Surfing Through Life

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve is not one of my favorite novels, but I enjoyed the meditative way in which she weaves the love triangle between Sydney, Jeff, and Ben. What I enjoyed most about the love triangle is that it is done in such a way that it takes the whole book to see the outcome and the third angle in the triangle.

***Spoiler Alert***

Sydney loves to body surf in the ocean, and this becomes a metaphor for how she lives her life. She tends to get swept up by the circumstances she finds herself in, whether it’s the odd jobs she has held or the men she becomes involved with. She’s been married two times previously when we meet her in the book, and she has taken time off from graduate school after the death of her second husband to tutor a young girl, Julie Edwards, for the SATs over the summer.

She has a relatively calm time at the New Hampshire beach cottage, which has appeared in several of Shreve’s other novels–including one of my favorites The Pilot’s Wife. The house’s history is not lost on the character of Mr. Edwards in this book, and he has even become a sort of historian of the house. It has been great to see the stories that emerge from this single cottage over the years. I wonder if Shreve will set another novel in this cottage; I would enjoy visiting it again.

Suddenly, Sydney is thrust between two brothers and their competitive behavior. The competition is not overt, but alluded to throughout the book. The subtlety here may be hard to sift through, but reading Shreve’s works in the past, I’ve become more attune to her visual cues and descriptions to uncover the internal struggles and hidden agendas and connections between her characters.

I truly enjoyed the parts after the wedding debacle where Sydney spends time in a Boston hotel to regroup and her meeting with Mr. Cavalli. I think these were eye-opening experiences for the character. Her return to New Hampshire three years later for a psychology conference and her subsequent meeting with Ben is a major turning point for a number of characters, including Sydney and Ben’s mother. I just love the few lines with which Shreve accomplishes the transition in this book and the immediate mutual realization that Ben and Sydney reach together.

***End Spoiler Alert***

Overall, this book held my attention throughout the daily commute and even some evenings at home when I was engrossed in the dialogue and current situations Sydney found herself in. While it is not as well constructed as The Pilot’s Wife, Sea Glass, or The Last Time They Met, I enjoyed my journey back to the oceanside of New Hampshire and the trip back into Boston, even if it was for a brief interlude.

***Please feel free to enter the next National Poetry Month Contest here.

The Poetry Contest Winner Is…Another Contest Too!

My Aunt Ann. She will be receiving some love poems by Pablo Neruda, which are in English and Neruda’s native language.

I also want to alert you to the second contest for the month, again a volume of poetry. I may even email the winner with a choice of volumes from which they can choose their prize. We’ll see how many entries I get this time around.

Those interested, please either post an original poem or your favorite poem in the comments by April 25, and I will post the winner on April 26.

Unfortunately, my aunt is not allowed to grace us with her witty poems this time around since she already won a poetry volume. Even if you entered the last contest, please do enter again, with a different poem. Let’s Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Also for those interested, April 17 is Poem in Your Pocket day. If you choose to participate, you are to walk around with a poem in your pocket all day and periodically take it out and read it to friends and family or even co-workers throughout the day. I’ll let you know what poem I decide upon and what poem Anna chooses to share as well.

April 5th Writer’s Conference Recap

Conversations & Connections was held at the Johns Hopkins campus in Washington, D.C. on April 5, 2008, and it was the second annual conference for writers, experienced and not.

The morning came too early for me after the reading down in Rockville, Md., the night before because it was at night, and I get up early for work. Let’s just say I was exhausted on Friday night, but still stayed up to check out what poems I should bring to the conference for the speed-dating session with an editor of a literary journal. Anyway, the sleep did not come easily because of nerves or my brain going over how the day would play out, etc. I’m not really sure. When the alarm finally went off, I shot out of bed and into the shower. And we–Anna and I–got ready in a flash to be dropped off at the Metro and head into D.C.

We were not going to make the 8:30 AM opening registration, but I wasn’t worried that we would miss anything. Registration went smoothly this time around, particularly since we ran right smack into Julie Wakeman-Lynn of the Potomac Review. She showed us the way into the basement. The coffee in the lounge area smelled burnt, so I decided to snag a bottle of water, which is funny considering somehow we ended up dehydrated.

The opening statements were very short and to the point and we ran up the only flight of stairs in the entire building to the first floor from the basement to our first Breakout Session with Amy Holman. I heard her speak to a group last year about a similar topic though related to poetry. This session was better organized and helped show the writers in the room how to seek out the best literary journals for their work, whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. The separate notebook idea where you keep lists of your favorite authors and examine the publications where they appear helps. I think what I took away from the session more than anything was that I need to start checking journals and seeing what is consistent in their choices. Why are certain poems chosen, and what do those poems in each issue have in common with one another.

The second session, “The Long Haul: Writing the Novel,” was in another building across the street so we had to get out and across the street quickly. We made the session in plenty of time and listened to novelists–Fred Leebron, Michael Kimball, and Carolyn Parkhurst. This session did not have anything eye-opening for me.

The lunch break was to be shared with the speed dating sessions, so Anna and I decided to head out to lunch for the first hour because everyone appeared to be headed to speed dating for the first hour. We had our minds set on Chinese food, but could not find the place on the listing we got in the registration packet. We didn’t dare struggle to locate the Chipotle given the confusion we experienced in Dupont Circle. We settled on Bertucci’s and you will have to check out Anna’s description for the food. I want to tell you how wonderful the ice tea and the cappuccino was for me. The caffeine hit the right spot for me. I haven’t had a good cappuccino in forever.

Speed dating went better than I expected. If anything it validated for me that I can tell when things are not working in my poems. I just have to be more confident in my abilities and fix the spots I know are wrong. The editorial staff of the Potomac Review must be well versed in analysis. I loved the ideas I received and the advice. Perhaps I will submit the poem I brought when it is finished. I haven’t decided.

After speed dating, Anna and I met up with our former co-worker and friend, Gregg Mosson of Poems Against War. We are currently working with him on a review project that will showcase poets and essayists. I will keep you all posted on that once we launch it. We are still planning it out at this point and have to get some things in order first, but it should be a great new addition to my repertoire.

The final session, “The Disciplined Writer,” again did not enlighten me too much. The stories of struggle were entertaining for the most part, but there really wasn’t any practical advice. I think that the general I don’t use an outline or I don’t plan out the novel before I start is very helpful because I think many writers are that way. I would have preferred to hear about what routines they tried to keep motivated and which worked and didn’t and why they didn’t or did work. I think the most I will remember from it in the future is the stories told about Joyce Carol Oates and how she locked the door quickly behind her guests and ran up to her writing room to begin work after a rather long dinner party. Another great anecdote was that Oates tells writers that they do not want to be like her because she has no life but writing. I don’t know about you, but I think I would enjoy being prolific like Oates, who is not prolific in the way some of those other writers are, like James Patterson and John Grisham.

We left the conference chatty and giddy about the prospects we have for our writing now, so I think both of us will be on our way to becoming more productive. Wish us luck.

***Just a Reminder***

The first round of my National Poetry Month contest ends tomorrow. Please submit your poem entry (whether your own or one from a favorite poet) by the end of April 15th here. Thanks to all the participants.

Is Helen The Almost Moon?

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold pulls out all the stops and blurs the boundaries of morality and a normal life. Helen Knightley is a woman haunted by her past and her present, so much so that it drives her to do the unthinkable.

***Spoiler Alert***

While Anna had read this book before me, I had forgotten much of what she told me until I came to the part where Helen smothers her elderly mother. I’m not telling you anything that you won’t find out in the first chapter. The book is not about the events leading up to her mother’s murder, but how Helen came to the conclusion that murder was the answer and how that answer was shaped by her childhood and her first marriage.

For me, the main problem I had with the novel was my inability to feel sorry for Helen. It’s not that I didn’t find her life hard as a child with an agoraphobic mother and a bipolar father, with suicidal tendencies; I guess the narration jumped around too much for me to delve deeper into the character’s feelings and psyche. I always felt like Helen was keeping us just outside a wall that we were not allowed to jump over. I guess you could say I felt a bit like Hamish, her best friend’s son and her lover. He says at one point in the book that he knows Helen has a good heart, but that she can be “so cold” sometimes. This is how I felt about Helen.

Her actions jump from murdering her mother to sleeping with her best friend’s son, right after calling her ex-husband she hasn’t spoken to in years to confess her crime. While I can see the connection between her murdering her mother and calling the one person she believed would understand her motivations, I was taken aback by the sudden sexual interlude between her and Hamish. Perhaps she was in shock, perhaps she was hoping the sex would release something pent up inside of her. I really cannot say.

The journey from leaving her mother in the basement to the discovery of her murder by the police is intertwined with childhood memories and memories of her marriage to Jake, the artist, painter, and sculptor. These are the scenes I enjoyed most. I was given a rare glimpse into Helen’s life that shaped her current persona. It allowed me to garner a sense of her inner turmoil where her mother was concerned and how she always seemed to identify herself as on her father’s side. The transition at the end from realizing that her father was not the victim but an enabler was fantastic. It was almost like it took Helen her entire life to realize the marriage and their problems at home were the result of two people in dire need of psychological assistance, not just her mother as she had always presumed.

And in a way, I wanted more of a resolution, not Helen’s speculations on the matter. Was she going to escape or was she arrested and sent to prison for her mother’s murder? These are the questions that still linger for me.

***End Spoiler Alert***

While her mother is referred to as The Almost Moon early on in the book, I came to believe it was Helen and her father that the phrase referred to most.

If you are looking for another Lucky or Lovely Bones, The Almost Moon is not it. This book made the commuting time on the bus and metro fly by, but the tail end of the book dragged for me. I think a few of the descriptive pages could have been cut out to make the ending more powerful for the character.

Also Reviewed by:

The Bookworm

Mid-April Poetry and Literary Events

Every year since I can remember after moving to the D.C. area, I have attended the Bethesda Literary Festival. The events range from readings to fun activities for kids. I enjoy learning about the latest creations from local artists and authors and being exposed to new authors and poets. Please feel free to click on the link above for a schedule of this year’s events.

One of my favorite events will take place on April 18 at 8PM, The Poetry Slam. While I do not participate in the slam as a performance poet, I enjoy the works of the participants. My poetry is more the run of the mill reading or academic event poetry, rather than performance art. I really enjoy performance works and admire the artists that create them, but I guess I am not wired to create them myself. Probably because of my wallflower status for much of my life. I hope some of you blog readers will be in the area and will join me at this year’s slam. I even picked up a self-published book from one of the poet’s last year. I will have to locate it and post one of the poems in homage to this year’s National Poetry Month-30 ways to celebrate.

I will probably attend the following on Sat. April 19 as well:

11am – Distinguished Novelist

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Join New York Times bestselling novelist, Alice Hoffman, as she discusses her newest book, The Third Angel, a novel that examines the lives of three women at different crossroads in their lives, tying their London-centered stories together in devastating retrospect.

12:30pm – The Government & The Media

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Hear from Marvin Kalb, award-winning reporter for CBS and NBC News, former host of Meet the Press, currenthost of The Kalb Report and author of The Media and The War on Terrorism, as he explores the interaction between the government and the media during times of war and national emergency.

1-5pm – 15 th Annual Writer’s Center Small Press Fair

The Writer’s Center

Browse displays of literary journals and other publications by dozens of regional presses and literary organizations. The afternoon will include a used book appraisal, and a creative writing program for young children. For additional information, please visit www.writer.org.

2pm – White House Press Corps

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Meet Helen Thomas, 47-year member of the White House Press Corps, first woman officer of the National Press Club, first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association and author of Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed The Public, as she speaks about her latest book and her career covering Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush.

7pm – CakeLove

Heineman Myers Contemporary Art

Meet Warren Brown, owner of CakeLove and Love Café, host of Sugar Rush on the Food Network, and author of his first cookbook, Cakelove, as he discusses his entrepreneurial bakery business and how he has achieved success.

8pm – Sidesplitting Standup!
The Barking Dog

Come see DC Improv comedian Matt Kazam, who has appeared on Fox’s “Big Red Couch,” Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Stand-Up,” VH-1’s “Fools For Love,” TLC’s “Two For Vegas” and The Discovery Channel’s “Lux List.” He has served as the opening act for such notable comedians as Chris Rock, Pauly Shore, Robin Williams and Drew Carey. Ages 21+.

Sunday, April 20, I will likely be attending these:

11am-1pm – Authors’ Reception
Barnes & Noble

You are invited to roam the aisles, chat with authors and have your books signed. Authors include: Ron Orol, Extreme Value Hedging; Melvin Goodman, Failure of Intelligence; Jennifer Allison, Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator;Jon and Beverly Meyerson, After the Glass Slipper; Kay Shaw Nelson, Art of Scottish American Cooking; Suzanne Mintz,A Family Caregiver Speaks Up: It Doesn’t Have to be this Hard; Harrine Freeman , How to Get Out of Debt; Susan Fraser King, Lady Macbeth; Con Lehane, Death at the Old Hotel; Toby Devens, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet); Howard Eisner, Essentials of Project and Systems Engineering Management; John Dimes, Intracations and E. D. Baker, Wings: A Fairy Tale.

2pm – State of the Unions
Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Join Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, Philip Dine, for a discussion of his recent book, State of the Unions, to explore what’s happening to American workers and the middle class, labor’s decline, and why a rejuvenated union movement could turn things around.

Many of the Children’s events are on Saturday and Sunday.

Please do not forget to enter the Poetry Book contest this month via the Welcome post, which has all the necessary rules and information.

Pre-Conference Reading

OK, so while I thought the pre-conference reading would be poets, there was not one. The readers were fiction writers.

Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, was introduced by the editor of Potomac Review, Julie Wakeman-Linn, and she read from Veronica, which is a very poetic work. I have never read her work, but it is certainly descriptive, poetic, and uses imagery to get to the heart of the matter. I’m not too sure she is my cup of tea, to use a cliche.

She then introduced Dave Housley, an editor of Barrelhouse Review and author of Ryan Seacrest Is Famous, who read “Combat Photographer.” It was a great short story about a combat photographer attempting to re-enter society to find a steadier job with benefits because his wife is pregnant and she wants him to be more stable and not off to war.

The next reader, Nathan Leslie, read from his collection, Madre. “The Towel” was a great story about young families and the adjustments they go through; the main character Norman and his wife have very different views of parenthood. The descriptions of the various stroller models are hilarious. I just had to select the book of short stories for my free conference book. I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories.

Lalita Noronha is the author of Where Monsoons Cry, and she was the third reader. Her descriptions of Indian culture and life were phenomenal. I was torn between this book and Madre for my free conference book. Noronha has a performance-like presence when she reads her prose, and it transported me to India quickly–even though she only read a few pages. I think this book will be one of the next ones I pick up in the bookstore.

Another Arab-American author, Susan Muaddi-Darraj, read last and her book is The Inheritance of Exile. Anna picked this book as her free conference work. I can’t wait for her to read it and I can finish Madre; we’re going to switch off and trade, so we can each discuss them. She was another reader that I really enjoyed, who easily transported me into the world she created.

It was a good reading, and I got to check out Rockville’s revitalization, which is amazing with the new town center. It was a great walk, though a bit chilly. There also was a great Tapas restaurant on the corner near the VisArts Center. It smelled delicious and look reasonably priced. We’ll have to make a point to go there sometime.

You’ll just have to wait for the conference review later.

Please do not forget to enter the Poetry Book contest this month via the Welcome post, which has all the necessary rules and information.

Welcome to National Poetry Month…

Here it is, another April. In honor of April, I would like to invite everyone to share their favorite poem throughout the month here on my blog, and I would like to open the blog up to a contest.

Those interested in winning three volumes of poetry–sorry the authors will be a surprise–please leave a comment below. I will put the names in a hat and then draw the winner on April 15.

I will probably hold another contest for the end part of the month as well. I hope we can generate a lot more interest in National Poetry Month this year.

I will start off with this poem:


by: William Blake (1757-1827)

      IGER, tiger, burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
      In what distant deeps or skies
      Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
      On what wings dare he aspire?
      What the hand dare seize the fire?
      And what shoulder and what art
      Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
      And, when thy heart began to beat,
      What dread hand and what dread feet?
      What the hammer? What the chain?
      In what furnace was thy brain?
      What the anvil? What dread grasp
      Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
      When the stars threw down their spears,
      And water’d heaven with their tears,
      Did He smile His work to see?
      Did He who made the lamb make thee?
      Tiger, tiger, burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Which Poet Are You?

Which famous author/poet are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as William Shakespeare

You are most like William Shakespeare, considered to be the greatest writer in English. Mystery surrounds his life, but scholars know he had a wife and family, who was not around much because he was in London writing and directing plays at the famous Globe Theater, where he produced plays that everyone of any background could enjoy. His sonnets show his mastery of style. His plays show his insight into human nature, as he has created some of the greatest characters in all of literature. His works are too many to list, but some include “Hamlet,” “MacBeth” and “Twelfth Night.”

William Shakespeare


Walt Whitman


James Joyce


Ernest Hemingway


Edgar Allen Poe


7th Heaven Sure Is a Firey Pit

Despite a bump in the road with 6th Target, James Patterson has picked up the Women’s Murder Club Series in 7th Heaven, and it looks like Lindsay is on the brink of yet another emotional dilemma. In this book, Michael Campion, who has a bad heart and happens to be the son of a former governor, disappears, but a tip comes in leading to a potential suspect. At the same time, a series of homes are set afire, robbed, and their occupants killed; these fires appear to be arson or accidental, but the detectives must follow a gruelling set of leads to discover the truth. Meanwhile, Lindsay Boxer continues to live with her FBI boyfriend, Joe, even though she has yet to say yes to his proposal from 6th Target.

***Spoiler Alert***

While this book has a much cleaner plot and the suspense is kept high for most of the book, I don’t see the attraction Lindsay has to Rich Conklin, her partner. I know that Patterson is setting it up to be a love triangle with Lindsay caught between two men–her partner and her former FBI boyfriend–but I guess I am partial to Joe. I want to see her happy, and after cheering him on and happily applauding his decision to finally move to San Francisco and quite the FBI to be with Lindsay, I want my happy ending for them. I knew once Jacobi was moved up and no longer her partner, another hunk was moving into her life. I wonder if it is her desire for Conklin or her inability to commit that has her so confused about the men in her life. I gather its a bit of both.

This is one thing I have noticed about Patterson’s crime stories–and it bugs me–the main characters who are detectives in police forces never can just have a happy home life. Wives die, marriages end in divorce, partners become lovers, and other activities happen that keep these detectives merely bouncing from bed to bed. I find that disturbing. I would like to see something out of the ordinary from one of his main characters; I would like to see them fall in love, get married, and have families all while remaining on the job and platonic with their partners.

As for the crimes, the Campion case takes a series of twists and turns that even had me baffled for a while, though I finally had it figured. I love the ending to this case, folks. If for nothing else, you should read this book to find out what really happens to Michael Campion. I have to say the conversation with Boxer, Conklin, and Campion’s father was the biggest clue to the ending for me. It was a good point in the story to bring it out as well.

The rash of fires in the area among wealthy families was intriguing and the discovery of who Pidge and Hawk really are was captivating. The only question I have for those characters is what sick and twisted world do you live in that setting fires and killing people can be equated with 7th Heaven? Talk about a disturbing title for a graphic novel/manifesto of crime. It makes one wonder how these minds become that twisted to think hey let’s set fire to homes, rob them, and kill the couples inside rather than sell this really detailed graphic novel that received rave reviews and become rich ourselves. I think in this instance, I would have preferred a bit more detail into how these criminals came to those conclusions. What motivated them to kill, rather than make money and change their lot in life? Then again, I suppose most cops and prosecutors never find that out even if the perps are arrested.

***End Spoiler Alert****

Also, keep a watchful eye on this book for the newest addition to the Women’s Murder Club. The group is growing. Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read that kept my interest throughout. While some parts angered me and there is still no resolution to the Joe, Lindsay, Conklin interactions, I would recommend this crime drama, 7th Heaven, as a must read part of the series, just skip over the 6th Target.

April Writer’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

On April 5, 2008, I will again be at an all-day conference in Washington, D.C., Conversations and Connections. I cannot wait for another opportunity to network and learn from my peers. It will be great to among creative writers. This is the second, all-day conference in the region. Registration is $45 for an all-day conference.

I may even head out to the readings on April 4th in Rockville.

The first breakout session will have the following:

  • Crafting the Poem (panelists: Kim Roberts, Eric Pankey, Kim Jensen, Sean Conrey)
  • The Business of Getting Published (panelists: Nancy Naomi Carlson, Holly Sneeringer, Mark Drew)
  • Finding a Home for Your Brilliant Work: Amy Holman Workshop
  • Starting Your Own Independent Press (Ed Perlman)

The second breakout session will have the following:

  • The Long Haul: Writing the Novel (panelists: Michael Kimball, Fred Leebron, Carolyn Parkhurst)
  • How Can an MFA/MA Help Me? (panelists: Kenra Kopelke, Geoff Becker, David Everett)
  • Short Fiction: Process and Craft (panelists: Merrill Feitell, Lalita Norohna, Susan McCallum-Smith)
  • Writing Nonfiction (Eric Nuzum, Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Lucie Snodgrass, David A. Taylor)

The third breakout session will have the following:

  • The Disciplined Writer (panelists: Michelle Brafman, Jen Michalski, Kathy Volk Miller, Tim Wendel)
  • Poetic Forms (Ned Balbo)
  • The Novella: Form and Potential (Cyndi Reeves)
  • Web Markets and Marketing (panelists: Rachel Adams, Thom Didato, Reb Livingston)

I suggest anyone in the area sign up and join me. It will be a great time. And if you haven’t been to D.C. before, it will be a great time to come because the Cherry Blossoms are expected to be blooming.

I am so excited. It gives me something positive to look forward to, and I definitely need it. Maybe it will get my creative juices flowing more as well.