Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What role does anger play in your writing? (02/15/08)



Featured writer: David S. Johnson



Contributors this month:
Betty Rodgers
Betty Winslow
Christine Falcone
Christine Swint
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Milton Trachtenburg
Pat Tyler
Sharon Rose
Susan Bono


Repenting at Leisure

by David S. Johnson

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
- Ambrose Bierce

Anger is often an undercurrent as I write about serious issues in my life, such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent murders of two students here at LSU. Whether I'm writing a personal essay or a letter to the editor, I try to temper my anger with time and reason so that the words are clear and my ideas are not swept away in a fierce current of emotion. However, there are times when I hastily write a cleverly biting and sinister work of communication and send it before I've had a chance to calm down. For example, I once fired off a nasty letter to a journal in response to a rejection letter. I should have written the letter and then thrown it away, but being perfectly ensconced in the bravado that the anonymity of not leaving a name or return address affords, I unleashed the full regiment of my wit and fury and sent the letter. I regretted doing so within days because I know an editor's job is not easy, and s/he is often an overworked and just trying to make it through the day, just like me. I do not have a copy of the letter, but I do remember its more salient points. Below is what I hope a clever and thick-skinned editor would have returned had s/he been able to reply to me.

************************************************************************

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your intuitive and artfully crafted letter.

First, you are correct that it is our policy to try to destroy the dreams of new writers by, as you suggest, luring them into our annual contest like a witch offering candy to children only to drink their blood. To comment, we do enjoy a fine glass of chilled children's blood as it is smoother than the pig vomit you incorrectly assume we drink. And yes, on occasion, we have rejected "…the best thing that could have ever happen to [our] journal." Perhaps this is due to having our "…heads shoved so far up our…" that we are unable to see clearly. Thank you for pointing this condition out to us as we were unaware. By the way, is this what you mean when you call us "ass-spelunkers"?

Second, you are correct that as writers we couldn't hack it the real world and became editors to make ourselves feel better by destroying the lives of potentially great writers. Regarding the manuscript you sent us, you might consider becoming an editor yourself.

Finally, we are terribly sorry you do not accept our offer of rejection and after much consideration, we are going to have to decline your counter-offer of us fornicating ourselves with large and spiky-armored tropical fruit.

Sincerely,
Blinding Indignation, III,
Editor of Rejection of Talented Authors Weekly

P.S. As a courtesy to us, please enclose a SASE next time.



David writes and regrets his angry letters in Baton Rouge, LA.
David's Website

www.impeccablepeccadillo.wordpress.com


What role does anger play in your writing?

  by Betty Rodgers

There exists a clear and present danger in my writing. I can't escape it. Every time I sit down and put pen to paper, anger keeps cropping up. Anger lurks in every possible setting, scenario, object, conflict, character, theme, dialogue and plot.

A week ago I wanted to write about citrus. Take the succulent tangerine, for example. Take it from a perfect stranger, and when caught by a Texas Ranger, the plot becomes a cliffhanger.

The next day I leaned toward the religious and developed a plot with money-changers who kept their coins in Zanger Polish pottery bowls in the temple. They were soon confronted by a young man born in a manger. Toward the end of the story, he uttered the words, "Noli me tangere," to a woman named Mary as he prepared to go visit his dear Papa.

Then nonfiction caught my muse and I wrote the story of Swiss-born Hermann Josef Fanger. He invented the coaxial speaker and ultimately lived his last days in Los Gatos, California. To keep the momentum going I then wrote about Nobel Prize winner Frederick Sanger, who mapped DNA. I was tempted to commemorate Margaret Sanger--no relation to Frederick--who championed birth control and planned parenthood, but I was ready for more fiction.

So Tuesday I got on a roll when telling about the granger who committed a clanger while eating his mother's bangers and mash. She sent him to bed with his stuffed phalanger where he pulled up the blankets and rested his head on his wanger.

Try as I might, I still couldn't get away from it when telling about the love affair between the ganger who fired his best employee upon discovering he was a gangbanger, and the lovely paperhanger who was a straphanger when she rode to and from work.

Just yesterday I decided to use some memories from the neighborhood sixties diner for a piece of fiction. The protagonist--the arranger--plugs a few nickels in the jukebox, and the record changer delivers her selections one by one. It occurred to me that much of that music may be endangered because diners have been replaced by boulangeries.

I guess I'll just have to accept the fact that anger lurks in everything, take my coat off the wooden hanger, and walk out into the cold, windy night.

Betty Rodgers doesn't find much to be angry about in Boise, Idaho. She recently witnessed a group of six pheasants, a pair of coyotes, a dozen golden eagles, a kinglet, a huge flock of Bohemian waxwings, and a herd of two hundred elk grazing, then running . . . all in a one-day outing.

What role does anger play in your writing?

  by Betty Winslow

It doesn't, really. I have written a few letters to the editor that were fire-breathers, but that's unusual for me. The world is already full of anger, violence, and bad feelings. I would like my writing to make people see life's wonders and possibilities, to point out mysteries and joys and fuuny things, to lift spirits and encourage people to be more than they are. If that sounds a bit fluffy, so be it!

Betty Winslow, in Bowling Green, Ohio, cleaning the fluff out of her hard drive.


What Role Does Anger Play in Your Writing?

  by Christine Falcone

To some degree, anger seems to play a role in almost everything I write. In order for there to be some kind of conflict (and let's face it: that's what people really want to read about), there usually has to be some kind of anger involved. Whether it's anger over being betrayed, or anger at being neglected or wronged in some way--it's a major aspect of human interaction, of our day-to-day living. If fiction is to be a mirror, is to show us what it's like to walk around on this planet with a human heart, then it makes sense that anger would feature prominently in what we write.

Currently, anger plays a large role in my writing. Or maybe, more than anger, it's rage. I'm writing a new novel--yes, I can actually say that now without experiencing acute angina--that deals with the nature of violence. Where does it come from? How does it start? So far, what I've discovered is that violence isn't rooted in anger; its roots actually lie in fear: fear of the other, fear of one's own impulses, fear of losing control, fear of appearing weak.

I used to think violence came from anger. As a child, when it was my turn to have my father's anger turned toward me, I assumed that I was bad, that I'd done something wrong, something to make my dad "mad" at me. When I got older, and especially as I've been working with this one main character's father (who bears striking similarities to my own), I've learned that it was never my fault, never anything I'd done. It was all his own, unexplored issues, his own fears and resentments, his own unresolved, un-channeled rage. All his anger was based in his own childhood wounds and his perpetuating the cycle of physical abuse was just a continuation of a long, unbroken chain of fear.

I'm learning that if I'm to explore the depths of this dark emotion, I need a miner's pick, a spelunker's ropes, a night watchman's flashlight and an anthropologist's keen sense of observation. So far, it's led me to places inside myself I didn't know existed. In this sense, writing about anger provides me a glimpse into my own human heart, full of tenderness, full of forgiveness--the antidote to anger and rage.


San Francisco Bay-native Christine Falcone is dreaming about her upcoming writer’s retreat to nearby Stinson Beach where she will spend a week delving into her latest work of fiction. Her first novel, This Is What I Know, was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in November 2007. Her other work has aired on public radio and television, and has appeared in print and online.


What role does anger play in your writing?

  by Christine Swint

Anger works like a weight on a fishing line, pulling the hook of my interest below the surface of emotions. Sometimes a scene from my past will rise to take the bait, and what I would call an authentic story or a poem emerges.

When I avoid writing about personal anger, I sometimes aim my annoyance at the rest of humanity. Many of my characters have sprung to life through a lens of satire. Some might call me misanthropic, but I see these essays and stories as my answer to egotistic apathy toward others.

There's a spectrum of anger whirling in my gut, ranging from irritation to rage. The fury began at age two, when my mother took my bottle away and potty trained me, and has continued throughout my life through various indignities and perceived slights.

My hope is to keep fishing for resentments in the stream of life, serving them up with honest insights. I also plan to vent my spleen whenever I need to expose the philistines I encounter.

Christine Swint of Georgis studied English and Spanish at the University of Georgia, and Spanish literature at Middlebury College in Spain. She writes poetry, fiction, and personal essays in Spanish and English. She lives in metro Atlanta with her husband, two teenage sons, and two dogs, Raf and Duffy. After teaching Spanish in the public high school, she now teaches yoga in local community centers.

Christine's Website

http://mariacristina.wordpress.com


Repenting at Leisure

  by David S. Johnson

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
- Ambrose Bierce

Anger is often an undercurrent as I write about serious issues in my life, such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent murders of two students here at LSU. Whether I'm writing a personal essay or a letter to the editor, I try to temper my anger with time and reason so that the words are clear and my ideas are not swept away in a fierce current of emotion. However, there are times when I hastily write a cleverly biting and sinister work of communication and send it before I've had a chance to calm down. For example, I once fired off a nasty letter to a journal in response to a rejection letter. I should have written the letter and then thrown it away, but being perfectly ensconced in the bravado that the anonymity of not leaving a name or return address affords, I unleashed the full regiment of my wit and fury and sent the letter. I regretted doing so within days because I know an editor's job is not easy, and s/he is often an overworked and just trying to make it through the day, just like me. I do not have a copy of the letter, but I do remember its more salient points. Below is what I hope a clever and thick-skinned editor would have returned had s/he been able to reply to me.

************************************************************************

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your intuitive and artfully crafted letter.

First, you are correct that it is our policy to try to destroy the dreams of new writers by, as you suggest, luring them into our annual contest like a witch offering candy to children only to drink their blood. To comment, we do enjoy a fine glass of chilled children's blood as it is smoother than the pig vomit you incorrectly assume we drink. And yes, on occasion, we have rejected "…the best thing that could have ever happen to [our] journal." Perhaps this is due to having our "…heads shoved so far up our…" that we are unable to see clearly. Thank you for pointing this condition out to us as we were unaware. By the way, is this what you mean when you call us "ass-spelunkers"?

Second, you are correct that as writers we couldn't hack it the real world and became editors to make ourselves feel better by destroying the lives of potentially great writers. Regarding the manuscript you sent us, you might consider becoming an editor yourself.

Finally, we are terribly sorry you do not accept our offer of rejection and after much consideration, we are going to have to decline your counter-offer of us fornicating ourselves with large and spiky-armored tropical fruit.

Sincerely,
Blinding Indignation, III,
Editor of Rejection of Talented Authors Weekly

P.S. As a courtesy to us, please enclose a SASE next time.



David writes and regrets his angry letters in Baton Rouge, LA.
David's Website

www.impeccablepeccadillo.wordpress.com


What part does anger play in my writing?

  by Don Edgers

There definitely is a time and place for anger in writing. I sometimes vent my anger in letters to the editor in newspapers or magazines.

I also write letters or essays of frustration and anger "For My Eyes Only." After sleeping on these compositions in order to test or settle my feelings for a little while, and if my dander is still up, I edit or sleep on it some more. Eventually, I act on it, shelve it, or put it in a recycle or garbage can.

Injustice to those I love or feel for get priority in my anger-writing. I will sometimes spend days, weeks or months researching, documenting and composing tirades to the perceived villain. My beefs are logical and evidential, mostly resulting in judgments or justice in my favor. I am tenacious and hang on to the end.

Otherwise, the mood of my recreational compositions reflect that I'm a happy camper. A columnist for the Seattle P-I referred to me as "soft-spoken author." Anger sits on my writing shelf waiting like a National Guard soldier, waiting to be called upon should the need arise.

Don Edgers lives a relatively anger-free life in Port Orchard. His book Fox Island, Washington will be in bookstores March 12, 2008. www.anislandintime.com



What role does anger play in your writing?

  by Milton Trachtenburg

Anger often fuels the engine of my writing. All the best of the writings I have had published erupted out of me from frustration, rage or simply the fact that it enflamed my very being. My nonfiction emerged from my work with addicts and abused women. Tempered rage created its acceptance in the marketplace.

For fiction, I used the same emotions to fuel stories about unusual people in difficult situations. Anger gave the dialogue a crackling sense of reality. Here is an example:

A man and woman meet at a buffet table at a party.

"Robert stared in awe as the tiny woman piled her plate high with every variety of food from the groaning table with no thought as to their fit with each other. As she plated the food, she stuffed as much as she could into her tiny mouth so that by the time she had passed through the line, she had consumed as much as she had plated. He smiled, feeling that the party had been invaded by an alien force.

Feeling braver than usual, he asked, 'Where do you put all that food?'

The woman turned and stared through him with the blackest eyes he had ever seen. She bit her lower lip as if in deep contemplation. 'I have a hollow soul.'

Robert stood, speechless, his usual quick retort, learned from years of repartee with rejecting people, frozen on his lips.

'Cat got your tongue?' asked the woman, now showing what could have been a grin or a grimace."

Without anger, there is no way this kind of repartee could have existed. I didn't so much write it as allow it to explode from within me. I experience the characters when I write so that when I am using anger, I can feel their frustrations, their rage, their disappointment with their lot in life.

Writing is more than telling or showing. It is gaining entrance to your characters' very soul and allowing whatever is in there to channel through you. If you do your job well, the reader will fill in the gaps and be able to describe the character better than you could and you save your words for more important tasks than describing yellow sweaters or red suspenders.

Milton Trachtenburg says, "I have been a practicing psychotherapist for 40 years. I have authored many published articles, a weekly newspaper column for three years, short stories, a one-act play, a screenplay and two published books: "Stop the Merry-Go-Round: Stories of Women who Broke the Cycle of Abusive Relationships," (Tab Books, Inc.,1989) and
"Journeys to Recovery: Therapy with Addicted Clients," (Springer Publishing Co. 1990).

I have taught writing on line for AOL and produced dozens of articles on the subject of writing.
E-Mail Milton

mtracht508@aol.com


Anger

  by Pat Tyler

Honestly, anger is something I love to write about; the more anger, the better. This is probably because I have problems expressing personal anger in real life. I either don't express it, I couch it in humor, or I wait ‘til it refuses to be stuffed one minute longer. Then it erupts uncontrollably at the most bizarre times and in the most inappropriate places.

By the time I got around to expressing my anger toward my husband, our divorce was final. By the time I let my children know how angry I was with each of them, they'd grown up and left home. But in my writing, my anger is always immediate, creative, low key, balanced, controlled, and more importantly, effective.

I'm in complete control of how each particular character responds in any anger-provoking situation. He will inevitably respond intelligently, using words and gestures that get his point across clearly and succinctly without provoking an attack. Instead, his arguments will evoke instant "Ah-hah" moments in the people who oppose him. The opposition may even thank him for this rare and particular exposure to a newer, wiser, and far more sensible point of view than any they had previously experienced.

You'll never see one of my characters looking back thinking of all the things he coulda, woulda, shoulda said. The anger of my characters is masterfully articulate, with a capital ‘A' or possibly ALL CAPS. Regardless of which method I use to get my character's angry message across, he will release creative anger in ways that will make a reader think or re-think. The message of his anger will be one that a reader will never forget. It may even change his life.

But before you accuse me of being arrogant, controlling, or God forbid, ANGRY, let me explain that, if truth be told, my creative, productive, effective anger happens ONLY in my fiction. HONEST!

Pat Tyler is slow to anger but creative in her revenge in Cotati, CA.

Anger

  by Sharon Rose

Civility, is the pretty dress, I put on the anger that wells up, as I remember what I really felt in a scene from any memory where I have had to compromise my feelings.

Isn't that what we've been taught to do with our genuine reactions? To use good manners?

Isn't that where the irony comes from?
The dichotomy between what we genuinely feel and how society allows us to respond?

There in the web, lies the truth, at times, hopelessly disfigured in an attempt to make sense of our personal histories. And so we spin and we rewrite history to make it more palatable to our own sensibilities and those we encounter.
The violence done, is done to ourselves, our inauthentic selves. The selves created by choking back the gastric juices of the wrong doing.

Modern psychology calls it rationalization. It's how we live with ourselves. We acknowledge that truth is subjective, look who's telling the story?

It is self inflicted violence learned from a society that teaches tolerance at all costs. One must self inflict, before one would reject or repudiate that which is unacceptable to us.

And so, in writing, the violence of which I speak, must be identified as the culprit that plays havoc in the psyche between our true reactions and our conditioned responses, and how that angst is portrayed.




Sharon Rose is a wife and homemaker in Sonoma county. New to writing, she was one of five selected in the Bohemian's Jive competition, 2007. She's also founder of a bookclub of eight years.


What’s Beneath

  by Susan Bono

The last time we visited my parents, my husband was quiet for most of the 90-mile drive home. We'd divided the day between Mom in an assisted living dementia unit and Dad struggling to maintain his independence in the cluttered, overheated home they'd shared until a few months ago. This was my husband's first visit to my home town since we'd moved Mom to Palm Gardens.

George is rarely at a loss for words, especially when it concerns my 84-year-old father's self-absorption and capacity for denial. After an hour or so, I asked what was on his mind.

"I'm just sad," he said. "Before, I was so mad at your dad for the way he was treating your mom that I never thought about what the house would be like without her. They're both better off, but it's so empty there now. As long as I was pissed off, I didn't have to feel how much is gone."

And maybe that's all I need to say about the role of anger in my life and in my writing. Its presence is an indicator that underneath fury's bang and crash and stink and smoke, other, more difficult emotions hide. A writer needs drama. Rage, resentment and indignation often trigger good writing. But these feelings merely mark the beginning of the search for truth. Anger is the signal fire lit on the beach by a soul longing for rescue.


Susan Bono tries to dig a little deeper in Petaluma, CA. She's thrilled to have a short piece in the "Pass it On" section of the Winter 2008 issue of Passager Magazine.


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

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.

Back to Searchlights & Signal Flares