Jane Austen. Edgar Allan Poe. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maya Angelou. Ernest Hemingway. To me, they were literary rock stars, who played the written word like Eric Clapton plays his guitar, Billy Joel his piano and Phil Collins the drums.

Each of these authors has influenced what I read, and not surprisingly, what and how I write. They’ve moved and inspired me with their stories, passages and verses.  And each time I “jam” to their work, I learn more about a character or uncover a theme that might have escaped me the first time around.

Probably my first and strongest influence in writing is American writer, commentator, activist, and educator—Nikki Giovanni. Over the years, I’ve swayed to the rhythmic verses of “Ego Tripping,” and felt spiritually and humanly empowered as I read, “Those Who Ride the Night Winds,” a collection of her poems dedicated to “the day trippers and midnight cowboys, … who have shattered the constraints of the status quo to live life as a “marvelous, transitory adventure.”

The author of 27 books, a Grammy nominee, and now a professor of English at Virginia Tech, Ms. Giovanni still moves me. And isn’t it the very nature of a writer’s existence? To move others? To enlighten others?

After all these years, I still want to be like Ms Giovanni–embracing my thoughts and my work without the internal editor or virtual someone looking over my shoulder. I will be forever grateful to Ms. Nikki Giovanni for her masterful command of the written word and her fierce grasp on what makes us think.  She rocks.

Nikki_Giovanni_speaking_at_Emory_University_2008

Who’s your literary rock star?

Write like a rock star …

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No man (or writer) is an island …

Living a writer’s life leaves many of us hovering over our computers and notepads, yet we shouldn’t forget that our solitary “islandlike” existence intertwines with others.

Our literary endeavors may be depend upon our individual prose, style and craft. But our work ultimately relies on the feedback from someone other than our characters. We depend on editors, agents critiquing partners, readers and yes, other writers to offer guidance, help and encouragement.

Therefore, I’m pleased to promote a fellow author’s invitation to name her latest book.

Jordan K. Rose pens novels that will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, and her next book is sure to do the same. But she’s looking for a few good ideas for a title. And you can help!

Just click on the promotional box above (or to the left) to enter Jordan’s NameThatBook contest and let your creative juices flow. Have a little fun, and receive recognition if your title wins.

The writing community spans countries and continents, yet I find it to be surprisingly small and intimate, where everyone knows someone and where good deeds and well wishes are shared for years to come.

So, send a good wish and a little help to fellow writer, Jordan K. Rose. Enter the contest, and NameThatBook!

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, By John Donne, 1624

An epitaph and iambic pentameter: the start of my career

I mentioned previously that my earliest recollection of wanting to be a writer was in high school. My aspirations, which started with poetry, were nurtured by my eleventh grade English teacher and an assignment that would forever change my life.

My English teacher had us analyze 10 poems using iambic pentameter, where we’d recognize the rhythms, as well as stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. In addition, we had to write 10 poems, and also analyze them using iambic pentameter. I absolutely loved that assignment!

While most of my 17-year old classmates groaned and complained that they couldn’t write poetry, I happily took on the challenge. In addition, one of our poems had to be an epitaph that we would like to have carved on our grave.

A morbid ask? No way! (Hey, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare were my favorite writers even at that age.)

So, I wrote my epitaph:

“Remember me always,
How I tried and didn’t try
Remember me always
How I loved life and loved you
Remember me always”

Simplistic and to the point.

From a 17-year, I’d say rather thoughtful and honest. I remember writing that with all the people I loved in mind: my family, and friends. Even back then, I knew there were days when I didn’t do my best, and I acknowledged that. I was taught to be honest, (One of the many things I love about my parents, imparting this wisdom) and if I couldn’t be honest with myself, I was in trouble.

Anyway, my English teacher loved my poetry, particularly my epitaph. I received an “A” for the complete assignment. But most of all, I received the biggest boost in my confidence to pursue a career in writing. After majoring in English in college, I went on to write speeches, newspaper articles and now, novels. I still dabble from time to time in poetry.

Midway through my junior year in high school, shortly after my momentous poetry assignment, they fired my English teacher. My classmates and I were stunned.

I was crushed. My cheerleader was gone.

We never really knew what happened. However, we speculated that she was let go after her sexual preference was discovered. (We were 17, not stupid) After all, it was the 1970’s and people were fighting, as they are now, for their right to exist.

As for my epitaph, it hasn’t changed much. I will probably use it when the time comes. After so many decades, I’m amazed at how introspective I was as a junior in high school.

I owe that to my parents, and to Ms. Craig, my English teacher, for encouraging me to set my thoughts free.