Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

When You Gotta Write Poetry

For the next few weeks, I will be running posts that appeared in blogs by my fellow authors and others. Here is one about writing poems for my latest mystery, Checking the Traps. Not my typical form of expression, but my victim and a suspect write poetry. So, I had to. This post appeared in author Angela Wren’s blog:

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I wrote poetry before I could write prose. I began in college, where I fancied myself a poet, and a few years afterward until real life, including having six kids and a 25-year writer’s block, took over. When I did resume writing, I turned to prose, that is, novels and short stories. I no longer wrote poetry. Ah, but that changed when I wrote the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

In Checking the Traps, Isabel is hired by a local bad boy drug dealer, Gary Beaumont, to find out how his half-brother died. Did Cary Moore jump from a bridge known for suicides or was he pushed? But what fires up Isabel’s interest in this case is that Cary drove heavy equipment by day and wrote poetry at night.

Gary lends Isabel the notebooks in which his half-brother transcribed all of his poems. As Isabel discovers, Cary’s poetry in the early books are really juvenile. But he gets better, well, enough that a famous poet uses the poems for his own in what turns out to be an award-winning book. (Yes, the poet is a suspect in the man’s death.)

Isabel also finds poetry that Cary wrote as gifts for other people.

So, that meant I had to write poetry, too, for this book.

Actually I found writing poetry wasn’t hard at all. I was able to channel that inner poet to come up with several complete poems plus lines from others. I tried to imagine what a man who had never gone farther than 100 miles from his country home would write about and how he would write it. I figured on a plain but sturdy style of writing. There would have lots of imagery from nature. The poems would not be long.

Poetry, including a reading where Isabel corners the famous poet, figures big in this book.

Did the experience inspire me to write more poetry? I will be honest and say no. But I enjoyed letting one of my characters do it instead.

Here’s an excerpt from Checking the Traps. Jack is the owner of the Rooster Bar, where Isabel works part-time. He’s also her love interest in this series.

Jack motions me to come behind the counter.

“I’ve got somethin’ to show you,” he says. “I forgot all about it. Here you go.”

Jack hands me a paper. I immediately recognize Cary Moore’s handwriting. It’s a poem he called “The Barman.” It’s a lot more sophisticated than his second book of poetry, aptly named Book Deuce, which I read this afternoon after Ma and I returned from our field trip and before I got myself ready for work. Cary got heavy into rhyming with Book Deuce. Sometimes it works, a lot of the time it doesn’t. They remind me of the poems I read when I was a kid in elementary school. It appears Cary read them, too.

But here’s “The Barman.”

What’ll it be tonight, boys?

The barman asks each one.

Give me some hope in a bottle.

Give me courage.

Give me love.

The barman laughs.

Sorry, boys, it’s only beer.

He even signed the bottom.

“I like it a lot,” I tell Jack. “You should frame it and hang it behind the bar. Want me to do that for you?”

Jack’s face squeezes into an amused squint.

“Really, Isabel?”

“Yeah, really, Jack. Let me put it in my bag.”


Dylan, Entertainment, poetry, Writing

Free Wheelin’ with Bob Dylan

For the past few weeks I’ve been on a Bob Dylan kick. I listen to Dylan on my short commute to and from work. I listen to him at home. I started on the early stuff and am working my way through most of his albums in our collection. I have my Dylan station on Pandora although I wished it played more of him and less of his musical kin.

I listened to Blonde on Blonde, twice, because I liked it so much. Now I am on John Wesley Harding. Next up is Nashville Skyline.

Do I like every song? No. And the lyrics of some of his earlier songs are undecipherable. But I can feel what he intended. As the salesman at the dealership said last week when he handed me the Blonde on Blonde CD I left in the car: “Dylan? He was a poet.”

Yes, Dylan’s music, at least in the stretch I am now listening, is poetry set to guitars and harmonicas.

And then, there are the lines where there is no mistaking what he meant. “You better start swimming or sink like a stone, cause the times they are a-changing.” “Heard ten thousand whispering and nobody listening. Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughing. Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter.”

I recall one time when I was in college, about the time that photo of me above was taken, when I stayed a couple of days in a cabin waiting for my boyfriend to arrive. He was my first real love but like so many boys then scared away. He took his time getting to the cabin because, unbeknownst to me, he was planning to end our relationship.

So I spent my time listening to Dylan — over and over and over. You know you know an album when you can sing the lyrics perfectly and predict the opening chords of the next song. I still remember.

I’ve stuck through Dylan through his many phases professionally and personally — well, I could have done without that embarrassing Victoria Secret ad — even to now when his voice has worn into a raspy growl.

Dylan’s produced an outstanding body of work. He changed the way people made music. He inspired change, too, in those who listened.

I have a long ways to go before I’m done with Dylan.

Now about that photo: My sister Christine sent the faded black and white photo and Katharine, the photographer at the newspaper, was able to work it up digitally. I remember the pink sunglasses and the shirt. I was in college but I don’t know who took the photo or who owned the car. I would say I look a little Dylanesque in that photo. And I like the curl at the top.


Buying the Fundamentals of Poetry

The book I’ve owned the longest is the Fundamentals of Poetry, a 32-page paperback I bought in the eighth grade. It’s water-stained and worn, but it has outlasted so many other books and moves.

I bought Fundamentals, published by The Language Kit Company of Chicago, through school. A teacher long ago wrote my first initial and Medeiros, the last name I was born with, on the front cover before she handed it to me.

I wanted to be a poet then, or at least understand how poetic English language works. I was fortunate to take a weekly creative writing class in fifth grade. Mr. Graves taught us about metaphors and similes, and how to use them. Unfortunately, my classroom teachers for the next few years didn’t.

The book is divided into these topics: meter; verse forms; devices of sound; devices of sense; stanza forms; special stanza forms; and poems for analysis.

So the dactylic foot contains three syllables with the stress on the first — like happiness and young again. And personification is the “giving of human characteristics to inanimate objects, ideas, or animals” such as a line from Sara Teasdale, “Bright April shakes out her rain-drenched hair.” At the end of the book, the reader is supposed to analyze Tenneyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

When I once was a poet, I used free verse, which “consists of lines that do not have a regular meter and do not contain rhyme.” Now, I write fiction. And, although I skip the parts about meter and verse forms, I still find this slim book as helpful as a ….