2013 - A Year in Review

As the new year approaches, it's hard not to look back on what occurred in 2013.  At least with regards to my own writing career and the Writing in the Modern Age blog, a lot has happened.  Reflection is my topic for today.

My writing journey really began years ago, but the turning point was in August of 2012 when Solstice Publishing accepted the manuscript for Upon Your Return, a historical romance. The book is available now, and I recently signed a contract for a paranormal romance with them as well.  I am very lucky to still be with such a talented group of professionals and authors at Solstice. I have also done quite a bit of self-publishing in my career.  I have published 17 books total.  This year, I went back and redid all of the covers on my books.  I also released a new book, Leather and Lace, a romantic suspense, in November.  Some of my books are shown on the right side of the blog here, but you can see a whole list along with the covers on my website.

Let's move on to the blog!  Though Writing in the Modern Age had its roots in 2010, the true idea for the blog didn't really take shape until after Upon Your Return was published in February.  I always knew I should have a blog.  I actually had two, Writing the Modern Age, of course, and Marie Lavender's Books.  I didn't use them too often, just blogged whenever the idea struck me, whenever I had a message to impart about writing or publishing.  I think I always had a clear plan for Writing in the Modern Age, however.  The goal was to have a place to talk about writing, to encourage would-be authors to keep at it.

I have learned a lot about writing both from practice and from my courses through school, especially when I pursued Creative Writing in college.  I also learned about the necessity for community, a group of people willing to encourage one another in their own talents.  Since I started self-publishing in 2010, I have learned a lot about that as well, but that is a discussion for another time.

With Writing in the Modern Age, I wanted to create a haven for authors and even writers who hadn't been published to come for advice.  But, let's broaden that a bit, shall we?  A blog should target a bigger audience.  When my publisher suggested I start a blog, I only had to choose which one to focus on since they were already launched.  When I read about the idea of guest blogs and author interviews, I realized it could be for the readers of books too.  I wanted readers of any genre to come to the blog.  The project became really exciting.  I put the word out, hoping I would get a bite.  In the meantime, I started writing a blog post or two of my own.

Then suddenly, I had a stroke of luck.  People wanted to be heard.  And why not?  Everyone wants to feel like they have something useful to tell the world.

In any case, my blog schedule began to fill up pretty quick.  I am so grateful to Stefan Vucak for being the first guest author on the blog.  Since then, I have found his articles and interviews both on the blog and elsewhere to be very helpful. As I started gathering more writers for the blog, the advice they offered became exponential. From the first guest author this year, Stefan Vucak, to the last one we just had, Murray Alfredson, we have had writers from all walks of life and writers from numerous genres.  I don't know how many times people approached me and said, "I want to do something on the blog, but I don't write romance."  So?  We're all writers!  Let's band together. 

I want to go back to that word "community" again.  In running the blog, I have met so many fellow authors and writers, many I have created friendships with.  I guess that is the nice thing about social networking.  You meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise.  I have always respected my fellow writers.  There is room for all of us in the marketplace.  We all have different journeys and backgrounds, but we want the same thing - to be published, of course, but also to gain some kind of community with other writers and readers.  I think we need support in any profession.  Why not with writing as well?

Before I digress any further, I want to say that Writing in the Modern Age has come a long way since its inception.  We offer author interviews, articles about writing, book promotions and poetry spotlights.

As the blog took shape since the first guest author post in March of 2013, I have truly enjoyed reading all of the articles, responses to interview questions and poetry appearing on the blog.  Writing in the Modern Age would not have been the success it is without its authors and contributors.  So, thank you all for making this a wonderful venture.  It has been such a lovely ride.  All of your advice to fellow writers has been just as useful to me, and I have discovered some new favorite authors in the process.

In June, I opened the blog up to poetry.  I had always dabbled in poetry a bit and I loved reading it.  After connecting with a few poets and joining a Facebook poetry group, I suddenly saw a need to exhibit such lovely work on the blog as well.  Since then, our poetry spotlights have really taken on a life of their own.  Some poets have even offered to explain their poetry styles and I didn't hesitate to include that in their posts.

I really have to thank you all again.  Each time I post a new interview, article or set of poems, I get a little thrill of excitement.  The experience of being an administrator for Writing in the Modern Age has been truly rewarding for me.  I think the whole purpose of the blog for me has been to give back to readers and fellow writers in some way.  What better way is there to do that than to give everyone a moment of their own?  This is also one of the reasons I only do interviews on Mondays and guest posts on Fridays.  It gives readers a chance to see each post if they missed it the day it posted, and time to comment.  That is one more thing I have enjoyed.  I love to see readers commenting on authors' posts.  It tells me I have done my job trying to promote the author.

I can't say enough how rewarding this experience has been.  It has also helped me keep up on my alternate blog, Marie Lavender's Books.  I have met so many fascinating people through the process of maintaining the Writing in the Modern Age blog.  My close writer friends know who they are.  I'm sure we might have met somewhere down the line, but to meet through this kind of venture was so fun.  There are so many talented people appearing on the blog.

As the year comes to a close, I want to draw attention to some wonderful, gifted writers.  You have all made the blog a complete success.  People are joining and looking at the blog all the time.  Writing in the Modern Age is your creation too!

Readers, feel free to subscribe for future posts and look back through the archives for all the posts from our fascinating writers.  For a faster search, look up the hashtag #WritModAge on Twitter for past posts.

Here is a list of our spotlighted writers this year as well as links to find them and their books:

If you are an author who would like to appear on the blog in the future, my contact information is at the bottom of the blog.  Once again, thank you all for making this year on Writing in the Modern Age amazing!  :)

Interview with Author Murray Alfredson

My guest today is Murray Alfredson.  Hello!  Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age!  It’s such a pleasure to have you here.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book? When did it come out? Where can we get it?


http://www.amazon.com/gleaming-clouds-Murray-Alfredson-ebook/dp/B00E9K1AQU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388433570&sr=8-1&keywords=Murray+AlfredsonThe gleaming clouds / Murray Alfredson; artwork by Jyoti. Brisbane: Interactive Press, 2013.

Publisher's website: http://ipoz.biz/Titles/TGC.htm, where one can browse a sample of half a dozen poems; it is also available at many online bookstores around the world (Amazon; Google; B & N; etc.)

It is a collection of poems written in various verse forms and on various topics. The poems are arranged into four broad sections: Myth and reflection; Turns (satiric and comic poems with a twist); Songs of joy, sorrow and equanimity; and Translations (from Old Norse, Middle High German and modern German). Some of the themes are the two traditional poetry subjects, love and death, the fleetingness of all things and ideas, mental illness, social criticism, and nature poems. 

Is there anything that prompted your latest book ? Something that inspired you?

No one thing, Marie. Being a collection, each work in it has its own separate origin, sometimes the arising of a thought, a memory of a friend, a conversation, an encounter with a non-human animal, a conversation with a friend and so forth. For example, the poem, "Wren" appears at first sight to be about those elusive birds, and it is. But less noticeable in there is the observer, the 'I' of the poem. And were he or she not part of the scene, the wrens might have been less reclusive. The observer is an unmentioned influence. But initial impetus to write the poem arose from a conversation with a poet friend, John Malone, about quantum physics and Schroedinger's cat, about which John had written a poem. I enjoyed John's poem, though one reaction was that a cat is none so elusive as a twitchy wren. My memories over the years of wrens returned to consciousness; I began the poem, wrote it in a very short time as I was traveling home in the train, revised as I went along and as I typed it into my computer. There grew the poem.



From the underbrush
then and now like pins
or tiny razors, his twitters
pierce the creek-bed stillness
deep in the ravine.

Do I in just splits
of moments glimpse
in leafage-gaps
a fleck of blue?
Unconsciously he teases;
side-glanced colour-flicker
but never when I look.
Pictured by mind’s eye,
in dainty elegance,
disembodied voice?

And drab wren-dam?
Twig- or bird-twitch?
Wren pair

Other sources can be particular experiences, sometimes soon after the event, sometimes recalled long after.  One of my experiences in life is that a number of people around me have killed themselves. "Young bones" arose because I recollected a woman, a fellow student who some years into her career slew herself. I had written poems on others, but not yet on her. So I wrote that poem, even though it was some forty years after her death.

…I do not know just why Anne took
the coal-gas route; history honours, archivist,
but years long punctuated with psychotic bouts
chlorpromazine, that mind-divorcing drug, did not
quite hold at bay.  Did her heavy future stretch
too far its terrors?  This much I know, that schizophrenics
rarely make old bones.

"Sky message" was my immediate response to seeing exactly that scene, a sky-writer painting that vapour trail in the air, the warmth of the day and the light breeze dispersing it quite quickly.

Sky message

The pilot flushed with holy thought
believes his message comes from god;
he paints with vapour on the sky:
Jesus loves you.

Yet this I know: the world with two
great elements, with wind and heat,
in twenty minutes blows away
that man’s eternal verity.

Does that give some indication how various the triggers to the poems in the collection are?

So, when did you know you wanted to write?  Or has it always been a pastime of yours?

That I cannot tell you exactly, but it was later than with some people, who start out in their teens and earlier. I made my first beginnings late in my undergraduate years, and kept notebooks with me wherever I went in my early and mid twenties. But even then, I was still busy with studies. But always writing poetry was the thing for me, and that is a very difficult craft to master. Later in my professional life, I let the writing drop away. Things like teaching took over my attentions almost entirely. I did do a little translating of poetry to keep my hand in just a little. In the main, however, I have taken up after retiring through ill health. Suddenly I had the issue, what to do with the rest of my life. Since then, I have felt I am always just at the beginning. Perhaps that will carry me through into extreme old age.

Do you have any favorite authors?

Favourite authors, Marie? I could answer, too many, as I read in both German and English, and each going back into Medieval times. I might read authors writing today, like Gresham or Brown, but really, I can live without them, and they do not stay in my mind as do authors like Hemingway or in my country Xavier Herbert who have rather more depth to them. Okay, I am bigger on poets, and I suppose my very favourite would be Friedrich Hölderlin. Others might have been somewhat greater, like Goethe or Rainer Maria Rilke. Of the Germans, I am also very fond of Paul Celan, with whom I can empathise as a Jew caught up by the Nazis, who murdered his mother.  Celan was a master of intensity in his short poems.  Of the English poets, despite it seeming very traditional, I have to start with Chaucer, and then come forward through Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, the meta-physicals. Into the 20th century, I would have to pick out Yeats, Robert Graves, Robert Frost and in my country, Gwen Harwood, Judith Wright, A.D. Hope and James McAuley. These are all members of the Dead Poets Society.  I’ve noted only two women among these, though I am very attracted to women’s poetry for its depth.  One I might mention is a living American poet, Lisa Alvarado, who writes with a very strong feminine voice.  She is particularly powerful on child sexual abuse and one the experience of women’s work.

Do you write in a specific place?  Time of day?

Place? Time of day? No favourite place, really, but I do sit a lot at my computer. Particularly fruitful are those times when I am commuting alone. In fact, I feel naked going out unless I have pen and paper with me, or even pencil. Not only for writing, but also for those other related tasks like planning submissions to journals.

I have to agree there, Murray.  I carry a pen and paper with me as well.

So, are there any words you'd like to impart to fellow writers?  Any advice? 

Well, I find my writing comes from me, so in one way or another my values, the things I value most, find their way into my writing. So my main concentration is on my craft as a poet and as a writer. I love words. I am fascinated by their origins and their history, how they have changed over the years, as I regard their history as above all their meaning. I never cease to be amazed at times how words can return to their old meanings. Words can be so rich if used to their fullest. So weigh your words well. Appeal to the senses. Writing cannot really depict anything; all it can do is evoke experiences, and all those experiences as the impact on our consciousness. So appeal to the senses by suggesting the experiences of the senses, including our minds. Do this consciously, appeal not only to our sight and hearing, but also to our dominant senses like touch, smell and taste. But, that does not mean to describe in detail; that can be done as the process in time. Even if that time is the time in which a person becomes aware of all the detail. Adalbert Stifter was a master of creating this sort of fine sensitivity.

Above all, though, be sparing with your words and syllables. To write the same thing in three syllables instead of seven is an enormous savings, or even three instead of four. The fewer syllables one uses, the more concentrated the impact of what we say. That can mean things like using short words, avoiding participles as parts of the verb, particularly present participles, and being sparing with adjectives and adverbs. And if one must use an adjective, consider making that adjective active by using a present participle. Think how much more concentrated a blow from an umbrella thrust than from a fist. Compact the wallop.

That, you might say, is all very well for poets, but for storywriters? I came across a piece of advice for storywriters the other day. Treat your novel as though it were a poem.

That's interesting advice, Murray.  

Here is the blurb for The gleaming clouds.

Alfredson has many moods, many dictions, many themes.  He at once glories in and laments the ephemeral, the only lasting quality in his world.  This harmonises with his Buddhist outlook on life.  His is a religious sensibility that draws, however, on many traditions and myths, one of respect for all beings, the soils, the rocks, the plants, the people and other animals, the living, the dead.  The moods range widely, from the tortures of mental illness through deep serenity to fun, love joys, wry humour and satire.  He works with sharp thoughts, sharp images and often singing words. He writes and translates in varied forms from ancient to disciplined free verse and has a way of surprising even his poet friends.

Here is an excerpt.

Kangaroo paws

My anigozanthos’ hollow stems reach
taller than I stand, at base
perhaps one centimetre through,
tapered to half or less before
they branch and branch in slender stalks
that hold the blooms towards their tips,
clustered, dark-red, sparse-haired, cuplike
sheaths pale green inside, that split
and split to form six-pointed stars,
high haloed collars for six bright yellow
stamens, slit in turn from a common
pallid ribbon of mystery
swallowed deep within that sleeve.

Amazing, though, the gracile stems;
New Holland honeyeaters, and even
wattlebirds ride the dark and springy
green, push their brush-tongues deep
inside those fleshy nectar-cups.


Abelard to Heloise

The cost, the cost,
how terrible
the cost of loving
your uncle sliced
from me that night
he burst my door,
flooded my chamber
with toughs and torches.

I’ll never know,
though, was it mercy
or torturous
intent to tong
a glowing coal
to cauterize
those tiny spurting

The sear burnt fiercer
through me far
than rapid razor;
demanned they left me
lifelong to linger.

I ache, I ache,
I still ache on,
Heloise for you,
ache that I dared not
defy the Church,
own you as wife
more publicly,
ache for children
ache for the belly
that did not swell,
again, again
from livelong loving,
dainty lacework
stretched in skin.

How brilliant might
young Astrolabe,
have been, and those
not-born, we failed
to rear as mind-stars,
outshining far
father, mother,
outstarring even
thought-born siblings
penned on vellum.

Above all else
I ache for you
nightlong beside me,
our murmured love.


Author Bio
Murray Alfredson is a former librarian, lecturer in librarianship and Buddhist Associate in the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy at Flinders University.  He has published essays on Buddhist meditation and on inter-faith relations, and poems, poetry translations and essays on poetics in journals and anthologies in Australia, UK, USA, Canada, and Sweden, a short collection, ‘Nectar and light’, in Friendly Street new poets, 12, Adelaide: Friendly Street Poets and Wakefield Press, 2007, and a full-length collection, The gleaming clouds,  Brisbane: Interactive Press, 2013.  A further collection, Trees on the slope, has been submitted for publication.

He has won a High Beam poetry award 2004, the Poetry Unhinged Multicultural Poetry Prize 2006, the Friendly Street Poets Political poetry prize 2009, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2009 and again in 2012.

He lives on the Fleurieu Peninsula.


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