Sestina for a Star: A Christmas Poem

Last year, I wrote a sestina for the first time for my dayjob’s Christmas party. I meant to post it, but never got around to it, so doing it this year. Enjoy!

A sestina is a six-stanza poem, each stanza composed of six lines, which end with six words that repeated throughout the poem in a fixed sequence, ending in a 3-line triplet that contains all six words.

Sestina for a Star

By the time you set forth your light

the earth was still being formed in joy.

Sin had yet to erase our hope.

Your light spanned eons, centuries across

history, until it finally reached our world

where it sat silent, waiting, in the dark.

Since Eden, man had fumbled in the dark

robbed of their peace and joy.

In money and power, many put their hope

while others simply forgot the light.

Because of this, you went across

cultures to make yourself known in the world.

The first ones to see you in this world

would be considered foreigners, seen as Other, across

Jerusalem. Seeing you gave them joy

for they were familiar with your light.

So, skin tones ranging from pale to dark,

they set forth tracking the sign of their hope.

Your news would be received well, they hoped.

Herod heard and his mind grew dark.

Months later, he’ll kill to get his point across

that he was the only rightful ruler to the world.

So he asked the magi if they would enlighten

him of this child, who was to bring much joy.

He didn’t understand; this child wouldn’t enjoy

the material riches found in this world.

He had come for those who had lost hope,

for those fumbling for answers in the dark,

to pay off sins, to make burdens light:

the son of man, born to die on a cross.

God has placed you to shine across

the fields to shepherds filling them with hope,

to the magi filling them with awe and joy

as they reached a village quiet and dark,

to kneel before God’s son, given to the world

to banish fear and bring us back into the light.

Christmas Star, bring your light into this sad and broken world.

May it illuminate across the land, into our hearts hidden and dark,

comforting those who needs its hope, and lifting them up into joy.

 Copyright © 2015 LaShawn M. Wanak 

Do not copy without permission

New Poetry in Stone Telling and Dark Faith! Also, Willow Progress Update

This year seems to be the year of publishing poetry. I got two new poems out, and how fitting that both are released this week during Worldcon!

The first, “I Will Keep the Color of Your Eyes When No Other in the World Remembers Your Name” can now be read for free in issue 8 of Stone Telling magazine (you can listen to me reading it, too!). Arguably, this is the loooongest title I’ve ever had of any story. It’s one of my favorite lines from “The Last Unicorn”, spoken by the tree ensorcelled to life by Schmendrick. I wanted to see what that scene looked like in a science fiction setting, so this prose poem came out. There’s a very interesting story behind this poem which I don’t have time to relate right now, but if you’re at Worldcon, ask me about it and I’ll tell you.

I’m joined by a stellar group of poets: Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios…in fact, just check out the entire issue. It’s deep, dark, and at times a little disturbing, but also thought-provoking. I’m honored to be included with them.

* * *

My other poem is no secret if you’ve been keeping tabs on Facebook and Twitter. “All This Pure Light Leaking In” will be appearing in the anthology Dark Faith: Invocations, set to debut at Worldcon this week! (Update: Just received word that it won’t be released at Worldcon after all. Publisher is running ten days behind schedule. It will be orderable through Apex website). The poem is an answer to the question, “As a Christian, what scares me the most about my faith?”

This highly anticipated sequel to the first anthology repeats the exploration of faith through a horror lens. And man, what a lineup! Jay Lake, Lavie Tidhar, Tim Pratt, Mike Resnick, K. Tempest Bradford, Nisi Shawl. To tell the truth, I’m a bit intimidated to be included here, but also deeply honored!

Dark Faith: Invocations

You can pre-order Dark Faith of the Apex’s website, and if you use the code “DFWanak”, you get 10% off the cover price! That’s right, I have my very own discount code. Eeee!!! UPDATE: And as stated above, copies won’t be sold at Worldcon, but in about ten days, you’ll be able to order it off the website, and they’re offering free shipping. Plus, you can buy Dark Faith 1 and 2 for $25.

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Feels like I need to end on the Willow novel note. As of today, 1/3 of Willow has been fully edited with the word count at 50,000. I had made a vow earlier in the year saying that I wanted the book to be completed edited by the time Worldcon rolled around, but it didn’t work out that way. However, I’m not depressed that I missed my goal.

When I started the re-re-re-reedits of Willow back in March, I wanted something to toot if an agent or publisher asked me about it at Worldcon. Granted, first I need to work on actually making those contacts, but for the first time, I feel like I’m at a really good place that I actually can give a good pitch. And though the story edits aren’t finished, I am comfortable enough with the first 50 pages that if someone asks me to send it in, I can.

As for the edits themselves, I’m feeling very good about them. Not doing much adding, but more cutting out what I don’t need. And as I cut, the easier to see what needs revamping and what can stay as is. I’m feeling optimistic. I just need to keep plugging away.

So Worldcon is going to be a huge networking deal for me. If you’re the praying sort, pray that I’ll be able to make good contacts and not make an idiot of myself. And, if you’re coming to Worldcon, I would love to say hi!

Story Calendar is UP! Go Buy! Go Buy Now!

It’s done! My story calendar is done!

Mist Stained4 [Converted]

If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you know that yesterday was an absolute bear. I had the ebook ready, but getting PayPal to give me a button proved to be a nightmare. But I finally wrestled one out, and the story calendar is ready for purchase!

Click on the book cover above or if you look at the top of the screen, click on the menu item "Story Calendar Page".  Or heck, if you’re one of those people who are impatient, and you just got to have the calendar NOW NOW NOW NOW. Well, dang, click the "Buy Now" button on the sidebar to the right. I got you covered.

How much, you ask? Well, for this month, I am selling the story calendar for $10. That’s less than a dollar for each story/poem in the book. Now, the more astute among you may ask why so much when I can get an ordinary ebook for 99 cents?  Well, when I conceived the story calendar, I saw it more as a fundraising tool for my Viable Paradise trip, which will be NEXT WEEK! ::insert panicked breathing here:: So in essence, it’s me going around knocking on doors, saying, "Hey, I got a great opportunity to go to this awesome workshop. Will you buy this popcorn/chocolate/taffy apples/Girl Scout Cookies/rancid piece of beef to help fund me going?" The difference is I don’t come knocking on your door at an inconvenient time, and the story calendar will last much, much longer. (And chances are, if I show up at your door selling a rancid piece of beef, the chances of me selling that will be higher than me donning a Girl Scout uniform to sell cookies. And by the way, No.)

Ten bucks too much for you? No prob. The best way is to help me out is boost the signal. Tell your family. Tell your friends. See the buttons below this post? Stumble, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus the heck out of this page. The more people who know about this project, the more it will help me. And heck, tell them about the freebie story they can get. That’s right. I’ve made the January story free of charge. Just go to the story calendar page to check it out.

Thanks so much for sticking with me throughout this crazy ride of making my first ebook. It’s been a blast, and for those of you who encouraged me through the process, I really appreciated it. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to take a well-earned nap. Then I got some packing to do. I hear if you don’t like what they serve for dinner, you have to forage in the wilds of Martha’s Vineyard with nothing but a butterknife.

Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

I’m returning from my short hiatus on book reviews by reviewing the first book that got me started in writing.

When I first read Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, I was just getting used to being a stay-at-home mom. I had tried being a part-time secretary at our church, but wasn’t doing so well handling it with a squirming baby in my sights all the time. I was tired and a bit lonely now that I didn’t have much daily interactions with adults.

But one thing I did was read a lot, mainly because our library in Roselle was awesome. they had a bunch of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies that I got into, and one had the story Snow, Glass, Apples from Neil Gaiman. It was a riff off the Snow White story, and yet so simple, so elegant. Then I saw that the story came from Neil’s first collection of short stories, and the library had it, so I checked it out.

What sucked me into it right away wasn’t the stories. It was the introduction. I never read an introduction in front of an author’s collection of stories before. What set Neil’s intro apart from any other intro was that he took each story and spent a couple of paragraphs or so telling how he wrote it, where he got the ideas from, what or who inspired him. It offered fascinating insight into how he created each story–sort of like reading linear notes. And what was extra cool was that he actually put a story in the introduction. It was like a bonus buy-one-get-one-free.

I found myself flipping to the introduction a lot as I read through Smoke and Mirrors. When I read the background on Snow, Glass, Apples, on how he had read a story in the bath "I must have read a thousand times before…But that thousand and first reading was the charm, and I started to think about the story, all back to front and wrong way around. It sat in my head for a few weeks and then, on a plane, I begun to write the story in longhand…"

I read that and thought, really? Was that really all it took? Just an idea going around in your head? I had thought this because I had an idea of my own, rattling around, and I had been afraid to write it out because I was sure that the words that would come out wouldn’t match what was in my head. But somehow, reading that paragraph galvanized me to sit down and not so much care what came out, just see what exactly what would come out.  And what came out was Light as Gossamer, the first story I ever sold.

Reading Smoke and Mirrors now, for the second time, through the lens of a writer has been interesting. For one thing, I get now what Neil wrote about in the introduction, even though I’m still far from his level of writing. For one thing, I reading the stories now with a far more critical eye, looking at craft as well as story. And let me tell you, I am still light years away from his expertise. This will be a great book to study if you want to know the craft of the short story…and poetry too–Neil has several poems in here that already given me ideas. I’ve never even heard of a rondel before, but there is one, Reading the Entrails, right before the book starts.

There are stories inside that I deeply enjoyed just as much as the first time. I was delighted to read again We Can Get Them For You Wholesale, a dark comedy about a man who learns that the more people he can get killed, the price for killing them goes down.  Chivalry was another favorite–recently, NPR featured Jane Curtin reading the story on "Selected Shorts"; I highly recommend listening–it is just as funny and sweet as the written form. And Babycakes was just as chilling, perhaps even moreso since I recognized the format as flash fiction.

Then there were stories that became my new favorites. The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories is not SF, not speculative, not anything, yet it is reflective, brooding, and may or may not be true. I read When we went to see the end of the world by Dawnie Morningside, age 11 ¾, over and over again because the language was beautiful, bizarre, and so dark.

I remember reading Murder Mysteries it the first time and thinking, "a story within a story about angels. Cool."  This time, I read it, but Neil’s intro for it kept sticking in my head: "I tried to play fair with the detective part of the story. There are clues everywhere. There’s even one in the title." I wondered, why would he write something like that. So I went back and read it again. Then I read it a third time.  And then my mouth dropped wide open. Holy crap, how the hell did I miss that?

I won’t tell what the story is about, or what I missed. You just have to read it. But let me tell you, Murder Mysteries is now my new favorite in the book.

Mind, not all of the stories clicked with me.  Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar and Bay Wolf are in Clthulu mythos, but if you don’t know the mythos, most of it goes right over your head. I was able to recognize some of that in the stories now, but they still didn’t stick with much. And surprisingly, I found myself less impressed with Snow, Glass, Apples upon reading it again. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the story, and reading it was quite a pleasure, but it resonated with me less than the first time. Maybe it’s because I have since read other fairy tale stories that struck me just as profoundly. Or maybe because Murder Mysteries so blew me away.

On Writing by Stephen King is the best book for learning how to write from a writer’s point of view. But if you want to learn technique and craft in short stories, pick up Smoke and Mirrors. And don’t just read it; study it. See the different styles Neil use to tell a story, not just in short story format, but in poetry. This book is that inspiring.

This book rates five dead angels out of five. I do realize that I have yet to read his second collection Fragile Things. I’m almost hesitant to.  Smoke and Mirrors means a lot to me, so much so I got it signed by Neil Himself. One day, I’m sure I’ll get over my fixation of all things Neil, but in the meantime, I got a sestina to write using my son’s spelling list. And why the heck not?

Downsized Writing

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been digging poetry.

It’s not because April is National Poetry Month. I didn’t even know it was until I saw it mentioned on one of the blogs I visit. No, I’ve been reading the 16th Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Anthology (which I will do a book review on in the next couple of days–I promise). In it were some really good poems–Hansel, A retrospective, or the Danger of Childhood Obesity by Tom Disch; Seven Pairs of Iron Shoes by Tracina Jackson-Adams; Reading Myth to Kindergartners by Jackie Bartley; and After the Chuck Jones Tribute on Teletoon by Sharon McCartney (an ode to Wile E. Coyote and my favorite one). After reading those and other in the anthology, I started doodling around on my own. I haven’t been writing one per day–more like when the mood hits me–but so far I’ve written 5 poems in two weeks. Not bad.

It’s not like I haven’t written poetry before. When I got back into writing, I jumpstarted it using poetry. But once I started working on Willow and short stories, poetry somewhat took a back seat; it was something nice to dabble in, but I didn’t want to spend all my energy on it. That’s a shame, because I believe that my writing is heavily influenced by poetry. It’s using the same concept of finding the right words to convey the right image, and doing so in an almost lyrical manner.

It seems that my current fascination with poetry reflects the downsizing in my life. We’re in the process of moving from a 3-bedroom house to a 3-bedroom apartment in Madison, which means putting a bunch of stuff on Craigslist, giving other things away. It’s a little unsettling seeing empty space where our couch used to be–and I know I’ll be unhappy when the dresser I had since the beginning of college gets carted away. The upshot of this is that we’ll be getting new dressers once we get to Madison. It’s just a little sad knowing that we’re moving to a condensed lifestyle, even if it’s only going to be for a few months.

And yet, it’s also thrilling. The day we signed the lease, I was awake for most of the night planning out where to put furniture in our new apartment. Considering that I tend to snub HGTV, I’ve been bugging my hubby with: “If we get rid of the entertainment center and store the TV, we can use a smaller cart to put a computer screen on so it will fit on this wall. Then we can put the futon over here so it won’t get in the way. And then we can get a shelved headboard for our bed–that will eliminate our need for bookshelves, so we’d have more space to put a desk…”

Great. I’m turning into my mother AND my mother-in-law.

But I can’t help it. The challenge of decorating such a small space is one I’m taking up with great relish. And it’s the same excitement I’ve been finding in writing poetry lately. It’s short enough so that it doesn’t take too much time, which I’m scarce on nowadays. And yes, it doesn’t pay well, but it’s a form of writing that is very respected, if it’s done well.

I’ll end with something I churned out the other day. A Writer’s Digest blog, Poetry Asides, has been doing a Poem-A-Day challenge for the month of April. One of the writing prompts was “snooping on another conversation”. So here’s my tiny little contribution. Enjoy!

===============
$20 bucks an hour

“They had us in rooms,
Couldn’t do nothing
We’d watch TV, read books
and they always took blood…”

she stretched out her arm
to show the track marks
tiny bruises speckled
like moldy grapes

“We couldn’t do anything
they wanted to track
how the medicine went through
our bodies
constantly taking samples
our arms, legs…”

She let her sleeve fall.

“Was it worth it?” someone asked
She tilted her head.

“Well, I got a hundred fifty bucks.”

She rose from the table,
swayed slightly
catching herself with a
pinpricked hand.
“I’d probably do it again,”
she told us,
tugging down the hem
of her floral dress.

In honor of April being Poetry Month…a Poem from Daniel

5:53pm

Spoken in the bathroom:

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“The angry poop is scared and mad.
It wants to fight.”
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Wow.

What else can you say to something like that?

Maybe I should bring back his Word of the Month.

Ah…Poetry…

I wanted to post something deep and meaningful, but for the past couple of days I’ve been fighting the gift my boy gave me upon my return from the MWW. The Nyquil helps, but not all that well…you can, however, hop on over to the Writer’s Block, where you can see my latest post there.

In the meantime, here are some insects doing poetry.

Excuse me while I go back to my nest of tissues.

Upon Daniel finally learning to jump…

It is this space…

the few inches

between feet and concrete.

A gap of nothingness which startles me:

Realizing

That for a fleeting moment

mere milliseconds

he ignores gravity itself

to launch his body

just a little closer

to the sky…