Sunday, May 4, 2014

Top 7 nuggets of writing encouragement

Posted around my office to keep me focused and writing:

1. "Ask: Let me bring forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing." --The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

2. "There is no excuse for pedestrian dialogue." --Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe

3. "Conversation is Combat." --Clint Johnson

4. When we begin to create, "angel midwives congregate around us; they assist us as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius. Eternity, as Blake might have told us, has opened a portal into time. And we're it." --The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

5. Butt in chair, Hands on keyboard. 

6. Every character has a different script. 

7. "If not now, when?" --The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday poem: Colors

Write a poem in under 5 minutes.

Kids coloring
Bent over notebooks on the floor.
One only uses orange.
Mom, look what I drew.
It is a dress,
Lime ruffled skirt.
Her smile reflects mine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


How can a person be so great at something and oblivious to his own talent? 

This is the story of Charlie King. 
“[The girls] swim out and then turn onto their backs and drift, never knowing, never considering that they are perhaps simply clay pigeons for the cosmic shotgun, fuel for the fire, grist for the universal mill.”
– “Six Girls without Pants”, Charlie King 

When my short story, "Demon Dancing" came out, I must have read it in print a half dozen times, fingering my name, a vertical watermark on the margin of each page. I read it so often, I caught several spelling errors that the student editor overlooked. In the line “My ears tune-in at the middle of her sob story,” I’d accidentally typed, “tone” instead of “tune.” Throughout the entire story, I’d spelled doughnuts, “donuts”, and wondered if I’d revealed myself to the world—or the eighty people who owned copies of the journal—as an amateur by using a trendy spelling of the word. Towards the end, when the reader discovers that the parole officer is a pigment of my main character's imagination (an unbelievably cliche ending), I had, oops, spelled “nod” with two ds.  I shrugged off my mistakes, after all it was Shannon Hale who once said, “Writers are terrible spellers,” and I relished in my success. I’d submitted two stories in the past to no avail. But now, I had conquered my whale—though in hindsight, a college literary magazine is really more of a tilapia, right? 

The accepted submissions in Touchstones were also pitted against each other in a competition in the categories of prose, poetry, and art & photography, winners ranking first and second place, and the overall, coveted: Best in Issue. “Demon Dancing” didn't place. Once I’d exhausted my own genius story, read so often as to have a crease in the spine, so the magazine flipped open to it, I read the winners’ stories and poems, and the ones with interesting titles, like “Inside Rembrandt” and “Scheduling Bathroom Sex on Campus”. The art varied from a photograph of a Dollar General mop tied up with string to a Picasso-style pencil sketch of King Lear. The bane of my existence and the crowning jewel of Touchstones was the work of one, Charlie King, whose story, “Six Girls without Pants” reigned supreme and was, without a doubt, king of the issue. In the back of the journal, judges gushed about King's hilarious dialogue, "cool" imagery, and skillful mockery of vampire poetry. Truth written, truth read. I wanted the same EXACT review of my own work. I wanted to write about girls reading poetry on a Trans Am and thinking about suicide. Hell, I wanted to be one of the girls reading poetry, platonically spooning on a stolen car. A great author can transport the reader into a scene, and Charlie King had done it. He wrote about the water on their legs, and I felt it lap at my calves. He described their dresses floating around their waists “like egg whites on the dark water”, and I could flip them with a spatula. He molded a character with a nose and boob job who sees, nay, seeks misogyny in a poem about a baby Dracula, and suddenly I was that girl, my back story stenciled on the walls of my memories—maybe I’d been forced to get the surgery because of a gross stepfather, or worse an unsatisfied mother. A mother who views a child as a canvas, not a painting. A mother who “wants the best”. 

As I did my own, I read and reread King’s story, until it felt like part of my history. Then, I found King's bio, which simply stated, “Charlie is a student at UVSC.” Our bios were submitted with our stories. The submission sheet encouraged writers to include where we lived, our majors, inspirations, and life at home. Most of the bios answered these humorously. “Sam likes cats.” “Blake poses as an arsonist in his free time.” “Now that Kamri has earned her MrS Degree, she will no longer be attending UVSC.” (The sad truth is that many women in the Mormon culture drop out of college when they get married. I remember battling with the decision as a newly engaged twenty-year-old. "I guess I'll drop out and get a full-time job to support my husband's schooling," I told a friend once. "Why?" she asked. "Why not finish your degree? Why do you HAVE to put your dreams on hold while he pursues an education? Can't you both go to college?" I was dumbfounded. It was the first time IN MY LIFE that I considered what I might want out of life beyond being a wife and, eventually, mother. Before, I'd planned only to attend school up until the moment I got the ring.) But back to the bios: there were a few who didn't submit anything and were given the bio line, "______is a student at UVSC.” This made Charlie King more mysterious and alluring to me. He kicked my ass at writing, and my initial reaction was, unfortunately, one part respect, two parts envy. I had to meet him. If not to bask his in glory, then to be able to look at him and lamely think, He may be able to write beautifully, but his face doesn’t…write…beautifully. I’m afraid I'm not very clever when envious. 

Once every semester, at the release of the magazine, the staff at Touchstones hosts a party cordoned off with collapsible carpeted walls and a table full of catered cookies and cocktail napkins. In front of the audience's round tables is a podium for authors to read their work. They only invite twenty or so contributors to read while guests pick at their macadamia nut cookies and try to ignore the egg roll scents wafted from the Teriyaki Stix around the corner. That spring, I knew Charlie would be there. He had to be. He was the golden boy of the issue! Some writers even mentioned him in their bios as someone who had inspired their work. A college student inspiring other college students! Who ever heard of such a thing? 

On the night of the issue’s debut, I ceremoniously, arrogantly, gave my mother a signed copy of the issue. When it was my turn at the podium, the air conditioner was set too cold and the audience sparse. Still, I read, bold, proud. I got a cordial applause, mostly from my family and husband, and sat down to scan the program for the next in line. It dawned on me. King's name was absent. He did not read. As far as I know he didn’t even attend the party. I pretended that it was because he couldn’t get anyone to cover his shift at the Gap. But that was the snark talking. King really had inspired me and, despite my resentment, he became my John Galt. 

Who is Charlie King? 

Ten years later, not even the world of facebook could narrow it down for me. How many Charlie Kings existed in the world? I continued writing and never came up with anything as intimate and controlled as his work, though I did go on to publish three more stories in college journals, and I won second place in a local literary arts festival for "Souvenirs", a story about the devil leaving little creatures in the minds of women. (I never let Mom read that one. I didn't think she’d be amused at the imagery of the devil kissing and getting a rise out of a housewife.) 

And then, in November, I found him. By luck, I noticed that a pal from back in middle school had a Charlie King listed on her friend list. (It's a small world in the LDS church.) I reached out to him, hoping I didn't come across too stalker-y, and we engaged in a mild dialogue founded on our love of writing. He sent me some poems, I sent him links to poems on my blog, which he complimented and--here's the crazy part--dubbed himself an amateur in comparison. What! The Charlie King, this pillar of authorial genius, executor of eloquence, slayer of symbolism, blind to his own daemon! After I pointed out every bit of poetry that I loved, lines so smooth you could sip them through a straw, do you know what he said, 

"Who are you, Rena Lesue-Smithey?"

One day, just you wait, he's going to be the Neil Gaiman to my Tori Amos. ('Cept, he's more of a playwright and I'm not a musician or a ginger. But you know what I mean.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is the Year I Will...

I have this sign up above my treadmill that says, "THIS IS THE YEAR I WILL..." and I've often thought about what future lies on the other side of the ellipses. A new publication? A new running goal? A fun writing conference? When the New Year came and passed and I remained incommunicado to the internet world, it wasn't because I hadn't been thinking or dreaming up goals to achieve this year. Nor was it because I was ashamed for not completing my goals for last year. It was because I was too busy writing.

Ever since encountering The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, I have been a writing machine, giving Resistance the cold shoulder and honing my talents non-stop! Well, most days for six to nine consecutive hours anyway. I take meals in my office, editing between bites. Beyond the door, the dishes and chores and life are a distant, oneiric memory, while inside, it's me, the story, God, and my K-9 muse, Spike, who lounges in the recliner, huffing little snores.

It's only January and I've submitted to a contest and a journal, and I have two more lined up for the end of the month. That's, sadly, what I used do in a year. I don't know what it is about the book that kicked me into high gear. Perhaps it was the identification and demarcated limitations of the enemy (Resistance), or the knowledge that it exists in me. Perhaps it was the set of weapons Pressfield provided to slay the beast. Or the freedom he offered to write what I wanted to write. Either way, pounding out these stories and memoirs day after day has been nothing short of ethereal.

I've never been happier than I am shaping something from nothing. This is where I belong.

That's why this year is the year I will...create.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Newsletter 2013

Merry Christmas!

I forgot to send out Christmas cards. Literally, none.

We photo-bombed our own pic.

I am busy with grad school, so I'm very sorry about the cards.
However, here's the virtual one. More succinct than last year, i.e. shorter. And a lot more pictures.

We got to meet the newest mini Melissa.

Our year:

Rena: Started grad school.

Cole: Graduated from grad school.

Gavin: Started kindergarten.

Elayna: 3rd grade, PTA Reflections poem received special recognition at school, and then went to regional competition.


The Winter Princess stopped during the parade to get a picture with Elayna.

Travel: In November, we went to Missouri to visit friends and family.

We went to Silver Dollar City,
I heart her!

BFFs since 1994, I think. Since 8th grade. We've been friends for almost 20 years.

The kids got called onstage for the Frosty show in Branson.

The Butterfly Palace,

If I had the time, I'd have made this our Christmas card.

Gavin is sad that no butterflies landed on him.

A living angel, or, as Layne referred to them as "weeping angels". 

The Showboat,
"Gavin, be a sea captain."

Gavin with his wolf, Silver.

Branson, outside of the restaurant where the waiters serenaded the costumers.

The only Santa that the kids weren't awkward around.

The kids were sure excited to see Melissa's kids again!

...Back to the old stomping grounds, Marshfield.
Donuts from Cunninghams (which has a different name now).


Thanks to my best friend in the whole world, we got to stay in a pretty posh cabin (which was more like a townhouse with a cabin theme). Thanks, Melissa!!!

Walks in the woods

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Squee! My 9yo daughter entered a poem into her PTA Reflections contest and won an excellence award! The poem went on to regions. I hope this means the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. =) Course, I didn't get my first writing award until I was pregnant with her. She must be my muse.

It is found poetry, but I didn't take a photo before she submitted it. So here's the words, not the visual:


She listened. 

About what you would like.
Work on your ideas."

A little 
Scared, but         do it with help. 

An idea popped into her head:

Make your heart happy. 

Pictures help her remember. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spine Poetry

Another awesome CUWP activity. Man, I love this organization.
This is spine poetry. You make poetry out of the titles on the spines of books. (It's pretty self-explanatory.)
A light-hearted spine poem. It's not my favorite but still fun. 
Yesterday again.
The summer prince
Finding Zasha.
The look.
Photo-bombed by J. PS. This poem is much better. Darker too. The way poetry should be. *wink*
The 100,
The dead and buried
Vietnam casualties of war,
The ivy empire of bones.
Fire and fury,
A blue book of fairy tales.
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