Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Welcome to the next stop on the "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop. Participants can share a story about a secret pact they have made, a friend they are close to, or a close knit group that has helped them through hard times.

The Pub Pact (or the Anti-Saloon League gets some sense)

Welcome back to Warwickshire, long-lost cousin!
I’d been dreaming of going to England since the day Mom read me the story of Lucy Pevensie hiding in a wardrobe and landing in Narnia. Not only was England magical, but also, according to my Dad, our ancestral home. Though my Webster ancestor left Warwickshire for Connecticut in the 1600s, I was certain that going back would feel like arriving home. It would be a struggle to get there, of course. As the youngest of five, I knew college alone would be financially difficult for my family, and studying abroad? That would be above and beyond—something I’d have to make happen for myself. For seven years I worked a string of terrible jobs, from Avon lady to foam-head carnival character to janitor to discount store cashier. My college study abroad experience, I believed, would be my Cinderella-at-the-ball experience.

What a starry-eyed kid I was.

My college friends who’d spent a semester abroad before me gave me lists of things you couldn’t buy there (back in the pre-Internet era). I loaded up on Reese’s cups, a giant jar of Jiff and some favorite toiletries and considered myself ready.

I hadn’t prepared at all for the possibility that culture clashes would be deeper than a British dislike of peanut butter. My rudest awakening was discovering the program I’d joined, run by a consortium of Christian colleges, would be plopping us into a secular school—one with a culture built around pub crawling.

Social lubricant or demon drink?
I was old enough to drink in the US and well above legal age in Britain. But having grown up in a teetotaler household and spending 3.5 years on a dry campus, I found the idea of binge drinking a bit scary. And as hard as I’d worked to get to the land of castles, cathedrals and magic wardrobes, pub crawls weren’t high on my list of great ways to spend your time and money in England. This left me at total loss of how to not die of loneliness while my classmates went off to get wasted most nights of the week.

Fortunately, I wasn’t quite so alone. I soon discovered that about half of the other American students in our group of 18 weren’t that keen to binge drink. We quickly banded together to make the most of our time abroad actually traveling beyond the strip of pubs near campus. We shared the task of researching hostels and bus schedules, and had some great daytrips and weekends away together.

Early on, it became clear we all took our faith pretty seriously. Soon we were debating American Christianity’s taboo on drinking and whether it’s actually Biblical. Back home, there didn’t seem to be much room for debate on the topic, so it was really refreshing to re-examine my upbringing in light of another culture and try to find some middle ground between total abstinence and total debauchery. Visiting pubs to try local craft brews with a plate of bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie became as much part of the group’s identity as trying a variety of church services and praying together.

While my naïveté took a serious beating during that semester, my study-abroad buddies helped me not just survive, but change, grow and thrive.

image credits:  castles.org; realbeer.com
===


The "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop is in honor of the recent release of Poetry Pact volume 1. Blog hop host Angela Felsted is offering awesome prizes to those who participate in the hop and/or help promote the anthology. Click HERE to find out more.

Want to join the blog hop? Sign up here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 Laurel Garver
Welcome to the next stop on the "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop. Participants can share a story about a secret pact they have made, a friend they are close to, or a close knit group that has helped them through hard times.

The Pub Pact (or the Anti-Saloon League gets some sense)

Welcome back to Warwickshire, long-lost cousin!
I’d been dreaming of going to England since the day Mom read me the story of Lucy Pevensie hiding in a wardrobe and landing in Narnia. Not only was England magical, but also, according to my Dad, our ancestral home. Though my Webster ancestor left Warwickshire for Connecticut in the 1600s, I was certain that going back would feel like arriving home. It would be a struggle to get there, of course. As the youngest of five, I knew college alone would be financially difficult for my family, and studying abroad? That would be above and beyond—something I’d have to make happen for myself. For seven years I worked a string of terrible jobs, from Avon lady to foam-head carnival character to janitor to discount store cashier. My college study abroad experience, I believed, would be my Cinderella-at-the-ball experience.

What a starry-eyed kid I was.

My college friends who’d spent a semester abroad before me gave me lists of things you couldn’t buy there (back in the pre-Internet era). I loaded up on Reese’s cups, a giant jar of Jiff and some favorite toiletries and considered myself ready.

I hadn’t prepared at all for the possibility that culture clashes would be deeper than a British dislike of peanut butter. My rudest awakening was discovering the program I’d joined, run by a consortium of Christian colleges, would be plopping us into a secular school—one with a culture built around pub crawling.

Social lubricant or demon drink?
I was old enough to drink in the US and well above legal age in Britain. But having grown up in a teetotaler household and spending 3.5 years on a dry campus, I found the idea of binge drinking a bit scary. And as hard as I’d worked to get to the land of castles, cathedrals and magic wardrobes, pub crawls weren’t high on my list of great ways to spend your time and money in England. This left me at total loss of how to not die of loneliness while my classmates went off to get wasted most nights of the week.

Fortunately, I wasn’t quite so alone. I soon discovered that about half of the other American students in our group of 18 weren’t that keen to binge drink. We quickly banded together to make the most of our time abroad actually traveling beyond the strip of pubs near campus. We shared the task of researching hostels and bus schedules, and had some great daytrips and weekends away together.

Early on, it became clear we all took our faith pretty seriously. Soon we were debating American Christianity’s taboo on drinking and whether it’s actually Biblical. Back home, there didn’t seem to be much room for debate on the topic, so it was really refreshing to re-examine my upbringing in light of another culture and try to find some middle ground between total abstinence and total debauchery. Visiting pubs to try local craft brews with a plate of bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie became as much part of the group’s identity as trying a variety of church services and praying together.

While my naïveté took a serious beating during that semester, my study-abroad buddies helped me not just survive, but change, grow and thrive.

image credits:  castles.org; realbeer.com
===


The "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop is in honor of the recent release of Poetry Pact volume 1. Blog hop host Angela Felsted is offering awesome prizes to those who participate in the hop and/or help promote the anthology. Click HERE to find out more.

Want to join the blog hop? Sign up here:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Recently I've seen a number of people link this thoughtful article from The Atlantic Monthly: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It's quite long, but very thorough and worth the time to read.

The author argues that women "having it all"--that is, having a stellar career and a fulfilling family life--remains unattainable for a number of reasons that she explores in depth. But overall, it's because American culture hasn't changed deeply enough. To rise to prominence in a career, male or female, you are expected to sacrifice all your time, creativity and energy to work. Give family greater prominence and your commitment to your job is suspect.

As I hear increasingly of the productivity expectations for today's authors, I can see that writing is increasingly becoming less of a family-friendly career choice than it used to be. Besides all the marketing and social media responsibilities, today's authors are also supposed to produce multiple books a year. Family time is increasingly squeezed. Produce less and you'll likely need to make other un-family-friendly decisions, like taking a day job, in order to make ends meet. I also can't help but notice that many published authors I know are single, childless or empty-nesters--and I don't think it's just a coincidence.

What do you think? Is it still possible to be an author who puts family first and how?
Monday, June 25, 2012 Laurel Garver
Recently I've seen a number of people link this thoughtful article from The Atlantic Monthly: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It's quite long, but very thorough and worth the time to read.

The author argues that women "having it all"--that is, having a stellar career and a fulfilling family life--remains unattainable for a number of reasons that she explores in depth. But overall, it's because American culture hasn't changed deeply enough. To rise to prominence in a career, male or female, you are expected to sacrifice all your time, creativity and energy to work. Give family greater prominence and your commitment to your job is suspect.

As I hear increasingly of the productivity expectations for today's authors, I can see that writing is increasingly becoming less of a family-friendly career choice than it used to be. Besides all the marketing and social media responsibilities, today's authors are also supposed to produce multiple books a year. Family time is increasingly squeezed. Produce less and you'll likely need to make other un-family-friendly decisions, like taking a day job, in order to make ends meet. I also can't help but notice that many published authors I know are single, childless or empty-nesters--and I don't think it's just a coincidence.

What do you think? Is it still possible to be an author who puts family first and how?

Friday, June 22, 2012

I know everyone has their guilty pleasures. Here are a few of mine, things I sometimes suspect might not be the best things to love.

Horses

I live in Philadelphia. In an historic row house. With a back yard that's approximately 18' x 30'. And yet I still have dreams of owning a  palomino quarter horse mare, a dark bay Morgan gelding, a sweet sorrel Welsh pony (for my daughter of course).  In the city, boarding horses costs as much as a mortgage and riding lessons as much as renting a studio apartment. Not exactly in the budget.

Dr. Who

The longest-running science fiction television series is painfully slow to become available in the US. And because the earliest episodes were so cheesy  (versus the awesome recent incarnation), people over thirty think you have terrible taste for liking it. And Daleks do look like salt and pepper shakers, so they don't seem that scary to most Americans, either. Rarely are problems solved with violence, another apparent sign of "lame factor." The science is bogus, too, but dang is it FUN. And wonderfully Anglo-centric.

Spider Solitaire

Two-suit Spider Solitaire is the most addicting game ever. The fact you can undo moves means you can replay the same game dozens of times and waste hour upon hour. And yet, nothing relaxes me quite as much as finagling those cards into perfect order.

Rotating the stock

I always put the new stuff in the back or on the bottom--sheets, silverware, dishes, you name it. I picked up this weird habit from working retail from age 15 to 21. It was a way to ensure the older products moved; the principle at home is that it ensures even wear of your belongings. Every fork is used, not just the same six. But this system makes it take longer to put anything away. And yet I can't stop. I mean, the system works. After nearly fourteen years of marriage, I've only had one set of wedding-gift sheets wear out. 


Your turn. What are some things you wish you didn't love?
Friday, June 22, 2012 Laurel Garver
I know everyone has their guilty pleasures. Here are a few of mine, things I sometimes suspect might not be the best things to love.

Horses

I live in Philadelphia. In an historic row house. With a back yard that's approximately 18' x 30'. And yet I still have dreams of owning a  palomino quarter horse mare, a dark bay Morgan gelding, a sweet sorrel Welsh pony (for my daughter of course).  In the city, boarding horses costs as much as a mortgage and riding lessons as much as renting a studio apartment. Not exactly in the budget.

Dr. Who

The longest-running science fiction television series is painfully slow to become available in the US. And because the earliest episodes were so cheesy  (versus the awesome recent incarnation), people over thirty think you have terrible taste for liking it. And Daleks do look like salt and pepper shakers, so they don't seem that scary to most Americans, either. Rarely are problems solved with violence, another apparent sign of "lame factor." The science is bogus, too, but dang is it FUN. And wonderfully Anglo-centric.

Spider Solitaire

Two-suit Spider Solitaire is the most addicting game ever. The fact you can undo moves means you can replay the same game dozens of times and waste hour upon hour. And yet, nothing relaxes me quite as much as finagling those cards into perfect order.

Rotating the stock

I always put the new stuff in the back or on the bottom--sheets, silverware, dishes, you name it. I picked up this weird habit from working retail from age 15 to 21. It was a way to ensure the older products moved; the principle at home is that it ensures even wear of your belongings. Every fork is used, not just the same six. But this system makes it take longer to put anything away. And yet I can't stop. I mean, the system works. After nearly fourteen years of marriage, I've only had one set of wedding-gift sheets wear out. 


Your turn. What are some things you wish you didn't love?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There are a number of reasons a novel's middle becomes muddled during the drafting phase. One can lose the protagonist's "throughline"--that is, his or her desire or need that fuels the story action. Or perhaps a secondary character elbows out the protagonist and POV suddenly shifts. Most likely, however, the directions a story could go seems infinite and both plot and subplot sputter out or spin wildly out of control.

You might handle middle muddle by trying to write through it. But it's likely you'll write a whole lot of uninteresting garbage you'll have to jettison later. Better to pause for a time to do a little planning.

In Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress recommends making some key decisions before you delve too deep in drafting your novel's middle.

Start by listing all the events that happen to all the characters from the beginning to the end. This might include things going on simultaneously in different places. It might help to make your list in columns by location or main actor. Throw in anything that's interesting and relevant to moving the story forward, keeping in mind the protagonist's throughline (goal, driving desire).

Now, mark with a highlighter all those events that occur somewhere other than in the POV character's presence. You will have to figure out how to let the reader know about these events--an act of discovery will be needed in scenes to cover offstage events.

Once you've adjusted your list of events for point of view, you'll need to whittle it down further. Which events actually merit being dramatized into scenes? Might an event need multiple scenes to fully dramatize it? Might it better be handled in exposition? Some seemingly pivotal events might get the most dramatic bang when handled indirectly in a reaction scene. But you absolutely should not spend time trying to dramatize every last event that happens, only those that are interesting.

Kress's rule of thumb is that scenes you give the most attention should relate directly to the throughline. A story can often be sharpened by concentrating its events and emotion into the bare minimum of scenes. Some of the "stage business" of getting characters from here to there can still come into play, but these details are best digested by your readers if throughline-related changes occur at the same time. Characters might argue during a car trip, the heroine might uncover surprising information eavesdropping while waiting for her date to arrive at the restaurant.

So, to sum up, prepare for your middle by deciding every story event--what happens to every character in every place during the story's timeframe. Then organize the events into the minimal number of dramatic scenes (and narrative summary scenes) that keeps the protagonist's throughline front and center.

Do you struggle with story middles? What things have bogged you down? What tips have helped?
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 Laurel Garver
There are a number of reasons a novel's middle becomes muddled during the drafting phase. One can lose the protagonist's "throughline"--that is, his or her desire or need that fuels the story action. Or perhaps a secondary character elbows out the protagonist and POV suddenly shifts. Most likely, however, the directions a story could go seems infinite and both plot and subplot sputter out or spin wildly out of control.

You might handle middle muddle by trying to write through it. But it's likely you'll write a whole lot of uninteresting garbage you'll have to jettison later. Better to pause for a time to do a little planning.

In Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress recommends making some key decisions before you delve too deep in drafting your novel's middle.

Start by listing all the events that happen to all the characters from the beginning to the end. This might include things going on simultaneously in different places. It might help to make your list in columns by location or main actor. Throw in anything that's interesting and relevant to moving the story forward, keeping in mind the protagonist's throughline (goal, driving desire).

Now, mark with a highlighter all those events that occur somewhere other than in the POV character's presence. You will have to figure out how to let the reader know about these events--an act of discovery will be needed in scenes to cover offstage events.

Once you've adjusted your list of events for point of view, you'll need to whittle it down further. Which events actually merit being dramatized into scenes? Might an event need multiple scenes to fully dramatize it? Might it better be handled in exposition? Some seemingly pivotal events might get the most dramatic bang when handled indirectly in a reaction scene. But you absolutely should not spend time trying to dramatize every last event that happens, only those that are interesting.

Kress's rule of thumb is that scenes you give the most attention should relate directly to the throughline. A story can often be sharpened by concentrating its events and emotion into the bare minimum of scenes. Some of the "stage business" of getting characters from here to there can still come into play, but these details are best digested by your readers if throughline-related changes occur at the same time. Characters might argue during a car trip, the heroine might uncover surprising information eavesdropping while waiting for her date to arrive at the restaurant.

So, to sum up, prepare for your middle by deciding every story event--what happens to every character in every place during the story's timeframe. Then organize the events into the minimal number of dramatic scenes (and narrative summary scenes) that keeps the protagonist's throughline front and center.

Do you struggle with story middles? What things have bogged you down? What tips have helped?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Have you ever felt trapped? Maybe you've had a clingy friend who tried to cut you off from other friendships. Or perhaps a crush on someone who's already attached. Or you're stuck in a job you hate because you need the insurance or tuition benefits. Maybe its a toxic relative you can't seem to escape. Perhaps a story idea has invaded your brain you but you can't yet organize or even articulate what it's about, but it won't let you get anything else done.

In her latest YA suspense novel ALTERCATION, Tamara Hart Heiner delves into one teen's experience feeling trapped. Jaci Rivera, the heroine of PERILOUS, is caught between criminals who want to hurt her and well-intended government officials whose attempts to protect her may prove too little, too late.

The FBI promises Jacinta Rivera and her friends that they are safe. Jaci wants desperately to believe them, but weeks of hiding from their kidnapper, alias "The Hand," have left her wary. Hidden from the public eye in an FBI safe house, Jaci must reconcile both the mysterious disappearance of her father and the murder of her best friend.

A betrayal lands Jaci back in the grasp of The Hand, shattering her ability to trust and leaving her to wonder if she will ever piece together her broken life.

See Shannon O'Donnell's review of ALTERCATION at Book Dreaming.

The paperback of ALTERCATION is available here and the e-book here.

On every day of her blog tour, Tamara will randomly select one person who made a comment on that day's blog. The winner will receive an ebook copy of either PERILOUS or ALTERCATION. There's just one catch: there must be at least ten comments on that day for Tamara to do the giveaway.

Leaving a comment also gets you entered into the PRIZE DRAWINGS. This won't be random; it's cumulative. Every comment you leave counts as 1 point. If you are a follower on Tamara's blog, you get 1 point. Every time you tweet or share on Facebook about the tour, it's one point. She'll even add it up for you; just include Tamara on the tweet @tamaraheiner or on Facebook @tamarahartheiner.

You could win:
THIRD PRIZE: 50-page critique of something of your choice (if you're not a
writer, a $5 amazon.com gift card)
SECOND PRIZE: lot of five YA books
FIRST PRIZE: $20 gift card to Amazon.com

Fabulous, right?


Tell me about a time you felt trapped. Did you simply endure until help came, or did you fight to get free?
Thursday, June 14, 2012 Laurel Garver
Have you ever felt trapped? Maybe you've had a clingy friend who tried to cut you off from other friendships. Or perhaps a crush on someone who's already attached. Or you're stuck in a job you hate because you need the insurance or tuition benefits. Maybe its a toxic relative you can't seem to escape. Perhaps a story idea has invaded your brain you but you can't yet organize or even articulate what it's about, but it won't let you get anything else done.

In her latest YA suspense novel ALTERCATION, Tamara Hart Heiner delves into one teen's experience feeling trapped. Jaci Rivera, the heroine of PERILOUS, is caught between criminals who want to hurt her and well-intended government officials whose attempts to protect her may prove too little, too late.

The FBI promises Jacinta Rivera and her friends that they are safe. Jaci wants desperately to believe them, but weeks of hiding from their kidnapper, alias "The Hand," have left her wary. Hidden from the public eye in an FBI safe house, Jaci must reconcile both the mysterious disappearance of her father and the murder of her best friend.

A betrayal lands Jaci back in the grasp of The Hand, shattering her ability to trust and leaving her to wonder if she will ever piece together her broken life.

See Shannon O'Donnell's review of ALTERCATION at Book Dreaming.

The paperback of ALTERCATION is available here and the e-book here.

On every day of her blog tour, Tamara will randomly select one person who made a comment on that day's blog. The winner will receive an ebook copy of either PERILOUS or ALTERCATION. There's just one catch: there must be at least ten comments on that day for Tamara to do the giveaway.

Leaving a comment also gets you entered into the PRIZE DRAWINGS. This won't be random; it's cumulative. Every comment you leave counts as 1 point. If you are a follower on Tamara's blog, you get 1 point. Every time you tweet or share on Facebook about the tour, it's one point. She'll even add it up for you; just include Tamara on the tweet @tamaraheiner or on Facebook @tamarahartheiner.

You could win:
THIRD PRIZE: 50-page critique of something of your choice (if you're not a
writer, a $5 amazon.com gift card)
SECOND PRIZE: lot of five YA books
FIRST PRIZE: $20 gift card to Amazon.com

Fabulous, right?


Tell me about a time you felt trapped. Did you simply endure until help came, or did you fight to get free?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I won't torment you finger-crossing, breath-holding entrants in my anthology giveaway. Let's cut to the chase.

Heidi Willis

is the winner of  Poetry Pact volume 1!!

Thanks to everyone who entered. And note that the Kindle edition is now available for just $2.99. All proceeds go to Direct Relief International, a global aid organization.



Finding brain space

In the past year or so, I've struggled with an inner world that sounds a bit like this:

laundry - train - how many characters is too many? - school bus - out of aluminum foil - how do you document this version of Joyce's Ulysses? - veterinarian appointment - ADHD - printer jam - 1703 merchant costume for social studies project - Ezra Pound estate - ironing - prayer - elevator scene - weed and mulch - does Turkish have a possessive case? - choosing gratitude - blog commenting - dentist appointments - advertising deadline - back cover blurb - playdates - squirrel - baby shower - moldy shower curtain - curtain styles in the 1960s - Beatnik poetry - poetry anthology - Duotrope e-mails - another birthday party ?! - dinner with "the girls" - weight gain - parenting through puberty - date night - dying neighbor - homonym errors - book trailer - fleas - wedding present - friend's divorce - abiding in Christ - evil candy-filled vending machine - stroke or no stroke in chapter 11? - dog's arthritis ...

If I were to go through the list with colored markers, I could pretty quickly identify what thoughts are consuming most of my brain space (job, household management, kid) and which ones are barely registering (hello neglected hubby, extended family, poetry writing).

As I've been reading up on "executive skills" to help my daughter become less scattered, I've had to come to grips with my own strengths and weaknesses. My girl has a very poor "working memory"--the ability to hold and quickly draw on practical information--yet mine is excellent. I rarely write lists, believing I don't need to. But the more I keep adding new information to my mental lists, the more noisy my brain becomes. Soon that "excellent working memory" becomes more of a handicap than an asset. So much is in my head, I can't easily articulate my needs so others can pitch in. I get more and more overwhelmed because I've made my memory my master.

And you know what else? I have no brain space for aesthetic pleasure, creativity or long-term planning and dreaming. And this, friends, is no way to really live.

I've been able to help my daughter tackle her morning, after school and bedtime routines with fewer reminders and nagging by simply creating lists and incentives. As she successfully completes tasks and moves a magnet or pushpin from the "to do" to "done" column each day, she earns songs for her MP3 player. She's doing great, I'm yelling less. And best of all? I don't have to remember what she needs to remember.

In fact, remembering less feels so good, I want to start doing it more often in other areas of my life. At the office, I've made more use of spreadsheets and the "tasks" function in Gmail.

I'm keeping a journal in my purse for note taking. I've also looked into the Kindle apps store, and I think I'll download calendar and address book apps so I no longer feel the need to hold so many dates and phone numbers in my head.

Creativity requires breathing space in your brain. If you find yourself frequently stuck, or simply not writing much at all, consider how you might clear some mental clutter.

Is yours as crowded as mine? How might you clear some mental space?
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 Laurel Garver
I won't torment you finger-crossing, breath-holding entrants in my anthology giveaway. Let's cut to the chase.

Heidi Willis

is the winner of  Poetry Pact volume 1!!

Thanks to everyone who entered. And note that the Kindle edition is now available for just $2.99. All proceeds go to Direct Relief International, a global aid organization.



Finding brain space

In the past year or so, I've struggled with an inner world that sounds a bit like this:

laundry - train - how many characters is too many? - school bus - out of aluminum foil - how do you document this version of Joyce's Ulysses? - veterinarian appointment - ADHD - printer jam - 1703 merchant costume for social studies project - Ezra Pound estate - ironing - prayer - elevator scene - weed and mulch - does Turkish have a possessive case? - choosing gratitude - blog commenting - dentist appointments - advertising deadline - back cover blurb - playdates - squirrel - baby shower - moldy shower curtain - curtain styles in the 1960s - Beatnik poetry - poetry anthology - Duotrope e-mails - another birthday party ?! - dinner with "the girls" - weight gain - parenting through puberty - date night - dying neighbor - homonym errors - book trailer - fleas - wedding present - friend's divorce - abiding in Christ - evil candy-filled vending machine - stroke or no stroke in chapter 11? - dog's arthritis ...

If I were to go through the list with colored markers, I could pretty quickly identify what thoughts are consuming most of my brain space (job, household management, kid) and which ones are barely registering (hello neglected hubby, extended family, poetry writing).

As I've been reading up on "executive skills" to help my daughter become less scattered, I've had to come to grips with my own strengths and weaknesses. My girl has a very poor "working memory"--the ability to hold and quickly draw on practical information--yet mine is excellent. I rarely write lists, believing I don't need to. But the more I keep adding new information to my mental lists, the more noisy my brain becomes. Soon that "excellent working memory" becomes more of a handicap than an asset. So much is in my head, I can't easily articulate my needs so others can pitch in. I get more and more overwhelmed because I've made my memory my master.

And you know what else? I have no brain space for aesthetic pleasure, creativity or long-term planning and dreaming. And this, friends, is no way to really live.

I've been able to help my daughter tackle her morning, after school and bedtime routines with fewer reminders and nagging by simply creating lists and incentives. As she successfully completes tasks and moves a magnet or pushpin from the "to do" to "done" column each day, she earns songs for her MP3 player. She's doing great, I'm yelling less. And best of all? I don't have to remember what she needs to remember.

In fact, remembering less feels so good, I want to start doing it more often in other areas of my life. At the office, I've made more use of spreadsheets and the "tasks" function in Gmail.

I'm keeping a journal in my purse for note taking. I've also looked into the Kindle apps store, and I think I'll download calendar and address book apps so I no longer feel the need to hold so many dates and phone numbers in my head.

Creativity requires breathing space in your brain. If you find yourself frequently stuck, or simply not writing much at all, consider how you might clear some mental clutter.

Is yours as crowded as mine? How might you clear some mental space?

Friday, June 08, 2012

To celebrate the release of Poetry Pact volume 1, the awesome Angela Felsted (anthology contributing editor) is hosting a blog hop that will run June 27-29.

In this hop, participants can share a story about a secret pact they have made, a friend they are close to, or a close knit group that has helped them through hard times. Post on any of the three days.

Angela is offering a host of awesome prizes, too. Click HERE to find out more.

Won't you join us? Sign up here:




Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win the anthology Poetry Pact Volume 1.


Friday, June 08, 2012 Laurel Garver
To celebrate the release of Poetry Pact volume 1, the awesome Angela Felsted (anthology contributing editor) is hosting a blog hop that will run June 27-29.

In this hop, participants can share a story about a secret pact they have made, a friend they are close to, or a close knit group that has helped them through hard times. Post on any of the three days.

Angela is offering a host of awesome prizes, too. Click HERE to find out more.

Won't you join us? Sign up here:




Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win the anthology Poetry Pact Volume 1.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

FabricI
Review of Fabric by Jessica Bell
When Jessica Bell asked if I'd like to review her latest poetry collection, Fabric, I jumped at the chance. She's not only a gifted writer, but also a great champion of the genre in an age when poetry has been largely shifted to margins--the lofty ivory tower of academia and the mean streets of urban poetry slams and hip-hop. If you can't make sense of John Ashbery or get nervous in the presence of bling and graffiti, you might encounter poetry only in its commercialized form, between the folds of a greeting card.

But if you think accessible poetry is a dead genre, Bell urges you to think again. In Fabric, she takes on personas and inhabits them like a well-trained actor. This aspect might be jarring at first to readers accustomed to greeting-card variety verse, which is focused on personal emotion. Instead, we get a novelist's sensibilites--an ear for conflict and pivotal change moments, an empathetic drive to experience as another might. The poems seem to me to fall in the larger category of confessional poetry, sharing affinities with the work of Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, W.D. Snodgrass, John Berryman and Sharon Olds.

 In many of the poems, Bell uses to great effect stunning epiphany end-lines that shed a new light on what came before, sending a reader spiraling back in delight to re-read and reinterpret. Like Sexton, she can be both tenacious and tender, often within the same stanza.

I finished Fabric with a renewed desire to live and write more fully engaged with my world. That, my friends, is something no greeting card verse will do.

Fabric is available in e-book for $1.99 and paperback for $5.50.
Links:

...

About Jessica Bell:

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. And not because she currently lives in Greece, either. The Australian-native author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist has her roots firmly planted in music, and admits inspiration often stems from lyrics she’s written.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.


For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit:

Website

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win the anthology Poetry Pact Volume 1, which features more poems by Jessica Bell, as well as me and a dozen other fabulous poets.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012 Laurel Garver
FabricI
Review of Fabric by Jessica Bell
When Jessica Bell asked if I'd like to review her latest poetry collection, Fabric, I jumped at the chance. She's not only a gifted writer, but also a great champion of the genre in an age when poetry has been largely shifted to margins--the lofty ivory tower of academia and the mean streets of urban poetry slams and hip-hop. If you can't make sense of John Ashbery or get nervous in the presence of bling and graffiti, you might encounter poetry only in its commercialized form, between the folds of a greeting card.

But if you think accessible poetry is a dead genre, Bell urges you to think again. In Fabric, she takes on personas and inhabits them like a well-trained actor. This aspect might be jarring at first to readers accustomed to greeting-card variety verse, which is focused on personal emotion. Instead, we get a novelist's sensibilites--an ear for conflict and pivotal change moments, an empathetic drive to experience as another might. The poems seem to me to fall in the larger category of confessional poetry, sharing affinities with the work of Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, W.D. Snodgrass, John Berryman and Sharon Olds.

 In many of the poems, Bell uses to great effect stunning epiphany end-lines that shed a new light on what came before, sending a reader spiraling back in delight to re-read and reinterpret. Like Sexton, she can be both tenacious and tender, often within the same stanza.

I finished Fabric with a renewed desire to live and write more fully engaged with my world. That, my friends, is something no greeting card verse will do.

Fabric is available in e-book for $1.99 and paperback for $5.50.
Links:

...

About Jessica Bell:

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. And not because she currently lives in Greece, either. The Australian-native author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist has her roots firmly planted in music, and admits inspiration often stems from lyrics she’s written.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.


For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit:

Website

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win the anthology Poetry Pact Volume 1, which features more poems by Jessica Bell, as well as me and a dozen other fabulous poets.

Monday, June 04, 2012

For the past 18 months, I have been part of a clandestine group called Poetry Pact (or PoPa, as Lydia Kang dubbed us), a group of thirty-plus writers from all over the world who meet regularly online to share poems in process and critique each other's work. We live in Australia, Cyprus, Great Britain, Greece, India, South Africa and the United States and came together thanks to Jessica Bell. Some in the group posted poems almost daily, others of us less frequently. But the main goal has been to spur us all to write more poems.

I am delighted to announce that we have just published an anthology, Poetry Pact volume I.

I think it's safe to say this collection has something for everyone, from lyric and lovely to provocative and edgy. Best of all, the proceeds will be going to charity: Direct Relief International, a group that provides healthcare in areas ravaged by poverty, natural disaster and war.

I have five pieces in the anthology, including one about my worst kiss. If that doesn't sell you, consider my talented co-authors: Angela Felsted, Jessica Bell, Jim Murdoch, Lydia Kang, Madeline Sharples, Richard Merrill, Kerala Varma, Glynis Smy, Alaine Benard, Artemis Grey, Roslyn Ross, Angie Ledbetter, Caleb Mannan, Emily Kruse, February Grace, Janice Williams and J.R. McRae.

I will be giving away a copy to one lucky commenter.  Extra entries will be given as follows:
Current follower +1
New follower +2
Tweet it +2
Facebook link +2
Link on your blog +2
Tally your entries +1

To enter, simply leave a comment to this post that lists your number of entries (notice the extra entry for doing the math!) I'm using an honor system on your tweeting, etc.

If I get more than twenty contestants, I will give away two copies.

Contest closes Sunday, June 10, noon eastern daylight time.


Monday, June 04, 2012 Laurel Garver
For the past 18 months, I have been part of a clandestine group called Poetry Pact (or PoPa, as Lydia Kang dubbed us), a group of thirty-plus writers from all over the world who meet regularly online to share poems in process and critique each other's work. We live in Australia, Cyprus, Great Britain, Greece, India, South Africa and the United States and came together thanks to Jessica Bell. Some in the group posted poems almost daily, others of us less frequently. But the main goal has been to spur us all to write more poems.

I am delighted to announce that we have just published an anthology, Poetry Pact volume I.

I think it's safe to say this collection has something for everyone, from lyric and lovely to provocative and edgy. Best of all, the proceeds will be going to charity: Direct Relief International, a group that provides healthcare in areas ravaged by poverty, natural disaster and war.

I have five pieces in the anthology, including one about my worst kiss. If that doesn't sell you, consider my talented co-authors: Angela Felsted, Jessica Bell, Jim Murdoch, Lydia Kang, Madeline Sharples, Richard Merrill, Kerala Varma, Glynis Smy, Alaine Benard, Artemis Grey, Roslyn Ross, Angie Ledbetter, Caleb Mannan, Emily Kruse, February Grace, Janice Williams and J.R. McRae.

I will be giving away a copy to one lucky commenter.  Extra entries will be given as follows:
Current follower +1
New follower +2
Tweet it +2
Facebook link +2
Link on your blog +2
Tally your entries +1

To enter, simply leave a comment to this post that lists your number of entries (notice the extra entry for doing the math!) I'm using an honor system on your tweeting, etc.

If I get more than twenty contestants, I will give away two copies.

Contest closes Sunday, June 10, noon eastern daylight time.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Never Gone, © 2012 Laurel W. Garver


Chapter 1



My dad and I have this game we play on elevators. One of us comes up with three related things and the other has to guess the category. If I say “Frick, Cloisters, Guggenheim,” Dad will know they’re museums — and our favorite Saturday haunts here in the city. He usually stumps me with weird British slang from his childhood or random facts about my mother. I have a way harder time stumping him. Even when I try classmates’ names, art terms, indie bands, or obscure Harry Potter characters, he almost always gets it right.

As the floors blip by, I at last have the perfect clue: Self, Us, People.

Identity groups? he’d guess. Circles of moral responsibility? Subjects of your latest drawing? Blimey, is it the multiple points of view in Renoir’s group paintings?

Nope, he’d never get it. He never saw those coffee-ringed magazine covers in the ICU waiting room. He was the patient. And even though he died two days ago, I can’t stop playing Three Things on elevators.

By the time I reach the seventh floor, I have a strep-like ache in my throat. I shuffle into the hall, hugging a packet of Dad’s memorial service bulletins to my chest. I won’t lose it. I won’t. The minute I let one toe stray into that quicksand, it will suck me right under.

As I trudge toward our apartment, every muscle fiber screams, “No! Run!” like I’m the ditzy chick in some horror movie about to go explore the haunted attic alone.

The moment I slide my key in the lock, my mother yanks open the door. She stands there in her cashmere suit, fists on hips, dry-eyed and smelling of Tresor perfume, like she’d spent the afternoon in client meetings rather than a crematorium in Greenwich Village. I bet she’d let her long-lost Central Pennsylvania accent slip out before she’d ever shed a tear.

“Dani! Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. Your grandfather’s cab got back ages ago, and he said you were right behind him.”

“You didn’t get my message?”

She sags a little. “Do you have any idea how many people have left messages today?”

“Sorry, really. I, uh, stayed late to help with this.” I hand her the packet of bulletins, still warm from the copier. “The secretary let me do the layout. And a special cover.”

“So all this time you’ve been at church?”

I nod and follow her into the dining room, where the table is set for six. She tosses the packet onto the sideboard, then turns, frowning, to inspect my ink-stained fingers. “What on earth? You had a nail appointment.”

If she’d look in the packet, she might have a clue where the hours went and how I got so inky. But as usual, she can’t be bothered with anything tainted by stained glass and steeples.

I glance at Dad’s chair, wishing he were here to run interference. He’d compliment my skillful hands, explain how I can’t draw wearing those thick acrylic tips. But his chair is empty, and no matter how hard I wish it, I’ll never hear his voice again.

“Sorry. I just…ran out of time.”

“This simply won’t do, darling.” Mum prods my ragged cuticles. “You can’t stand in a receiving line and shake a hundred hands looking like this. Go wash up, and I’ll give you a manicure after dinner.”

Nice. Deviate from Mum’s precious plan and I’m dismissed like a coffee-spilling, Xerox-breaking temp. I doubt anyone will give a hoot about my stupid nails tomorrow.

I open my mouth to argue, then clamp it shut. If Dad were here, he’d say it was “jolly nice of your mum to offer” and make the sign language motion for “honor.” My cue to remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” To remember our long talks about Mum and God and how being a sullen jerk when she pushes my buttons only makes my faith a joke to her. Hypocrisy. A lie.

I sigh. “Okay, Mum.”

When I look toward Dad’s chair again, he nods and mouths, Well done.

Dad?

He runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to run to him and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe. There’s no sign that his face was a crazy quilt of stitches, purple welts, and crusted bandages. That machines kept his lungs working.

Mum waves a napkin in my face. “Dani? Hello? You all right?”

I peer around her. Dad’s chair is empty again, but the placemat at his space is askew. No way did Madame Perfect do that.

“Danielle?” Mum touches my arm and I jerk to attention.

“Sorry. I was just remembering —” I rifle through my coat pockets. “Here’s the receipts and change from the taxi. And I’m not hungry. But…I’ll take care of my nails. Now. On my own. But thanks for offering. I guess I’ll go now. To my room. So, um, bye.”

I stumble down the hall and pull my bedroom door closed behind me. For a dizzy moment, I grip the knob and gulp in air. I’m all right. It was nothing. A flash. A brain burp. After spending hours drawing his portrait from an old photo, I must have his face burned onto my retinas like an afterimage.

Except he moved. Gestured. Communicated. Bumped a placemat. I don’t think that’s usual for a grief hallucination.

Conflicting feelings scamper inside me like crazed squirrels. All around me is nothing but more chaos. Deep drifts of crumpled Kleenex, unfinished sketches, textbooks, and lotion tubes litter the floor. My bed’s lost under heaps of laundry. In one corner, my half-packed suitcase lays open beside an unopened stack of Christmas gifts. When Mum gets a spare moment to see this place, she’s going to flip.

“Dani?” Aunt Cecily calls outside my door. “Back, are you?”

I turn from the mess and open my door. Dad’s older sister shifts nervously in her tweed overcoat and tugs on a lock of her bobbed, sandy hair. She hands me a white garment bag from Macy’s. “Your mother asked me to find you something dark and dressy to wear tomorrow. None of your skirts or dresses is quite right for the occasion, she said.”

“Probably not.” I rip away the plastic. Something black and blandly shapeless emerges. Lord have mercy. What fashion travesty has Aunt Cardigan-Khaki-Loafers decided to inflict on me? She must’ve fallen into the clutches of Macy’s most sadistic sales clerk, or the most clueless — someone who assumes every Brit takes fashion tips from the queen.

Cecily’s forehead puckers with worry. “Is it all right, dearest?”

“It’s…nice,” I say, trying to not cringe as I rub the scratchy fabric between my fingers.

“You hate it.” She blushes, two red splotches spreading across her milky English skin.

Dad looked just like that whenever I asked him to pick up tampons at the store. I wince and turn away.

“We can take it back,” Cecily blurts, misreading me. She frantically digs through her pockets, finds the receipt, and jabs it at me. “Here, I still have the bill of sale. We can go now. Or after dinner. They’re open till ten at least.” She grabs up the shredded garment bag, noisily rustling plastic as she tries to rewrap the dress. “I don’t know why your mother asked me to shop for you. She knows I haven’t her capacity for glamour.”

It’s one thing for Mum to boss and bully me, but there’s no way she can do this to Cecily.

“Please stop fluttering. It’s fine.” I take the dress again and hang it on a peg, letting the plastic fall. There has to be some way to fix this, to spare my style-challenged aunt from embarrassment or having to fight the city crowds, which terrify her. Come on, brain.

“Oh, Dani,” she says. “Don’t settle on my account.”

“It’s just very…grown up, which is kind of startling. Like you see me as so, well, mature.”

“Of course you are, so brave through such a difficult time.” As tears pool in her eyes, she briskly pats my arm and ducks away from my room.

The scent of beef bourguignon wafts through the door as she goes. For a split-second I’m tempted to follow her. But Dad’s counting on me to “honor” Mum, which for now means doing what I say I will — skip dinner to fix my raggedy nails.

I kick a path to my dresser and rifle through my toiletries for an emery board. As I dig deeper, something cool oozes onto my fingers. Oh, no. Hand sanitizer. One whiff and I’m back in Dad’s ICU room with powered-down machines, a gray stone man in a bed. So cold. So silent. So gone. I hurl the leaky bottle across the room, and it lands just short of the trash can, by Dad’s shoe.

Dad’s shoe?

I stare at the scuffed, brown oxford, size 12. My gaze drifts up to jeans legs, a corduroy blazer. It’s Dad, leaning on my desk like he used to every night.

He tilts his head and knits his pale eyebrows. “Rough day, my love?”

My love. His Rosebud. Dance-pants. Doodlebug.

Tears sting my eyes. My heart tugs me to go hug him and pour out all my troubles, while my brain screams Flatline! Corpse! Crematorium!

I wobble and sink onto my bed.

“Oh, Dad,” I croak. “What am I supposed to do without you? Mum and I…it’s hopeless. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. To her, I’m just a pathetic slob.”

“Not so, not so. Grace brags endlessly about your talent to anyone who’ll listen. She just frets about you, you know, developing a proper artist’s eye for composition, symmetry and all that. A bit of order does help, right?”

“I guess.”

He smiles. “Very well, then, let’s get to it. Crank some tunes and we’ll have this place spiffed up in no time. Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll do my Bowie impression.”

I snort at the thought of Dad waving his long, wiry arms to glam rock while shelving books and dusting. He always is happy to be an epic doofus if it makes boring chores entertaining.

Not is. Was. Shame flushes through me.

“This can’t be real.” I turn my hot face away and peel off my coat. Why am I talking to this hallucination or ghost or whatever it is? How could I possibly believe that Dad can go on having fun and playing peacemaker? It’s wishful thinking in the extreme.

When I turn back, he’s gone. Instead of a sweet breeze of relief, the loss hits like a fist.

“Dad?”

I squeeze my eyes shut and try to conjure him. The lilt of his northern British accent. The sharp scent of darkroom chemicals clinging to his clothes. But it’s no good.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Dad. Please come back. I promise I’ll listen.”

* * *

My breath fogs the cold glass as I perch on my bedroom windowsill and frantically dial Heather. Stories below me, yellow cabs race down Columbus toward midtown.

At Heather’s end, the Mexican Hat Dance is probably jangling in a pocket of that heinous gold lamé knapsack she loves so much. I hope she can hear it. Chances are her Georgia relatives dragged her to a monster truck rally or line dance or whatever it is they do for holiday family fun. She headed south for winter break with her big, noisy family the day we were all so sure Dad would pull through. He did wake up for a while. And Christmas was coming.

But real life isn’t a cheesy holiday flick with miracles that arrive right on time. Dad didn’t pull through, and now my best friend is far, far away when I need her most.

The line clicks. “Hey,” Heather says. “I thought we were gonna chat online at nine. You okay?”

“No, I — It’s…something really, really weird has happened. I saw…um —”

“Becca!” she suddenly shouts at her toddler sister, “get your grubby paws off my pastels and go back to bed! Hang on a sec, Dani, I need to move my art stuff before Becca scrawls a tornado in Times Square.”

The phone crackles on fabric and I hear Heather calling for backup.

I sigh with relief. Bless you, Becca, you sticky-handed terror. That was a close one. What was I thinking, trying to tell Heather I saw Dad? She’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Or worse, she’ll let something slip to our youth pastor or even my mother.

I grab my sketch pad and attack it with a charcoal stick while I wait. My jagged strokes form Dad and me on the steps of the Metropolitan. It sucks not being able to talk about his ghost or spirit or whatever it is, but what can I do? Who could I possibly trust with something this bizarre?

The phone clanks again. “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s too doggone noisy for Becca to sleep well here, with my redneck relatives hollering all the time. I keep hoping there’s some mistake and Daddy was switched at birth. Oh, get this — loony Aunt Pearl is going to clown college.”

My laugh comes out slightly strangled. Rusty. Like I forgot how.

“You don’t sound good, Dani. If the airport weren’t three hours away, I’d be on a plane home in a heartbeat. How about we take your dad some flowers when I get back Tuesday?”

“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m leaving on Monday for England.”

“You are? But why?”

“The interment.”

“What’s that? Sounds like something Nazis would do.”

“It’s the, you know…the dirt part.”

“But I thought your dad was being buried in New York.” Her voice is thick and choked. “Aren’t we gonna get even a day of break to hang out?”

I blink back tears. “I wish. I really do. But the England burial is in Dad’s will. Only New Year’s Eve flights had any seats.”

“You’ll come right on back though, won’t you?”

“No. Not for, um, two weeks.”

“Two weeks! Are ya kidding me? What about midterms?”

“Mum thinks she can cut a deal with the headmaster. I’m not sure what I’ll do if she can’t. I’ve got enough going on without worrying that my GPA is in jeopardy, too, right? I feel like I’m sinking into a swampy pit. I wish someone would throw me a vine.”

“I’ll try, Dani. Let me think. For your dad’s memorial service tomorrow, you need a plan, a way to bail if things get too ugly.”

“How bad can it get? I doubt we’ll have a pro-wrestling smack-down, like at your great-granddad’s funeral in Mobile. My family doesn’t really do ugly feelings, except for sulks and sarcasm.” I pick up my sketch pad again and layer on choppy cross-hatch shadows. “But if I get weepy and my mascara melts, I’ll…I don’t know. Hide in the bathroom?”

“Not very original, but it’ll do. Listen, you need someone there for you who won’t be a mess themselves.”

“Like who? Everyone I know left town for the holidays.”

“That can’t be true. But don’t you worry about it, all right? I got unlimited long distance and I won’t rest till I find someone.”

“Seriously?”

“Trust me, I wouldn’t let you be alone at a time like this.”

Trust her. I look at my desk, where Dad was standing just minutes ago. Trust her, my only friend who came to the hospital, ate bad cafeteria meals with me, typed my tear-stained homework.

“Heather, I need to tell you something a little freaky.” I take a deep breath. Trust her. Trust her. “I just saw my dad. And he talked to me.”

She gasps, and then the line’s silent.

“Heather?”

“You — You think your dad is…haunting you?”

“I don’t know exactly.” I go to my desk and touch the spot Dad had leaned against. “I was trying not to fight with Mum and he was suddenly there, kind of…helping me cope with her. Later he offered to help me clean my room. He seemed so real, down to the wrinkles around his eyes.”

“I know you miss him a lot, but what you saw…might not be quite what you think.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. You think I’m cavorting with evil spirits, huh?”

“That’s not what I meant.” She blows out a slow breath. “You’ve got me worried. Please don’t do anything extreme — like climb in a casket or something. You’re stressed out and hurting and your mind can play tricks on you.”

“Climb in a casket? As if. You are so morbid. Anyway, there is no casket. Dad was cremated to travel lighter. I’d need to be the size of a Barbie doll to fit in his urn.”

“Dani, you better talk to somebody who’s there in person. Like now. I know you and your mom aren’t exactly tight. But your dad’s parents are there, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. His big sister, too.”

“Talk to them, okay? Promise?”

“Fine. Whatever. See you in a few weeks.”

I plunk the phone on my jagged sketch of Dad and me. My face looks half-melted, like Quasimodo or pottery that collapsed in the kiln. Heather’s right. I’m losing my freaking mind. And now my inky fingertips have a fresh coat of charcoal. Great. I can’t do anything without making a mess.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, hoping Mum doesn’t stop me for a surprise inspection. I scrub my hands with wet wipes, pumice soap, then nail polish remover. A dozen cotton balls later, my fingers still have a faint blue tinge, like I’m oxygen-deprived. I ought to put on Goth-black polish to complete the look. Better yet, I could stick feathers in my hair and change my name to Dances-with-Ghosts. It’d be about as sane as keeping my promise to Heather.

I can’t go marching into the dining room and say, “Great news! Dad’s back. He just stopped by for a chat.” I can picture how swimmingly that’d go down with my family. Aunt Cecily would weep into her knitting, while Dad’s mother, Grandma Deane, would sit pale and stricken in her ivory twinset, teacup rattling in her hands. Dad’s father, the Reverend Elliott Deane, would either conk me with a crucifix like I’m possessed or give me the senile church lady treatment — a thoughtful frown, reassuring pat, and vague inspirational quote of the day. Mum would flash one of her apologetic “teenagers are such a trial” smiles, and say nothing. Not like she’d get a word in edgewise with Poppa Tilman grousing about her “un-daughterly” hospitality, “uppity” cooking, “plain-Jane” décor.

Well, I didn’t promise I’d talk about the ghost, only that I’d talk. I think I can manage to get “More tea anyone?” to come out of my mouth.

I towel off each knuckle and nail, chanting a prayer: Lord God. Have mercy. On me.

My heart rate slows. I can do this.

I shut off the light and slowly pad down the hall. Voices grow clearer as I near the dining room. Mum is blathering on about the real estate market in our Upper West Side neighborhood.

Then Grandma asks, “You’ve discussed this with Dani, haven’t you?”

I freeze. Discussed what?

= = =

To read more, get NEVER GONE from these retailers:
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Saturday, June 02, 2012 Laurel Garver
Never Gone, © 2012 Laurel W. Garver


Chapter 1



My dad and I have this game we play on elevators. One of us comes up with three related things and the other has to guess the category. If I say “Frick, Cloisters, Guggenheim,” Dad will know they’re museums — and our favorite Saturday haunts here in the city. He usually stumps me with weird British slang from his childhood or random facts about my mother. I have a way harder time stumping him. Even when I try classmates’ names, art terms, indie bands, or obscure Harry Potter characters, he almost always gets it right.

As the floors blip by, I at last have the perfect clue: Self, Us, People.

Identity groups? he’d guess. Circles of moral responsibility? Subjects of your latest drawing? Blimey, is it the multiple points of view in Renoir’s group paintings?

Nope, he’d never get it. He never saw those coffee-ringed magazine covers in the ICU waiting room. He was the patient. And even though he died two days ago, I can’t stop playing Three Things on elevators.

By the time I reach the seventh floor, I have a strep-like ache in my throat. I shuffle into the hall, hugging a packet of Dad’s memorial service bulletins to my chest. I won’t lose it. I won’t. The minute I let one toe stray into that quicksand, it will suck me right under.

As I trudge toward our apartment, every muscle fiber screams, “No! Run!” like I’m the ditzy chick in some horror movie about to go explore the haunted attic alone.

The moment I slide my key in the lock, my mother yanks open the door. She stands there in her cashmere suit, fists on hips, dry-eyed and smelling of Tresor perfume, like she’d spent the afternoon in client meetings rather than a crematorium in Greenwich Village. I bet she’d let her long-lost Central Pennsylvania accent slip out before she’d ever shed a tear.

“Dani! Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. Your grandfather’s cab got back ages ago, and he said you were right behind him.”

“You didn’t get my message?”

She sags a little. “Do you have any idea how many people have left messages today?”

“Sorry, really. I, uh, stayed late to help with this.” I hand her the packet of bulletins, still warm from the copier. “The secretary let me do the layout. And a special cover.”

“So all this time you’ve been at church?”

I nod and follow her into the dining room, where the table is set for six. She tosses the packet onto the sideboard, then turns, frowning, to inspect my ink-stained fingers. “What on earth? You had a nail appointment.”

If she’d look in the packet, she might have a clue where the hours went and how I got so inky. But as usual, she can’t be bothered with anything tainted by stained glass and steeples.

I glance at Dad’s chair, wishing he were here to run interference. He’d compliment my skillful hands, explain how I can’t draw wearing those thick acrylic tips. But his chair is empty, and no matter how hard I wish it, I’ll never hear his voice again.

“Sorry. I just…ran out of time.”

“This simply won’t do, darling.” Mum prods my ragged cuticles. “You can’t stand in a receiving line and shake a hundred hands looking like this. Go wash up, and I’ll give you a manicure after dinner.”

Nice. Deviate from Mum’s precious plan and I’m dismissed like a coffee-spilling, Xerox-breaking temp. I doubt anyone will give a hoot about my stupid nails tomorrow.

I open my mouth to argue, then clamp it shut. If Dad were here, he’d say it was “jolly nice of your mum to offer” and make the sign language motion for “honor.” My cue to remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” To remember our long talks about Mum and God and how being a sullen jerk when she pushes my buttons only makes my faith a joke to her. Hypocrisy. A lie.

I sigh. “Okay, Mum.”

When I look toward Dad’s chair again, he nods and mouths, Well done.

Dad?

He runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to run to him and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe. There’s no sign that his face was a crazy quilt of stitches, purple welts, and crusted bandages. That machines kept his lungs working.

Mum waves a napkin in my face. “Dani? Hello? You all right?”

I peer around her. Dad’s chair is empty again, but the placemat at his space is askew. No way did Madame Perfect do that.

“Danielle?” Mum touches my arm and I jerk to attention.

“Sorry. I was just remembering —” I rifle through my coat pockets. “Here’s the receipts and change from the taxi. And I’m not hungry. But…I’ll take care of my nails. Now. On my own. But thanks for offering. I guess I’ll go now. To my room. So, um, bye.”

I stumble down the hall and pull my bedroom door closed behind me. For a dizzy moment, I grip the knob and gulp in air. I’m all right. It was nothing. A flash. A brain burp. After spending hours drawing his portrait from an old photo, I must have his face burned onto my retinas like an afterimage.

Except he moved. Gestured. Communicated. Bumped a placemat. I don’t think that’s usual for a grief hallucination.

Conflicting feelings scamper inside me like crazed squirrels. All around me is nothing but more chaos. Deep drifts of crumpled Kleenex, unfinished sketches, textbooks, and lotion tubes litter the floor. My bed’s lost under heaps of laundry. In one corner, my half-packed suitcase lays open beside an unopened stack of Christmas gifts. When Mum gets a spare moment to see this place, she’s going to flip.

“Dani?” Aunt Cecily calls outside my door. “Back, are you?”

I turn from the mess and open my door. Dad’s older sister shifts nervously in her tweed overcoat and tugs on a lock of her bobbed, sandy hair. She hands me a white garment bag from Macy’s. “Your mother asked me to find you something dark and dressy to wear tomorrow. None of your skirts or dresses is quite right for the occasion, she said.”

“Probably not.” I rip away the plastic. Something black and blandly shapeless emerges. Lord have mercy. What fashion travesty has Aunt Cardigan-Khaki-Loafers decided to inflict on me? She must’ve fallen into the clutches of Macy’s most sadistic sales clerk, or the most clueless — someone who assumes every Brit takes fashion tips from the queen.

Cecily’s forehead puckers with worry. “Is it all right, dearest?”

“It’s…nice,” I say, trying to not cringe as I rub the scratchy fabric between my fingers.

“You hate it.” She blushes, two red splotches spreading across her milky English skin.

Dad looked just like that whenever I asked him to pick up tampons at the store. I wince and turn away.

“We can take it back,” Cecily blurts, misreading me. She frantically digs through her pockets, finds the receipt, and jabs it at me. “Here, I still have the bill of sale. We can go now. Or after dinner. They’re open till ten at least.” She grabs up the shredded garment bag, noisily rustling plastic as she tries to rewrap the dress. “I don’t know why your mother asked me to shop for you. She knows I haven’t her capacity for glamour.”

It’s one thing for Mum to boss and bully me, but there’s no way she can do this to Cecily.

“Please stop fluttering. It’s fine.” I take the dress again and hang it on a peg, letting the plastic fall. There has to be some way to fix this, to spare my style-challenged aunt from embarrassment or having to fight the city crowds, which terrify her. Come on, brain.

“Oh, Dani,” she says. “Don’t settle on my account.”

“It’s just very…grown up, which is kind of startling. Like you see me as so, well, mature.”

“Of course you are, so brave through such a difficult time.” As tears pool in her eyes, she briskly pats my arm and ducks away from my room.

The scent of beef bourguignon wafts through the door as she goes. For a split-second I’m tempted to follow her. But Dad’s counting on me to “honor” Mum, which for now means doing what I say I will — skip dinner to fix my raggedy nails.

I kick a path to my dresser and rifle through my toiletries for an emery board. As I dig deeper, something cool oozes onto my fingers. Oh, no. Hand sanitizer. One whiff and I’m back in Dad’s ICU room with powered-down machines, a gray stone man in a bed. So cold. So silent. So gone. I hurl the leaky bottle across the room, and it lands just short of the trash can, by Dad’s shoe.

Dad’s shoe?

I stare at the scuffed, brown oxford, size 12. My gaze drifts up to jeans legs, a corduroy blazer. It’s Dad, leaning on my desk like he used to every night.

He tilts his head and knits his pale eyebrows. “Rough day, my love?”

My love. His Rosebud. Dance-pants. Doodlebug.

Tears sting my eyes. My heart tugs me to go hug him and pour out all my troubles, while my brain screams Flatline! Corpse! Crematorium!

I wobble and sink onto my bed.

“Oh, Dad,” I croak. “What am I supposed to do without you? Mum and I…it’s hopeless. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. To her, I’m just a pathetic slob.”

“Not so, not so. Grace brags endlessly about your talent to anyone who’ll listen. She just frets about you, you know, developing a proper artist’s eye for composition, symmetry and all that. A bit of order does help, right?”

“I guess.”

He smiles. “Very well, then, let’s get to it. Crank some tunes and we’ll have this place spiffed up in no time. Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll do my Bowie impression.”

I snort at the thought of Dad waving his long, wiry arms to glam rock while shelving books and dusting. He always is happy to be an epic doofus if it makes boring chores entertaining.

Not is. Was. Shame flushes through me.

“This can’t be real.” I turn my hot face away and peel off my coat. Why am I talking to this hallucination or ghost or whatever it is? How could I possibly believe that Dad can go on having fun and playing peacemaker? It’s wishful thinking in the extreme.

When I turn back, he’s gone. Instead of a sweet breeze of relief, the loss hits like a fist.

“Dad?”

I squeeze my eyes shut and try to conjure him. The lilt of his northern British accent. The sharp scent of darkroom chemicals clinging to his clothes. But it’s no good.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Dad. Please come back. I promise I’ll listen.”

* * *

My breath fogs the cold glass as I perch on my bedroom windowsill and frantically dial Heather. Stories below me, yellow cabs race down Columbus toward midtown.

At Heather’s end, the Mexican Hat Dance is probably jangling in a pocket of that heinous gold lamé knapsack she loves so much. I hope she can hear it. Chances are her Georgia relatives dragged her to a monster truck rally or line dance or whatever it is they do for holiday family fun. She headed south for winter break with her big, noisy family the day we were all so sure Dad would pull through. He did wake up for a while. And Christmas was coming.

But real life isn’t a cheesy holiday flick with miracles that arrive right on time. Dad didn’t pull through, and now my best friend is far, far away when I need her most.

The line clicks. “Hey,” Heather says. “I thought we were gonna chat online at nine. You okay?”

“No, I — It’s…something really, really weird has happened. I saw…um —”

“Becca!” she suddenly shouts at her toddler sister, “get your grubby paws off my pastels and go back to bed! Hang on a sec, Dani, I need to move my art stuff before Becca scrawls a tornado in Times Square.”

The phone crackles on fabric and I hear Heather calling for backup.

I sigh with relief. Bless you, Becca, you sticky-handed terror. That was a close one. What was I thinking, trying to tell Heather I saw Dad? She’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Or worse, she’ll let something slip to our youth pastor or even my mother.

I grab my sketch pad and attack it with a charcoal stick while I wait. My jagged strokes form Dad and me on the steps of the Metropolitan. It sucks not being able to talk about his ghost or spirit or whatever it is, but what can I do? Who could I possibly trust with something this bizarre?

The phone clanks again. “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s too doggone noisy for Becca to sleep well here, with my redneck relatives hollering all the time. I keep hoping there’s some mistake and Daddy was switched at birth. Oh, get this — loony Aunt Pearl is going to clown college.”

My laugh comes out slightly strangled. Rusty. Like I forgot how.

“You don’t sound good, Dani. If the airport weren’t three hours away, I’d be on a plane home in a heartbeat. How about we take your dad some flowers when I get back Tuesday?”

“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m leaving on Monday for England.”

“You are? But why?”

“The interment.”

“What’s that? Sounds like something Nazis would do.”

“It’s the, you know…the dirt part.”

“But I thought your dad was being buried in New York.” Her voice is thick and choked. “Aren’t we gonna get even a day of break to hang out?”

I blink back tears. “I wish. I really do. But the England burial is in Dad’s will. Only New Year’s Eve flights had any seats.”

“You’ll come right on back though, won’t you?”

“No. Not for, um, two weeks.”

“Two weeks! Are ya kidding me? What about midterms?”

“Mum thinks she can cut a deal with the headmaster. I’m not sure what I’ll do if she can’t. I’ve got enough going on without worrying that my GPA is in jeopardy, too, right? I feel like I’m sinking into a swampy pit. I wish someone would throw me a vine.”

“I’ll try, Dani. Let me think. For your dad’s memorial service tomorrow, you need a plan, a way to bail if things get too ugly.”

“How bad can it get? I doubt we’ll have a pro-wrestling smack-down, like at your great-granddad’s funeral in Mobile. My family doesn’t really do ugly feelings, except for sulks and sarcasm.” I pick up my sketch pad again and layer on choppy cross-hatch shadows. “But if I get weepy and my mascara melts, I’ll…I don’t know. Hide in the bathroom?”

“Not very original, but it’ll do. Listen, you need someone there for you who won’t be a mess themselves.”

“Like who? Everyone I know left town for the holidays.”

“That can’t be true. But don’t you worry about it, all right? I got unlimited long distance and I won’t rest till I find someone.”

“Seriously?”

“Trust me, I wouldn’t let you be alone at a time like this.”

Trust her. I look at my desk, where Dad was standing just minutes ago. Trust her, my only friend who came to the hospital, ate bad cafeteria meals with me, typed my tear-stained homework.

“Heather, I need to tell you something a little freaky.” I take a deep breath. Trust her. Trust her. “I just saw my dad. And he talked to me.”

She gasps, and then the line’s silent.

“Heather?”

“You — You think your dad is…haunting you?”

“I don’t know exactly.” I go to my desk and touch the spot Dad had leaned against. “I was trying not to fight with Mum and he was suddenly there, kind of…helping me cope with her. Later he offered to help me clean my room. He seemed so real, down to the wrinkles around his eyes.”

“I know you miss him a lot, but what you saw…might not be quite what you think.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. You think I’m cavorting with evil spirits, huh?”

“That’s not what I meant.” She blows out a slow breath. “You’ve got me worried. Please don’t do anything extreme — like climb in a casket or something. You’re stressed out and hurting and your mind can play tricks on you.”

“Climb in a casket? As if. You are so morbid. Anyway, there is no casket. Dad was cremated to travel lighter. I’d need to be the size of a Barbie doll to fit in his urn.”

“Dani, you better talk to somebody who’s there in person. Like now. I know you and your mom aren’t exactly tight. But your dad’s parents are there, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. His big sister, too.”

“Talk to them, okay? Promise?”

“Fine. Whatever. See you in a few weeks.”

I plunk the phone on my jagged sketch of Dad and me. My face looks half-melted, like Quasimodo or pottery that collapsed in the kiln. Heather’s right. I’m losing my freaking mind. And now my inky fingertips have a fresh coat of charcoal. Great. I can’t do anything without making a mess.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, hoping Mum doesn’t stop me for a surprise inspection. I scrub my hands with wet wipes, pumice soap, then nail polish remover. A dozen cotton balls later, my fingers still have a faint blue tinge, like I’m oxygen-deprived. I ought to put on Goth-black polish to complete the look. Better yet, I could stick feathers in my hair and change my name to Dances-with-Ghosts. It’d be about as sane as keeping my promise to Heather.

I can’t go marching into the dining room and say, “Great news! Dad’s back. He just stopped by for a chat.” I can picture how swimmingly that’d go down with my family. Aunt Cecily would weep into her knitting, while Dad’s mother, Grandma Deane, would sit pale and stricken in her ivory twinset, teacup rattling in her hands. Dad’s father, the Reverend Elliott Deane, would either conk me with a crucifix like I’m possessed or give me the senile church lady treatment — a thoughtful frown, reassuring pat, and vague inspirational quote of the day. Mum would flash one of her apologetic “teenagers are such a trial” smiles, and say nothing. Not like she’d get a word in edgewise with Poppa Tilman grousing about her “un-daughterly” hospitality, “uppity” cooking, “plain-Jane” décor.

Well, I didn’t promise I’d talk about the ghost, only that I’d talk. I think I can manage to get “More tea anyone?” to come out of my mouth.

I towel off each knuckle and nail, chanting a prayer: Lord God. Have mercy. On me.

My heart rate slows. I can do this.

I shut off the light and slowly pad down the hall. Voices grow clearer as I near the dining room. Mum is blathering on about the real estate market in our Upper West Side neighborhood.

Then Grandma asks, “You’ve discussed this with Dani, haven’t you?”

I freeze. Discussed what?

= = =

To read more, get NEVER GONE from these retailers:
e-book: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, KoboSmashwords, iTunes
Paperback: CreateSpace, Amazon, The Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

Watch the trailer



Friday, June 01, 2012

Books

Never Gone


Dani’s dad can’t play peacemaker when he’s dead. Can he?

After her supportive father dies tragically, Dani has no clue how to cope alone with her perfectionist mother.

Then she sees him. In her room. Roaming the halls at church. Wandering his own wake. Is it a miracle? Or is she losing her mind?

Sunday school never prepared her for this kind of life after death.


"Never Gone is a ghost story for a new generation – a twisty journey through a young girl's battle with death, grief, and the discovery of family secrets that threaten to undo her world. Garver tackles difficult subjects with depth and grace, weaving the complexities of faith with the complexities of growing up."
— Heidi Willis, author of Some Kind of Normal

Read an excerpt.
Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, KoboSmashwords, iTunes
Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon, The Book Depository

Watch the trailer




Muddy-Fingered Midnights
poems from the bright days 
and dark nights of the soul


This thirty-poem collection is an eclectic mix of light and dark, playful and spiritual, lyric and narrative free verse. In an intricate dance of sound play, it explores how our perceptions shape our interactions with the world. Here child heroes emerge on playgrounds and in chicken coops, teens grapple with grief and taste first love, adults waver between isolation and engaged connection. It is a book about creative life, our capacity to wound and heal, and the unlikely places we find love, beauty, and grace. 

“In Muddy-Fingered Midnights, Garver seamlessly integrates unpredictable rhyme and alliteration to undergird the themes and strange beauty of these poems. The collection explores moments of cowardice and melting purity, ‘my only fruit / a cool ooze / that bubbles up / on blistering days,’  yet holds strongly onto faith as much as ‘Yankee girl grit.’ Even in dark times that are ‘glassy with misery,’ there’s a hidden reflection in the pane: hope.” 
—Jessica Bell, co-founder of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and author of Fabric, semi-finalist, Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards 2012: Best Poetry.


Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes
Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon
Friday, June 01, 2012 Laurel Garver
Books

Never Gone


Dani’s dad can’t play peacemaker when he’s dead. Can he?

After her supportive father dies tragically, Dani has no clue how to cope alone with her perfectionist mother.

Then she sees him. In her room. Roaming the halls at church. Wandering his own wake. Is it a miracle? Or is she losing her mind?

Sunday school never prepared her for this kind of life after death.


"Never Gone is a ghost story for a new generation – a twisty journey through a young girl's battle with death, grief, and the discovery of family secrets that threaten to undo her world. Garver tackles difficult subjects with depth and grace, weaving the complexities of faith with the complexities of growing up."
— Heidi Willis, author of Some Kind of Normal

Read an excerpt.
Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, KoboSmashwords, iTunes
Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon, The Book Depository

Watch the trailer




Muddy-Fingered Midnights
poems from the bright days 
and dark nights of the soul


This thirty-poem collection is an eclectic mix of light and dark, playful and spiritual, lyric and narrative free verse. In an intricate dance of sound play, it explores how our perceptions shape our interactions with the world. Here child heroes emerge on playgrounds and in chicken coops, teens grapple with grief and taste first love, adults waver between isolation and engaged connection. It is a book about creative life, our capacity to wound and heal, and the unlikely places we find love, beauty, and grace. 

“In Muddy-Fingered Midnights, Garver seamlessly integrates unpredictable rhyme and alliteration to undergird the themes and strange beauty of these poems. The collection explores moments of cowardice and melting purity, ‘my only fruit / a cool ooze / that bubbles up / on blistering days,’  yet holds strongly onto faith as much as ‘Yankee girl grit.’ Even in dark times that are ‘glassy with misery,’ there’s a hidden reflection in the pane: hope.” 
—Jessica Bell, co-founder of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and author of Fabric, semi-finalist, Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards 2012: Best Poetry.


Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes
Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon