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On The Pulse Of Morning: Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou 1928-2014

Maya A 2By now you all must have heard about the passing away of Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014). Maya Angelou is one of my favorite writers & poets of all time. I remember first reading I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS & how it touched me as a young woman. I remember the beautiful inaugural poem she wrote for former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Her poetry was uplifting & encouraging & I have all of her books on my shelf. She will be missed but lived a full life touching so many others. To remember her I wanted to share my favorite poem from her, “On the Pulse of Morning”, the inaugural poem she wrote for Bill Clinton in 1993. So much of her work was dedicated to lifting black Americans up & humanity itself. We’ve physically lost a great treasure who will remain with us through her words. My prayers go out to her son, other family, friends & colleagues. She will be greatly missed:

This is my favorite poem by Dr. Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”, written in 1993 for the inauguration of former President Bill Clinton. I’ll never forget how empowered I felt reading it as a junior in high school. Enjoy:

 

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Listen to the recording of Dr. Angelou’s inaugural reading of this poem here.

 

– Dr. Maya Angelou, January 20th 1993

 
 

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Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences

Friends,

Books (1)A wonderful, informative piece from Joe Fassler, a columnist for The Atlantic for writers (and readers) on first sentences:

Stephen King brings us two new novels in 2013 — one on shelves already, and the other forthcoming. In June, Joyland was published by Hard Case Crime, an imprint showcasing classic and contemporary crime writers in paperback editions dressed up like vintage pulps: Stylized covers feature ominous taglines, brooding private dicks, and draped-out femme fatales. Though Joyland’s story is haunted by a terrifying killer of young women, the book mostly chronicles the yearning rhythms of one adolescent summer — carny talk and plushie toys, boardwalks and broken hearts. In The New York Times, Walter Kirn aptly compared the book to a fair ride — it’s brief, thrilling, and sweetly quaint.

King’s second book, Doctor Sleep, which will be published in September by Scribner, is everything Joyland isn’t. On his website, the author calls it a “return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror.” This long-awaited sequel to 1977’s The Shining revisits traumatized child psychic Danny Torrance — he goes by Dan, now — all grown up and still struggling to understand his frightening gift. “It’s a good book, a scary book, but I wonder if some people won’t like it as much as the original,” King told me. That book’s pre-Kubrick readers are 35 years older now. “I can hear everyone saying, ‘That wasn’t so scary. The first onereally scared me,” he said. “Well, that’s because you read the first one when you were 13 fuckin’ years old, hiding under the covers with a flashlight!”

When I asked him to share a favorite passage for this series, King couldn’t choose between two favorites; both, we noticed, were first sentences. So, he analyzed both his choices as part of a broader discussion about opening lines — a topic not addressed at length in his memoir-as-craft-manual,On Writing. King paid tribute to Douglas Fairbairn and James M. Cain, looked back on favorite intros he’s written, and explained how he approaches a book’s first moments. Stephen King spoke to me by phone from his home in Maine.

When I asked him to share a favorite passage for this series, King couldn’t choose between two favorites; both, we noticed, were first sentences. So, he analyzed both his choices as part of a broader discussion about opening lines — a topic not addressed at length in his memoir-as-craft-manual,On Writing. King paid tribute to Douglas Fairbairn and James M. Cain, looked back on favorite intros he’s written, and explained how he approaches a book’s first moments. Stephen King spoke to me by phone from his home in Maine.

Stephen King: There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.

But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

How can a writer extend an appealing invitation — one that’s difficult, even, to refuse?

We’ve all heard the advice writing teachers give: Open a book in the middle of a dramatic or compelling situation, because right away you engage the reader’s interest. This is what we call a “hook,” and it’s true, to a point. This sentence from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice certainly plunges you into a specific time and place, just as something is happening:

They threw me off the hay truck about noon.

Suddenly, you’re right inside the story — the speaker takes a lift on a hay truck and gets found out. But Cain pulls off so much more than a loaded setting — and the best writers do. This sentence tells you more than you think it tells you. Nobody’s riding on the hay truck because they bought a ticket. He’s a basically a drifter, someone on the outskirts, someone who’s going to steal and filch to get by. So you know a lot about him from the beginning, more than maybe registers in your conscious mind, and you start to get curious.

This opening accomplishes something else: It’s a quick introduction to the writer’s style, another thing good first sentences tend to do. In “They threw me off the hay truck about noon,” we can see right away that we’re not going to indulge in a lot of foofaraw. There’s not going to be much floridity in the language, no persiflage. The narrative vehicle is simple, lean (not to mention that the book you’re holding is just 128 pages long). What a beautiful thing — fast, clean, and deadly, like a bullet. We’re intrigued by the promise that we’re just going to zoom.

To continue reading please click HERE.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in Featured Guest blogs

 

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Today’s Introspection & An Excerpt from THE ELEMENTS

Friends,

Consevative Libertarian blogger Talitha McEachin

Conservative libertarian writer Talitha McEachin

In light of all of the drama after the Zimmerman verdict and talks about race & racism, I wanted to share my thoughts from my Facebook page today, because this philosophy is at the heart of my reasoning for writing my current epic fantasy series:

“I will say this – that the racists of America, of all colors, are starting to realize, that they don’t have as many allies in the general population as they thought or once had…I can feel it & it’s a great thing. Racism concerns me deeply because I want the best for us as human beings, and it’s inextricably bound to some economic problems we have. We cannot progress as a species until we learn that we’re more alike than we are different.” 

And now here’s an excerpt from Book I of THE ELEMENTS (Chapter Six), Enjoy!

“Kgosi’s plan of attack is foolish,”

“What do you mean? The Lungi prophesy says that the Kishnu will begin to follow the Lungi way. My uncle is only pretending to fulfill this to take back our lands. He says their land belongs to our people and they drove us into the caves long ago – Ajuoga you have taught this yourself. It is a good plan,”

“Is it a good plan or is it foolish? There are gods – there are those before us. The Lungi believe this too. They say that their god gave a word that our people would come to him, after a war which the Lungi will win. Is this not the very thing Kgosi is doing? Does it matter that he does this with intent? He still does it Phenyo. There are better ways to have war than mocking a man’s god. We should let the Lungi be. Everything that we need is plentiful here, the land is good to us. We want for nothing. Kgosi is a fool of the worst kind – he spills the blood of our sons to show his power. His war is not with Nkosana, it is with the god of Nkosana. It would be better if he aimed his spear at the one whom he can see. Men are not suited for wars with the unseen,”

“That is why I want to lead a group of women there instead Ajuoga.I would like your blessing and a muthi for this journey,”

“You ask for my blessing and I will ask those before us for this, for you. You ask for my muthi and I will make a special one for you to drink. You will ask Kgosi to give this duty to you, and he will fill your ears with laughter,”

“I will show him that mine is a better way,”

“The women in Kishnuizwe have always been warriors in some form or another and you are the best – as good as most men and better than some, but Kgosi thinks too much of men Phenyo.Victory in war he preserves for men,”

“I want to ask the she-god myself …I believe she will give me the power to bend my uncle’s will to mine on this matter Ajuoga,”

“I have been waiting for you to ask for proof of the she-god Phenyo…so long have I waited for you to believe. Now you have at last asked to see her, though your asking comes wearing the cloak of disbelief,”

”If I did not believe there was a she-god -” Ajuoga stood and leaned over to touch Phenyo’s face and her hand felt for her nose then moved down to her lips. Using the tip of her thumb and the finger next to it she pulled a little at Phenyo’s lips and held them tightly, as if one more utterance would summon a known terror. Her next words were frightened, whispered caveats and she let go of Phenyo’s lips before she spoke them.

“No, No….No Phenyo! She gives us words only for truth. She does not protect those who use them for lies. You know this daughter. We speak only of what we do or will do or what is – never if I did or did not. There is a she-god or there is not!”

“There is,” said Phenyo, visibly startled

“I believe. I want to see her,” she continued. She may as well go along with it. Although Ajuoga seemed willing to show her the she-god, she had decided long ago, that no matter how obviously a figment of her mind, she would behave as though she were real. It was the respectful thing to do.

“Good! Now that you have asked you shall see daughter of mine. Will you lend me your eyes?…will you tell me what you see? I want to know of her face – again…the she-god. I want to know of her beauty! My eyes….my eyes….I only have eyes in my sleep! There was a time when my eyes could see…long ago…I was still a girl. The she-god came to me then but I did not believe! I saw her with my eyes and she took them with her when she left me Phenyo – she took my eyes! I refused to believe but I was only a girl. Will you be my eyes Phenyo? I want to see her face again!”

Ajuoga trembled as she rubbed her hands together. Her words rushed into one another in desperation then were slow, like a procession of beasts running with all their might, slowing down for a cliff ahead and slamming into one another’s flesh. For the first time Phenyo felt afraid in her company but reached for Ajuoga’s leathery face with courage and wiped away the tears with her fingers. Ajuoga seemed more like a stranger with remnants of familiarity to her now.

“Yes mother…from where will she come?”

“Shhh…only believe what you can see…daughter. Believe what you see,” Ajuoga stood slowly and spread her arms – the left one towards the ceiling and the other perpendicular to it. Though closed, her eyes shone a dull white through the lids and escaped between her lashes at the bottom, like rays of a partially eclipsed sun. The arch in her back straightened itself triumphantly against the rush of wind that flew into the dwelling, past Phenyo, then orbited both women. Ajuoga’s hair rose and fell as Phenyo’s neatly woven hair withstood the wind. Dust and small pieces of debris danced. Phenyo stood but wanted badly to abandon her flesh standing there, allowing herself to escape invisibly, unable to be followed or seen. Shiluba could be heard outside scurrying about and making high-pitched pleas. If the winds didn’t calm soon, the chimpanzee would seek comfort in the heights of the trees away from the izindlu.

“Ajuoga?”

“You are Phen-yo,”

“Yes…are you from those before us?”

“Phenyo…you are a fine woman indeed. I see why she loves you so,”

“You are the she-god?”

“Yes,”

“What have you done with mother’s tongue?”

“She is here still – and has not been harmed,”

“What do you want of me?”

“I did not summon you Phenyo. What do you desire of me?”

“What is your name?”

“You wanted to know my name? How can a she-god help you?”

“I didn’t believe,”

“I know – she knows. I told her you would not believe until you could see,”

“Whose blood belongs to you?”

“No Phenyo, I am not an ancestor of the Kishnu, the Kishnu are of me,”

“Then you are -”

“Phenyo, do you believe?”

“No,”

“Will you believe?”

“Yes,”

Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved by TK McEachin.
 
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Posted by on July 22, 2013 in Fictional Writing, Philosophy, Society

 

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Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using

I thoroughly enjoyed this list. Some things were news to me but most I know of & avoid like the plague in my own writing. This is from columnist Rob W. Hart on Lit Reactor. Writers pay attention:

rob-w-hartCliché is the enemy of good writing. 

We, as writers, are trained to kill clichéd phrases in sentences. But that’s not the only place they can hide—they can infect the spaces between the words, too.

Clichés can infect storytelling techniques.

Need to build some tension? Have a time bomb with a digital readout slowly ticking down to zero!

Is your narrator a dick? Blame it on abusive parents!

Want to get all writerly in conveying the plot? Put it in a dream!

These are storytelling devices that pop up again and again, crutches for the writer to lean on and help move the story along without actually having to stretch their abilities. What follows are, to my mind, the worst of the bunch. 

1. Characters describing themselves in mirrors

Why it’s easy: Describing a character when you’re writing in the third person is pretty easy when the narrative voice is omniscient. But first person is a bit of a challenge—how do you convey what your character looks like without making them sound vain and self-obsessed? Wait, how about using a mirror!?

Why it’s a cop out: It’s lazy, it’s been done to death, and anyway, no one looks in a mirror and takes stock of all their features in severe detail. I would argue you don’t need to belabor the description of your main character anyway. You can hit the big points—if your character’s defining trait is a deformity or a hairstyle—there are ways to work that into the narrative. For the rest of if, you have to trust the reader. First that they don’t need to be coddled, and second, that they’ll project something onto the character. 

2. Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist

Why it’s easy: Sometimes you need to give a little weight to a character who’s been sitting around and doing nothing, or make sure the reader is on his or her toes. What’s wrong at a little hint at things to come?  

Why it’s a cop out: This is the “little did he know” principle of storytelling. In The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, toward the end of the book, the albino monk is captured by the story’s heroes. And it says—I’m paraphrasing here—something like: “Little did he know that he’d soon turn the tables.” Leading me to ask: Why would you broadcast a plot twist? Especially in a book that’s classified as a thriller?! Dan Brown isn’t the only author to commit this crime. It’s just the first example to come to me. 

3. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting

Why it’s easy: It’s hard to justify bad behavior. If your narrator is a dick, you still want him/her to be a redeemable dick, or at least someone damaged enough that their dickishness isn’t so far-fetched. You know what makes people into dicks that you can’t really question, you just have to accept? Bad parents! 

Why it’s a cop out: Almost every fucked-up character in fiction can trace his or her issues back to being sexually abused or slapped around by parental units. Making the parents into monsters is an easy way to explain away bad behavior. It’s too easy. The thing is, sometimes this can be profound or deeply affecting. But a lot of the time, the bad parents are there for the sake of it. You know what’s scarier? Someone growing up in a normal household and still becoming a dick.  

4. Too many inside jokes/references

Why it’s easy: Because you need to make sure everyone knows you watched The Big Lebowski. 

Why it’s a cop out: Few things stop me as cold in a story as an inside joke or a belabored reference. We get it. You’re funny and you watch cool stuff. But I would need two hands and both feet to count the amount of times I’ve read references to rugs that tied the room together. Writing for your friends, or for your own ego, is a sure way to alienate a reader. 

5. The chosen one

Why it’s easy: Your hero isn’t just special. He/she has been chosen by some higher force! 

Why it’s a cop out: Characters can be special without being touched by the hand of fate. And anyway, if your character is the only person who can solve a given problem, does that make him/her heroic? Or just easily coerced? They have no choice but to be heroic, and that’s not really heroism. Very rarely is this trope used well. Most of the time… it’s not.  

To continue reading this hilarious & informative piece, please click HERE!

 
 

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If I Could Give New Writers Advice, I’d Start With…

I’ll cut to the chase:

1. READ, READ, READ – You learn from the great writers. For dialogue I learned from Hemingway, figurative language from Richard Wright & to name a contemporary author, Janet Fitch. The point is that certain authors have certain strengths & you can learn from them by reading, from Shakespeare to The Odyssey to Zora Neale Hurston. READ!

2. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE – I have observed many writers focusing on marketing, discussions on social media about writing, illustrations, maps, plot synopsis (over & over again) – just write the book already. Write it without continuously editing it as you write (even I have trouble with this). Get it out of you, then worry about other things. Marketing is meaningless if you wrote & published a crappy book.

3. Find a great, supportive but honest critique group. Develop thick skin. If you put out a sample chapter for people to read be ready for any level of criticism. Do you want people to lie to you & pat you on the back or help you make it better? Decide. If you want the lie, please don’t ever ask me to critique your work. Also, give & take in critique groups. In other words, you should not be receiving more critiques than you give. It should be balanced.  Nothing annoys me more in critique groups than members who always want others to read/critique their work but never do the same for others.  The basic Golden Rule principle comes to mind here. Scribophile is a wonderful site for having your excerpts critiqued because they work on a karma point system & you can’t present your work to others unless you first gain karma points by helping other writers first.

4. DO NOT under ANY circumstances, publish a book that has only been edited by you, no matter how good you think you are. You’ll never catch all of your own errors.Some editors don’t catch every single error. Hire a good editor who is able to give you references & is familiar with your genre. It is my personal opinion that editing speculative fiction (for example) is different from other genres, so I advise getting an editor who has worked with authors in the genre you are writing in. Everyone may not agree with that and yet, the world turns. Don’t go for the “full editorial services for $99-$199” type of people – no serious, credible editor will edit an entire manuscript for so little money because it’s not worth their time – it’s a scam that too many writers fall for. Real editors don’t troll & spam potential clients to the point of ad nauseam, clients come to them.For those cheap prices, they’ll do little more than a spell check, which you can do yourself.

5. If you don’t have the money to pay for editing, wait until you do to publish the book or present it to literary agents and/or publishers. The same can be applied to self-publishing.Now some will disagree with that, citing the fact that an agent or publisher could see potential & offer a contract, even if the manuscript is not perfect. While they might have a point, I say, if you care about your work, you invest in it to polish it as if you only have one shot. If you are in the one percent of querying writers whose partial and/or full manuscript is requested (keywords: one percent), it needs to be error free as much as possible.  Why would an agent or publisher choose your story with errors when Jane Doe submitted a story in the same genre with an equally compelling plot & proper editing? You are competing with every other writer for the coveted 1%. It amazes me how many writers think that if they just put the book out there without professional editing (usually for .99) it will catch on. They think it will sell enough copies to pay for the editing for the sequel or make them rich. Shullbit. Amanda Hocking’s story is rare & most .99 books don’t turn writers into millionaires. Most regularly priced books don’t turn writers into millionaires.Get an extra job, ask your family for the money, sell an egg…or sperm, start cutting grass for $$$. Don’t sell crystal meth in a basement lab in your home. Or, do what I did – I raised money via Indiegogo. Fellow writer Dianne Gardner is doing the same via Kickstarter now. It’s worth the wait.

I’ll be back next week with more advice for writers.

#myrantfortheday

Consevative blogger Talitha McEachin

Talitha “TK” McEachin

TK McEachin is a political/cultural blogger and up & coming writer of fiction. Her first novel, THE ELEMENTS is the first in an epic fantasy series.To learn more about her fictional projects visit www.theelementsbooks.com. You may donate to her campaign on the home page as well, if you missed the deadline for her fundraising campaign.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Fictional Writing

 

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