The Phoenix Project

Image courtesy of Phoenix Project

Phoenix Project is a new and very exciting series of community events coming to my home town of Cobden, Victoria.

Phoenix Project really is the perfect name. Almost a year ago, Cobden, Camperdown, Terang, and much of the surrounding area was either destroyed or threatened by bushfires. Homes and livestock were lost – but miraculously, no lives. Our town, and those others nearby, emerged covered in soot and smelling of smoke, but determined to recover and keep on going as we always have done before. 

That’s something I’ve had to do in my own life, too. I’ve been through some pretty tough seasons when it felt like my life was burning down around me. Yet I’ve emerged, covered in soot, and smelling of smoke and… you get the idea. As I observed last night, I’m a bit of a phoenix myself.

There’s no doubt the fires were an absolutely awful experience for everyone involved. But we got through it.

And those hard times in my life – I’ve come out braver and stronger than I’ve ever been. Well – mentally and emotionally, at least. My spine would tell you a different story.

I was very privileged to be one of the featured artists on the opening night of The Phoenix Project, alongside outstanding blues musician Alister Turril and Josh and Yas, spoken word artists from lowercase poetry in Geelong.

I shared some of the poems from ‘Smoke and Shadows’ that I wrote during and after the St Patrick’s Day fires, followed by some of my fantasy style poems because I didn’t want my bracket to be too heavy or confronting for a largely local audience. 

The poems I shared all focused one way or another on the idea of resilience, and  getting through the trials of life stronger and wiser than on the way in. 

It was a great night. The music was cool, the poetry was powerful and thought-provoking, and the tone of the evening was 100% positive. 

Phoenix Project continues this weekend with a great lineup of musicians and artists to feed the soul of everyone who comes along. 

Details of coming events can be found on the Phoenix Project Facebook page

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I am an Indie Author and I Write My Own Books.

As a teacher of senior high school English and Humanities, the ONE thing I impart to my students every time I assign a task is that they must do their own work. They all know what plagiarism is, and why it is wrong. They understand that, both at school and beyond, it is an act that has serious consequences. 

If high school students can grasp this concept and comply, it beggars belief that an author – who also claims to be a lawyer, no less – thought they could get away with stealing the work of other authors, mashing it together, and claiming it as their own.

This week, the revelation has been made — and proven — that one person has done exactly that. 

It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to light up with the scandal, and the flames of shock and indignation soon spread to other social media. The fires are still burning, and it seems there is plenty of fuel. 

I am not going to recount the whole story here – for all the sordid details, you can google #CopyPasteCris or search for that tag on Twitter. 

It is sufficient to say that upon being discovered and accused, #CopyPasteCris promptly defended her integrity and blamed the whole fiasco on the ghostwriters she hired on Fiverr. 

Seriously? Even if the plagiarism was done by someone else, the books were published in her name, she agreed to the publishing terms of service as the creator and owner of the work, and she received the royalties of every copy sold. I am confident that I am not alone in thinking that this is on her and nobody else. 

Here’s the thing.

  • Even if one hires ghost writers, why on earth would she not still read the finished book before publishing it? 
  • Upon reading it, how on earth would she not realise that there were inconsistencies of style and plot… and fix them? 
  • How did her editor not catch it? 
  • Or… did she not bother with an editor? 
  • And if she doesn’t have an editor, what quality control does she have in place for her books? 
  • What makes her think she is smart enough to get away with repeated, blatant plagiarism when her readers also read the authors that have been plagiarized? 
  • Was she never taught right from wrong? Did she ever actually think about the consequences of her actions? 

Perhaps the biggest question, though, is how did it take so long for this to be discovered? 

As an Indie author who does, in fact, write all her own material, , the entire situation leaves me furious. This one person has thrown the integrity of every honest, hard-working and worthy-of-being-read Indie author into question. 

This behavior is the kind of thing that justifies in the minds of the traditional-publishing-snobs the various stigmas that good quality Indie authors have been working so hard to overcome: sloppy writing, books riddled with errors, and people playing at being legitimate authors when they are not. 

As a reader, I am offended and outraged. Just how stupid do people like this think their readers are? 

Although I fear it is not, I hope this is an isolated case. 

And I hope every author who was plagiarized lawyers up and sues #CopyPasteCris for every penny they deserve. 

fyke-fack

Originally posted on Sesquiotica:
If this sounds like something someone from Scotland might say when having to do a lot of boring busywork for some pernickety pest, well, yes. But it’s not an expletive. It’s a word for the tedious trivial tasks themselves, or, as a verb, for busying oneself about them. Here’s a citation:…

I love discovering great words that I can insert into my everyday discussions.

fyke-fack is definitely going to get a workout… especially when school resumes this week after the summer break.

And it’s not even bad. In fact, it will effectively replace some that are, which is always handy when you’re a teacher and trying hard to be professional. Adulting is hard, you know.

Sesquiotica

If this sounds like something someone from Scotland might say when having to do a lot of boring busywork for some pernickety pest, well, yes. But it’s not an expletive. It’s a word for the tedious trivial tasks themselves, or, as a verb, for busying oneself about them. Here’s a citation:

Yet after a’, wi’ this fyke-fack an’ that fyke-fack, this thing an’ the tither thing, it cost me tippence or thretty pennies by the time I got without the port.

View original post 323 more words

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.

Current Status: Freaky.

Today’s ‘strange but true’ happening.

Having a song running in  my head isn’t unusual.  My BrainPod, as we lovingly refer to it, is easily and frequently triggered by events, words, or sights. It can change in a flash and ts usually easy to switch tracks if a song starts to annoy me. 

What was unusual about today is that I had no idea why that song was playing. It’s not a song I have ever particularly liked, especially since it makes no sense that Running Bear and Little White Dove would jump into the raging river and die together instead of just nicking off to the nearest bridge and eloping.  I hadn’t seen any running bears or any little white doves,  or had I been watching anything with Native Americans in it. I put it down to being one of those hinky things that happens sometimes, and got on with my day. 

Despite my best efforts, Running Bear has been playing on a loop in my head all day. I’ve tried to change it by singing some of my go-to “sticky tunes” that usually do the trick for me. I’ve listened to other music. 

On an impulse, I went for a drive to the coast with my husband this afternoon.He had a call out to replace a TV antenna, and a 40 minute drive each way seemed like a good opportunity to spend some time together before school starts again next week. I also figured that listening to something inane on his preferred trashy pop radio station – which normally bugs me a whole lot – would fix it for sure. 

He pulled up at the house where he had to replace the TV antenna. As he got out of the car, we heard music playing loudly from the house across the street. 

“Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love big as the sky,
Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love that wouldn’t die.”

A chill crept across the back of my shoulders and my pulse sped up just enough for me to be aware of it doing so.

I know I am an empath, but this is different. Maybe it’s because I write horror that it seems creepier than it is. I’d like to think it’s just random coincidence, but you may consider me completely weirded out. 

That’s Jo, not Joy.

This weekend we’re attending a family reunion in Anglesea. Just before lunch was served, we sat in a room full of relatives and listened as one of our cousins shared a reflection on relationships among family.

He said, “Think about tthe friendships and relationships you have. Consider the negative, the strained, and the unhealthy…”

“Never mind about the unhealthy,” I muttered. The cousin sitting beside me laughed.

“Can you imagine if they all went Marie Kondo on me?” I continued.

“Does she bring me joy?”
“No, she brings sarcasm, snark, inappropriate humour and painful honesty.”

Seriously, I’d be here with maybe three people.

‘Smoke and Shadows’: #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has taken the flag for ‘#1 New Release’ on Amazon’s US store.

I will readily confess to being a little overwhelmed right now. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has a little orange flag beside the title on Amazon US, declaring that it is the #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry. While I know it won’t last terribly long, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a. real and b. not a cruel joke. 

It was a strange mix of surprise, pride, excitement and humility that hit me when I signed into my browser after a few days away from home and that popped up.

It also comes up when anyone clicks on ‘Hot New Releases’ and scrolls through the various genres. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I know that I have worked hard to ensure it’s a great collection, and I am incredibly proud of these poems, but I know that it couldn’t have happened without readers being willing to give my work a try, nor without the support and encouragement of those who help with tricky things like marketing and promotion.  I couldn’t have done any of it without those key individuals in my life who remind me regularly that I can do this, that my work is good, and that there is no reason why I should not deserve success. 

To each of those people: thank you for helping me achieve this honour, as fleeting as it may be. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your contribution to my achievements so far.

Of course, it all depends on how one defines success.  Some people might consider dollars in the bank as a sign that they’ve made it.  Some might look at whether or not they can quit their day job and just write. Some might want to achieve “celebrity” status.  Others focus on book sales, page reads, and their ongoing rankings in various lists and stores.

I won’t deny that any or all of those things would be nice, and I absolutely do hope that people will buy, read and hopefully enjoy my books, but for me, the ultimate success as a poet is when someone tells me that my poetry is relatable, that it moved them or made them cry, or that it helped them to put a painful experience behind them.  One of my favourite comments about my book Leaf came from a young woman who told me, “I read your poems, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know someone else understands what I think and feel.”  That has never left me, and never fails to spur me on.  The fact that people connect and relate to my work in that powerfully emotional way is how I measure my success as a poet. 

So, I don’t need that little orange flag to show that I’m successful. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have it, and I’m going to take pride in it.  And I might brag about it just a little… because I know it won’t last long. And in all honesty… I’m going to tell everyone I know, just because I can. 

Current Status: Anticipation

There is a very particular thrill in waiting for a new book to hit the shelves.

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

The View From The Top Of The Mountain

Why it’s been two weeks since I last wrote a blog post.

Wait.
What?
It’s the end of December already?

What a busy month it’s been.  The last time I wrote on this blog, I bragged about turning my alarms off and being able to relax because school was done for the year. HA! Add that to the list of things I shouldn’t say if I don’t want to tempt the fates. 

In the few days between school finishing and Christmas, my father had a slew of medical appointments. Christmas shopping had to be done. End of year breakup parties had to be attended. Some decoration of the house, at least, had to be done. Then the presents had to be wrapped. And all the time, people kept telling me to take it easy, to not worry about things, and to not feel I had to do all the usual Christmas things.

I did have to, though. My husband’s family were all coming for Christmas, and mine were arriving shortly after, so I needed to make some effort. I’m glad I did, too – we had thirty people sharing Christmas lunch in our home. Everyone brought part of the feast with them, so my contribution was minimal – I made a chocolate honeycomb cheesecake, a trifle, and the maple glaze for the ham, all of which were done the day before. 

My husband and I had agreed well before the day that it would be better to leave the running of the day to him and his sisters, so that I could preserve both my back and my energy.  There is, after all, no point in undoing weeks of healing for in the course of one busy day. 

My Christmas Day was, therefore, quite relaxed. I was able to relax in my recliner and cuddle my adorable great-nephew, drink whatever lovely cordial was in the glasses that people handed to me, and enjoy a wonderful day of fun, laughter, conversation and sharing with my family. In the late afternoon, we went to visit our best friends and exchanged gifts before sharing dinner with them.  That time, too, was precious and relaxing and lovely.

Boxing Day for us is always a day spent with extended family and friends, so we gathered at my sister-in-law’s home for a barbecue with another group of thirty or so people – some were double-ups from the previous day, some were not – on a blazing hot 40 degrees Celsius Australian summer’s day. Thank God for shade, fans, and lots of cool drinks!

Tomorrow, my sister and her family arrive from interstate for a second Christmas, and to spend some valuable time with my father. And that means it’s going to be busy again! 

For that reason, I was determined that today would be blissfully quiet. It was stinking hot again: 41C in the coolest part of mainland Australia – so I stayed indoors and enjoyed the air conditioning. Thankfully, I managed to catch up on some social media and prepare the rest of Book Squirrel’s Golden Squirrel Indie Book Awards for the 31st, which I really needed to get done so that everything is properly prepared and ready to roll. 

So, I really shouldn’t have made flippant remarks about being able to relax. It’s true I’ve been able to sleep in a bit, and I haven’t had to put real shoes on more than once, which is always nice.

In all honesty, though, getting to the end of this year feels like I’ve climbed a mountain to find that I’m standing on top and looking out to the western horizon as the sun sets.

I’m thankful to have survived the journey thus far, and I can see how far I have come.  One thing is for sure, though – I won’t complain if 2019 is kinder than its predecessor.

Current Status: Alarms Have Been Turned Off

I feel like one of those athletes who stagger over the finish line and collapse… but I made it!

Today was the last day of term and the end of the school year.

The last two weeks since I returned to work after my surgery have been brutal and I feel like I have run a marathon, especially having had dad in hospital again at the same time, but I’m proud of myself for doing it, and looking forward to a very well-earned rest.

One of the things I really enjoy doing on this one particular day of the year is turning all my morning alarms off. It may take all of ten seconds, but it’s a ritual that restores my sense of “owning” my time again. I love being able to embrace my inner night owl once more, and take my daylight hours at a slower pace.