Poetry in the Time of a Pandemic

April is National Poetry Month, and it’s a great time to take advantage of social distancing to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The origins of poetry are tied to songs and remembering (Wikipedia), which is probably why poems can cut straight to the core of the writer and why they can evoke such strong responses in their readers. Poetry takes many forms, including haiku, sonnet, and pantoum, as well as free-form.

Use the month of April as a catalyst for your poetry. Here are some opportunities:

Haiku for a global pandemic is a Facebook page where you can express your hopes, humor, fears, and frustrations with COVID-19.

Poem a Day (PAD) Challenge from Writers Digest offers just what it sounds like – a prompt a day throughout the month of April to get you “poeming.” The countdown has begun, with daily prompts leading up to PAD. https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides

The Academy of American Poets offers 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month. Tips include ways to celebrate in the virtual classroom, at home, and online.

Who are your favorite poets? Some of my favorite poets:
Karen Paul Holmes, https://www.karenpaulholmes.com/
David Kirby, https://davidkirby.com/
Katya Sabaroff Taylor, https://www.creativeartsandhealing.com/

What poetic structure do you gravitate towards in your writing? Although I usually write straightforward rhymes (ABCB), I also enjoy haiku. I even wrote a pantoum after taking a poetry class from Dr Kirby. Here it is:

Pantoum of the Opera
By M.R. Street

When all is done, the curtain falls
He makes his way through silent halls
Retreats behind a lifeless mask
More than this he does not ask

He makes his way through silent halls
A single kiss, a last goodbye
More than this he does not ask
A broken heart, but not to cry

A single kiss, a last goodbye
Retreats behind a lifeless mask
A broken heart, but not to cry
When all is done, the curtain falls

And here is a link to a photostory I created to go with a goku (train of five haikus) I wrote called Seasons of the Fox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8z_wSbl4fA

Wishing you wellness and poetic inspiration to get you through these times of solidarity and aloneness, day by day!


Keep the Mo!

For years I have participated in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. With some embarrassment, I have admitted that I call it NaNoCheatMo, because I work on a novel in progress instead of starting with a blank page. I am also prone to live-stream self-editing, a no-no for Wrimos.

But this year, as I noted in my last blog, I found out that the Wrimos at Nano HQ don’t consider me a cheater. They even have a badge for me: The Nano Rebel! This tiny shift in mindset gave me a boost in motivation. I wrote almost every day during the month of November.

But the momentum and motivation could not be stopped just because NaNoWriMo was over. I continued writing on my novel-in-progress throughout December, and happily shared my completed draft with my sister (MZT1) on December 31, 2019. It only took me 15 years, but the feeling of satisfaction was that much deeper because this story has been a labor of love for so long.

Sometimes, after finishing a full draft (I realize this is not the final draft!), I go into a slump. Not this year! Twenty-twenty isn’t only hindsight; it’s the year of looking forward. In January, I joined Storystorm, the wonderful brainchild of the ever kooky and inspiring Tara Lazar.


Formerly called PiMoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), Storystorm (https://taralazar.com/) was rebranded to include all children’s authors. It takes place in January, when participants come up with 30 story ideas in 30 days. Since I had just completed the draft of the first story in what I envision as a trilogy, my first idea was a quick blurb about Book 2. Using inspiration from Tara’s daily guest bloggers, I came up with more ideas. In fact, I’m already at 30 ideas and am now fleshing out those ideas. Some will never see the light of day. But they served their purpose: They spark creativity, call my muse from her nest (hear that, dear Kingfisher of Ochlockonee Bay!), and lead me to the next story or stories.


Be a rebel! If you participate in Storystorm, keep going in February. You have an extra day since it’s Leap Year, to write down more ideas or polish some of the ones you’ve started. Now for some chocolate…




I’m a NaNo Rebel

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. This is the month when writers gonna write write write write write! The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. You’re supposed to start from scratch, leave your editing hat on the shelf (preferably under lock and key), and follow the mantra of BIC HOK TAM (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly).

I don’t play by the rules.

I cheat.

That’s why I say I participate in NaNoCHEATMo.

I take advantage of all the support that ramps up in the writing community, the Wrimos as we’re called, during the month of November. Instead of starting a new novel, I dive in to a novel in progress. I try to write every day. I reward myself with chocolate (we have LOTS of leftover Halloween candy) and “writing streak” badges, which I post on Facebook. This leads to encouraging posts from fellow Wrimos and other friends, which gives me an extra boost to keep writing.

When my writing streak crashed and burned after 14 days, I had to admit it on Facebook. What did I get in response? More encouragement! And what did I do? I got back in the saddle. I only missed three days, and I am re-energized to continue writing.

Back in the Saddle

The hardest thing for me is to keep my internal editor in hibernation. This is true all year, not just in November. NaNoWriMo gives me permission not to worry about perfection. It gives me incentive to get words on the page, even if it’s not the 1,667 daily words needed to reach a goal of 50,000 by November 30.

Did I mention I cheat? My goal isn’t 50,000 words. It’s words. Every day.

And guess what? I found out it’s not cheating! NaNoWriMo.org has several personal achievement badges that you can award yourself. One is the NaNo Rebel badge: That’s me! I’m a rebel! If you’re a writer, I hope you are participating in NaNoWriMo and achieving your goals. If you know a writer, give them encouragement and a “Way to Go!” And chocolate. Chocolate is always appreciated!


Goin’ to Carolina … for My Mind

As a writer, I have been to many writers’ conferences and workshops. However, until last weekend, I had never been to a literary festival. The main difference is that writers’ conferences are geared toward writers hoping to improve their craft; whereas literary festivals are centered around both readers and writers – all lovers of books and reading.

The Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, held the weekend after Labor Day in my home-away-from-home town of Burnsville, NC, was a perfect introduction to literary festivals. Since author Susan Koehler’s debut novel, Dahlia in Bloom, is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this was a fun and informative excursion for both of us.

Highlights included chatting with Malaprops bookstore reps, festival organizers (fantastic, devoted volunteers!), and of course, other authors! Caroline from Malaprops gave me some advice about book distribution. Kathy, one of the festival organizers, told us about CMLF’s partnership with local schools. Authors are invited into the schools before the festival, and then schools bring students to the festival for special events designed especially for young people.

Kathy also told us that the theme is chosen after the close of the application period for authors who want to participate. Instead of announcing a theme for authors to respond to, the selection committee looks at the authors’ applications with an eye toward common themes. This year’s theme was “On the Move: Stories of Migration, Immigration, and Travel.” The authors whose works reflected this theme included Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons, Varena),Andrew Lawler (The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke), and Elaine Neil Orr (Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life).

I gleaned several insights from the speakers. From Mesha Maren, I learned that I am not alone in feeling that my characters deserve more than I can give them. Maren felt this way when she was writing Sugar Run. She put the manuscript aside, but the main character, Jodi, would not leave her alone. Maren made a pact with Jodi to give herself to the story one hundred percent; if she was unable to finish, agent, and publish her story, Jodi would have to leave her alone. I have vowed to give myself one hundred percent to the characters in the middle-grade fantasy I started 15 years ago. I put the story aside (other than brief spurts of communion with the independent teens whom I so desperately want not to disappoint) while I produced three other novels and a comic book. I’m hoping that my return to the mountains later this month will result in, if not fulfillment of the promise to Dune, Kyna, and their friend Cairdeen, considerable motion in the right direction.

Another tip was shared by author Mylène Dressler, author of the “elevated horror” story, The Last to See Me. This is a ghost story that I am looking forward to reading. Dressler advises authors to “make it real for the reader.” Build your world and stick to the rules of that world so that your reader is not jarred out of the story by details that don’t “fit.” I have heard this referred to as “suspension of disbelief.” In a ghost story I am writing, my ghost can sit beside me and knock his knee against mine, so he has substance. Am I the only person who can see and feel him? I still have to figure out the rules on that one!

The one aspect of the conference that troubled me was a noticeable lack of diversity. I hope the conference organizers will brainstorm ways to increase diverse participation in future.

Many of the authors at the conference have roots in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They share with me the love of “place.” So my tip for you, whether you are an author, an illustrator, a musician, or other creative soul, is find the place that inspires you, and give yourself over to it.

A chipmunk gathers sunflower seeds on a stone wall on Cattail Mountain, North Carolina

Being a Publisher…

Being a publisher is a lot of work, but it is also very gratifying. My favorite is handing a copy of the book to the author for the first time. The first author I worked with was Lt. General Lawrence Snowden. I was honored to know him and to work on his memoirs with him. He had three book signings, and all three were sold out. When I showed him a proof of his book, he didn’t appear as happy as I thought he would. It was the cover. I had designed a cover that, I have to agree, left something to be desired. After consulting with the General and another member of his “A-Team,” we decided on a red background with highlights of gold (Marine colors) and a formal photo of the General in uniform. THAT he was pleased with!

For the second author I brought to print, Susan Koehler, I hired a local cover designer, a local photographer, and a local model. Susan’s reaction when I gave her the proof copy of her book, DAHLIA IN BLOOM, was like a kid in a candy store. And I can’t blame her! The cover, designed by Elizabeth Babski (Babski Creative Studios), perfectly reflects the hard-scrabble Appalachian life — and undeniable spirit — of the title character.

I am now working with Taylor Phillips to finalize the manuscript of his first book, QUEEN OF THE CLOUDS. The excitement in his eyes and voice whenever he talks about the two record-setting female pilots, Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith, will only increase when he sees the proof copy. The book is set to launch in March 2020, and I. Can’t. Wait.