Monday, January 30, 2012

Safety Valve

By Wendy Werdan

I didn’t come with a valve,
a device that regulates
the flow,
that lets me know
that I have had enough.

Slowing down,
I pull off the highway
and begin to leak.

Like oil from a motor,
tears run down my face,
which creates a mess
that only

Simple Green,
a wire brush,
and plenty of rags
can clean.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Karen’s Red Shoes

By Wendy Werdan

Karen has a fit,
and drops to
the floor. Her face is
pale, empty,
and she isn’t breathing.
Her frame once flexible, tightens
and compresses.
I hold her
on her side, while she bridges
to an unconscious
She looks possessed
as she bangs
her head
on the ground, and her
shoes dance
Blood flows from her nose,
her glasses cut into
her forehead,
and froth dribbles out
her mouth.
She moans intensely.
Her red shoes slide off,
and then her body
Her words are unclear,
her faculties begin to
she is confused, has a headache.
As in Hans Andersen’s tale,
Karen’s heart fills with sunshine,
peace, and joy. My angel smiles
at me, and then falls asleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing - Opening Lines

By Kathy (Kat) W

I try to learn from the authors I read. While struggling with the opening to my novel, I pulled about a dozen books off the shelf and read the first page or two of each, focusing on how the sentences and paragraphs were constructed as well as the information imparted. I've read all of these books more than once and so could recognize how ideas presented were developed later. The process helped me finally get a beginning for my story.

Here are some examples of opening lines I like:


"The buckskin horse walked up Allen Street just before dawn." Territory, by Emma Bull. The narrator doesn't interpret anything in this sentence. The lack of opinionated adjectives or adverbs enhances the sense that *you* are seeing this horse, and "just before dawn" there probably aren't many other people to see it. (The cover lets you know this is a Western, so the fact of a horse walking up the street isn't remarkable in itself.)

"The first rays of the sun silhouetted Rifkind as she sat her war-horse and gazed on the ruin of her clan." Daughter of the Bright Moon, by Lynn Abbey. Unlike Bull's very tightly focused sentence, this gives a panoramic view. The camera/narrator is viewing the scene from an angle where Rifkind is silhouetted, and pans to what she sees. "Ruins of her clan" is interpretive, not a literal description, and it immediately presents a problem!


"The little boy was frightened." Dream Snake, by Vonda N. McIntyre. We are pulled toward his POV; we don't know if we would be scared in the same situation. And it engages us through our natural desire to protect a child.

"Katie saw him first." "Cryptic Coloration," by Elizabeth Bear. This short story also opens in the middle of things without setting a scene. We're with Katie, who is probably not alone as she was "first." We have yet to discover who was seen.


"They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man's mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it will be in a body that is going to be hanged." Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett. This immediately introduces us to a strong, story telling narrative voice, not an invisible omniscient narrator. The sentence feels balanced; the second half almost restates the first half but with an added twist. It's funny; and we know that someone is in trouble.

"Matthew the Magician leaned against a wrought iron lamppost on Forty-second Street, idly picking at the edges of his ten iron rings and listening to his city breathe into the warm September night." Blood and Iron, by Elizabeth Bear. I love this sentence for its density, for the volume of information presented along with the image. The identification of Matthew as "the Magician" makes this a fairy tale beginning. The juxtaposition of 42nd Street and the iron rings sets up a contrast between two worlds. And Matthew idly picking at those rings in "his city" shows he's comfortable in both.

Do you agree with my assessment of these openings? Please share some opening lines from works you admire and let us know why you like them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Dolphin Is Also A Fish

By Vic Larson

In February of 1984 my fascination with the TV show Flipper led me to the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Lab in Honolulu as a month-long participant in Project Earthwatch. Teaching Dolphins Language was enticingly presented in a catalog of volunteer-funded worldwide scientific research projects.

"If you've come here in search of Flipper you're going to be severely enlightened."

I had. I was. And in my opinion, Project Director, Lou Herman, could have waited a few days to burst our collective bubble.

He continued, "The dolphins we’re teaching are wild animals captured for scientific purposes, nothing like those you'll find at Sea World, raised in captivity."

Flipper was wild, I thought to myself.

"And for those of you who are concerned about restaurants with "dolphin" on their menus...don't be. That dolphin is a species of fish unrelated to the mammals we'll be studying."

He continued to warn of the dangers involved with wild animal research of this kind. Being intensely social creatures, Phoenix and Akeakamai, our two "girls" as they were known, required hours of tankside play. That was part of our job. The remainder of the day would be spent tossing various objects into the tanks where the dolphins were kept waiting for visual and auditory cues such as, "Take Ball to Basket."

Notes were taken, objects retrieved and the dolphins were praised, hugged and fed for a proper response. That would be the order of operations for the coming weeks: command respond, reward…command, respond, reward. The dolphins knew it well and came to expect it of us. How well they understood would later be revealed to me in a private training session, the results of which have never been recounted until now, perhaps to the detriment of those running the decades-long project.

Like any job, the routine became boring and repetitive. And there were distractions. The views of Diamondhead, daily rainbows over the hills, and the fragrances of flowers, native cooking and suntan lotion filled the air.

Myths were constantly de-bunked. For instance, it was pointed out that the only reports of sailors being led to shore by dolphins came from those who survived the experience. Those who were taken in the opposite direction obviously gave no account of their misfortune. Dolphins love to push objects through the water, and as the equivalent of approximately an 800-pound muscle, can do so with considerable force and ease.

In-tank encounters were thus forbidden. Nor was safety out of the water a given. An irritable dolphin could signal for a "hug" at one moment, tire of the experience without notice and attempt to bat your head away like a tennis ball off a racket a moment later. After all, they were wild dolphins.

Over two weeks our lily-white winter complexions began to tan evenly. Defending against exposure to intense tropical sun with varying levels of sunblock produced a comical patchwork quilt effect on tanning shoulders and arms. A spot left untreated was scorched. Pale handprints were not uncommon. Thirty minutes unprotected was dangerous, and we were outside eight hours a day.

Changes took place during the third week at the lab, which was unfortunate for two-week volunteers. The "girls" began to recognize us. This undocumented behavior made the experience worthwhile. Previously oblivious to us as we wandered around the tank in the morning, we would now be greeted tankside by a bobbing pair of noses, playfully splashing and chirping to get our attention (you know that Flipper sound…), rising out of the water in the "hug me" position. It was heartwarming, comparable only to the tail-wagging dog/master feeling I'd known before.

After-hours tankside was, by dolphin decree, off limits to humans. They were territorial and capable of splashing an unwelcome loiterer to a point just short of drowning. “Get away” was the clear message.

One memorable evening I sauntered over to the tank, hot and uncomfortable, looking to be splashed. The girls were docile, swimming slowly clockwise at the surface around the edge of the circular pool while I stood watching. The moon was full and the air was calm. The only sounds were those of the gently lapping tiny waves created by the motion of the dolphins through the water, and the rising and falling of the surf in the distant ocean. In a bold move I leaned over the edge of the concrete tank, dangling my hands in the water within reach of the two swimmers.

As each approached I held my breath, expecting a deserved and inevitable splash. Two or three laps later, Phoenix and Ake (Ah-Kay) were still calmly swimming past my immersed hands, now rolling a quarter turn to gaze upward at my face and then swim on. A progressively more intimate relationship developed over the course of a half hour that evening. Phoenix initiated the responses and Ake followed suit. Their quarter turn roll became gradually more pronounced and the pace slowed as Phoenix extended her left flipper above the water's surface, first in a salute and on subsequent passes, in a sort of handshake, a touch.

Several curious Earthwatchers joined me and no one spoke. All extended their hands toward the dolphins, touching, stroking, and caressing extended fins - firm, rubbery and wet. We watched each other, the dolphins and I. I gazed into their oh-so-human eyes, so much like my own that they appeared misplaced in this fishy form, and I gradually became aware of the link that was broken somewhere in an ancient familial path that sent us on our separate evolutionary ways. Myths spawned by the old Samoans of reincarnated warriors in dolphin form became obvious manifestations of this kind of encounter.

Soon the girls resumed their normal swimming pattern and we dropped back from the tank lest we ruin the moment with a splashy awakening. We withdrew to the moon shadows near the back of the lab and spoke in hushed tones. A second year assistant from California, a surfer, spoke for us all, saying, "dude...that was awesome!"

But that was just a hint of what was to come.

Several mornings later, daily tankside prep and cleanup was in progress. I moved the usual research objects into place for our morning training session: beachball, surfboard, basket, Frisbee. The sun was scorching as always, and the dolphins swam leisurely in their pool. Phoenix watched me over the edge of the concrete tank, a wall about four and a half feet high. Each circular tank was equipped with a central drain and a watertight access door to allow entry for cleaning. The door was several steps down, with a two-foot square plate glass window that provided underwater viewing. That the dolphin was watching me was quite unusual. They tended to ignore us until appointed times for feeding, work or play. Because of this, I pretended to ignore her, relying only on my peripheral view for fear of scaring the watcher off. As minutes elapsed, water began showering lightly over my shoulders. I was being intentionally splashed, but not in the usual aggressive way. This was an attempt to gain my attention.

I turned and faced my assailant, wished her good-morning and asked, “What are you up to?” Upon making eye contact, the dolphin quickly swam away as I’d feared she would. But she bobbed immediately to the surface of the water in the area by the underwater door, and then returned to her original position. Splashing water in the direction of the door, she dove again, disappeared under the surface, and now that I was paying attention, re-appeared, framed in the underwater window. Not only was this inordinately cute, deliberate and unprecedented, but the behavior held within it an equation that struck a chord I’d been taught to recognize: command, respond, reward.

It took several repetitions before the stupid human in this scene understood the dolphin’s intentions.

Command: splash toward the door.
Respond: greet at the underwater window.

And with that, I walked toward the door, quickly descended the steps and met my dolphin counterpart face to face at the viewing port. All that was missing was a reward. And with that, the face behind the glass disappeared and the entire body popped above the surface of the water, extending in the “hug” position. My reward: command, respond, reward.

I’d been trained. Oh my God! The dolphin had trained me. I was a bit of a slow learner, but I eventually understood and was changed forever in my estimation of animal intelligence and my sense of place in this amazing world.

My month of participation was over. On the plane back to Chicago I paged through project literature. No such experiences were alluded to or mentioned. Lou Herman's words echoed in my head, “.... severely enlightened." He knew. And now I did too. “Like, totally better than Flipper, dude." I laughed under my breath, gazing out the window of the plane as Diamondhead slowly receded beneath the billowing white clouds.

Monday, October 3, 2011


By Wendy Werdan

I create in torment,
as “it”
paints a picture.

It moves in me,
like a brush
moves on canvas.

So much to do,

to start,
to stop,
be anxious,
and revise.

Feverishly, I labor,
until “it” moves
from me—
to you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Worst Sunburn EVAR

By Matthew Warnock

O.M.G., no wait, make that O.M.F.G. I have the worst sunburn EVAR! And BTW, it is all Becky’s fault.

K, so my parents were all like, “We’re going camping. It’ll be fun and stuff.” And I was all “I don’t want to pee in the bushes. You better not make me pee in the bushes or my Tweets of rage will make you quake with fear.”

They didn’t quake with fear. They didn’t even jiggle with fear.

So I told Becky that we were going up to Wisconsin and were going to be camping and canoeing and all that and she said at least I could work on my tan and not have to worry about getting a burn.

U c, Becky is all super smart about science and stuff. She totally got a B minus in Mr. Dole’s super boring science class. I only got a C. Anyway, she said that it was chemically impossible to get a sunburn because of all the cheese fumes in the air.

It’s like smog in LA. Plus, Wisconsin is totally up in the Arctic Circle and they only get a little bit of actual sunlight every year.

I was hoping I could at least get a little bit of a tan, you know, set the foundation for the epic tan I would get back home, so I didn’t put on any sunblock. We got up to the campground, and it was totally bug city. Plus, there were port-a-potties. Gross.

After coating myself with bug spray and vowing not to go to the bathroom all weekend, my parents said we were going canoeing. It was non-negotiable.

So I tried to bemoan my fate to all my Twitter followers while my parents rowed us down the river. But apparently, they don’t believe in proper cell phone reception in campingville. There were bugs, and everything smelled like just after it rains and all the worms come out of the ground and you have to watch where you step if you don’t want to trail worm guts all over the place. Yuck.

And there was the sun. And it was hot, like hella hot. But I was ok because Becky said I didn’t have to worry about it. And my parents were all like “you put on sunscreen right?” And I was all “Totally, whatever you say.”

Well Becky was wrong. By the time we got back to camp my skin was as red as the the boring apples my mom packed for the trip instead of the yummy chocolate chip cookies I asked for. There were even a few gross blisters. My parents said something about wearing sunscreen and not wanting to get skin cancer, blah, blah, blah. Then I took my bottle of yummy smelling lotion and retreated to the tent for the next two days.
K, so, lesson learned, Becky is way dumb, and canoeing without sunscreen means a mega sunburn.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why do YOU love to write?

Why I love To Write

I love the sound the keys make on the keyboard.
I love how letters and words look and sound.
I love to purge myself of my thoughts.
I love to impact people positively with what I write.
I love the process of taking what’s in my brain and putting it on paper.

And why do you love to write?