Friday, August 13, 2010

Some Poetry for a Summer Afternoon


Cicadas sing their late summer song
through thick air.
It's a time when skin sticks to plastic seats
and flies hover around eyes
and dart near noses.
Dogs bark intermittently,
pausing to scratch incessant itches,
marigolds yell in tones of orange,
and dahlias dally along garden borders.
Barefoot country boys
squeeze creek-bottom sand between brown toes.
And the Muses inspire poets to write sentimental verse about August.

Copyright 1998 by Sharon Kirk Clifton

Blessed Is the Father Who Fishes

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children patience,
that incredible waiting and watching
for bobbers to nod in affirmation of a hit,
to dive in confirmation of a bite.
Then, when life requires patience,
this father's child will know
to chew on a stalk of sourgrass and wait
until the time is right.

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children honesty,
even when bait swallows bait
and the stringer weighs more than the catch.
Then, when life offers temptations
to turn fingerlings into lunkers,
this father's child will know
that honor is worth more than transient praise.

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children to see,
not in the superficial sense,
but in a way that not only sees
but understands hidden lessons
of trout swimming against the current,
of geese winging toward warmer climes
before winter's chill sets in.
Then when this father's child faces storms of his own,
he'll recall lessons of wings against the wind
and will stay strong.

Blessed is the man who fishes,
for he can teach his children to listen
to quiet things,
like the plop! of a bullfrog into a lake of glass
or the sound of a smooth stone skipping over ripples,
the whir of a dragonfly's wings,
the buzzing of a cicada,
and his children will be quiet 
when the still, small voice of God speaks.

Blessed is the man who fishes--
and blessed are his children

Copyright 1987 by Sharon Kirk Clifton
[This poem won first place in the National Federation of State Poetry Society's Winner's Circle Award]

I must tell you the story of "Blessed Is the Father Who Fishes."
In 1987, I was concluding my first year of teaching. One of my colleagues in the English department had asked to read another of my poems, "Blessed Is the Woman Who Knows of Apples," for a Mothers' Day program at her church. The congregation loved it and asked her to read one dedicated to fathers for their special day the next month. She came up to me in the cafeteria, where I was on lunch duty.

"Do you have a poem for Fathers' Day?"

"Well . . . uh . . . I don't have one, yet, but give me time to work on it." She smiled and nodded as she walked away. As I walked around the cafeteria, trying to catch someone launching ripe olives at a classmate, I thought of Bob a dear, Godly man from my church.

Bob loved to do five things: tease my teen daughters, play harmonica (he had a whole suitcase full of them, and he won just about every competition he entered), roost and crow with his buddies over coffee at Richards' Restaurant every morning, fish daily (even when he had to use an auger to drill through thick ice), and eat the fish he caught. And everything he did was "as unto the Lord." 

Bob was the inspiration for this poem. By the time my duty sentence for that day was finished, so was the poem. I typed it up and handed it to the teacher to read on Fathers' Day. 

A few years later, I entered it in the national competition cited above. Shortly before Bob went off to go fishing with the Lord in Heaven, I visited him and his wife. Framed and hanging on the wall, right above where he would sit on the floor to clean his catch of the day, was the poem.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"But Crowds Make Me Nervous!"

Writer Karla Akins, pastor's wife and biker chick

We writers generally are a solitary lot. We like our scribe caves. Then once a year or so, we tentatively inch our way into the public, eyes squinting against the light of day, and make our various ways to a gathering place for the ACFW conference. And we're supposed to schmooze with several hundred of our kind as if we were socialists--I mean socialites. Well, it just isn't that easy. At least not for some.

Okay. I happen to be a professional raconteur. I've told to audiences of all sizes, from 1 to several hundred. But I still tend to get the jitters when I have to mingle among the masses. (It's easier when I'm in character.)

Several people new to the ACFW conference scene expressed their concerns on the newbie loop over the past couple days. They received excellent advice from more experienced colleagues. Karla Akins was one offering wise counsel. In fact, I liked it so much that I asked permission to post it here.

As a pastor's wife, I've learned a few tricks about handling crowds:

a. Be prayed up. If I face a crowd prayed up, it's so much easier. Ask God to give you an extra measure of grace for that moment/day/event.

b. Deep breaths, and keep water with you to sip on. Water lubricates the brain and keeps those neurons firing properly.

c. Keep the focus off myself. I'm not there just for myself. I'm also there to be a blessing. If I think more about blessing others than my comfort, it makes it much easier. It wasn't convenient for Jesus to go to the cross. Think of the anxiety he faced and overcame just for us!

d. Christ died for people, not writing caves. I see people as Jesus with skin on. (He gave me that idea, I take no credit for it whatsoever.)

e. Plan your exit path. Figure out where the doors are and how you can make a polite exit if you just have to get out of there.

f. As Cynthia said, sit on the edges. Again, the exit path needs to be considered.

g. Positive self-talk is important. Don't blow this event out of proportion in your mind. Very few people that I know of have died going to a banquet.  (I actually haven't met anyone personally whose banquet killed them.)

h. This is just another step in growing toward your career as a writer. People matter more than anything, and they are going to want to meet you when you're published! So, just pretend you're in boot camp for when it's time to meet all your fans and sign all those books! :-)

i. Again, I reiterate: be a blessing. So often we think it's all about us, and it's not. There is someone at conference that needs to meet you. God is sending us there to help one another and reach out to one another. Who knows whose life you will miss out on changing forever if you stay in your room?

j. HAVE FUN! :-) And don't forget to find me! Depending on how I'm feeling that day, I might just be the one sitting by a door! :-)

Karla Akins

Thank you so much, Karla, for graciously allowing me to post your advice.

Gentle reader, have you attended a major conference? What were your concerns? How did you deal with those? How did it turn out? Please click "Comments" to respond. Share your story and advice.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Sleep

I had an epiphany! One of those miraculous "Aha!" moments. The kind that make you flip your eyelids open, sit bolt upright, and holler, "Eureka! Why didn't I think of that before?"

If you read yesterday's post, you saw that I swore off (that's off, not at) one-sentences. Given them up as a futile exercise. Thrown them under the truck. Declared them impossible. The pressure was relieved for me because I had decided to buck tradition and forgo them.

Then, just as I finished my evening Bible study and slipped the black satin ribbon between the pages, I knew exactly how the one-sentence for Up the Rutted Road should read. No more tinkering. No more tweaking. It's done.

NOTE:  Barbara Scott, senior acquisitions editor for fiction at Abingdon Press, wrote an excellent article about one-sentences, and that piece helped switch on the lightbulb. Hopefully, I'll get to try it out on her at the upcoming ACFW conference.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Winding up to Pitch

Everywhere you look these days, you see American Christian Fiction Writers practicing their elevator pitches on their family, friends--and enemies, for that matter.

Okay. Not really. But if you happen to wander across my path, I will buttonhole you to hear my pitches for Up the Rutted Road and The Second Cellar. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure can't hurt. The more familiar one is with the pitch, the easier (theoretically) it will be to deliver with confidence to agents and editors.

In just over five weeks (EEK!), hundreds of us, representing myriad genres, will gather at the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis for the biggest event of the ACFW year. Hugs, squeals, and jitters will abound, as will clusters of writers practicing those pitches right up until the last minute. We've been testing our one-sentences and one-paragraphs online for nearly a month now.

Finally, my elevator pitches are honed and toned to where I can live with them. (I'm not sure that a writer ever is totally satisfied with his or her work.) It's nice to know that the editors and agents understand our angst, since many of them also write.

A multi-pubbed writer friend told me that she read her pitches. "I knew I'd be too nervous to do them justice," she said. "I'd forget something important." Makes sense to me.

I've given up on the one-sentence pitches. My first manuscript is essentially an episodic-narrative hybrid (think Little House on the Prairie, Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, Huckleberry Finn, and many other classics of children's lit). The second has a plot and sub-plot. A paragraph pitch consisting of three or four sentences that can be presented in 15 - 25 seconds works well for me.

Gotta run! I see someone who . . .

Excuse me! Excuse me! Could I have a moment of your time? Sure. Go ahead and order your grande bold. Sugar? Two percent? Two pitches?

Why I Dislike Blogger

One of these days, I will take the time to move this blog to another site because I loathe Blogger. I can spend interminable hours trying to get the page to look the way I want, but Blogger will not submit to my wishes. Look to the right sidebar. You'll notice under the "About Me" section that some of the type is a nice, readable aqua while around it is navy type that doesn't show up against the charcoal background. I have just spent a half hour trying to get it all the same. (Later note: I just tried again, succeeding in part, but the Scripture remains navy. One can always hope that it will work on another day . . .)

Further, it leaves large, gaping spaces between paragraphs, spaces that cannot be deleted. What I'm left with is an amateurish blog. For that, I apologize to you, dear reader.

Are you considering starting a blog? I've heard good reports from some Wordpress people.