Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What do you want from your writing? (02/15/03)



Featured writer: Arlene L. Mandell



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Betty Winslow
Jennie Orvino
Jodi Hottel
Kate Douglas
Ken Rodgers
Susan Bono
Susan Starbird
Terry Law


Arlene L. Mandell



I Want More!

My inner critic has been growing bigger and more vocal each day, demanding MORE!!! Not just more words, but bigger and better truths. Shut up! I tell her not too politely. People will think I'm demented if I write my innermost thoughts. They'll shun me in the supermarket.

When unseemly ideas crop up, I try to squelch them, but my critic is hopping and cheering on my shoulder. She is far more outspoken than I am. This morning, as I was driving south on Highway 101, I heard the words: We are becoming a nation of gawkers, focusing on kidnapings and corpses, staring greedily at each nightly news broadcast showing us scenes of Laci Peterson's empty crib or debris from the latest head-on collision. "Hooray," shouted the critic. "You go girl!" Have I mentioned that she is shameless in her use of clichés?

I needed to add details to my gawker thesis and continued writing in my head: I don't think I can stand once more photo op of flickering candles and wilting bouquets at the scene of some recent disaster. This has become our new public way of mourning, creating roadside shrines where a drunken teen took a corner too fast or a little girl stepped into the roadway.

Yes, I know you're turning against me right now, saying my remarks are inappropriate, that people have a right to mourn for fifteen minutes before moving on to the next tragedy. I just think we can find a better way of responding than trite remarks at the scene of the accident by ll p.m. TV field reporters with bystanders gawking in the background and us gawking from the comfort of our sofas.

Something is propelling me, at this point in my writing career, to tackle the ugly, self-indulgent truths of our society.I don't know how I will do this. I don't know if I can. I don't know if I want to!

Wouldn't it be easier to write another charming little story while the critic naps on my shoulder? Or a poem about hills like crushed yellow-green velvet dotted with a few scenic black and white cows ready to star in the next "Happy Cows" commercial for our delicious California cheeses. See, you're smiling now, but I know I need more!

Arlene L. Mandell is an essayist, poet and short story writer whose latest poetry chapbook, Variations on a Theme, is available by contacting her at poetessalm@aol.com.

Arlene L. Mandell



I Want More!

My inner critic has been growing bigger and more vocal each day, demanding MORE!!! Not just more words, but bigger and better truths. Shut up! I tell her not too politely. People will think I'm demented if I write my innermost thoughts. They'll shun me in the supermarket.

When unseemly ideas crop up, I try to squelch them, but my critic is hopping and cheering on my shoulder. She is far more outspoken than I am. This morning, as I was driving south on Highway 101, I heard the words: We are becoming a nation of gawkers, focusing on kidnapings and corpses, staring greedily at each nightly news broadcast showing us scenes of Laci Peterson's empty crib or debris from the latest head-on collision. "Hooray," shouted the critic. "You go girl!" Have I mentioned that she is shameless in her use of clichés?

I needed to add details to my gawker thesis and continued writing in my head: I don't think I can stand once more photo op of flickering candles and wilting bouquets at the scene of some recent disaster. This has become our new public way of mourning, creating roadside shrines where a drunken teen took a corner too fast or a little girl stepped into the roadway.

Yes, I know you're turning against me right now, saying my remarks are inappropriate, that people have a right to mourn for fifteen minutes before moving on to the next tragedy. I just think we can find a better way of responding than trite remarks at the scene of the accident by ll p.m. TV field reporters with bystanders gawking in the background and us gawking from the comfort of our sofas.

Something is propelling me, at this point in my writing career, to tackle the ugly, self-indulgent truths of our society.I don't know how I will do this. I don't know if I can. I don't know if I want to!

Wouldn't it be easier to write another charming little story while the critic naps on my shoulder? Or a poem about hills like crushed yellow-green velvet dotted with a few scenic black and white cows ready to star in the next "Happy Cows" commercial for our delicious California cheeses. See, you're smiling now, but I know I need more!

Arlene L. Mandell is an essayist, poet and short story writer whose latest poetry chapbook, Variations on a Theme, is available by contacting her at poetessalm@aol.com.

Betty Winslow



I want to express through my writing a sense of beauty and wonder, of joy and playfulness, of hope and love, of belief in a higher way and a deeper truth than the world sees on life's surface. I want to make my readers wonder, "What makes her love being alive so much, even after all she's been through?" I want to make the world a little better through the words I send out into it. I want to educate and comfort and confront and redeem and entertain. And through everything I do, I want to glorify God and His ways.

Betty Winslow, wife, mother, writer, K-8 school librarian, and head-over-heels-in-love Christian

"What do you want from your writing?"

  by Jennie Orvino

The question is not so much what do I want from my writing as what am I willing to give to my writing. I approach this-what is it, propensity, vocation, obsession?-like an intimate relationship which demands attention, care, respect, nourishment and a long leash. I also need to acknowledge that I write for the satisfaction of self-expression and sometimes for money. I love to read for audiences and I do it for the glory of the Muse and to get some of her reflected spotlight.

Each day I renew the commitment to my relationship "vows": pay attention, honor your process, be patient, read other writers, and "keep your hand moving."

Some writing is easy. Once a day, at least, I take up my journal to document, moan, rage, affirm, list and notice: Often I start with "today I celebrate myself for." whether I'm feeling blue or feeling high. As I did as I teen-ager, I write about requited and unrequited love. On the floor of my bedroom closet there are cardboard boxes full of 40 years of this stuff. For the gift of daily loyalty, my writing gives in return a container for my psyche, my Self. And when the Muse grins, I might find the seed of a poem in the pages of my diary.

My other easy writing is correspondence. I've always written letters, with special pens, stationery with matching envelopes, and cursive technique drilled into me by grade-school nuns. When I learned to type, I had a tiny corner desk, the Hermes manual, and a hand-painted, hinge-top box for stamps. And now, email! My passion, my delight, my marketing tool, my romance builder, my connection to hundreds, maybe thousands of like-minded souls. My longest-lasting friendships seem to be with those who "give good mail." And beyond the intimacy of deep electronic conversations, there's the gift of online magazines and instant publishing, which has connected me with writers around the world. For keyboards, electricity, DSL lines, chats and lists (a mixed blessing), and the ability to communicate with my fingers, I give thanks.

My journalistic and creative writing is more challenging, and. the greater the risk, the greater the reward. When I do meet a deadline, write something I'm proud of that pleases, provokes, inspires, I get a sense of "being who I really am, doing what I'm supposed to do." That sounds a little corny, but how else to say what I seek through writing is a feeling of wholeness, a relaxing into "aaahhhh, now that's more like it."

Jennie Orvino's website is www.soundofpoetry.com and her email address is jennieo@sonic.net . These days she is promoting peace by reading from and marketing her spoken word CD "Make Love Not War," a collaboration with Bay Area musicians. Hear sample tracks at www.cdbaby.com/orvino.

WHAT I WANT FROM YOU

  by Jodi Hottel

"We do not write in order to be understood;
we write in order to understand." - C. Day Lewis

I want you to nurture me,
frustrate me, engage me,
connect me to parts of myself
I didn't know were there,
like muscles aching from
renewed use and strain.
Clutch my throat, astonish me
with the words I utter.
Take my stuttering tongue
and make it wail.

I want you to be dependable,
to teach me patience,
to be essential to my life,
When I have set you aside,
I want to return and find you quiescent,
waiting for me to lift you to the light,
warm you with my breath
and watch you begin to quiver.

I want you to hold me
in a still, solitary place
for a few moments each day
so that when I step back into the world,
I will walk a liminal path
with new strength and grace.

~Jodi Hottel, Santa Rosa

Kate Douglas



The washing machine is going, the dishes from dinner are still on the table and I'm sitting in my office staring at my computer, wondering how Bolden (character is my current WIP) is ever going to get off the planet he's been lost on......but I read your email and thought about your question: What do you want from your writing? The first word that popped into my head was "joy." I feel so lucky to do what I do and actually get paid for it! I find so much joy in my writing, and even more in the wonderful fan mail I receive from readers all over the globe who are following my series. It's an amazing feeling, to write things that make you glad, to send them off to a publisher and then to receive such wonderful letters back from people who have not only read your words, but loved them! Such a concept!!!

I don't think I ever considered the impact of my stories before. Face it, my romances are light-hearted and fun, but far from earth-shattering, and the s/f stories are an absolute hoot but rarely delve much deeper than a sexy romp in a fictional futuristic earth. However, I recently wrote a story that took off with a life of its own. My characters were an alien female and a human male. Without planning it, I discovered my heroine had a history of sexual abuse. I really didn't want her to be that conflicted, but that's the way she "was." The book was fairly difficult to write--remember, these are "romantica," which means they are graphically sexual romances and need that HEA (happily ever after) ending. I certainly don't find child abuse sexy, nor do I enjoy reading or writing about rape or assault, but that's exactly what happened when I quit fighting my heroine and finally let her tell the story her way.

I ended up with a totally unexpected book with a conflicted heroine who needed help to pull herself out of the darkness and evil in her past. I do not usually write stories like this, so you'll have to understand my utter amazement when the fan mail started coming in shortly after the book was released. Heartfelt letters from readers all over the world who read Sheyna and Malachi's story in Pride of Imar and found something that touched them, even empowered them. The book has been nominated for numerous reader's choice awards and is still my bestseller with my publisher, Ellora's Cave. There is such joy in realizing you have touched someone, especially when the result is totally unexpected.

So, while this isn't the essay you're probably looking for, it is an explanation as to why I am having such a wonderful time with my work right now. I just finished a novella that's going into an anthology...a reluctant werewolf who falls in love with a woodsprite...both of them are being held captive by young witches as part of their school science project...

Like I said, I'm having way too much fun right now!

Kate Douglas is a California writer who believes in choice.

For regular romances, see www.katedouglas.com.

For those with steamier tastes, go to www.katedouglas.com/romantica.

Her contemporary romance and romantic suspense books are available at Hard Shell Word Factory www.hardshell.com or any bookseller.

See Ellora's Cave www.ellorascave.com for her romantica.


Ken Rodgers



I'm an egomaniac

I know

And what I don't know

ain't worth stowing

And I want everybody to know

what I've got stowed

I want 'em to roll it

on the end of the tongue

slap it against the roof of the mouth

let it seep

leak into the gray matter

So everybody can sing my praises

and I will feel important

Ken Rodgers stows his gear and speaks his mind in Sebastopol, CA. He teaches workshops on the art of writing and can be reached at KennethERodgers@aol.com

What Do I Want From My Writing?

  by Susan Bono

I know I've already asked myself this question on other occasions, so what I want right now is to be able to remember what I said about it before. My memory is so terrible that I can't trust myself to let a single thought stick in my brain. I can't even remember the introductory phrase to a sentence as I'm writing it-it's as if the words show up as little dark smudges of ink there for a moment, then cover themselves with mental White-Out in the next. Once I turn the page in a journal or notebook, I suddenly have no clear certainty that there's anything written on the side facing away from me. I get the feeling I've picked up some stranger's notebook, opened it at random and started moving my pen. If it weren't for the slight ache in my fist and the pressure of familiar pen strokes showing through this side of the paper, I'd be tempted to think I was starting at zero.

But today, at least, I'm able to find my way back to the question of wanting something from my writing, so I can tell you that what I want is proof that I had an interesting thought more than once in my life and writing is one way of creating evidence to that effect. What I'd also like is to only have to say things once and then move on, but with a bad memory, I'll probably never be sure of doing that. However, even if I can't remember specific words or phrases, introductions and conclusions, after all these years of writing, I usually do know when I'm on familiar ground. On a good day, I get the feeling I'm cracking the window a little wider, getting a better look at the whole picture, which makes up for the times I'm thinking, "Oh THAT old sob story again."

But writing about the same old things again and again seems to be one way of getting over them. I figure if I repeat myself often enough I'll get a few things out of my system and finally move on to the good stuff. That's what I really want from my writing-to get to the good stuff.

Susan Bono keeps chasing the good stuff at www.tiny-lights.com.

Susan Starbird



It is said that we read in order to discover ourselves, and that has certainly been true for me, although it's unclear what I realize by reading a book on, say, the history of salt. But also I write to discover myself (and as a "naïve" writer that aspect of my life hasn't been fussed with by external ideas of what or how I should be as a writer). So I write for illumination of myself or my reader, whoever she might be; I also protect my naiveté as a writer by not thinking too much about a reader.

As an illuminator I fulfill my greater mission in life, my idea of What A Woman Does. A woman's job is to reveal that which is hidden from others. My underlying assumption is that revelation is good, and I'm not going to question that now: what if I found out revelation is not good? Well, we already know it's unwanted.

A woman owes it to those around her to illumine the layers of life, to peel away the onionskins that envelop the heart of truth, the true-truth, not the factual-truth. A place to start is with the factual truth -- the history of salt, for example -- and then mine it all the way down. Because in a tiny fact there is always a kernel of truth at its heart. In every material thing there is a heart of truth.

Susan Starbird is a Sebastopol, CA writer and marketing consultant. Find out more about her work and her shoes at www.starbirdcreative.com.

CREATION VACUUM: REST IN PEACE

  by Terry Law

Here lies Creativity, sunk in the year my tax person is going to ax the Writer's Schedule C he bestowed on me three years ago for want of any further signs of gain, businesswise, successwise.

Last night, NPR's Margaret Warner, in her shy folksy way, quizzed her homeland-securityminded guests about how Americans should respond to a Red Cross Alert in regard to the nation's newly upgraded colorcode. After hearing the usual survival advice to assemble in one room with a portable radio, food, water, blankets, candles & batteries for I forget how many days, I turned off Margaret Warner's earnest friendly face. It wasn't until 2 this morning that I woke up remembering what hadn't registered on the 6 o'clock News: "Duct tape your windows and doors!"

Granted I must have a sluggish I.Q. not to make Schedule C work for me at least once in 3 whole years, but why did it take me 8 whole hours to let this line sink in, this most unusual, this first-time, this most aggressive line of all?

I didn't want to hear it. Which is why I zapped Margaret Warner and turned on comedic mush instead. While I was sleeping, it caught up with me.

"Duct tape your windows and doors!"

We've had it before: The Great Depression (find a job); Pearl Harbor (find an Army) the Cuban crisis (find a bomb shelter), the regional incident of 9/11 (find Osama). Some of us who lived through all that may still find ourselves startled, after so many years of relative homeland peace, by the gentle question: "How do you think Americans will react to sealing their doors and windows with duct tape?"

As I live and breathe! I don't believe that bears answering!

Today I'm going to curl up with a Virginia Woolf; her everyday steepage in the classics will lull me to forget I have only enough duct tape to do the bathroom, which is full of vents and pipes from outside anyway. Not that I'll ever use it. The tape I mean.

Virginia Woolf in "A Room of One's Own" makes a case against Charlotte Bronte for sullying her writing genius with author anger, however justified it may be, quoting Ms. Bronte's midnovel narrator rant on contemporary women writers' disadvantages. Shakespeare, says VW, would never do that, never let it be known if he's for or agin' his characters. Hostessing her way through "Mrs. Dalloway," ladling up an aromatic daube for "To the Lighthouse" guests, Ms. Woolf mostly manages to seal out any anger of her own.

That is what I've learnt this week. That my creative failure must be for lack of inhibition. So while I'm letting unspeakable seepage into my house at the end of the Hajj I'll start on a new piece of writing, first taping up every trace of emotion that happens to be mine.

Terry Law lives not far from where Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed.

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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