Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Celebrate nyctophobia.

Word of the Day for Monday, October 31, 2011

nyctophobia \nik-tuh-FOH-bee-uh\, noun:
An abnormal fear of night or darkness.
Hardly right for him to do that if you're here by yourself, Miss Laetitia—all alone with your nyctophobia—but if Miss Templeton were here as well, you could all chaperone one another.
-- Barbara Cleverly, A Darker God
For as long as she could remember, Jerry Gates had been terrified of the dark. The cause of this nyctophobia was beyond the reach of recollection: some early trauma at the top of the stairs, perhaps.
-- Christopher Fowler, Seventy-Seven Clocks
Nyctophobia stems from the Greek nyktos- meaning night and phobia meaning fear.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Proposed Tuition Increases in VA

Can someone explain this to me? The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act is supposed to "in­crease enrollment, the number of degrees earned and the pursuit of science, technology and health­related fields," but the "state would need $164.1 million in non-general fund rev­enue over the 2012-14 biennium, in the form of tuition increases of 3 percent to 5 percent annually."

So let me get this right--the state wants more students enrolling to pay higher costs for college. And, most of the current and future students will need to take out loans, unless Mommy and Daddy are rich or working five jobs.

Am I interpreting this article correctly?


Higher-ed agency makes recommendations

The Associated Press

RICHMOND — A state agency is recommending that $363.5 million be spent over the next budget cycle to fund public colleges and univer­sities as they phase in the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act. The State Council of Higher Edu­cation for Virginia also said Tuesday that the state would need $164.1 million in non-general fund rev­enue over the 2012-14 biennium, in the form of tuition increases of 3 percent to 5 percent annually.

The act includes efforts to in­crease enrollment, the number of degrees earned and the pursuit of science, technology and health­related fields to prepare Virginians for high-demand jobs and boost the state’s economy. The push was part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s high­er- education legislative agenda this year.

SCHEV recommends that the governor and the General Assem­bly appropriate $51.2 million from the general fund and $41 million from non-general funds in the 2013 fiscal year to cover the baseline cost of operations, enrollment growth, hiring faculty and other needs.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I don't recall  how this song came up in class today.  I'm sure it was relevant somehow, other than that I'd been listening to it over and over this morning.  What a gorgeous piece!

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

It won't be easy
You'll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
That I still need your love
After all that I've done.

You won't believe me
All you will see
Is a girl you once knew
Although she's dressed up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you.

I had to let it happen
I had to change
Couldn't stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window
Staying out of the sun.

So I chose freedom
Running around trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it too.

Don't cry for me Argentina.
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance.

And as for fortune and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world
They were all I desired.

They are illusions
They're not the solutions
They promise to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me.

Don't cry for me Argentina.
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance.

Have I said to much?
There's nothing more
I can think of to say to you
But all you have to do
Is look at me to know
That every word is true.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Unreality Check

Here's the reality. 

I'm a middle aged, middle class, white, female writer and educator who loves her family, friends, animals, nature, learning, art, color and shiny things.  I love my students and believe in them.  I think babies and elderly people who have been in love with each other for decades are cute.  I am intelligent, have minor physical and mental health issues and can't keep the house clean.  I am emotional and expressive.  I haven't had the money to visit international destinations as much as I would like.  I've overcome some serious obstacles with the help of others.  I cook healthy, basic meals, struggle with weight gain but exercise regularly.  I often engage in body hatred.  I can unconditionally love, even some of  those whom many people would consider unlovable.  With others, I have zero patience and that leaks into my communications.  I am a pretty normal person.  I lead a less than exciting life, though I consider it meaningful and somewhat successful.  And especially when I get stressed or bored, I turn to my imagination.

It's something I've done since I was a kid.  I've talked before about how I used to take long walks and narrate my life in my head.  "She was cautious as she considered her mother's warnings that she should stay on the side of the street and never take rides from strangers."  Even then, my life wasn't exactly thrilling and I had good reason to want to escape, but narrating made everything seem bigger than it was.  As I got older, I learned to embellish.  I was a model in beauty camp, out for my daily exercise.  I was a dancer, preparing for the next ballet.  I was a runaway, stealing apples from farmers' trees.  I was a tough boy daring anyone to mess with him.

Press the skip ahead button.  I'm a woods elf making an epic journey somewhere for some crucial purpose.  I'm a man.  I'm a mother fleeing with her children to the forest camp that the invaders have not yet discovered.  I'm an unrequited lover pining away for a chance glimpse of my object de amor, a meeting of the eyes, a brush of the hand.  I'm a pretty woman with a blackbelt and a gun.  I'm a famous writer with enough money to save a goodly portion of the Eastern seaboard.  I'm a whistleblower who brings down white collar criminals and saves the nation billions of dollars.  I'm the one with endless energy and resources and a beautiful body, but I've never become disconnected with the poor and oppressed.  I'm tough and gritty and people think I'm cool and that doesn't embarrass me in the least.  The camera rolls to the tune of rock music and people are interested in my life's dramas.

There are some pretty hot sexual fantasies in there somewhere, too, but that's private.

The point is, I've not outgrown hanging out in unreality.  I guess you could say that daydreaming is my drug of choice.  Writing is often an expression, a fusion of what is and what is definitely not, the lines pretty indecipherable to readers who care to make Freudian passes at my work.  And yes, I kind of stick my tongue out and say, "You don't really know what's in my head.  My thoughts are mine and I share what I want to."  And thank God there are no mind readers, because some of those thoughts are real doozies.  I guess that's kind of normal, though.  I would hate to be a mind reader.  I have enough of a burden dealing with my own thoughts.

Some people escape into narcotics, some into partying, some into sex, some into gambling and others into even more risky business.  Some people escape into exercise or making money.  Some people escape into their work and/or creative efforts (I can be like that).  Others, like my husband, escape into things like game playing.  We all need to escape somehow, but the way we do it and the frequency with which we do it must be monitored.  Are the escapes healthy?  Are they too often?  Are they taking over our lives?

As an imaginative writer, I have to be even more aware of potential imbalances, keeping one foot in reality, the other in imagination.  If the foot in reality is not fully planted, I can easily become undone.  And so I set my boundaries accordingly.  There have been times in my life when I could not honor those boundaries, and those were bad times.  Imagination stole into my real world, a dangerous threat to everything I have built and accomplished.  The good news is, I have always gotten out of it.  Drugs never allowed me to ruin my life completely, and I have the universal powers of spirit and love as well as earthly angels to thank for that.

I don't know how to end this entry.  My thoughts continue their travels to unknown places. I guess that means I will continue to explore and share more on this topic later. In the meantime, here's to imagination and a real world that does indeed need it.    

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I see YOUR true colors, and that's why I love you.

Cyndi Lauper 

"True Colors"

You with the sad eyes
don't be discouraged
oh I realize
it's hard to take courage
in a world full of people
you can lose sight of it all
and the darkness inside you
can make you fell so small

But I see your true colors
shining through
I see your true colors
and that's why I love you
so don't be afraid to let them show
your true colors
true colors are beautiful
like a rainbow

Show me a smile then
don't be unhappy, can't remember
when I last saw you laughing
if this world makes you crazy
and you've taken all you can bear
you call me up
because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colors
shining through
I see your true colors
and that's why I love you
so don't be afraid to let them show
your true colors
true colors are beautiful
like a rainbow

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What to say, what to say

This Sunday, I am supposed to read a poem and talk about my work to the Washington Metro Philharmonic Association.  I practiced the poem last night and will practice at least a few more times, mostly because I tend to trip over my own alliteration.  In the meantime, I am processing what I will talk about in the ten minutes allotted to me (which is plenty of time, by the way).

My work is largely metaphorical and imaginative.  In the case of my Battlefield and historic poems, I take on personas to gain a deeper understanding of the people and history of the era.  It helps that I am in love with some of the philosophers and poets who had something to say on the Civil War.  But what about the personal side of my poems?

In one talk, I found I was contradicting myself, telling the audience my poetry was purely persona when in fact, I can't honestly say that.  I read a poem about my hiking in Manassas Battlefield, then looked up and said, "My poetry isn't literal, except when it is."  I think the truth is, my poetry is mixed with metaphor and persona guided by experiences and perceptions.  There is always a larger context because really, I think confessional poetry tends to be self serving and limited.  If a poet doesn't connect his/her work with the larger world, I wonder what the long-lasting point is.  Of course, many of these confessional poets who are famous will outlive my legacy, but I am sticking to my philosophy because...because.

In particular, I find my Haiku to be closest to the literal.  And yet, they are not autobiographical even though they are inspired by memory.  But because readers like to analyze authors' psyches, I get a lot of, "Did that really happen?  What in your past made you write that?"  The answers are generally, no, that didn't really happen per se and what provoked the expression has more to do with reflections on human nature and behavior than anything else.  The emotions of the Haiku are mine in the sense that I am human and have indeed had experiences that provoked these emotions.  But most human beings have experienced feelings similar to what I'm recording in the Haiku.

Some of my Haiku are more enigmatic.  For example:

Acidic Haiku

Was that battery acid
you poured in my chicken soup?
Excuse me. The phone's ringing.

Katherine Gotthardt

September 28, 2011

This poem just kind of popped out.  It didn't spawn from anything specific, though Agatha Christie was most likely lurking in the back of my head.  Looking back, though, I see the poem has taken on a meaning of its own.  Did someone really pour battery acid in my soup?  Of course not.  So why battery acid and why chicken soup?

On a metaphoric level, we could argue that chicken soup is supposed to be soothing, but the dinner date added something toxic.  What does that say about the relationship?  Then the speaker suddenly says the phone is ringing.  S/he goes to answer the phone which might actually be ringing (in which case, s/he is lucky to have temporarily escaped) or makes an excuse, recognizing the relationship itself is toxic.  The thing here is to look at what is happening or potentially happening in the poem itself and why it is happening, a process not so different from that used to analyze fiction and sometimes even visual art.  The problem is, readers tend to want to discover the deep, dark secrets of authors' minds as opposed to looking for larger meaning.  I assure you that while I have a deep and sometimes dark mind, my poetry isn't an exact reflection (and neither is my fiction).  Those who take a purely literal approach are missing the point.

That said, the action of poetry and prose does stem from the author, so we can legitimately ask ourselves where that action might come from.  The problem is, we can't know the answer and end up making assumptions. Really, if I wanted to write about my life, I would tackle memoir or autobiography, but I am not bent on mucking around for the most part.  That's what my blogs and journals are for.  I am a pretty open person, but when it comes to my private life, I will reveal what I want to when I want to and I thank all very much for neither making assumptions nor probing.  Boundaries are to be respected.  I cannot stop readers from doing what they wish to do, of course, but they do so at their own risk.

I think I've stepped into a good stream here, one with direction. I might actually know what I will talk about Sunday--unless I completely change my mind of course, which is very likely.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I'm in big trouble.  My mom is dying to read my forthcoming novel.  She is dying to show it to people.  However, she did have a question. She wanted to know if there was anything "vulgar" in the book.  (That's classic Mom..."Kathy, don't be vulgar!"  She is one of the few people who can be forgiven for calling me Kathy.)

It's probably better that she asked this up front.  I had sent her a copy of an anthology I helped put together, and there were some stories in there with foul language.  She went to give it to a teacher friend of hers and at the last minute, withdrew the offer. I told her my novel is probably not something she wants to bring to school.

"Kathy, why do you write books like that?" she asked on the phone. "Why can't you write nice books?"

"Mom, it's about people who live on the streets," I said.  "It has to be realistic."

Okay, the street thing isn't exactly accurate because the foul language doesn't really come from street people.  And the sex scenes don't involve "people of the streets" either.  But the novel is gritty.  The lives these people lead aren't pretty.  There's a lot of poverty, crime and abuse.  It's mainly about predatory lenders and bad relationships.  And I don't believe in sugar coating.

So Mom asked if the book would be rated X. I told her no, it would be more like R.  In my writers' group, my editor friend agreed that the R rating would be accurate.  A member of our group looked at me and said, "YOU wrote an R rated novel?"  I guess he thought I had been aiming to be the Virgin Mary or something.  Anyway, he writes some pretty randy stuff himself, so he will probably buy the book--or at least I hope he will.

I'm too old to be grounded, which is good.  But I have another problem. I want to use the book to raise money for homeless shelters, food pantries and other services for the poor.  Thing is, many of these places are pretty Christian and might not appreciate realism.  Therefore, they might not want this book associated with their cause.  Since I'm not always a tactful person, I am not sure how to approach this when the time comes.

Of course, when I do readings, I certainly won't choose the "bad" parts because I would be too embarrassed anyway.  I have a partially rotten mind and sometimes a bad mouth, but even I am not about to read a sex scene in front of a group of people.  I haven't even read those parts to my writers' group.  The wonderful lady who edited my book is probably the only one who has read the thing through.  She called those parts "shocking," an adjective I would not have used until I went through and edited the whole thing again this past weekend.  She's right. 

I guess I better figure this out because my next novel will be even worse than this one, smut wise, not because I want to write smut, but because my characters are not ready to be nominated for sainthood.  Then again, neither am I.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Untitled Pseudo-Haiku

I wish I had a picture of you
just to remind me
what is.

The longer I look at you
the more I recall
I shall surely turn to salt.

Tomorrow comes the cleaner.
What will she find
in the house of my heart?

The reality is
I wish to keep my clothes on.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Why We Write and Other Intellectual Meandering

In between teaching, writing for the local print media, finishing up a contract, running a household and launching a non-profit, I've been thinking about my writing, particularly since the galley of my novel has been dropped in my inbox and I will start reviewing it this week to make sure everything looks the way I think I want it to look before it goes to print.  I say "I think" because I know that no matter how many times I review a piece, upon print, I will look at it and say, "This could have been better if..."  The reality is, though, that first, at some point an author has to put a piece away and call it "done," and that second, publishers don't care a whit about an author's neurotic compulsion to edit interminably.  If you want to keep a publishing contract, you best not submit endless changes prior to the release.  If you find yourself wanting to change your manuscript that much, your best bet is to withdraw the submission if possible and re-write.  Your publisher is not there to hold your hand through the revision process.  By the time your work reaches the galley point, you should be comfortable enough to say, "This is okay to go as it is. It's not perfect, but I will never be completely satisfied with my work because I'm an artist who understands communication, self expression and meaning are living things.  Thus, what I write today will most likely prove lacking tomorrow."  After five revisions or more, I say, let's just go with what I have today.

There's a practical reason for this approach as well--other than the fact that publishers won't put up with artistic vacillating.  Making last minute changes is expensive, and making changes post publishing even more so.  I've learned this the hard way, having had to make changes to my other two books through Amazon.  Every change puts me more financially in the hole.  The sooner you learn that, the sooner you learn why your editor has a fit every time you decide your book doesn't meet your own artistic standards.  I say again--if you think you will have to make that many changes by the time your novel is approaching print, withdraw it.  You clearly have not finished your own editing process and you do not have the right to inflict your process on anyone else's dime. That may sound harsh, but it's the reality of the biz and, while we authors live with at least one foot in imagination, we must keep the other foot firmly grounded if we want our work to be distributed to the public.

I'm not degrading the artistic process in the least.  I began my novel draft in 2006 through National Novel Writers Month and didn't do much with it until 2008 when I added a bit to it.  In 20009, I added a great deal to the plot and character development.  From there, the novel again sat on my hard drive until an editor friend told me it had merit and deserved my attention.  So in 2010, I gave it the additional, extensive attention it warranted, and she kindly edited the format, which was a mess.  No credible publisher would have given my book a second glance had my friend not offered her professional services.  When I get rich (or at least make some money), she will be the first to benefit.  I figure I owe her at least $10,000. 

My point is, I had to go through many revisions, many sessions of feedback and many mental processes before I decided the book was mostly where I wanted it to be and was, indeed, the most it could be.  I have to edit some more during this galley phase, but I can tell you I won't be editing very much because if I start doing that, I will have to carry through all the changes which will cause me and the publisher great angst.  I'm not into pain, and I sincerely doubt my publisher is, either.

Here's another reality--getting a book out to the public is hard work that often feels unrewarding, especially when you want to be writing and not marketing.  But if you approach marketing in another way, you can make the experiencing meaningful.  First, you have to challenge yourself--or find a publisher who will.  My publisher expects me to sell at least 500 books, and I aim to meet that challenge. But that's not all I aim to do.  Through my non-profit, I aim to raise money for charities by selling my books and highlighting the books of other authors who are also trying to raise money for charities.  This venture is good for everyone--authors, charities and small publishers.  I am focusing on authors who are still largely unknown because well known authors, while they may have more capital, aren't as needy as us newcomers.  And while a well-known author might be able to contribute more to charities, there is something to be said for the widows' mite.  A good, charitable organization will recognize that.  The fundraising might be slow, but it can be long-term, which does add up.

I will not pretend my motives are completely altruistic, even though I know I won't earn much more than my overhead.  I want my work out there.  I think what I have to say through my writing is important, and I want people to get the message.  While I try not to be too didactic in my creative writing, lessons certainly can be learned through the characters, plots and themes, but I believe any good piece of literature should leave the reader with something to think about.  If my readers finish my books and toss them, I know I have partially failed, not because I think we should cater to the lowest common denominator, but because ultimately, we should be communicating through our self expressions.  So that has become another mission for me, which makes marketing meaningful.

Another selfish motive I have is being given the opportunity to chat with writers and readers at public events--for free.  There's nothing better than exchanging ideas in a dynamic setting while selling books.  Writers can always learn from one another, and they should always listen to their readers, whether the readers are offering negative comments or not.  How else will we know how we are being interpreted?  Listening to negativity is not easy to stomach, and every writer feels to defend his/her own work, but that doesn't mean we should dismiss the reader.  We have to sell books, after all.  Readers are our customers.  Back to reality--we can't forget who our customers are.

I don't think writers are inherently customer service oriented.  We tend to be introverts who are proud of our efforts and who want to be respected for our talents.  It's our beastly nature.  Chatting with customers goes against our nature and puts us out of our comfort zone, but if we want to reach the public, we have to be able to relate to the public, or at least a portion of that public.  It's good to find a niche, but don't we want to reach out even more?  For example, an academic writes a book about anthropology.  Other academics say "wow," and the book helps the author keep his/her job.  Okay, but where does it go from there?  Will the book reach an audience of students?  Can the theories be explained in a way that makes sense and makes a difference to the rest of the world?  We authors don't have to be immortal, but I think we should have higher goals than just selling or making ourselves feel good, especially since most of us will not end up rich or famous.

I am probably being very preachy in this post, but I am also driven by some higher motives. I don't like to waste my time with the superficial, and I do think patting myself on the back for publishing is mostly masturbatory.  Look, if you want to have an orgasm, you should go all the way and make love, really connect.  Life isn't about the quick and easy.  At least that's what I think.