Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Like Sparrows to the Floor”

by Rich Wallace

I have genre envy.

Occasionally I try to write poetry, with mixed results. I’m a good writer of prose, but really great poems elude me.

When I think about writers who are not only strong poets but also have the ability to set those lyrics to their own music, I am in awe. You hear that one line that cuts through you and reminds you of some summer day or autumn night or bitter cold afternoon. A handful of words take you back there, and you wish you could say half as much in 40,000 of them.

Will you stay with me, will you be my love among the fields of barley?
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we lie in fields of gold.

That’s Sting, with the haunting yet simple Fields of Gold. I can’t listen to it without being transfixed.

See the west wind move like a lover so upon the fields of barley.
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth among the fields of gold.

One day a few decades ago I was in the weight room at the college where I was coaching cross country. There were about four of us in there, minding our own business, banging weights around and grunting and thinking about what we might be doing later that night. This was New Jersey. None of us was much older than 25. I assume we’d all slept on the beach some nights; sat on boulevard benches staring at traffic heading to the city; worked dead-end jobs; lived for the weekend. I sure had.

A few simple notes came on the radio, then the unmistakable voice of the man who spoke for our generation of Jerseyans. Great singer and performer. The song is perfect for Springsteen, but he’s one step removed from the lyrics, which were written by Tom Waits.

We all stop lifting and listen.

Down the shore everything's all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
You know all my dreams come true
When I'm walking down the street with you

The song ends. We go back to lifting and grunting. No eye contact, no acknowledgment that we’ve each been absorbing every line of the song and reliving some moment from our pasts. Guys don’t do that. We’re not sensitive. We’re tough.

I did write a couple of poems for my latest book, Wicked Cruel. In one of the stories, Danny’s fussy father is an English professor with a penchant for Wordsworth, and he publishes his own poems in weekly newspapers and the college literary journal. He regularly inflicts the poems on 12-year-old Danny.

I had fun writing a couple of poems for him, since I could be off key and pretend that I was purposely writing poor poetry because the good professor is somewhat tone deaf. But they were actually my best efforts. They don’t come close to this amazing piece by one of New England’s best singer/songwriters, Ian Fitzgerald. It’s called Walks Like Tussaud, and it’s hilarious but poignant and incredibly clever: Wax figures of our only bachelor President James Buchanan and actress Mary Pickford are melting during a museum fire. The perspective is Buchanan’s, and it’s my favorite new song of 2013:

Then as if he needed one more thing he’d never seen before
The curls of Mary’s hair began to dive like sparrows to the floor

Her grey eyes started sliding toward the bottom of her face
And instead of moving toward him, she was settling in place

Despite it all he reached for her with still strong-standing hope
But even his own sliding eyes could recognize the scope

“Oh Mary, I’m afraid the sun is setting on us both
But you have never looked so lovely;
you have never looked so close” . . .
James Buchanan.jpg
Some evenings I get lost in YouTube, calling up performances by Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Gordon Lightfoot. I write whole novels to try to do what they accomplish in a handful of lines. But you find your genre and you work at it as hard as you can, recognizing your limitations and taking pride in your proficiencies.

Danny’s father puts it this way, after earning a compliment for his work following a sparsely attended poetry reading. He and Danny are alone, in the dark, by a pond. Danny’s had a terrifying night: he’s been followed and harassed by two tough peers, come face to face with the legendary ghost horses of Brickyard Pond, and felt both the lure and the rejection of the girl of his dreams.

“I don’t fit in so well,” Danny said softly.

“Nor do I,” Dad replied. “You don’t have to.”

Danny nodded.

Dad pointed to the moon and recited:

Upon the moon I fixed my eye
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse grew nigh
Those paths so dear to me



“You know that girl who was with me? Janelle? She thought your poems were incredible.”

“I do what I can. I can’t come close to Wordsworth; I know that full well. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, from writing in the best way I can.”

“’With quickening pace my horse drew nigh’?”

“‘Those paths so dear to me.’”

Danny watched the water, the small ripples that caught the moonlight for a second. There were a few twitters of birds, a pleasant smell of wet dirt and pond water.

Dad placed his hand gently on Danny’s shoulder, then withdrew it. “It’s rather cold out here,” he whispered. “I’m going to go in.”

“I’ll be there soon,” Danny said. “And Dad?”



“For what, Danny?”

“I don’t know. The glimmering lake. The spectral niche. Stuff like that.”

Dr. Morgan stood still for a moment, and a small smile appeared on his lips. He nodded and walked away.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When my sister Pete and I were about eight and nine, my mother gave us a huge box of books. They were old and had been hers since she was young. Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, and Little Women nestled among less familiar titles.

We placed them on our bookshelf beside Mother Goose and the Little Golden Books, which we had (supposedly) outgrown. (I still like Pokey Little Puppy.) We each selected a book and began to read. It became almost like a contest to see who could read the most first.

I can remember getting totally absorbed in some stories and casting aside others after a few pages or chapters. Pete devoured some of the ones I cast aside. That was my first experience with differing tastes. My favorite books were not her favorite books. Nancy Drew was OK, but I didn’t love her the way Pete did. I preferred Trixie Belden or the Hardy Boys. They seemed more like people I could be friends with.

Now I belong to a book group. We read books and share what we like and what we don’t recommend. There are books we all love, but sometimes our opinions vary widely. We often hear someone say, “You liked that? I just couldn’t get into it.”

Did you ever read the list of Newbery winners and ask, “What were they thinking?” or “Why didn’t such-and-such make the list?” You’re not alone. Members of my group often bemoan the books not chosen. And I’ve heard librarians say some kids avoid the books with those shiny award stickers on the covers, awards chosen by a group of adults. Face it. We like different things.
2013 Newbery award recipient.
As a writer, I see and hear critiques of other writers’ work. Sometimes I disagree. It’s not a case of right or wrong. Tastes differ. Some readers are drawn to intense action. I am lured in by Voice and Character. If those are lacking, I won’t hang around long enough for the action.

One writing instructor told me, “Today’s kids won’t read lyrical narrative.” Another was leery of so general a statement. Some kids won’t read it, but others will and will hunger for more.

Message to publishers: Don’t lump all kids together. Tastes differ. Please provide books for varying tastes.
I know, I know. It’s all about what will sell in big numbers. And that’s a shame, because there are still kids who are like the kid I was, kids who want something a little different from what the next kid (or sibling) is reading.
You're never too young.
I think my mother had the right idea. She introduced us to books at a young age and let us decide for ourselves which ones we liked and which we didn’t. Pete and I, plus my other sisters, are all still avid readers. But we don’t always love the same books. There is room in this world for differing tastes. Let’s hope the publishers will remember that. It would be much too boring if we were all the same.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Five things you might not know about the child sex slave industry

by Kim Van Sickler

The genesis for my current WIP was Natasha Herzig.

But then it was infused by the horrors of Ariel Castro, Michael Madison, Jeremy Mack and Ashley Onysk, and the Ashland County woman who was kept prisoner for two years as house slave, sex slave, and all-around punching bag. Topped off by recent prostitution stings. All happening in and around the northern Ohio area where I live. All were uncovered while I was researching sex slavery and preparing to write my book.

The Mall in Gullybrook is my attempt to shine a spotlight on the very real problem of kidnapping everyday American teenagers to serve the sex slave industry. My story follows three teenagers from the fictional town of Gullybrook as they are kidnapped and forced to sell their bodies to survive. Here are some of the things I discovered while writing it.

1. Natasha Herzig, an all-American teenager in California, was approached by a woman working a cosmetics counter at the mall, complimented on her looks, and offered a job working with make-up. She went to a job interview in a seemingly legitimate setting where she filled out paperwork, giving personal information about herself. It was when she was called in for a second interview that she was kidnapped.
Spyder. The man eventually convicted of trafficking Natasha Herzig. From
2. On July 30, 2013, the FBI announced that it had just rounded up 105 teenagers ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen and 152 alleged pimps in a three-day sweep of seventy-six US cities in Operation Cross Country. Since 2003, the FBI claims to have rescued 2,700 children from prostitution. So many others are still out there or age into adults.

3. Twelve to fourteen is the average age that girls get lured into prostitution. That scary statistic is courtesy of Michelle Hannan, director of professional and community services for the Salvation Army. She says that while traffickers might make an average of $500-$1,000 per girl/per night, the girl might get a trip to McDonald's or a nail salon for her efforts.

4. According to the latest Ohio Human Trafficking Commission study, a female was usually involved at some point in the kidnapping process. Kidnappers and their accomplices find their victims online, at malls, amusement parks, schools. Any place that kids gather. No place is off-limits.

5. Kidnappers are savvy at snagging their victims and forcing them into compliance. Pimps and their accomplices pretend to be an understanding friend or boyfriend, get their victims addicted to drugs, beat them, rape them, imprison them, deprive them of basic necessities like clothing and food, humiliate them, and threaten to harm or kill the victims' loved ones. For instance, in Pensacola, FL, 16-year-old Shauna Newell was invited to a sleepover by a new girl in school. The girl's "father" drove the girls to an empty house and gave the thirsty Shauna a drink of water. She blacked out, coming to while being raped by a stranger. Three days later, after repeated rapes, beatings, and continual drugging, she was found barely alive and airlifted to safety.
shauna newell
Shauna Newell from

When you were a kid, were you aware of sexual predators? Did they ever worry you?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Today's post is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group.
First Wed of Every Month

Olympic gold-medalist Mary Lou Retton said, “Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.”
artwork from
I've watched friends and family struggle to find their “Something.”

One writer friend illustrated many successful books before she decided to write them. A few of the books she wrote were published and successful, but as the business became more and more cutthroat, she looked for something new. She turned to music, then crocheting, then jewelry making. She stayed in creative fields, while she searched for the one which would fuel her fire.

Another friend, whose first novel was very good, but not published, began a second novel. She began more than one second novel, but never finished any of them. Her flame struggled. She recently turned her creativity to quilting, and that fire is burning strong.

I found my “Something” at a very young age. I've been a writer since I was five. It’s what I love doing.

But, as my friends learned, sometimes that flame stands little chance in the face of forces that “throw water” on our work.

Some writing instructors and editors praise my work, which stokes my fire. Others dismiss me or ignore me, and the flames sputter.

The worst rejections come when editors praise and encourage and ask for revisions, building that fire strong. Then when my confidence is at his highest point, they get out the fire extinguisher and douse my ego. I am forced to wonder why I keep at it.

But deep within, I feel the warmth again. A spark inside me says, “Write, write.” I sign up for a workshop or just throw myself into a new writing project. I’ll come back to the rejected piece when the pain is less intense.

I have wonderful writer friends who help to keep me encouraged, but I've learned that the spark begins with ME. I’m happy when I’m writing, and I can’t let the nay-sayers extinguish my flame.

If your “Something” is writing, write! Feed the fire and keep it lit.