Once nimble-fingered, strong, and knuckle-crackable, my hands have become autonomous lethal weapons always at the ready to attack my sense of self, to confound me, and to turn an innocent, heretofore intuitive movement into a booby trap.
I tape a package and tape sticks to my thumb; I pull gently at the vacuum cleaner, it leaps forward tangling its own cord into a heap of spaghetti. I grasp my well-worn, familiar mug and fingers miss the mark, shooting mug and coffee forward, out of reach. Singling out and retrieving one sheet of paper has become a major and arduous accomplishment, often concluding with several wrinkled, unusable discards.
As in a possible episode of “The Twilight Zone,” my ladies’ hands metamorphosed into independent claws disconnected from my autonomic nervous system. Once involuntary actions, such as rubbing my eye, now require detailed planning so as not to run the risk of poking out my eye. Now, I consciously think out the steps, the route, my hands, thumbs, and fingers will take in order to perform the rubbing of the eye successfully and without pain.
Typing, (currently referred to as ‘keyboarding’) a learned skill similar to playing piano (hence ‘keyboarding’), has become anxiety-provoking torture. For way over 40 years, I relied on this skill—without thought—while composing such documents as scholarly papers, creative mish-mashes, memoirs, and reports. And, having reached the typing speed and accuracy worthy of an Executive Administrative Assistant, I embraced a false, oh very false, sense of security. I believed that skills once-learned and heavily practiced achieve a sort of permanency.
However, my newly evolved fingers no longer strike the intended keys, indeed these alien claws play dirty tricks—creating such abominations as wrrd, or rwod for word. How do my fingers do such things? They race ahead, lag behind, or enter mortal combat with each other and my thumbs; they jump together on one key; they ignore the space bar; they skip over whole words.
These hands and fingers that I once trusted to steer a car, comb my hair, tie the string on my baby daughter’s bonnet, no longer can be relied upon to do my bidding. And, sometimes, just to be perverse, they ache.
These hands, fingers, thumbs, knuckles, and wrists don’t even look the same. They are spotted, wrinkled, and bent into odd shapes. I no longer recognize these hands, nor can anticipate their next movements.
Yet, these are small betrayals. Not cancerous or gangrenous—only mind-boggling—minor irritations reminding me that I am organic. So, when my hands trp me up [as they just did with trp not trip], I shall recall that all transformations may not be spiritual.
TRY IT: I wrote this essay in response to a one-word writing prompt: transmogrification. Try it, or chose your own word.
Award-winning author, playwright, poet, screenwriter and successful grant writer Kayt Peck sat down with Mary Rose Henssler recently for an interview. Kayt is the current Poet Laureate of Las Vegas, N.M., and will be the featured guest at the Literary Salon Visit with the Author, at Gallery 140, 140 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, N.M., on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at 4 p.m. In our interview, we discussed writing, among many subjects, and that part of the interview is excerpted below.
MRH: You were studying speech and communications. At what point did you start knowing that writing was your life? KP: Before I could write I would go into my dad’s office and make up stories on his typewriter. I was just pecking away, but the stories were in my head. Yeah, I always wanted to write.
MRH: And at what point did you start writing fiction? KP: Probably junior high. It sucked, but I wrote it. And my degree – I had a weird degree – it was called a functional degree, and I had a major in speech, and what amounted to a triple minor in journalism, psychology and education. That’s because they tried to push me into that. Actually, I finished everything except my student teaching to get education certified, but I didn’t want to teach. That’s something they – if you’re a woman at that school you had to go into education or medicine or something. I had no desire to be a teacher. I’ve been told I’m a good one.
MRH: What is your writing kryptonite? Something that protects you from just everything and lets you write? KP: That’s a good question. Writing kryptonite. Passion. I have pretty much–I have developed the craft. I can write about anything. I make a living largely writing grants, so I can write about anything. But when it comes to fiction, when it comes to plays or now screenplays, it has to be something I am passionate about. And if I truly have passion about something there’s no such thing as writer’s block.
MRH:Now, you believe in writer’s block, but you don’t get it? KP: I do sometimes, but it’s short lived. It’s when I’m tired. It’s the body saying ‘shut up.’ I do get it sometimes. Natalie Goldberg has some great exercises to get you past, you know, over the hump. I think it’s a story she wrote or my writing instructor in college may have told me this story about someone who was in a writing class and couldn’t write. Just couldn’t get past it, so the instructor said, “Okay. Just pick a street.” She did. “Pick a building.” She did. Couldn’t write. The instructor finally said, “I want you to go to that building. Go up ten bricks, three bricks over, and start writing about that brick.” And that broke it. Have you ever read my tagline on my email? ‘Writers are like magic wands. They can create anything.’ And you know, we really do. It’s not just on the page. Writers create everything when you come down to it, the things that happen in the world, the things that humanity creates, it has to start with words. Everything has to start with words. It has to start with communication. That’s why I was so fascinated by interpersonal communication.
MRH:When you were in the Navy, I know the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City had a tremendous affect on you. What other experiences with the Navy had a great affect on you, good or bad? KP: Probably the most important writing I have ever done in my whole career was when I was recalled to go to Strategic Command to help write the VIP documents when Admiral Childs was developing a plan for the stand down from the Cold War. So, I helped write the documents he used for key legislative committees to convince them to follow his plan.
MRH:You feel that was the most important writing you ever did. Do you feel that way about any of your fiction? Do you feel that your fiction has an impact on the people that read it? KP: I think so, yes. I think this latest book, especially. The fantasy series. I really need to get into a different market for that, because I think that series… You know, Harry Potter changed the world. I think everything I’ve written–sometimes it feels like I’m not writing alone so everything I’ve written there’s been a trigger. I don’t write just for fun. It’s fun to write, but there’s something. There’s a kernel. A truth I need to say, or an observation I need to say. I told you the story of why I decided I needed to write Broken. The Ladies Room, I had to do.
MRH:That was a very powerful book. KP: And you know, I couldn’t really tell the story of what it was like to start an organization in the Texas Panhandle, because nobody would have believed it. It was horrible. But I needed to get that flavor, that experience out to people. And do you know, I’ve done well selling that book out at the flea market, when I tell people what it’s about, that’s the one they want–straight people. And I’m amazed how supportive they are when I tell them what the book’s about. The fantasy trilogy? That was important to me, and it hasn’t hit where it’s supposed to yet. I probably needed a different publisher for that. When I write, I let the story drive the length and the pace. And even though I like fantasy, Tolkein was so verbose. The story’s good, but I enjoyed the movies more than the books. I’m waiting to see what happens with Chokecherry Jelly (screenplay). I entered it into two contests and I’m not entering it into any more until I see what it does. It costs money to enter screenplay contests. (Chokecherry Jelly won both contests.) (Someone) wants to produce it, but it’s a long ways from concept to production on a movie.
MRH: Unless you want to do it yourself. KP: There’s so much I want to accomplish, and picking and choosing, because I realized, you know, I’m not going to live that much longer. In the scheme of things, ten or even twenty years isn’t that long.
MRH: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? KP: It wouldn’t be my writing self; it would affect my writing self, but I would go back earlier. Because when I was a kid growing up, somehow I knew it wasn’t me that was screwed up. Well, I was screwed up, but I think I would go back–I waited until I was older to–I’ve written forever. I’ve got manuscripts even I forgot I had written. But it wasn’t until I got in my fifties where I started saying, “Yeah, let’s put it out there.”
MRH:So you wrote, but you didn’t send it out anywhere, until you were in your fifties? KP: I would do some, but I wasn’t real serious about it. I was serious about helping other people accomplish their dreams, because that was the subliminal message that I had, was that my talent wasn’t supposed to be used for me. So if I could, I would go back to even before pre-writing and tell child me, “It’s okay to be ambitious. It’s okay. You’ve got a gift. It’s okay.”
MRH:So that was a pretty powerful message that you were getting from the people around you. KP: Oh yeah. That I wasn’t supposed to use my talent for me. And it took me a long time to even recognize that’s what it was doing. I think that’s why I got into grants, because it was okay. I told myself at the time it was a great way to practice my writing skills and still make a living. Now, I look back at it, and if I had put it where I really wanted to, by now I’d be in clover.
MRH: What did you do with your first advance? KP: What advance?
MRH:Your publisher doesn’t give an advance. What did you do with the first check you got from your writing? KP: Put it back into the writing. Or into publishing. All of the stuff I make off my books I put into Dreamcatcher Books or I put it into the marketing. So I’m trying to think if I used it for anything else.
MRH:What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? KP: Getting a computer. That really opened things up.
MRH:You wrote your first books on a typewriter? KP: Mmmhmm. Speaking of investment, I tried to make an investment. When I was in my twenties, I thought okay, I want to be a writer, I want to do publishing, so what am I going to do? So I started a little magazine called The Coldwater Holdout. Which is apparently kept in a couple of museums in Oklahoma. Which is kind of fun. And my dad had bought, when I was a baby, a whole life policy which he turned over to me when I turned twenty-one, and I left it for a while and I thought, ‘You know what? I need some money to be able to do this magazine.’ So I cashed it in. Now, this is one of the ways–I should have divorced him then–so, I made the mistake of putting the money in the joint bank account. Kevin bought a motorcycle. Spent my magazine money on a motorcycle, so that was a short-lived–I think I did it for six months. It was so much fun. I’ve still got it somewhere. I ought to let you see it. The Coldwater Holdout was fun. I might have been able to stay in publishing. But you know, I don’t regret the newspapers I worked for, either.
MRH:What do you regret? KP: Not a damn thing.
Kayt Peck will be the Literary Salon’s featured guest on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at 4 p.m. at the Gallery 140, 140 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, N.M. Refreshments will be served. Please wear a mask and observe social distancing.
Article written by Mary Rose Henssler whose work includes playwriting, scriptwriting, poetry and prose. She also enjoys drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and being outdoors.
Dr. Korte was the featured guest on Las Vegas Literary Salon’s Visit with the Author, Sunday, May 23. Here are his comments about the experience, shared here with his permission. You may watch a video of the event here.
Dr. Korte: Personally, I am satisfied with the whole experience. When confronted with the format, I unlearned everything. To begin with, I couldn’t log on to Zoom. My daughter and backup arrived at the right time and logged me in. I am still trying to answer the question as to what to make of Baca’s poem. I found some stuff in the Nosotros book, which has a classification by type. Anyway, I spent 30 days developing a one-hour Powerpoint presentation (for the Salon). Overall, starting from the last presentation (on dreams and creativity), I was glad I heard about dreams. It freed me to rethink my paper on “transcendence.” I had been stuck for about six weeks, complete writer’s block. I remembered Marie Louise von Frantz’s book “On Dreams & Death: A Jungerian Interpretation.” The month of work on a slide show gave me the kind of review of my work I needed to complete the book. The road ahead is clear.
I am glad the interview went the way it did with an open discussion. Through development of the slide presentation, the work became clear to me. I know where I need to go and am satisfied as it has freed me up. I thank all who attended and for their reflection back. I has edified me in so many ways. Adelante! (forward march, for me). Many, many thanks.
Las Vegas Literary Salon is grateful for all the time writers and presenters put into their guest appearances. And, we deeply appreciate attendees who by their presence and participation make these events rich in content. As we look to in-person Salons, our goal will be to continue with original programming that will include readings by published authors, workshops, and round-table events on topics related to writing, publishing, and reading. Please follow this website to stay informed about planned Salons. Whether Zoom or in-person, Salon events will be held on the 4th Sunday of the month at 4 p.m., unless otherwise notified. Changes of time and venue will be advertised well in advance of events.
And, if you have a submission for Tapestry: Tales, Essays, Poems, the deadline has been extended to July 1. So, put your pen to page or fingers to keyboard and get that gem written and sent in! Click on the Tapestry tab in the menu for submission guidelines.
Thanks to Carmen Baca, for allowing LVLS to share her publishing experience and wisdom. Go to this link to learn more about Carmen’s published books and other writing.
Want to know how the publishing process works?
There are different methods, but this is the short version of my experience to give you an idea.
I always thought being a writer is a solitary endeavor. I write for 4-5 hours, 4-5 days a week, bringing worlds and characters and their stories to life. If I’m writing a short story, essay, or article, the writing sessions take anywhere from 2 hours to 3-4 days. I edit the piece to the best of my ability and submit to publishers of online literary magazines and anthologies directly. No one else sees my short works before those editors and publishers.
When I write books, it’s a solitary process for the two months it takes to get 68K to 78K words written to my satisfaction. Then comes the editing, going through the manuscript 5 times looking for specific issues, creating the glossary, making sure the bibliography’s accurate. That’s when the solitary situation changes.
Margaret Johnson, Mercedes Romero, and other volunteer beta and proofreaders get the manuscript next; they find the typos and the places I used the wrong words and sometimes the details in the wrong places, my most common errors. While they are doing their thing, I’m creating my cover art and the blurb which goes on the back of the book. At this point, I send the cover art to my cover artist and the blurb to Margaret and my publisher; they always make it better. That’s also when I work on the other pages: the dedication, acknowledgments, author’s note (if needed). Once Margaret, Mercedes, and the proofreaders finish, about a month later, I revise the manuscript with their corrections/recommendations. By that time, the cover is also ready. (Note: many publishers like my 1st one for El Hermano have their own cover artists. The folk artist worked with my input to create that cover.)
The manuscript goes to my publisher then, and he puts it in his queue where it waits in line for him to publish those works ahead of mine. The difference, which arises with a self-published book, is that instead of sending the book to a publisher, I upload the book and the front and back covers into a self-publishing site. I’ve only done that once, and the formatting took me four days. That book has no page numbers since I couldn’t figure out how to add them. Some self-published authors hire formatters to format their books, in addition to hiring their editor and cover artist.
In the meantime, I write up a press release about the book, send it to potential ARC (advance review copy) readers for editorial reviews. Those people agree to read the manuscript. Some of them write endorsements for the book, and all of them write their reviews to post on the day the book releases. The more reviews a book gets on Amazon, the more publicity Amazon gives it.
So, by the time the book reaches readers’ hands, at least ten other people have had their hands in assuring the book is as good as it can be. What begins as a solitary process turns into an assembly line of valuable people who all work toward one goal: publishing a book.
Making a book a success is something readers can help us do: write honest reviews on Amazon as a thank you to the author for those hours of entertainment and ask local bookstores to sell our books.
NEWS NOTES: Guest posts about writing and publishing are welcome. Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our thanks to Carmen. Her words are motivating and inspiring. We invite writers and readers to engage with Las Vegas Literary Salon by attending our monthly Salons on the 4th Sunday, from 4-5 p.m. Our Sunday, March 28 Visit with author and satirist Jim Terr goes live at 4 p.m.
Las Vegas Literary Salon is seeking submissions for a collection entitled: Tapestry: Tales, Essays, Poetry. The target publication date is early to mid-November 2021. Submission Guidelines can be found by clicking TAPESTRY GUIDELINES in the menu above.
Hello and welcome to Patti’s blog – all things [except for the occasional digression] books, reading, writing… Yes, I am one of the founding members of the Las Vegas Literary Salon (LVLS). One – maybe distant – day, we will bring Salon activities, i.e., book fair, salon talks (with refreshments) to the streets, or at least one of our streets, or maybe a store front… And, coming soon, the LVLS publication: Northeastern New Mexico Tapestry: Poetry, Essays, Tales. See Call for Submissions here. In the mean time, be sure to join us for Visits with the Author via Zoom, each fourth Sunday at 4 p.m.
Today’s blog features a sampling (Tiger’s Pics) of books by and for Las Vegans. Yes, Tiger was born and abandoned somewhere on the outskirts of town.
Some books are about Las Vegas, some are not. Troll through and find your pic. Many are available locally.
Paper Trail, 158 Bridge St., (505) 454-1337; Books of the Southwest, 247 Plaza, 505 469-0517; Brotique 505, 707 Douglas Ave, www. Brotique505.com.
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams. Patti
You have some time. Maybe you have some time at the same hour and in the same place every day. Most days, you write eagerly and productively. You make progress on your novel or your collection of short stories, or your non-fiction history of the Sangre de Christo mountains.
But then one day you have the time. You have the space. You have the enthusiasm. But you don’t have any idea what you want to put down on the page. Often, this has roots in self doubt.
Nobody wants to read this. I suck at this. Who am I to try this?
The first thing to do is tell yourself it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because this is a first draft, and you aren’t going to show it to anyone. Now that that’s out of the way, remind yourself that the most important thing is to get the story down on paper before you lose it. That is, if you have a story.
If you have a story, and you don’t know where to go next, try free writing. Do this with a paper and pen and the determination not to cross out or read until you’re done with the exercise. Start with the last sentence you wrote in your story and write for 30 minutes without stopping. At some point you may need to write “Keep the hand moving” a couple of time before your mind kicks in. As the author and creative writing teacher Natalie Goldberg advises: “Follow your mind.” Don’t try to stay on track (what you think is the track) just write. Something good will come out of it. Maybe something small, maybe something important. It doesn’t matter.
And if you don’t have a story, pick a color, or an object, and write about that, until something clicks in your mind and you are writing about a memory, or a dream, or a wish you had as a child, anything that resonates with you and continue with that until you have exhausted it. These seemingly random thoughts will have little nuggets of truth that you can work with.
Maybe you will get a poem, or the start of one. Maybe you will get a flawed character that you can build a seven novel series on.
One of my favorite exercises when I’m starting a new story or poem or scene for a play is to go to the thesaurus or the dictionary, open it at random with my eyes closed and put my finger on the page. I do this three times (three different pages). Jot down each word in turn, then look at each word. If you’re not sure of the meaning, look it up. Now use the meanings of those three words in your poem or short story WITHOUT EVER USING THE WORDS. Somehow, this gives your mind room to play and make some surprising connections that will enrich your work.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. This next one came from Alice Whitfield, my voiceover coach one day when she felt that the energy in the class was not as creative as she would like. Evidently we were all giving lackluster performances on our recordings. She told us all to close our eyes and picture a corner in our kitchen at home. We were to recall every single item in that corner, from floor to ceiling, to pick up any small objects, to note their color, and weight in our minds. We were to think of a scent from the kitchen, maybe gingerbread, or savory stuffing, or something else pungent that we enjoyed. When she told us to open our eyes, and take our turns recording for a second time, every single performance had improved. And I put it into my writing toolkit.
When the current plague is over and we can return to activities like sitting with our notebooks and a cup of tea or coffee at Travelers or Charlies or El Sombrero, listen to the conversations around you. Not obviously, of course, try to look like you are writing something of your own, not recording snippets of conversation. I once heard a woman say to a man that stopped by her table, “Is your dad still in the graveyard?” Something like that can lead to any number of stories.
Is the dad a gravedigger? A landscaper? A vampire that walks by night?
Another trick you can use is to have some jars filled with folded scraps of paper. One jar could have jobs – mechanic, neurosurgeon, substitute teacher, detective, etc. Another could have places – small town, big city, mesas, mountains, Alaska fishing village, artist’s colony, desert, any place you can think of, especially if you have been there, or would like to research it. Then a jar with situations – kidnapping, star crossed lovers, changing places with someone, building a house on swampland. Pull two slips out of the first jar for your protagonist and antagonist. Then a slip of paper for the place. Then one for the situation. And suddenly you have characters in a situation in a place. And it’s a start.
Now use these tips, or your preferred starting point, and write something (poetry, essay, or fiction) for Tapestry, the Las Vegas Literary Salon’s upcoming collection. The deadline for submission is June 1, so start writing. Click on the TAPESTRY GUIDELINES tab in the menu to get the submission guidelines and read the Call for Submissions here.
On Sunday, Feb. 28, 4-5 p.m., bring your topic and let’s talk writing. Get Lit with Las Vegas Literary Salon is an open forum on the topics of writing and publishing. Scheduled participants include Bob and Mary Rose Henssler talking about creativity, inspiration, and poetry, Susie Tysitee reflecting on writing as an art form, and Sharon Vander Meer presenting the pros and cons of self-publishing. And whatever topic you would like to add to the mix.
The Lit Salon development team will also put out a call for submissions for A Northeastern New Mexico Tapestry: Poetry, Essays, Tales, a publication featuring area writers and their poetry, short fiction and essays on the topic of Northeastern New Mexico with a focus on Las Vegas.
Bob Henssler is an artist, musician and photographer, in addition to writing poetry. Bob will read some of his work and discuss the seeds of inspiration, where they come from and how they sprout. His work reflects multiple artistic endeavors. His poetry is taken from personal experience and observation. “I may view a photo or painting and react by writing out what I see and feel. My fears from the past well up and need to be verbalized and take the form of a poem. I don’t adhere to any measured metric or rhyme as life doesn’t come to us in form noted out on a staff.”
Mary Rose Henssler is equally multi-talented. She resides in San Miguel County, New Mexico with Bob, two dogs and a cat. “I fill my time with reading and writing: poetry, plays, comedy sketches, memoir, short stories and novels.” She also enjoys block printing, drawing, and watercolor painting, acting with the Nat Gold players, and gardening. Her talk is entitled, Quick fixes when you’re not sure what to write. Mary Rose is on the planning team for Las Vegas Literary Salon.
Susie Tsyitee is the executive director of the Las Vegas Arts Council, and was the creative prod that got LVLS from concept to reality. LVLS early efforts to organize its first event came to a halt when Covid descended. Susie, always a creative thinker, saw the possibilities to launch LVLS offered through Zoom, a digital tool provided through a grant from Las Vegas Community Foundation. And the rest – as they say – is history. Susie will present on the topic, “Writing as an art form.”
Sharon Vander Meer, a co-organizer of LVLS with Patti Romero, is a published indie author and freelance writer whose work appears periodically in the Las Vegas Optic. Her books and other writing are featured on her website www.vandermeerbooks.com. Sharon will talk about the pros and cons of self-publishing. She has published five novels and two chapbooks of poetry.
Sharon will also talk about the collection of poetry, short fiction, and essays to be published in early November. The guidelines will be available upon request. The working title is A Northeastern New Mexico Tapestry: Poetry, Essays, Tales.
SAVE THE DATE: SUNDAY, FEB. 28, 4-5 PM Register below to receive your Zoom link to Get Lit With Las Vegas Literary Salon.