survivor

An Essay About Being and Becoming a Poetess

Late last night I finished work on another collection of poems, “Thelxiepeia.” This group of poems started out with a different title. When I began editing I knew that many of the poems would not make the final cut. They seemed parts of two books jammed together in a way that didn’t fit and so I opted for a cohesive finished selection and a new title. Thelxiepeia, in Greek mythology, is one of the Sirens, creatures whose seductive songs and music lured sailors to crash their ships. Sirens were often represented as being part woman and part bird. How I happened upon this story of Thelxiepeia was that I was watching an old movie called “Xanadu”, in which a muse, Kira, whose real name is Terpsichore, the muse of the dance, emerges from a mural, and falls in love with a mortal. There are fantastic musical numbers, Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, with music by Cliff Richard, The Tubes, and ELO. I’ve mentioned this movie before as it has most everything in it that an adolescent girl in 1981, one seeking some escape from excruciating pain, could require of a movie. I still think it’s a beautiful film, though from a completely different point of view this many years gone now. In watching it again I thought to look up the names of the Nine Muses of Olympus, one of whom is portrayed, though it isn’t a speaking part, by Sandahl Bergman, who is better known for her roles in “Conan the Barbarian”, “All That Jazz”, and “Red Sonja.” This led to looking up the names of the Sirens, and the writing of the poem, “Thelxiepeia.” Thematically overall, the collection has to do with the subject of muses and myths, with the stories we tell ourselves so that we can find a way to tell our stories, and those things that help us along the way in that.

xanadu-mural-muses

The Muses, “Xanadu”, 1980

 

In writing these poems, in watching “Xanadu” whenever it was, these poems were written several years ago, and remembering again that time of my life, I understood again how it is that I became a poetess, a writer, and how much of that, for me, relates to, or has or is entrenched in, films and music in someway. In 1981 I turned thirteen years old. Over the course of exactly one months time, I went from being a normal, healthy kid, to being emaciated and barely able to get out of bed. Five foot eight, at that time, my weight dropped to ninety-six pounds at one point. I couldn’t go to school, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t not sleep, and after months of weeks of grueling visits to doctors, specialists, hospitals, they couldn’t find anything specifically wrong with me that they could diagnose as anything other than Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, since re-diagnosed as an adult as Still’s Disease, which is similar to Lupus. That’s back story, it took a year to recover enough, to be well enough again, to really return to school. Point being that I really couldn’t do much of anything other than watch television during most of that time. I didn’t have the ability to concentrate or focus enough to read books during that time as I was in too much pain, though I’d been an avid reader up to then. Being as I couldn’t really do much of anything else during that time other than watch television, many of the usual restrictions on what I was allowed to watch, were lifted. Nineteen-eighty and eighty-one weren’t bad years for film, though my viewing was limited to whatever cable movie channel it was that we had or whatever was making its “Network Television Premier” and that was usually about a year behind whatever was in the theaters. I’ve spoken before about watching the film “Altered States” and feeling a strange understanding of the transformation of the main character while wondering why in the world anyone would willing put themselves through what he does. ( It’s like “Jaws” in that you find yourself just wanting him to get out of the water.) Along those lines I also watched the other werewolf movies of the day, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Wolfen” and the like. The feeling that I had sometimes was very much that I didn’t want to be that, and that I was nonetheless turning into some inexplicable creature and the world was turning into a strange place that didn’t understand me, anymore than I could understand it.

Most of the time, I couldn’t hold a pen or a pencil, couldn’t do schoolwork, wore Ace bandages and wrist braces and homemade splints. I was in so much pain so constantly, the world slips away when it’s like that, for anyone experiencing anything like that I would guess. The way that everyone else keeps time is meaningless and useless and of no importance. On the better days, I’d wish I was at school, I’d think about all I was missing out on, dances, friends, boyfriends, classes I liked. I couldn’t ride my bicycle or play sports anymore and I’d always been the kid that was outside from sunup until dark, though really it was beyond wallowing. Whatever the future was going to hold for me was forever changed. My mother said, “You know, you could still write. You could try writing poems again.” I’d written poems in grade school, and for school, though I hadn’t considered “writer” or “poetess” as a job option outside of possibly being a journalist, a newswoman. And I thought, “I can’t even hold a pencil.” But she got a couple of small notebooks for me and I remember writing what I still consider to be my first serious poem, titled simply, “Alone”, while I was sitting in bed watching the film, “Private Benjamin.” That movie is a comedy, containing one of my all time favorite movie line exchanges.

“Aunt Kissy: I hope my coat’s gonna be good enough. I had no idea it was gonna be so chilly.

Harriet Benjamin: It’s November here, Kissy.

Teddy Benjamin: It’s November everywhere, genius.”

But the film is ultimately about Judy Benjamin finding her sense of self, and the strength to be her own person, there was something in that that spoke to me beyond the ribald, raunchy, comedy, because in that place, the funniest thing in the world, isn’t quite so funny. In that place of so much pain, the funniest thing in the world seems illogical, senseless, and idiotic, I guess one way to put it would be like how the food fight in the film “Animal House” (1978), might not make you laugh if you’re not from a first world country where even waste is taken for granted, and what I was looking for were things that were hopeful in some way, or strong, resilient. It also may be that it was during that time that any remaining sense of humor I had, took a sardonic, somewhat self-deprecating, turn. I looked at the poem that I’d scribbled in the little notebook and that was the beginning, and I hope I never forget that moment. Additionally, it’s become evident to me that my brain might be hardwired for rhyme to some degree, and some of that comes from listening to music and song lyrics all my life. ( My father was a musician, both my parents could sing, there was live music in the house for much of my youth.) Eventually I was allowed to use my mother’s electric typewriter sometimes, when my hands were very swollen, as I could often still move my fingers on the keys for a while even if I couldn’t move my wrists or my hands, however much it hurt. I was a writer before that, but after that, I knew that I was, whether I’d claimed it or it had claimed me, and that was that. I’ve since tried not to be a writer a couple of times and that doesn’t ever work out. I used to say that my writing was my “human’s compensation,” like … yeah there’s all of whatever else there is, but then there’s my writing. God willing I’ll be able to keep writing and writing and writing. Human beings are resilient, and strong, courageous.

Finishing this collection of poems, and it isn’t quite as long as some of the others at only fifty-four pages, I could go right into editing another collection of poems but I found that I didn’t want to, I found myself wanting to work on some kind of story again, some fiction. Though really I am taking some time to organize and edit and clear the decks for the end of the year, hopefully do some fun things, spend some time with family. 2017 has gone quickly, hasn’t it? The last several years for me, I’ve realized, have been about finding myself as a writer again, finding my groove with it all, finding balance and self acceptance, allowing myself to be this and to honor it and the gift of it, to appreciate, and accept, and let be, my own muses. “Thelxiepeia”, I think, speaks very much to all of that. I hope to release it sometime next year, in early spring. I’m so grateful for this gift of being able to write, and I do consider it to be a gift. We all find inspiration or ideas in a lot of different things, people, places, it’s important to honor your muse(s), one of mine led me to Thelxiepeia. I’m uncertain in this moment if these poems were a farewell to the girl that I was or an homage, I feel like I can write about her, but I can’t ever again be her. I’m not sad about that, only grateful for having had the chance to be that girl, and to be looking now to the future as this woman. Becoming is ever ongoing.

 

Teri

 

Thelxiepeia

 

great song from the film “Xanadu.”

One November, I Published Two Books

I’ve worked hard the last couple of years to get some books published, I’m thinking of them as there were “the first five,” and now there is “the magnificent seven.” I also have stories in three print anthologies, and I’m going to get those linked up with cover pictures, as well as having been published thirteen times various places online during the last six years. In the spring of 2018, I hope to release another collection of poetry, tentatively titled “Thelxiepeia”. After that, well I wouldn’t say what was next even if I had figured that out. I am a prolific writer, and that has always been the case.  Even when I think I’m not really writing much, I’m always really writing something. I had a tremendous back catalogue of manuscripts, books, to publish. “Thelxiepeia” is work that was composed from 2011 to 2012 or thereabouts, so I’m getting closer to being caught up.

The books I’ve released in the last week, “Gold Mine” and “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf”, both came out of a nervous breakdown that began in 2008.  Fact is, I’ve gotten a lot of writing, stories, out of that breakdown though I’d just as soon not got through anything like that again.  “Gold Mine” is really, I think, something that was written, compiled, jammed together, like a panic attack during a panic attack in 2009. That book was very much the moment at the beginning of an avalanche. The title “Gold Mine” came out of some remembered fragment that life experiences are a writer’s gold mine, to which I thought “go mine your own business,” and then thinking that I might have thrown a gold mine worth of writing into a fire. “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf” was written during the first months of 2014, when I was recovering from the worst of it all and really at the beginning of sorting things out. Most people cannot put their house back in order in the middle of the storm. I’ve said before that much of my work is catharsis in that it is something of a coping mechanism, as much as it is a way to dream, it is also a way to understand things, to reason things out in some way, and sometimes, it’s very much a way to get rid of the poison. I’ve written some horror stories that aren’t anything I want to read, writing horror was way outside of my comfort zone as a writer, so if someone tells me they don’t like horror, I can respond honestly that I understand that completely. I’ve also used the “input/output” analogy on that one, the world isn’t always a nice place, all my experiences in this life haven’t been good, sometimes the writing is way to git rid of bad emotions or baggage, we’ve all got stuff. I’ve written some super hopeful, sappy, in love and in love with life stuff too. We learn to appreciate the balance between the “good” and the “bad,” to understand that sometimes those things change, and to sift the wheat from the chaff.

“Maybelline Raven and The Wolf” began as I started to sort out my own ancestry, to research my own family tree. One of the biggest lessons to come out of that has been not to jump the gun. I started out with family stories, finally got to the 100% bottom of some things, researched the actual genealogy and family tree, did a DNA test only to then further read that such a test might not tell you what you want to know or even reveal the truth of your lineage because with each generation the bloodline thins, so to speak, and people migrated and mixed and so on. I learned that the descendants a person can verify and trace are generally the best indicator. I am of English, Irish, and Cherokee descent. It was ultimately easier for me than some as my parents are no mystery to me and I did grow up with a grandparents who were interested in the family history though there were discrepancies and oddities to be sorted out. For example, I grew up with a story that we were related to George Washington, as well as to an “Indian Princess,” to which my grandfather would say, “She wasn’t a princess. That wasn’t her real name.” When you hear stories like that as a kid, it’s ridiculous. Yeah right, sure. In researching the family tree, I found a George Washington, not thee George Washington, but a George Washington. From there I thought, “Okay, what other of these stories are true, and what have I had wrong?”

On my mother’s side of the family, I am able to trace back to the 1500’s in England, to Scotland and to 1800’s Ireland and a young man named Joseph Creighton, aged thirteen years, traveling alone, who arrived in New Orleans in 1847 aboard The Berlin, to Reverend David Caldwell and the Revolutionary War, and to Civil War soldiers who fought on both sides of the conflict. On my father’s side of the family, I am able to trace my ancestry to 1500’s England to Sir Robert Bell, Speaker of the House of Commons, to 1600’s Colonial England to Thomas Burgess whose affair with Lydia Gaunt led to the first ever divorce in Plymouth and to Cherokee Chief Doublehead ( a sixth great-grand-father), whose daughter, Cornblossum (Princess) Doublehead married Big Jake  Troxell and  their  daughter, Margaret Troxell married James Bell in 1809, whose great-grandson, William, a great-grandfather, who married Lena Burgess, one of my great-grandmothers, and the sixth great-grandaughter of Thomas Burgess and Lydia Gaunt. There were also family stories of a relation to The Younger Brothers, of the James- Younger Gang by the marriage of a cousin, connected through the Carson family, though I was unable to verify those stories.

I went on my first cross-country trip to Mississippi and Louisiana before I was quite two years old, and I remember the highlights, including getting bit by a dog. These stories were swimming around in my head as I wrote the story of Maybelline. Maybelline Raven is a woman who has witnessed and experienced something horrific. As a result, her mind has found a way to compartmentalize and deal with the trauma as she remains terrified and trying to protect her children. Set in 1762 in a fictional village along the banks of the Mississippi River, this story was an important turning point for me, it is a story about courage, about strength, about the incredible power of the mind and the heart to heal, it is a story about resilience, survival, and love. Maybelline Raven is also a story that I believed in so much that I was will to roll the dice on publishing my own books, though it wasn’t the first book that I published. Creating “Maybelline” helped me understand my own processes of coping and healing.

I’m going to be taking a bit of a rest ( I already am, caught a bug, needed to sleep, etc.) and hopefully enjoying the holidays, sober,while trying to avoid eating too many delicious baked goods. I’ll probably be working on something. I’ll probably post again before the year is out, or not. Until then, “Gold Mine” and “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf”are  available on Amazon. The paperback of Maybelline should be available any day now.

Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

Teri

Gold Mine, These Are the Words I Managed to Save

During the fall months of 2008 and on into 2009, and on for a while, reality slipped away from me. Amid the avalanche of dissipating solidity descending into complete confusion and chaos of thought, I threw more than twenty years of writing, of work, into a cauldron of flames. Two file boxes of poems, stories, notes, one completed novel, and two poetry manuscripts, went into the fire. One of those manuscripts was for a book of poems titled “Winsome Vein”, that I thought was darker than anything I’d ever written, so much so that I was afraid of the direction my writing seemed to be taking. The truth is that I’ve always written darker words, as much as I’ve written hopeful ones. However, having filed that copyright on “Winsome Vein”, saved that work as I had set fire to all other copies. ( Some might say that was the right thing to do.)

Within days of having burned so much of my work, I experienced a moment of clarity, and panic. I became terrified that I might destroy more of my own work. I gathered the bits and pieces of what remained, jamming them together one after another in whatever way they seemed to make sense to me, along with other fragments that my mind had latched onto in the unraveling. Those salvaged bits became this book, “Gold Mine”. I filed my copyright on it as soon as it was finished, thinking that I was filing a copyright on a pile of scraps, of bits and pieces of salvage. I was trying to protect my work from my own want to destroy it. I later found an old notebook with many pages missing that I remembered rifling through one night in a fit of what I was thinking of as “editing”, as though all sentimentality and heart had taken leave of me along with my senses. The poems still intact in that notebook remain something of a godsend to me. I destroyed twenty years of work, of scraps, of notes, of stories, early rejection letters received when I was in my teens and twenties, journals, it all went, as I tried to deny myself, to say, “I am not this.” I looked at what remained and thought, These are the words I managed to save.

Coming out of that time I didn’t know if I would ever write anything again. For nearly two years, I didn’t. It is the only time in the last thirty-three years that I’ve ever ceased writing.

All my words are not always the best words, they are, however, the encapsulation of the moment in which they were written. The merit of a thing is sometimes the moment. I’ve learned as much from the bad poems and stories that I’ve written as I have from the good ones. Whether they are all worth publishing isn’t the point, they are all worth keeping and learning from.

I hadn’t looked at, read, much of this work since that time. In writing and editing this now, I’ve realized that I was leaving a message for myself for the future, for whenever I would get back to this. A message to not give up, not to quit. I found my guts again with this book.

I am a writer. ~  Teri Skultety, September 12, 2017, from “Gold Mine”.

Available on Amazon Kindle!

Paperback coming soon!

A Sampling from the seventy-eight pieces of poetry and prose that make-up, “Gold Mine”, now available on Amazon.

Map Maker

Night

Indian Summer

Let Them Eat Cake

Wolf

Beauty

Thrift

Fairy Wails

Longing for Autumn

Let It Ride

Dream Girl

This True Heart

Psalm

Unlimited

Time Machine

The Harvest

 

 

I hope you buy this collection of my salvaged scribbles, I hope you read it and enjoy it. I hope it rocks your socks.  Thank you so much for stopping by. Sincerely, Teri Skultety

Proofs, Poems, Healing, and Hope

Up early this morning, though I don’t generally make it a habit to discuss my habits. There was, however, a great write up recently about how author Megan Abbott spends her Sundays.( You can read that here. ) What I loved about this piece is that as a writer it is sometimes helpful or comforting when other writers share such things because this tends to be a solitary gig that is comparable to precisely no other job on earth. Though I have considered the possibility that astronauts might have some idea what it’s like. Here is where I have to keep myself from going off on a tangent with regard to my imaginings about space travel and the like. So as a writer, to read about the day of another writer can feel like… I’m normal. Writers spend a lot of time very much in their own world, the world of stories. However, what you learn is that most folks, regardless of occupation, are constructing their own realities, it is how we all live in the larger world.

I’ve ordered my proofs, or advanced copies, ( also sometimes call ARCs) of the novel. I’m nervous, excited. I have a feeling of accomplishment that has brought to me the realization that I so needed it. I needed, and need, to feel like I am getting somewhere, like I am getting something done, accomplishing something, achieving something. I’ve realized that this was/is part of my difficulty with traditional publishing. Please don’t misunderstand me, in and of itself, traditional publishing is fine, I mean, I’m not opposed to it, that isn’t what I’m saying. Traditional publishing puts everything on their terms, they like your story, they don’t like your story, you could wait months to hear. I got a rejection notice this year after waiting a year, and that is pretty common depending on the market your submitting to. People outside this business hear things like that and it sounds unfathomable. I’ve already addressed a lot of those issues in previous posts. But what I’ve realized is that it left me feeling like I wasn’t getting anything done and like there wasn’t a lot of hope to get where I wanted to be, or to be doing what I want to be doing, and that is, having my work published on a regular basis.Going the route of traditional publishing, very honestly, often left me feeling like a groveling idiot, if not acting like a fool. It left me feeling like it was less about whether or not my work was any good, and more about whether or not I was likable and socially adept. I also felt like if I had walked into the proverbial room with a master’s degree in English from a respected college, I might have appeared to be more talented. Other times I felt like I was being relegated to being “fan girl” and again, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being fan girl, on some level, I most certainly am every bit the fan girl. But when you’ve written as much as I have written and are as serious about it as I am, have been writing for as long as I have been writing, being met with the attitude that you’ve just shown up to get autographs, kind of sucks. Worse though, perhaps, is feeling like you can’t say anything about it. In that though too, there have been people who have been incredibly supportive and those are the people who helped to keep me from quitting. I’m so thankful for those people.

What I wanted was for it to be about the work. From the beginning there was someone saying But who is she? I guess it would be kind of like if you were the new employee and didn’t put any family photos out on your desk. I was unprepared for that. I think that I knew how to be professional, or I knew how to be personal. Not knowing how to juggle that is certainly on me. It simply wasn’t an issue I’d expected to encounter. It’s a tough business, one that often isn’t structured very much like a business, or didn’t seem to be. It got to where it felt hopeless to me. I thought, I’m talented. I’ve got all of this great work, and no matter what I do or how I approach it, I’m spinning my wheels. 

I don’t live my life competitively or by comparison. I’ve dealt with a chronic illness from a young age and what that taught me is an appreciation for individual ability and accomplishment, an appreciation for, What is the best that I can do today? So my sense of accomplishment has nothing to do with what anyone else has going on. I also have a keen sense of time. A year’s response time may be normal in some quarters, but that’s longer than I care to wait. ( There was a time when I was very quietly submitting work to some pretty large markets because why not? Those are some slow wheels.) I need to feel like I’m getting something done. Regardless of what any other person thinks of it, I’ve written an eighty-five thousand word novel, edited it, designed and formatted the interiors, designed the cover, formatted it for publication, it is four hundred and sixty-six pages total, by myself. That is an accomplishment. It’s something that I can be proud of having accomplished. It has helped to restore my sense of confidence, something that had been completely destroyed over the last however many years. Does it matter to me that this isn’t a big traditional publishing book deal? Not one whit.  I love this. I love being able to do this myself. Whether or not others recognize the accomplishment or take me seriously as a result of it, again, that’s their prerogative. I don’t feel like a groveling fool waiting to see if someone likes me enough, or who I’m “friends” with, ( which can work for or against you, depending), or whether or not I’m cool enough or popular enough, marketable enough, to publish my story. Whether or not that that’s the reality of it, that is the truth of how it felt to me. For all of my life, I have known that I am a writer, and I never felt like less of one than I did at so many moments in the last five years. Traditional publishing often made me feel like, You’re a writer when we say that you’re a writer. And that’s bullshit. There was a tremendous loss of my sense of self-respect in that, one that I didn’t realize that I had acquiesced to, until I put this book together myself. I’ve been through one of those tremendous phases or personal growth and learning. I really cannot wait to write and publish more books.

Obviously I read a lot of traditionally published material, and enjoy it. I’m simply speaking to my own experience as a writer trying to get published, be paid for my work, and get something accomplished. I’ll still buy a copy of The Paris Review. What I’m saying though, is that for me, this was the better option. I also really believe in the independent publishers and small presses that are out there getting it done.


     So, I’m waiting for my proofs! Yeah! Hoping to have The Slick Furies available for purchase prior by Halloween.

I’ve also been working on a collection of poems, on breaks from getting the novel ready, that I should be able to published and have available before the end of the year. They are thirty-nine pieces of poetry and prose that I wrote from 2005 to 2008, while recovering from a bought with physical illness, mourning the deaths of my beloved grandparents, and leading up to a very real,completely devastating, nervous breakdown around the time of my fortieth birthday. The selection of poems, and prose, is titled WINSOME VEIN. The poems are darker than anything that I had written up to that point, some of them have appeared here on my webpage, and what I had said about them early on was that if I had to describe them, it would be like if Anne Sexton and Edgar Allan Poe had a baby, and that baby was slightly more ethereal or given to romantic ideas occasionally, along the lines of Sara Teasdale. The title, “Winsome Vein”, came out of a quote about writing, to paraphrase, that there’s nothing to it, that all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Some version of which was said by Ernest Hemingway, and also by a sports writer named Red Smith. So that’s fun!

What works for one person, isn’t necessarily the way for another person to go. This is what is working for me right now. This is what I know that I need to be doing right now. I’m excited about writing again, about making books, about life. What’s more though, I’m hopeful.

Teri Skultety

12 September, 2016

The Slick Furies.

I’m super tired. Is that the best time to write a blog post? Hopefully this won’t be too rambling.

I have surpassed the sixty thousand word mark on the edits/re-write of the vampire novel. I have approximately sixty-six pages of the original text, about twenty thousand words, to finish, knowing that I’ll likely add a chapter or two. I’m right on time for the schedule that I set for myself with this.

I started writing this novel in January of 2013 and finished writing and started a sequel that same year. I did not want to write about vampires. I threw numerous fits about it. I quit writing it at about twenty-three thousand words, walked away, said “I hate vampires, I’m not doing this.” At which point the rest of the book wrote itself in my head over the course of a couple of days and I had to get it all down on paper. Not only did I have to get it all down on paper, I wanted to.

In the beginning, it made me feel really sick to write it. Headaches, sick to my stomach. For me, writing has involved a lot of catharsis, thus far anyway. People might say, “Well, why would you write horror?” I didn’t set out to write a vampire novel, like I said, I don’t like vampires, and perhaps, I’m not that much of a planner?

Why do I dislike vampires and where did this idea for this book come from?

 

My actual blood, actual.

I dislike vampires, and I mean no offense to anyone whatsoever in this, but because I was deathly ill when I was an adolescent, there was a time when my blood was being drawn twice a week, every week, for several months. There was a time when I was in the hospital and they’d come in while I was asleep, take my temperature with one of those then new temperature things that they’d stick on your forehead, and if I had a fever, I’d often wake up with a nurse standing on one side of me, gently holding me there, and a phlebotomist standing on the other side of me, with a syringe already stuck in my arm. I had nightmares for a quite a while, I think that it’s a lot to have to toughen up about at any age. However, I think that being that age, being faced with mortality, the constancy of the blood work, it might have been abnormal had I not equated it to vampires at some point. One of the first R-rated movies that I was allowed to watch was during that time, “Altered States,” and the transformation scenes resonated with me because, what the heck was happening to me? Was I dying? They said I might not live. What was I becoming? Needless to say, the idea of vampires as any kind of romantic, immortal, creatures, wasn’t something that was going to fly with me.

But that time of my life passed, I lived, I went on, and it isn’t that we forget, it’s simply that we put such things behind us, we continue on in the present. I’ve been through other bouts with illness, some equally arduous. I live with Still’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis. Suffice it say that vampires haven’t ever been my favorite thing. I felt like I turned into some strange wolf creature, was turning into that, all of those years ago, and they kept taking my blood trying to figure it out, or turn me into a vampire, one of them. But, it still wasn’t what I intended to write or would have said that I wanted to write.

But I wrote some horror stories trying to push my own boundaries and that’s something that I’ve always done,  push my own boundaries, something that I’ve never need prompting to do. Years ago I knew that I wasn’t comfortable writing about sex. So I got comfortable writing about sex. When I started writing horror stories, I wasn’t comfortable writing violence or about violence. Without realizing it, I had begun to think in terms of How am I ever going to write whatever kind of book if I can’t write a sex scene? If I can’t describe a violent crime? How I am ever going to be free as a writer to write whatever if I’m holding myself back from ever writing any kind of fiction that might offend someone? If I’m not getting outside of my own beliefs as well?

From that came a story called “The Love” that was originally published at Solarcide and appears in the “Solarcidal Tendencies” anthology, a story about archangels in love with each other, having become carnal, battling a Lucifer character. It was a really fun story to write, surprisingly so.

 

There was also a poem that I wrote in January of 2012…

They bust the rusted meadows gate,
They wait the darkness for the dawn,
They drink the stars,
They curse the moon,
They wander on and on,
They steal away the slipstream sleep,
And purge the soul with fire,
They promise everlasting life,
And all that you desire….
Vampire.

I’ve been writing poetry all of my life, essentially, at this point so that for me now, it’s simply something that I can do, after decades of practice. But I looked at that poem and I thought, “They bust the rusted meadows gate…” What the heck is that? From there I think that it was only a matter of time before a longer story began to present itself because I could see the vampires from the poem trying to get in some huge gate somewhere like zombies. Sometimes the poetry that I write is “with intention,” I’ll think I want to write a poem about a butterfly, however more often than not I’ll get the first line or two and then it just goes from there. I didn’t know that it was a poem about vampires until I wrote the last line.

Other inspirations that went into it are obviously every other vampire thing that I somehow know after this many years on earth. I’ll likely get more in depth about those specifics another time though many of them are included, listed, referenced, in other posts here on my webpage. But I’d never written a full length novel before.

I wrote it, I started to write a sequel. Then I set it aside because I just felt like it was making me sick and I kept fighting it. In reality, it was making me well. In reality, writing this novel has mapped my maturation as a writer, and is the book, the story, that graduated me completely from poet to novelist. I will write many other books, but there will never be another first novel. During the course of this process, from beginning it in January of 2013, to finishing the first edits in July of 2014 and filing my copyright, to submitting it and having it ( quite nicely) rejected, to now, I’ve learned so much. Practice.

What seventy-two thousand words, two-hundred and forty-four typed pages looks like.

I’ve almost quit this book more times than I can count. But I’m not a quitter and at some point it became not only about the fact that I believe in this story, but about learning to to be a novelist. How do you get good at something? I decided that I didn’t want to abandon this story. I decided to type it again, to re-write all seventy-two thousand plus words, from the beginning, for my own learning if for nothing else. That’s more than two hundred pages.

I learned that not only do I love writing fiction, I love writing genre fiction. I truly have fallen in love with writing longer stories. I never would have anticipated that I would because poetry involves so much instant gratification for me. I’ve discovered that the “short-story,” from about twenty-five hundred to five thousand words, is my least favorite form/length to write. I’ve found that writing flash-fiction is another thing that I’m in love with doing. My idea of myself as a writer not only evolved with this book, it has come into being.

I look at the first poem that I ever wrote and I know that to be the beginning of all of my writing, though not necessarily my fascination with language. This is the book that made me a novelist. Far from being my first attempt at writing a novel, there have been many other tries over the years, many, I think that the first time that I tried to write a complete novel I was eighteen, and that’s important too because just like all of the poems that I was writing without realizing that I was practicing every time, honing my skills every time, all of those other attempts at completing a novel went into this one, and this is the one that I will see through. This is the one that I decided that even if I have to publish it myself, it is getting done. I wanted to take a moment and kind of think about that, savor it a little bit, before I begin the big push through the last fifteen or twenty thousand words because I hated this, because I fought it and it couldn’t be fought or I never would have finished it in the first place. I’ve come out the other side of it with the understanding, the knowing that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, writing fiction. I’ve learned so much about the value of fiction, of the emotional truths that can be expressed with it, of story telling, about how I misunderstood the limitlessness of genre writing and I feel like I’ve been given this incredible gift.

Before this, I understood how it is that I write poetry, I understood myself as a poet.  Now I understand how it is that I write novels, and myself as a novelist.

When the time comes, of course I’ll be offering up the synopsis, the pitch, the what is this vampire novel about anyway? That I’ve spent three years on it?

I will always be a poetess and write and publish poetry. Now I am a novelist, a fiction writer, and really, I couldn’t be happier about that.

The original title of the book was “The Slick Furies.” I decided to change it, to “Travel Long the Night” from an old poem of mine, and then I decided to change it back, because that’s the kind of book that it is, a caper book. I may yet use “Travel Long the Night” for another book.

I’ve listened to a lot of Shinedown, Stone Temple Pilots, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Audioslave, over the last three years while writing this thing. Some Better than Ezra too. I’ve made playlists, deleted, made other ones, while wrestling around with this thing.

Some of those songs….

 

Vampire movies…

Near Dark, Love at First Bite, Blade, Interview with the Vampire, Only Lovers Left Alive, What We Do in the Shadows, Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Underworld, Queen of the Damned, Last Man on Earth.

My favorite vampire movie is “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I think that it’s beautiful and perfect, and I didn’t think that I could love a vampire movie. “Blade” is still my favorite anti-vampire movie. “Near Dark” will always be a favorite for a reason that I’ve never fully revealed because it would be a spoiler but it’s kind of fitting because like I said, writing this book made me sick, and then it made it me well.

I wanted to take a moment. I know now that I’ll be done working on this book, Travel Long the Night, this year. I know that whether or not I write the sequel, I’m going to work on and complete some other writing project first. There are so many things that I want to write, so much.

~ Teri Skultety

 

“There’s nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

~ Red Smith

Strong. Woman.

This statue, this sculpture, this piece of art, is how I feel, today, at forty-seven and a half years old. I don’t recall where I grabbed this picture from so I apologize for not crediting whomever the artist is. In addition to music, I also occasionally use artwork, pictures, paintings, photographs, for inspiration when I am writing, something to spark the imagination. There’s a story in every picture, even if that story is from a selfie and the story is that the person was goofing around with the camera.

I feel like the sum of my used parts, worn, a little rusted, a few sharp edges, reconstructed in a different way, put back together wrong, according to what they were before, right though, for what they are now, able to withstand the elements, a form of strength and resilience, stronger for the hunger than I was when I was younger, with a sense of self and direction, humbled by every moment of my continued existence, gears that have found new ways to work, to hold me up, to still be beautiful, to be able to begin to truly own and embody the word, presence and state of being, Woman.

Teri Skultety
May 22, 2016

Gypsy

35mm slide from my grandparents collection.

 

Gypsy

Remember the “family vacation?” Not the high-end modern version so often portrayed on television and in films, luggage and airplanes, but the old school, load everything in the car and drive there family vacation? Roadside rests, gas stations, fast food or the deluxe meal at a chain restaurant, sleeping in the car, drooling on the window, no cell phones, ipods, video games, dvd players or internet access, only the radio stations fading in and out, passing through one town after another?

The atmosphere of my upbringing was often unpleasant, to say the least, filled with the challenges of living with an abusive, violent, drug addicted, alcoholic, parent. I spent so much time hating the traveling hillbilly atmosphere of my youth that the possibility of there having been any romance to the traveling and the paces we visited, was lost on me. Across the Continental Divide and the Mississippi River by age two, the passing landscape a blur of golden fields, deep green forestry and hushed hues of shadowed mountains, majestic and otherwise, my early fascination with new places gave way to a kind of malaise at the prospect of travel. By the time I was entering middle school, I didn’t want to go anymore. The family travels in conjunction with our nomadic changes of residence had left me feeling like every place I went was transitory. Three years in one town and the business signs on the main drag didn’t look familiar to me, I was still a stranger. All that scenery was great but I wanted to stay home. I wanted to know where home was.

We traveled on the cheap, ice chests held our food, no showers for days, until we got “there,” and no extras. Souvenirs were small, if any, and of the usual variety, a pennant banner, a giant pencil, I had a pink comb from Yosemite that I carried around in my back pocket until the little flowers and the words “Yosemite National Forest” had rubbed off. Postcards were cheap and it was suggested once that a collection of matchbooks be started, seeing as how they were free, none of us was really interested in that. Rocks, pine cones, pieces of drift wood, sea shells, a beaded change purse from some town in Nevada, all long since discarded. When and if I ever feel some longing for those mementos from my youth I can visit exact replicas at most any thrift store, seems no one kept the giant pencils.

The road signs and exit names were the reading primer of my youth, fantastic names derived from the patchwork history of the country, Tassajara, Albuquerque, Bogalusa and Biloxi. Looking out at the towns we passed through in the night, everywhere and nowhere, Pomona, Odessa, Grand Junction, Springfield, I used to wonder what it would be like to live there, to live somewhere, to not be moving. Visible from the highway every now and then, a light would be on in someone’s kitchen window, a glimpse of someone standing at a sink washing dishes. I’d wonder what they had for dinner, imagine then clean sheets and a good bed to sleep in, someplace safe, without a nightlight.

All the highlights were duly pointed out and noted, the churning waters of the mighty “Missasip,” the same of the great lady Colorado. I hung my legs over the edge of the Grand Canyon, stood in the center of the Four Corners, walked through ruins and remains, forts, reservations, conservations, burial grounds, caverns, played in the snow on various mountains, swam in the icy waters of their lakes and in the Pacific Ocean as well as the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I hiked through Yosemite, not the touristy part, lived in the desert for a time and grew to appreciate the solace of vast open spaces, being able to see the stars in the night sky and having an unobstructed view all the way to the horizon in the daylight.

I had forgotten how much fun it used to be sometimes, when I was still young and small, when the family would go on these trips, often with my grandparents and family friends, more than one vehicle, from Texas to Mississippi one year with some of us riding in the back of a camper. Setting out in the hours before dawn, bleary eyed but wide awake, on the road watching the world wake up as we began, knowing that, back then, the best time to drive through L.A. was at two in the morning. The mystery of the unfolding highway, the anonymity of being strangers in places new to us, a band of gypsies, playing our songs around some campfire we managed to build in the dark.

My longing for roots undiminished, eventually I discovered that it really is true that home is where your heart is. They say it is in the center of one’s chest, but that’s just anatomy. For me, home has become my family, my husband, and my son. Home has become the quiet place where I can write, home has become the rail towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the mournful lullaby of the trains passing through in the night on their way to places unknown. What I gathered from the rootless existence of my youth, from the traveling carnival caravan of setting up and breaking camp, is that home is an undisclosed location carried within each of us, some place of memory, it is the only way to never be without one.

 

Teri Skultety

“Gypsy” was a nickname bestowed on me by my grandfather during a time when I was always packing a bag because I didn’t have a permanent place to live.