Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why I Don't Write Novels

My husband loves the way I write. He says the words just pour out of you.  Of course I'm happy he loves the way I write. Today, however, he asked me why I don't write novels since I am so prolific. The man certainly is not afraid to poke me when he gets a notion. Sweet man. Poke, poke, poke.

I have long considered why I am a poet, why I don't write fiction. In grad school, my friend Audrey's husband admonished both of us to write something more economically productive. You girls ought to write "smut novels," he said. That's where the money is. We laughed til our sides ached. Smut novels... indeed.  We are poets. We are always going to be poets. It's in our DNA.

Many of my colleagues in grad school were concentrating their schooling on fiction, either short stories or novels. I am in awe of novelists like Janet Fitch (White Oleander is my favorite) and who hates a good short story? But write them? Sigh.

I joke with people when they ask why not write a novel. I tell them that whatever a novelist can put in 100,000 words I can do in 40 lines or fewer. Funny joke, right? Well, it is not so funny to me. I do not, just do not have the staying power to go 100,000 words to get across a single incident or point. I get bored. I get so frustrated that soon I am putting the thing into a poem and feeling darned satisfied if I do say so. And I do say so.

My friend Layne is an amazing writer. She was part of my grad school cohort but in fiction. My friend Nanci was also part of that cohort, but in creative nonfiction (aka memoir). Both of these women can write circles around me when it comes to prose. I love novels and memoir. I have always read both. But when it comes to writing, poetry is my place. It is how I think, all metaphor all the time. I love metaphor, word play, form. I think this way, much the way I dream.  Maybe I am a dreamer because of poetry, or maybe I am a poet because I dream.

I have studied under some pretty fantastic poets. Each class or workshop was like going to Disneyland for me. So many rides! Such a magical land. Look...over there... a woman who flies out of a castle! Each poet/teacher added something to my way of looking at poems, thinking of poems, writing poems. Even the least of these teachers added.

My father used to say to us find something you're good at and do that. Do that all the time if it makes you happy. Smart man. I know that my husband, in asking why I don't write novels, was actually asking me if writing novels might make me as happy as writing poetry does. He was letting me know that he sees my writing as perhaps more malleable and more open than I do. What he he has done however is to make me explore more deeply why I do what I do.

Novels are complex machines. They are also very needy. They want to be fed over the long haul with exotic foods like plots, rising action, climaxes, faux climaxes, falling action, round and flat characters, protagonists and antagonists. Denouement. My friend Layne did a presentation in grad school on the "W" of novel structure. Brilliant way to look at construction of a novel. I kept a copy and look at it from time to time, but every time I look at it, I realize that it is too much for me. It's like building a whole house with five bedrooms, two living rooms, a dining room, four baths, and a garage would be too much for me. I like working small. I don't mind working hard. Just small, please. 40 lines or fewer.

I did write a 100 line poem in 2014. That is 100 lines, not 100,000 words. Writing that poem was like running a marathon. When I was finished I wondered where I had been and how I got here. I will probably never write a poem that long again. And forget ever getting it published. Who would take on a 100 line poem?

One of these days I may do a novel. On my terms. A verse novel. Guaranteed it will not be 100,000 words. It will be a series of poem-like chapters with a plot line running through them. It will have characters and setting and action, rising and falling. Maybe Laynes "W" handout will be my guide.  Oh, yes. It will not be a "smut novel."

Support your local poet(s); a teeny tiny rant

Today I am going off the rails a bit to complain. I don't like to do this, but sometimes one must.  A complaint can sometimes seem like (or be) whining. I am not a whiner. But I do think I want to speak out.

I am what I like to think of as a poet's poet. I have been told this by not just a few people. I support poetry in many ways, not the least of which is buying poetry books, either for my personal library or for giving away to others or to public libraries and schools. I attend readings and book launches whenever I can. I particularly like to buy directly from poets at readings and book launches. If I cannot do this, I order them from publishers or find them in bookstores.

I think this is what ought to happen — because unlike someone with a film, a novel, or a memoir, poets do not get huge sales for their books even when they do sell them, unless they have the good luck to become nationally known. Even at readings, it is rare for poets to sell many books. There is interest in reading poetry, just not so much in buying it. I have noticed a phenomenon that is, frankly, quite disturbing. Some people attend readings and go up to speak with the poet afterward, but instead of buying the book from the poet, they will ask the poet to email a copy of a poem or provide a printed copy of that "special poem I loved so much which brought me to tears." I'd love to have a copy for my sister whose ..... can you send it to me?  I am amazed that some people think poems ought to be free, where they would never assume a novelist would give away a chapter. I've considered putting out a tip jar at readings, the way musical groups do at cafés and coffee houses. Suggested donation, $5. Maybe a "free" poem for your donation. By the way, at my readings I always have a door prize or two, usually one of my books.

We who write work very hard at our craft. To poets, every word is critical: right word, right place. Writing poems is not a matter of taking nice sentences and breaking them into lines (or it shouldn't be that). Poems are mirrors. They are magic boxes. They are clues and answers to the riddle that is humanity. So we who write them are careful. We know that the wrong word can change everything. It is a big responsibility. We FEEL that responsibility when we write.  The truth of the matter is that most poets are the starving artists we hear about in clichés. No, I am not starving. I am fortunate to be supported by a loving husband who is happy to feed me, and then some.

I am a writer, an artist. This is not a hobby. It is something for which I attended school, for which I earned two degrees. I am a professional. So are all of us who write and make books.

So if you have a book, I will buy it. If you hold a reading or a book launch, I will do my best to attend if I am in town where you are holding your event. I will buy your books there too.

OK, I am done now. I will keep this short because I have to dash off to get my free root canal.

Friday, March 16, 2018

365/365, a discipline

Today my chat with you is about discipline. No, not the "go to your room until you can tell me why you did that" kind of discipline. I'm referring to the kind where you set up a challenge for yourself to accomplish a task that will create a habit, bust you out of a locked door (artistically), or set yourself on a course to completion of a project. My project was to be 365/365.

For me, the discipline came sneaking in where I had not expected it. November is typically a writing month challenge. You've seen them: NaNoWriMo etc. November National Writing Month. I've taken a stab at these every couple years, to no good end. You see, I am easily distracted. Very easily. I'd write for a couple days and then remember a particular project and shift to that, or I'd start writing and the watercolors would call my name and I'd go paint. I realized a long time ago that I am scattery and random in my artistic practice. Ever hear that one needs to work 10,000 hours to be good at something? Yeah. But do those hours have to be in any kind of a time frame? How about spread out over 50 years? UGH. I am sure that is not the way it is supposed to go.

I want to be a great poet. Not just a good enough poet. Not even a very good poet. I want to leave something on this planet that might survive my mortality. Big goal, yes? Achievable? Maybe or maybe not. But isn't it about the journey rather than the destination?

My dear husband once said to me only a handful of poets ever really make it big. I won't go into how mad that made me other than to say that I was thinking why can't I be in that handful? NOTE: we worked out later why that statement hurt and why he ought to NEVER say such a limiting thing to me again. Love the guy. He is very supportive. I probably got overly sensitive when he said it. Happens.  But one good thing came from that incident as it haunted me like a crazy relative with an axe. I became more determined. I wanted to keep going.

In October of 2012, with the NaNoWriMo challenge on the horizon, I decided to go for it. But, as I am a fairly stubborn person, I wanted to do it my own way. So I set out to create my own prompts. I wrote a month's worth and put them into a file on my computer. I had difficulty writing just 30 prompts. I like to write them for the workshops I offer, a kind of nerdy hobby you might say. So for giggles I wrote a few more, then several more. I had over 60 more before the tv show I was watching had ended.  I knew I'd have use for the "leftovers" later. I began my writing project precisely on November 1, 2012.  A poem a day for 30 days.  Oh, and I decided not to veer off course by changing the prompts I had already devised. No matter what. Stay the course exactly as it was plotted. This was to change ever so slightly, but more on that later.

Once November was winding down, me chugging right along with a poem (draft of course) every day, it occurred to me that I might not be done yet. Maybe I would write into December, finish up the year. Good. Had prompts I could use. At the end of December, the 30th to be exact, I recalled that the writing the final poem of December fit nicely in with another discipline I have done for 18 years: write the final poem of the year on New Year's Eve and the first poem of the next year on New Year's Day (another story for another blog post).  I was already going to write one on January 1st. What the hell; why not just keep going. Do the thing for a whole year. Thus my 365/365 discipline was underway.

Discipline of any kind requires a certain amount of stamina. It means one has to keep going in all kinds of emotional weather. There is no day off for going to the beach or even for being down with a bad cold. One must be self-pushing. Oh dear. Could I? Would I?

I said yes.

Thus was my year-long discipline born. Yikes.

I decided to fine-tune. I wanted the prompts to speak to me as if freshly baked. I did not want to be aware of what the prompts were before I got to them. So, time had to be spent putting together a year of prompts. Cue me sitting in front of the tv, watching favorite shows as I created prompts. Multi-tasker is what I am. After all, I raised a flock of kids.  I divided the prompts into months, then weeks. I numbered them within each week, Days 1-7.  I created a folder and filled it, ready to keep going. It didn't take long however for me to decide to veer a bit from the never change a prompt no matter what plan. December 2012 bought an event that shook me right to the core of myself as a human being, as a mother, as a poet. Evil walked into a school in Connecticut and took the lives of children and teachers and staff. Evil walked right in and did that. I don't remember what my original prompt was for that day. I just know it was too much to write about something else. My poem, Lessons From First Grade, was the poem I wrote instead.

Lessons From First Grade

In the front row, a boy fidgeting 
with the buttons on his shirt. 
His mother lets him do them on his own
because it’s what mothers do
for their first grader sons. He hears
a sound and looks up to see a shadow:
Is it his dad coming home early? His
cousin bringing cookies for the party?
A loud noise. All the buttons 
pop off his shirt as he falls to the floor.
— and no time to call for his mother.

— for the children of Newtown, CT

I broke my promise to myself for these broken children. How could I not?

One thing we learn from undertaking such a discipline as this one, is that we poets, writers, artists of all kinds have the rare opportunity to stop and look carefully at the world, then render it in ways that help others see what we are seeing. We hold up a mirror and ask the world to look, to see what we see.

After the Newtown poem was written, I could hardly go on. Once I became aware that there was going to be no reckoning on behalf of these children in terms of changes to our laws, to our mechanisms of protecting the most vulnerable among us, I became sadder and more deeply afraid for what we might become as a world.

I was not ready to continue writing. But I had to.

The only other time during the year's discipline that I veered from the plan came in spring of 2013, four months after Newtown. A pair of crazy men decided to create death and havoc at the running of the  Boston Marathon. Evil walked the route of the marathon and turned a beautiful day of sunshine into a rain of metal, killing and maiming runners and spectators. This was not supposed to happen, but Evil knows no bounds. Of course the day's prompt had to be replaced. I had to do something. Mirror, world: how do you look as you gaze into it?


Birds of spring swoop in low and land.
Runners gasping, sucking for breath
don’t think they’re in a race with death,
know nothing of the evil plan
of someone on this festive day.
Boston town, where patriots stood
their ground for freedom’s cause of good,
bloodied, cleft by terror’s sway.

Birds of prey, of metal pieces,
spew death and mayhem in the crowd
as two sharp blasts report out loud.
Helpers run straight into the fracus.
They give quick aid to everyone,
risking all to aid the dying,
staunching wounds, comforting crying
kids looking for their dads or moms.

Guardian angels overhead
watch with woe o’er the grisly scene.
With haloed heads bent low, they keen
a dirge for all the newly dead.
Heaven opens reluctant gates
to welcome those newly arrived.
Those whose bodies did not survive
an act of terror and of hate.

As darkness falls to darkest night
the city birds forget their flight
but perch the tops of wrecked remains,
a cordoned street of blood and brains
spilled out in such a gruesome deed,
its evil such an awful breed
which glories in its brutal ways

on such a happy peaceful day.

Once more, Evil had to be called out. What kind of discipline can we find to change things?

The next day, I resumed writing to the proscribed prompts with a gusto. I seem to have gained strength from weakness. I finished the project on October 31, 2013.  I was not even tired.

After the disciplined writing was at an end, I wondered what would become of these prompts and their resulting poems. Each month, week, day had taught me something about writing, about myself as a poet, and about the world around me. I had to share. But I needed time and distance from the poems to gain perspective. So, printed out and put into file folders (as well as in folders on my computer), they sat.  Occasionally I'd dig out a folder and read a bit.

I knew the poems were not quite finished, needed editing and revising. A few months ago, I got busy with them again, folder by folder, week by week, day by day. I began putting the prompts together into a manuscript, along with comments and sample poems. Maybe someone else would like to have the prompts, and a little insight from my discipline.  Just maybe this was worth publishing.  I decided to go for it. I decided that there also needs to be somewhere for people to read ALL the poems I had written in that year of discipline. 365 prompts and 365 poems. BIG book.

Perhaps there is another way. What about two books, companions to one anther, to be sold separately in case the reader only wants one or the other. Still, what publisher would want to take on such a project?
Time will tell. At this point, I have completed both. I have a cover and a title. Not sure if I am going to send it out or if I will publish as an eBook. At any rate, here is the cover.

The art work is my own, done in the late 80s. It is a digital drawing, Bird Heart.

Enough from me for today. I need to do laundry and call about getting my revised web site hosted. April is coming and it needs to be ready to roll out then. No time like the present. After all, I am a disciplined person, right?

Tomorrow? hmmmm

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Welcome Back Bachofner

Here I am, the prodigal blogger. Mea culpa, mea culpa for wasting the opportunity to connect with all of you via my blog-o-sphere! It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say… THAT never happens.  I have just been busy writing. I guess that is not me being lazy, just not being communicative with all of you. So, here’s what I have to tell you. I’ll try to be brief.

1. I have been traveling

Where did I go? I went to Prague in November and spent three days wandering around the city, amazed by the architecture and the culture. This is a city to which I will return for more. From Prague on to Nuremburg, Germany and boarding the Viking longship, Gullveig, for a cruise on the Danube all the way to Budapest, Hungary. What a wonderful trip. Maybe later a few photos. took so many of those.

More travels coming in the future, including an Alaska cruise (to keep a promise to my fahter who always wanted to go there, but did not live to do so) and in 2019 a BIG trip to the Vking Homelands: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Poland, Berlin, Iceland. Wow, cannot wait for that one.

2. I have been writing (well, of course that is what I am SUPPOSED to be doing)

What have you accomplished, Carol? you ask…

a. A new book out inlate 2017  The Boyfriend Project is a collection of poems about girlfriends and their boyfriends, a look at the stories I have and stories other women have shared with me, translated into poems. Some who have read it tell me they were immediately brought back to their “love experiences” and took that stroll into the past. One woman thanked me for not making the poems all mushy and sentimental. Indeed they are not. Sweet and soulful some, dark and dangerous others. Everything in between.  I am actually thinking of a sequel.

b. A new book, Test Pattern; a Fantod of Prose Poems, soon to be relased by Finishing Line Press (May 2018). These poems are a real departure for me, wandering off like Old Pima into the realm of prose poetry. There are a couple postcard poems and a Q & A poem, along with some poems that defy labeling. I am particularly happy with this collection because it was a wild ride from start to finish, 21 of the drafts written in a single week. Yes, of course there was the massive revision process later, but quite a production for a wekk just getting the drafts of these done.

I can hear you now: what is a fantod? Ha! 

A fantod is defined as a state of discomfort or unreasonableness. Nod to Edward Gorey here for creating his amazing Fantod Pack of “tarot” style cards, from whence came the inspiration.

c. Ther has been some adding to the family and other amazing family events

Since last we chatted here, we have added 4 GREATgrandchildren to the family:
Althea Rose (Justin & Brittany)
Emily Christeen (Alex & Elizabeth)
Calvin R. (Nick & Allie)
Charlotte Joy (Justin and Brittany AGAIN)

Two granddaughters went off to university this fall, one to Univeristy of California at Santa Barbara and the other to Univeristy of Washington. I am writing them letters and sending care packages. Isn’t that what grandmothers do?

Okay, now to what's on my mind right now? Oh so much but here are a couple things:

1. I am so distressed at the state of our country
2. I am so distressed over all these mass shootings

About 1. I plan on exercising my voice at the polls as my contribution to "righting the ship" The madness, ignorance, and complacency has got to stop before we have no nation left.

About 2. I stood with our students this morning as hey silently remember the 17 students murdered by a gunman in Parkland FL a month ago yesterday. I am working (as a school board member here) on issues and policies around school safety.

I will not belabor these points. Not today.

On a very happy and positive note:

Soon, in the next couple of weeks, my web site will have a new look and new content. It will feature not only my writing but also my art (original watercolors) and my photography. It will be an interactive site where you can order books and ask me questions about anything art/writing related.

I have another new book in the making. It came from my 365 Project (a prophet and a poem a day for a year. I will put this out as a pair of eBooks which will be VERY reasonable in cost. It is in two books, one book of the prompts, one book is my response poems to those prompts).

The prompt part consists of a daily prompt arranged by months and weeks. Each month's entry has a bit of writing advice and a sample poem of mine from that month. The poetry book part has the same divisions, but features all of the poems I wrote in response to the prompts.

This will be FUN, INSPIRING, and really low cost to the purchaser. I am working on how to offer subscriptions to it without violating my own intellectual property rights.

Look for this by end of summer, if not sooner. It will be announced in the Bookography section of my web site, so be sure to visit to find it.

I am featured as a guest blogger on Luanne Castle's blog site. Luanne was one of my professors at California State University San Bernardino. Later we became friends and are colleagues in the world of writing.

My contribution to her blog is in two parts. The first is me discussing my new book, The Boyfriend Project, the second (to be published in a few days) is the upcoming book, Test Pattern: a Fantod of Prose Poems, soon to be released by Finishing Line Press. You can visit the website to order this book at  Look under new releases and the letter B.

Please visit Luanne's blog at While you are there, investigate her book, Kin Types and order a copy for yourself. You will love it as I do.

On a not so happy note:

I have suspended the magazine which I had edited and published since 1996, Pulse. Reason: lack of contributions that were publishable, especially in fiction. This is painful. But, I do not throw in the towel. Pulse may rise again under a new name and new format. One thing at a time though.

Well, my promise to be "brief" here has been broken. As I like to say, Like to say.

So adieu for now

Stay tuned.