The War Poets

During the First World War, unlike previous wars, a significant number of important British poets served as soldiers. As one might expect, they composed poetry that reflected their experiences in battle, the conditions in the trenches and the spirit of the men they fought beside. Some of them died in battle: Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Sorley and Wilfred Owen. The ones that survived, like Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney and Robert Graves, were deeply affected by the horrors of war and their work demonstrates their traumatization.

In Westminster Abbey, Poet’s Corner is a section of the South Transept. Among the graves and other memorials of Britain’s famous poets, lies a stone slab wth the names of the War Poets inscribed on it. It’s also inscribed with words from Wilfred Owen’s “Preface” …

“My subject is war, and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity.”

Anthologies of these poems have been compiled, some even while the war raged on. In my collection of War Poems: Men Who March Away, published 50 years after the war, the editor has grouped the collection by date, giving the reader a glimpse of how attitudes toward the war changed over time. The soldiers faced not only the enemy in battle but also the terrible conditions in the trenches – the barrage of shelling from enemy artillery, interspersed with dreadful periods of waiting.

The first poet on the list is Richard Aldington. He joined the British Army in 1916 and was wounded in 1917. He never really recovered from the war, suffering from what we now know to be post traumatic stress disorder. Nevertheless, he went on to write more poetry, a war novel and a controversial biography of T.E. Lawrence. His poetry is in the style of free verse. Here is his poem:  Bombardment.

Bombardment – Richard Aldington

Four days the earth was rent and torn
By bursting steel,
The houses fell about us;
Three nights we dared not sleep,
Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
Which meant our death.

The fourth night every man,
Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
Slept, muttering and twitching,
While the shells crashed overhead.

The fifth day there came a hush;
We left our holes
And looked above the wreckage of the earth
To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
Across the untroubled blue.

Poppies – image via Pixabay; The War Poets in Westminster Abbey – photo my own

Louie St. Louis

Louie St. Louis was a rogue of a man
With slick moves and great style
Smelled of smoke and red wine
Liked to dance with the ladies
Till the wee hours of the night
Made outrageous promises, all of them lies
Lure them back to his rooms
With sweet words and soft kisses
But a dance with the Devil was the fate of these Misses

Inspired by the street art of Amsterdam. Google Images.

Self-publishing on Amazon – The Basics

When your book is finished and you are ready to take the step of self-publishing.

While I will not try to tell you I’m an expert, because I’m sure there are tricks and tips of which I’m not aware, I have self published four times and am contemplating it once again. I can at least run through the basics for you. Here’s a look at what you’re in for if you go the self-publishing route.

Amazon, aka Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is without a doubt, the name of the self publishing game. They have the largest share of the e-book market. The Amazon subsidiary, Createspace, allows you to self publish your novel in paperback format, too. Both KDP and Createspace have straightforward, step-by-step guides for uploading your book.

Two things to have ready before you start:

  1. The “book blurb” or synopsis. Write a paragraph or two that summarizes the novel’s plot without giving too much away. You need this if you’re sending query letters to agents, too. The idea is to convey the mystery and suspense of the book, hooking the reader (or the agent) into wanting to read the whole thing.
  2. The author bio. It can feel really weird to talk about yourself, especially if this is your first book. You have no accomplishments to list, no writing credentials, no awards, no “best selling” status, nothing. While I was preparing for publishing the first time, I did a little reading on writing a bio and I found a nice bit of advice. Basically, write something unique about yourself. What motivated you to write, or what do you love about books? Add something a little personal and/or quirky. (If you are not a quirky person, ignore.)

Writing the blurb and the bio really deserve posts of their own, but for now let’s pretend you know what you’re doing. Once you have those two things composed, you are ready to start the process.  Here’s how it goes:

  • Enter the book’s title (hopefully, it rocks!), the subtitle (if there is one), the series title and volume number (if you are writing a series) and the book’s description (blurb).  Under this section will be a box for you enter an ISBN (International standard book number).  You don’t need one for an e-book.  They will instead assign it an ASIN (Amazon standard identification number).  I’ve linked to Wikipedia rather than try to explain here.
  • Establish publishing rights.  Wait, what?  This threw me for a loop at first.  Fortunately, there was a handy dandy little question mark to click on for frequently asked questions.  Bottom line:  you wrote it, you own the rights to it automatically.  Do read about it though, if you have any concerns.
  • Target your customers.  This is where you will select the category/genre your book will be marketed in.  There are subcategories, so be as specific as possible.  My first book is “Fiction: Romance: Suspense,” for example.
  • Release options.  You can choose to publish immediately or have your book ready for pre-order and release on a later date.
  • Create your cover. You can use the templates and photos Kindle and CreateSpace offer, but I don’t recommend it. You may discover other novels or even other types of books with the exact same format and photo. At a minimum, upload your own photo to a basic template. You can buy stock photos from Shutterstock, iStock and other photography websites. I am fortunate to have a graphic designer in my circle of friends. He has been doing all my covers since I bungled the first one. That’s a story for another day.
  • Upload your manuscript.  If you write on a Mac like me, you need to first export your file to a PDF or Word document before you upload.
  • Preview your uploaded work.  The online previewer shows you exactly what it’s going to look like on your e-reader.  Some funky issues might arise.  In my first book, I had included diary entries and letters in the manuscript.  On my computer, I had typed them to be indented on both sides and they looked perfectly fine.  On the uploaded version, however, they were all over the place. I had to go back and change all the indents so it didn’t look like a monkey had typed it! That kind of thing could happen with poetry too, so be careful with the formatting.
  • Rights and pricing.  First, choose where the book will be distributed.   Why you would choose any other option than worldwide, I have no idea.  Next, KDP will suggest a price for the book based on the word count, but you can set the price wherever you like.  You can also choose two options for your royalties: either 35% or 70%.  The 35% option is for books priced less than $2.99 USD.  If you price it at $2.99 or more, then you can select 70% royalties.  I assume it works the same for other currencies.
  • Enroll in KDP select.  Hold on, now.  What’s this?  This option gives KDP the exclusive rights to publish your e-book.  In exchange, they do a little promotion and marketing for you.  You may not want to choose this option  Why?  Because it prevents you from using Apple’s iBooks, or Nook and Kobo to publish your e-book. Your book will be exclusive to Amazon.  Not saying that’s a bad thing; my experience with KDP has been good.  Anyway, I’ve read differing opinions on the subject, which only serves to muddy the waters.  I won’t share them here.  You must decide for yourself.
  • Hit publish!!!!  Woo hoo! Within a few hours (they always say 12 but it never takes that long) your book will be available for purchase for Kindle and the Kindle app on a multitude of devices. You are now a published author. How cool is that?

If you also want to have your book available in paperback, CreateSpace will give you that option.  But this is enough for one post. I’ll discuss CreateSpace and paper publishing another time.

Header Image via Flickr


Little Cuts (3) Oliver

If you’re just joining me…  part one; part two.

I had gone too far. I saw the look of pity in Elaine’s eyes and I knew. She knew. To this point, she had probably thought it was harmless flirting. But the truth was, I was in love with my best friend’s wife. And now with a few softly spoken words, I’d let her see the depth of my feelings for her. Maybe I could get out of this. I was a bullshit artist, after all. As a salesman, I dealt in bullshit every day of my life. So I laughed.

“You know I can’t stand not to be the center of attention, Lainey,” I said, with a wink.

She let out the breath she had been holding. “Oh, Oliver,” she said, giving my hand a playful smack. “Go on. What were you saying?”

I picked up the story from where I’d left off. Elaine’s husband James, had reached across the table to squeeze my wife’s hand and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by either myself or Elaine. But I was past giving a shit what Gen did.

Cold hearted, self centered bitch. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking getting myself tangled up with the ice queen, but here I was. In the beginning I was smitten. She was everything I admired– smart, beautiful, artistic, cultured, and socially conscious. We’d met at one of the gala functions my company sponsored for its clients. Genevieve had been pressed into attending to win additional funding for the liberal think tank she worked for. As the top salesman for financial products, it was a given that I would attend.

When Genevieve entered the room, all eyes turned. She was tall, a natural blonde, with blue eyes the color of the arctic sea. When I introduced myself, she was polite but didn’t smile. That should’ve been my first clue. Nevertheless, I pursued her with the same dogged determination I would have used on a million dollar investor. When I finally won her over, I had felt like I’d won the lottery. I had a beautiful wife with an important job. She was a brilliant conversationalist with opinions on all the current issues. We’d stay up late debating politics, social issues, philosophy. She, of course, being better informed on all those topics, always won the argument. But at the time I enjoyed the banter.

We’d been married for three years when I raised the subject of children. She had off-handedly remarked while we were dating that she didn’t want any children. I didn’t take her seriously. And, I had thought, if she was serious, she would change her mind. So on our third anniversary, when we had come home from our favorite restaurant, I had taken her to bed, made love to her and afterwards, as she lay in my arms, said maybe it was time we thought about having a baby. She looked at me like I had just asked her to cut off a limb.

“A baby?” she asked with a snort. “You’re funny, Ollie.”

I had pulled her close and kissed her. “No. I mean it. I want us to have a baby.”

She pushed away, holding me at a distance. “You’re serious.”

I nodded.

She slid from beneath the sheets and grabbed for her robe. “Oliver, I told you long ago I didn’t want to have children. Nothing’s changed.”

“Why?” I had asked, propping myself up on one arm.

“Oliver, do you know what I deal with every day when I go to work?” It was a rhetorical question. I wasn’t meant to respond. “Suffering.” She began pacing. “Suffering, poverty, disease, famine, the effects of war on ravaged populations. I read reports of men raping and killing young women in the name of their cause. I see the same young women who have been raped being put to death because they ‘dishonored’ their families. I see pre-pubescent girls having their genitals mutilated in the name of religious tradition. I see young boys being sent to fight in militias before they even reach their tenth birthdays. I see the disobedient being beheaded. I see the faithful strapping suicide bombs to their bodies and walking into crowded marketplaces. That’s the world you want to bring another child into?”

“Gen,” I said softly. “Children are the future. Our future.”

“Not my future.” She turned her back on me.

“Can we at least think about it? It doesn’t have to be now. We have plenty of time. Maybe in a few years….”

She was shaking her head. “Absolutely not. I will never, ever change my mind, Oliver.”

I dropped the subject. I hadn’t meant to ruin our evening, but I had. “Gen, come back to bed.”

An entire year passed before I tried again. We visited her family for the holidays. Her brother had two children, her sister had three more and her parents hinted with hopeful expectation, that their youngest child would soon follow suit. Gen had joked with them light-heartedly and laughed it off. With just that tiny sliver of encouragement, I foolishly raised the subject in the car on the way home. It had once again led to an argument, with Gen giving all the same reasons she had before. Suffering. Violence. Poverty. War. Disease. Every word was another little cut in my heart. I loved kids. I wanted to be a father. I never imagined that I wouldn’t have that chance.

It became a wedge between us. A wedge so divisive that even images of happy families on television or in the movies would have Gen stiffen and brace for a fight. Not talking about having a family devolved into not talking at all. Gen lost weight as if to emphasize her already boyish figure. It was like she was saying, “See, Ollie? I’m not made for making babies.” And I began to suspect the real reason she didn’t want a baby was vanity. God forbid, she added a little flesh to those bones.

And that’s about the time, when James introduced us to Elaine.

I looked across the table at her now. She was everything Genevieve was not. Her dark eyes shone with warmth and humor. She smiled wide and often. She was animated, outgoing, and effortlessly sexy. Luscious. Curvy. I couldn’t help but touch her. I’d even kissed her once, when the four of us were saying goodnight after another dinner together. It had been dark so I was sure James hadn’t seen. I tried to make it appear playful but I had needed to taste her sweet lips. She hadn’t seemed to mind. Or at least she hadn’t objected. Not having her was an agony.

“Ollie?” Elaine said, breaking my reverie. “Now who’s ignoring who?” She smiled and her adorable dimples appeared. “You’re a million miles away.”

I took her hand and played with the ring on her finger. “Maybe you should join me.”

To be continued.

(Header image via Pinterest)

The Neighbor – A Short Story (2)

Read part one, here.

Part Two

Adam hurriedly removed the gag. “My god, what’s happened to you?”

The young woman coughed. “That woman… the nurse,” she rasped.

“Martina? Miss Dietrich’s caregiver?”

“I suppose, yes. She’s keeping me prisoner.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know. I came here a few weeks ago…” she paused, coughed again. “My mother…” tears filled her eyes. “She… could be dead by now…”

Adam frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“My mother, she’s very ill. She sent me… to find her own mother.”

“Miss Dietrich?”

She nodded.

“Then your mother is…?”

“Her name is Evangeline Caldwell,” she said. “And she just found out she was adopted.”

“Alright, you can tell me the whole story later. We have to get you out of here before Martina comes home. Tell me your name.”

“Elise. Elise Caldwell,” she replied.

“Ok, Elise, I’ll be right back.”

Adam hurried back to the second floor and his apartment. He grabbed a kitchen knife and his phone and began dialing 911 as he rushed back up the stairs. After reaching the emergency operator, he gave her what little facts he had, the address of the house and the name of the caretaker who had yet to return from her shopping excursion.

Adam cut the through the rope binding Elise to the old wrought iron bed. She rubbed her wrists together and got shakily to her feet.

“Can you walk?” Adam asked.

“I … I think so.”

Adam put an arm around her shoulders and brought her to his apartment. The sound of sirens wailing rapidly got closer. He settled Elise on the sofa, got her a glass of water, then hurried to the front door to admit the officers when they pulled up in front. Miss Dietrich poked her head out the door of her ground floor residence.

“My gracious, Adam! What on earth is going on?” she asked.

“No time, Miss Dietrich. Stay inside and I’ll explain later.”

The police officers followed Adam to his second floor apartment where Elise sat huddled in the corner of the sofa. One of the officers introduced herself as Detective Banks, then sat on the accompanying chair and leaned in. Gently she asked her to start at the beginning and tell her what had happened.

“A few months ago, April I guess, my mom fell ill. She found out she has a very aggressive cancer. One of the only treatment options she had available to her was to have bone marrow transplants. Of course, the first people they test to find a match are your family members. I wasn’t a match, neither was my brother. They asked if she had other relatives… that’s when my grandmother told her… she was adopted. So besides my brother and myself, there was no one else to test, unless…”

“Unless you found the birth parents.”

Elise nodded. “And possibly other siblings. My gran knew about Miss Dietrich. She had contacted gran years ago, hoping that maybe she’d get to meet the daughter she gave away. Gran was reluctant and never acted on the offer. She said that Miss Dietrich never pushed. But now…”

“Everything changed.”

“It might be the difference between life and death for my mom.”

“So then what happened?” Detective Banks asked.

Elise took a deep breath and continued, “Gran gave me the address she had for Miss Dietrich and I wrote a letter explaining who I was. I gave her my lawyer’s name and phone number so she could make sure I was who I said. My lawyer said he’d been contacted and he’d verified my identity. After that everything went quiet. Mom got progressively worse. I got desperate. I wrote again but heard nothing back. Miss Dietrich’s phone number is unlisted so I couldn’t call. So… I decided to try in person.”

“And that was what? Two weeks ago?”

Elise nodded. “I think so. June 3rd. But I’ve lost track of the days.”

Adam said, “That is the same weekend I moved in upstairs.”

“When I arrived at the house, Martina, the nurse answered the door.”

“And her last name…?”

“She introduced herself as Martina, no last name.”

The detective turned to Adam. “Do you know her full name?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, no. You’ll have to ask Miss Dietrich.”

“Alright, Ms. Caldwell, continue.”

“I explained who I was and asked if it would be possible to speak to Miss Dietrich. It was mid morning but she said Miss Dietrich was still in bed. But she said I was welcome to wait and invited me in. She was very friendly. I had no idea… ” She stopped, had a sip of water before going on. “She asked me all sorts of questions. Where did I live, was I married, did I have brothers and sisters, what did I do for work and so forth. Nothing that aroused my suspicion. After a bit, she asked if I’d like tea or coffee while I waited and I said, sure, coffee would be nice. She went off to the kitchen to get it and then we continued talking while I sipped and I started getting sleepy… and when I woke up, I was in that awful room, tied up to the bed.”

“And you have no idea why she was keeping you prisoner? Did she tell you anything?” the detective asked.

Elise shook her head as fresh tears spilled over. “No, she didn’t talk to me at all except to give me orders. She came up a few times a day to let me use the bathroom and to bring me a little food and water. In the evenings, she’d let me shower, but she never left me alone.”

“Is that when you’d sing?” Adam asked.

Elise looked at him, surprised. “You heard me?”

“Every night,” he confirmed. “At the same time I smelled the overpowering scent of roses.”

She grimaced. “The horrid bath soap I had to use. I even had to wash my hair with it.” She swallowed hard. “I didn’t figure anyone would hear… and I’m not sure why, but I think the nurse got some kind of perverse pleasure from hearing me sing.”

“Why the same song over and over?” he asked.

She gave him a sad smile. “It’s the only song I know all the words by heart. My mom used to sing it to my brother and me when we were little.”

“Miss Dietrich told me she used to sing it to Evangeline… I mean your mother, when she was a baby.”

“Alright,” interrupted Detective Banks. “Did she hurt you, threaten you, lead you to believe your life was in danger?”

Elise shivered. “She has a small handgun. She brought it with her every time she came up to the room. I had no chance to scream or make a break for it. I don’t know if she would have used it or not.”

“I think maybe I better go have a word with the lady of the house. Wait here and I’ll be right back.”

The detective gestured for her partner to follow, leaving Elise in the care of the paramedics who had also been summoned to the scene. Adam stepped out of the way while they checked her vitals signs and performed some neurological tests. There was a shout and some commotion on the ground level which drew Adam to the window. The detectives had run out the front door and begun shouting orders to the other police officers waiting at the front of the home, after which they scattered in all directions.

Soon a breathless Detective Banks returned to the apartment. “You’re sure Miss Dietrich was home alone? That Martina hadn’t somehow managed to get past you before we arrived?”

“I… I don’t think so…” he said uncertainly. “Why?”

“Miss Dietrich is missing.”

To be continued.

Header image thanks to Max Pixel.