Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guest Post!

     In the Palms of Angels
by Terri Kirby Erickson

     Several months before the release of my new collection, In the Palms of Angels, I didn’t have a venue for the launch party.  Every place I thought about having it was too expensive.  An art museum I enjoy visiting actually wanted a thousand dollars for one evening’s rental! 

     I was to the point of having the party in my own backyard when Chaplain Joanne Henley of the Derrick L. Davis Forsyth Regional Cancer Center, suggested I have it there.  I’ve been volunteering at the Cancer Center for some time now, and she thought it would be perfect for me to have my party in their large “conference” room, (which really is huge!), not to mention the fact that it sports its own kitchen!  I was thrilled with this idea, although a few people later suggested it might be depressing to have a celebration in a medical facility.

     In my view, however, the DLDFR Cancer Center is a place of hope and healing, so after receiving permission from Executive Director Sharon Murphy, we forged ahead with our plans to create a magical evening for everyone who attended.  Chaplain Henley, GI Oncology Nurse Navigator, Julie Pope and others, were wonderful in helping us achieve the perfect “look” for the room, transforming an already engaging facility into a gorgeous showplace! 

     My publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, voiced an idea that had already occurred to me—that I donate 10% of book sales for the evening, to the Cancer Center to thank them for this kind and supportive gesture.  It turned out that I was able to donate even more than this amount with one of my long-time friends, Tim Plowman, writing a check for his copy of In the Palms of Angels that included an extra hundred dollars!  I decided to match his generosity and donated a hundred dollars over the ten percent I had promised.

     At Chaplain Henley’s suggestion, the money went to the Center’s Simstein Fund, which was set up by the family of the late Dr. Lee Simstein, to offer financial assistance to patients who cannot afford the costs associated with cancer treatment.  I was so honored that Mrs. Simstein, her daughter and grandchild were among the 150 plus guests who attended the party on April 7.  It was an evening I’ll never forget!

     As I stood at the podium that night, I felt very grateful and blessed.  Beside me was the exquisite painting (that is on the book cover) entitled, “Frances,” that my uncle, artist Stephen White, dedicated to our dear family friend, 91 year old Frances Y. Dunn (the person I want to be when I grow up!).  In front of me were so many people they were literally spilling into the lobby.   A few folks were scrambling to bring in extra chairs until there wasn’t room for another human being in that space.  Among the audience members were people I love including my husband, daughter, parents, publisher, other relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow writers and even my fifth grade teacher; some faces I recalled from other readings; and many others I’d never seen before.

     One face I didn’t expect is an icon of American literature, John Ehle, and I can tell you, I was thrilled to see him there!  I was later told that one of his favorites of the poems I read from In the Palms of Angels is called, “Making the Biscuits,” so I was very glad I chose that particular poem. 

      I just want to briefly mention two friends who couldn’t be there that evening, but I know were there in spirit—Ron Powers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Mark Twain, A Life and co-author of Flags of Our Fathers, who wrote a brilliant Introduction to my book, and beloved syndicated columnist, Sharon Randall, who I’m honored to say, wrote a lovely paragraph for the back cover.  I am very grateful to both of them for their glowing endorsements.

     All in all, April 7 turned out to be a perfect evening, and truly a triumph for all poets and poetry that so many people would come to the launch party for a book of poems.  What no one knew, however, was that my husband, Leonard, would be undergoing a biopsy in another week or so—and we were waiting to find out if he had cancer, himself.  It felt at once ironic and surreal, but we were and are determined to think positively.

     It turns out that he does, indeed, have prostate cancer and his surgery is scheduled for June 29.  We are optimistic for a full recovery, and appreciate the prayers and support of so many caring friends, including readers who have been so kind with help and advice. 

     It has been nothing but a pure blessing from the time I decided to write poetry for publication until this moment, when I am busily promoting my third book and getting ready for this challenging medical journey that my husband and I are facing together.  My poetry writing has been a solace and balm for me, and I’m very grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.  I love the title of this new book because I have long felt that we live our lives in the palms of angels—those benevolent and beloved beings who protect and guide us.  And I hope if you decide to get a copy of your own, that you will enjoy reading In the Palms of Angels as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Peace and love,
Terri Kirby Erickson
June, 2011

Topsail Island
Excerpt from In the Palms of Angels,
© 2011

We knelt near
the shoreline

gathering shells,
pieces of sea glass,

stones.  Wind
salted our faces,

sent a kite circling,
filled a red sail.

Curtains danced
in cottage windows;

a flock of gulls
wheeled.  Joy,

joyjoy, they cried—
flying far out

to sea, becoming
pinpoints of light.

Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of three books of poetry, including her latest, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53).  Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, anthologies and other publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, JAMA, Verse Daily and the North Carolina Literary Review.  She was recently one of eleven winners of the international Nazim Hikmet Poetry award.  For more information about her work, please see her website at:  You can also order the book on Amazon at: fine bookstores or other Internet venues.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Keep Writing, Even When It Hurts by Kathryn A. Brackett

Keep Writing, Even When It Hurts by Kathryn A. Brackett

When I was born, I was small enough to fit into an adult’s palm. My father was afraid to hold me as he peered at my premature shell, hooked to machines. I’d made my entrance into the world a month earlier than I should have. My brother, ten years old at the time, kept saying my face looked like a crumpled, red dishcloth.

My debut left quite a physical and emotional impression on my mother. She lay in a room somewhere, struggling through toxemia, a condition that caused blood pressure spikes and hazy vision that made it hard to see the baby she’d tried to hold inside her womb to full term. Doctors predicted we wouldn’t leave the hospital alive, but my mother and I did, eleven days later. She took me home, along with a long scar embedded in her skin. Her Cesarean mark carries a story to this day, a story she conveniently rebirths in her mind each time I THINK I’m too grown to listen to her, or one she shares with me when I feel like crawling into the ground after a large disappointment has beaten me nearly unconscious. As the baby of the family, you can imagine how many times I’ve heard the Caesarian story against my will. As a writer, you can imagine how many times I’ve needed to hear it to keep going in this profession.

It took eight years to publish a short story from my collection. Before then, I’d sent stories out to more publishers than I care to remember. The form letter rejections became snakes in my mailbox, waiting to bite me as soon as I pulled open the lid. The electronic ones waited boldly in my email inbox, while the notes of encouragement from editors were bitter-sweet gifts. Some of my work received recognition in fiction contests but all of them were rejected for publication over and over again in literary magazines. For a long time, I walked around with a hunchback of disappointment poking out from the back of my neck. Yet, despite the frustrations, I kept reworking the stories. I kept putting my work out there until my first acceptance came from an editor who wanted to publish the piece in an anthology. Another story was picked up in a print literary magazine a year later. This year I’ve placed work in my second national writing contest, published in an online journal, and received an honorable mention in an international magazine.

A woman in my writing group shared a quote with me from Winston Churchill that summed up my journey to publication: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Despite the physical and mental beating my characters have given me over the years, I couldn’t, and still can’t, let go of them until they are ready to sustain themselves. They have driven me to several degrees of insanity since I first ‘met’ them. I’ve worked entire days without moving from my desk, I’ve wrestled in bed with visions of their faces bubbling up in my head, I’ve soothed Ganglion cysts near my wrists from all the typing. Like any writer, I’ve loved my characters, I’ve hated them, I’ve even been afraid of them, not of who they are but of who they want to become and what it will take of my life, my soul, to fulfill their needs that have become my own.

Family members or friends who aren’t writers will often say, “I don’t get it. I thought writing was just putting ideas on paper. How hard is that?”

I tell them what Red Smith believed, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”

And then they stare at me as if I’ve spouted out a mathematical equation in a foreign language. See, non-writers don’t understand that writing is an endless fight of passion, sometimes painful, sometimes completely enrapturing. They don’t comprehend why we cry when a character dies. They don’t get why we have post-it-notes all over the house or little notebooks in our purses/back pockets.

“You’re weird,” they say. “Why care about someone who isn’t real?”

“But they are,” I declare. “They are!”

And still, I get that confused look. Maybe some things should remain a mystery, like how I can’t figure out why anyone would eat beef that’s still bleeding on the inside, or interpret half the slang in my teenage cousin’s text messages when I have a master’s degree in writing. Her messages are an enigma, just as a writer’s way of thinking puzzles people who don’t compose stories on paper from their imaginations.

Writers are a special breed. We love our characters as much as we love people we can touch. We think it’s “normal” to talk to ourselves a little more than we should, and when people say we’re eccentric, we think of ways to put them stories without their permission. Writers embrace the oddities, the celebrations and the disappointments of their craft.

I can’t help but ponder what Dorothy Parker said about writing: “If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you."

Or Norman Mailerv: "Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day."

And Jessamyn West: "Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential."

As a writer, you have to accept the pain as much as you accept the pleasure. You have to listen to your characters as you listen to your mother’s stories of your birth. Being a writer is hard work, and if you’re fully embracing your talent, then you know how easy it is to think about giving up when nothing in the future looks promising, but you also know how hard it is to turn your back on a dream that’s kept you company from the moment you opened your eyes in the world. Though the process of writing can be a struggle at times, you keep fighting, you carry on, because you can’t imagine doing anything else that makes you this crazy while giving you such pleasure at the same time.

Kathryn A. Brackett earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work is published in or forthcoming from Waccamaw Journal, Mythium: The Journal of Contemporary Literature, and Expecting Goodness & Other Stories, an anthology of fiction chosen by C. Michael Curtis, senior editor of The Atlantic magazine, and runner-up in the Independent Publisher IPPY Awards for the top collection of short fiction in North America in 2009. Her stories have received national and international recognition in WordHustler’s Page to Screen Short Story Contest, judged by Sara Gruen; the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards, the Stony Brook Short Fiction Prize, and the Carpe Articulum Literary Review, among others. You can find her and her blog at

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."