Sunday, May 31, 2015

Art Responds to Black Lives Matter Movement

By Len Lawson 

Photo by Sumter County Gallery of Art

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry based on works of art. I recently gave an ekphrastic poetry reading at Sumter County Gallery of Art based on art by Antoine Williams. One of his works is an installation called “What It Look Like”. It includes elements such as tires, police caution tape, and flowers.

In my opinion, it’s like a juxtaposition of our diverse emotions in our bodies. Zora Neale Hurston said it this way in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.”

 But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a    wall in company with other bags, white, red, and yellow…On the ground before you is    the jumble it held—so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all  might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content any  greatly.

Every emotion in our brown bags has no business sharing space in the same body: love, fear, anger, hate, depression, disappointment, excitement, apathy. In the Black Lives Matter movement, every black body has purpose. Some may not appear as civilized or Americanized as others. Some seem barbaric and savage, but what else can be expected growing up in concrete jungles around our nation: environments where men in uniforms and suits relegate black bodies to fractions of a soul?

When the emotions from the brown bag become volatile from being caged by preconceived notions of blackness or even humanity, black bodies become known as thugs. The word thug originated as gangster terminology similar to the word goon, or hired criminal. Not every angry black body fits this description.

Perhaps if blacks were the ones who enslaved whites for centuries, then our culture would be the benchmark for an already fractured society. However, it already is now the benchmark. Black culture and rebellion is a cliché that white children mock as well as embrace. White children borrow from black bodies because they feel theirs is not enough. Having every opportunity as a dominant race is not enough to them.

How could they possibly believe this? It is because although black bodies have been crushed and cramped into thin sheets by the thousands in ghettos, prisons, and even classrooms, black bodies still bear a smile on the walls of their brown bags. Black bodies dance, sing, and laugh, yet on the inside, the contents within the bags decay in silence. They see blacks’ resolve and covet blacks’ resilience. Their parents call it uncivilized. Blacks call it culture and heritage. That is how a gifted black man can take what they call trash from the essence of himself and call it art.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tiffany’s Got The Writing Bug

By Kimberly Johnson

This won’t take too long. My cousin Tiffany has a summer reading independent book report and she wants me to help her with it. That’s saying a lot from someone who counts Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Zendaya as her social media buddies. Let me back up. 

Tiffany’s mom teaches 8th grade Language Arts-slash-English-slash-Writing. She wants Tiffany ahead of the curve so this is where the independent comes in. Tiffany has to read “The Classics” before entering the sixth grade. OMG—I remember that. It’s my job to help Tiffany organize her thoughts and notes. Best thing is, Tiffany likes to put pen to paper. She submitted articles for her class newsletter, she helped her mom with lesson plans, she even thought about writing an online letter to The State newspaper. 

Heck, with all that texting and tweeting, who knew she could compose complete sentences. I like this move Tiffany’s making. I believe that young people can become awesome writers. It opens the doors to critical thinking and creativity which will make them a valuable asset in whatever endeavor they seek out.

When I was her age and even younger, I liked to compose short stories and bind the loose leaf sheets with construction paper. I too completed those pesky summer reading reports. That started my writing bug.  I scratched the itch while writing for the high school newspaper; took a hiatus in college; and jumped back in with my first job after college. I worked for the Newberry Observer. From there, I continued feeding the writing bug with freelance opportunities.

Sorry, I need to leave you guys…Tiffany’s writing bug is biting.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Basic Novel Map

By Kasie Whitener

Most writing teachers suggest plotting your story by asking yourself, "What does this character want?"

If you're like me, you back into these analyses. I'm a pantser. I just write the story as it comes to me. Only afterward am I able to discern what exactly the character wants and what he's willing to do to get it.

So if that's the case, if you're not going to be able to answer those two crucial questions until the 4th draft (like me) then how do you plot the story without knowing the desired outcome?

You can use a basic map:

The Introduction sets the scene. Who is our protagonist and what are her current circumstances? What is different about right now in this person's life? Why didn't we start reading about her three days ago?

Turning Point 1 is the inciting incident. Maybe she's a reporter and she's just received an anonymous tip. What is the tip? Why was she chosen? What does she have to do now that she knows this tip information?

Turning Point 2 complicates the protagonist's journey. She's been in pursuit of something but now the stakes are higher. Maybe following this tip has put her at a conflict with her employer. Maybe she realizes she cannot trust her boss or his advice.

Turning Point 3 is the point of no return. It's here that our character either has the courage to plow ahead regardless of the consequences or where she tries to back track and undo what's already been done. Nothing can be the same after this point and some of the most engaging stories are where the protagonist realizes this too late.

The Climax is where the protagonist must make a permanent change in herself in order to move forward. She must choose either change and victory or cowardice and defeat. Characters who give up, drop out, or refuse to complete their quest are frustrating but they're real. It does not lessen the drama for the character to fail.

Finally, the Aftermath of our protagonist's choice. What fall out is expected and what actually occurs? Is there a happily-ever-after to be lived?

Plot is like a roller coaster that saves the biggest thrill for last.

Begin with a small hill, a small turn, maybe an upside-down or a corkscrew, but then a climb, always a climb, and a freefall to the bottom. Out of control and exhilarating, the plunge should feel like a payoff.

As a reader, if you've hung with this character through turning point choices, you are invested in the outcome. As a writer, reward your readers for hanging in there with an aftermath that satisfies.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Distractions or Inspiration?

By Jodie Cain Smith

My writing to-do list is long. A new novel needs to be revised and edited. The marketing plan for my first novel is incomplete. Short story ideas fill notebooks. A script begs daily for my attention, and novel number three wants to be started, but my writing distraction takes priority.

My distraction weighs fourteen pounds and five ounces. With big eyes and a wide grin that would melt the most heinous villain into a puddle of baby talk, Baby Boy beckons. When I lift him from his crib, he nestles his face into my neck, and his eyelashes tickle my skin. Time to write goes the way of the lullaby, disappearing gently into the stillness around me.

Anyone reading this may respond, “Of course, Jodie. He is a baby. He has to be your priority right now.” So, why did I, for weeks after giving birth, feel the pull of my laptop? Why was this pull so strong that I often felt guilty for holding Baby Boy while he slept in my arms rather than placing him in his crib so that I could write? The guilt came because I am a writer, and, must write. Everyday. Or do I?

Over the last four years since I stepped out of the government employee meat grinder in order to write fulltime, I have had plenty of distractions. Theatre rehearsals, social engagements, and weekend getaways with the hubby took me away from my laptop. Two weeks spent moving from one home to another left my laptop untouched other than to research new restaurants, gym hours, audition notices, and a much needed writers’ group, but I was not left with guilt from these distractions. I recently asked myself why not?

Then I remembered a conversation I had with a peer last summer. We discussed a mutual friend of ours. He is young, really young, in that way that people in their late thirties view college kids. So young. He’ll learn. I can hear my own inflated sense-of-self casting judgment. His writing skills are there. What he needs is life experience, my peer and I agreed.

Yes, I do believe having a rich, life experience to draw on is important to every writer. After nearly forty years on Earth, I am still trying to understand and fully capture in words the human experience. I look back to my childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood for inspiration. So, why did I forget that distractions are beneficial and that from distractions new inspiration will come?

Because I never knew until becoming a mother that some distractions are quiet, with only the tiny sound of two brand new lungs doing their job. Some distractions snuggle into the crook of an arm and coo as they drift off to sleep. And some distractions get pretty angry, if after Baby Boy has fallen asleep in my arms, I try to sneak him into his crib for his afternoon nap and tiptoe to my office.

Thankfully, and just in time for Mother’s Day, I have remembered that our distractions are what we actually write about. Without them, what stories do we have to tell? From the looks of the angel smiling at me from his swing, I will be distracted and inspired for years to come. I hope your distractions inspire you to write as well.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Predicament of Procrastination

By Julia Rogers Hook

If Shakespeare had had social media we might have never known Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or even the ever-charming MacBeths.

Email during the time of Dickens would have left the miserly Scrooge and sweet Tiny Tim buried forever with dear Charlie.

I just imagine such greats as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne scribbling by candlelight with their quills and ink pots and wonder what they would think of today’s fledgling writers like myself who are so easily distracted with posting photos of vacations or cute little pet tricks.

Today with the most modern techniques for writing at our fingertips, I can’t imagine how the scribes of yesteryear did it. With no electricity, no copy and paste and…oh merciful heavens, no spell check, these authors of classics sat in their drafty homes creating treasured stories with nothing more than a candle and their imaginations.

And yet I seem to always find myself procrastinating when it comes to writing.

I’m always in awe of my colleagues as they doggedly do whatever it takes to get their work out there and get their pieces published. I’m always happy for them, overjoyed, even. But I can’t help wondering how they do it when I seem to have so much trouble getting myself to “buckle down” and really concentrate on my writing.

“WHERE do they find the time,” I think to myself.

Do they get up early? Go to bed later? Write in the middle of the night? Go to coffee shops? Perhaps lock themselves away in a tower? These are published authors but they aren’t hermits. They have spouses and children and jobs.

They must know something that I don’t.

Are they perhaps members of a big underground club that I’ve not been invited to join?
Maybe there’s a secret formula or even a covert password or clandestine handshake that grants them passage into some writers’ version of a VIP lounge?

But I know the truth.

They simply make their writing a priority in their lives. They, as the shoe company says, “just do it.”

And they do it one page at a time or probably even sometimes one sentence at a time.

They write.

And review it and edit it and then rewrite it.

If we have 12-step programs for alcohol, drugs, gambling and even over-eaters, maybe we should come up with something for procrastinating writers. I’d be one of the charter members and even get there early to start the coffee and bring the cookies. I can see us all sitting in our circle of chairs and each person “shares” their tales of why they can’t get started on their book.

Of course…we could also all use that time to stay home and write instead of moaning about why we aren’t working couldn’t we?


“Hello…my name is Julia and I’m a procrastinator.”