Friday, February 25, 2011

Collecting Cosies

If you are not a mystery fan, you may not know that a cosy is a typical English mystery in which the murder--almost always someone dies--happens early on, often off-stage, and usually is precipitated by revenge, greed or the elimination of a witness to an earlier crime. The cast is led by a smart and minutely observant detective, police or civilian, who may even, like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, solve the mystery without leaving her fireside chair. Then there is the remote location--an old manor house, a lonely moor or desolate seacoast. An island works extremely well. The killer is likely to be among the assembled guests. Often, there is a big reveal, wherein all is explained, no plot element left hanging. Subplots serve the main plot. There are lots of Victorian fireplaces, people riding bicycles and a whole lot of walking and gardening.

I love these stories. They are like chocolate or potato chips for the mind. No education is attempted, no moralizing except for the obvious: crime does not pay, the guilty give themselves away, the good are rewarded.  Because the main characters and a few secondary characters repeat in each series, that task of character development is done after the first book, mostly. So if I love these books, understand their purpose and their structure, why not try writing one? Someone famous once advised writers to create the books they want to read. But I feel no compunction to write a cosy. I think this reluctance may be genetic: my single strand of English DNA might be warped or ripped or overshadowed by the Irish-American in me. (Given the history of these two countries, it's a wonder I'm not in a constant state of internal revolt.) Then again, I might not enjoy reading cosies if I had to work at writing one. Sort of like a sun bather having to build a beach.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Baby Rabbits & Elevators

I have no elevator speech. This is a problem. I need one, apparently, in order to tell strangers who and what I am. But can I cram a long life and a dozen passionate interests into a thirty-second sound bite? I could learn to speak like the voice-over on an ad for some dicey new medication that ends with "Ask your doctor if you should take this pill. It will change your life." (Or end it.)

No, that won't work for me. I see no possibility of summarizing three occupations, a marriage and its end, two children, a dozen or so moves around the country, the thousands of books I've read, the horse, the dogs and cats, the political fears and views, the friends, the enemies. No I barely fit into the elevator, let alone into an introductory speech delivered breathlessly between the lobby and the top floor.

This elevator speech is one of the myriad details I've been chasing like baby rabbits lately. These details of the business side of writing, too long avoided, now feel urgent and interesting. Cute as these little bits of organization are, they often skitter away to hide under the second growth of clutter, only to be spied racing across the road, about to be flattened by some eight-cylinder project roaring high speed toward my desk. These baby rabbit details, if they survive, multiply and nibble the day away. But they are so cute--like my new logo, my brochure, a business email. Fortunately, they are not as cute as a new poem or a new short story, so I'll let them hop around and catch 'em as I can.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fight Hunger with Poetry

The Great Hunger, my newest poetry book, started with a suggestion from poet Allison Adelle Hedge Coke to put art in service to an issue. When I first arrived in Colorado I took a week's workshop with her at Naropa University, and it was all to the good. I'd long been concerned about food supplies--my own, the issues of organics, the risks of agriculture, the fact that Americans are mostly too fat and other people in the world go hungry. I still have no clear process for sorting out these issues and seeing a path to what might be called Food Ethics. But I do continue to learn and to put myself in a position to help, however slight and local that position may be. And sometimes I have fun in the process.

This coming Sunday, February 20th, poet Carolyn Jennings and I will do a benefit reading for our local food bank, FISH. We are reading at West Side Books on 32nd Avenue in Denver. Price of admission is a donation for FISH. The fun comes as we read in a call-and-response pattern--one of my poems from The Great Hunger, then one of Carolyn's from her book, Hunger Speaks. It's pretty amazing to see how our poems speak to each other. Then, we hope, audience members will read poems about food that they have brought. Then, we eat. We eat so that others may eat. We read poetry so that others may eat. It's going to be delicious.