Forming an Advisory Group

Every author must seek fresh eyes and fresh opinions. Along the journey of creating literary pieces, I have leaned on the knowledge and kindness of those who traversed the route to writing and publishing success. See the blog post about people I call “My J-Crew”.

I am seeking to hear voices other than mine. After all, authors do not buy (or should not buy) their own novels and nonfiction books. Readership is diverse, so should this group, which will “make recommendations and provide key information.” Calling it an advisory board takes away the familiarity factor, makes it too formal, and takes out the community.

Picture from Performink

The Why

The group is a forum to connect and share thoughts about my forthcoming novels, nonfiction books, their titles, covers, plots, and characters analysis. The books the group will discuss have not been released yet, but they are sliding toward publication. Whereas I am not Oprah Winfrey and cannot insist that members sign waivers and comply with exclusivity, I seek to protect my intellectual creations under the Copyright Law.  

The When

After years of critiquing the works of other writers and having them do likewise to mine, I need to add another dimension to the groups I belong. I need an advisory group made up of trusted people who possess diverse and unique skills and background. I am at the juncture in my writing life when it has become clear that mine can no longer be the solitary voice in choosing the best title for my works among the ones I brainstorm. I do not intend to ask the group to invent wheels. I might need to capitalize on their knowledge of emerging issues and challenges, unique perspectives, and other bookish (serious) maters that I alone can handle no longer.

The How (Structures/Policies)

The advisory group will be standing/continuous, but postings will be sporadic. It will comprise of people of different nationality/national origin, diverse values, cultures, educational background, career, life states, who come together and provide critical anchor (a light house of a sort) that guide during my brain freeze so that I must arrive at rapid changes. More specifically, it will consist of a community of readers, writers, teachers, artists, health care practitioners, attorneys, financial planners, students, and people in other walks of life.

I am the self-appointed chair/administrator. However, the point of the group is that I recognize that I need help. Therefore, there will be co-administrators and moderators. The duties of these will be open to discussion. Not all members are expected to post all the time, but members are needed to post most of the time to provide the much-desired feedback so that decisions are not based on insufficient data.

My Hope

I am thrilled at this prospect, which is a huge leap! It is my first administered Facebook group. I hope to choose those who care for my well-being as I care for theirs. Since I do not have the financial reward to pay back, I offer reward in kind (same type of deal as I receive) and/or reward in token (my published book[s]). The group receives the satisfaction of being on the ground level of the release of different genres.

I imagine that different opinions might not blend. My hope is that we agree to disagree, and we disagree while holding on to our self-respect and respect for each other. I hope I do not lose anyone due to strife or disagreement.

Some information was obtained from Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

Knee-deep in “It”

I am mired in “it”. I am surrounded by how-to/craft books from wise and generous editors, literary agents, published fiction authors, and poets. I am devouring books from Toni Morrison, Jacqueline Woodson, Michael Donko, Amanda Foody, etc., to channel their success into me. The pile of such books is up to a toddler’s height.

The Maud Marks Library welcomes me when it opens and lets me out just before it closes so that I can race to the church in the evening several times a week. I need prayer stacked from the ground to heaven to get me through what I hope will be THE LAST EDITING. Is there such a thing? There is no such thing to a mother hen like me who has sat on her “eggs” for years, even decades. Is a book ever edited with completion, or does an editor just sigh and release it with the utmost reluctance?

I have altered and blue-penciled Daughters of the Soil so many times that I can hear it screaming at me, “LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU OBSESSED WOMAN!” I will leave it alone one day soon, maybe this summer. Release it! Bid it adieu so that I can edit the sequel, Mourning Satin.

serenityprayer  books_stackedtoheaven    books_stackedtoheaven2

My books of poetry will receive attention next.

Openings Continue to Challenge Seasoned and New Writers

We all should be Charles Baxter.

Openings always challenge most writers, seasoned and novice. However, Charles Baxter captures it with profound precision. He ensnares the reader with many strategies. The first strategy is the use of curiosity that focuses on the sense of smell. He attracts the reader with the wonder of what Detroit, Michigan, smells like. He forces the reader to linger in the first paragraph for the sole purpose of satisfying that curiosity. He releases the reader to move with radiant joy but with a backward glance. The reader accepts this release for the purpose of moving with reluctance to subsequent words so that he/she can discover much more.

Baxter employs, not just the sense of smell, but he employs imagery in a no-holds-barred style. The first paragraph is riddled with an imaginative journey. Each word draws the senses and packs a punch. To conjure a smell that takes up residence in one’s head is pure animation. The reader envisions such a forceful incident and smells the acridity of the industrial “chuffing”. Another succinct imagery brings forward “knitted beret, and his dreadlocks flapping in the breeze” to cause the reader to concentrate on characterization without making it into an undue chore.

Baxter draws in the reader with the juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar. He compares Anders’ native Sweden with the unfamiliarity of Detroit. In the narrator’s homeland, that sort of smell (smoke from natural wood-burning) heralds the arrival of winter and calls forth all things natural. On the other hand, in Detroit, the only thing natural about the smell is that it permeates the city during summer when Anders arrives. The smell also arrives in the form of industrial pollution of a gigantic proportion; the acridity is artificial.

Another strategy that Baxter employs that entices the reader is the matter of coincidence. Baxter pits the protagonist’s arrival into the city with the opening of the novel: two entry points, one external (character arrives) and the other intrinsic/internal (the opening of the novel). Both showcase arrivals of a sort, a double entendre of a sort.

Baxter snags the reader from the onset and builds tension by stacking nuanced occurrences in incremental actions and with subtle interpretations between the cab driver and the Swede. Both of them are foreigners who are poured into the “melting pot” that is America, but each character attempts to understand the other. Failing to do so, each character must release the challenge and shrug it off, as Anders finally had to do when he perceived himself misunderstood.

By their nature, short stories are economists. They force writers to weigh every letter, every word, every phrase, and every sentence for the maximum impact. Baxter weighs the impact of each word before he lays it down like a bricklayer who stacks bricks and mortar with precision. Compliance with word count is the albatross any writer must get off his or her neck. Baxter has conquered that responsibility. “Better to start with a small mystery and build up to a bigger one. The truth about a situation is always big enough to sustain someone’s attention,” says Baxter.

In an interview that appeared in Medium, one of Random House’s many media outlets, Baxter admits to that technique of wanting to capture the reader from the onset. “I want to create a condition with an element of mystery in it. I set up a question that I and my readers want to have answered…You don’t have to set a Chevrolet on fire or have someone murdered on the first page to get the reader’s attention.”

Even when he uses the passive voice, he does not detract from the gripping effect of the opening scene. Rather, the passive voice adds poetry to the opening and lessens the accusatory nature rampant in the active voice. “What he first noticed about Detroit and therefore America was the smell,” very lyrical as opposed to “Detroit’s smell greeted him…” or “Detroit’s smell slapped him in the face…”  Another passive voice uses two linking verbs (“seems” and “was”): “The smell seems to go through his nostrils…,” and, “But here it was midsummer…”

We all should be Charles Baxter when we craft our openers. If we cannot achieve that impossibility, we should study his style even as he himself studies Flannery O’Connor and other literary giants.

—–Frances Ohanenye lives in Houston and teaches composition at Houston Community College. She also teaches different literature courses, and one of them is through the Dual Credit Program at Mayde Creek High School.

My RSVP to NaNoWriMo’s Invitation!

Something about this year feels different. Dead dreams scream for resuscitation. Hope wants to live its name in me and in my abandoned literary works. Dread and the TERROR of an unfulfilled literary life wake me.

Something about this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) screams at me to heed the 30-day challenge and finish one of several novels that established a permanent but undeveloped colony in my brain or (at least) finish the revision of the novel that has remained unpublished for decades.

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Frances Ohanenye_The Penniless Millionaire

This is the year I take steps to shift my writing life to include year-round writing instead of summer-only writing when my full-time job takes a break.

The three years I was unemployed were the happiest my writing life has had. I was broke but happy. I woke up writing, I ate lunch writing, I burned many tea kettles while writing, I gave up food for writing, I did not want to do the 9-5 drill so that I could write, and I loved how darkness stole into my oblivious days because I wrote from sunrise to sunset. I was so euphoric that I called myself “The Penniless Millionaire.” Bliss thrived in me!

I established my NaNoWriMo account in 2012 and wrote about a thousand words. However, bills piled, and I had to heed the demoralizing downturn. I returned to the extravertive side of me that came with teaching and mingling.

Now, I must heed NaNoWriMo’s call once more and join hundreds of thousands of writers. I will pen a novel THIS YEAR before 2019 dries up like some of the pens I use to grade essays.

To honor me, my blog (Literary Nomad11), and my firm resolution, I will travel to any location and for any duration to write about literature.

Lethargy is not an option.

Procrastination cannot hold me in a deadlock grip any longer.

RSVP: NaNoWriMo, I will attend the best LITERARY party of the year! I will dress in my most elaborate attire and will write with my most creative pen. Thanks for the invitation.

Statistics/Facts to know: 

Challenge: Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days (November 1 to November 30).

National Novel Writing Month Heads Into its 16th Year (NPR)

20,000 New Yorkers Just Tried to Write a Novel in a Month (The New York Observer)

8 Best-Selling Books Written During NaNoWriMo That Show You It Can Be Done (The Bustle)

The Way We Learn Or Should Learn

Hello,
Inside which of these situations do you function now in your job or in your writing?
Unconscious incompetence (You don’t know, and you don’t know that you don’t know.)
How can you get help when you don’t know that you need help? Should you be grateful to the person who exposes your incompetence?
Conscious incompetence (You don’t know, but you know that you don’t know.)
Should you get help, or should you continue to fool yourself until a colleague exposes your incompetence?
Conscious competence (You know, and you know that you know.)
How do you use this awareness? Do you allow this awareness to turn you into an arrogant, conceited person?
Unconscious competence (You know, but you don’t know that you know.)
Should you be humbled by this awareness? Should you be gracious to the person who recognizes your competence?
–Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise
Head over to Reddit to share your opinion.

A Sort-of Sonnet and a Sestina

Sonnet?

Examining Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is a feast for the poetry analyst. At first, the poem appears to be a sonnet, but it follows neither the Shakespearean nor the Italian sonnet form. Regardless, a sonnet is a poem that shows two contrasts in two stanzas. The first stanza examines or expresses an emotion (such as love), and the second stanza juxtaposes that emotion or pits a related contrast to the expressed emotion.

The first part of Owen’s poem appears true to form with the first eight lines of the first stanza and the six lines in the second stanza making the regular 14-line sonnet. After that, Owen seems to veer off to his own mutation of a classic poetic form by adding two lines in the third stanza, which kind of mimics the type of sonnet with two separate lines (constituting as Lines 13 and 14) and hanging at the end of the preceding 12-line stanza. However, Owen inverts it, thus confounding the reader completely. In a way, the second part of the poem, with its two and twelve lines, make up a quasi-sonnet. Technically, the poem is made up of two sonnets of irregular stanzas.

The rhyme scheme of the first sonnet is not true to form either: ABABCDCD ABABCA. For the second stanza, the rhyme pattern acts like a continuation of the last stanza with the CA. However, it is imperative to treat this section of the poem separately as another sonnet. Therefore, the scheme is AB CDCDEFEFGHGH. Had the last two lines ended in the same sound (GG rather than GH), one would have accepted or concluded that Owen’s poem mirrored the Shakespearean (English) sonnet most closely than the other two widely accepted (Italian and the Spenserian) sonnets.

Owen’s poem depicts the horrific reality of war and his experience during World War I. The Latin title of the poem (“Dulce et Decorum Est“) converts into English to mean, “It is sweet and honorable,” and the last line of the poem (pro patria mori) means “to die for one’s country,” and many soldiers sacrificed their lives for their countries. One such soldier could not get his gas mask over his face quickly:

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

I believe Owen chose the best structure for his message so as not to be lost in the complexity and confusion of form. A sonnet is straightforward enough even with an abstract theme or topic. Had he used sestina or acrostic, these forms would have defeated his purpose. Acrostic would have made his message seem less serious. Sestina would have found him repeating certain words and phrases at intervals, which would cause his poem to acquire a plaintive, wailing chorus.

“Sestina,” Elizabeth Bishop

Speaking of a sestina, Elizabeth Bishop’s sestina is a learning piece for up-and-coming poets. (I have written some sestinas and wanted to see if she stayed true to the structure of the poem.) A sestina has 39 lines of six lines of six stanzas and the last stanza of three lines. Because of its precise form, it can thread through most topics. However, it has a circuitous and rigid structure at the same time, one with a rhyming structure that calls for particular words to be placed strategically at particular places in order to achieve a particular feel.

Unlike Owen’s make-shift sonnet, the form of a sestina sometimes defeats the meaning and the message. The poet is pre-occupied with making sure he/she stays to form that meaning and message may be sacrificed. The rhyming patterns are always as follow:

Stanza 1          ABCDEF

Stanza 2          FAEBDC

Stanza 3          CFDABE

Stanza 4          ECBFAD

Stanza 5          DEACFB

Stanza 6          BDFECA

Stanza 7          EDA

The message is that a grandmother and her grandchild are in a house in September where the rain is falling during a fading light. They are reading an almanac near a stove. The summation is that since an almanac looks into the future, the grandmother is helping the child look into her future as they talk and laugh amid tears, which are hidden.

The atmosphere is sad and cozy at the same time with imagery such as the sounds, smells, touching, and so on with the kettle singing and the “little moons fall down like tears from between the pages of the almanac.” The tears from the kettle match the drops of rain on the roof.

The poem reminds the reader of the saying, “So close, yet so far away.” Even though the grandmother is in the kitchen with her grandchild, they appear disconnected in many instances and in many ways, like a generational gap. The last stanza takes away the reality of the poem and places it into a surrealistic plane.

—————————————–

Works Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. “Sestina.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry Fifth Edition. Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon eds. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2005. Print.

Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry Fifth Edition. Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon eds. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2005. Print.

Feedback from Critics on “DOTS”

Due to my perfectionist nature, I have put “Daughters of the Soil” (“DOTS”) through the wringer (five covers, uncountable revisions, pre-view of Chapter 1 via FB and e-mail, and many literary workshops). It has emerged looking better for the wear.
Disclaimer: These are not official Amazon book reviews.  
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Feedback:

Good job crafting a story with a very clear sense of conflict and tension, combined with loss. You do a good job of using precise diction.

The description of the setting in this piece is on the lighter-side; you’re using the characters to illuminate the place.

I loved getting to know David and his run to the police station. It tells us so much about him, the town, everything else going on. SD

Good job of tying everything together about the two characters and by this point, I have established in my mind who Officers Audu and Orile are. AJ

·         Love this: The imagery, care taken symbolized by the imagery “raw brown eggs” – eggs being delicate and brown ones being even much rarer; I Love This Entire Imagery and dynamic portrayed here with Obi Udara’s family.

·         I read the first chapter and really appreciate the detail, description, and desperation that is in the run of David to the police station. I look forward to reading the entire book. –CM

·         I think more dialogue should occur between Emelda and Florence.

·         Regarding pacing, you could reduce how much time is spent on Emelda’s beauty.

·         Duplicate words slow down the pacing.

·         I would like to stay a little longer in Emelda and Obi’s bedroom when the shirt fell.

·         This is a great example of Showing us how the character feels about his family vs. telling us.–Ousmane

·         I have been hooked and pulled into this “world” of these characters. I am intrigued and want to read more.

·         The elegance of your writing, the synchronicities of each detail weaving into the next, seamlessly. I loved reading this; and again, I want more.

Your attention to detail is impressive!

The intricate personal traits you gave regarding Emelda, and the other characters, remind me of Flannery O’Connor’s work. When the narrator dipped into Emelda and Florence’s heads in a third-person omniscient, which is an older style, that is also in tune with O’Connor’s writing.–Deb

I feel like your story was something like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley because of your unusual word-smithing and “the women wanting to join the police force.” You have created so many lexicons and phrases. Is this the future?

The work reads beautifully.

·         Wow – there is so much elegance in your writing here (and throughout the piece). This section gives me a solid sense of Emelda’s character. I have a strong…bond with her character due to the care taken in describing her in this passage.

·         We, the readers, are learning so much about Emelda here – about her perfect mixture of class and humility. Wow. This is great writing. Thank you!

“The prose is fluid, lush, and vivid throughout. You have a good sense of rhythm and the dialogue flows naturally throughout. There’s also a strong sense of tension and conflict in the piece, which engages the reader and propels them to continue with the story.” SD

·         I love the way you wrap so many insights into your language, giving us the customs, fears, and hopes of the people in this country, not just the main characters. Really lovely piece. Excellent work. –SC

You have a wonderful lyrical and almost mystical quality in your work. Your work reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri; Lydia Yuknavich; Amy Bloom; Isabel Alledne; Elena Ferrante; and magical realists like Bolano and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” Sarah S.

Using an emotional physical space like a kitchen to do the work of revealing character, plot, tension and setting is so difficult, but you do it effortlessly.

·         Compelling characters and plot!

·         You have a real sense of symbolism in this piece, and reading it, it occurred to me that this is really your strength in terms of atmosphere, tone, and mood.  Your work always has an undercurrent to what’s happening on the surface, which is one of the strongest ways to establish symbolism without making it seem clichéd or forced. JG

·         Very strong work, attention to detail, and diction.