Rolling hills, steep gullies and fields

Place makes a difference in stories.

I’ve been inspired to write mysteries every time I visit Galena, Illinois. It’s not just the mid-19th century rebuilding of an early-19th century town that fascinates me. It’s also the roads I take to get there — the rolling hills and steep gullies always make the drive new to me. I love getting to Stockton and seeing the land dip and open on the west side of town. And then arriving in Elizabeth, with another surprise vista and a curve that — for a brief moment — reminds me of the hazards early settlers faced. And in that, I include the earliest settlers, the nomadic early Americans who followed buffalo, built burial mounds and peopled the region long before my European ancestors even knew the place existed.

I have also been inspired by the vast, flat black soil around the Illinois town where I grew up. Fields that grew corn, peas, asparagus and pumpkins surrounded my home town, a kind of cocoon holding us all together. And those miles of even landscape led me to believe — naively, I know now — that people were also level, the same, with the same opportunities and resources.

The land makes a difference.

For another perspective, take a look at this old post from Writing Rural.

Worth a rhyme

I never heard of Kate Warne before I saw this Women’s History Month post from a Library of Congress blog. She was a Pinkerton woman. What a great prompt for someone in a slump. Women’s History Month (and National Reading Month) ended yesterday and Poetry Month starts today. This woman deserves at least a sonnet.
Celebrating Women’s History: America’s First Female P.I. | Library of Congress Blog

Free your verse

When it comes to poetry, I tend to write at long intervals. It is the one form for which I await inspiration before I begin. That’s a clear sign of a dabbler, I think.  Here are some suggestions for more serious poets. Or writers of prose who want to bring something lyrical to their work.

The Work of Inspiration: Five Pieces about Poetry | Longreads Blog

Poetry is not taxing

Spoken word artist Christopher Sims of Rockford, Illinois, brought his amazing rhymes to  the In Print writing group meeting Saturday to celebrate April Poetry Month.

Christopher Sims reads one of his published poems.

Prompt: Do a draft of a poem today.
Then consider this Atlantic article about teaching poetry.

Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important – Atlantic Mobile

Christmas Messages

Emily could feel the package slipping from her grasp. NO, she thought. I’ll never be able to pick it up if I drop it. But she could gain no purchase on the box, not without dropping one of the other four she was carrying.

She bobbled, trying to balance it, but just as she felt it slipping irretrievably to her left, a hand reached forward to grab it and push it back to the top of her pile.

“Oh, thank you,” she said, turning to see who had come to her aid.

“No problem,” he responded, before she’d even finished speaking.

Her brown eyes widened, and so did the matching orbs she saw before her.



“I had no idea you were in town,” Emily said, unsure what else she could say. It had been all of 20 years since he’d left to join the Air Force, to learn to fly. His father had been determined that Matt become a lawyer, forcing their son to go to the U of I before sending him to law school at Notre Dame. As soon as the degree was in his hand, Matt headed to the recruiter’s office.

“I did what he wanted,” Matt had told his mother that day. “Now I’m doing what I want.”

That was the last she’d seen him. His father, for whom Matt had been named, refused to go to basic training graduation, wouldn’t talk to him on the phone, forced Emily to cut their conversations short, was too busy to visit him when he moved from base to base. After a few years, he’d stopped calling home.

Now, he stood there looking almost exactly as he had all those years ago, hair still dark, the soft waves barely showing up in the short cut he’d always worn. His eyes were bright, but the grin she’d seen when she’d first turned around had faded.

“Uh, yeah, yeah,” he said, dropping his gaze and mumbling.

“Are you living here now?”

“No,” he replied. “I’m staying with Brent Davis. You remember him? From my class in high school?”

Emily nodded.

“Can you two move ahead?” came a frazzled voice behind them.

“Sorry,” Emily responded, turning to shuffle a few feet ahead in the long pre-Christmas line at the post office. She turned back to Matt. “Yes, I remember Brent. He was at the house nearly every day.”

“I’m staying with him while I figure out where I’m going to live now.”

“Live now …?”

“I’m retired from the Air Force.”

“Retired,” Emily repeated quietly. Her son, retired? She noticed he was carrying packages, too. On his hand was a pale strip where a wedding ring might have been. Had he been married? What had happened? Did he have children?

“Retired,” she repeated. “Are you thinking about coming back home?”

“To Rockford?” he asked. “I don’t think so, but I’ll probably stay in the Midwest somewhere.”

She looked at him, wondered if he knew that his father had died a few years ago.  She didn’t really want to tell him that in a line at the post office.

“What are your plans for Christmas?” she asked. “Would you like to come to the house for dinner? I’d love it if you’d join us. There are things,” she paused. “… things we should talk about.”

“I, uh,” he looked over her head. “You need to move up again,” he said, nodding toward the front.

She turned, moved a few feet closer to the counter, then turned back.

He was gone.

“Hey, lady, the line moved again,” said the stranger behind her. “Go forward.”