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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

W: WONDERLAND

The Hickory Bend production of “Alice” is a new interpretation with a Texas twist by a local writer. Wonderland is re-named Tumbleweed Land. The play mixes events and characters from cowboy history with those of Lewis Carroll’s two books.

Jandy‘s encounters at her new/old school parallel those of Alice down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass. She gets lost in the warren of hallways joining the buildings. A good student made to feel stupid, she can recite Persian poetry, but has missed out on American classics. Friends leave her behind with their chit-chat about fashions and film stars.

Down is up, and up is down. People talk in riddles. Nothing makes sense. Jandy must find her own ways to navigate the landscape. After a weird and wonderful adventure, she will emerge at Tamam Shud (the Very End in Farsi), with renewed confidence and relief that it is over. Read More 

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U: UNITY

What makes this book hold together like glue? Like staples? Like saddle stitching? Not literally, but figuratively speaking. I named it RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. So, the samovar has to take center stage (or at least make its presence felt) throughout the story. The discovery and decoding of its contents must drive the plot. Maryam, Tammie, Grant, cousins, teachers, and the “Alice” cast, if they are to participate at all, must somehow fit into the unifying principle – the riddle of the samovar. Read More 

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E: EXERCISE

In grade school, I wrote in exercise books, nurturing the dream of becoming a writer. As a piano student, I repeated scales and arpeggios to limber up my fingers and facilitate performance for exams or entertainment. So too, physical exercise is beneficial to health at any age. Practice may feel like a chore, or a child's play, depending on the task, coach, energy, mood, etc. But it results in a sense of accomplishment, bringing us closer to our goals.

A helpful exercise I learned from Jane Cross in Dallas is Clustering. Write a word inside an elliptical bubble. As one thought or image leads to another, add lines and words radiating out from the first. (This is also called mind-mapping. The bubbles may omitted. Our brains store information in a similar way. I cluster people, objects, places, seasons, etc. for use in a particular story, or with random words as a general exercise for the "writing muscle."

One instructor guided my writers' group to empty our minds of distractions and recall a moment from childhood. I saw myself jumping the waves on Sandown beach, licking ice cream, smelling the salt breeze, enjoying a carefree summer. Then we imagined a character and saw what was in his or her pockets, shopping cart, etc. These details were noted in "free writing" sessions of 10 minutes each. They re-emerged when I wrote poems for HOMEWARD TRACKS and scenes for ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD. I also interview protagonists about loves, hates, habits, and what they want to achieve.

An SCBWI author once recommended writing to music, which I often do now, matching style to story. Whenever I played "Arabian Dance" from The Nutcracker, I was back with Maryam in the Middle East, where SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE takes place. I surrounded my desk with pictures of Iran from National Geographic and Newsweek. For ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, I listened to Elgar and found magazine pictures of people who resembled my characters.

Several writer-friends swear by 3 Morning Pages a day. I do this (sporadically) on the backs of discarded rough drafts, stashed in my nightstand. I record fleeting emotions and events from dreams while in a sleepy state, over my first cup of coffee. Later, to engage the left side of the brain, I might write a list. Lists generate ideas and can even turn into a finished piece, such as my "Exotic Places" poem.

Shery Ma Bell Arrieta-Russ describes 10 approaches to journaling in her e-book, LIFEWRITES: Descriptive; Process; Comparison; Classification; Persuasive; Definition; Characterization; Analysis; Inductive; and Deductive. "Journaling is a process that lets you discover and re-discover yourself," she states in the introduction. I've enjoyed all these approaches, because they provide new ways of looking and thinking. A range of gel pens and journal covers makes exercises fun.

I recently worked (actually, played) my way through THE WRITE -BRAIN WORKBOOK by Bonnie Neubauer: no white pages, but lots of word games, fill-in-the-blanks, and visual tricks, to get the juices flowing.

If I go for a walk or a swim, to stretch my legs after slaving over the keyboard all day, the wheels go on turning. Plot developments pop up subconsciously; I jot them in a portable notepad, ready to add to the mix during the next writing session.

Hands-on activities I've taught over the years are listed on the Works page of this website. My blog is another form of exercise. It's more rigorous than Facebook posts, but a great way to find readers in cyberspace, as I sift my thoughts and advance the current writing project, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Time to put on my Loreena McKennitt CD, An Ancient Muse, and cluster SAMOVAR. Read More 
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THE DESK

THE DESK

Please do not touch the furniture.
Too late.
I’d fingered the worn green leather
of Charles Dickens’ writing desk
in great expectations
that the magic might rub off on me.

Please, sir, I want some more
of your plot-weaving powers,
your character-conjuring spells,
to rescue my languishing fiction
from the poorhouse.

© Hazel Spire 2013

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FOR YOU, DAD

4o years ago this week my father went ahead of us to Heaven, at age 55. I feel as if I've been living on borrowed time ever since I too passed that double-nickel birthday, all the more determined to make every day count.

Daddy worked hard on the Isle of Wight County Press, covering court cases, the arts, and community events. We kids accompanied him to carnivals and ag shows, enjoying fresh meat pies and dairy ice cream. As I humbly follow in his literary footsteps, I'm thankful for his enouragement and guidance.

It was Dad who showed me how to prepare a manuscript for publication. My first rejection was from Blackie Books for a children's adventure during my first year of teachers' college. Had he lived to retirement, my father would've had time for his own writing, such as WWII memoirs, poetry, and short fiction. Among my prized possessions are 2 dozen or so of his parodies and twist-in-the-tale stories, both published and unpublished.

In tribute to Roy Longhurst (1916-1972) I will post 3 poems from my chapbooks,
TAPESTRY OF TIME and HOMEWARD TRACKS:

DISCOVERY

Hands trembled,
heart beat faster,
when I found Dad’s
magazines in a dusty
cupboard under the stairs.

A couple of ads,
no pictures.
But I pored over
those pages nightly,
worked my way
through every issue,
nurturing a secret desire.

Satisfy the itch,
one article urged.
Satisfy the itch
with the scratch of a pen.

I just couldn’t
get enough
of those magazines
for writers.

ISLE OF WIGHT CHILDHOOD

We jumped the waves that pounded Sandown Beach,
mermaid-hair seaweed caught between fingers,
nostrils filled with the tang of freedom,
our salty lips re-shaping vanilla cones:
It seemed that summer would never end.

Locals and visitors flung open beach hut doors;
their kettles whistled on Primus stoves.
Mr. Earnshaw trudged through squishy sand
collecting deck chair money, while a megaphone
blared the times for trips across the bay.

Distress signals punctuated our pleasure: boom!
boom! Send lifeboat or chopper to rescue a tripper
who tried to beat high tide around Culver Cliff.
We dabbled in rock pools by lupine-lined shores,
hiked up the chalk ridge (island’s backbone)
strewn with bunny currants and golden gorse,
to picnic at the top, sharing the vista with ghosts
of Tennyson and Keats. No mainland in sight,
who knew what might loom on the hazy horizon?
Submarine, schooner, battleship, even a galleon.

Six weeks off school culminated in a carnival.
Crepe paper streamers all down the High Street
saluted grand floats to a heart-jolting drumbeat.
Daddy winked at me under the shiny black peak
of his Town Band cap, tootling into a horn,

We’ll Make a Bonfire of our Troubles. Up
to the fairground we followed in step, enticed
by hot dogs, a Ferris wheel, candy floss,
fireworks--eruptions of magical color that made
the crowd cry, “Ooh! Ah! Better than last year!”

A POCKETFUL OF PENNIES

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head. Read More 
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