#TBT Post – Why Sensory Detail is Important

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on April 21, 2014. 


 

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O'Keefe

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O’Keefe

 

If you’ve ever been told that your story was boring that it lacked excitement or depth or maybe that your dialogue felt like floating heads talking in an empty room, it might have been because you neglected the sensory details.

Tapping into what your characters see, smell, touch, taste, and hear can allow readers to experience the characters’ world on a deeper level. Adding sensory details can anchor your readers in your world, and make your story breathe with believability.

The key is to do this without overwhelming your writing with too many details. Page-long descriptions of what your character looks like can slow the pacing and lose your reader’s attention, sometimes forever. How do you strike that balance between talking heads in empty rooms and info dumps that put your readers to sleep?

I find studying poetry helps.

As this is National Poetry Month, it’s also a nice segue into the importance of reading more poetry for its own sake. What the poets can teach us, aside from paying attention to the rhythm and flow of words, is one thing many of us struggle with – economy of words. Poets also pay close attention to how words sound and feel when they come off the tongue. And more importantly, the emotions words evoke.

This can be the heart of sensory imagery. Word choices that trigger deep memories connected to our senses and can help paint pictures and allow readers to fill in the visual background themselves without you needing to describe every detail for them.

I reviewed a book of poetry this week on my blog that was a collection of poems about my home state. I was amazed at how some of the poems put me in touch with long-forgotten memories. Just the mention of ice old bottles of orange Fanta pulled from a lay-down cooler in one poem took me back to Oklahoma summertime and riding bikes with my friends to the town pool. It was an awakening of the senses from a few stanzas.

With the barest of words, poets can evoke scenes in your mind. “Brushstrokes” as one of my writing friends calls it. This is what you want in your own story.

Just in case you’re not familiar with sensory detail, I thought I’d show a quick example from a writer who does this so well. Here’s what a scene would look like without its sensory details from OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys (and then I’ll show you the scene as it originally appears in her book).

 “Hello, Louise.”

“I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. “Willie, this is Josie.”

“So…you’ve returned.”

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

“You look good.”

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

“You heard about Tuscaloosa? Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…”

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids.”

“I don’t like ’em much, either.”

“Really? So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.”

“You clean and make martinis? Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie.

“I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-but it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

“Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.”

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

“Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

“Neat.”

This is what “talking heads” dialogue looks like.

Although, the writing isn’t bad, as is, you have no sense of where they are in time or place, how they are reacting to what’s being said, etc. Let’s see how the scene changes when we add all of the sensory details back in:

 

 “Hello, Louise.”

The voice was thick and had mileage on it. Her platinum-blonde hair was pulled tight in a clasp engraved with the initials W.W. The woman’s eyes, lined in charcoal, had wrinkles fringing out from the corners. Her lips were scarlet, but not bloody. She was pretty once.

The woman stared at me, then finally spoke. “I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. She dragged me in front of the chair. “Willie, this is Josie.”

I smiled and bent my scabby legs into my best curtsy. The arm with the red nails quickly waved me away to the settee across from her. Her bracelet jangled a discordant tune.

“So…you’ve returned.” Willie lifted a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and tapped it softly against the lid.

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

Willie said nothing. A clock on the wall swung a ticktock rhythm. “You look good,” Willie finally said, still tapping the cigarette against its case.

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother, leaning back against the settee.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

Mother’s back stiffened. “You heard about Tuscaloosa?”

“Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother, looking into her lap. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie, tapping her cigarette harder and harder against the case.

Mother’s hand reached up to her neck, fingering the pearls.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…” She nodded in my direction.

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids,” she spat, her eyes boring a hole through me.

I shrugged. “I don’t like ’em much, either.”

Mother pinched my arm, hard. I felt the skin snap. I bit my lip and tried not to wince. Mother became angry when I complained.

“Really?” Willie continued to stare. “So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.” I smiled at Mother and rubbed my arm.

“You clean and make martinis?” Willie raised a pointy eyebrow. Her sneer suddenly faded. “Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie flatly, still tapping her cigarette.

I moved closer to Mother. “I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-” Mother’s toe dug into my ankle. “But it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?” said Willie.

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?” She shifted in her chair. I spied what looked like the butt of a gun stuffed down the side of the seat cushion.

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

I stared at her. “Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.” I pulled the ribbons from my thick brown bob and reached for the lighter on the table.

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

Willie sighed. “Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

Her mouth opened in surprise, then snapped shut. “Neat.” She eyed me as I lit her cigarette.

 

See the difference? You get sight, sound, and even touch. These sensory details connect you in the world and let you feel what the characters are going through. They paint the scene. So, ready to get started?

If you think you could use a little more poetry in your life to help you get in touch with your sensory details or even to work on your rhythm and pacing and you need some reading suggestions, our state Poet Laureate had a few recommended poets to get you on your way:

Stephen Dunn

Ted Kooser

Billy Collins

Sharons Olds

Tony Hoagland

Mary Oliver

Martin Espada

Charles Bukowski

George Bilgere

Wendell Berry


 

Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate at the time of this post was the dynamic Nathan Brown. I highly recommend his poetry (and maybe even his singing.)

March Flash Fiction Prompt

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

Another month, another exciting edition of Flash Fiction Prompt!

As scary as I find these assignments, part of me really looks forward to the challenge. It feels a little like driving with a blindfold on. I’m so glad when the ride is over, and I hope I’m somewhere close to my destination when I crawl out of the wrecked vehicle.

Strangely, that doesn’t sound like I enjoy these challenges, but I really do. I have to remind myself of this when I’m banging my head against my desk, because stretching my creative brain can be painful. (She’s not that into yoga. Or exercise of any kind.)

Here’s the visual prompt for March…

 

Bible Boy
Photo Credit Samantha Sophia via Unsplash

 

 

Write a story inspired by this image in 1000 words or less.

If you’d like to share your story, email it to me at valerierlawson@gmail.com. Put Flash Fiction Prompt in the subject line.

I’ll share my story next month. I may post yours, too. If I have enough people participate, I’ll post the best one on the blog!

As promised, here’s my story from February’s prompt for your enjoyment:

 

Photo credit Scott Webb via Unsplash
Photo credit Scott Webb via Unsplash

 

ME AND MY HUMAN

You can’t even tell where we buried her.

The grass is so tall now it tickles my belly when I run through it. The smell gives her away, though. That sweet earthy scent with hints of peonies and lilacs that clung to her from spending all day in the garden is gone. Only the pungent odor of decay remains.

My human Todd wipes tears from his eyes.

I lick his face. “I’m here, Todd.” I remind him. His faithful companion. The one who never strays. The one who always comes when he calls.

Not like Lily.

Lily, the betrayer.

Lily, the breaker of hearts.

I still can’t find my favorite chew toy. The purple giraffe with best squeaker. It took me forever to get the tail chewed down the way I like it. I know Lily hid it somewhere. She hated when Todd played with me.

Todd scratches behind my ears. “Thanks, boy.” I thump my tail. “You miss her, too, huh?”

I stop thumping my tail.

Uh, NO. I do not miss that crazy hellcat. She was careful to hide her daily torture of me from him, so I understand his confusion. I’m always understanding of my human. He never saw how she always knock my food bowl out of her way every time she walked by, how she would smack me in the nose every time his back was turned.

No, I don’t miss her.

It was that trusting nature of my human that led me to protect him. I saved his life from that evil Lily. My tail starts thumping again.

It was one morning at breakfast that I saw it, that look of evil contempt she had for me. This time it was aimed at my human Todd. While she gnawed on her smelly feast, and glared at him, a fear grew inside me that she would harm him. I had to act. I started following her everywhere. I am a good tracker. My human always says so.

Lily snuck out the garden by the back gate, past the tall grass that tickled my belly, and through the woods that smelled of wild things and danger. I had to slink around the towering oaks to avoid dry sticks and rustling leaves that would alert her to my presence. I am a sneaky tracker.

Lily led me to the back door of a strange dwelling in the middle of the woods. The hairs on my back rose up, warning of danger. Who lived in this house made of logs in the middle of nowhere? The smells musty and foreign. I didn’t like it. I wanted to warn Lily, yes, even Lily, that this didn’t seem safe, but then the back door opened and a strange hairy man came out. She ran to his open arms.

Betrayer! How could she do this to my human Todd? I’d seen enough. I barked at them to let them know they were caught and I didn’t approve. The door slammed in my face. In my face! Grrrrr!

I raced back home as fast as my legs would go to get my human. Boy, were they in trouble! But when I got there, he wasn’t home. I’d have to take care of it. Protect him.

I kept watch near the road all day, waiting for him to come home. Waiting so Lily wouldn’t get to him first. Then out of nowhere, she sprang on me. Claws in the air, teeth bared, fur flying, we tumbled right into the road. She went for my eyes, that nasty cat. I had no choice, but to throw her towards that oncoming truck, right? Right?

My poor human Todd thinks it was an accident. He still mourns for her like she was the sweetest cat. I’m a very good protector. My human Todd always says so.

 

February Flash Fiction Prompt

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

Stretching my creativity in new directions is always challenging, and usually not too terribly painful. Sometimes it’s even fun. I’m enjoying my experiments coming out of the flash fiction prompts so far.

I hope you are, too.

Here’s the visual prompt for February…

Photo credit Scott Webb via Unsplash
Photo credit Scott Webb via Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write a story inspired by this image in 1000 words or less.

If you’d like to share your story, email it to me at valerierlawson@gmail.com. Put Flash Fiction Prompt in the subject line.

I’ll share my story next month. I may post yours, too. If I have enough people participate, I’ll post the best one on the blog!

As promised, here’s my story from January’s prompt for your enjoyment:

Party Pigs

 

PARTY PIGS: A Cautionary Tail

     “Why did you invite Thomas and Dylan?” Brandon tugged at his bright polka dot tie. “They’ll ruin everything.”

     “Stop fidgeting and go greet your guests,” Mom said.

     “Go greet your guests,” Brandon mumbled under his breath. She obviously didn’t understand; she’d invited the scruffy, no-good Riley twins. His world just ended. Memories of the spiky blonde duo tormenting his every lunch period all rushed together. Brandon shuffled his feet towards the menacing pair.

     “Hey.”

     “Happy birthday, Braindead.” Dylan shoved a poorly wrapped box into his chest.

     “Uh, thanks.”

     Thomas flipped up his tie. “Nice suit, Grandpa.”

     “Shut up, my mom made me.”

     “You look like part of the decorations.” Dylan squinted at Brandon like he couldn’t see him in focus or something.

     Brandon rolled his eyes. “C’mon, party’s out back.” Brandon trudged through the living room and out the back door to the pool area.

     Everyone else got to look normal, but what could he say when his mom held out the suit and said, “ this would’ve made your dad so proud”? And was it his fault she made his tie match the party favors?

     Brandon pointed to a decked-out table with the banner ‘Red Versus Blue, Winner Takes All!’ draped along the front. “Grab a water gun and a splash ball, then pick an armband color for your team,” Brandon said. “The epic water battle will start when everyone’s here.”

     Dylan and Thomas bellowed like orangutans, then darted over to the table. After disturbing all the neat, organized rows of water guns and toppling the carefully stacked pyramids of splash balls, they each grabbed two water guns, and packed their pockets full of splash balls until they were almost bursting.

     “Hey! Can’t you read?” Brandon pointed towards the tactful sign on the table that quietly reminded guests to take ONLY ONE of each item.

     “Oh, yeah. Thanks.” Dylan glanced down at the Red Versus Blue banner, then snatched two red armbands out of the basket. He hurled one at Thomas. “We’ll make them bleed their own blood.” They ran off laughing.

     “Darling, you have more guests arriving,” his mom called from inside.

     “Mom, I hate those guys! Can’t we kick them out?”

     “Oh, no. They are the most important guests at your party.” She glided her fingers over his perfectly coifed hair with a feather touch. “It’s not every day a boy as special as you turns thirteen.” Her eyes got all shiny and Brandon turned away before she hugged him in front of anyone.

     After a few more trips escorting guests outside, Brandon could see Dylan and Thomas wreaking havoc with their water guns. They were shooting everything (and everyone) in sight.

     “You’re not supposed to use those until the battle starts,” Brandon yelled. “You’re ruining everything!”

     “Shut up, Braindead. No one wants to follow your stupid party rules.” Thomas nailed him smack in the face with the Icer. Everyone nearby laughed.

     Brandon choked on a mouthful of water, then retreated inside. His suit was soaked; everything sloshed when he moved. Why did he have to dress up like an idiot when no one else had to? Why was he the last person allowed to have fun at his own party? “I wanted to play, too.”

     Once safe behind the sliding glass doors, he glared at the backyard full of traitors he’d thought were friends. They cannonballed into the pool filled with all the splash balls meant for the water battle, and they played volleyball with the water balloons. Someone had used the cupcake tower for target practice. All that was left of them was a mushy, sprinkle-covered mess plastered around the patio. His epic water battle party he’d dreamed of for months was destroyed.

     “I didn’t even get to taste them!” Brandon’s fists clenched tight at his side. “I wish all you pigs were gone!”

     A blinding light made Brandon cover his face. A shattering boom rang out and shook the ground under his feet. When the trembling stopped and the bright light faded, Brandon opened his eyes.

     Pigs in party hats flailed about in the swimming pool. Pigs half-dressed in wet bathing suits struggled to escape their human clothes. Pigs with red and blue armbands around their fat stomachs squealed in every direction.

     “Nice start, son.” Brandon’s mother said. “This time, concentrate on where you want the pigs to go.”

     Brandon nodded, then clenched his fists once more to his side. He pictured the abandoned soccer fields just outside of town. The blinding light and ground rumbling returned. Once all was quiet, Brandon saw that the pigs were gone.

     Everything was silent.

     His mother handed him a perfect cupcake with sprinkles on top – bright polka dots that matched his tie. “Happy birthday, Brandon. Your dad would’ve been so proud.”

 

 

#TBT Post – Variations on the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)
I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on October 22, 2014. 

 

WHY STUDYING THE MASTERS IS NOT AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear any writer say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I get discouraged when I read books by writers more talented than I am” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

Let’s set up our easels, smear some daubs of paint on our palette, and enter the world of the visual arts medium for a moment. Our task for today? Study one of the most interpreted paintings of all time. The Mona Lisa.

 

The original by Da Vinci

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She’s smaller because she IS small.)

 

 

Different interpretations of the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa as seen by artist Bembol de la Cruz - This painting was part of The Mona Lisa Project sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philipines

The Mona Lisa as seen by artist Bembol de la Cruz – This painting was part of The Mona Lisa Project sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

 

 

Iya Consorio also contributed her version of Mona Lisa to The Mona Lisa Project.

Iya Consorio also contributed her version of Mona Lisa to The Mona Lisa Project.

 

Artist Vik Muniz created this version of the Mona Lisa using peanut butter and jelly from his "Portraits of Garbage" series.

Artist Vik Muniz created this version of the Mona Lisa, emulating Warhol’s style of the Mona Lisa while using peanut butter and jelly as his medium, for his “Portraits of Garbage” photographic series. He took one artist’s interpretation and then created his own interpretation of THAT interpretation. The mind boggles.

 

 

 

 Mona Lisa interpreted by Graffiti artist Banksy

 

 

Amazing, right?

And these are just the tiniest sample of what’s out there. These interpretations of the original Mona Lisa create new dialogue and add to the conversation of what art is. They are all original art.

When artists expose themselves to the influence of other artists, you can clearly see that it doesn’t make their work the same. None of these interpretations is an exact copy of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Instead, what comes through in each painting is the artist’s own artistic voice. Yes, VOICE! By studying the masters, you not only don’t create carbon copies or their work, you can discover your own true voice!

Think about it. Each person viewed the same original. Why didn’t they create the same painting or the same interpretation? In part, because their artistic talents vary and in part because they all bring completely different perspectives, those unique life histories, to their creative process.

We filter our work through our life experiences, through ourselves. What comes out is our voice. Our own unique voice. That’s why no matter how many versions are written of the Cinderella story, if you have one inside you to tell, it will be unique from all the others that have come before it, no matter if you read every single version.

And let’s say an artist set out to purposely duplicate Da Vinci’s style, what would the artist learn from that exercise? Would that be wasted effort? No. He or she would learn how a brilliant painting works – how the composition fits, the lighting, the shadows, the perspectives – how all the pieces come together. The artist would have learned something valuable about CRAFT.

The same is true of writers who read and study great books. All of these lessons can be applied to our own medium of writing. Our medium uses stories as its easel, the blank page as the palette, and words as the daubs of paint; what better place to study the masters of writing than in books?

What will your Mona Lisa look like?

Get to reading and find out!

January Flash Fiction Prompt

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

One of the new blog features I’m introducing that generated the most excitement when I discussed it earlier on the blog was this one, the Flash Fiction prompt. I hope you’re ready to light up your neurons and spark some creative genius (or at least get in some good writing practice).

Here’s the visual prompt for this month…

Party Pigs

(Image courtesy of Gratisography.)

Write a story inspired by this image in 1000 words or less.

If you’d like to share your story, email it to me at valerierlawson@gmail.com. Put Flash Fiction Prompt in the subject line.

I’ll share my story next month. I may post yours, too. If I have enough people participate, I’ll post the best one on the blog!

Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave

I came across an article celebrating a female poet from Oklahoma winning a great poetry honor. She was from Tulsa, and I had read some of her poetry in a collection of Oklahoma poets, so her name was familiar. I read on and learned this award was the Academy of American Poets highest honor, the Wallace Stevens Award, for proven mastery in the art of poetry. How exciting! I knew right then I had to read this book.

 

Crazy BraveCRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Published by: W.W. Norton &
Company

Release Date: July 9, 2012

Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry

amazonindieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The writing is nothing short of mystical. I connected with it as an artist right away, but in a way that was not easy to define. It all just made complete sense to me. Harjo was speaking my language. I was entranced by her story, and I weeped at the end when she found her way back to poetry.

I couldn’t stop crying. It may have had more to do with where I am in my life right now, but I was still very moved by her story.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning :

EAST

East is the direction of beginnings. It is sunrise. When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge. Breathe the light in. Call upon the assistance you need for the day. Give thanks.

East is how the plants, animals, and other beings orient themselves for beginnings, to open and blossom. The spirit of the day emerges from the sunrise point. East is also the direction of Oklahoma, where I was born, the direction of the Creek Nation.

____________________

Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything.

This was around the time I acquired language, when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. It changed even the way I looked at the sun.

This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods.

We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been, but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows were open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes, or any magic thing containing music.

I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life, which I saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.

My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats. I heard workers singing in the fields. It was a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language.

Not the typical beginning for an autobiography, and yet, it was the perfect voice for Harjo’s life story. In between the storytelling, I found a brutally honest examination of a life, with no excuses, and a deeper understanding of humanity. And above all, a way through, with bravery.

Needless to say, this book has found a special place in my heart, and I know it will touch yours as well.

 

Learn more about Joy Harjo here.

Follow Joy on Facebook here.

Subscribe to Joy’s YouTube Channel here.

 

SCBWI OK FALL RETREAT 2015 – Fan That Spark

SCBWI OK Banner

During the fantastic SCBWI OK Spring Conference this past March, we all got our Spark Ignited.

The next step?

We gotta fan that spark!

Come to our unbelievable Fall Retreat. You won’t want to miss it!

SCBWIFTS

This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, will have specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. Manuscript critiques will also be available. (For full details, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

Meet our speakers:

stacks_image_43Tim Jessell – Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Jessell is also the author and illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.

 

Learn more about Tim by visiting his website: www.timjessell.com

 

trasler - photo with puppet-crop-u483Janee Trasler – Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website: www.trasler.com

 

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!, ASSASSIN, GRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

For full details on the retreat and how to register, visit the OK SCBWI website here: oklahoma.scbwi.org/fall-conference-2015/

Hope to see you there!

TweetSome of our speakers and manuscript critiquers may be making guest appearances on upcoming sessions of #okscbwichat on Twitter prior to the retreat, so stay tuned!