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Utopia Ever After or There I Was, in Six Lanes of Traffic…

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This is my post reviewing my experience attending UtopiaCon2016, and not really a review at all of the actual writing conference. I approached my trip by planning to attend as many panels and events as I could to make it worth the trip. But I also squeezed in as much sightseeing as I could.

I was scared to leave on Wednesday. I had to tell myself I wasn’t some college student taking a trip to visit a friend a state away. I was a forty-year-old woman who could go or do anything.

Everything went as planned, which was a relief, but I was also a little sad that I didn’t get any extra out of it. I mean, I’m glad I didn’t get a flat tire. I am thankful I never got truly lost. And I am beyond amazed that I only got one mosquito bite the whole time. They must spray the fuck outta that campground.

NASHVILLE-Campsite

The Seven Points Campground sits on beautiful J. Percy Priest Lake. I was worried because the website instructed campers to store their food properly because “skunks frequent the campground.” I am very glad to say I never saw a skunk. I did see a deer on two occasions. And one 3-hour torrential thunderstorm  :-/

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

I had a mantra as I looked out the 10th floor windows of the hotel: I can’t believe I’m in Nashville.

It then evolved into: I can’t believe I am in fuckin’ Nashville.

A curse only meant as a compliment, I assure you.

I left the conference on Thursday feeling like a failure, for reasons I won’t expound on here.

By Friday at noon, it left me confused.

I did learn that husbands will get used to you being a writer, just give them time. And if that doesn’t work, give them bribes.

Everyone else seemed to go to Utopia to create friendships. (Maybe I was too distracted by the musical history of Nashville.) I desired this too. The result was I strengthened a few existing friendships, and made a handful more acquaintances.

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

But maybe that isn’t what the universe had in store for me. I have been with my husband for nineteen years. In that time I have rarely traveled long distance without him. I left this experience feeling strong and confident. Several people called me brave for attempting to travel and camp all by myself. I replied, “Brave or stupid.” But I did feel brave afterwards. I am the chick who has to have her husband show her how the unfamiliar shower works when I stay in a hotel. And I figured out the showers at the campground all by myself. And I even coped when the lights went out on me, mid-shower. Thankfully, it was not yet after sunset. I figured it was a result of a motion-detecting light (I’ve had that happen before), only to discover that the whole campground was blacked out. (I’ve also experienced that before—the result of too many RVs running their AC at the same time. I don’t want to listen to them run all night anyway. But I did, because most had generators they then ran. Oy vey.)

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

And I was scared to drive in big cities—big surprise, I still am. But for a few days I made Nashville freeways my bitch. I could merge in on the left side on a three-lane road only to merge over in ¾ of a mile to exit on the right. I regularly drove on a six lane highway—anything over five lanes gives me the heebie-jeebies, although my focus was so much on the road that my hands, wrists, and shoulder ached, and there was a giant dam next to me that I only managed to see one out of eight passes.

Maybe I have to improve myself before I can improve my writing and be a contributing member of a tribe. Or maybe I am just a giant dork. There is always that possibility. Or would that be a certainty?

Side view of the Opry stage.

Side view of the Opry stage.

While others were fangirling over authors, I was fangirling over the Grand Ole Opry. I got so excited that I couldn’t find it. Then I got hot weather, jerky & lemon cake, sick stomach. Then I spent all my time backstage taking pictures and not actually enjoying the experience. I stood on and touched “the circle” at the center of the stage. I did sit in the seats long enough to sort of feel as though I had really spent some time there and not just rushed through. The Ryman was known as “the mother church of country music.” The latest Opry still has pews rather than individual seats. It really felt like a religious experience being there. Last time I had that same feeling was at a Kid Rock concert (Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, anyone?). Why do I only experience that with music? Not when writing, not ever in an actual church.

ME ON THE STAGE AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!

ME ON THE STAGE AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!

Saturday I spent the most time interacting with actual other people and having conversations. By Sunday morning, every time I would talk to myself (perfectly normal when you travel alone), I didn’t recognize my own voice. I had developed a southern accent. My mother had tried to call me the night before. Knowing I sounded “altered”, there was no way I could call her back until this passed.

It turned out to be only a 24 hour thing, like the flu, which made me a little sad. In a way, I liked my free souvenir.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

The panels and talks I enjoyed the most were ones that were more emotional than informative. Heather Hildenbrand’s “The Audacity of Self-Love” had to be my favorite.

I’m not sure yet if I will return next year. If I do, maybe I should exhibit rather than attend panels. It is so confusing to figure out what the universe wants from you…

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

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Another Country Song: DENTS

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Yes, I have attempted to write another bad country song. I don’t know anything about reading or composing music, so maybe that just makes it a poem. I was kind of inspired by the three books I am working on lately. Hope you likey…

Dents: Full of 'em

Dents: Full of ’em

DENTS
Cars and trucks are an extension
Of our body and personality
That’s why when someone gets
too close on the freeway
We extend them a profanity
Some people baby their cars
Keep them locked away from the elements
But what makes a car special is not
How pristine you keep it
It is the experience

It is not the outside that counts
But the memories within
These dents are displayed
Like badges of honor
From the battles fought
It may look worn and used up
But at the same time it is stronger
From all those miles and those loads
Don’t count me out
Because I will be there with you
Until the end of the road.

I had a car, I called it an SUV
An SRV according to the manufacturers’ files.
I don’t care, it was special to me
Two-hundred and sixteen thousand miles
Drove that car north and south
And halfway west across this great county
Slept under the stars
And president’s heads
It bore the scars
Of two hail storms
And one hail mark slightly larger and deeper than the rest
Where I lost my temper
When a campfire wouldn’t catch.
I never felt bad about that blemish
Because it was part of the history

It is not the outside that counts
But the memories within
These dents are displayed
Like badges of honor
From the battles fought
It may look worn and used up
But at the same time it is stronger
From all those miles and those loads
Don’t count me out
Because I will be there with you
Until the end of the road.

I have fallen down
All on my own
I’ve also had a little push
A time or two
I never wanted to let this hate
Eat me alive
But I regret not standing up for myself sooner
For setting the record straight
That I am more than the names
You chose to call me.
I want you to know, at the end of the day…

It is not the outside that counts
But the memories within
These dents are displayed
Like badges of honor
From the battles I’ve fought
I may look worn and used up
But at the same time I am stronger
From all those miles and those loads
Don’t count me out
Because I will be there waiting for you
At the end of the road.
 

And I say DON’T COUNT ME OUT
Because I WILL be there waiting for you
At the end of this road…

 

For those of you who haven’t heard, I have an event this Saturday from 12pm-5pm at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Lansing. You can click on my Events page for more info. See you there!

 

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

Poem: 3pm today

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It hit me at about 3pm today
An undeniable urge to
Shuffle my feet
Hang my head
And watch it roll away.
–JLF

Oops...Time to hit the vending machine for caffeine and sugar.

Oops…Time to hit the vending machine for caffeine and sugar.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

Gloomcookies for Breakfast

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Eat gloomcookies for breakfast
The sweetness kills
all the tiny pieces of life
that once were
one falls
they all fall
Where did he fall too?
Down Down Down
Under the breakfast table
Through the cracks in the floor
His soul cracked
It speaks no more
–JLF
10/11/01 & 10/12/01

Wounded Heart Logo-sm clean edges

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

The Riley Sisters Mix

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Aw, don't the girls look so good all together?

Aw, don’t the girls look so good all together?

I started writing The Wind Could Blow a Bug with only one song in my head. But as I continued the series, I found country songs, both new and old, helped with my inspiration. While I was raised on country and have always had a fondness for it, I hadn’t listened to it in probably a decade or more. I think when Garth retired, maybe I did too. I don’t know if my country-based stories lead me to the music, or the music fueled the books. Either way, it happened. (By the way, seeing Garth live in concert was part of my reconnecting to country as well.)

Here is my playlist for The Riley Sisters Mix with annotations (some minor spoilers included), followed by the YouTube playlist. Most of these songs give me the good music neck tingle.*

Kick the Dust Up – Luke Bryan: This just makes me think of the Tucker boys romping around the dirt roads of Oakley. It sets the vibe. Plus, Luke seems like a good old boy, which is why a minor character by the name of Luke may appear in Book 3, as well as a character named Blake…

Boys Round Here – Blake Shelton: Take a little ride to the river? Does that make anyone else think about Wade taking Miley down to the pond for a little skinny dipping?

Speakers– Sam Hunt: This song is damn sexy. So is Sam Hunt. This makes me think of Wade and Jane parking on the night of her high school graduation.

Play It Again – Luke Bryan: This is the first song that began my country music resurgence. While it doesn’t correlate exactly to a scene in the book, it seems like an experience that could totally happen between Wade and Jane.

Got Me Wrong – Alice in Chains: You might think this song doesn’t fit with the rest, and maybe it doesn’t, but it fits Jane’s story. When she is getting over her depression in college and hears a song on the radio that just speaks to her heart? That is based off of real events, and this was the real-life song for me.

John Deere Green – Joe Diffie: For the end of Book 1 and Wade’s wedding proposal to Jane; and of course Josh and Kiley and the water tower in Book 2. Oh God, I just teared up thinking about the water tower scene.

I Knew You Were Trouble – Taylor Swift: Josh’s song.

Ticks – Brad Paisley: This song is one long pick-up line that Josh would totally use on Kiley, if given the chance, and she would totally fall for it.

South Side of Heaven/What I Got – Mezcla featuring Michael Raymond-James: MRJ is the semi-inspiration for Josh Tucker. It only seemed right that since this was available on YouTube that his gravelly voice should be included in this collection.

Honey Bee – Blake Shelton: Sweet words I can picture Josh trying to woo Kiley with.

Love Me Like You Mean It – Kelsea Ballerini: I confess, this whole song is included just cuz I like where she says “Boy with your hat back, um I kinda like that.”

Red Dirt Road – Brooks & Dunn: Nothing specific, but provides an overall feel of growing up in the south that I hope my book captures some tiny 1/1000th of.

Raised On It – Sam Hunt: This is the song that sort of bridges my growing up in a farm town in Michigan with the Rileys and Tuckers growing up in Oakley, Alabama. I totally know about “sticky quarters”; I used them as the basis of a whole paper on Rites of Passage in college.

Ride to California – Paper Tongues: Miley, making her way out to Hollywood at all costs where she believes are all her dreams are just waiting to come true.

Celebrity Skin – Hole: Miley’s walk of shame the day after she meets movie star Mark.

Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus: Fish out of water, or walking the Hollywood walk in the wrong shoes.

City of Angels – 30 Seconds to Mars: Oh God, I just love 30 Seconds to Mars and Jared Leto. This song is all about Hollywood being life-changing, for good and bad.

The River – Good Charlotte: Ya, I love Good Charlotte too; had to work them into here somehow. This song is all about how Los Angeles can eat you alive, as it does Miley.

Holy Toledo – Crystal Bowersox: This is Miley sitting on her couch back home depressed in her flannel cupcake pajamas and being a day overdue for a shower. A song about looking for redemption.

Blank Space – Taylor Swift: I actually think of this as being Mark’s point of view. What an a-hole😉

Skr Boi – Avril Lavigne: Travis’s song. And I love Avril.

The Climb – Miley Cyrus: Miley Riley climbing back up out of the hole she found herself in upon returning to Oakley.

 

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It CLICK HERE TO WIN!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

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