Prose and Verse World

"Words ought to open windows and lift souls."

Posts tagged Tom Mach

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What title do you choose for your novel?

This is a difficult question to answer because it’s a combination of a personal emotion for the author as well as something that will capture the reader’s imagingation.  For a nonfiction book (especially a how-to) it’s easy enough to come up with something. If you want to teach others how to build your own house, titles such as “How to Build Your Dreamhouse” or “Housebuilding Made Simple” or “Building a House for Dummies” come to mind.

For novels, however, it’s a different situation entirely. If you’re already a highly visible novelist such as Stephen King, it doesn’t matter what you call it, although I don’t believe Mr. King would slap on any old title.  It would have to be one with which he felt comfortable.   I can tell you how I selected the three titles for each of  my three books in a trilogy.  With “Sissy!” I heard the name of a child calling out for her guardian angel.  With “All Parts Together” I used a portion of a Walt Whiman line (“Sure as life holds all parts together, death holds all parts together). For my third book, I used “Angels at Sunset” originally because I felt it had a beautiful feel to it. I really didn’t think much about the reader at all. After all, Sissy is the name of a girl, All Parts Together would only be familiar to someone who was intimate with Whitman’s poems, and Angels at Sunset sounds like a story about angels.  If you really need to let people know what your story is about, you can put a short subtitle under your mail title, such as “Dumbo”—“Sometimes an elephant can fly”

I guess if your only intention is to make shoppers stop to stare at your title, you can put something sexy like “Who is Wearing Jane’s Panties?” or “Jim Unzipped” or “I Was Shocked To Find My Was a Man.” But if your book doesn’t deliver on its promise, you’re sunk.

I think maybe the choice of title isn’t as important as the combination of the title and the graphics that go with it. I think it’s better to have a so-so title with great graphics and eye appeal than to have a fantastic title with extremely poor graphics. I do all of my own covers and the one I loved the best was the cover I did not “Angels at Sunset.” The title is quite visible ten feet away—and who can no like the natural beauty of a Kansas sunset? And I think there’s a connection between the word “Angels” and the woman standing in the field holding a “Votes for Women” sign.

If you want to get a copy of “Angels at Sunset” simply call toll-free at 1-800-BOOK-LOG  The price is only $16.95. (I think that’s less that the price of three lattes at Starbucks.)

I have no magic formula on how to come up with the best title for your novel. In all of my fiction, I always had the title in mind before I wrote the book, but that’s how I did it. This might not work for you.

All I can say is that a title is in the eye of the beholder (or is it “beauty:?)

Please visit my OTHER blog.  I am sure you will enjoy that one as well.

Filed under Tom Mach angels at sunset book cover book title novels sissy graphics

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Tips for Writing the Short Story

(an excerpt from the blog:

Some people mistakenly believe that writing a good short story is easy because it is smaller than a novel in length. Not true. It’s not easy. That would be like saying that it’s easier to create a painting on an 8 by 12 inch canvas than on a 3 foot by 5 foot canvas.  A writer has to apply his craft with the same measure of care with a short story than a novel—and in some cases he has to be even more cautious with the short story because each word in description and dialogue must be carefully chosen.

I like to think of a short story as one or two scenes in which something happens to the character or characters in these scenes. Maybe the character is faced with a decision—and will it be the right one? Or the character has trepidation that something terrible will happen. Perhaps the character learns an important lesson. Or, in the case of “The Hen Party,” a story from my collection called Stories to Enjoy, a murder case is finally solved.  But the point is that there is a simple theme in short stories and finding that theme and working it throughout the story is the main thing for a short story writer to consider.

But where to start? Ideas for stories abound everywhere. Perhaps you have met someone over coffee who shared with you an interesting experience. Or maybe you read something intriguing in the newspaper or in a book. Ideas are more prevalent than raindrops. It helps if you can take notes and journal information so that later you can review this and come up with an idea for a short story.

A short story writer needs to start her story with some sort of action—be it a decision to be made, a surprising finding, the beginnings of a conflict, or any of a number of other possibilities. There is neither the time, space, nor patience (from the reader’s perspective) to begin a story with lengthy description of a scene or a character. The reader needs to be drawn immediately into the story itself.

A complex plot has no place in a short story. An author should be able to state his plot in a simple sentence. For instance, in “The Crossword Puzzle Murders” taken from Stories to Enjoy, a one-sentence description would be:

Detective Pulaski, baffled by a clue left at the body of each victim of a mass murderer—a current edition of the newspaper—doesn’t realize who the murderer is until it’s too late.

Any distinguishing feature of a character in a short story should be brought out as soon as possible. But don’t go into needless detail about appearance unless it is germane to the plot. In “The Lead Bird,” Robin McIntyre is described as follows:

Here she was, a 34-year-old single woman who loved birds so much she not only kept a pet canary but belonged to a bird-watching society.

A ploy that I use in most of my short stories is to come up with a bombshell ending. One of my favorite short story authors is O. Henry, who always manages to have a surprising twist to the story. He’s an author I want to emulate.

Above material is copyrighted © Tom Mach 2012

Filed under short story writing tips Stories to Enjoy Tom Mach novel writers

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How to write a novel

I’ve researched different writers about the process of writing a novel, and while they tend to give different perspectives, they also show two things in common: (1) the characters must appear to be flesh-and-blood real to the reader, and (2) there must be a reasonable structure to the novel. Since characterization requires a details discussion by and of itself, let me first talk about structure.

It may be obvious to you if I say that a good novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What is less obvious is what do we expect to happen in those three major sections? The beginning of the novel has to do some highly important tasks. It must create an interesting beginning where the character is faced with a significant problem. This character has a goal of some sort—perhaps avoiding getting caught, trying to solve a crime, wanting something someone else has, trying to prevent someone from taking what she has, etc. As that character strives to attain that goal, she begins to run into an obstacle. This beginning part of the novel has to do a good job in making the problem real and in making you either want the character to succeed or (if the character is a villain) to be deeply interested in learning how the character will eventually be caught.

The middle part of the novel now gets into the failed attempts of the main character to attain her goal or solve her problem. When she tries one thing, something worse happens. When she tries another, something even more challenging happens. She finally comes to what some authors refer to either a “dark moment” or “climax” when things look their darkest and something has to change. She needs to solve that problem or attain that goal somehow. But she might do this by deciding that she doesn’t want that goal or doesn’t want that problem solved. It’s not an instantaneous revelation where she wakes up and decides this. Circumstances evolve that convince her to make a change in direction.

All the while, the character is changing his perspective. The end of the novel shows how the character has changed and how a new course of action is now possible. I like to think of this as the “resolution” of the novel. While some loose things have to be tidied up, the character doesn’t necessarily have a picture-perfect happy ending. In fact, you, as a novelist, don’t want to give her a picture-perfect ending. But at least give her hope. I’ve done this in my novel All Parts Together where my main character, Jessica, is devastated because she’s lost the true love of her life, her book won’t be published, her hero (Abraham Lincoln) was assassinated, and there doesn’t seem to be much in life that will interest her. But there’s a knock on door. A lady wants to invited her to an important meeting. This will mark a new departure in Jessica’s life, and that departure will be fully revealed in my third novel in the series.

Character development, in my opinion, is as important as plot development. When we think of the great novels of the past that we’ve read, we think of the characters. For instance, anyone who has ever read Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is so familiar with Scarlet O’Hara she has become a real person. You experience her foolish pain in trying to capture Ashley Wilkes’ heart only to find her true love, Rhett Butler, who ultimately leaves her. Creating a character is not simply giving that character a name and adding a few physical descriptions. You need to get into that person’s heart and soul and look through the eyes of that person and experience the things they experience. You need to know this person’s background and ambitions so well that you could predict how they would react in particular situations. This happened with Susan Stratford, a character is my novel, An Innocent Murdered. Susan  is a former nun but lately she’s been bothered by the fact she’s never had a sexual experience in her 46 years of existence and tells her friend Detective Matt Gunnison of her predicament:


"I hope God forgives me for saying this, but as I said, I never had a man before. I know the Catholic Church says it’s a grievous sin unless you’re married, but I don’t see how it could be in my circumstance.”

 SometimesI have to myself as being an evil character, such as a President of the U.S. whose sympathies lie with the Russians and whose mission is to become the ruler of the world—as in my futuristic novel, Advent. Here, his Secretary of State, Ben Levin, gives him some disturbing news:

 “Mr. President?” It was Levin. His voice was  harsh, raspy.

“Ben, can you tell me what the hell is going on? Why didn’t you tell me about the change in plans?”

“Frankly, I learned about a new timetable for the arrival of the material. I thought it’d be too risky to contact you about it, but I did alert Broznov about it. I suspect he informed Volkonich who, in turn, should have alerted al-Fassad about the change in plans.”

Hell! If that was the case, why didn’t Volkonich bother to let him know? Why was he kept toally in the dark?”

“Did you pull off your little ruse?” He hoped Levin would interpret this to mean the cleverly planned deception with the gas canisters.

In that novel, I show the duplicity of the President being amiable to the outside world yet deceitful in his heart. To create him successfully, I had to BE that president as I wrote my novel to make him totally credible. This is a challenge, but it’s worth it, believe me!

Filed under Adven All Parts Together An Innocent Murdered Tom Mach characters novel plot writers writing a novel how to write a novel

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Crossword puzzle your way to better poetry and prose

[By the way I have a new blog. Please follow me on]

Sometimes I think kids are smarter than us in some ways. (That’s a photo of me with fourth graders, who can ask you the greatest questions—like how do we form pictures in our mind from words or why, if we’re so smart why do we have wars?) Anyway, I thought you might benefit from my insight on how to improve your word choice through solving crossword puzzles.

For one thing, crossword puzzle clues make us think in different ways. For instance, if I asked you for a three-letter word for “Atlantic City roller” would you think of “die”? Or a monologist on weeknights? (Leno)  Or the school that expelled James Bond? (Eton) Or, what would you call a well-armed fort? (tenable).  You can use these relationships in poetry. For instance,

As an Atlantic City roller

It posts  a number under seven

But it’ll always take two to die

to make boxcars or eleven.

Okay, maybe that was a bad example, but you get the point. Same thing goes for prose writers. I didn’t know a posada was a Spanish inn or that Pimlico was a Saratoga alternative (hint: Pimlico and Saratoga are race courses), but I learned that from a crossword puzzle and can probably use this in a future story.

I find that crossword puzzle answers give me new words with which to work as well as information about famous people. I didn’t know that “segni” were musical repeats signs or that Eric Lindros was a hockey player or that it was Irene Cara who starred in “Fame.” One never knows when such information might prove to be invaluable in one’s future writing.

Crossword puzzles make your mind work differently. As writers, we have to get out of our rut and make our brains work harder and in new ways. Thinking outside of the box is great for creative writing. I never thought of a spa as a “hydrotherapy facility” or a “savant” as a learned one or that students of Zeno are “stoics.”  Puzzle clues will usually be very deceptive, urging you to think in one direction, although you ought to think in a totally different direction. Example: “They’re on the Met schedule.” New York Mets? No, opera.

If you journal what you ought to do is write done some of the clever clues and the answers that go with them. You never know when you might need them.

Next time you open the newspaper, go to the crossword puzzle section, get out your old yellow No. 2 and start completing as much of it as you can. Then, the next day, check the answers and try to filter as much of this information as you can. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be thankful you did when you write your best-selling novel or create a poetry book that wins you the Pulitzer Prize.

(By the way, if any of you want to share a good book with your kids or grandkids, I recommend HOMER THE ROAMER. Click on that title to learn more about it.)

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories

Filed under children creativity crossword puzzle fourth grade kids kids novels poems poetry prose verse words writer writing Homer the Roamer grandkids Tom Mach

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The Economy Sucks & You’re A Writer—Do You Quit?

[By the way I have a new blog. Please follow me on]

I haven’t seen writing magazines being realistic and telling their readers that it’s a tough economy and you are very likely to have a poor chance at selling your book—especially if you are a first-time author. No, instead they deal with the basics of how to improve your writing and give you the impression if you write a masterpiece you’re sure to bet a publisher for it.

That’s not the real world these days. I’d be willing to bet that any of our top writers today—John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Toni Morrison, etc—if they were first-time writers submitting the best work they’ve ever done they almost certainly would get rejected—and it would have NOTHING to do with the quality of their writing. These mainstream publishers are watching the market wondering if they can survive, let alone make money for their investors.  

It wasn’t always like this. I can remember way back before we had the internet and iPads and Kindle and CD players, people read books and the economy wasn’t a disaster (like it is now) and people thought of books (the physical kind you hold in your hands) as a source of information and entertainment. Today, not only do we have fewer readers of physical books, you have a downsizing of education, a greater interest in visual stimuli like Verizon phones and publishers and agents who are looking more intensely at the bottom line rather than on quality work.

So what does a writer do? Well, it depends on your objective. If you’re in it for the money, then write a steamy romance with a cover of a naked woman or a bare-chested hunk on the cover (steamy sex sells even in a bad economy) or write an eBook on anything and sell it for 99 cents. For me, I want to write what’s in my soul, something that’s important to me and—hopefully—something that’s important to someone else out there.

But I do hope the economy improves. I wonder if today, a discouraged Ernest Hemmingway would have given up writing novels and gone back to Spain for a career in bullfighting.

If the economy ever improves and people start reading books again, they will hopefully look at the following titles:

Sissy! by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1862-1863)

An Innocent Murdered by Tom Mach (an unusual mystery whodunnit novel

All Parts Together by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1863-1865)

ADVENT by Tom Mach (thriller—with two conflicting scenarios about earth’s final demise

STORIES TO ENJOY by Tom Mach (a collection of 16 short stories with O. Henry-like twists)

HOMER THE ROAMER by Tom Mach (a delightful story about a cat who got an adventure he didn’t want)

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories

Filed under writing writers economy ppublishing publishers Tom Mach novels books

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W. W. Norton: First Lines from New Books Out Today: August 1, 2011


“Stunned by love and some would say stupid from too much sex, I decided I had to drive down South to kill a man.”
Busy Monsters: A Novel by William Giraldi

The Sand Speaks
“I’m fluid and omnivorous, the casual
kiss. I’ll knock up your oysters.
I’ll eat your diamonds. I’m a mutt, no


As an aside, I would like to mention that I have six new books out myself and maybe someone from Norton would want to take a look at them. They are Ebooks with the following titles:

Sissy! by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1862-1863)

An Innocent Murdered by Tom Mach (an unusual mystery whodunnit novel

All Parts Together by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1863-1865)

ADVENT by Tom Mach (thriller—with two conflicting scenarios about earth’s final demise

STORIES TO ENJOY by Tom Mach (a collection of 16 short stories with O. Henry-like twists)

HOMER THE ROAMER by Tom Mach (a delightful story about a cat who got an adventure he didn’t want)

Filed under Norton publisher Tom Mach Sissy All Parts Together Homer the Roamer An Innocent Murdered Stories to Enjoy Advent new books books Ebooks

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On Reading Your Novel or Poetry in Public

[By the way I have a new blog. Please follow me on]

Anyway, some writers have an abject fear of reading their manuscript aloud in public. Even some actors have that fear, including Jimmy Stewart, Bruce Willis, and Julia Roberts, to name a few. I recently experienced some of this fear myself when I was interviewed about two of my books  (Sissy! and All Parts Together) for Kansas Public Radio. I had a large microphone placed mere inches from my face and when the radio announcer asked me if I was ready I said, “No, I’m a good writer, not a good speaker.” But she told me I’d be fine—especially since she was taping me and would later edit the interview. But earlier I also spoke like on Channel 6 television, and boy was I ever nervous! I see the same kind of nervousness with poets and  well as story writers. One major way in calming your fears is to forget about the fact that you’re speaking to a large audience but that you’re only speaking to yourself—out loud this time.

In addition to the the aspect of nervousness, I’d also like to point out a couple of things that concern me about writers who give talks. It irks me to no end when a novelist gets up and starts reading large excerpts from her book. This bothers me on two levels: (1) I’m not visually impaired and can read that book myself, thank you, and (2) I came here to learn about the author—who she is, why she wrote the book, what obstacles did she face, etc.  I’ve also got a beef with poets who read their poems aloud. For Pete’s sakes, man, if you’re just going to get up on stage and in a monotone voice read the words on the page, why am I here? What I expect from a poet who is going to give a reading are two things: (1) some background or introduction to the poem so I can get visually prepared for what happens in the poem, and (2) some emotion that the poet felt when he wrote that poem.

I mean, can you imagine Walt Whitman getting up at the podium and reading “O Captain, My Captain” in a monotone, boring voice and displaying no compassion for a great president who was slain? I think some poets ought to take acting lessons so they could dramatize their poems, don’t you?  And while I’m on the subject of poetry, please don’t read to us something that’s so obscure that I end up saying to myself: “What was THAT all about?” If the poem read aloud is so deep that it requires reading it to yourself slowly and thoughtfully at least a dozen times, don’t expect me to get it if you only read it once.

Anyone out there agree with me on this?

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories.

Filed under poetry reading poetry fiction novels writers speaking public speakig novelist poet poets Advent Tom Mach

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The Whodunit Novel—Is it Vanishing From Fiction?

Is the whodunit novel vanishing from fiction? It sure looks like it. Years ago writers like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle produced whodunit novels that were eagerly read by anxious fans. Prior to 1950, there were many whodunits out in the marketplace. Today, there are only a handful of writers churning out this particular genre. This is unfortunate because the whodunit novel is like a giant puzzle with odd-shaped pieces that did not fit well—a kind of game where you had to pay attention to each piece before you could solve it. It made readers think long and hard about everything presented in the novel so that they felt proud of themselves if they could solve the case before reaching the end of the book.

I wanted to write a whodunit novel where the prime suspect was so convincing that readers believed the suspect had to have done the crime. I looked at plot devices such as: adding reasonable “red herrings”, balancing the most obvious vs. the  lease obvious suspect, destroying a strong alibi, having a crime from the past resurface, using a disguise, concealing true identities, putting a major clue that is “hidden” in plain sight, and so on.

I think I’ve accomplished that with a whodunit murder mystery I wrote called An Innocent Murdered, and in the process I discovered that this was both fun and extremely challenging. I started my novel with a simple premise: What if a priest was accused of being a  child molester, was then murdered, and later found he was unjustly accused? Furthermore, what if the suspect whom the police held had so much incriminating evidence against her that you’d be a fool to believe otherwise?

Enter my protagonist—Detective Matt Gunnison. He examines all the evidence, the suspect’s motive, opportunity, lack of an alibi, the dead priest’s DNA on her, and a witness who claims he saw her enter the rectory prior to the murder. Slam dunk case, Detective Gunnison figures. Right? Yes—at first.

However, other things happen in An Innocent Murdered that makes him doubt this suspect is the real murderer, despite the damming evidence against her.

Now let’s stop the discussion here and see what things I need to be sure I had in An Innocent Murdered to make this a strong book—

There certainly was reason to believe the priest was murdered because people believed he was a child molester. The suspect certainly had enough evidence against her that any jury would convict her. The detective is not an “empty suit” but a man who not only is intent on solving the crime, but who has events in his life that show his humanity—such as his being concerned about a teenage boy who now has a mother in jail or about Gunnison’s new girlfriend, a former nun who is conflicted about her desire to make love after having been a virgin for many years. Then there is a woman he fell in love with although he didn’t know she was bisexual (Hint: This has something to do with the murder).

There are red herrings in this novel as well as subtle clues. After reading this book, the reader will hopefully say to himself or herself—“Aha, I saw those clues staring at my face the whole time and didn’t put two and two together.”

The true murderer shows up in the pages of An Innocent Murdered but the reader has to be clever enough to determine who she—or he—or they—might be. And there has to be some interesting twists in the plot—like that person who mailed him the bloodied knife that presumably was the actual murder weapon. Yes, surprise after surprise in my novel. It’s like unwrapping a box and finding another box and then unwrapping that one, etc.

You should click right here on the title An Innocent Murdered to read a detailed discussion of what this novel is all about and then give me your thoughts on who the murderer might be. Better yet, since the book is so darned cheap ($2.99) and probably the same price as a Starbucks latte, I think you’d enjoy it a lot longer than a Starbucks drink.

Most of all, I’d like to hear your comments about this book—whether or not you shell out coffee money for this here—ah—um—a possible whodunit masterpiece. Let me know.

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories.

Filed under Tom Mach child abuse child rape clues crime novel detective detective novel fiction how to write murder mystery mystery novel novel rectory red herrings whodunit whodunnit writers writing writing fiction mysteries books Sherlock Holmes Agatha Christie

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How is Narrative Verse Different From Other Poetry Forms?

Probably because I’m also a storyteller, having written five novels (two of which were published) and a collection of published short stories, I can best identify with narrative verse. Narrative verse can either describe a scene, show action, and (oten) do both. The trick to writing good narrative verse is finding just the right word whcih will emote a vistual image as well as an emotional one—a combination which is very difficult to do.

In Robert Frost’s narrative poem, “Birches,” the challenge is to make an ordinary scene (birtch trees) decribed in such a way they are fascinating.  Here is shortened version of Frost’s poem on the subject:


                  by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

Notice how Frost combines nostalgia (“some boy’s been swinging them”) with the season (“ice storms do that”…”the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystals”)  It’s a poem worth reading over and over to visualize these trees—and its akin to a painting awash with colors and tones and shadings that make you long to physically be there.

Judith Pordon gives us a narrative verse combined with action in “At the Dance.”

At the Dance

By Judith Pordon

Mercury stood with a mental

pen in hand

dreaming of intergalactic connection.


Venus swirled toward

Earth, elusively just beyond

reach, but visible.


Mars, crouched for a fight

ever ready

for the sport of it.


Asteroids were dashing about,

Daring each other

to jump into the pool.

I’m frankly a bit jealous of the beautiful way Pordon describes the objects in our solar system. I did the same thing in my award-winning poetry book, The Uni Verse, but I took a quasi Shakespearan/Whitman approach in doing so, such as in the following:

O ye astrologers of old,

O ye guides for Chadean kings

O ye sages for Roman emperors

O ye consultants for Arabian princes

O ye influencers of Renaissance artists…

on what basis can ye say the planets

determine our destinies?

Thou hath stroked the heavenly canvas

with a righteous rod

with which ye direct the sun, moon, stars, and planets,

to alone foretell our fate.

          —-from The Uni Verse ©2007 by Tom Mach

Tom Mach also shows how whimsy can be considered narrative verse in his poem “Bygone Wares”—

                  Bygone Wares

                by Tom Mach

Stop screaming at me with your gentle whispers
and your memory hints:
—a Slinky slumping toward the bottom of grandman’s stairs
—bubbles as large as pumpkins (blow softly, my dad warned)
—marbles like multicolored eyes rolling (let’s play keepsies)

Stop flashing your bygone ware on your counter display
Leave me alone with my Medicare and my darned knee.

If I give you my wallet, will you transport me back to my childhood?
….or..will you take my money and tease the next sucker?

Narrative poetry can also be serious, and often is. In my poem, “Just Another War,” I took the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride—

                    Just Another War

                      by Tom Mach

The iron of my musket

is cold and cruel and eager

as I take aim at a gray uniform.

Was it just yesterday I fired a cannon

across that there creek, sending

a ball sailing through an officer’s tent?

The explosion was a lightning crack

reeling me backwards but I pushed up

and cheered when I heard the death screams.

Eighth Kansas reporting for duty, sir.

Well done, lieutenant, carry on.

Cottonwoods, battered by artillery,

weep for men strewn like straw on a field.

I thought by now the horror had numbed me.

I don’t want to cry, so I take a swig from my canteen

and wonder how momma is doing with the farm.

Said she’d have to sell it; can’t do the crops alone.

I feel bad about momma,

But then I think about them other mommas,

the ones whose sons got killed,

and for a moment, an eternal moment,

I’m there shielding a flickering candle 

as their sobs cascade over stone monuments

I think narrative verse is the oldest form there is.  You have to go no farther than Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey to see that. I love all forms of poetry, but for me, narrative verse is where my heart is.

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories.

Filed under poetry poet poets narrative narrative voice Robert Frost Tom Mach Judith Pordon whimsy literature

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Poetry and Grammar—should there be any rules?

When writing poetry, you have quite a bit more freedom than when you’re writing prose.  You can go ahead and break rules of grammar—but do so for a reason. Some writers will break all sorts of rules of grammar and spelling, either because they are poor grammarians or bad spellers or because they want to be different only for the sake of being different. My take on breaking rules is that one should do so purposely and with some forethought.

ee cummings was well-known for breaking grammar rules.  Here’s an example:

)when what hugs stopping earth than silent is

more silent than more than much more is or

total sun oceaning than any this

tear jumping from each most least eye of star

The first thing you notice is ), a closed parenthesis, and you ask yourself what is that doing there? The answer comes in the line that follows about “hugs stopping earth” and I suspect the ) is a visual expression of the earth’s rim. Then we have “oceaning” which is not even a word, but “oceaning” implies a vastness. Although I don’t profess to understand ee cummings, his poetry makes you stop and ask why is that there, and then you search for a deeper meaning.

In his poem “Revelation,” Robert Frost says:

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated hear
Till someone really find us out.

When Frost says “the agitated hear til someone really find us out” you might ask “who’s being agitated?” and you might ask shouldn’t it say “finds” us out rather than “find” us out?  Again, we have to search deeper. The poet is talking about how superficial we are and don’t really say what we mean, but this only agitates others who eventually begin to learn what we are hiding. The “someone” in this poem is not really a singular noun because that “someone” is common to each of us, and so “find” should be the verb that goes with this “plural” noun.  I hope that makes sense.

Personally, I prefer to read poems that don’t make me work that hard at trying to understand the meaning.  I want symbolic language, I want words that make me think of something in a different way, I want my emotions to be stirred up.  If breaking rules of grammar is the best way to do this, then have at it.

One more thing about grammar.  I noticed that the vast majority of poems start with a capital for each line, even if that line is part of the previous one.  For me, I’d rather that we don’t capitalize each and every line so that we can see the flow of words that accompany a complete thought.

For example, here is a poem I wrote:

        Lights Out

     by Tom Mach 

The memory of my life

is only a movie I can understand.

All the rest have blinders

witnessing their own show.

Some eagerly want my seat

if only to escape the futility

of their own drama enfolding

while the rest of  the audience eats

the stale popcorn of indifference.

Still, we must wait for the final curtain

to see if anyone has left the theater. 

You can see the continuity here. “The memory of my life is only a movie I can understand” makes sense, but it would lose such continuity if I said, instead: “The memory of my life / Is only a movie I can understand.”

Anyway, maybe you disagree with me on this, but think about it nonetheless.

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Self-Publishing ≠ Vanity Publishing

I came across the following discussion on the various types of publishing (My source: ) and I’d like to share this with you. I was personally irritated one time when a librarian told a group of folks that one of my novels was published by a “vanity press.” She was grossly misinformed. Publishing your own book by your own press at your own expense where you receive all of the profits is NOT vanity publishing at all. Here are some definitions:

Independent Publishing – (1) Custom publishing wherein the publishing processes are managed and/or contracted exclusively by the author; or (2) a small press that handles less than six titles annually with revenues under an accepted industry level.

“Independent Publishing”, “Small press”, “Indie press”, and “Self–published” describe, for the most part, a specialty publishing shop; or an individual, whose expertise is managing the full range of processes involved in bring books, audio, and/or video to publication.

Vanity Press – Publishers who are author–selected and who handle the details of publishing, and/or marketing, for the author, for a fee. (I draw distinctions between the terms “Vanity Press”, “Self–publishing”, and/or “Independent Publishing”.)

Contract Publishing – I would like to see a distinction develop between the terms ‘self–publishing’ and ‘contract publishing’. (When an author contracts with an entity that offers publishing services such as Outskirts Press,, Llumina, Tafford Publishing, et al that author is not, technically, “self–published”.)

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3 notes

Why Must Some Poetry Be Totally Incomprehensible?

[The above painting sy by Alred Gockel entitled “Fun in the Sun”]

I will probably catch some heat from readers on this but I find some published poetry so obscure that I wonder how it ever gets published. It’s one thing to say there is some hidden meaning contained in the words that if you study it, then the true essence of what it is saying will come out. It’s quite another to say, even if you read this poem a thousand times you won’t understand it. It makes as much sense as elephants floating in the sky to await the Second Coming. Well, then here’s a poem by Clayton Eshleman published in American Poet magazine to show you what I mean:

From Trilce, XLIV

The piano travels within,

travels by joyful leaps,

Then medicates in ferrate repose,

nailed with ten horizons.

It advances. Drags itself under tunnels,

Beyond, under tunnels of pain,

Under vertebrae naturally fugacious.

As times in tubes go,

slow asias yellow with living.

they go in clipse,

and insectile nightmares delouse,

now dead to thunder, the herald of geneses.

Dark piano, on whom do you spy

with your deafness that hears me,

wwith your muteness that deafens me?

Oh mysterious pulse.

Maybe abstract poetry is like abstract painting, popular because it’s simply vague and there is no meaning. People like it because it’s there, it’s different, and will cause people to say “ah” as they stare at it, not wishing to appear stupid in a crowd of intellectuals.

Heck, I could come up with abstract poetry, right off the bat.  Does the following poem of mine sound vague enough to you—-?

Hanging Vertebrae by Tom Mach

 Cleopatra’s asp is one meter long in a railroad car

With a horn of peppermint swirl, wheels fully pi

and I gaze fondly at Odysseus rejoicing while

Napoleon plays Beethoven on a Jewish harp

and serpentine chipmunks rise to the occasion

without any of them eaten by Reynard the Fox.

Yet in the dark plastic sextant of my life

I espy on six horizons the Seven against Thebes

and wonder with parched lips if my pey de chose

will parachute from a forlorn Alp in Switzerland.

Now if that was published by a well-known poet such as Maya Angelou people would rejoice at reading it and I wouldn’t be entitled to shrug and say “I don’t get it, I’m sorry.”

 I tend to write poetry that at least I can unerstand. Here’s one that won me ninth place in a Writers Digest Poetry competition with 3,000 other entrants:

                  Inside the Canvas

                 ©2008 by Tom Mach

I stand here before seven dogs playing poker

To my right is a farmer couple but the man

with the pitchfork orders me away from his house

so I leave only to be embarrassed by Courbet’s

tousle-haired woman enticing me to her settee

as she reclines in the glory of her nakedness

while from another wall, Henri Matisse beams his

critical bug eyes and narrow face, forcing me to leave

but distant cries of torment shock me and I

race to the end of the hall where I see people

helplessly attempt to protect their

children from the Reubens massacre.

I close my ears to their cries and I race down

to a flat meadow emitting a bouquet of old oils.

A washerwoman at a creek does her laundry

but she does not hear when I call out to her.

It is only when I shut out my knowledge of Renoir

that his colors come alive and reach out to touch me

and then I know I can step inside the canvas

and that the washerwoman will smile at me.

Bizarre, maybe yes. But the above poem is still understandable. I rest my case.

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