Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Who do you steal from? (10/15/08)



Featured writer: David Hoag



Contributors this month:
Betty Rodgers
Christine Falcone
David Hoag
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Glanda Widger
Susan Bono


Is Reading Stealing?

by David Hoag

William Faulkner said, "Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!"

I want to steal the impression of a scene from a master. I want to go there, feel his vista, get my arms around her landscape, and be a thief in the night; and, let the guard dog watch, but I'll trip along so he doesn't bark - he thinks he knows me - "… as way leads on to way."

Scene is physical, creates a conflict, like an Ansel Adams photograph—you want to put on your hiking boots and climb in, head out. Or like a Robert Frost poem; or else a Georgia O'Keefe painting. Or capture the notion of a single scene from a master fiction writer. Put it onstage; act it out.

From Faulkner's Barn Burning: "The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish—this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of the blood."

From Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place: "In the daytime, the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference."

From Oates, Where are You Going Where Have You Been? There is the passage that reads: "The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but which wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you'd probably feel something sticky there."

Oates conveys … — "…run inside…wasn't good enough…help her…probably…" — repeated. We're grounded in place - "… the kitchen window never had a curtain …dishes in the sink … feel something sticky there… ."

Three different scenes; three different authors; three different styles; three different clashes presented. Two Nobel Prize winning authors, Oates on the short list, and their stories are full of scene. Emotion toughly drawn - and its way leads on to a powerful cerebral pull.

David Hoag is an Eagle, ID writer who detects the changing light off the patio near the 11th Fairway or from a cubicle at the office. E-Mail David Hoag

As a writer, who do you steal from?

  by Betty Rodgers

I prefer to think of it as "Trick or Treat" instead of stealing. I ring the doorbell and Mary Oliver answers. Or maybe it's Joy Harjo, or Paul Zarzyski. Let's say it is Elizabeth Bishop who stands there with a generous smile. She beams when she sees me, opens the door wide in welcome. Elizabeth is holding a huge, hand-crafted ceramic bowl in her outstretched arms, and it is full to overflowing with her words. The words are magic.

Elizabeth asks me to sit down and places the bowl on the table directly in front of me. I gaze at its contents because the words emanate light. I glance up at her and she sweeps her hand over the bowl. "Take them. Take all you want." Mesmerized by the magic, I hesitate. There is more to the words than their visibility. They are like windows...windows to an intellect, to a life lived, to a unique personality.

Not wanting to keep her waiting, I reach toward the bowl, but like a bad dream, my arm stops just short of the objective. I draw back, not wanting to appear foolish. Elizabeth says, "Please, help yourself." I reach again, just as she pushes the bowl toward me. My hand crams into the words. They scatter upwards like goblins, and I cannot clasp my fingers around a single one.

Slightly embarrassed, I search the eyes of the poet who glows with a knowing smile. I say to her, "I don't understand. Is this a trick?" She replies, "In this bowl are my words, and hard as I try, I have not succeeded in giving them to anyone else. But you will not depart here empty-handed. Take this message as your treat: You must craft your own deep, round dish and fill it with your own words. Therein lies the magic."



Betty Rodgers celebrates autumn as her favorite time of year. The garden she and husband Ken planted and tended has seen its last harvest, the maple leaves in their back yard are bright gold, and the Oregon Juncos have returned to their feeders. To send her words of your own, email bettykrodgers@msn.com

Who Do You Steal From?

  by Christine Falcone

For the past two winters, I have taken a week-long writing retreat,alone, at the beach - no husband, no parents, no children, no pets.
And it has been exquisitely blissful. But both times I have planned this retreat, I have battled the sense that I'm taking time away from my family. It almost feels like a theft of some kind. There is an element of guilt involved. But for those seven days I'm out there, I probably produce more than I do the rest of the year combined. I sit for hours at a time - the way I used to, the way I did before I was someone's wife or mother - and I write. I actually put pen to paper. I find my fingers tap dancing across the keys of my laptop. And there are no interruptions. Absolutely none. Well, there is the sunrise, and the sunset, both of which I usually try to witness, but neither of which I'd say qualify as "distractions".

I have to tell myself that this is what I do, I write. And one measly week out of every year is something allowable. I have chosen to give myself permission to do this. And luckily, everyone around me supports my short leave-of-absence. So I am not unfamiliar with
the concept of "stealing" time. But then I remind myself that this is time that's mine to steal.

Christine Falcone finds herself stealing bits of dialogue, snippets of conversation and threads of thoughts out of thin air. So far, she hasn't been arrested -- at least, not for that.

Is Reading Stealing?

  by David Hoag

William Faulkner said, "Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!"

I want to steal the impression of a scene from a master. I want to go there, feel his vista, get my arms around her landscape, and be a thief in the night; and, let the guard dog watch, but I'll trip along so he doesn't bark - he thinks he knows me - "… as way leads on to way."

Scene is physical, creates a conflict, like an Ansel Adams photograph—you want to put on your hiking boots and climb in, head out. Or like a Robert Frost poem; or else a Georgia O'Keefe painting. Or capture the notion of a single scene from a master fiction writer. Put it onstage; act it out.

From Faulkner's Barn Burning: "The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish—this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of the blood."

From Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place: "In the daytime, the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference."

From Oates, Where are You Going Where Have You Been? There is the passage that reads: "The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but which wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you'd probably feel something sticky there."

Oates conveys … — "…run inside…wasn't good enough…help her…probably…" — repeated. We're grounded in place - "… the kitchen window never had a curtain …dishes in the sink … feel something sticky there… ."

Three different scenes; three different authors; three different styles; three different clashes presented. Two Nobel Prize winning authors, Oates on the short list, and their stories are full of scene. Emotion toughly drawn - and its way leads on to a powerful cerebral pull.

David Hoag is an Eagle, ID writer who detects the changing light off the patio near the 11th Fairway or from a cubicle at the office. E-Mail David Hoag

I am a tree trying to fly

  by David S. Johnson

The oak tree was trying to escape. The gnarled, knotted roots like the sclerotic talons of a great and old bird raised above the earth pulling at the dirt as the tangled web of arthritic limbs tried to beat like wings in the wind to free the old soul from the earth. But the tree remains. It didn't know it wasn't supposed to fly; it stole the idea from the birds and just had to try.

I am at the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in Lafayette and am drawn away from the flying tree to a nearby tent. I sit in a folding chair and bounce my knee to the upbeat rhythm of a panting accordion, an old lung pushing out ancient creole songs. Fiddles whine, the bass of the gut-tubs grunt, and rub-boards rattle. It's a zydeco jam session and anyone with an instrument or a tapping foot is invited to enjoy the songs.

Songs from a language and culture that echo the ghosts of Acadians exiled out of Nova Scotia by the British. Songs whose tributaries stretch back before President Jefferson helped Napoleon fund a war and doubled the size of the United States at the same time. Songs heard by Bienville as he turned back the English to claim New Orleans for France. Songs that were sung as the first unrefined subterranean crustaceans were dug out of the mud and combined with elegant words such as boudin and ettouffee. Songs that can be heard today as the sun pushes on the horizon and the cypress trees of the backwater bayous sigh.

In this jam session, a lead fiddler starts up and others follow suit. The tune is familiar until some small deviation, some mutation of musical inspiration develops, and a rogue jammer has created something new. Someone else borrows the new sound and musically parallels the rogue for a spell until he meanders to a different course. And so the music micro-evolves throughout the evening. This music is borrowed from the past but its nuance belongs to the present.

I, too, jam when I write. I sit down to listen to other voices. To absorb the melody of words, the rhythm of the narrative, the unassuming but necessary ding of the alliterative triangle. It all imbues with the confidence and inspiration to experiment. Led by the voices of contemporaries and old masters, I write. My song is familiar until I emerge into my own melody. A sour note here, a bad cliche there, an asynchronous harmony here, an awkward metaphor there, it's all part of the process until I have something that you can tap your foot to.

My thievery is not limited to linguistics. I've tried to paint my words with Dali's brushstrokes. I've tried to flood my stories with photographs of Katrina. I've tried to give my sentences rhythm with the beat of rap lyrics. A Z-shaped cloud, a prom queen who farts on stage, a kind gesture by a stranger - these are all for fodder for my craft.

I stole my idea for this essay from a tree and adapted it to my own style of music. A borrowed phrase, a recreated image or a stolen rhythm is necessary for the growth and survival of my craft. I do not want to exist in a literary world without hybridization and cross-breeding because I do not want to live in a world full of trees that cannot fly.


David Samuel Johnson is trying to free his roots and stretch his limbs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Why I steal

  by Don Edgers

I do not like the sound of this topic, but have to fess up - old habits never die:

1. I HAD TO steal cookies during WWII - sugar was rationed, and my father was a dentist.

2. Many were the times I copied articles from the World Book Encyclopedia for the reports I HAD TO write during my junior high school days.

3. As a writer of historical-type books I HAVE TO copy the words of the historians who documented the times and places of when and where I expound.

I realize historical researchers and writers in the future will "steal" my words when they HAVE TO - and I welcome the "theft."

Don justifies his purloined words by giving credit in footnotes, endnotes and acknowledgments in his articles and books. He writes in Port Orchard, WA.

www.anislandintime.com


Who Do I steal from?

  by Glanda Widger

I steal from neighbors. The feud between two neighbors became a feud between two farmers over roosters crowing. Shotguns and loud speakers and red faces, oh my! Perhaps my neighbor will not sober up long enough to recognize himself in the story.

I steal from funeral parlors. Do not even say that my father's much disliked female friend, falling off the arm of the sofa and exposing her under-armor was not hysterical. I thought it was. That may be why Dad made me go outside. But I was young, maybe even thirty five, and could not help myself.

I steal from friends. A charming tale about an eccentric aunt developed immediately into a little, blue-haired lady in chiffon and tennis shoes demanding samples from the bakery. The names were changed to protect the innocent and I did send the neighbor a copy of the story. Funny how she stopped speaking to me. I wonder if it was something I said?

I shot an arrow into the air; It fell to earth in my neighbor's convertible top. I burned the bow and said to my neighbor. . . Awww.
Now that's not stealing, exactly.

I steal from everywhere and everyone. The kid standing in the frozen food bin probably made the mother want to sink through the floor. I nearly choked to death trying to keep guffaws from erupting and causing the poor woman to do me bodily harm.

Where I do not steal is from other writers. Despite the fact that I am green with envy that they thought of the story first, there are just some things you cannot do. Not even for profit.

Glanda Widger is a North Carolina granny who writes for fun and poverty. Writing occupies time that would otherwise be spent running barefoot through cow pastures. Looking at the funny side of life is an addiction. She has humor stories that will be in two anthologies next spring .

E-Mail Glanda


You Steal From Whom?

  by Susan Bono

"Who do you steal from?"

Perhaps some of you thought the question ought to read, "From whom do you steal?" as if correcting the grammar might render the idea more savory. But is there really any point in putting a pretty face on this issue? Writers, wipe that lipstick off your pigs!

After all, you're put here on this earth to express your truth as accurately as possible. In order to do this, you're forever stealing gestures, utterances, ideas and experiences from the unwary world and making them your own. Because of you there are tee-shirts that warn, "Watch out or I'll put you in my novel!"

Whether it's the millionth variation on "Romeo and Juliet" or actual speeches from "Henry V" popped into movies like "My Own Private Idaho," plenty of respected, successful authors have cadged from Shakespeare, who snagged his stuff from other sources, and on and on. Someone once said there's only one plot: "A stranger rides into town." When I confess I've forgotten who made that pithy observation, my failure to cite sources is a form of theft, too.

And what about the storytelling structures writers endlessly appropriate? As an essayist, I didn't just come up with "Introduction," "Body," and "Conclusion." I can honestly say I was given these as gifts by many wonderful teachers, but who knows where they got them? Just about every word in the English language was plundered from some other culture. Every writer I know traffics in stolen property.

Writer, "From whom don't you steal?" might be the better question. That's why I'm proud to proclaim I've been thieving like a magpie my entire literary life. The highest compliment I can give a writer is to say, "I want to STEAL that!" I just have to be sure I make off with the goods in such a way that I end up getting points for originality.


Susan Bono is trying to steal some time to write in Petaluma, CA.

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.

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