Category Archives: Writing

Being quiet near a little stream

One of my favorite websites is Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. And an image that frequently pops up on the site is this:

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The artist is Maurice Sendak and it appears in the book “Open House for Butterflies,” one of many he collaborated on with author Ruth Krauss. Every time I see it, my heart is glad because it’s dead solid good advice.

I’m lucky to have a little stream to be quiet near and listen. Though the stream is technically a creek: Wawayanda Creek, to be exact. And this is what it looks like:

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The Wawayanda going past Pacem’s mill-turned-concert-hall. Photo by me.

It meanders through an outdoor sculpture park called Pacem In Terris in Warwick, NY. It features the work of Frederick Franck, who along with his wife, Claske, opened it up as a park/museum in 1965. He lived there until his death in 2006.

I’ve been volunteering at Pacem for about 12 years, spending about one Saturday a month during the spring/summer/fall doing what we call “watch,” though that makes it sound a lot more serious than it actually is. I open the place up, stay there all day to make sure that visitors behave themselves, and then close it down at the end of the day. Sometimes I sell books, prints, or postcards that are available for purchase. Sometimes I recommend nearby restaurants.

It’s not all about that, though. In the course of an average day there, I have time to meander, to write in my journal, and to take photos (not of the artwork so much as everyday things that are also there). And I have time to sit by the Wawayanda and listen.

It’s a distinct white noise, made more deliberate than a stream thanks to the small waterfall that intersects the creek about halfway along the property. The air around it is tinged with a metallic smell that I love to inhale. Sometimes, after a rough week, it’s like breathing after being under water a tad too long.

It’s very easy to take Ruth’s and Maurice’s advice seriously there.

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I Only Read It For The Articles

Friend and fellow writer A.M. Moscoso wrote about how Facebook is a creative killer to writers. It’s something I agree with and think you should read…and also that you should check out the rest of her blog for some really fantastic writing, too!

MY ENDURING BONES

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Some of you, who are not pure of heart and spirit, may remember the joke people made when they got caught reading Playboy:

” I only read it for the articles.”

We all knew that was balderdash- people weren’t reading Playboy they were LOOKING at Playboy.

I’m not here to judge- and if you want to look at pictures of naked people be my guest.

What I’m here to do is point out that people are dragging that sold old punch line out and they’ve applied it to…

FACEBOOK.

really

Facebook is all about the pictures- we just have a hard time admitting that. So we write little quips and string together one liners and call it communication- but really it’s all about the pictures.

I think it’s fine if people are using Facebook as a way to communicate  if they’re housebound or in a place where for some reason making actual…

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Another Facebook jumper

I have joined the ranks of people who are dumping Facebook, mostly because it’s a major time waste.

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Source: gifstumblr.com

Recent developments in my life made me realize that I cannot be productive creatively if I’m spending most of my free time on Facebook looking at photos of people’s kids or pets, or being horrified or placated about someone else’s political or religious views. It’s a significant enabler to my own procrastination.

And there’s a greener aspect: jealousy. I have a lot of creative friends who have been up to all kinds of great things lately. They post about their achievements, sometimes a lot. I want to be happy for them, but I look at what I’ve done lately (nothing spectacular) and it kills me a little. Especially when I know that there’s nobody to blame but me.

So I decided to free up my time for creative things and get away from unhealthy comparisons that are seriously depressing me. Goodbye, Facebook!

While I didn’t delete my account entirely, I put a message on my Facebook feed telling people I was taking a break and if they needed to get in touch with me, here’s my email address. And then I deleted the app from my phone and iPad: no sticking around to see if anyone commented on the post. That’s not the point.

I do admit to being curious if anyone would respond outside of Facebook. So far, nobody has emailed me, but soon after I posted that message, I got 12 hits on this website. I guess that’s the Facebook way: getting a view on other people’s lives without having to actually communicate with them.

It’s been an adjustment. I no longer have the perceived comfort of mindlessly jumping on Facebook at lunch or after I get home from work. I had a few moments of withdrawal, looking for the little blue app button, but honestly, I don’t miss it that much. I still visit some websites that I’d consider to be time wasters, and I participate on Twitter, but I have better control over these. And I actually visit my friends’ blogs and read THEIR creative output, which I think they’ll be happy to know.

The upcoming week is vacation for me, and I plan to spend it working on an article I already did an interview for, and reading a book for a book review I committed to writing. They are oddly related, through no planning of my own, so the end result could be fun.

After some time, I may jump back on Facebook to check for posts to my page, adjust settings, or update my password. But the goal is to make it a rare experience, if that.

If you’ve read this and have had your own experience making the jump from Facebook, I’d love to hear it.

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A ghostly byline in the Asbury Park Press

WeirdEncountersCoverOne of the ghost stories that I wrote for Weird Encounters, about the Old Bernardsville Library, was republished today in the Asbury Park Press. It’s fun to see my byline there, though the Press is veering pretty far north of their territory for this story. Fine by me! I’m grateful for the exposure.

The story of the ghost in the library was published as “Phyllis Isn’t Talking” in Weird Encounters.

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The Chill of Moist Snails

I’m just as guilty as the next writer of throwing clichés into my work, especially when I’m writing early drafts. And I’m sure that people can go through my “final” work and find others.

That doesn’t mean I can’t note commonly used clichés that I try to avoid and see being used by other writers who enjoy working in scarier genres.

Two of these are “chills running up my spine” and “the hairs stood up on the back of my neck,” with their many variations. The problem is they do capture the sensation they describe very well—we all know what this feels like. It makes it easy for people fall back on them, but when you’re the 1,674,532th person to do so, you’re making croutons.

So it always thrills me when a writer turns this cliché into something unexpected, as Alan Bradley does in his most recent addition to his Flavia de Luce series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. If you’re familiar with the series, you know that Flavia is an 11-year-old chemistry whiz who solves mysteries and has no fear of the corpses that pile up around her. Still, she experiences a good fright from time to time, as she does at one point in this newest novel:

The illustrations were horrific—so horrific that I felt as if a moist snail were crawling across the back of my neck…”

I can just feel that moist snail on my neck, too. It’s a great example of a cliché beaten by a common garden visitor.

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The Mother of Action Park Stories

The New Jersey Herald is my local newspaper and the other day they reported on two different television production companies approaching Action Park about doing a reality TV show. (Chances are this link will be dead or under a subscription wall in a few days, so click now.)

Action Park, if you don’t know, is a notorious water park located in the Northwestern NJ town in which I live. The park has been through several incarnations, but its first, from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, was the worst. If you visited the park during that time, it was likely that you would leave it with some kind of injury. Mostly of the minor scratch kind, but four people died there, and more were seriously hurt. There were the usual lawsuits and newspaper stories as a result.

Eventually, Action Park closed, and then was taken over by another company. It became Mountain Creek Water Park for awhile and supposedly was a much safer experience. This past April, the new owners (who are also the original owners) decided to return to their roots and call it Action Park again.

Action Park rises again.

Action Park rises again.

They did so to capitalize on the huge amount of nostalgia people have for the place. Even the injured get all misty when they recall the days when you could risk it all at an amusement park–when the world wasn’t ruled by class action lawsuits and people could introduce the craziest ride concepts and get actual volunteers to test them out. They gaze lovingly at their scars and share a strange kindred spirit with their fellow victims.

Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a story about Action Park for Weird NJ that highlighted this same nostalgia. Continue reading

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How to navigate my slush pile

I’ve been doing some slush pile reading for a literary magazine that shall remain nameless, if only because I don’t want to advertise that I’m doing slush pile reading for them, hence people trying to find out if I read/passed their work on to the editors in charge.

The magazine publishes short stories of 4,000 words or less, and flash fiction of 1,000 words or less. And it’s been a great experience to see what other people are creating, especially since I’ve been so non-productive/cowardly about getting my own fiction writing out there. These writers truly inspire me and I hope that they’ll influence me to get working.

Having said that, I’ve seen some things that, if the writers in question would stop doing them, would vastly improve their chances of getting past my slush pile and on to the editors’ slush pile. Some are obvious, but I keep seeing them (and have been guilty of doing them myself). So do what you will do with these suggestions (including completely ignoring them) and good luck! Continue reading

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In which I am a whimsical failure, of sorts

In July 2008, I had just finished assembling my second anthology of ghost stories, Weird Encounters. And despite my efforts to complete the book in time for the publisher to get it on shelves in time for Halloween that year, they were all for naught. Thanks to the financial crisis, the publisher said it might never be published, along with many other books that Weird NJ had diligently produced as part of its contract. Not the greatest tragedy of those days, I know, but I worked hard on that book and was disappointed it might never see the light of a remainder bin.

But I was trying to keep busy and ran across an article in the online edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer about one Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy: a gentleman living in Mount Holly, NJ who lived the life of “an affected provincial.” No mere dandy, an affected provincial goes beyond superficial appearances to a deeper aesthetic and appreciation of all manner of worthy topics and pursuits.

Lord Whimsy

Lord Whimsy by RyanDoan.com

Lord Whimsy had published a book two years earlier called The Affected Provincial’s Companion that outlined this aesthetic, and while reading it and perusing lordwhimsy.com, I realized that he had the “weird eye.” A perfect candidate, I thought, for an interview in Weird NJ, and after clearing it with Mark and Mark, I set forth to make arrangements with Lord Whimsy, himself. Continue reading

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