My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,

     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

     She walks the sodden pasture lane.


Her pleasure will not let me stay.

     She talks and I am fain to list:

She’s glad the birds are gone away,

She’s glad her simple worsted gray

     Is silver now with clinging mist.


The desolate, deserted trees,

     The faded earth, the heavy sky,

The beauties she so truly sees,

She thinks I have no eye for these,

     And vexes me for reason why.


Not yesterday I learned to know

     The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow,

But it were vain to tell her so,

     And they are better for her praise.


~ Robert Frost


"Autumn" by Carl Fredrik Hill, 1877

“Autumn” by Carl Fredrik Hill, 1877


Four months ago, I bemoaned the fact that 2014 was half over, and I had not written any new chapters (“This is That Summer”). The novel I have been crafting intermittently for the last six years, Time of Death, is also the thesis for my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Chapman University, so the pressure to finish has been intense, to say the least.

In January, I carefully planned the year, as I always do, dedicating the first five months to the enormous reading load for my last class at Chapman and an overdue and ostensibly quick and simple home remodel. The entire summer, September, and October were allocated to completing and submitting the manuscript by the fall deadline of October 29.

At the time of that post in June, I was fifty-five pages away from finishing the narrative and needed to write a ten-page critical statement of my work, as well.

I dug in.

My writer demon was ever-present, scoffing at every new bit of dialogue and mocking every plot twist. I ignored him and focused on my protagonist, Fawn Evans, and on telling her story. The work has been both exhilarating and excruciating as new chapters were written and old chapters were revised seemingly ad infinitum to achieve cohesion.

Revision, I have found, is an exasperating, interminable process, especially for a perfectionist; I am never unreservedly pleased with any passage, so any declaration of its completion is nebulous at best. Even now, as I admire the bound manuscript I will be delivering to my thesis committee tomorrow, I know that, within the span of thirty or so days, innumerable deficiencies will have been identified and addressed with mortification at their untimely discovery.

That fact notwithstanding, I am proud of this journey to date and excited about the opportunity to defend my work in November. As both the author and heroine of this immense project, I am rooting for Fawn on each page and, in doing so, am rooting for myself.


Paul Hoecker-Vally, 1888

Paul Hoecker-Vally, 1888

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.

Nor the woman in the ambulance

Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly –


A gift, a love gift

Utterly unasked for

By a sky


Palely and flamily

Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes

Dulled to a halt under bowlers.


O my god, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.


~ Sylvia Plath, from Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1992)


"Oriental Poppies" by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

“Oriental Poppies” by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

With the first of November just around the corner, writers everywhere are stockpiling food and saying farewell to their family and friends as they prepare to hole up in their writing caves until December 1. November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, an annual internet-based creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

The project was founded by Chris Baty in 1999 with twenty-one participants, and the official NaNoWriMo website was launched the following year. The number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and the affiliate Young Writers Program and official podcast were developed in 2005.  In 2010, over 200,000 writers registered for the challenge, and nearly three billion new words were written.  A summer version of NaNoWriMo (Camp NaNoWriMo) was introduced in 2011.

Many of us in Chapman University’s MFA program have impending thesis deadlines, and the NaNoWriMo challenge gives us the perfect opportunity and support to complete this critical component of our degree requirements, particularly if we have decided to start a new project for the thesis or complete a novel rather than a collection of short stories.

The novel can be on any theme and in any genre. However, it cannot be a project already in progress.  Writing of the new novel cannot have commenced prior to midnight on November 1, and the 50,000-word mark must be reached by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs and guidelines, visit the website at www.nanowrimo.org.

Have fun, and good luck!



The Ghost

SOFTLY as brown-eyed Angels rove

I will return to thy alcove,

And glide upon the night to thee,

Treading the shadows silently.


And I will give to thee, my own,

Kisses as icy as the moon,

And the caresses of a snake

Cold gliding in the thorny brake.


And when returns the livid morn

Thou shalt find all my place forlorn

And chilly, till the falling night.


Others would rule by tenderness

Over thy life and youthfulness,

But I would conquer thee by fright!


~ Charles Baudelaire


"William and Margaret from Percy's 'Reliques of Ancient English Poetry'" by Joseph Wright of Derby, circa 1785

“William and Margaret from Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry” by Joseph Wright of Derby, circa 1785


Gold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southwest moon,

Canada-thistle blue and flimmering larkspur blue,

Tomatoes shining in the October sun with red hearts,

Shining five and six in a row on a wooden fence,

Why do you keep wishes on your faces all day long,

Wishes like women with half-forgotten lovers going to new cities?

What is there for you in the birds, the birds, the birds crying down

     on the north wind in September – acres of birds spotting the

     air going south?


Is there something finished?  And some new beginning on the way?


                                                                           ~ Carl Sandburg


"Oat Field" by Karl Nordstrom, 1887

“Oat Field” by Karl Nordstrom, 1887

Autumn Song

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf

How the heart feels a languid grief

     Laid on it for a covering,

     And how sleep seems a goodly thing

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?


And how the swift beat of the brain

Falters because it is in vain,

     In Autumn at the fall of the leaf

     Knowest thou not? and how the chief

Of joys seems – not to suffer pain?


Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf

How the soul feels like a dried sheaf

     Bound up at length for harvesting,

     And how death seems a comely thing

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?


         ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti


"Falling Leaves" by Philip de Laszlo, 1895

“Falling Leaves” by Philip de Laszlo, 1895


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