.

Carson O. Mouser lives in Rochester, NY. As a child, he wrote short stories that his younger sister illustrated and they sold on their front lawn. Presently, he's a Presbyterian pastor serving a small rural congregation outside of Rochester, NY. Much of his writing has been narrative sermons and academic writing, but he is currently plotting his next mystery novel.


Foretelling

  by Catherine Crawford

Years ago, I lived across the street from a day care center for retarded adults. Whenever I tried to write about them, I fell apart. Each morning their special buses arrived full of wheelchairs, nurses, and people who just shuffled along. Unloading passengers was a dicey job: some had to be pushed: some bolted and were caught by kindly arms. I've never forgotten those who sat down in the grass and pretended to bark like dogs.

One spring, the center held an Easter egg hunt on its front lawn. It changed forever how I saw these people. Thick bodied, stooped, some wearing Coke bottle glasses, they surged out the door. Their exuberance was deafening. My old horror for their hapless lives didn't fit this picture. I wondered how I dared see tragedy there when the players were all having so much fun.

The eggs, of course, were "hidden" in plain sight. But that didn't blunt the ecstatic hoots as each egg was grabbed and held aloft like rare treasure. Harried nurses waddled around like hens on steroids, dropping eggs in the same places over and over so everyone got a few. My pen loved all of this. It has a strong preference for delight. So what do I look for now when I write? To be startled by joy. No more bleak preconceptions for me.

Catherine salutes musician Wendy Carlos who says “A nice blend of prediction and surprise seems to be at the heart of the best art.” Catherine’s email:
greenwriter1960@gmail.com


Connections

  by Claudia Larson

The sun melts a hole in the clouds so the morning pinks and oranges can build a column connecting sky to earth.

I breath contentedly.

The sheep, all three of them, leave the barn, jumping, twisting in the air, kicking their back hooves behind them.

I laugh.

The wind slips its finger beneath my collar.

I shiver.

The newly planted grape vines hold their buds tightly, but the young pear flashes a white corsage.

I nod slightly.

An acorn woodpecker knocks on a nearby tree, a flicker flashes orange under-wings, red-tailed hawks call to each other, the chickens mutter.

I listen, reminded of my own nature. That's what I'm looking for when I write.

This morning in Sebastopol, CA, Claudia Larson discovered that the young male cat had caught a small mole, grateful he'd not caught a bird. She's hoping he'll discover gophers.

Searching and Finding

  by Debbie Weiss

I am looking for me, a safe place to be myself
a place to tell my secrets to, to go deep, really deep
but only if I want to.
I am looking for truth
Humor, at least a chuckle or two
I am looking for color
for magical expressions
a place where negative thoughts can leave my mind
through my hand
a place to say I'm sorry or I love you to the departed
a place where I can express words with pen and paper
that I may not be able to express verbally
a release of my thoughts and feelings onto a blank page
a place where I can relive my childhood and old memories
that I may have forgotten,and make them come alive again

just me...

Debbie Weiss writes from Penngrove, California.

Fireplace Adjacent

  by Gregory Gerard

Okay, I'll admit it.

When I write, I'm looking to produce the next bestseller. The oh-I-just-couldn't-put-it-down pocket book that my Aunt Margey would have read back in the seventies. Books like Coma or Hotel or The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. Books my mom would receive from the Reader's Digest book club, which she'd eventually stack into boxes and stow deep in the attic—-to be uncovered by me on a rain-soaked June Sunday. I'd slink up the musty stairs and root through the piles for hours, past black-and-white pictures of dead relatives, between record albums of The Sound of Music and Lily Tomlin's Ernestine, under get-well cards addressed to my oldest brother the year he spent in and out of the hospital. Beneath this trove I'd discover the treasure of Jonathan Livingston Seagull or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Alive. And I'd spend the rest of the day reading.

I admit this to you now because, it's clear to me today that if fortune ever chooses to elevate my not-as-interesting-as-any-of-those writing to the ranks of Robin Cook, or Agatha Christie, or Alex Haley...and the subsequent royalties erase my mortgage, car payment, and movie-popcorn expenses...

then, finally, happily, I will rediscover those luxurious hours of youth, snuggle up to the fireplace, curl beneath my comforter, snap on a strong lamp, and read until dreams overtake the day.

Gregory Gerard is still paying the mortgage in Rochester, NY. His most successful writing to date, In Jupiter's Shadow, relates the story of a very Catholic kid struggling with forbidden attraction. For lots more, feel free to rout around his attic at www.JupitersShadow.com.


Every Writer's Dilemma

  by Sara Baker

When I first began writing, determining what to write was both overwhelming and difficult because of the long-held notions I held about what it meant to be a writer. I assumed that writers just had ideas come to them—that writers were somehow blessed with an endless flow of creative fervor.

So when ideas just didn't come to me, I wondered about my capacity to write. Thankfully, I soon realized that every writer's dilemma is determining what to write about. So, what do I look for when I write? Here are some rambling thoughts on that dilemma:
Ask myself, "What can I think of that's interesting?"
Utilize my own insights and observations of people, places, and events. Those observations become the backdrop for many of my stories.
Take elements from an existing storyline in a book, movie, or play and work my real-life or past experiences in and create a new story.
Heroes and heroines must be both convincing and realistic.
Emotional attachment to the storyline, topic, and characters is instrumental in writing a better manuscript.
Notebooks and journals are handy tools that contain endless ideas and material for stories. I peruse them regularly.
Think about "small moments" of life to express.
Ideas are countless and live inside me. I need only to reflect to tap into this boundless resource.
Characters must care about something. Whatever my character cares about must somehow be threatened. That threat breathes life into my character, breeds his vulnerability, and creates conflict for him and the other characters.
Inspire. I write to inspire and open up the reader's heart and mind. My characters are subtle and unique; as my characters unfold I hope they touch some aspect of humanity with which my readers can identify.
Topics. I take topics and situations from my own life and split them into several smaller, more manageable ideas for stories.
Yoga, meditation, and running clear my mind, allowing ideas to germinate and the story to formulate more succinctly.

Sara Baker is a retired educator turned freelance writer. In addition to writing memoirs and personal narratives, she has begun writing her first novel. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her soul mate, Bill, with whom she has been married 28 years.

Making Do

  by Susan Bono

On Saturday I spent some time in an upscale thrift store looking for a raincoat. To be more precise, I was looking for a raincoat like the one I'd worn and loved for about 5 years, but had foolishly given away when the urge for something newer reared its ugly head. At the time I thought, how hard can it be to find a good raincoat? 10 years later, I was still looking.

But hark! A long trench coat in warm ochre—not exactly my favorite shade, but I'm not one for flash on a rainy day. Except for the color, it looked suspiciously like the one I had given to another thrift store way back when. It fit perfectly! It was half price! The only fly in the ointment: the belt was missing.

Can a trench coat be perfect without a belt, even if it's only $8? Even if I don't like belts all that much? I stood there agonizing, trying to imagine future storms and this raincoat's place in them. I finally decided to buy it, snip off the loops, and pretend it didn't have a belt in the first place. Making do with what's at hand seemed preferable to beating the bushes for something that might elude me for another decade.

And that is pretty much what happens when I write. I get a longing to recapture some experience from my past, one I may have thoughtlessly discarded but now seems necessary in my present life. I'll search high and low, sometimes for years, until I finally get something that feels close enough. I'm never quite satisfied with the results. There are always pieces missing, the details aren't quite what I was after, but if I'm lucky, the price will be right and it will serve for a time. It might even keep out the rain.


Susan Bono is ready for rain again in Petaluma, CA.

Snow Story

  by Trista

The first few words settle slowly
Snowflakes landing on the page
One by one

Steadily picking up speed
Winter storm warning
Drifts of words pile higher and higher
Wind, clouds, noise
Ink flies faster and faster
Covering the pages
Telling the tale

Finally
The sun peeks out
Snowflakes slow
The final sentence falls
The final word
The final letter
Calm

Trista sends us words from somewhere out there.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow


Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for 52perfectdays.com, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email: greenwriter1960@gmail.com

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at Writergal53@aol.com, or visit her blog at www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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