To me, it feels appropriate that this book goes out into the world on the weekend Daylight Savings Time ends. The days get shorter, the brilliant trees go bare, and we must remember how to be in the dark.
But this is also one of my favorite times of year. As an introvert, I love few things more than curling up with a good cup of tea and a cozy blanket. Yes, there’s less daylight. But that can also mean a slower pace of life. (Maybe) a less hectic social calendar. More time to process and think, to read and just be. It’s a good time for authenticity and reflection. A good time for poetry.
Fire by Night isn’t an easy book. It’s raw; dark in places. But as the days shorten and the dark comes early, it’s also about the authenticity and hope to be found along the way.
I hope it is a quiet companion at the close of the year.
Last autumn, I gave a TEDx talk called “Do Something Worth Writing.” It was about the strange feeling of accomplishing a dream and the disorientation that can come with that. Writing The Voyages of the Legend series was the work of over a decade. Finishing it left me wondering: what’s next?
The answer is: poetry.
With a mixture of nerves and delight, I announce my 5th book: Fire by Night, releasing on November 2nd. It is a collection of 50 poems grouped around the theme of wilderness wandering. These poems explore dark places, such as loss, grief, depression, anxiety, and spiritual deconstruction. Yet they also catch glimpses of love, joy, wonder, and above all, hope–a theme this book shares with my previous novels.
This is the most personal and honest piece of writing I’ve ever published, which is why it’s both exciting and scary. But I share this book because I think every person’s voice has something unique to contribute to the music of the world, and because courage means taking a step in the right direction in spite of fear.
The e-book is available to pre-order on Amazon now, but both the e-book and paperback will officially launch on November 2nd. After that, Books Inc. Campbellwill stock signed copies in time for Christmas! I’ll be publishing poem snippets to my social media pages (links at the bottom of this email) so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming clips like this one!
Prayers are candles
in a dim stone church.
Some are slim tapers
in tall glass flutes.
Mine are squat,
smeared with sooty fingerprints,
Under a rock is the answer. A very particular, very heavy rock.
I spent this last year teaching.
Yes, last fall I accepted a job with a one-on-one private school. I taught English and Life Skills to students with a variety of learning needs, from ADHD and dyslexia to autism and severe anxiety.
It was very rewarding. I met some incredible kids and inspiring teachers. Education is amazing, because you literally get to see your work growing up in front of your eyes. Someday I’ll probably end up writing about the experience.
It was also hard. Extremely hard. Even if I don’t mention the hours (ahem, unpaid overtime), that doesn’t even begin to touch on the stress and the chaos, the student meltdowns, the last-minute sub requests, the weekly Contagious Diseases Roulette, the discipline, the lengthy and critical parent emails, the active shooter drills.
If you can read this, go thank whoever taught you to read. No, really. Stop what you’re doing. Okay.
For myself, I decided to step away from the position at the end of the school year. While my teaching experience left me with immense respect for everyone who works to help young people grow up okay in a world that isn’t, I also realized that being a full-time classroom teacher isn’t for me. A worthwhile experience in itself. And the reason I have been mostly MIA from the writing/publishing world for a year.
Which was one of the hardest things about this job. Writing gives me life, and it was so tough to have nearly no time to work toward my passion. However, in spite of the chaos, I did still manage to accomplish a few things on the writing front this year. I wasn’t very good about communicating them, though, so here’s a brief recap in case you missed anything!
I’m just happy I stayed alive for a year, let alone published anything!
Now that I’m starting to recover from a year’s worth of lost sleep, the creative juices are flowing once more. I have a few new projects coming down the pipe, at least two of which I hope to release before the end of the year! Keep your eyes peeled for:
An audiobook of The Illuminator Rising, read by my awesome British narrator, Wendy Wolfson!
A completely new book! It’s still very much under construction, but I will say that it is a book of poems.
I focused on fiction writing during my English studies and have never primarily thought of myself as a poet. Yet I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12 and have read, studied, and taught poetry in various contexts. I’ve even written about poetry, shared a few poems, and intervieweda poet on this blog. More importantly, poetry is the clearest way I know to give voice to the truth as I see it. And to make music with words, because words are beautiful and interesting and filled with all the meaning in the world. It will be very different in genre and tone from my previous books, yet I can already see that they will share a number of themes, such as loss, hope, and redemption.
More details to come! For now, I am happy to be climbing out from under my particular rock.
Quick! Before Thanksgiving arrives, it’s time for the World Literacy Project 2015!
(This is my own private nonprofit initiative, which involves decorating a pumpkin with words from a poem or other literary selection. Raising the world’s literacy levels, one pumpkin at a time. World-changing, isn’t it?)
For some reason, my family has never really carved jack-o-lanterns. We’ve historically painted our pumpkins–probably because my family members have so much rampant artistic talent.
But being a writer isn’t much help when it comes to decorating pumpkins. Or at least, not until 2012, when I decided to forget about keeping up with my family and put words on my pumpkin.
I called it the World Literacy Project: simultaneously embracing writerliness and offering all those cute trick-or-treaters a healthy dose of literary education. Good deal, right?
Well, something a little bit special happened in my life this year. So I found a gold pen and imitated the style of a designer I admire very much. The 2014 World Literacy Project now features an illuminated pumpkin.
Anybody want to guess where they’ve heard these words before? Add a comment if you think you know!
Yesterday my family and I spent an afternoon at the beach. It was the first time I’d been there this summer. This may sound ridiculous, living as close to the ocean as I do, but I protest: I’ve been writing a book.
I love the ocean, even–maybe especially–when it’s overcast and silvery, like yesterday. It’s the perfect place to rest and read in the warm sand. Or to walk and think to the rhythm of the waves. And to write poetry.
Because the whole place is poetry.
So here’s what comes of a walk along the Northern California coast on a foggy August day.
About two years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It inspired me to start keeping a thankfulness journal.
Thankfulness has long been touted as an important spiritual discipline. But recent psychological research shows its connection to a happier mindset as well. Writing down the good things that happen in a day helps bring the positive things to the top of our minds and overcome our natural human “negativity bias.”
Over the long term, I think my thankfulness journal has really improved my mood and, more importantly, begun to discipline my mind into a habit of focusing on the positive things. Every night, look back over the day and write down the moments that brought me happiness. Sometimes they’re things anyone would consider happy–like getting a call from the Los Gatos Library, inviting me to their literary fair next month (see my note in the sidebar!). But more often, I write down the little things that brought me a smile or a heaven-sent moment of relaxation in the midst of a stressful day. A sunny morning walk. Classical music playing over the gas station speakers. A yummy cup of coffee.
This past spring, I decided to take my one-line thankfulness notes to the next level for an extra boost of happiness. First thing in the morning, I would look back over the last night’s thankfulness notes, pick one, and immerse myself in that memory. Then I used it as the subject for a seventeen-syllable haiku poem (5-7-5). Haiku is short, rewarding, and emphasizes life’s details–a perfect form for this exercise.
A haiku a day
Lupin beside the asphalt
Writing a happiness haiku first thing in the morning had two benefits. First, it started off the day with a focus on something good.
Shopping bag of smiles
Rainbow Skittles, photos, frames,
A little goes far.
Morning haiku also had an unexpected perk. It got the words flowing. When I was done with my seventeen syllables (sometimes counting to seventeen before coffee was harder than it should have been), I wanted to write more. Which was perfect for someone working on a second novel.
From among sharp spines
Pale orange petals shimmer.
Fierce, lovely triumph.
It’s been several months since I wrote my last haiku, but now I have a collection of these short, intensely focused memories of happiness, like tracks showing me the road I walked. At the moment all my words are going into The Book, but maybe when it’s done, I’ll pick back up on this habit of capturing the ephemeral blessings in daily life.
Please welcome Erica Goss to our Creative Minds series! Erica is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos and a lovely person who’s as elegant as she is whimsical. I’ve always loved reading and writing poetry, but meeting Erica at California Bookstore Day inspired me to work on my craft (and teach it to my students). Listen in as she talks about incurring traffic tickets, juggling multiple jobs, and finding inspiration in parking lots.
AS: Delighted to have you, Erica! So let’s go back in time: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
EG: Lots of things: a dancer, an artist, a scientist, a mother, besides being a writer.
AS: How did you end up in poetry (versus fiction or nonfiction)?
EG: I starting writing poems as a young child. Poetry was always the most attractive literary form to me, the one I most enjoyed writing and reading. I also write non-fiction, as in creative non-fiction or memoir, but poetry was and is the most natural fit.
AS: What are some of your favorite books?
EG: That’s a hard one! The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, Beowulf. I’m drawn to 19th century fiction. Virginia Woolf’s essays, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, Wanda Coleman’s Mercurochrome – these are books that feed me. A novel that I read about once a year is Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. I think Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the best non-fiction books of the last five years. I read poetry constantly, and a current favorite is Terrence Hayes. As a child I loved Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and the fairy tale collections edited by Andrew Lang.
AS: Do you have another job (or more than one)? How do you balance it with your creative writing?
EG: In addition to writing, which includes poetry, blogging, magazine articles, etc., I work as a grant writer and as a freelance teacher.
AS: Wow, that’s quite a load to juggle! So when you’re writing, what are some of the most unusual places you’ve gotten ideas for poems?
EG: I have a secret muse: parking lots. For some reason, I find these sad stretches of concrete more inspiring than Yosemite. I think it’s because I like the idea of claiming a neglected space as my own, a place no one has seen the value in yet. I advise my students to find some place like that – an alley, or a dumpster, or the back of a building – and embrace it. Describe its climate and inhabitants. Do research about your place. Visit it often and note the change of seasons. Immortalize it in poetry.
AS: What is one of the funniest things that’s happened to you as you’ve spoken to audiences about poetry and writing?
EG: At Village House of Books’ Author Day, I made exactly enough selling books to pay for the parking ticket I received that day.
AS: Ooh, ouch. So do you have a daily creative routine? What does it look like?
EG: I try to be at my desk every day by 8:00 a.m. I catch my best ideas early in the morning. I write until noon, eat lunch, and then switch gears to more mundane tasks. Often I will have a burst of energy late in the afternoon.
AS: One of my other jobs is tutoring students in writing. So why do you think it’s important for students to learn to write poetry, as opposed to just essays?
EG: Poetry is a lot more fun than essays. Poetry can get students excited about writing. They know that the poem they write is a true expression of their inner life, and for that reason alone writing poetry is valuable.
AS: Anything new coming down the writing pipeline for you?
EG: My first full-length collection of poetry, titled The Museum of Moving Parts, is making the rounds of poetry publishers. I’m working on a series of poems based on the previous year of my life, tentatively called “Time Lapse.”
AS: What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Turn off all distractions and read. Read widely. Start with classic fiction, then read great works of non-fiction like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Black Boy by Richard Wright. Read a poem every night before you go to sleep. Find an author you enjoy and read all of his or her books. Try more challenging work. Read the poetry of many eras and countries. Read travel writing, food literature, science fiction and fantasy. Read children’s books. You can’t become a writer without reading. Visit your local library and discover its gems.
Here’s a great quote from Ray Bradbury about the importance of libraries: “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library. You can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”
If you’re interested in learning more about poetry, Erica will be starting monthly poetry readings at the Los Gatos Library on Sunday, September 21. They’ll be called “The Poetry Kitchen,” and each session will open with a poem about food. There will be a featured reader and an open mic.
I know winter in California is nothing to complain about. But it’s still my least favorite season. December brings Christmas, but then the lights and the cookies and the carols are done. January wears on, and sweaters get thin in the elbows. Windshield wipers fray. I start to long for spring.
And then there are daffodils.
My mom brought me a miniature bucket of them for my office the other day. Yellow and sprightly, they brighten the whole room. I remember studying abroad in England and admiring the hardy bulbs, the only things daring to bloom in a stubbornly cold April.
British poet William Wordsworth, whose cottage we visited, admired them too. They filled his quaint garden, where I sat and jotted notes nearly four years ago.
He admired these flowers so much that one of his most famous poems is called “Daffodils.” It starts with these lines:
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
I only really understood what he meant when I saw the fields of daffodils that sprawl over the English countryside while spring is still clinging to winter.
Maybe you need a cheerful sprig of yellow, a bucket of daffodils, in your life today. They’re flowers of hope. May they remind both of us that spring is coming.