Wednesday, December 30, 2015

IWC's 2015 in Review

by
Sarah White
President, Indiana Writers' Consortium
 
Friends, it’s that time again.  Time to take a look back at another great year.  The Indiana Writers’ Consortium had a fantastic 2015!  Many thanks to all of the people who worked so hard to make our year a success.  We are an organization that is growing by the day, by the week, and by the event.  We have grown from 23 members in 2013 to our current 66 members and counting.  As many of us know, this community of writers is an invaluable resource to our region.  We share our work, our passion for writing, and come together to help expand our artistic (and necessary) presence in Northwest Indiana and beyond.  We provide excellent professional development opportunities and amazing experiences for those writers who choose to be involved in our many activities. This year, we hosted two Paper Fields Creative Writing Workshop events—conducted by award-winning writers— and eight Stream Line Readings in our special collaborative series with Purdue Calumet and Paul Henry’s Art Gallery.  Each one has been rewarding. I participated in one on Flash Fiction/Nonfiction, and it was a warm and edifying experience.  We conducted our regular Eat & Exchange Series (6 total discussions), and 3 Saturday Workshops.  Also, we hosted our always popular Literary Pub Crawl, introducing new voices to our organization. 
Once again, our Steel Pen Literary Conference brought many well-known writers to Northwest Indiana.  It was a full day of presentations and networking—a true celebration of writing!  Much appreciation to those who made sure our conference was the crowning achievement of our year, especially the efforts of the tireless Janine Harrison. 
In addition, each year, we sponsor the P.O.P.P. (Our Power of Poetry Project) for young children.  This year was particularly special because we offered the Tom Spencer Award.  Tom Spencer was a talented poet and great friend to the IWC who passed away this year.  He was a combat Engineer with the US Army, served during Vietnam, and a past Commander of the Lowell American Legion.  He was a member of Tri Creek Historical Association, Friends of the Library, Gleaners, IWC, Write On Hoosiers, NWI Poetry Society, IN and National Federation of Poetry Clubs.  What an amazing man and great supporter of writing.  Tom is truly missed.
Friends, thank you for your continued support of the Indiana Writers’ Consortium.  Thank you for making our organization such a wonderful community of artists.  As we continue to grow, our hope is to continue to build and strengthen our literary community here in Northwest Indiana, providing a showcase for the incredible wealth of talent our region possesses.
Here’s to a great 2016!  May all our writing dreams come true! 



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indulge!

by
Mari L Barnes
 
I have been delighted by the IWC blog posts this month. Sarah and Julie illumined our memories and traditions, reminding us of the joy of this season of magic. Judy wrote of another kind of magic—that of communication and our ability to touch hearts and minds with our words.
I'd like to move in a slightly different direction. I am advocating—in the midst of this glorious time of love for all and peace on earth—love for self and peace of mind. That’s right, take a while to do something just for YOU.
As writers, we live in a whirlwind of should: I should be researching, writing, editing, querying. As humans, especially in this holiday season, our “shoulds” multiply like snowflakes in a storm: I should be shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, mailing, volunteering.
Take a while, maybe a whole hour or two, and enjoy that thing that made you want to be a writer in the first place. Pick up a book or open your favorite e-reader. Make it a sacred time with your favorite reading ritual. Settle down in the coziest spot, whether it’s bed, the bath or the Lazy Boy, and pour that perfect beverage. Mute the phone and close the laptop. Transport yourself to another world.
This is not the time for an audio book. We tend to enjoy them when we’re engaged in other pursuits like driving or folding laundry. To truly take advantage of your shelter in a blizzard of “shoulds,” you’ll want to devote this time to nothing but the pure pleasure that reading a good book provides.
Revisit an old favorite or finally dive into that new book you’ve been planning to read. My two Christmas favorites are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. But, this year, I got new books from some IWC authors at the Steel Pen Conference, so I may indulge in one of those.
Merriam-Webster defines indulge as “to allow (yourself) to have or do something as a special pleasure” or “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” For a moment, indulge. Give yourself a gift. Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to you.
__________
The picture at the top of this post was drawn by Frank T. Merrill for the original edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. First published in 1868, the illustration is in the public domain because of its age.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Celebrate the Beauty of Communication

by
Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
 
Recently, there were two occasions when I was reminded of the beauty of communication.  Thanksgiving this year took place at my grandson’s home.  It was exceptionally special because it was his son Aiden’s first.  At almost 3 months old, Aiden was at the stage where a baby recognizes that somehow those who comprise his world communicate with sounds.  He was beginning to test this out as all babies his age do.  His hands waved, his legs kicked, his head bobbed, and his mouth contorted.  Finally, he was rewarded with a very quiet and brief, “Ohh.”  His smile assured me he was well pleased with his success.
 
The second occasion, took place at my son-in-law’s parents’ home.  His niece was visiting from Texas.  Both she and her husband are deaf and have been since birth.  Their two adorable children are not hearing impaired.  When it was time for them to leave, his niece told her four year old to get ready.  Callia, typical for a four year old, did not want to leave.  A five-minute negotiation with her mother with verbal pleading accompanied with signing thoroughly entertained me.  Her hands moved in rhythm with the nuances of her voice.   Her engaging efforts did not win her argument although I’m sure in the future she will be gaining points in a courtroom. 
 
Both of these observations of connecting people through words brought to my mind the beauty of communicating.  Aiden has just begun his excursion into language. In the next two years he will develop a vocabulary larger than at any other time during his life.  Then he’ll go to school where he’ll find a whole new world of linking thoughts through the written word.  Callia already has the ability to share ideas not only to the hearing world with her voice but to the non-hearing world with her hands.  When she begins to write, she will have an exciting new way to persuade others to her point of view.
 
Thinking about this highlighted an awareness, once again, of how lucky we are to be able to communicate in so many ways.  As writers, we have been given the additional joy of sharing our thoughts and feelings with others through the written word. When asked on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium member survey what were my goals in writing, it was easy to answer because of where my thoughts have been.  I want my written words to touch the hearts and souls of those who read them. Emily Neville in It’s like this, cat showed young teens that it’s okay as a 14 year-old to cry over a stray cat. Barbara Park in Mick Harte Was Here let her young readers share Phoebe’s tears when her anger over her brother’s death finally allowed her to cry.  I want my writing to be able to unite people by evoking universal emotions.
 
I’m not there yet.  Maybe I don’t have that novel or even a short story that does that yet.  Where can I start?
 
It’s the Christmas/ Hanukkah season.  This is a time when we decide to contact friends and families with joyous greetings.  Now, I’m not too good with this.  Longtime friends know I function on a 5-year Christmas card cycle.  I buy them every year but usually get them out once in a half-decade.  I find the nicest cards that have a lovely sentiment, but somehow they never seem right for everyone.  Maybe there is a problem because at some point we decided to let Hallmark express our feelings about and to people. When did we decide to delegate our opportunity to write a deeply felt sentiment to a corporation? 
 
Okay, they have lovely pictures and do a nice job of it.  But recently, I’ve gone one step lower in missing an opportunity to use the written word to express how much someone means to me by sending a mass or singular Christmas or birthday message on Facebook.  Maybe Christmas is the perfect time to write a personal note that will evoke memories or emotions in the reader.
 
Don’t be mistaken. I’m not talking about those Christmas letters.  As a young single mother, I hated those.  After reading them, I’d feel like a failure because my children were not in every sport invented, played all instruments in an orchestra, or were ready to win a Rhodes Scholarship.  The only feeling those evoked in me was nausea.
 
I could take a minute to script a brief sentence or two that would warm the heart of the receiver.  Maybe on Sandy’s card I could say, “I miss you most this time of year when I remember how we shoveled out a croquet field in four feet of snow.”  Or say to my cousin, Mary, “I’m reminded in this season of love how much you mean to me.  You held me up when I left my sister’s funeral, standing and talking to me until I could stand on my own.”
 
Maybe these notes aren’t the novels I want to write that will touch a soul.  But it’s a start.  It will be enough for me to celebrate the season with the beauty of communication.
 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Give Me Some of that Good Ole Christmas Tradition

by
Julie Demoff-Larson
 
I love Christmas. Although I am not a believer in the religion, I am a believer in the magic and tradition that encompasses the holiday season. I love the lights. I love the music. I love to bake cookies and nut rolls just like my grandma taught me—and I even share them. And I especially love the traditions that have been passed down along with the new ones we have started.  
 

As we move through this technology driven world it is so easy to lose parts of our family history. Some of my favorite holiday moments are when my father and uncle have shared stories about growing up in an immigrant rich neighborhood.  Or my grandmother’s telling of her Christmas mornings in the hills of Kentucky. When they were excited just to receive one large apple and one large orange in a stocking. We tried that a few years back with all of the great-grand kids and they were confused and disappointed. Thank god for gift cards.
In my house, we host an all adult party the week before as a respite from the hustle and bustle and exchange ornaments on Christmas Eve—all new traditions that we have implemented. My favorite new tradition happens to be about books—children’s books. About ten years ago I started giving my mother a children’s Christmas book as a gift. Each year I search for something new with beautiful rich illustrations. I look for stories that offer a twist on the holiday season. Most of these books offer new traditions as well as a take on old ones, but they are hard to find. Why aren’t there more available? So, here is a grand idea, we should all write a children’s book that incorporates family traditions. Even if you don’t plan on sending it off for publication, it would make a great gift for family and friends.  
Let’s keep our stories and traditions alive by writing them down and passing them along. There is an audience for such writing. I know I want to read them, all of them.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Season of Stories

by
Sarah White
 
 
Thanksgiving ushers in the most wonderful time of the year: the season of stories. Everywhere we turn, we are surrounded by the music of language. Families sit around dinner tables and talk about relatives alive or long since passed. Traditions are handed down in kitchens dusted with sugar and flour.  Children gather with beaming faces to listen to a man dressed in red speak about his reindeer and the mythical wonders of the North Pole. Churches, with pews bathed in the flickering light of candles, hush when The Gospel of Luke is read.  Menorahs glow brighter each night in celebration of light triumphing over darkness. The world hums with the murmur of a thousand celebrations.
The holiday season, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, celebrates the stories that define us, the narratives we cherish, the words we hold most dear.  We sing more songs.  We share our memories.  We revel in the magic of storytelling.
When I was a child, the Christmas season pulsed with the bustle of anticipation and the feverish energy of a little girl’s imagination.
For me, the joy of Christmas comes from one particularly special memory--it was the Christmas of 1980. That Christmas, when I crept downstairs and tore the paper off the boxes, I found things that I had ached to own. The world was abuzz with Star Wars. All of my friends had Star Wars figures, spaceships, t-shirts. And, there, in my hands, was the Millennium Falcon, one of the largest ships. Next, I found Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2D2, Obi-wan Kenobi--they were mine! I held the power of those films in my own small hands. I could create my own narratives, these figures the characters in my own vivid imaginings.
My Grandpa White made Christmas other-worldly. To me, part of the holiday was just listening to his "radio announcer" voice tell tales of Santa and the North Pole--his eyes twinkling. I never really "believed" in Santa Claus per se. I had a grate in my bedroom floor where I could peek down into the living room. I had seen my father in his briefs setting out presents once. Mostly, I humored Grandpa White because he seemed to believe in Santa and reindeer with such a childlike wonder you couldn't help but be swept up, too. Grandma and Grandpa White's house gonged with the chimes of dozens of clocks. Burl Ives, Andy Williams, Ed Ames, and all of the classic Christmas songs spun on their large record-player that was the size of a hope chest. The house smelled like ham, potatoes, apple pie. Grandma would fill up a huge crystal bowl with Hawaiian Punch and Sprite. We used ladles and fancy glass cups. We munched on peanuts, crackers and cheese. They would have their fireplace blazing. Much of the magic of my childhood Christmases comes from these memories.
These are some of my favorite holiday memories and stories. 
What are yours?
 
 
 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why Self-Publish?




by
Sam Cheever
 
 

To varying degrees, big and small publishing houses are worried about the Indie Publishing trend. I say to varying degrees because some of the larger or more arrogant ones think they can ignore or bully their way past the threat of losing more and more talented, ambitious authors to the siren song of Indie Publishing. As Indie grows, submissions to small press/traditional publishers have slowed. The submissions pubs receive are more and more weighted toward brand new authors, which means they bring more risk and less in the way of an established readership to fill the publisher's coffers. In addition, more and more established authors are asking for their rights back on older books so they can republish the books themselves.
It's definitely a brave new world.
I'm not going to pretend this is a simple issue. It's not. There are many factors in the swing away from traditional publishing, but there are things publishers can do to soften that swing...if they'll do them.
What are the largest complaints authors have against their publishing houses? Lack of communication? Absence of payment? Lack of control? Slow response times and even ignoring authors' concerns entirely? Yes, yes, and yes. These are all problems. I don't know too many authors who decide to publish their own work because of the money. Of course we're all working for money...we need to buy food, gas, and electricity right? But money isn't the biggest concern in this decision.
It's control.
Publishers who refuse to respond to emails sent by their authors (and then deny it!) will continue to lose talented authors to Indie. Publishers who have the "my way or the highway" attitude will continue to lose talented authors to Indie. Also part of the control issue are things like inflexible and/or overreaching contracts, long delays in adding books to third party sites, prohibitive pricing, and extended time-frames getting books to market once they've been submitted. These are all my reasons for opting, more and more, to Indie publish rather than follow a more traditional publishing route.
Control is the key. An author who publishes independently can decide the time-frame for writing/publishing the book. She can select her own cover artist and an editor who fits her style. She can set the price, control the market her book is part of and create her own marketing plan. And she can make adjustments as the book moves through its shelf life to ensure ongoing success. The only way a publisher can compete with this is to work more closely with the author as a partner, being flexible and open to doing things a different way. Easier said than done, I know. When a publisher is working with hundreds of authors, trying to meet the needs of every author can be very difficult. But that's the only way today's publisher can compete in a marketplace where organizations like Amazon make it so easy for an author to gain control over her precious products.
Indie publishing certainly isn't for everyone. If you don't have name recognition, you might want to stay with a traditional publisher until you've created a large enough platform that you can sell books on the strength of your name. If you're afraid to delve into new things, or you're technically challenged, you might want to hold off on going it alone until you have a better comfort level with the tasks involved. And if you'd rather spend all your time writing and let someone else do the back office work, you're probably better off going a more traditional route. But if you're an entrepreneurial spirit with a dedicated reader base, you go girl(boy)! Indie publishing is a bowl of sweet, juicy cherries. If you're like me, you're never happier than when your mouth is full!
Happy publishing everybody!
###
 
These Honeybuns are sugar free, but hot enough to burn!
Surprised into hiding in a men's room stall at work, Angie Peterson, owner of the Dunk and Run Coffee Shoppe, overhears two men talking about killing someone named Alastair Honeybun. Picturing a frail, helpless old Englishman, Angie rushes to warn him. There’s only one, small problem, Alastair Honeybun is six foot two inches of yummy man, who's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. But when the thugs show up while Angie's still there, they soon figure out they'll need to take care of each other.
###
 


 
USA Today Bestselling Author Sam Cheever writes romantic paranormal/fantasy and mystery/suspense, creating stories that celebrate the joy of love in all its forms. Known for writing great characters, snappy dialogue, and unique and exhilarating stories, Sam is the award-winning author of 50+ books and has been writing for over a decade under several noms de plume.
If you haven't already connected, Sam would love it if you Liked/Followed her wherever you enjoy hanging out online. Here are her online haunts:
Newsletter: http://www.samcheever.com/newsletter.html Subscribe to my newsletter and win a free copy of the fun and sexy Honeybun Fever Box Set
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SamCheeverAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/samcheever
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Back to the Library

 
by
Kathryn Page Camp
 
 
 
Before you can be a great writer, you have to be a great reader. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few quotes from some writers who are better known than I am.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King

“If you read good books, good books will come out of you.” Natalie Goldberg

“Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” Susan Sontag

When I was a child, I practically lived at the library. Or I wanted to, anyway. Unfortunately, the nearest public library was 60 miles away. But we went every two weeks and I checked out the six-book limit. Then I supplemented that with books from the school library.

When my children were young, we went to the local library once or twice a week. Caroline and John participated in the summer programs, and Caroline was a junior helper for two or three years.

Then my wallet got a little fatter, and I decided it was simpler to buy the books that interested me. That way, I could keep them as long as I wanted and mark them up without worry. And eventually I stopped using the library as a source of reading material.

But I’ve always loved the library, and I would have considered it sacrilege to give up my card. So when the library called and told me they were about to cancel it for lack of use, they got my attention.

Since then, I’ve rediscovered the library and made an important discovery. If I read a book and decide it belongs in my own library, I can still buy it. But if two weeks are all I need, I’ve saved myself some money.

Maybe it’s time for you to rediscover the library, too.

__________

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

And Everything Else


As we end these blogs on the bookfair offerings, here is a final post with books that don’t fit neatly on one of the previous lists.

DISCLAIMER: We haven’t read all of the books on this list, and their inclusion is not a recommendation. Still, we believe in supporting writers who support us. Check these books out at the links provided, and if they look interesting, consider adding them to your gift list.


In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, by Kathryn Page Camp. 2nd Edition. Nonfiction. http://www.amazon.com/God-Trust-Amendment-Decisions-Organized/dp/0989250407/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1445529454&sr=1-3





We hope to see you at next year’s conference and book sale.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Books for Writers


It’s only logical that the books sold at the 2015 Steel Pen Creative Writers Conference bookfair included ones addressing the needs of writers. If you are looking for gifts for writer friends (or if you didn’t get over to the book sale room to buy them for yourself), here are books dealing with the business and craft of writing.

DISCLAIMER: We haven’t read all of the books on this list, and their inclusion is not a recommendation. Still, we believe in supporting writers who support us. Check these books out at the links provided, and if they look interesting, consider adding them to your gift list.




Writing the Great American Romance Novel by Catherine Lanigan. Craft. This book was not available at the bookfair because its author had a last-minute conflict, but check it out anyway at http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Great-American-Romance-Novel/dp/1581154550/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445530402&sr=1-1

So if you have writers on your holiday shopping list, consider these books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mysteries, Speculative Fiction, and Horror


The bookfair at the 2015 Steel Pen Creative Writers Conference included many offerings in the mystery, speculative fiction, and horror genres. Here are some that you may want to purchase as holiday gifts.

DISCLAIMER: We haven’t read all of the books on this list, and their inclusion is not a recommendation. Still, we believe in supporting writers who support us. Check these books out at the links provided, and if they look interesting, consider adding them to your gift list.

Mysteries



Speculative Fiction

Beyond the Dancing Flames by Sanzaki Kojika is the first in the Fall of the Dragon trilogy. http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Dancing-Flames-Fall-Dragon-ebook/dp/B00TJNEP8M/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445466414&sr=1-3

 

Horror



 

If you have friends or family members who like suspense-filled fiction, consider buying them something from this list.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gift Shopping for Children

 
As the holiday season draws near, most of us are looking for gift ideas. The bookroom at the 2015 Steel Pen Creative Writers Conference was loaded with them. Here are some of the children’s books that were for sale and can still be purchased in time for the holidays.
 
DISCLAIMER: We haven’t read all of the books on this list, and their inclusion is not a recommendation. Still, we believe in supporting writers and publishers who support us. Check these books out at the links provided, and if they look interesting, consider adding them to your gift list.
 
The Cabooseman’s Garden by Karen Kulinski, illustrated by Eileen De Sando. Early chapter book. http://smile.amazon.com/Caboosemans-Garden-Karen-Kulinski/dp/1470087073/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445453941&sr=1-1
 
The Dog and the Dolphin by James B. Dworkin, illustrated by Michael Chelich. Picture book. http://www.amazon.com/The-Dog-Dolphin-James-Dworkin/dp/1494702541
 
 
Journey to Jazzland by Gia Voltenra de Saulnier, illustrated by Emily Zieroth, published by Flying Turtle Publishers. http://flyingturtlepublishing.com/store/#!/Journey-to-jazzland/p/50669190/category=13459067
 
A Magic Hour Family Christmas: Stories, Poems, and More, by members of The Magic Hour Writers. Published by Flying Turtle Publishers. http://flyingturtlepublishing.com/store/#!/A-Magic-Hour-Family-Christmas/p/55002145/category=13459066
 
 
Ryme Tyme For Growing Minds by Yusuf Ali El. Poetry. http://www.rawtears.com/NewBooks/index.html#/RymeTyme/0
 
Happy shopping.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Steel Pen Weekend

Almost one-hundred people experienced the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference last weekend, and the number swelled to over one-hundred when including attendance at the pre- and post-conference events.

It was a great weekend, and I can think of several ways to describe it: fun-filled, enlightening, stimulating, and entertaining. In this week’s blog post, I am going to leave you with pictures from some of the events and workshops I experienced.

At Friday night’s welcome, we viewed an exhibit of river flags and enjoyed an offering from emerging poet Lily Rex. The highlight of the evening was a talk and poetry reading by author/poet Wang Ping. Here are some pictures.

 
 

 
At the conference on Saturday, I enjoyed browsing through the bookfair and attending the sessions. Here is a picture from the bookfair.
 

And here are pictures from the sessions I attended:
 
A panel on “Historical (Re)tell: The Writing and Craft of Telling Retellings of the Historic”;


Another panel presentation on “Getting Over the Transom: Tips for litmag acceptances from ccr eds.”;


Carla Lee Suson talking about “Perfect Pitch: Developing the Phrase that Defines Your Manuscript”;


And “How to Work with an Illustrator, Self-Publish, and Promote a Children’s Book” with author James B. Dworkin and illustrator Michael Chelich.


 
But the highlight of the conference was the evening banquet with keynote speaker Bryan Furuness, who addressed us on “Writing in the Wilderness.”

 
 
I hope to see you at next year’s conference.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Echoes of a Poet's Voice--My Memory of Tom Spencer

by
Helena Qi
 
The last time Tom and I met, we were surrounded by coffee grinder uproars, conversations, and laughter inside the Grindhouse CafĂ©. It was May 2, 2015 and members of Highland Writers’ Group gathered for our biweekly meeting. Tom Spencer sat to my immediate right. His oxygen tube indicated that all was not well with him, but his sharp mind and high spirits told me otherwise.  
 
After my turn to read, Tom made encouraging comments about my manuscript. Then he leaned toward me.
 
“Why haven’t you signed up for the poetry class?” Tom asked quietly against a cacophony of background noises.  
 
“I’d like to, but my schedule is too full right now,” I heard myself muttering feebly. I’d learned a few weeks earlier that Tom was offering free poetry lectures. Upon consideration, I had decided against adding more to my plate.
 
“But writing poems will help you build your vocabulary,” Tom said persuasively. 
 
~   ~   ~ 
For the next few days, Tom’s words kept ringing on my head. On May 11, the morning of the first class, I sent Tom an email saying that I had found my son a ride to and from his orchestra concert that evening and asking if it was too late to register. When no response came by midafternoon, I mustered my courage and dialed Tom’s phone number. Doris, Tom’s companion, answered and told me that Tom was ill. But yes, I was welcome to go to the class that evening.
 
I attended the class. Toward the end, each of us got to speak with Tom on a cell phone. To me, Tom’s mind was as astute as I’d ever known, his voice strong and enthusiastic. There wasn’t even a thread of doubt in my mind that he’d soon recover.
 
~   ~   ~ 
The next day I received Tom’s email (below).
--------------------------------------
On May 12, 2015, at 3:11 PM, tom spencer <tspencer1943@comcast.net> wrote:
 
Forgive my lack of response Helena, This is the first I could get to my e-mail since Sunday. I am pleased that you attended and hope that you were pleased also. Let me know if you have any questions on last evening's presentation. You have good writing skills and I would be happy to help you expand them. What instrument does your son play? Your family will always come first in my book of rules so there is never a need to apologize for your devotion to them.

Sincerely, Tom
------------------------------------
 
Tom’s message filled my heart with warmth and energy. I wanted to thank him and tell him what I thought about the class. Yet I was too busy spinning around my hectic activities to write my reply until June 2, when I was 31,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on my way to Shanghai. 
 
On my return flight from China on July 1, I let my thoughts roam in pleasant anticipation. One of the events I longed for was to attend the July poetry class. I was sure I’d see Tom and have a chance to express my gratitude.
 
Nothing prepared me for the shocking news that Tom Spencer had left the world just two days before I came back home.
 
~   ~   ~
The last time I saw Tom was at Sheets Funeral Home in Lowell on Sunday, July 5, 2015. Gazing at the tranquil face of the 71-year old poet, I felt a few poetry lines bubbling out of my blurred memory.
 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Arrow and the Song” resonated with my emotions.
 
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
 
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where,
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?
 
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.
 
I could not remember exactly when and where our first meeting took place. But each time I saw Tom was at a writing-related event. And on nearly every occasion we had a private conversation. Tom would prompt me to do more, such as attending a workshop or a poetry reading, so that I could learn to write proficiently in English, which is not my mother tongue. 
 
Emily Dickinson’s lines then came rushing to me as my thoughts roved along memory lane.
 
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
 
I was a mere acquaintance of Tom, or else I’d have known about his serious ailments, as all of his friends did. To me, Tom the man and poet made a difference for the better. In my eyes, therefore, his life was definitely not in vain but of great value.
 
When I looked at Tom for the last time, Henry David Thoreau’s words rang in my ears.
 
My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.
 
I thought that Tom Spencer, now lying peacefully in a coffin surrounded by visitors and flower baskets, ought to be proud of his life as a poetic masterpiece, for its echoes have reached far and deep.
 
__________
 
Helena Qi lives in Munster, Indiana. She has attended Highland Writers’ Group meetings since 2011 and aspires to become a skilled writer.