Scissortail Festival 2023

I had the opportunity in early April to attend the Scissortail Festival in Ada, Oklahoma. I drove through some rural country to get to this small town, at one point barreling down an unlit two-lane highway at night. But despite its somewhat remote location, this festival, hosted by East Central University, featured an impressive slate of poets reading their work in 20-minute sprints, with each day’s featured reader being given an hour.

I had the opportunity to discover such unique and talented poets as Tina Carlson, a soulful poet with poems full of stunning and haunting imagery; the expressive Karla K. Morton and her arresting poem that paralleled the death of a friend with the consumption of a frail quail dinner; Paul Juhasz, with his careful blend of pop culture and moments of surprising gravity; and David Meischen, and his compelling tales of growing up as a gay youth in a small town environment. I already knew Alan Gann and Ann Howells from the Dallas poetry scene, and of course, they both gave wonderful readings. But there were so many more wonderful poets that I haven’t listed.

The first night’s featured reader was Major Jackson, and he did not disappoint. Among many others, he read one particularly fascinating poem in which his two halves/selves interacted with each other. I thoroughly enjoyed his reading and have already had the chance to tune into several episodes of his podcast, The Slow Down. It’s quite good, featuring a single poem a day by other poets.

I also got my chance at my 20 minutes to read my own poems. I hadn’t had the opportunity to read in public since before the pandemic, and it was wonderful getting those real-time reactions from my work (especially from such a warm crowd). So many people I spoke with were surprised that I didn’t have a book for sale. Believe me, I am working on circulating that manuscript. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this experience, though it’s hard to choose, was getting to meet and chat with so many poets. There is something to be said for getting into conversation with others who share your passion, an opportunity I don’t seem to get as often as I’d like. I sincerely hope that this may seed a few friendships.

The Nakedness of the Non-Fiction Memoir

Although the biggest portion of what I read is fiction, I’ve been reading a few non-fiction books lately. I was struck with the idea of how well we get to know an author who’s writing about her personal life. There are so many details and nuances we experience in the reading that we would probably never encounter even if were close friends. Details about holiday traditions, internal dialogues, various mannerisms, mundane events and so on. I would have to think that authors that put these kind of memoirs out encounter fans that feel they know them, even though they’ve never met. It can be a very brave thing I think to write about your life in such a way, even if you still keep your biggest secrets locked away.

Don’t Get Stuck Reading 100% of the Same Genre

Choice for the modern individual has evolved far from what it once was. Consider that major publishers in the U.S. alone publish about 300,000 books each year. Essentially, whatever your favorite genre of choice, you’ll never run out of good books to read.

And I think that’s dangerous. Books help us escape, certainly. But they also help us grow and better understand the word and the people around us.

Read outside your genre. Discover subjects and ways of thinking that you wouldn’t ordinarily consider. Be open.

Are you primarily a reader of science fiction and fantasy (like me)? Read a biography, or a memoir, or a book on wine tasting.

Here’s my suggestion, for every three books you would normally read, make that fourth book one out of your usual wheelhouse.

The Inevitable Impressions of Good Writing

How often has this happened to you? You’re working on a novel, and simultaneously you’re reading a good book or story. And as you’re reading, you start thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should do something like that in my story.”

It happens to me constantly. I’m considering changing the entire genre/sub-genre of my novel just because I read a couple of good short stories. It’s crazy, right?

My excuse his time is that I’ve never read this particular genre/sub-genre, but still, it seems a bit drastic. Of course, I usually advocate drastic, so I’ll do it.

I never plagiarize, but I do tend to zero in on emotions, moods and character relationships. I was just reading a story about this group of friends who were a team with one, aristocratic leader. It was done very differently from what I was used to reading, and I became inspired.

Here’s a completely different thought I had recently. The word “unspeakable” is horrible, isn’t it? Because it’s non-specific, it calls on the worst possible thing you can think of, which is, of course, horrendous. It very much reminds of Lovecraft, who often referred to things so dark and horrible that to just know of them would drive a man insane.