Poetry: Challenge Accepted

One of my friends recently quipped that I’d have to go back to some of my hellish previous circumstances to keep writing beautiful poetry. (Of course, I said, “Hell no. I’ll just keep writing novels.”) And then he suggested that I stop writing poetry if I started writing about lint. Well, you know, my brain wouldn’t let it go. And I was sure I could make even lint interesting. 😀 Here’s the product of that brief poetry exercise. And I don’t think it’s my best work, but I was constrained to the topic of lint.

Zoom In

Nothing is the same

now that you’re here.

Even my lint screen yields tiny clues.

Darker than before.

More sand. More dust.

And dog hair–Sighs–

Layers of dog hair.

And it’s cleaned more often,

you know, before it’s a fire hazard.

If you change something so small as a lint screen,

I wonder what the rest of the world sees.

Hell and High Water: A Second Glance

One of the things I like about offering previews of poems is getting to provide a bit of context where I wouldn’t otherwise get more than the lines on the page. “Noel” is a poem that is made richer with context.

If you’ve never dated an author, you might be lucky. Authors spend a lot of time in their own heads. And when I am in a relationship, I can see the possible futures branching in all directions, detailed like novel plots. I’m not clairvoyant; they won’t play out exactly like I imagine. (Boy, could I have saved myself some trouble if all of my imaginings were accurate!) But they feel real to me. And many of them are futures I might work toward, fulfilling my own prophecies.

I dreamt after a particularly heart-wrenching breakup that I had a new child who faded from existence in front of me. I dreamt “Noel”. And that dandelion ghost still sticks with me.

Noel

My darling boy with dimples pitting either side of your crescent-chasm grin,

espresso eyes alight with mischief.

My sensitive nerves, the coiled springs under my skin, fill you,

and your hair hints at the overwhelm,

wild in all directions.

You release my hand after your too-short legs clear the Goliath stairs.

You run full tilt at your dad

who wears your grin

and waits with open arms.

You run like he might change his mind

about another round of “Up-Up”.

 

And he has, my poor love.

He unbelieves us.

You scatter before my eyes.

My so-solid boy.

Like you are made of dandelion seeds

and only my stubbornness shields you from an out-of-faith gale.

I fall to my knees.

And you fade.

You were Noel because you were Christmas every day.

 

Hell and High Water: A First Look

I will be sharing a few poems from Hell and High Water as we approach its release on August 25th. Here’s one that almost didn’t make it into the book because I wrote it recently.

 

How Love Is Like the Equator

 

I used to spin the globe,

thinking the boundaries between countries were tangible.

I thought an actual pole pierced the North and the South,

running through the sphere.

Maybe the equator was a magical line of rainbows

bisecting the earth.

 

I used to think the lines you shouldn’t cross

would be well marked, too.

That they’d be in written rules.

And admonitions would be issued before you stepped too close to the edge.

 

But you don’t know when you paddle into Canada.

And you don’t know when you’ve stepped into the unforgivable,

until the gate shuts behind you.

 

 

He Doesn’t Get a Book

I am so damned proud of this stack of paper. You might be thinking, “C’mon, Jessi. You write novels, and it’s a novel. Why is this one standing out?” This one is standing out first because it’s poignant. It’s got a mix of mythologies, generation gaps, Southern flavor, fights to embrace sexual and racial identities—all while packed with laugh-until-you-hurt moments.

It's real when it's all printed in front of me!

But I’m also damned proud because I had so much trouble getting back to this novel to edit it after I wrote it. I worked on it while I was in a very abusive relationship, one that culminated in nightmarish domestic violence. It’s not an autobiographical novel at all, but I wrote it in spite of my circumstances. And everything created in that time felt touched by it. I remembered what I was going through when I penned different scenes, when I tried to edit and stopped.

I am proudest because I have taken my novel back. You can’t see it, but I know I not only had to write it, I had to wrest it from an abyss of panic, anxiety, and doubt. My abuser does not get a book, much less the best one I’ve written so far. I want to share it with you all far too much. I’m living with this stack of paper for now, putting on finishing touches and recording audio soon. You’ll get a native Southerner for the drawl of New Orleans! And I am excited to share both the drawl and the story.

Years That Ask Questions

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” –Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I have been through what felt like years of questions and some brutal answers since I penned the ending to Where Angels Can’t Follow. In the last year, I’ve used my powers of the pen in the technical arena, and I have used my writing to empower victims of violence to not stay silent, to be screaming loud. My home was broken into a few months ago, and I was attacked quite violently by someone I was close to. It has given me perspective and deep gratitude for my village. But none of those people could have helped if I had been cowed into silence.

I still felt like I briefly lost my voice, the one I speak with and the one I write with, when I was stuck in hellish flashbacks. It’s not the kind of time loop one wants to be in. I discovered from reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk that research indicates one does indeed literally lose activity in the part of the brain responsible for speech when reliving traumatic memories. I am grateful to my caving community and every friend who reached out. You helped me find my voice again when I could barely find the air to fill my lungs.

I can think of quite a few literary greats who struggled with loss, depression, anxiety, and pain. Though it’s a hell of a crucible, the pain makes us great; it makes empathetic people who can get at the heart of any struggle with accuracy. I have my well of pain now to pull from as I write. And it’s a comfort to know that all I have been through the last couple of years will be instrumental in creating powerful new worlds and characters with depth.

Where Angels Can’t Follow is in some final editing phases now. I’m nitpicking the word choices and filling in the gaps. This one will be done this year so that I can make room for the other characters that keep trying to push their way to the front of my mind. Thank you all for waiting so patiently. And thank you to my friends who are not so patient, too. (I needed the nudging.) I am looking forward to sharing my mix of New Orleans, voodoo, archangels, classical Renaissance art, and generational differences with all of you.

 

Affirmation

My latest book has an inseparable thread of artistry woven throughout. My main character is a sculptor, and as a writer, I know some of the madness of art. I’ve been inspired by many of the quotes I’ve found about sculpting

Matisse quoteand art in general, a few of them even found their way into the novel. I found this one inspiring today.

I find myself often forgetting as I write which events have already taken place. Sometimes I am a week removed from what happened in the book, and 7,000 words later, I reintroduce a character everyone’s already met. In Iron Shards, the most egregious instance of this was when I killed the villain off on one day and then killed him off again on the next. I don’t read my work for coherence when I write, I just get the story out and worry about logic and coherence later. So, I found out during editing that I’d killed a character twice.

The editing process takes much longer than writing the novel. Dwelling on every painstaking detail, trying to find my own mistakes, and acting as my own sanity check is grueling. I lose sight of the whole work again as I perfect fragments, and I begin nitpicking my choices. I doubt myself and wonder why I thought I could publish something I wrote “a lot” in.

But I have stubbornness issues. I think all novelists must to persist. And we have an obsession with the stories spilling out of us. I don’t know how to stop, even when my words are inadequate, even when rejections roll in. As I have begun my final round of checks on the latest novel before it goes to my beta readers, I read lines that sound so amazing that my eyes jerk back to the beginning. Did I write that? That description rocks! And I remember why I push forward. All of the affirmation I need is here. All 98, 069 words of it.

Creating Escapes

I think I have white knight syndrome, a need to rescue people. This can be and has been literal rescue–hauling someone with an injury out of a wilderness environment. It can also be a desire to help my friends through tough times. And, weirdly enough, now helping people I don’t even know by providing escapes into fiction.

Books were a crucial part of my childhood. I was anomalous in a tiny Southern town that didn’t quite know what to do with me. I didn’t want to hunt, fish, or go mudding. My lifelong vegetarianism left a few people scratching their heads and deepened the divide. I had a thirst for the world, for worlds I could never see. And books were a window into places I starved for, a way to see the possibilities around me. I knew I didn’t want to go to Wal-Mart for fun or spend humid days in beat-up boats on stagnant water. But what more was there?

I immersed myself in every free moment, and it was encouraged. Who’s going to tell their kid not to read books? I ran through the local libraries’ pitiful sci-fi fantasy sections and was forced to expand my reading selections for lack of options. I read literature, children’s series, trashy romances, poetry–anything I could get my hands on. Running out of things to read was the absolute worst, and as I grew older, more adept at foraging for books, I had a Scarlett O’Hara bookworm moment–As God is my witness, I’ll never go without books again.  And I haven’t. I chuckle about my need for new material to fill my mind, piles of books in every room that I haven’t read yet, that I’m looking forward to. They are my comfort objects–at least one in every room, sometimes ten or more. Three in my van. One in my purse. A library on my phone. You get the picture.

I eventually came to realize that one can be just as addicted to books as anything else–video games, television, drinking, phones. It’s a healthier distraction, but one to pursue in moderation. And I knew that I wanted to be a person who spends her life creating, not just consuming. As soon as that thought penetrated my mind, it wouldn’t die. And, like any avid reader, I know the value in escaping rough days in the scent of pages and ink, in a world different from my own. I had no choice after that. Characters, their friends, their problems–all wouldn’t leave my thoughts. And I hope that my new worlds provide a needed reprieve from life’s stresses for some of you, that I can briefly be a white knight.

 

–Jessi

Apologies and Iron Shards Out Loud

I’ve become more comfortable with my craft as I penned my latest novel. (Which is finished and being edited in my abundant free time. Ha!) I don’t know if any of you like Jim Butcher, but I am a fan, particularly of the Dresden Files. As a reader, it’s maddening to me when Mr. Butcher writes more Codex books or a new series altogether. Honestly, Jim, I need some Dresden closure here! And one of the things I most loathe as a reader is cliffhangers that I have to live with for a year or more until an author releases the next installation of a story (looking at you, Karen Marie Moning). I sought to imitate J.K. Rowling’s level of closure as she brought each school year in Harry Potter’s life to a close. I always wanted more, but didn’t feel like tracking Ms. Rowling down and demanding answers. Instead, I waited, like a kid watching cookies rise in the oven.

So, I’ll begin with apologies. I sat down with good intentions and a trilogy outline–Iron Shards, Iron Spirits, Iron Truths. I swear! I wrote a chapter or so of Iron Spirits. And I hated it. My spouse hated it. I wanted to print a copy just so that I could wad it up and toss it into a trash can. But I did the mental equivalent, and I wandered looking for inspiration. I found it and wrote a new standalone novel, one I’m still editing. So, Jim, I understand now. Sometimes we just follow the whims of our muses.

In the meantime, while the new book was still percolating in my mind, my friend and fellow author Jennifer Pinkley offered to narrate Iron Shards after our local book club selected it to read. Since my plate was rather full with raising kids, exploring caves, and embarking on learning a new skill set, I was thrilled to accept. So, keep watching. Iron Shards will be available as an audiobook soon.

–Jessi

 

 

 

Iron Shards Goes Larger Than Life

I recently had the pleasure of seeing my book cover on a rocking awesome poster.

Book-Club-June-2016

The Mountain Home Air Force Base has chosen Iron Shards as their pick for the month. It’s strange seeing my work on a poster, a surreal thrill after the tears, rewrites, and rejections I went through with this book. But no worries, readers. I won’t let it go to my head. *winks*

I am off to work on my latest project. I’m just the medium for those characters’ lives, after all. Happy reading, bibliophiles of Mountain Home!