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Friday, December 27, 2013

* I Did It*

     One of my Facebook friends (I'm sorry I don't remember who) posted the following request for writers to document their productivity over the last year.

     I thought about it for several days. This kind of public accountability was the very reason I established my writing blog in the first place, and I think that without question 2013 has been the most productive of my ten year writing career. I'm not sure why then, I am hesitant to do this. Something about it makes me nervous ... but here it goes.

    I reviewed all of my blog posts for the year. There were a few accomplishments I had completely forgotten, proving you do need to journal what you are up to in some way.

    Here is what I can say I got done;

~ I wrote more than 75,000 words over the year. Unfortunately I am not well organized enough to say for certain what the number is. I do know I never came anywhere close to that number before. I also feel it is the most important of all that I will discuss next.

~ I birthed two books that I had been working on for years. Both are self-published and I see that as an important part of my platform.

~ Can't possibly say how many hours of research I have done this year or even how many books I read that were research related, but know that the number is very high. I also took a research trip that was an investment in my novel.

~ I attended my first professional writing retreat (AROHO in August). Most of the gifts that come from that are yet to be known. It was a wonderful, life changing experience.

~ I attended AWP for the first time. I did that because it was within driving distance of my home. It was interesting but not at all life changing. The biggest impression I got from it was how many of us there in this country trying to make a go of the same occupation. The size of that conference is overwhelming. The highlight of it for me was having lunch with other poets who will be published along with me in the forthcoming The Widow's Handbook.

~ I attended the annual NH Writer's Day conference as I do every year. I took a class there taught by Paul Harding that has stayed with me. I also pitched my novel to an agent who is interested in it. That felt like a huge achievement, and I'm still excited about it.

~ I can not count how many readings I attended, or even how many I gave. Not because the number is so high but because I am not very good about keeping track of things. Last month I was a featured reader at the monthly poetry hoots in my hometown that I have attended for a decade and even curated for a couple of years, and it was very special to me to have been invited to do so for the very first time.

~ This year I was also nominated to be the local poet laureate which of course is nice.

~ I'm terribly disappointed in myself to say I don't know how many submissions I made, probably about a dozen. I had several poems accepted for publication, but no prose.

~ I submitted one application for a significant fellowship that took a lot of work. (Still waiting to hear about that one.)

~ Can't seem to figure out how many blog posts I made during 2013, but in reviewing my blog for the year it doesn't seem as boring as I thought it was. I usually feel like a slacker regarding my blog.

~ I've started to find my way in the marketing of my work. I do not like this one aspect of being a writer at all. It is so unpleasant, but know that it is necessary. I try to devote a small part of each day to marketing the two books I have released. I have not been successful at this, especially in getting reviews. That seems to be much harder than I had anticipated. I've also failed several times in trying to get a good website up and running, though I made a few attempts.

~ I joined a local writing group that is proving to be helpful in my progress with my novel.

~ As I have for many years, I wrote twelve columns and several articles, for my local newspaper.

~ I curated a book discussion group for the museum where I work.

      I may be forgetting a few things. It has been a busy year, and I am feeling pretty good about what I got done. What this inventory does seem most useful for is in showing me where I can do better. I need to step it up in the marketing department, and in submitting more short stories and my completed children's manuscripts. I need to do better saving and protecting my work. And I need to do a better job in keeping track of what I have accomplished. I need a secretary!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lisa Romeo Writes: Writers: A Year-End Call for *I Did It* Lists. Joi...

Lisa Romeo Writes: Writers: A Year-End Call for *I Did It* Lists. Joi...: Three years ago, I first shared with blog readers an end-of-year list-making activity I'd grown to cherish. Not making a typical New Y...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Indie Shopping

     Just found this photo of me reading at one of my favorite indie book stores. Please support them when doing your holiday shopping. They've got what your loved ones need.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Giveaway Today

    In memory of those lost and those scarred by the Newtown school shooting one year ago today I am gifting a free copy of my eBook, Broken Buckets, a novel traversing the subject of gun violence in schools, to anyone who works with children or in a school setting. Just message me with your email address.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Top Ten Books

     I've been challenged twice in the last couple of days to play a Facebook game where you quickly list ten books that have stayed with you since you've read them. These are the first ten that came to my mind. I've been carrying them with me for years while most of the books I have read have been forgotten. I think most of these (and a few others) have had a powerful influence on my development as a writer. Join in the game. It's fun to think about what your first ten titles all have in common.

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
2. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Diary of Ann Frank by Anne Frank
4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
5. Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories; And Other Disasters by Jean Shepard
6. Cowboys are My Weakness by Pam Houston
7. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
9.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

      The Facebook game has rules;

      In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be "right" or "great" books, just the ones that have touched you. Tag 10+ friends, including your tagger, so he or she will see your list.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Sort of Snarky Thanksgiving Post

      I have been blogging for years now, and have made it a point not to use my blog for bitching. Who wants to read a rant? But every once in a great while, you've got to give in to the inner whiner, and let it rip. I'm terribly sorry that during this week of gratitude that I'm going to do just that. Maybe by the end of my post I'll see more clearly a way to feel thankful about this state of affairs.
     So ~ in what I thought would be a very exciting week for me I have just released the first (self-published) chap book I have ever created. It isn't my work, but a re-release of Henry Longfellow's poem called Lady Wentworth which tells the tale of something that happened in my hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire long ago. It has been a labor of love really. Love for Longfellow and his poem and my hometown and the whimsical work of a local artist, and I have been working on it for at least eight years, determined to find a way to make it happen.
      I had set the retail price for the little book at $15. That was as low as I could go and stand any hope to break even for just the production costs. By production costs I mean only the cost of printing the book. No pay for me or the illustrator, who worked very hard too, and created just for the book fifteen original drawings. Actually, now that I know what cut the bookstores are getting, it is clear I will probably never see the black.
      As you surely know, this is not an unusual situation in the struggle to get books into the hands of readers. Still, it was suggested to me yesterday, that the price of $15. was too high for the product. Suggested by someone who knows books well. As much as I'd like to lower it, I simply can't.
     I left that bookstore and walked over to a nearby coffee shop needing a post-yoga class smoothie badly. The coffee shop walls were adorned with the work of a visual artist as they always are, and as I usually do I took a few minutes to check out the featured artist's work.
      While I liked the simple oil paintings very much, what I couldn't help but notice, in my freshly dejected mood, was that the artist was asking $180. for small paintings. What's the deal?
     Sure, I realize each work of art is (usually) one-of-a-kind, but the argument still stands. Why as a society do we undervalue the creation of printed works to the degree that we do? We are willing to pay several dollars for a cup of coffee and a couple of hundred dollars for a small work of art by an emerging artist. We are willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars to see a concert or sporting event. The socks I wanted to buy my daughter for Christmas cost $34. per pair. Socks. I just don't understand why something that two artists, (three if you count Longfellow), worked hard on, that was costly to create, that will be of limited production, and is something that will entertain and endure, be so undervalued?
      Well, ... still I am grateful that I am able to bring the poem back to Portsmouth, that was always my goal. And I am grateful that Bob Nilson (a fully emerged artist) agreed to work with me on the project. Below, as a teaser, I share one of his drawings from the book which makes the poem so entertaining for all ages. And below that a link to purchase the eBook version, which of course is much less expensive. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Upcoming Readings

     I have two public readings scheduled in the next week.

     Saturday afternoon November 23rd, starting at 3, I will be reading prose and poetry at the annual Open Studios of the Artists of Salmon Falls Mills at Rollinsford, New Hampshire. I will be up on the third floor of the Upper Mill. I'll be reading from both of my books, the published novella and the novel-in-progress, probably excerpts related to the holidays, as well as holiday related poetry, mine and others. I plan to share a couple of children's books too. I hope to see some of you there. The amazing assortment of artwork for sale will be worth the trip.

    On Wednesday evening December 4th at 7 PM I will be a featuring with Tim Mason from Cambridge, MA at the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Hoot, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That's a first for me so a bit of a thrill, and I plan to do something of a retrospective of my decade as a hoot attendee that led to this reading. Also, a bit of a thrill for me, I will be making an announcement at the hoot...

     Right now I'm off to  the local radio station for a quick interview about the novella. Tune into Portsmouth Community Radio WSCA 106.1 LP

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Guest Post by Kate Leigh

Tammi and I watched a movie called Lost Boundaries Saturday night. (Well, you have to take a break from writing now and then....)
Here is my movie review poem:


The movie Lost Boundaries uses the word Passing
In a context unlike death, at the time of the film
If someone was Passing, they were white not black
In the eyes of their beholders.  They raised families
Who looked white, the secret was treacherous and
Could topple their lives if discovered or spoken.

A great loyalty existed amongst those who knew
The Negros who were passing, it was as if they were clear
They would try to pass, too, if they could, if their
Brown skin was lighter, their hair straighter, their eyes 
Colder, their posture more confident, their bulk of
Experiences less crushing, their futures less predetermined.

Such insecurity, such play-acting, such hollow prominence
Such groundless hope, such double lives, such questionable
Aspirations, to live amidst those who would scorn you,
To care for those who would trample you, to reserve such 
Truth and intimacy from your blood children, to play
At the white man's unbeatable game, to defeat color itself.

Wrongs heaped on wrongs until no one can do right,
A rite of passage for the children of the Passed parents,
Who missed the window in their growth to bond with their
Black ancestors, who now must suddenly atone for sins
They cannot relate to or understand, their family unable
To help them, their bodies, genetics, appearance all awry.

Cry out now for a merciful blindness to overtake our
Fickle sight, to bless us with the inability to judge on
The basis of anything but obvious merit and selfless actions.
Let us earn our ideas about the human community, apply
The law once recommended by a wiser soul, one who
Believed we do unto others as we would have them do us.

(C) 2013 Katherine Leigh all rights reserved

Here is an image of the original movie poster c.1949

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Latest Column

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Quick visit to NYC Public Library

     Last month while in New York City I was thrilled to have some time, albeit not enough, to pop into the New York Public Library, and dragged my not-particularly-interested teenage companion through the exhibit now showing there on the history of children's literature. A lifelong passion of mine, and a subject I have taught at the college level, the exhibit was a thrill for me. One could spend a day perusing it; it is that thorough and detailed. There are many wonderful interactive displays as well as priceless ephemera to ponder, though unfortunately photos are prohibited, so I can not share with you any of the treasures I saw. You should go see for yourself. It is really worthwhile. Even though I got to spend very little time with the exhibit, it was enough to learn something new that has inspired my next picture book project (just as soon as I finish this novel)...

     Another little tidbit I learned at the exhibit was that in 1938 Walt Disney made a video of one of my favorite picture book characters, Ferdinand the bull. In case you too have never seen it I offer it here. It is, like the exhibit, delightful.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Women Called Nig

      Last night I participated in two back-to-back book discussion groups that were a fascinating example of the tried-and-true teachers' assignment of comparing and contrasting two pieces of literature. It was interesting to me, even a little exhilarating, (I'm a geek) that this was all coincidental.
     The first of the two was a book discussion group that I led. It took place at the living history museum where I work and was part of a series I curated on local black history. The book was Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, In A Two-Story White House, North. Showing That Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There, by Harriet E. Wilson (published in 1859). This book is a fusion of genres, primarily the slave narrative and the sentimental novel popular at the time. It is particularly important to the history of American literature as it was the first novel ever published on this continent by an African American.
        Sadly, it has been proven to be autobiographical as well. It is even more important that NH historians be familiar with the story as it is another first person account of the black experience in our state which has, I think since Harriet's life time, been largely ignored. The title brilliantly tells the story in just two syllables.

      Because Harriet's story took place about 65 miles inland I had challenged my co-workers to see if they could identify any connections she may have had to Portsmouth, the harbor town where we interpret history for visitors.
      I had identified three possibilities which we discussed;
   1. Harriet's / Frado's mates went to sea and never returned. A man living in Milford, New Hampshire who went to sea may very well have done so from our neighborhood.
   2. An obituary for Harriet's real biological mother, Mag Smith, has been identified, and it says she was formerly of Portsmouth, a pretty clear indication of Harriet having ties to this town.
   3. There is considerable evidence that Harriet was an itinerant peddler of her hair care products as well as her book, and I propose that it is quite likely that she passed through here on her travels. One extant first edition of Our Nig was from a Hampton, NH home indicating she may have come that close.

      Even if one did not have an interest in NH history Harriet's story is a compelling and riveting read.

  After my group finished our discussion I joined a group at my local indie book store for a discussion of Passing by Nella Larson (published in 1929, seventy years after Our Nig) which just happened to be happening on the same night.The subject matter of this novel is obvious, and it is the story of two women's experiences, and of the color line at the time. It too is a riveting read, and a wonderful snapshot of American history.

      Both of these books are sometimes referred to as stories of the "tragic mulatto" and sometimes dismissed as such. It is an important consideration to keep in mind, but it would be grossly unjust to dismiss these books along with white abolitionist literature that was contrived to proselytize to a white readership. Both of the writers were biracial women, and Larsen in particular, was first and foremost, an artist working with words. Although some other masterpieces of American literature have been categorized as tragic mulatto tales to include Their Eyes Were Watching God and To Kill A Mockingbird so the canon is indisputably well loaded.
     One striking similarity I noted between the two novels was that both of the female protagonists were referred to as Nig. (Larsen could not have known about the other novel which was still lost then.) In the first case it was a diminutive word meant to reference one's property, as in "This is our house and our dog and our nig," without sentimentality of any kind. And an ingenious slam on a society that considered(s) itself above the institution of slavery.
     In the second book it was a diminutive nickname given to a mixed-race woman by her husband in reference to her darkening skin. A joke shared between them, but meant to be insulting just the same.
    Now I wonder if there will be another novel produced by a writer in this century that will  reference a woman as nig, and while I hope that it will not be so, my hope is as superficial as the color of my skin.
    I am excited that I'm  next reading and discussing another work with a strong local connection, that has also been classified as a tragic mulatto tale, though like Our Nig, is based on a true story. It is Lost Boundaries by William L. White. A fellow reader let me borrow a copy of the book and the DVD, a movie made locally that I have been wanting to see for years, so I'm going to pop some corn now...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry Contest

     I was recently asked to serve as the contest coordinator for the Poetry Society of New Hampshire's twice yearly national poetry competitions. I am thrilled that Lauren K Alleyne, Poet-in-Residence and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Dubuque has accepted my offer to serve as judge of the November contest. For more info about Professor Alleyne see
     Here are the guidelines for entering the contest open to all. I look forward to finding your poems in my mailbox on or before November 15th!
National Contest Coordinator
Tammi Truax
187 Meadow Rd
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Please note limit is forty lines. Name and address must appear in the upper right hand corner of the copy on which they appear. NO identification is to appear anywhere on the second copy.
The Poetry Society of New Hampshire sponsors two National Contests open to all poets, members or not. Judges for the contests are not members of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Prizes are awarded to four places, 1st place, $100, 2nd place, $50, 3rd and 4th places $25 each. Winning poems will be published in our quarterly magazine, The Poets Touchstone, and winning poets will receive one copy of the issue in which their poems appear. Rights revert to the author after publication.
Entries that do not meet the guidelines will not be considered or returned. Poems must be postmarked by the deadline date.
  • Subject and form are open.
  • Length limited to 40 lines.
  • One poem per page.
  • Poems must be typed.
  • Two copies of each poem, one with NO identification (no name, no address), the other with the name and address in the upper right corner.
  • #10 SASE for winners list only. Poems will not be returned.
  • Entry fee is $3 for the first poem, and $2 each for others. Entries limited to 5 poems per poet per contest.
  • Poems must not be previously published, have won a prize, nor be currently entered in another contest.
  • Poems must be postmarked by the deadline date. Deadlines are: May 15th and November 15th.
  • Mail poems and check payable to the Poetry Society of New Hampshire (PSNH) to the coordinator at the address above.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Truth Be Told

        I’d been thinking about him so much in the last few months, had even developed a genuine affection for him that surprised me, and truth be told, I didn’t really want to travel alone. So, since I was en route to his house anyway, and there was an empty seat beside me, I decided to conjure him up. I closed my eyes and asked him to come sit with me a spell.

      And then … there he was, in all his magnificence, smooshed into a coach seat between me and a young traveler who looked equally befuddled, but kept her reactions to herself, and perhaps her 1472 non-believing Facebook friends. He looked down at his knees, his long muscular legs rammed into the seat in front of him, and he shifted his riding boots slightly. He looked at me. I was agog. He looked remarkably well for the 214 years that had passed since he died an agonizing death. Really – remarkable. His hair was still clean and well-powdered and pulled back into a relatively tidy braid that I knew made my wild traveling tresses look like I might be a zombie. His suit was well-tended right down to the shiny brass buttons. Also quite shiny was the sword dangling from his hip, that I was pretty sure the flight attendant would consider a sharp implement. His mouth was shut tight. I tried to recover from my dorktitude. “Hi,” I said.
       “High. Yes, by God, I see we are,” he replied in a soft sort of sexy voice, his gorgeous blues fixed on the window beside me where cumulus clouds wafted by. “Is this conveyance how we ascend to heaven then?”
       “Oh, well, no, well yes and no,” I stammered like a fool. “We are flying through the sky, but we are not going to heaven. I’m sorry. We’re going to Baltimore.”

       “Baltimore!” he bellowed. “Why the devil would that be? For what cause have I been summoned so? I demand a coherent explanation for this extreme trickery.”
       He was upset and I felt bad. While trying to shush him, I said “I’m sorry General. You’re just visiting me in the future. This is the year 2013. We fly around in these airplanes rather routinely now.”
      “Air – planes?” he repeated staring hard at me. Then lifting and looking at his big hand, added, “I am an apparition.”
      “Yes sir. I just really needed to meet you. You see, I’m writing a book, a work of fiction based on historical facts, that is to say, I’m writing about you. I’m on my way to Mount Vernon now to learn more about your life.”
      His countenance changed as if he’d been slapped. His jowls slackened, and his furrowed brow and eyelids lowered. The great bulk of his shoulders caved inward a bit much to the delight of the girl in the aisle seat. “Mount Vernon,” he repeated softly.
      “Yes,” I said gaily. “It was saved and preserved as a museum.”
     “You’re taking me there – home – to my farm?”
      “Wasn’t planning on it Sir. I think there is too much on the ground that would be distressing to you.”
       “Well, young lady,” he said politely, covering for both my age and his impatience, “You speak in vexing circles. I must suggest it would benefit us both if you stated your objective forthrightly.”
      I, of course, resumed my signature stammering dorktitude. “I guess I just wanted to see you, hear your voice, maybe get your blessing for my work.”
      “Desist with guessing. Stand tall with your convictions. If you are being called to write something then do so. If you apply all of the honesty and integrity to your work that you can muster you will be able to withstand any criticism that follows, I assure you. To encourage literature and the study of history is a duty to which every good citizen owes his country.”
      “Thanks, I am being honest in my work. I cannot tell a lie,” I teased.
      He looked unamused. I got serious.
     “I’m writing about you as a slave owner.”
      “I see,” he said seriously. “There is plenty of honesty in that. I was a slave owner from the tender age of eleven years until my death, though I provided for my people’s freedom in my will. I knew it to be a withering institution and could foresee it’s undoing in short time.”
     Suddenly, I saddened. I didn’t want him to know the truth. I didn’t want to tell him what happened after, though I want to tell everyone else. Children, no matter how old they are, never want to disappoint their fathers. Cannot bear to see the look of failure in their father’s face, reflected back upon us in his eyes.
       Averting his gaze, I took his right hand in both of mine. Borrowing his wife’s term of endearment for him, I said, “Yes, Old Man, thank you.”
     With his legendary intuitive intelligence, he said just before disintegrating, “Whatever has yet to be done, charge on.”
     “Yes sir,” I said to his departing particles, “We will.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


     Well, in my own defense I can honestly say that my excuse for blog neglect is that I have been so crazy busy working! I have been writing up a storm as the historical novel I'm working on nears completion of its first draft. I was up in the middle of last night tweaking three scenes that I was laying in bed, wide-awake and thinking over. This muse is a whip-cracker!
      And most exciting of all has been the release of my first completed novel as an eBook. Now at least a small fraction of each day needs to be devoted to a task I call book pimping. The least pleasant part of being a writer today, but it is unavoidable. I now have to find ways of getting the book reviewed which I really don't have any idea how to do.
      It is an interesting, and humbling, experience, setting one of your babies off into the world to see how it does.

     Here's a link. Reviews most welcome...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Announcing book release!

     After about three years of hard work, I am so happy to announce the release of my debut novel as an eBook now available through most eretailers. With a big shout-out of gratitude to all my friendly beta readers, especially WB Bernan, Sarah Flause, Kate Leigh, and Zachariah Johnson, and to my editor Erin Brenner, who also had to work hard. It is a rewarding feeling to set this one free, so that I can now fully focus on birthing my new baby. A big bouncy thing kicking it's Mama hard from the inside.
     I would be most grateful for reviews of the first born, really I would! Or if you prefer a more private exchange please feel free to message your thoughts to me. Broken Buckets is a tale that an agent told me no traditional publisher would touch because the subject matter is something no one wants to think or talk about, which is exactly why I wrote it. Now I need to know what you think.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Community

     So I am settling back into my life as a writer working out of my home where I am alone most of the time. It is not a lifestyle that I dislike. In fact I fought hard to make it happen, and at this particular time of my life it suits me well. I have had to put a considerable amount of effort over the last few years in figuring out how to manage the lifestyle, and in protecting my writing time and space from encroachment. It really did take several years to figure it all out. The only thing that the lifestyle lacks is community. You can feel isolated, walled in.


     Community is a beautiful word, but is, I believe an essential concept, an essential component to healthy human living. We do not thrive without it. We might survive, like a random wildflower bursting through a sidewalk crack, but we will not thrive. Not to our maximum potential. Last week I found my community. It is called AROHO, short for A Room of Her Own.

      AROHO is non-profit foundation that seeks to support female writers and other artists in a variety of ways, most especially with financial and emotional support, and with a biennial professional writing retreat for women in the mountains of New Mexico (though oddly I found many connections with my home state of New Hampshire). In their own words the organizers say, "Since 2003, the AROHO Retreat has gathered women writers to exchange ideas and develop their craft in New Mexico’s magnificent high desert, nourishing a unique esprit de corps. Nestled in the red rocks of Ghost Ranch that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe, AROHO Retreat participants enjoy abundant time to write, reflect, and establish critical and often life-changing alliances with other professional women writers."

      "The organic and evolving AROHO Retreat program is best defined as co-created by the women who participate, with utmost respect for the individual’s capacity to challenge herself and others, and to mold each day to her needs. "

      While I was there I kept finding myself thinking, "These are my people." An interesting feeling in that the 100 writers chosen to attend AROHO represented the most diverse group of women I have ever been assembled with. Certainly that added to the beauty of the experience, and beauty is what happens when diverse minds mingle. But the inspiration goes beyond the participants present and how we impacted one another. In addition to connecting with the people present, you feel yourself connected to past participants of AROHO retreats whoever, where ever they are. You feel yourself connected with Georgia O'Keeffe whose vibrant art sprung from the dusty land you're breathing in and whose presence you can feel out among the hills. You feel yourself connected with Virginia Woolf whose words inspired the founders and whose presence you can feel 
especially at the quiet rivers edge. You even feel connected to the nameless, faceless spirits that have always been thought to inhabit the vast space of Ghost Ranch. There really seems to be, in this place where dinosaurs are excavated from ancient rock, an unearthing of organic inspiration that happens here in ways it does not elsewhere.


      For me, beyond meeting and learning from many amazing women I would not otherwise have met, my retreat involved quite a bit of personal reflection and future planning that I wasn't expecting. Another way AROHO might differ from other retreats is that I found while there that I was not just concerned with my own work, but also in how I could serve other women writers while at the ranch and upon returning home. It is not a one week community, but one with legs. Legs to carry you forward across all kinds of terrain. Beautiful lady legs. Glamourous gams.

     In my writing last week I was surprised to find that I was not focused on quantity, the word count I'd been yoked to at home, but on quality. A few key scenes in my novel-in-progress were polished til they glistened like the stars that make Ghost Ranch feel like it is situated at the very top of the world, where if you climbed a kiva ladder you could in fact touch the tippity-top of the heavens, the very apex of the universe ~ because it is within your reach.

      That is what AROHO does for women.


       That is what AROHO did for me.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Saturday, July 20, 2013

New Poem

     I don't usually post my work online. My son cautions me against the practice, and his counsel on this particular subject, seems wise. But today I am choosing to post my most recent poem. I just wrote it a few days ago, after the Zimmerman verdict, so it will probably be revised a few times yet. Still I share it now in support of the president's statement yesterday. I do welcome feedback.

For the Other Parents

Since the year 1863
there has been a talk many American parents
have to have with their American sons
at just about the time that their son’s
voices begin to change, and their muscles
begin to harden into impending manhood,
at just about the time that referring
to the boy as boy changes too.
They say things like these,
things I have never had to say to my son,
nor have any of my ancestors
since the year 1863.


There will be times, from now on
when people will be afraid of you.
You have to be aware of this at all times,
to develop a sense for it,...  to feel it
before it turns bad, because
very bad things can happen to you
when people are afraid of you.
You can’t play with toy guns anymore,
or swords, or pick up pipes, or even sticks.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Try not to go anywhere alone,
especially at night.
If you’re being followed try to find someone
so you’re not alone.
Cooperate with authorities even when
your dignity makes that hard.
Don’t do anything with your hands but put them up.
Don’t worry about winning or losing.
Your goal is to survive.
Let them stand their hallowed ground
that they’re afraid of you taking.
You just stay alive.
And always - remember
there is nothing wrong with you,
nothing wrong with the way you look.
You are who you have always been
and that is the ground that
you have to stand.

All rights reserved. (C) Tammi J Truax. 2013.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wedding Vows


    In the eighties I was a struggling college student attending UNH. The first in my family line known to have gone off to college. Since my family goes back to the founding of America, that was a pretty long line. The reason the rest of us hadn't became quite clear. My people have never had much dough, and college, even back then, took a lot of dough. My parents did help me as best they could, and I borrowed money as best I could, at usurious Reagan era rates. But to make ends meet, I worked part time at any kind of work I could get that would allow me to put classes first.
     One of those jobs was for a caterer. A rather unscrupulous man, one might call a horse of a different color, who managed to bounce pay checks for thirteen dollars. But I stuck it out for a while. Commuting from my crowded apartment in Dover where passing trains caused my bed to do an Exorcist type of ritual a couple of times a day, I would drive in my shiny green 1978 Plymouth Duster to some breath taking estate on the seacoast of New Hampshire and wearing some God-awful-ugly black and white outfit in the heat of a summer afternoon I would wait on beautiful people who had come to watch a happy young couple celebrate their lavish wedding. Usually under big white tents, candle lit, on expansive rock walled lawns that were never easy to navigate with trays of china and crystal. In my own little invisible way I did what I could to make their day the special treasured memory I knew they wanted. And I used to think, yes like a pathetic little Cinderella, that if I worked hard in school, there would come a day when I wouldn't be the servant anymore. That someday I would be sitting on that side of the table. Smiling, toasting, and not worrying about having enough gas money to make it home. At some low point at one of those summer assignments I vowed to myself that it would be so.
     I did have my own special wedding day on the seacoast a few years later. But almost certainly like many of the pretty people whose weddings I had witnessed, things didn't turn out pretty. My husband got sick and died, leaving me with two small children to raise, which I've been busy doing for the last twelve years. That is what wedding vows are all about; to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, til death do us part…
     As life would have it I recently found myself atop a stunning New Hampshire mountain, wearing a God-awful-ugly black and white outfit and serving beautiful people at someone else’s wedding celebration. It was infinitely harder than I imagined it was going to be when I agreed to the gig. Physically harder, sure, I am fifty now, and carrying heavy trays for hours is not as easy as it looks. But it was also hard on me emotionally.
      I kept going back to my twenty year old self, … so much more hopeful about the beautiful life that she would be rewarded with. So sure that sometime, somewhere, in the future of her blossoming life, it would get soft and easy. Not remotely worried about things actually turning out worse. Never considering radical cell growth or rare tumors or physical agony. Not even able to imagine going to a blacker place where that kind of hope is carefully wrapped up and put away like a bridal veil, too white and virginal for the reality of the day. I was pretty then and think I must have smiled a lot. Probably even giggled. I remember me as sweet and slim and sassy, secure in a world where all the people looking out for me were still alive. I hadn’t thought of those days, or that girl, in a long time. But she has been bugging me a lot lately since I worked the last wedding under another candle lit tent on another beautiful estate.
      The truth is, it was terribly hard for me to be in that position again. To be invisible, with men only speaking to me to say things like, “Come on girlfriend, give me a full scoop of salad.” To be in the back, getting dirty, and listening to the fun. Just like when I was young I was most jealous of the dancing, my favorite part of any celebration. This time though, the mature me was less covetous of the idea of an adoring prince charming and a big shiny ring and a happily ever after, and far more envious of the bride’s pre-wedding accomplishments; namely being a successful writer and having launched her children into happy adulthood. These are my own grown woman aspirations, more important to me than just about anything else is anymore, but which I still have not achieved.
     There is still in me though, some hope left, that I will. Not the little girl have faith in the universe and wait for it to happen kind of hope I had at twenty, but the big girl have faith in myself and make it happen kind of hope I didn't have. Until now.

     I vow. It will.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Looking forward to this gig

Thursday July 18 – 7:00 pm
Spoken Word Improvised Music

We have amazing lineup this month, a one-time reunion of poetry royalty! 

Young Dawkins (former Emperor of Scotland)
Larry Simon (former Emperor of Portsmouth)
Tammi Truax (Fair Queen of Beat Night)
Ryan McLellan (The Dark Lord of Exeter)

plus the Beat Night Band
Scip Gallant | keyboards
Scott Solsky | guitar
Chris Stambaugh | bass
Mike Barron | drums
Frank Laurino | percussion
Cynthia Chatis | flutes

followed by The Open Mic – 8:00 pm
with your host Heather Elisabeth

The Press Room 
77 Daniel Street, Portsmouth, NH – 603.431.5186 –
(no cover)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Martha's lace

Today's most interesting research find; (Well so far that is...)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vive la révolution! |

Something I wrote about celebrating Bastille Day.
Vive la révolution! |

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Getting there...

     I have been working so hard lately, and want to say that seven day work weeks are exhausting. But, this streak of productivity is too good to bring to a halt, so I'm just going along with it like a happy little hitchhiking hippie.
      And I am happy to say that this week a lot of forward momentum was gained. It now looks like both of the books that I am putting out electronically will be ready to go public at just about the same time. Not necessarily the way I wanted to do it, but that is the way it turned out. One is my first novel, (the title was changed to Broken Buckets from Holy Buckets in the end) and will only be offered as an eBook and should be ready any day now. Just a few last minute tweaks to formatting are being worked out.
    The other is a project I have been working on for years. At least five years, maybe longer. Considering it contains so little writing it is surprising how very long it took, and how much effort had to go into it. It will be the reproduction of an old poem (not mine) with brand new illustrations. It is meant to appeal to all ages and I think it will. It will have the most appeal to people with a fondness for the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area, but is not at all limited to the region. For that reason though I am publishing it in print as well as electronically.
     Both books will be ready very soon, and I will be marketing both as I continue plugging away at my historical novel. It is an exciting time for a writer when anything you've been working on comes to some kind of fruition. Fruits are just about ready for picking! I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blame it on the muse

     Please forgive the lack of blogginess of late. My excuse is a fairly decent one; I've been much too busy working! The historical novel I am working on is coming fast and furious, and I am striving to honor the muse whenever she asks it of me. She's been asking a lot. Believe me, the blog is not the only thing in my life being neglected.
      I did though, take some time a few days ago to hear Nathaniel Philbrick speak to an overcrowded group at my local Barnes and Noble. He is hawking his current book about the siege of Bunker Hill. (Can you believe the price?!) It was really interesting to hear a nonfiction history writer talk about his process which is very much like my own, save the final step of creative interpretation. I bought his book as a Father's Day gift, but want to read it too.
     Also am now very close to the final steps of launching my first novel as an eBook. It has been a lot of work, and I am anxious to get it done. Please stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pretty little things...

     I visited The John Paul Jones house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few days ago.

     They were having a special Mother's Day lecture and exhibit and since I was the only one to show up I scored a private session with head curator and house manager Sandra Rux. 

      While I have always found antique clothing made especially for children to be irresistible,  I attended this talk as part of my research for the novel I am currently working on. I need to be able to write intelligently about American clothing in the late eighteenth century. Not just what people wore, but how they made their garments, and I am starting from scratch as I have almost no skill at all as a seamstress. Here are a few pics of the gorgeous little garments I learned about, though the pics do not do them justice;
Both of these were little boy outfits.

The girl who had the pink boots had an entire pink outfit all made to match.

A little Portsmouth girl, probably age four, wore this silk dress, which is darned all the way around the waist.

      I'm having so much fun writing this book!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Post

     "My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her." ~ George Washington
     Seems like a good time to announce that the novel I am elbow deep in is about George Washington. He is not the protagonist, or I didn't intend for him to be when I started. So far this book has been quite unpredictable in where it is going even though I know how it ends. It has been such a pleasure to write it  and my only frustration is that I don't have more time to devote to the extensive research that is necessary, and more hours to write.
     Toward that end I have decided that I will begin blogging about interesting things I learn in my research that look like they will become part of the story in one way or another. The introductory quote above is the beginning. I found this quote interesting, because most biographies claim GW's mom was cold, critical and demanding. And I thought that this painting (artist unknown) gives a fairly accurate presentation of the relationship as it sounds like it was.
     Funny thing about history ... we can never really know someone else's truth.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thinking About Augusten

     Though I have been completely submerged in historical fiction and nonfiction for at least the last year, last night I went to hear Augusten Burroughs speak, and I have been reading his "A Wolf at the Table" ever since I got home. So far I am finding it a very compelling read, as I found him in person. Quirky and humorous and interesting and all-over-the-place. I loved that he mentioned that labels have been bandied about for him on the now very well populated Autistic spectrum. Being as high functioning as he is the labels are rather irrelevant but are immensely interesting when applied to his childhood. I think they perfectly explain both his recall for early childhood memories, and the kind of memories that he has - his way of processing the sensory experiences of childhood were in fact, not average, and I find reading it from that perspective well worth my time. I was surprised to read the very different take on the book in the NYT, linked to below. I like the book and I like Burroughs. He deserves all of his successes!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Guys, and guns, and stuff we don't like to talk about...

     After I read this piece (see below) by another writer, it really struck me how strange it is that we seem so unwilling to talk about this big giant well armed elephant in the room. It's downright weird.
     I have a completed novella that I will soon be publishing as an e-book. An agent just told me a few days ago that no publisher will touch a book about dead children and that no one wants to read anymore about Iraq or Afghanistan. My story about men, and guns, and a school in America may be America's dirty little secret. But it's not a very well kept secret. Everybody knows it. And it is kind of 1950's martini-induced repression to so very actively not talk about it. I'm talking. My story is, I hope, just part of what will become a conversation.
    And I hope the writer of this piece gets to have a conversation too. One without censorship. I'd like to respond now, and tell him that I agree with him on all points except the strong role that video games play. I'm sure that they exacerbate the situation, especially when played excessively. Nothing done excessively is good for you. I'll admit my bias, as I am the mother of a young man who has been a gamer most of the years he's been alive. He lost his Dad at 9, had many troubled years as a teenager, but the games didn't make him violent, and he was never obsessed with weapons. He is also a pacifist. Personally I think the big difference for the writer was nature as he noted, but most of all the support system of involved adults. That I think is the essential difference between tragedy and salvation when the mental health of the individual is tanking. The Lakota call it tiospaye, being part of a strong circle of support that prevents failure. It's absence, and what can happen thereafter, is what I have written about, and frankly, what we have all read about already.
     Here is a link to the other writer's blog post, he says was censored by the Huffington Post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bookish Ends

      Yesterday I attended the annual NH Writer's Project conference which is always an interesting mix of meeting new people and seeing people I rarely run into. Of everything I did over the course of the day I was most struck by the odd difference between the first speaker of the day, key note author Andre Dubus, and the last speaker I heard, Pulitzer prize winner Paul Harding.
      I have heard Dubus speak before and always find him crush worthy. Not a lot of guys can get away with audience scolding (regarding our crack pipes), swear lobbing, and talking about Faulkner and skid marked underwear. He does. I have some attention deficit issues and staying focused in lectures can be a serious challenge for me. I have no real coping mechanism for this deficit of mine, and simply move on to a variety of other more compelling activities like making a grocery list, if a speaker can't keep my attention. Mr. Dubus nailed the hat trick of taming my lame brain; making me think, laugh, and jot down something I wanted to carry away with me forever. As with most crushes, much of it is born of similarity. Like me, Dubus was strongly influenced by the time and place of an edgy middle class New England mill town upbringing, and I get him.
     Please don't think I'm dissing Mr. Harding now in comparison. I'm not. I think he's great, but I couldn't have a crush on him. I would be too tired. From trying to keep up with his brain. Which in stark contrast to having attention deficits, seems to be on hyper-drive at every minute and can go in many directions at one time. Listening to him reminds me of a time in the late seventies when I may (or may not) have ingested something hallucinogenic, which may (or may not) have resulted in the world becoming a metaphysical magic kingdom. The whole world. Even tree bark. He can equate plot with Newtonian physics and mechanical drawing. Harding was strongly influenced by the lofty New England transcendentalists, who, truth be told, I don't always get. But he scored a hat trick with me too. We agree on his basic philosophy, "I have faith in art," and apparently, we are both attracted to tree bark.
     I'll leave you with the Yeats poem Harding based his talk on, as it is one of my favorites, and it certainly is a lovelier image to leave you with than soiled underwear hanging in a tree.

     From Ode on a Grecian Urn 1819

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all 
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mary Oliver!

      I just found out today that a few of my poems will be published in an anthology next year along side the work of Mary Oliver! A poet whose work I so admire. Her poetry is so prayer-like to me. I am so thrilled with this news. So I will share  one of my favorite Oliver poems with you. I love to share this poem with others, especially at graduation time.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The story of my Irish ancestors...

     In honor of Saint Patrick's Day
     Excerpt from a novel in progress tentatively titled A Better Life,
      by Tammi J Truax, all rights reserved.

      Maggie hadn’t really wanted to leave her home in County Cork, but her family had needed to send her to America where a better life was assured, and she would be able to send money home to help her large troubled family. It was 1898 and she had only recently turned twenty years of age. Her parents thought she was old enough and sharp enough to venture out on her own and they had worked hard to save the steerage fee and send her off with a carpet bag containing a blanket, two dresses, a few invaluable odds and ends, a cake, and a handful of coin.  Truth was she hadn’t fought the idea of coming with the ferocity she might have if she hadn’t known that if she stayed in County Cork she would have to relent and marry Frankie Sullivan, a boy she’d known all her life and who made her sick. Her older sister had already married a Sullivan, had four Sullivan babies so far, and they were all miserable. Seemed to Maggie you couldn’t be a Sullivan and be happy. Frankie was  drinking and carousing at this very moment she was sure, and if not, was asleep in a stinking heap somewhere.
     Though she hadn’t truly wanted to come to America, she now couldn’t wait to set her feet upon solid ground again. The journey across the sea on this lurching steam ship was the most unpleasant experience of her life which had never been soft and easy. She couldn’t wait to wash the stench of the ship off of her with a hot bath. And while she knew she wouldn’t find her Mum’s cooking in America she was so hungry she felt hollow and was certain her belly would be filled when she made her way ashore. The boat was making an agonizingly slow entrance into the harbor and the wind whipped Maggie’s curls about her head so that her hair pins were rendered useless and she clasped her shawl at her throat while the wind tried to take it back to Ireland. Then she saw it. A huge stone woman reaching up into the sky with a blazing torch and holding fast to the holy book. It was indeed a welcome sight, and Maggie had no doubts that she was welcome and she would find a better life. She could also see the tall buildings of America in the distance and a big long bridge that seemed to be hanging in the sky. The children were jumping up and down, and some of the women cried. More amazing then the Lady of Liberty to Maggie, was the palace. She saw an enormous and beautiful castle on an island and everyone said that was where they were going. That was Ellis Island. It did indeed look like a paradise.

     After dropping off the upper class passengers in one place the captain motored the ship to another port where the steerage passengers were finally allowed to board a barge that took them all to the front entrance of the big brick building. At last they could disembark and climb on American soil. It was time to get in line, first just to get up the main stone stairway where hundreds and hundreds of other people also fell in. It was noisy and exciting and quite frightening. Maggie saw people wearing the strangest clothes, hats and hairstyles. She saw women carrying parcels on their heads and some with baskets on their backs. She saw people trying to walk who were too weak and sick to make it to the end of their journey. She saw family members being separated from each other and terrified children clinging to their loved ones. The uniforms worn by the inspectors were especially intimidating to many of the foreigners. It was clear in short time that not everyone was being welcomed and there were so many people; men, women, and children from all over the world, trying to get through. First, Maggie had to answer 29 questions. That task was easy for her, she always had an answer and didn’t mind telling it. She didn’t even mind when she was asked a trick question like “How would you wash a staircase?“ That one made her smile.
     Next came a medical examination, and she could see quite a few people were failing this inspection as they were whisked off in other directions after a chalk X was drawn on their backs. There was much illness on the ship, but Maggie was strong and healthy. She hadn’t seen many doctors in her life, but this inspection reminded her of how her father had examined a horse he was considering purchasing. When it was her turn a doctor looked her in the eyes, nose and mouth, turned her around, told her to cough, and slammed a stamp across her documents with a yell to move on.   
     The next line was the slowest one and Maggie didn’t understand what it was about. When it was her turn she was given a chair to sit down in while an official examined her documents. “You are unmarried?” “Yes,” Maggie replied. “Who will support you here?” he asked. “I will support myself,” Maggie answered nervously. “You have no male relatives here? No one is here to receive you?” he quizzed. “I have friends on the boat, and there are many other people from my village living in America,’ she offered. “I am a very hard worker, and have a letter of introduction from my church,” she added. He shut her passport book and slid it back at her across the little table. “Without a means of support you cannot stay, and will have to return with the ship. Entry denied. Next!”
     A guard drew an X on Maggie’s back and pointed her in a direction different from her fellow passengers who looked at her with sad and serious silence. She was led by a matron with several very sick and forlorn people to an area of the great hall designated for those denied entry. She sat on a hard wooden bench and listened to languages being spoken that were the strangest sounds she had ever heard. Someone might have noticed her fatigue for eventually she was given fresh water and soda crackers. This first act of kindness made her cry a little. As the day wore on she was asked to tell her story a few times to guards and officials, and she always hoped for a reprieve. Each time she was told she would be put back on a ship bound for Europe in the morning because she could not become a public charge.
     At supper time one of the guards took them to a cafeteria where they were served a soothing and delicious meal of fish and white bread, with all the milk they wanted to drink. Everyone filled their bellies. Maggie noticed but did not care about the absence of potatoes. Later she was taken to a special sleeping dormitory, and was allowed to use a lavish bathroom with sinks, pull flush toilets, and running water. Everything they had ever heard about America was clearly true, and Maggie was heartbroken about being denied entry, and failing her family. Everyone in the detention pen was heartbroken and the guards kept a close watch on them, looking out not so much for escapees but for suicides.
     One of the guards, Henry Hogancamp, was taken aback by the beauty of the brave young lady he’d met. Her dark curly hair, bright green eyes and haunting brogue stayed with him all the way to his neighborhood tavern in a New Jersey town that evening. After a couple of pints he shared her story with the boys. “So sad, really, fellas. Such a sweet and decent lass who has come so far just to help her family. Seems a shame to send the pretty ones back,” he said with a laugh. All the boys nodded and sipped in agreement. Then one at the end of the bar, a shy and young regular named William Gordon, said “I’ll marry her.”
      Everyone looked at him. William, a brick layer by trade, who came here most nights for refreshment and companionship, rarely drew attention to himself. “What?’ said Henry.
     “I’ll marry the girl.” he declared with a defiant placement of his mug on the bar. “If what you say is true, I will marry the girl and give her a home. She can find work here.”
     After a few moments of silence and staring everyone began cheering and laughing and patting William on the back. He and Henry agreed to return to Ellis Island first thing in the morning together. Henry laughed some more and yelled to Jimmy to pour another round. “We’re going to have a wedding tomorrow!” he hollered. They spent the next couple of hours toasting and boasting, blessing and advising the groom, and singing songs from their own homelands.
      While in the dormitory Maggie had a fretful night’s sleep in the cleanest, softest bed she had ever slept in, after praying to God not to see fit to take these bountiful gifts from her. In the desperation of the darkness she made a promise to him, and she was sure that he could hear her in this place that proved prayers were answered.