Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #475: By (mode of transportation)

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By Car:  Before We Loved Lucy

Before we loved Lucy, we loved Lila—
a 1992 Cadillac DeVille, owned only by the aging Poppies.

Lila was our first car together—$500 and pristine as the sugar white sands
of the Emerald Coast
with red-leather seats and curves of shiny chrome.

She took us to Heaven and back—
Heaven being the surf and sound sides of Pensacola Beach.

We never pierced her with cigarette ashes or tattooed her with bumper stickers,
however strategically placed.

Come morning, her top would be sprinkled with the crepe myrtle
and moist with the dew.
Lila’s character became more dear with every ding and scratch,
the chip in her windshield like the dimple of Shirley Temple.
Sometimes her perfume was Chick-Fil-A;
at others, the darkest roast at Starbucks.

She was there when we found our first home
and when I went back to school.
She was our shelter from the summer thunderstorms,
our cool respite from the oppressive, breathtaking humidity,
and the hearth that kept us warm during the icy, snowless cold of Southern winters.

She was our metal parasol from the golden globe that warped our milk chocolate bars
like the timepieces in Dalí’s, The Persistence of Memory.

She brought us home from our simple little wedding,
her rearshield saying “Just Married” in soapy, green paint,
and carried us away to our honeymoon at home, for home was Paradise.

She shuttled me to the hospital when, after a jalapeno burger with Cajun fries at Five Guys,
I went into labor and gave birth to our baby girl—our Hannah Banana Beth.
She was there to pick me up,
cradling our newborn like a porcelain doll.

The interior panel lights with her emblem were like the tusks of elephants
and added to her beauty;
her functionality was in her large trunk where we often packed fried chicken and potato salad
and glass bottles of RC Cola on ice.

She was the vessel who sailed me over the Three Mile Bridge
to the sparkling town of Gulf Breeze
where I would meet up with my WriteOn! Pensacola group—
a scenic drive during which I would listen to the local radio host
who was like a friend I had yet to meet,
the windows down, tangling my hair.

For my birthdays, she brought me to the boardwalk at the Cactus Flower Café;
for Christmas, she bore gifts only she was large enough to hold.

Like a priest, she heard all our arguments and make-ups and worries about the future.
She knew what we ate, the kind of music we liked, the things that made us happy or sad.

She was independence and the first car I owned who completely belonged to me.

She passed from her second life as an auto,
donating her organs to the local junkyard to be recycled,
though we still have photos of her and some of her jewelry in a shadowbox above our mantel.

Though we’ve moved on in different directions,
we, with another addition to our family and she, with a repurposing of her life,
we will never forget you, Lila, for you were our first.

Love, The Richards family, circa 2014

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https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-475

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#Fiction Friday: #Novelines from the Book

Mormoni

The vapor from my breath in the chill air was like a ghost, haunting the space between us.

When I met Mrs. Hobson, I saw in her the kind of mother I had never known yet yearned for deep inside. She was ordinary in an extraordinary way.

When Elders Roberts & Johnson were transferred out, our friendship with the missionaries ceased. Dinner appointments were no more.

Sister Wiley was the elders’ new “missionary mom,” even as Mother became the mother to us she had never been.

It was a curious feeling, knowing we had interrupted something we could not have possibly understood, for the people involved were all wrong.

The elders called themselves “The Stripling Warriors,” we were “The People of Ammon.” “The Crusaders for Christ” was but one voice in the wilderness.

Sister Wiley was the celestial body which the elders of the Green Haven & Pensacola wards revolved around—a thin, aging Ursula Andress.

Sister Wiley was the Mormon Mrs. Robinson, & under her tutelage, confused elders had become confused no more.

I murmured that I was going to tell the Bishop, even though I knew he would never believe me, for I feared he loved her, too.

I knew it not then, but beyond the scope of my understanding, there were things going on that would undo me & the life I was beginning to know.

Drawing from the well

Last night, I was honored to participate in a release party/poetry reading for the “Life in Your Time” edition of The Emerald Coast Review.

The poem I’d entered, I’d written for a rhymezone.com poetry contest on the theme of “Community.”  The original title of my narrative was “The Emerald Coast Community,” but I changed it to “Pensacola, 2016,” for this publication.  Ironically, the one piece I didn’t specifically write for “Emerald” was the one piece that was accepted.

I’ve learned that just because a piece is rejected, that doesn’t mean it won’t find a home.  (Just make sure to re-edit it after every rejection.)

I’ve become comfortable reading my poetry in front of people–we all seem to be accepting of one another and are probably more nervous than we let on.  I was blessed to have my support system–my husband, daughter (okay, she’s four and had to come), parents, and grandmother.  One of the women who is in our WriteOn! Pensacola group was there with her husband, so it was great to see someone I knew.

One thing I learned:  If there’s a microphone, use it!  The book should not have to serve as closed captions unless you are deaf.

We arrived early (catching a glimpse of an albino squirrel) and found out that security had been ordered, as there’s some burly guy in town who shows up at events and crashes them with his “preaching” (as the policeman put it).  I was already thinking that the subject of my next short story was going to show up, but I got a blog post instead.

As a writer, no experience is ever wasted.  I draw from the well that is my life in this time, in this locale, every day; I like to say that I’m an alchemist who mixes fact with fiction, so that each person who reads my words sifts out their own truths.

I have to say, Pensacola gave me the material I needed to bag this one.

~~~

I’ve lived in this town for thirty years, and written about it from many perspectives.  I believe that’s a gift writers have–we can see the same thing in many ways.  I see the beauty of Pensacola, as well as the ugliness, for it’s as extreme as its weather (which range from freezing cold to boiling hot), along with its rednecks and “country club Republicans,” its plethora of churches and homeless.

So I’ve immortalized Pensacola–this city “not quite confidential” several times.  Here are a few:

Our (Quirky) Town:  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/06/15/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-397-land-of-blank/

Do as the Pensacolians do:  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/23/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-23-theme-when-blank/

Haunted Pensacola:  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/01/saturday-evening-post-honorable-mention/

Local flavor:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/10/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-9-theme-work/

My “hit piece” (for which one local writer “questioned my mental health”):  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/19/daily-prompt-west-end-girls-2/

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#Micropoetry Monday: Nature

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Spring was the baby that grew up green,
Summer, the girl that burned blue,
Autumn, the lady of Calico,
& Winter, the snowy governess
of the spring babe.

Rosemary was a spring chicken,
Dill, a summer squash.
Thyme was a winter memory,
& Basil, a Beat Poet,
falling from the womb
too late.

There was something for everyone—
majestic blue mountains,
beaches of white or brown sugar sand,
the painted deserts of Madeline O’Keefe,
wide open spaces of Andrew Wyeth,
for it was a nation of immigrants–
all of whom could all find a piece
of what they’d left behind.

The stars were like white diamonds,
the water, a liquefied jewel,
the sand, infinitesimal crystal balls,
for in each,
was a world.

She was not homeless,
for her home was Planet Earth.
The clover grass was her bed,
a stone,
like Jacob’s,
her pillow,
the brook,
a cleansing bath.
The moonshine was her lullaby,
the sunshine,
a gentle nudge to wakefulness.
It was a home without walls,
& a ceiling without end.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #401: Repair

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Holes

For what is broken
can be mended,
but what is shattered,
would be like trying to gather
all the tar balls from Pensacola Bay;
with cracks,
a pitcher can hold,
with stitches,
a garment can hold together,
but with pieces missing,
too much is revealed,
for the water sloshes,
spilling out what was left
that was still good.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-401

Saturday Evening Post: Honorable Mention

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So I just entered The Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story” contest, and read on their site that as long as a story was only published on a personal blog, it would qualify for submission.  That led me to inquire if it would be permissible for me to post my story that placed as an Honorable Mention in their contest two years ago (and published in their digital anthology); they said that was fine (and also appreciated the mention).

My short story was based on a cold case (literally and figuratively) of a grave-robber who haunted Pensacola, Florida, in the Fifties.  It’s a mystery that spans generations and ends up answering the question, “Whodunit?”

I just posted the first several lines, and included the story in its entirety as a PDF for those interested in reading the whole thing.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery

“Grandma,” Ellie Dolan said, holding the birdlike, bluish-white hand of the woman who had raised her after her mother’s passing.  “I have wonderful news.  Mr. Trune loved the stories I sent him, and he’s going to give me my own space.  He really dug the idea of a cold case column.”

She had expected her grandmother to look pleased, but she only looked troubled.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery

Conference and Conversation with Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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Two of the intangibles I’ve gained since becoming a college student in my thirties are confidence and perspective; I’m not sure that would’ve happened had I continued with my original plan–get my degree in Health Information Technology and be done with it.

The semester I took a Creative Writing elective, I began to seek out more opportunities to enrich my college experience, which included participating in poetry readings, writing for the student newspaper, and work-studying in the English Department.  Attending events, such as plays, art shows, and Book Talks, broadened my experience even more.

The best Book Talk I’ve attended thus far was given by columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson (http://www.timesdaily.com/life/columnists/rheta_grimsley_johnson/rheta-grimsley-johnson-make-much-of-something-small/article_ab2398fa-af14-56c5-b20c-22eeeb51902b.html).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

PENSACOLA, FL.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a lady one might mistake for a schoolteacher, with her pearl necklace and long dress, and pleasant voice with a Southern lilt. “You can make a living as a writer,” she told an audience at Pensacola State College.

As many lovers of words are wont to do, she quoted Robert Frost, who said that writers “write about the common things in an uncommon way.”

The column that propelled her career as a newspaper columnist was about her dad losing his job. This resonated because corporate America no longer valued loyalty, but was all about hiring younger and cheaper. “My dad was a company man,” she said, and it was like being “bitten by his own dog…this one piece took on a life of its own.” Her editor loved all the letters that came in, in response to the column.

Years ago, she was told by one of her editors not to write about children or dogs. “Don’t write like a girl….don’t write about emotional stuff,” Johnson said. “There was always a dog right there next to me, no matter what was going on in my life.”

Johnson lived in Pensacola as a young child. “I knew even at seven we were trading down,” she says, of when her family relocated from Pensacola to Montgomery, Alabama. She can still remember the first time she heard wind chimes—it was a “magical time”.

In 1989, Johnson wrote a biography of Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. When Schulz complained about the popularity of “Doonesbury,” Johnson asked why he didn’t write a political cartoon. “I want to stick with the verities.” Like Johnson, Schulz sticks with “the human condition” which transcends time.

Being a seasoned writer, Johnson doled out some sage advice: She doesn’t like v-words, like “virtual” and “vis-à-vis”—“fancy pants little words you don’t really need.” “Very” is a common repeat offender and needs to be locked away, brevity is key.

According to Johnson, people have a nine-second attention span (while goldfish have 13), she works hard on her lead.

Like the old-school notion of the three R’s being reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, Johnson says good writing has three R’s:

The first one is rhythm. Reading it aloud is the “best way to self-edit…Good writing has rhythm, just like a song.”

“If you know how to write a short, declarative sentence, you will be sought out… Good nonfiction should read like fiction…good fiction should be as well researched as nonfiction.”

Keeping a journal to jot down things as they come to her is like “having money in the bank.” Having written four columns a week, she says, “Writers block is a luxury.”

The second R was restraint. “Just say what happened.”

The third R is routine. “Try to write in the same place…same time of day.”

Because newspaper circulation is on the decline, she said, “I’m going to completely outlive newspapers…I needed to reinvent myself a little bit.” Johnson has authored “Hank Hung the Moon:…and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts” and “The Dogs Buried over the Bridge: A Memoir in Dog Years.”

“He sang me through a lot,” she says of Hank Williams, and dogs “teach us more than we teach them,” such as taking naps and hiding the best treats.

Johnson’s writing career hasn’t been one of a “front-porch thumb sucker,” but one of getting outside her head and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, 550 words at a time. “You meet the most interesting people at laundromats and bus stations.” Stories are everywhere. A good writer knows it when he or she hears (or sees) it.