#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.)

2016 Reading Challenges Update – 1st Quarter Results

 

Reading Challenges Rock2

With the lofty reading goal of 80 books this year – more than I’ve ever read before – I’m hoping the three reading challenges I’m participating in will help spur me on to victory.

I’m on target so far with another 12 books under my belt, making my total for the year at a respectable 23 books read. I may just make that crazy goal, yet.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the new books I’ve read, shall we? Maybe you’ll find something that sparks your interest to add to your reading list.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge

New books I’ve managed to clear off my TBR pile:

GLORY (The Dust Chronicles #3) by Maureen McGowan

Mcgowan-Glory-CV-Front_031814-264x400This is the final book in the series that I started late last year. (I won signed copies of the first two books while participating in the YA Scavenger Hunt a few years ago – sweet!) Nice to finally finish the series and see the ending of Glory’s journey. She was a fun character.

Good read. Really enjoyed the series.

Glory is a Deviant. That is what she was always taught, growing up in the domed city of Haven. She has the power to kill with her gaze, but she’s learned to control this power and use it only against the monstrous Shredders who survive on the asteroid dust that mutated their DNA.

Now, living in a settlement Outside, Glory has the chance to embrace her “Gift” and reunite her remaining family. But she can’t hide from the threat of Shredder attacks or the knowledge of what Management is doing to the employees of Haven.

Can she face losing everything she has left to bring freedom to Haven? Will she choose the familiar safety of Cal’s love or risk Burn’s dangerous passion? Ultimately, Glory must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her family safe, and what it really means to be a monster. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Maureen McGowan here.

Follow Maureen on Twitter here.

Follow Maureen on Facebook here.

 

KIKI AND JAQUES by Susan Ross

Kiki and JacquesI received a copy of this book from the publisher from their fall catalog. This was a debut novel that had an intriguing premise, although it mostly fell flat for me. I reviewed this book in detail on the blog.

All in all, it wasn’t a great read for me, just an okay read.

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Susan Ross here.

Follow Susan on Twitter here.

Follow Susan on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver

bookcover_home_requiemI read the first two books in this series about three years ago and then I somehow missed the last book until now. (I think I was waiting for it to come out in paperback.) Great series. I especially loved exploring the concept of love being a disease that made you insane. That whole argument about are we better off with our emotions or without them?

So glad I finally got to find out what happened to Lena.

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana’s points of view. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.

Follow Lauren on Twitter here.

Follow Lauren on Tumblr here.

What books are waiting to be read on your TBR pile? Have you taken any books down from your TBR pile, lately?

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – There are some crossovers from list to list, so I’m choosing which ones count here.

There are always wonderful ideas given in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

 

Read HArder 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake
(Read a horror book)

Anna Dressed in Blood coverAn agent who read the beginning of one of my WIPs suggested this book to me as a comp title. I have to say, it was enlightening, and it did help give me some great ideas for my own story. I don’t read too many horror novels, so it was nice to branch out and read a good book in a different genre.

The cover had a quote from a famous YA author I like, touting this book as, “spellbinding and romantic”. While I did really enjoy it, I didn’t exactly find it romantic.

Not one bit.

It was still definitely well worth the read…just maybe keep the lights on. ALL the lights. (Did I mention I don’t read may horror novels?) This book would count as definitely branching out of my comfort zone. Funny, since I’m now writing my first paranormal story. Probably need to read a LOT more like this. *shivers*

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Kendare Blake here.

Follow Kendare on Twitter here.

Follow Kendare on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver
(Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel)

bookcover_home_requiem(See the description details above in the TBR challenge.)

Yes, I’m counting this book in two separate challenges.

Why? Because I can. 🙂

And because it seems like every dystopian book I’ve been reading lately has also been coming from my TBR pile. Go figure.

 

LADY MIDNIGHT by Cassandra Clare
(Read a book over 500 pages long)

Lady Midnight coverI absolutely love the Shadowhunters world and each series set there that Clare has written. I’ll read these books over and over and never tire of them. Says something right there about Clare’s storytelling ability, doesn’t it?

I’m especially excited about finally getting to read more about Emma and Julian, best friends with that extra parabatai bond. *swoon*

Did someone say chemistry? Clare has that in spades with her characters as well.

Fantastic story, which I devoured only too soon. I will be in agony until the next book in this new series arrives.

And that cover? Too die for!

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other — but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, one in a long line of Shadowhunters tasked with protecting the world from demons. With her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of an secret Los Angeles where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries start turning up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were murdered years ago, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge — and Julian’s chance to get back his half-faerie brother, Mark, who was kidnapped five years ago. All Emma, Mark and Julian have to do  is solve the murders within two weeks . . . before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. As she uncovers the past, she begins to peel away the secrets of the present: What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents — and can she bear to know the truth?

The magic and adventure of the Shadowhunter Chronicles have captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Fall in love with Emma and her friends in this pulse-pounding, heart-rending new volume sure to delight new readers and longtime fans. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.

Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.

Follow Cassandra on Tumblr here.

 

HOLES by Louis Sachar
(Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better.)

Holes CoverJust about every one of my writing friends could not believe it when I said I’d never read this book. “I’ve seen the movie” was not good enough. I promptly agreed to read this book as soon as possible. I’m glad I did. It’s a fantastic story and well told by Sachar. (And of course it’s better than the movie – which was pretty darn good.)

I watched the movie, again, after reading the book, and even though the acting was outstanding – how had I forgotten that Henry Winkler was in it? (I just met him at a book signing, so weird.) and I love Sigourney Weaver in anything she does – the book just delivers a stronger sense of emotional impact. It’s a little heavier, more realistic. You get a better sense of the relationships between the boys in the book and you feel how they suffer day to day at the camp. No Disney gloss-over. So my vote is a resounding, “the book was better”.

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Louis Sachar here.

Follow Louis on Facebook here.

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – Cassie is the dynamic gal with a head of fantastic curls, always at the ready with great book recommendations. She writes the glorious blog Books and Bowel Movements that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes it fun and really easy.

If you’re on Instagram, feel free to join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

Reading Bingo 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

THE MIRROR KING (The Orphan Queen #2) by Jodi Meadows
(Book with more than 500 pages)

 

MirrorKing-HC-198x300I read Jodi Meadows’s debut novel INCARNATE a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I loved the whole Incarnate series, and I know going forward I won’t be disappointed when I reach for one of her books. I did torture myself by waiting to read this series until the second book was coming out because I know how she likes a good cliff-hanger.

I was so right! She loves torturing her readers!

Right after I closed THE ORPHAN QUEEN, (Arg! That ending was golden!) I immediately purchased THE MIRROR KING, the sequel and the conclusion to this duology. (I have to admit I haven’t read many of these!) That is the sign of great writing in my book – when you want to find out what happens next. Without delay.

Wilhelmina has a hundred enemies.

Her friends have turned. After her identity is revealed during the Inundation, Princess Wilhelmina is kept prisoner by the Indigo Kingdom, with the Ospreys lost somewhere in the devastated city. When the Ospreys’ leader emerges at the worst possible moment, leaving Wil’s biggest ally on his deathbed, she must become Black Knife to set things right.

Her magic is uncontrollable. Wil’s power is to animate, not to give true life, but in the wraithland she commanded a cloud of wraith mist to save herself, and later ordered it solid. Now there is a living boy made of wraith—destructive and deadly, and willing to do anything for her.

Her heart is torn. Though she’s ready for her crown, declaring herself queen means war. Caught between what she wants and what is right, Wilhelmina realizes the throne might not even matter. Everyone thought the wraith was years off, but already it’s destroying Indigo Kingdom villages. If she can’t protect both kingdoms, soon there won’t be a land to rule. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.

Follow Jodi on Twitter here.

Follow Jodi on Facebook here.

Follow Jodi on Instagram here.

Follow Jodi on Tumblr here.

 

THE FIVE RED HERRINGS by Dorothy L. Sayers
(A book with a mystery)

Five Red HerringsI enjoy a good old fashioned murder as much as the next person. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading my first Dorothy L.  Sayers novel last year, STRONG POISON. This one, I’m sorry to say, fell a little flat for me. Missing not only the fantastic chemistry between Lord Peter and Harriett (whom I hope returns very soon!) but also missing was some clarity.

In understandable dialect for one thing! The Scottish vernacular was so thickly shown that I had difficulty discerning what was being said much of the time – NOT ideal in a mystery novel! And the plot was a little lackluster as well. Still, I did adored the scenes with Lord Peter in them, especially when he was full of enthusiasm for a good murder. I hold out hope that the next book in the series will show this one to be a mere stumble.

During a painting retreat, a killer takes a creative approach to the ancient art of murder

The majestic landscape of the Scottish coast has attracted artists and fishermen for centuries. In the idyllic village of Kirkcudbright, every resident and visitor has two things in common: They either fish or paint (or do both), and they all hate Sandy Campbell. Though a fair painter, he is a rotten human being, and cannot enter a pub without raising the blood pressure of everybody there. No one weeps when he dies. Campbell’s body is found at the bottom of a steep hill, and his easel stands at the top, suggesting that he took a tumble while painting. But something about the death doesn’t sit right with gentleman sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. No one in Kirkcudbright liked Campbell, and six hated him enough to become suspects. Five are innocent, and the other is the perpetrator of one of the most ingenious murders Lord Peter has ever encountered. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Dorothy L. Sayers here.

 

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King
(An award winner)

askbooks_35_739671589King has become one of my must-read authors, and I am knocked out by each new novel she publishes. She is a master at using magical realism with astounding impact. This book is where it all began, and it won her a Michael L. Printz honor in 2011.

I chose this book for my February Relaxed & Groovy Book Club pic. Find the full blog discussion about the book here.

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

An edgy, gripping story, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

 

SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend
(Collection of poems)

Sunsets and Haiku coverI received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, when she read about my participation in this reading challenge. So thoughtful!

Una Belle is one of the many generous and talented authors that belong to our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter. I just adore her. I also wrote a review of her book on the blog. Find the full discussion here.

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

 

So what have you been reading, lately? What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

Book Review – SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

I received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, one of our most resilient and thoughtful SCBWI Oklahoma members, when she read about the reading challenges I am attempting this year. She saw that I could use a collection of poems to complete the Reading Bingo Challenge and sent me one of hers – so sweet!

Una Belle has published several picture books with Pelican Publishing Company, including GRADY’S IN THE SILO, for which she won the Oklahoma Book Award. This is her first book of poetry and her first book with Doodle and Peck Publishing, a new local publishing company right here in Oklahoma.

Sunsets and Haiku coverSUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

Published by: Doodle and Peck

Release Date: October 15, 2015

Genres: Poetry, Photography

amazonindieboundbn-24h-80

 

 

Plot Summary:

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

The gorgeous photographs, taken by Una Belle herself, are paired well with inspiring, and sometimes playful, poetry. I loved the variety of sunsets and the vivid colors and how familiar all the landscapes felt to me. What a challenge to select one subject of nature to pay homage to, and yet Una Belle takes it on with such deftness of skill.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:

 

Vivid papaya

Luscious orange and melon clouds

Fruit for hungry eyes

 

This book is a lovely treat for the soul.

It left me feeling relaxed and content, and maybe wishing for a little more.

 

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

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.

 

Book Review – SOLD by Patricia McCormick – a TGNA Post

tgnahead

It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing SOLD by Patricia McCormick.

Here’s a preview:

SoldMy daughter started reading this to me on a road trip. She was so excited about this book that she had to share many of the passages. That kind of enthusiasm for a story is contagious. When I got around to reading it from start to finish myself, I felt the same way. The layout of the book and the style of writing read more like free verse poetry to me – put me in the mind of an Ellen Hopkins novel set in Nepal. The short chapters paint such vivid imagery of the day-to-day life of the young girls, both the innocent and horrifying, that you felt you were living in the story. I felt for these girls, for the main character Lakshmi, especially. I wanted to her escape and feared that she never would.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetI’ve taken a brief hiatus from AM #wordsprints this week for spring break. I’ll return bright and early next week, if you care to get your early writing work out started with some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST.

O Me! O Life! – A Moment of Reflection

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I keep thinking about this poem, today. Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, read it in one of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society.

I also keep thinking about all of the great artists we’ve lost recently. Writers and actors. Some to depression, some not. All huge losses that have left a profound silence behind.

I’ve explored the relationship between the artist and depression a few times in my blog postings (The Creative Soul and Depression, What Music is Supposed to Do, and With a Little Help from my Friends), trying to better understand this disease that seems more prevalent among our creative communities. I’ve struggled with depression and I know many other writers who’ve voiced the same struggle.

This year, depression left its mark on some loved ones very close and very dear to me. The only thing I know to do for them is to listen.

And listen some more.

Maybe throw in a few dozen hugs just for the hell of it. Anything to tell them that I know this sucks, that I love them, appreciate them, and that I’m in this with them for the long haul. I hope if you’re struggling with depression that you find someone to listen to you. Please don’t stop until you do.

I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll hear in your head read in the voice of  John Keating.

O Captain, my Captain! We will all miss you, dearly.

O Me! O Life!

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I,

            and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle

             ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and the sordid crowds I see

            around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me inter-

           twined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me,

             O life?

                                                  Answer

That you were here – that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

– Walt Whitman

Book Review – Oklahoma Poems…and Their Poets

The Academy of American Poets have declared April National Poetry Month, so I’m here to share my latest poetry read with you. Also, a reminder that April 24th is  Poem in Your Pocket Day where poetry fans throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it. Join it the fun by tweeting about your poem of choice on Twitter this year at #pocketpoem.

OKLAHOMA POEMS… AND THEIR POETS
edited by Nathan Brown

I met Nathan Brown, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and editor of this anthology, during a summer course I took from the University of Oklahoma that was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few years ago. I actually wrote about meeting him here. Nathan put together this fantastic book of poems about Oklahoma by some well-known poets from Oklahoma to give readers a taste of what Oklahoma is like, in all its many subtle forms. And what an amazing job he did.

(Not to play favorites, but our own Anna Myers has a talented son who writes poetry. Ben Myers contributes a poem entitled “Deep Fork”. Ben is a phenomenal poet whose work I’ve reviewed right here on this blog and if you haven’t read his books you must go out a procure them now or you’ll regret it deep in your soul forever. Okay, maybe playing a little favorites.)

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An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

As someone who has always felt like an outsider, one who could not easily identify with a particular group comfortably, I’ve struggled to place myself somewhere – to understand where I come from.

What are my roots? Who are my people?

I’ve always thought of myself as some homogenized American mutt, with no special culture to speak of – a slice of white bread in a world of whole grain artisan loaves.

Void of nutritional value.

Tasteless.

Boring.

Strangely, this poetry collection helped me see glimpses of my childhood, reminding me of things I’d forgotten through its portrayals of rural life, the deep connection to the land and weather, the sense of community when tragedy strikes, and even the naked bigotry and oppression portrayed in some poems. These are some of the forces that molded me. This is where I come from. I am pieces of all of them, in some ways – the good and the bad. These are my people.

Here is an example of one the poems that sparked a sense of nostalgia for me. A short, but brilliant poem by Joey Brown

 

MERIDIAN, OKLAHOMA

Three boys wake up in a town that’s not really

a town, weighted down by the early morning

summer, and breathe sour sulphur from the refinery

that clanks and churns or whatever refineries do

to make someone some little bit of money.

It’s not them, not their house, so what do they care

but for the nagging smell.

Three boys pump their bicycles on the highway

past the yard of rusted-up drill bits. You’d be afraid

for them were this a highway anywhere else. In the

convenience store they take two Cokes and an

orange Fanta from the lay-down cooler. They like the

pop & sigh the bottle opener makes. When the door

opens again, the air conditioner pleads.

Three boys wait in the parking lot but don’t know

they’re waiting. Sit astride the bikes, bottles clinking

here and there, don’t speak. They stare at the white

day reflecting off the school across the road,

blistering their eyes. You just know they don’t

imagine the size of it all. They can’t. One of them

keeps firecrackers leftover in his pocket.

 

Just a simple summer afternoon in a small town, but holy cow, did this light up my brain with a flood of memories and sensory images!

How had I forgotten that we used to live two doors down from a small fire station? In the summer time, we would always go over there and bug the crap out of hang out with the firefighters. Not really for very long, just to say ‘hi’ and snag a super frosty Coke or orange Crush from their lay-down cooler, just like in this poem. It only cost a quarter and it was so cool to get pop in a bottle.

And we would ride our bikes everywhere. All over town, on busy streets, from sun up to sun down. On the best days, we’d end up at Champlain Pool. We’d swim all day – jumping off the high dive and dreading adult swim. Ah! Some of my best summer memories. All uncorked by a simple poem.

And there is a fantastic poem by George Bilgere entitled “Cordell”, that I truly love, and not just because the title has a familial connection for me. It’s all about a first solo road trip on a grasshopper green motorcycle. It’s a little long to share the whole thing here, but I encourage you to find it and read it. Well worth the search.

Here’s just a few lines to give you a taste:

For the first time

I pondered the venous skin

of a map and chartered a route from Burns Flat

to Cordell, a little town

on the Oklahoma plains. The day

was sparkling and unrehearsed, the air

cool in the morning, and for the first time

I went out on the public roads alone,

despite having no license, the world

for the first time passing by in a rush

at the tips of my handlebars,

a pick-up passing now and then,

the farmer inside raising the index finger

of his left hand precisely

one inch above the wheel, a man

greeting me as a man

for the first time,

 

It goes on and on and I could just drink it up like a cool glass of iced tea.

How that poem brought me back to the day I got my driver’s license and the freedom that was now mine. And all the crazy adventures I had with my friends out on the open road. When you’re from a small town, sometimes there’s nothing to do but pile into your car with your friends and drive. Sometimes you end up at the lake, sometimes you end up at a keg party in a wheat field, and sometimes you just end up in trouble.

Best not tell about that last one.

There are several poems that talk of the land and weather where you can almost smell rain in the air right before a good thunderstorm.

Here’s beautiful one by N. Scott Momaday.

 

 THE LAND

The first people to enter upon it

Must have given it a name, wind-borne

      and elemental,

Like summer rain.

The name must have given spirit to the land,

For so it is with names.

Before the first people there must have been

The profound isolation of night and day,

The blazing shield of the sun,

The darkness winnowed from the stars –

The holy havoc of myth and origin,

True and prophetic, and inexorable,

Like summer rain.

What was to become of the land?

What was the land to become?

What was there in the land to define

The falling of the rain and the turning of the seasons,

The far and forever silence of the universe?

A voice, a name,

Words echoing the whir of wings

Swelled among the clouds

And sounded on the red earth in the wake

      of creation.

A voice. A name.

Oklahoma.

 

Just gorgeous imagery.

I always learn so much from reading poetry. This book brought me closer to home than I realized I needed to go. It’s a well-chosen collection, diverse in topic and voice and all very, truly Oklahoma. I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourself.

One more great thing about this book is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council.

Learn more about Nathan Brown here.

Follow Nathan on Facebook here.