Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What keeps you honest? (02/15/13)



Featured writer: Claudia Larson



Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Claudia Larson
Sara Etgen-Baker
Susan Bono


Litmus

by Claudia Larson

If words string themselves into a necklace of uneven pearls, then I know that I'm being honest.

If my mind quietly follows a tree's bare branches, then I know that I'm being honest.

If emotions swell and their edges melt into a line or phrase, then I know that I'm being honest.

If a word slides into place like a smoothly-sliding desk drawer, then I know that I'm being honest.

If my eyes become soft and my heart becomes velvet, then I know that I'm being honest.

This past spring, Claudia Larson has watched a lone daffodil bloom, waving its bright yellow flag beneath the persimmon tree at her home in Sebastopol, CA.

What keeps you honest?

  by Becky Povich

I've been staring at the above sentence for way too long. Do you ever do that? You gaze, study, and scrutinize words for such a long time that after a while they make absolutely no sense? What keeps me honest? What keeps me honest?

What keeps me honest about what?

There have been a few times that I've been completed perplexed by these monthly queries, and this is definitely one of them.

Okay, I will attempt to answer this age old question: What keeps me honest?

I was raised to be truthful and honest. My parents' beliefs were instilled in me, have never left, and I choose to continue to be an honest person.

I'm not really sure what this has to do with my writing. Although, being a memoirist, I know how important it is to be truthful in my story telling, to be honest and not embellish the happenings in my life.


Becky Povich is busy finishing up the final edits of her memoir, so her brain is really tired and overworked. That's her excuse and she's sticking to it. You can reach Becky at Writergal53@gmail.com.

Litmus

  by Claudia Larson

If words string themselves into a necklace of uneven pearls, then I know that I'm being honest.

If my mind quietly follows a tree's bare branches, then I know that I'm being honest.

If emotions swell and their edges melt into a line or phrase, then I know that I'm being honest.

If a word slides into place like a smoothly-sliding desk drawer, then I know that I'm being honest.

If my eyes become soft and my heart becomes velvet, then I know that I'm being honest.

This past spring, Claudia Larson has watched a lone daffodil bloom, waving its bright yellow flag beneath the persimmon tree at her home in Sebastopol, CA.

The Swashbuckler

  by Sara Etgen-Baker

Being an honest writer is a double-edged sword. One side of the blade makes me vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and hurt, while the other side refines my writing skill and enhances my credibility.

Nobody forces me to submit my work to editors and readers. Even though rejection letters sometimes cut, leaving me bloody and tearful, nobody makes me vulnerable. I am my own swashbuckler when it comes to submissions, and I must be willing to submit. Otherwise, I'll never be a writer.
Nobody forces me to pick up my sword to slice through dialogue tags and learn how to use a semicolon. Nobody makes me do a second-pass edit or a third—or even a fourth and fifth. I am my own swashbuckler when it comes to my writing, and I must be honest with myself. Otherwise, I'll never improve as a writer.

Like any swashbuckler, I must be heroic in my pursuit of the truth. Without honesty, there simply is no truth. Likewise, I must honor my responsibility to explain the world truthfully; to provide insight into life; and, yes, to entertain.

Regardless of the structure, genre, style, voice, or market I choose, I must pursue and write my own truth. I must write about what bothers me; about the pain I feel; about the joys of my past; about what nags me to sleeplessness; about my longings; about my confusion; about my rage; and about my ambivalence.

So, what keeps me honest? I'm a writer and simply must be honest. Otherwise, what I do just becomes meaningless. Touché! 


Sara Etgen-Baker is a swashbuckling writer who writes at a small laptop in a small corner of her condo surrounded by piles of papers; she snacks on too much chocolate and dotes on her husband who dotes on her. Together they get through her sleepless nights and rough writing times. He keeps her honest-—honestly!


The Taste of Freedom

  by Susan Bono

Saying nothing may not always be the best policy, but when it comes to honesty, silence shapes my narrative as much as any other factor. When I try to write about the darker parts of my relationships, I worry about reopening wounds, creating confusion, or riling up other family members, but what can really hold me back from difficult stories is the suspicion I may not be capable of being honest. When my own hurts and fears drive the narrative, there's a good chance I'll end up telling the story as an accuser, not a witness.

What keeps me from the all-too-tempting impulse to point a finger and roar out my tale of woe? I've done it before knowing I'm not the first writer nor the last to skew the facts in favor of me, the long-suffering narrator. "See?" I anticipate saying to the world as I hold up my story, "I'm innocent!"

But there's a feeling I get when I've given in to my longing to be vindicated instead of holding out for a more complicated truth. Settling for a more flattering resolution produces an emotional charge that tastes like victory at first, but soon, an increasing bitterness creeps across my tongue. I know then that I've stooped to self-indulgence—a cheap thrill that adds fuel to my fires of anger and despair. The truth, no matter how painful, always leads to a release of long-held grievances and a new, sometimes startling sense of clarity and hope. I'm never sure I'll achieve that freedom when I start a piece of writing, but without the taste of honesty in my mouth, my voice is best kept silent.


Susan Bono is trying to be honest in Petaluma, CA. When that fails, she tries a little ice cream.

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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