April 2016 Reviews

Since April was National Poetry Month, most of the books I read contained, you guessed it, poetry. However, I managed to squeeze in a collection of essays and a few works of fiction so if you don’t like poetry, scroll down. For those of you using screen readers, I finally figured out how to make each review its own separate heading so if you don’t want to finish one, you can easily skip to the next. Happy reading.

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Labyrinth: Poems from Wyoming and Beyond

Selected by A. Rose Hill

Copyright 2016

 

As Past President of WyoPoets, I’m proud to tell you about our new chapbook of poems by members that has just been released. WyoPoets is an organization that supports poets and promotes poetry throughout the state of Wyoming through workshops, contests and other programs. The poets who contributed to this anthology are from Wyoming and surrounding states.

The book’s theme is transitions or pivotal moments in life. My poem, “For the Last Time,” which I’ll post separately here later, is about the day I moved my late husband to a nursing home when I could no longer care for him. Aaron E. Holst, a local retired fire chief, writes a letter to his deceased father about fighting a forest fire. Other poems touch on baptism, domestic violence, dating, and other topics. A. Rose Hill, our state poet laureate, who selected the poems, talks about herself at the beginning of the book, and at the end, information about joining WyoPoets is included. To order this chapbook, send $8.00 for the first book plus $3.00 shipping and $1.00 for each additional copy to WyoPoets, PO Box 155, Douglas, WY 82633. To learn more about WyoPoets, click here.

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I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs

by Francesco Marciuliano.

Copyright 2013.

 

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking when he attacks your favorite shoe? Now, you can find out. From the author of I Could Pee on This, a collection of poems written from a cat’s point of view comes a similar poetry collection written from a dog’s point of view. The book is divided into four chapters: Inside, Outside, By Your Side, and Heavy Thinking. Each chapter contains several poems that outline a dog’s emotions during certain situations.

My favorites were “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House,” “Dance of Joy,” and “I Dropped a Ball.” These reminded me of the dogs in my family when I was growing up and my brother’s dogs in Florida where I visited in March. After reading this, I was inspired to write my own dog poem. You can read more about Francesco Marciuliano here.

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The Best Loved Poems of the American People

Selected by Hazel Felleman.

Copyright 1936.

 

This is an anthology of over 500 poems that were popular during the earlier part of the 20th century. Material is arranged by such themes as love and friendship, faith, animals, and nature, to name a few. It was produced in response to requests for favorite poems sent to a column in The New York Times Book Review.

The collection includes such classics as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and Clement Clark Moor’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” It also has poems that became old, familiar songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Home Sweet Home,” and the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” Some poems are humorous and whimsical, others more serious. There are a few that I enjoyed as a child. I found some boring but enjoyed reading most of them. I like the way the book ends with Robert Browning’s “The Years at the Spring,” especially the last line, “All’s right with the world!”

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Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

by T. S. Eliot.

Copyright 1967. Illustrations copyright 1982 by Edward Gory.

 

This poetry collection inspired the Broadway musical, Cats. T. S. Eliot wrote the poems in the 1930’s for his godchildren, but for years, they have been enjoyed by anyone young at heart. You’ll meet such memorable feline characters as Growl Tiger, Rum Tum Tugger, and McCavity. A friend to whom I gave this book years ago commented that the illustrations make the cats come alive.

When I was in college, I had the sound track from Cats. I liked how some of the poems were set to music. However, my favorite song from the musical is not in the book. Here I am, singing it. To learn more about T.S. Eliot, click here.

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Langston Hughes: The Voice of the Poet

Copyright 2002.

 

This is a recording produced by Random House Audio in a series of poets reading their work aloud. In this program which lasts a little over an hour, Hughes (1902-1967) shares work that reflects on such topics as racism, violence against blacks, music, and death, some inspired by his life experiences. In the beginning, he talks about, among other things, how being elected the class poet in the eighth grade despite being black helped launch his career as a poet. Some of his work is in the style of a blues song while other poems use traditional rhyming patterns or free verse. If everyone read such poets as Langston Hughes, our nation could be more tolerant of those who are different from us. To learn more about this poet, click here

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Spoon River Anthology

by Edgar Lee Masters

Copyright 1962.

 

The 200 plus poems in this collection, first published in 1915, tell of people in Spoon River, Illinois, who share their stories from their graves. Like any town, Spoon River had its bad apples: a corrupt banker, an arsonist, and a rapist, to name a few, but there were others like Hannah Armstrong, who ran a boarding house where Abe Lincoln once stayed, Joseph Dixon, who tuned harps and other stringed instruments, and Lucinda Matlock, Masters’ grandmother. Each epitaph, in one way or another, tells how each person lived and died. The 1962 edition contains an introduction by poet May Swensen, an epilog, suggested reading, and biographical information about Masters.

When I was in high school, I participated in the local college’s production, directed by my mother, of a musical based on Masters’ work. With other students, I sang old folk songs that were probably popular during that time. We accompanied ourselves on piano, guitar, saxophone, and various rhythm instruments. Songs were interspersed with readings of the epitaphs by students and other community members. Reading some of the poems in this anthology brought back memories of that time. I’d sing you one of the songs but can’t find any of the music from that production, and although I remember tunes, titles and lyrics elude me. Oh well… You can read more about Edgar Lee Masters here.

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Letter to My Daughter

by Maya Angelou

Copyright 2008.

 

The essays and poems in this bestseller reflect on racism, religion, and other topics. Maya Angelou writes about her life in San Francisco with her mother when she moved there as a teen-ager after being raised by her grandmother in Arkansas. She describes how her son was conceived through sex without love and talks about the guilt she felt when she left him in her mother’s care while on the road performing. This almost drove her to kill herself and her child until her voice teacher encouraged her to write down her blessings. She shares a couple of anecdotes from her time in Africa and her perceptions of Coretta Scott King and other celebrities. She dedicates this book to daughters all over the world, not having any of her own.

I found it hard to believe when a waitress in a North Carolina café told Maya and her friend that nobody had been served in over an hour because the cook ran out of grits. If I were black and in that café, I would have looked around to see if others at neighboring tables were eating which they probably would have been. Apparently though, Maya believed the waitress’s tale. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading the work in this book, although I found the poems a bit too abstract. To learn more about Maya Angelou, click here.

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And We Stay

by Jenny Hubbard

Copyright 2014.

 

This was named a 2015 Printz Honor Book by the American Library Association. In 1995, seventeen-year-old Emily Beam is sent to the Amherst School for Girls in Massachusetts after her boyfriend Paul commits suicide. Too ashamed to tell her story, she makes few friends but writes a lot of poems which are scattered throughout the book along with flashbacks that tell of her relationship with Paul and what drove him to shoot himself in the high school library back home.

She takes an interest in the poet Emily Dickinson who also attended the Amherst School for Girls over a century ago. A teacher encourages Emily Beam to enter a poetry contest and loans her a biography of Emily Dickinson. Emily Beam becomes obsessed with visiting Emily Dickinson’s grave and her home which is now a museum.

This book is perhaps more suited to teen-agers, but I, a middle-aged widow, found it hard to put down. Emily’s story fascinated me. It’s not often you find a teen-ager who writes poetry for therapeutic purposes and who is interested in a classic poet. I have a feeling that if my favorite high school English teacher were still in the business, she would assign this book to her freshman English class. It’s a great way to introduce young people to poetry and get them to think about issues of the day. For more information about Jenny Hubbard’s books, click here.

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Brokedown Cowboy

by Maisey Yates

Copyright 2015

 

In Copper Ridge, Oregon, Connor Garret is a rancher who lost his wife three years earlier. When Felicity Foster, his best friend since childhood, needs a place to stay, he takes her in and can’t resist fantasizing about her in her underwear and other romantic situations. The feeling is mutual. Felicity organizes a community effort to replace Connor’s barn that burned down. Will she also replace his wife?

This interesting story is bogged down by way too much detail about the characters’ feelings and love making. At first, I was curious about the outcome, but now, I don’t care anymore so I decided not to finish the book. To learn more about New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates and her books, click here.

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Songs of My Selfie: An Anthology of Millennial Stories

Edited by Constance Renfrow

Copyright 2016.

 

We all know about mid-life crisis, but has anyone heard of quarter-life crisis? That’s what the seventeen stories in this anthology are about. They’re written by twenty something emerging writers about and for people in that age group. In “The Most Laid-Back Guy Ever,” a young woman falls for a young man in an airport. In “Small Bump,” a young couple decides to abort a pregnancy. In “Victoria,” a young woman secretly leaves her family to fly off with her boyfriend, but does she change her mind at the airport? Each story includes a selfie of the author.

Some of these tales are fun to read, but after a while, I got tired of this book. I may read more of it later. I’m a widow in my fifties, but I definitely recommend this to those in their twenties who can more easily identify with these characters. To learn more about Constance Renfrow and this book, click here.

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The Woman Upstairs

By Claire Messud

Copyright 2013.

 

In this bestselling author’s latest novel, third grade teacher Nora Eldridge becomes involved with the Shahid family when they become her neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, I didn’t get very far with this. It starts out from Nora’s first person point of view, and one of the first things she says is that when she dies, her epitaph should read, “Fuck you all!”

I don’t mind the F word. I first learned it from my daddy years ago and still use it occasionally, but the context in which this author uses it tells me that something is going to happen that will make the main character feel this way, and I’m not sure I want to know what it is, at least not now. You can read more about this book here.

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Dad is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan

Copyright 2013

 

No, this is not another memoir about someone living with an obese father, although I wondered when I saw the title. In this book, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan writes about living with five children under the age of nine and his wife in a small two-bedroom apartment in New York City. He starts by relating an experience he and his wife had years earlier while touring the Grand Canyon with friends who had a baby. He then launches into a series of humorous stories about his relationship with his father and covers such topics as pregnancy, home birth, education, and family vacations. He also shares the reactions of family and friends to each pregnancy and birth and ponders the question, “Are you done yet?”. So whose dad is fat, you ask? Well, read the book.

Many of these little essays left me rolling in my recliner. They not only brought back my own childhood memories but helped put my earlier life in perspective. Having children is similar to being a family caregiver. For six years, I cared for my late husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. I can imagine how much more difficult it would be to care for five husbands, all totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Of course kids eventually grow up and become independent, but still… To find out if Jim Gaffigan’s done having kids, click here.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

O

An April Poem

I wrote the following series of lunes on an unseasonably warm afternoon earlier this month in my back yard. I sat and listened and wrote about what I heard and felt. At one point, I got too hot, sitting at my picnic table so moved to a shady spot on my patio and incorporated that in the poem. Click this link to hear me read it.

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The Fourth Month

 

bright sun shines

in a cloudless sky above

nature sings praises

 

enjoying bird songs

I sit in the yard

breathe fresh air

 

hammer pounds nearby

saw whines loud and long

bringing us change

 

radiant sun burns

fair skin if not protected

must find shade

 

relief from sun

cool breeze soothes warm skin

bug caresses face

 

an April afternoon

feels like a summer day

where is spring

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

 

A Pirate Poem

How I Could Be a Pirate Despite Limited Vision

 

Prone to motion sickness on the high seas,

during battle, I can vomit

in the general direction of the opposing ship.

 

Able to see numbers on corners of bills,

when treasure falls into our hands,

I can count how much there is,

keep records in Braille,

 

entertain others with guitar and voice,

play a last request for those walking the plank.

If our ship goes down like the Titanic,

I’ll sing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

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The above poem was inspired by this prompt. Click this link to hear me read the poem.

Now it’s your turn. Write a poem or essay, telling a pirate ship captain how you could be an asset to his crew. When I first read the prompt, I considered writing my poem in the form of a resume but realized that pirate captains don’t follow normal hiring procedures. They don’t reject prospective employees in the usual way, either. If I applied for a job with a gang of pirates, using the above poem as a resume, I would be the one walking the plank.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Four Ways a Dog Looks at Life (Poetry)

1.

 

I’m too outspoken

so I must wear a special collar

during the day while no one’s home.

When I alert the empty house, the collar

vibrates against my throat, feels weird. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable,

causes me to whine when I speak my mind.

Life is “ruff.”

 

2.

 

“Turkey muffin, turkey muffin,” you squeak,

as my leash clicks into place.

What’s a turkey muffin, anyway?

It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing

as that rotten fish head in the alley.

Now, that’s what I want.

 

3.

 

Oh, you’re hungry.

You don’t live here

so you don’t know where anything is.

You can’t see very well, huh?

Well, how about some potato chips?

I know where they are, in the pantry.

Open this door–they’re right here on the floor.

Now, here’s one for you, five for me,

one for you, ten for me, one for you, twenty for me,

one for you, forty for me. Oh, the bag’s empty.

Just throw it away.

They’ll think you ate all the chips–ha ha.

 

4.

 

What’s that on the other side of the fence?

A white stick it is, rolling along the pavement.

A human pushes it.

I want to chase it

so I bark and bark and bark,

leap in the air many times,

try to fly over the fence.

I’m ignored–human and stick

walk and roll away.

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I decided to write the above poem when I read Francesco Marciuliano’s book, I Could Chew on This: and Other Poems by Dogs. It was also inspired by my recent visit to Florida, where my brother has two dogs, and my experiences with other canine friends over the years. I wrote four poems but then combined them into one. Click this link to hear me read it.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

On Beach Time

Thanks to poet Glenda Bealle’s post for inspiring this. I got the idea for the following poem’s title from a sign on my niece’s bedroom wall in Florida. As I write this, it’s cold, cloudy, and a little windy. Snow is forecasted, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, it’s a far cry from sunny Florida.

You may wonder why I don’t move to Florida since I write about it so much. The answer is simple. This time of year, the weather is ideal, but in the summer, with the humidity as high as it is, it’s miserable. That’s why I like to visit and dream about Florida on wintry days in Wyoming.

The following poem illustrates that. Glenda’s post contains a perfect video to go with it. This is a 60-minute beach-at-sunset scenario, but when I hear the waves, I’m reminded of the Jupiter, Florida beach at any time of day. Click this link to hear me read the poem.

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On Beach Time

 

A winter day in Wyoming,

my mind takes me to Florida

where I feel the sun against my bare skin,

breathe the warm, salty Jupiter air,

walk on sand and water,

eat a sandwich under an umbrella

while listening to the ocean.

I’m already warm.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

March 2016 Book Reviews

Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright 2015.

 

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Kate Mulgrew until I ran across this book on Audible with her reading it for only $5.95. I enjoy reading about the lives of actresses and other celebrities, and this book didn’t totally disappoint.

She starts out by talking about her life growing up in Dubuque, Iowa in a large Irish Catholic family. In a parochial school, the nun who taught fifth grade sparked her interest in poetry and acting by encouraging her to enter a poem recitation contest. In high school, she decided to graduate as early as possible and become involved in local theater. She describes how her younger sister Tessie became a willing slave to her big sister, the star.

After moving to New York, Kate discusses how she studied at New York University and took lessons at the Stella Addler Acting Studio for a year. Stella had a rule that while in her program which usually lasted a couple of years, an actor couldn’t work professionally. However, when Kate had an opportunity to star in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and in Ryan’s Hope, a television soap opera about an Irish family that runs a pub, she couldn’t resist. She left the studio with Stella’s blessing, and her career took off.

She then describes how she played role after role on TV and stage and her affairs with one man after another. At one point, she became pregnant and decided to give up the baby for adoption. She describes her feelings of guilt, even before she signed the final papers, and how she tried to find out about her baby a year later before moving to L.A. to star in Mrs. Columbo. Her experience was similar to that of Philomena but had a more positive outcome.

She eventually married Robert Egan, a director of an acting company in Seattle where she was working. She describes that and the birth of her sons and how she juggled their care and her career. Someone predicted that she could never be a natural mother, and she wasn’t.

The marriage ended in divorce about five years later, and she describes how she met Tim, a politician who was a friend of her mother’s, in Ireland where she and her sons were vacationing. She then details how she landed the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She describes how her seven-year stint in this role affected her relationship with her sons and their surprising reaction when she took them to the first season premiere at the Paramount Theater in L.A.

I would like to have known more. When Kate finally met her daughter, whom she gave away at birth, she promised to introduce her to her sons, but how did that pan out? Did her sons throw spit balls at her daughter like they did at the screen during the first season premiere of Star Trek Voyager? By the end of the book, it’s pretty obvious she married Tim, but he had two daughters so I’m wondering if they became a big, happy family. I’m also interested in her role on Orange Is the New Black, but I suppose a memoir must end somewhere. To learn more about Kate Mulgrew, click here.

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Palisades Park by Alan Brennert. Copyright 2013.

 

This novel, based on the author’s experiences with this New Jersey amusement park, spans almost fifty years. In 1922, eleven-year-old Eddie enjoys visiting the park with his family, swimming in the pool, riding the rides, viewing the side shows, and eating his fill of hot dogs, French fries, and cotton candy. Eight years later, he returns to the park to work and meets Adelle. They marry on a carousel, and after having two kids, they eventually open their own French fry stand in the park.

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, Eddie enlists in the Naval Reserve, much to Adelle’s annoyance, but she and the children do their best to carry on while he’s away. At the end of the war, when Eddie returns home after serving in a non-combat position on a Hawaiian island, Adelle, who has always wanted to be an actress, runs off with a magician who was one of the attractions in Palisades Park, leaving Eddie and the children to fend for themselves.

Their daughter Toni aspires to become a high diver after witnessing such acts at the park. At eighteen, she leaves home for Florida where she trains with a lady high diver and soon becomes the Amazing Antoinette, traveling all over the country to different carnivals and amusement parks, diving off a 90-foot tower into a tank filled with six feet of water, sometimes while on fire. Her brother Jack takes an interest in art at first but enlists in the Army during the Korean War, returns home traumatized by battle, and becomes a writer. Eddie, inspired by his years of service in Hawaii during World War II, opens a restaurant specializing in food and drinks from the islands. The book ends in 1971 after Palisades Park is bought by a real estate conglomerate and turned into high-rise apartments. The author leaves us with the impression that life goes on.

This book reminded me of two amusement parks I visited when I was younger: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and Elich Gardens in Denver. I liked faris wheels and carousels but wasn’t too fond of roller coasters or haunted houses. I didn’t get much out of side shows due to my limited vision but would probably have been able to see someone diving off a 90-foot tower into a flaming tank while on fire. To learn more about Alan Brennert’s books, click this link

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On My Own by Diane Rehm. Copyright 2016.

 

In a memoir by this National Public Radio talk show host, she discusses her husband’s death, their life together, and how she manages without him. She starts by talking about how her husband John died in an assisted living facility after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When it was clear no more could be done for him, he decided, with the support of his doctor, to starve himself. After ten agonizing days without food, water, or medication, he died peacefully in June of 2014.

Diane describes the memorial service and then shares many aspects of her life with John: how they met and married and lived together and raised two children, how her radio broadcasting career took off, and how John supported her through that and other trials and tribulations. She expresses guilt for moving John to an assisted living facility instead of giving up her career to care for him at home. After John’s death, she became involved in a movement to pass legislation to allow patients to die with the help of a physician. When NPR executives expressed ethical concerns, she was compelled to cut back on such activities. She also talks about her work to raise money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research. She reflects on grief and her eminent retirement from broadcasting.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the author’s narration. I could identify with the agony Diane felt in the ten days leading up to John’s death. Fortunately, my late husband Bill only lasted three days after it was determined the end of his life was near. Even with oxygen, he struggled. Many times during those three days, I wished he would just die so we both could be at peace. It wasn’t until he heard me play my guitar and sing his favorite songs for the last time that he felt he had permission to go.

Diane Rehm plans to retire from broadcasting sometime this year. Once free of National Public Radio’s ethical constraints, she plans to become more of an advocate for a patient’s right to die with a doctor’s help. Six states have already passed such legislation, and I hope that someday, all fifty states will allow residents to die with dignity. To learn more about The Diane Rehm Show, click here.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers

I belong to a group of fiction writers that meets once a week by phone conference to critique each other’s work. Before we switched to a phone conferencing service, we used Team Talk, a computer program that allows users to chat. One day several years ago, whoever set up our virtual room forgot to password protect it. In the midst of critiquing a piece where a murder was being planned, an unfamiliar voice said, “Hey, I’m from Canada. What’s going on here?”

To make a long story short, thankfully, I’m not writing this from Death Row, but that was close. Those who write violent fiction can only hope that they don’t end up on the FBI’s most wanted list, but according to this article, if you’re not on such a list, you’re doing it wrong. I think I’ll stick to what I’ve been writing, thank you very much.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 6.59.11 AM Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I took out my knee last week (ergo the sudden dropping off the face of the blogosphere) which just left me a lot of free time to…

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