Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: Writing (page 2 of 10)

Posts about writing, editing, publishing, and blogging

NaPoWriMo Redux

For the third year in a row, I attempted the NaPoWriMo poem-a-day thing. I managed 34 poems, one each day, 22 of which were small stones and the rest longer form poems. I always have mixed feelings about this as it tends to upset my usual inclination to do some revision before posting. Not that there wasn’t revision, just very little. Still, I think I have some things to work with.

In the past, I’ve managed to write a few April poems that I wind up liking, but this year I’m not so sure. I’m just happy that I was able to write every day, something of a small accomplishment in and of itself. For a while now, the past year really, I’ve been trying to find a way back into daily writing and now that sleep and restful nights are becoming more common, I’m finding the time to get back in touch with that part of myself.

As I said a few years ago after napowrimo, the time spent not writing is just as important as the time spent writing and that hasn’t changed, but carving out a little time to write has brought a bit more balance and even clarity to my days. I am the sort of writer who writes regardless of whether or not inspiration strikes, but if I don’t write every day, I won’t be ready when it does.

I’m still trying to make sense of writing and my relationship to it. I suppose I always will, but I do know that sitting and writing something—anything—every day is critically important whether what I write is good or a rambling post like this one.


Kudos to some of my fellow poem-a-day writers: Deb, Angie and Joseph whose poems I read and greatly enjoyed even if I didn’t comment as much as I should have.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the arrival of my copies of two new books: Ancient Lights by Dick Jones and The Most Beautiful Thing by Fiona Robyn.

My Writing Space

I’ve got a guest post up over at AGGASPLETCH. It’s part of mark Stratton’s Writing Space series in which he invites writers to write about their writing spaces. Check it out and have a look around while you’re there. In addition to his own poems, mark also posts a number of interviews with other writers. Mark is the author of Tender Mercies: Poetry.


Deb Scott over at Stony Moss wrote a nice post about how Birds Nobody Loves looks, works and reads on iPads, Kindles and paper so I figured I’d put something up here by way of explaining how it came to exist in its various forms.

I kicked around the idea of doing Birds Nobody Loves as an e-book but an illustrated book of poetry seemed like it would carry a pretty steep learning curve for a first e-book what with the whole line break issue and that kept me from pursuing it until I read NS’s Dark and Like a Web on my phone (before buying the paperback) and saw how well it worked. I read her blog posts on the subject and learned how she used Dave Bonta’s hanging indent solution in her e-books and so, I decided to give it a try.

I coded the EPUB version of Birds Nobody Loves using eCub. It was surprisingly easy for me considering I’ve spent a lot of time playing with the HTML and CSS on this blog over the years. That was the biggest surprise for me: an e-book is nothing but a series of web pages governed by a CSS file. Who knew?

It wasn’t long before I had an EPUB file that looked great on my phone and that took my breath away when I saw it on a borrowed iPad, which rendered the illustrations beautifully. And, the hanging indents worked too.

Next up was Kindle-izing the thing, which required a conversion to MOBI format. ECub works with Amazon’s Kindlegen to create a MOBI file but when I checked it in Amazon’s Kindle previewer, which lets you see what your book looks like on various Kindle devices, I was horrified to learn that while it looked great on the Fire it looked awful on all the other Kindles. I could “fix” this by removing the hanging indent code, which made it look okay across all devices but the poetry would lose the formatting if the reader made the font too big.

I messed around with the code for the better part of the day and then gave up, figuring I could either ditch the whole hanging indent idea for Kindles or just not release it for Kindle at all. I thought there had to be a way for the book to know what kind of device it was being played on and then serve up the hanging indent CSS if it was being played on a Fire, but how?

And here’s yet another reason why I love the Internet: there’s always someone smarter out there with the same problem I’m working on. That very night, Liz Castro at Pigs, Gourds and Wikis posted an excellent tutorial on how to get hanging indents in a poetry e-book (using the same technique Dave worked out) and how to make them work on ALL Kindle devices by having the book serve CSS geared toward whichever Kindle device was playing the book. It took less than 10 minutes to have the Kindle version working perfectly.

The Nook was another matter. The EPUB file seems to play well on my Dad’s Nook but when I uploaded it to the Nook Store, I found that Barnes & Noble seems to make changes to the file that destroy all the line breaks. Either that or the Nook doesn’t read EPUB like Apple’s products. So, sorry Nook users, I haven’t solved that one yet.

After that it was easy to upload the book to Lulu, the iBookstore and the Kindle Store.

Now, go pay Deb a visit and see what she has to say about it. And then read her blog.

Plunging Back into the River of Stones

I saw this video Beth Adams posted at Cassandra Pages a month or so ago and keep coming back to it as I start off on another River of Stones challenge. I began 2011 the same way and resolved to maintain the daily practice for a full year, at least. I made it to August 23 and then… school started, I ran out of ways to say the drought was slowly killing my state, it was too hot and the air too full of smoke and ash to want to go outside. Other things to do, and then, the world just went right on. It started raining (not enough, but it did) the weather cooled, I started sleeping again and then the year was at its end.

For the previous two years I’ve picked some favorite stones and made them into a chapbook to give away, but there wasn’t one for 2011. I just didn’t have time, couldn’t make the time (but mark did and he said his lovely Postmarks chap was partially inspired by my gnarled oaks) and then… I don’t know, I just wound up feeling like I’d let go of something important that I hadn’t meant to let slip and that was the practice of seeing, paying attention, and then recording my observations. I don’t know if it makes me a better writer to do this, I suppose it does, but I do think it makes me a better, or perhaps, more thoughtful person. As I’ve done before here, I paraphrase Pirsig in Motorcycle Maintenance: you are the cycle you’re working on. Writing stones isn’t about the writing, it’s about growing by connecting with a world spinning so fast as to seem out of control.

We have bags of clothes our six-month-old has outgrown. When we went to buy him some new clothes, we were shocked by how small all the three-month-old clothes were. Was he ever really that small? Where did the time go and how on earth did it disappear so quickly. It was only just July.

So, marking time, reflecting on it and slowing it and me down enough to really reside for a few moments in its stream… those are good reasons to start afresh observing and writing stones. As the video above reminds us each year is a collection of days, each kind of the same but passing quickly, sometimes too fast for the eye to take much of it beyond the larger picture. Thus the beauty, the importance, of small stones and the kind of awareness they engender when we set out to really pay attention.

Thanks, Fiona and Kaspa, for the river. I’m eager to dive back in.

I post my stones at my other blog, a gnarled oak. Please stop by and hopefully I’ll make it beyond August 23 this time out.

Now We Are Six

This blog turns six today. Much has changed in that time, especially in the past few months as I’ve become a dad and find less time for writing. A lot of things in life suddenly seem to… I don’t know… shine?… in new ways. Everything I do and see comes filtered through this peculiar prism. Shine isn’t quite right, though because there’s murkiness too, flowers lit by starlight. An opaque shining, if such a thing can be, because it’s a matter of depth too. There are layers to every decision, every action, and every thing I see or read about that weren’t there before. The recent death of a good friend, a news story about a child abduction, species sliding toward extinction, this infernal drought.

And so I’m not always quite sure what to write or even think about these things. The world is strange and different now, and that is wonderful for someone like me who likes a healthy dose of the unknown out there in front of me. But as much as there is to process and contemplate, I find on most days that I’d rather sit around and play with my almost four-month-old son than sit in front of the computer trying to make sense of it all. Maybe sense shouldn’t be made, at least not yet.

Since the little guy was born, we’ve had to rethink every aspect of how we do even the most mundane things. Not why we do them but the actual mechanics of getting out the door to go to a restaurant or over to someone’s house. The dishes or dinner. I used to buy corn tortillas and fry my own taco shells, now they come from a box. Finding time to read or write is trickier than ever. Still, I’m a writer and a writer’s gotta write. Right? (Ouch, couldn’t resist).

That’s still there, then, albeit slightly submerged and waiting to be fished out. Perhaps that’s why I find myself writing more these days on scraps of paper and in the notes app on my phone, but lately, I’ve been wanting to get back into writing and photography and posting more regularly. I still have this love affair with blogging, I guess, and I miss it even if blogging feels more and more like a transitional moment, the CD step between analog and mp3.

Now, at six, I’m hoping to get back to posting more regularly, at some point if not right away. This blog has opened too many doors and led me to too many interesting people and places, so I’m not done even if I may have been a little quieter of late. So, thanks for reading, you happy few who come ‘round here still. As always, I do appreciate it.

Resolving to Walk into Writing

Black vultures on the neighbor's roof

I want to get back to my practice of taking (at least) weekly walks down the neighborhood trail. I have missed that quiet, open time that had been such a part of ’09 and then dropped almost as soon as ’10 was in the door. I suppose that without the commitment to count birds once a week, it was too easy to find other things to do. Too easy to be too busy.

Lately I’ve been realizing what an effect this not-walking the pond trail had on me: I felt more rushed and hurried and short of time last year. Too often empty when I sat to write poetry and telling myself that I was perhaps just too busy. When I walk and watch birds, investigate trees and follow butterflies, everything else slips away. There is a sort of purposeful emptying that occurs and yet, I also feel full when I get home. Not full in the sense of having overindulged, but full in the sense of fulfillment.

I’ve come to realize that these walks along the trails, the regular path to the pond and back, the place I always veer from the path to look for certain snakes in the summertime or certain birds or a deer bone that moves from time to time across a meadow… all of this adds to a sort of ritual (dare I say prayer or communion) that I have missed this past year.

And so, having learned my lesson the hard way (is there any other?), I suspect I’ll be taking those (at-least) weekly rambles again. I started on New Year’s Day, as if to make a statement to myself and also to collect a few stones, and it was a great half-hour. So simple, a half-hour-a-week, but those half-hours accumulate like compounding interest into so much more than just thirty short minutes.

Regarding my writing, I’ve felt uninspired lately. That’s not to say I’m not writing. I am. I’m just not happy with what I’m coming up with. It feels like wheels spinning, forward motion only a dream or perhaps an illusion. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. It seems an excuse. I mean, I can write. I do. It just hasn’t been flowing. Doors open, and I’m ambivalent at best about going through. As though I already know what’s out there, and without surprises, why not just stay home?

Perhaps getting outside on the little trails between the streets will help me find my way back to Mars—or at least the parts of Mars where the end of my novel still hides beneath billion year old sands. I know it will help uncover those things that make poems more than just words and line breaks.

Jumping into the river of stones has reminded me of the importance and, yes, pleasure of discipline in writing. Of being ready to meet the muse, if you will. That was my intent when I started a gnarled oak two years ago, but I slipped away from the discipline of doing that too and it became a too-sporadic thing. I plan to continue this daily practice when January rolls to a close. The kind of close observation and paying attention required is exactly the sort of practice I need—meditative and prayerful (there it is again) in some sense that goes far deeper than simply writing 2-3 lines of poetry or prose.

And it’s bigger than writing, of course, this walking and seeing. More important somehow than just a door to words. It’s a door to discovery and a deeper knowing of myself, the world around me and my place in it. Somehow, all these small things add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. Is it magical that so little time can be transformed into so much living? I feel like it is sometimes, I admit it, and so I resolve to perform at least a little more magic this year, careful always not to endanger anyone or turn myself into a toad.

(There are still a few gnarled oak chapbooks left. Let me know if you want one. They’re free and I’ll send them anywhere.)

Detail in the Shadows

I shot this walking back from my day in Central Park when we were in New York back in October. I was looking through the pictures with my wife the other night, skimming through them, and this one caught her eye. I’d glanced at it quickly before, but the more I looked, the more I liked it, probably because of the detail hiding in the shadows. Hidden details. We don’t always see them in our own work, do we? There’s a good reminder, I thought, of how valuable it is to have others checking out your work, seeing it differently and sometimes more clearly than we might ourselves.

Click the picture for a higher-res image.


Lately I’ve been trying to clean house. Not the physical house where I live, but the metaphorical house of my writing. It’s easy to write a bunch of poems and not do anything with them or send them out and not keep track of where they’ve gone and so they never get submitted or posted here.

It’s harder to forget a novel I’ve written, but easy to forget where and to whom I’ve submitted queries and pages. So I’m getting organized and in the process I’m realizing I have a lot of projects hanging: three chapbook manuscripts, two novels and one short story collection finished. Various poems in need of polish, submission, posting or all of the above. One novel halfway finished. A Place Without a Postcard in need of digitizing for ebook readers. A couple of videos to make.

That’s a lot to square away and finish (starting is so much more fun than finishing) and I’m also considering doing NaNoWriMo again. The question on that one, then, is what to write next month. I’m vacillating between finishing the unfinished novel I started last November and have hardly worked on since, or starting something altogether new that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

In the meantime, while weighing this decision, I’m trying to get the non-writing portion of my writing house in order. Trying to figure out where to begin. I suddenly realize I’ve opened all these doors (or perhaps cans of worms) and now have so many open, I hardly know where to begin. This is why companies hire project managers. Or maybe why they invented Ritalin—wait, gotta go, there’s something bright and shiny outside my window.


Five years ago today I began this little blog over on Blogger. Prior to installing WordPress, this was a static site I’d started back in 2003 where I occasionally posted short stories and poems, all hand-coded html, so Coyote Mercury has actually been around for 7 years, but the first post went up 5 years ago today.

It’s interesting to me how the site has taken shape and changed over the years and how it’s really become an important part of my writing practice. What I originally thought might be just a lark or a quick experiment somehow became more than that.

I’m all ragweeded out after a great ACL Fest (post forthcoming), so for today, I’ll just say thanks to everyone who has ever come around here to read, comment or link. I do appreciate it.

The Information Hike-and-Bike Trail

I’ve been thinking about blogging and the web lately. It seems quieter out here in blogland. Many of the blogs I read a long time ago have gone silent, just floating on the web like so much dotsam and netsam.

It sometimes seems there are fewer people just hanging around, clicking through from somewhere else or just exploring. Maybe we know this civilized web too well. The blogosphere isn’t the hip corner of the net it once was. It’s starting to feel more like a village after many of its inhabitants have urbanized and moved to the city.

I’m told that the web is moving to apps. That Twitter and Facebook won since they’re so phone friendly. I’ve experimented with Twitter and Facebook and over the past year. Of the three, was the most interesting. I suspect that has to do with its user base: creative types and tech-oriented people. Less of a feeling that you were being watched by corporations trying to figure out how to synergize e-business web-readiness (or even synergize backward overflow) and take over the whole thing.

Twitter is too much. Too much signal. Too much noise. I’m a teacher. I don’t have the kind of job where I can watch a fast-changing Twitter feed stream by, jumping in to offer my two cents and a hashtag before it all disappears. Perhaps I would like it if I had a cubicle job, but it’s just not something I’m able to keep up with. I feel like the guy in Shawshank Redemption who says the world just got itself in a big damn hurry.

Facebook is a little more interesting. I know that most of the people I know in the real world don’t come around my site much anymore, but I send the feed to Facebook and those who are interested read it there but as with Twitter, Facebook is something I’m not able to do at work (which is where I would bet most people do their social media thing). When I get home, I’m usually not interested as I’d rather spend my time writing something with a little more substance for my blog. A good blog post makes me feel good. Twitter and Facebook make me feel empty, like I’m faking my way through friendship and social interaction.

I’ve considered killing off my Facebook and Twitter accounts, but then there’s a voice in my head. It’s an old guy and he lived early in the twentieth century. He says, “Telephones! I hate them damn things. I’m getting rid of mine. It’s just a fad anyway.”

I don’t want to be the guy without a phone wondering why no one calls.

Still, I find the whole thing a little sad. What does it say about us as a culture when we so easily and willingly reject longer-form writing and leave the free open space of the wild internet to hunker down in Facebook and other walled gardens? I guess it’s the same thing Huck Finn was running from, those civilized faux Edens where Aunt Polly kept things orderly, decent and boring.

Keeping a blog these days makes me feel I’ve ridden out on the information superhighway but got off early and headed for the hills, jumped on the information hike-and-bike trail as it were.

I’m watching a train pull away, speeding ever faster toward short bursts of superficial contact. “I’ll call or text or tweet you,” the passengers say as they wave goodbye to the old curmudgeon still hanging out in the sticks. “Stay in touch.”

“Don’t worry,” I yell back. “I’ll write.”

If you’re interested, I am still on Twitter and I’m on Facebook too, but I only accept friend requests from people I know or e-know.

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