No Poet Here

 

hayward

Officer down, Hayward, CA 07/18/15 -photo credit SF Gate

I can’t write poetry. I wish I could. The other day at my writing group, a very talented poet read a piece she’d been working on. I told her I would pretty much sell my soul to be able to write like her. I think I can craft a pretty good story. I believe in the readability of Palisade. But what she did? It was magic. It was song and color. It was life.

I suppose it could be argued that poetry is nothing more than well-patterned writing. But I think it’s so much more than that. It’s telling a story, with an inherent grace and rhythm. The pattern dictates the cadence and becomes the most telling part of the story. It adds to the experience, it gives the reader important clues. It’s the bass line in a song.

When I write poetry, I get stuck in the pattern. I can do the words or I can do the rhythm. But when I try to put them together, the words sit idly by and the rhythm becomes stale. Yet I try, every now and again.

Here’s a poem I wrote yesterday. I may read it at my next writers group – maybe they can help me turn it into something with at least a little magic. It’s called Respect and is born of my thoughts about how until we learn to respect lives, as in all of us respecting every other life, we are going to continue having cops shooting kids and kids shooting cops. And that sucks.

A cop dead
A kid dead
Who’s to say right from wrong?
Who’s to say black from white?

A gun shot
A man down
Who’s life to value?
Who’s life to respect?

A call for help
A scream from the street
Who’s to care the color of his skin?
Who’s to care the money in his bank?

A tear in family
A tear in justice
Who’s to teach the cop respect?
Who’s to teach the kid respect?

A talk about race
A talk about loss
Who’s to cry over the kid?
Who’s to cry over the cop?

A society broken
A world confused
Who’s to say how to fix anything?
Who’s to say if any of our lives matter?

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Calling All Readers

Palisade CardHello friends!

As most of you know I have been hard at work writing my book, Palisade.  I’m very nearly done with it.  Of course, I’ve been saying that for the better part of this year now.  I still think there are a few things in the book that could be better.  But, it’s time for me to quit fighting it and let some other people tell me what they think.

I need a few good beta readers.  I’m looking for people who:

  1. Love, I mean LOVE to read.
  2. Enjoy dystopian literature (or at least not hate it).
  3. Have the time to read an 80,000 word book, slowly, thoroughly, and make written comments along the way.  A lot of written comments.  Maybe even answer some prewritten questions at the end of chapters.
  4. Can provide honest feedback to a friend or family member (as in not afraid to hurt my feelings, nor happy to hurt my feelings).
  5. Can stick to an agreed upon deadline (I’ll take whatever deadline you give me, but I’ll need you to follow it).

What do you think?  If you are up to the challenge, please send me a Facebook message, reply to the blog post, or send an email to ronnajojola@gmail.com, and we’ll work through details.  I need to start the readings by the first week of August.  For those of you who are writers, I will be more than happy to return the favor.  For those of you who aren’t, I’ll find some other way to demonstrate my gratitude.

I look forward to hearing from a few good beta readers!

PS:  To my wonderful Crit partners who have already read much of Palisade, I’m going to reach out to you separately in the next few weeks.  I was AWOL as I finished the editing process; I simply didn’t have the bandwidth for anything else.  I didn’t want to do a sub-par job on your books just to keep your feedback on mine.  I hope you can forgive me, if not, I understand.

Thanks everyone!

All My Love,

Ronna

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Eye Contact

When heading into the train station to go home today, I noticed a young group of teenage boys jumping the fare gates. The employee working the station booth saw them and tried to publicly shame them into paying their fares.

 

“You, with the red hat, and you with the black shirt, and orange shoes. Yes, you! You jumped the gate, you need to exit the station and pay before you can board a train!”

 

The kids totally ignored her and went down to the train platform.

 

I was standing in line for the same train. I didn’t think much about the kids, as urban commuters see such things every day. Instead, I was considering Palisade, as I almost always am. I’ve been working hard these last few days to fill a few plot holes that have been plaguing me. They aren’t big holes, but too many small holes can add up and degrade the overall work. I can’t allow that.

 

It’s painful, soul searching, and at times defeating work. I will literally stare at a page for hours, not sure how to fix the obvious problem. I don’t want to change that scene, I love that scene, that scene has been in my head for years! I finally got it on paper, there is no way I’m cutting it.

These kids were boarding the same train that I was. All of us mature commuters queued up in a nice clean line to wait our turn to board. After a few minutes, the train arrived and the doors slid open. The kids rushed the door, trying to jump in first. Unfortunately for them, or maybe fortunately, a larger, slightly elderly looking man was first in line. He was a fairly normal looking man. I wouldn’t have normally even noticed him, other than he was larger than they were, respectfully dressed, and bald.

 

As they rushed the door, he looked at them. Right in the eyes. They stopped in their tracks. They suddenly seemed unable to move forward, instead they looked down at the ground. This man, who should have boarded the train first, stood between them and us, blocking their way, his eyes never leaving their turned down faces, while every single person in the line boarded. Then he boarded. The kids got on the train last.

 

He saw a plot hole. Not in some stupid book, but in society. These kids were lacking the authority figure they needed….no, the authority figure they deserved. He did not publicly shame them. He simply made eye contact – and taught them a lesson. Did he change their lives? No, I’m sure he didn’t. But he sure as heck put a smile on my face. He took a small, but powerful action the rest of us were unwilling to do.

 

I’m missing the real problem with my book.  I love the words. I have to face the consequences of the words, even when that means there are holes in the plot. I need to make eye contact with them, show them my authority. I will line them up as I please, and they will present themselves as a well written, intelligent, hole-free book about a nanotech infused, super soldier in post dystopian San Francisco. Or something like that.

Berkeley_BART_platform

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Behind the Trees – Another World

My husband – I can’t decide if I should thank him or tell him to quit nagging – reminds me on a regular basis that I need to update my blog. To which, my response is invariably, “Yeah, yeah, I know.” And then I go clean the kitchen.

I’m a busy woman. Between parenting, editing Palisade, working, editing Palisade, supporting hubby’s new business, editing Palisade, house work, and I’m not even sure what else, I don’t have much extra time. And when I do have extra time with no other obligations, I’m pretty much going to go to bed.

Today, however, I have the day off work, the kids are at school, hubby is otherwise occupied, so I am finally writing a blog post (which probably means hubby will come sit next to me and start talking about football or something). I will try to update more often, but in reality, it probably won’t be very regular until I’m done editing that damn book.

We spent the weekend at the Treasure Island Flea Market selling my husband’s beautiful art jewelry (www.symbolrydesigns.com). Thousands of people walked by our booth, many stopping to chat or buy. It was nice to meet people from all around the world, but mostly from our home region, the San Francisco Bay Area. We live in the most amazing place in the world, with the most amazing people in the world.

The coolest thing about the show though was two days in a 10×10 tent with my family. I know, I know. That could be a very bad thing. But hubby and I generally like each other’s company (that’s how it’s supposed to work, right?), and we enjoy being around our children. The close proximity caused even our 16-year-old Hermit-Child to say a few words to us. But mostly he managed to avoid us by wandering the market.

Like any good teenager, he took interest in the abandoned buildings. They represent a forbidden opportunity, a link to an unknown past, and mysteries both dead and alive. Their graffiti enhanced walls tell stories we can’t know. Their windows have seen things we never will.

They are a forgotten world, right next to a bustling market and across the bay from the most beautiful city in the world. Though now broken, rusted, and crumbling, they were once symbols of prosperity and human ingenuity. Sitting on their little man-made island, they lined the “Magic Isle” with names like the “Tower of the Sun” for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, part of the World’s Fair. Thankfully, the 80-foot tall Goddess, Pacifica, still dances for them.

What does any of that have to do with Palisade, or my writing over all? Not much. But it’ll get the hubby off my back for a few days.

Here’s two of the dozens of photo’s Hermit-Child took.  He has a good eye…

A view of the Market with San Francisco in the distance, and the old buildings behind the camera.

A view of the Market with San Francisco in the distance, and the old buildings behind the camera.

One of the old buildings, behind the Market.

One of the old buildings, behind the Market.

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Buyers Remorse

Decades of fermenting in my head, dozens of starts and stops, nearly a lifetime of other things, a solid year of writing, revisions/revisions/revisions/more revisions, and about 70,000 painstakingly considered words went into my book Palisade. I see the characters in my head, I know their motives, their thoughts, and their reactions better than I know most of the flesh and blood people around me.

I think the end result of all of this work is pretty good. The early reviewers are enjoying it, more than I dared hope they would, actually. They will tell me what I need to fix. I trust them to do so.

Yet now, only a short week since I wrote the last word, I’m looking at it through some kind of “buyers remorse lens.” I think I should have traded up, purchased a better brand, a different color, and more options.

I’m agonizing because I’ve convinced myself the middle drags, the ending is rushed, there aren’t enough “can’t turn back now” plot devices, I need to eliminate several strings in the plot, and I generally like my main character too much to torture her as thoroughly as I should.

Is this normal?

Academically, I know what’s really happening here. It’s simple insecurity. It’s the 50th dress I’ve tried on and I still think I look fat no matter what my husband says. It’s refusing to interview for that promotion because you’re afraid you won’t get it. It’s not accepting the lunch date with a new friend because you’re afraid she won’t like you enough. It’s never learning to dance because your afraid you’ll fall.

I did it. I picked a dress and I chose to dance. Yeah, I’m gonna fall. I’m aware, you don’t need to tell me. People are going to point and laugh. It’s cool, because I did something many only dream of or are too afraid to even dream of. They are too insecure to even start.

I was secure enough in my vision, and my skill set to start. Now I need to be brave enough to leave it the heck alone. Who knew? It’s easier to write than to not write.

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To Prologue or Not to Prologue

My book has a prologue.

Sadly, there is a raging debate among the talented folks in my writing groups about the validity of prologues.  I don’t concern myself with it too much, because there is also a raging debate about how many spaces to add after a period.

First world problems, huh?

I will make my own decisions about both spacing and prologues, thank you very much.

Since my prologue weighs in at under 200 words, I was hoping it would escape the ire of the die-hard anti-prologue movement.  But when I submitted it for review, I admittedly stressed about it.

My mini-prologue, along with Chapter One, just survived one of two critique groups.  The second group will look at them next week.  I received great feedback, nothing terribly severe.  Everyone liked the story, related to the characters, thought the world I began to build was interesting, and they are all willing – excited even – to read more.  Woo Hoo!

I am curious about the prologue debate though.  Despite the fact that I wrote one, I rarely read them.  I’m not morally opposed to them or anything; I’m just usually in too much of a hurry to get started.  If it wasn’t important enough to include in the actual book, why would I read it?  Imagine my surprise when I had to write one to solve a very specific problem with the plot.

What do you think?  Do you read prologues?  Do you think they are a waste of time or helpful to set up the story?

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The Care and Feeding of a Main Character

SANY0624

Spiderweb at Lake Chabot, May 2013

 

When I was in my 20s, a very long time ago, I began to dream of a character.  I knew only three things about her at the time.  Her name was Allannah, she had curly hair, and she was going to save the remnants of the human race.  I fancied myself a writer though I had no idea what that meant.

I worked in downtown Oakland back then, and I took the BART train to work.  I would sit on the train with my college-ruled notepad and #2 pencil, furiously scribbling Allannah’s journey through post-apocalyptic California.  When I wasn’t on the train writing, I was thinking of her story.  Anytime I had my thoughts to myself, my mind would deviate to Allannah’s world where I would develop her lover, her nemesis, her friends, her plight, and the plot line to her story.

I was getting to know her the way I might get to know a new friend.  How would she react to this situation or that person?  What would she do in her most desperate moment?  Would she reach in and find her strength, or crumble under the weight of her destiny?  It was exciting to discover her.

Out in the real world, I had my own life to plot out.  I changed jobs.  My new employer was less than a mile from my home.  My train-writing time disappeared.  Then I married my childhood sweetheart.  Then I had a child.  Then I had another child.  Then I got another job.  Then I got another job.  Then I went back to college.  Then I….and I…and I….and I…

I did all sorts of things.  It was 25 years, after all; even a procrastinator like me can do a lot in that much time.  It’s all good, though.  Life is good.  Life is busy, and crazy, and beautiful, and cruel.

The one thing I didn’t do in all that time was write.  I put all those pages, so lovingly written while riding the train, into boxes stacked in the basement.  They sat in that cold, dark, dusty, spider-infested world under my house for years.  I forgot about them.  Think Jessie from Toy Story.  Very sad.

The physical representation of Allannah’s story was set aside, left to the spiders and dust, but Allannah never left me.  I thought of her every day.  Her world continued to evolve and grow.  Her plight continued to torment her and force her along her path.

She changed quite a bit. Sometimes a young prodigy.  Sometimes the interesting, older woman.  Sometimes a powerful witch.  Sometimes a robotic, engineered soldier.  Turns out she’s a little of all those things, and more.  She is a strong, independent, intelligent woman who walks her course, regardless of influence.

Then I got another new job.  This one in Berkeley.  Back on BART for me.  The first thing I did was start writing again.

Of course, I don’t use paper and pencil anymore.  Now I have my little laptop.  I sit on the train every weekday and bang out Allannah’s story.  I pour the story that has grown, and at times festered, in my head for a quarter of a century, onto my computer.

A while back, Hubby noticed the boxes in the basement and mentioned them to me.  I wasn’t interested in having them in the house.  The basement is spider territory.  I don’t do spiders.

Finally, after weeks of thinking about Allannah’s early days, I asked him to bring the boxes up.  I reverently pulled the yellowed pages from the boxes.  I read them (terrified of spiders the whole time, mind you) as if seeing my best friend for the first time in decades.  I learned a few things:

  • I need to see someone about my fear of spiders, it’s a bit over-the-top,
  • Allannah is, despite her circuitous path, generally the same young woman I dreamed up 25 years ago, and
  • I’m a much better writer now than I was then, though darn if I don’t still have a long way to go.

Yesterday, about a year after I started writing again, I finished Palisade.  Allannah has finally met her lover, fought her nemesis, found her power, and lived her destiny.  I don’t know if her story is complete, but it is finally written.

Never have I felt more accomplished, and oddly empty at the same time.  When you live with a girl in your head for that long, it feels a little breezy in there when she leaves.

Now for the hard part, I have to reveal her to others.  People will tear her apart, form their personal opinions of her.  They might love her or hate her.  But they will see her exposed and vulnerable; they will see her for who and what she is.

They will see me exposed and vulnerable; they will see me for who and what I am.  Allannah’s path may be written, but mine is just beginning.

Deep breath, Ronna.  You got this.  After all, Allannah and I share more than just our curly hair.

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