Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Further #Education for #Writers ( and, anyone else… :-)

I’ve done three past posts about free education… 

MIT Admissions

MIT Admissions Building

And, even though I’d hesitate to recommend a writer take a “creative writing course“, many writers have need of specific knowledge for many of their stories—like, for instance, how a gunshot wound is treated; or, how a certain drink is mixed; or, why people blush—then, there are the times a writer needs a rather “full” education, like when a character’s profession is crucial to the plot

One of the sources mentioned in those past posts was MIT OpenCourseWare (and, in case you had no reason to know, MIT stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology; but there’s more than tech available—details on that in a moment…).

The physical school is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and MIT has a very interesting history going back to 1846

From their site:

“MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.”

“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”
~ Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering

“Our audience is divided among students, educators, and self-learners…”

“MIT OpenCourseWare receives over 2 million visits each month. These visits come from all over the world, with over half coming from outside of North America…”

The “technology” in their name does indicate lots of studies in that area; but, there is So Much Morehere are the Department headings—clicking on any of these links will open up that Department’s full list of courses, with all the pertinent information (including the exams with all the answers)—when you decide on the course you want, look at the bottom of the left column of links for “Download Course Materials“, and you’re On Your Way :-)

And, they’re All Free… And, you can take the whole course or only bits of it… And, it’s on Your schedule :-)


If you’re new to all this, what happens when you download a course is you get a ZIP file. When you open, it look for the file (near the bottom of the folder) called “START.htm”—click it and the course opens in your browser…

And, here’s an important note from the ReadMe file:

“This zip package contains the HTML pages and files associated with the course. 
“Some materials – such as videos, java applets, and other special content – are not posted on the OCW server, and are therefore not part of this package. This prevents zip packages from becoming too large for download. To download these resources to your computer, please read this FAQ.”

Extremely Important Note about Textbooks:

While I certainly haven’t checked every course offered by MIT, the three I downloaded showed “required texts” for the courses—in almost all cases, there was either an inexpensive paperback edition or a cheap Kindle e-book; and, there are also many that are linked-to on-line (for no cost)…

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Why Is Some #Poetry So Hard to Understand?

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

I have two Most Favorite (“secular”) authors.

One writes fiction, the other wrote poetry.

Some might say the poet wrote fiction

C. J. Cherryh is my Most Favorite fiction author—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

Emily Dickinson is my Most Favorite poet—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

I find her much harder to understand than Cherryh—yet, I read her, over and over

If you should try to read her poetry, do, if at all possible, get The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as it’s the most comprehensive and authoritative one out there.

I should add that many fans of Cherryh and Dickinson love them in spite of all the effort it can take to understand them

But, this post is more about Ms. Dickinson so I’ll give you my short-form reasons for why poetry (and, hers in particular) can be hard to understand.

First, here’s an example poem:

You cannot put a Fire out —
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan —
Upon the slowest Night —

You cannot fold a Flood —
And put it in a Drawer —
Because the Winds would find it out —
And tell your Cedar Floor —

It may appear simplistic to you…

It may seem nonsensical…

If you read it more than once, it may strike you as deeper than you first thought…

One hint at deeper meaning is that certain things are given qualities they don’t have in a mundane world.

Wind talking to the floor, for instance

When things like this happen in poetry, you can tell that the poet isn’t just talking mundanely—they’re using words in unique ways—they’re making words do two or three things at once

So, finally, my short-form reasons for why poetry can be hard to understand:

Poetry (the “best” poetry) is meant to be more than it seems.

Words are used in ways that defy strict rationality.

We’re challenged to think beyond the obvious and learn deep Truths about Life…

These reasons are more than likely why poetry never sells as well as genre-fiction—folks don’t seem to want to work hard to find deep Truths

I was prompted to write this post because of a book about Emily, A Loaded Gun ~ Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century.

And, I found out about the book by reading a post at Longreads,
A Loaded Gun: The Real Emily Dickinson ~ She was less like a recluse, more like a bomb going off.

Just a few excerpts (the Longreads post is actually an excerpt from the new book…):

“…Emily Dickinson was not just ‘one more madwoman in the attic’, but rather a messianic modernist, a performance artist, a seductress, and ‘a woman maddened with rage—against a culture that had no place for a woman with her own fiercely independent mind and will’.”

“’She was the articulate inarticulate’, that lone voice out of the Puritan wilderness….her letters are every bit as bewildering as the poems, perhaps even more so…We soon come to realize that she’s wearing an assortment of masks—sometimes she’s Cleopatra and an insignificant mouse in the same letter.”

“The brutality of this belle of Amherst would stop a truck.”

“It’s as if she had a storm inside her head, an illumination, like a wizard or a mathematical genius.”

There is still much conjecture about Emily (and this book certainly raises many speculations).

We may never know the truth about her, except for the Utter Truths she wove into her poetry

A few more excerpts:

“I believe she suffered horrendously as a woman; dream brides drift in and out of her poems like a continual nightmare—yet she did not want to be ‘Bridalled’.”

“I believe that her rebellion against the culture of nineteenth-century Amherst was of another kind. She was promiscuous in her own fashion, deceiving everyone around her with the sly masks she wore. She was faithful to no one but her dog. Her white dress was one more bit of camouflage, to safeguard the witchery of her craft.”

“She wasn’t one more madwoman in the attic. She was the mistress of her own interior time and space…”

And, even though I have my own proof that she was extremely spiritual and even extraordinarily religious (so many folks really don’t know the meanings of spiritual and religious…), I’ll share one more quote that, for me, nails it for who this woman was:

“She met her first real antagonist, Mary Lyon, within the school’s walls. Lyon was a formidable foe. The founder and headmistress of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Lyon came from a much humbler background than the poet and believed in educating rich and poor alike as female soldiers in Christ. But no matter how wily she was, the headmistress in the severe white bonnet couldn’t get Dickinson to profess her faith, couldn’t rescue her soul. Emily Dickinson was one of the few ‘unsaved’ seminarians. The battle was less about God and the Devil than about two women with strong wills, one of them a sixteen-year-old girl whose father was almost as tyrannical as Mary Lyon. None of Lyon’s little Christian soldiers could persuade the poet. She learned whatever she wanted to learn, and discarded all the rest.”

If I’ve encouraged just one other person to dive into the Worlds created by Emily Dickinson, my life has more worth………
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Author Interview ~ Darcia Helle

Darcia, where are you from and how old are you?

I was born, raised, and spent most of my life in Southeastern Massachusetts. In 2002, I escaped the snow, ice and cold and moved to Florida. I’m 48, generally behave like I’m 28 and sometimes feel like I’m 88.

When did you begin writing and can you remember how it felt inside, back then?

I don’t remember ever not writing. When I was very young, I wrote children’s picture book stories. (And I am a horrible artist!) In my teen years, I progressed to the typical teen angst poetry. I do still remember how it felt to complete my first full length novel. The best description I can give is euphoric. Or, now that I think about it, shocked is probably the first emotion I felt.


Was there any certain date or time you remember when you began to either think of yourself as or call yourself a “writer”?

That’s been a very recent development for me. Even after I’d written and published a few books, I didn’t refer to myself as a writer. For some reason, it felt presumptuous to pin that label on myself. I had this preconception that, to be called a writer, a person had to be receiving a regular paycheck for his/her work and be recognized by the mainstream world. I was self-published and unknown, therefore who was I to claim to be a writer? Now I realize how silly and illogical that was. I’m still self-published and only slightly more known than I was a year ago–but I now regularly call myself a writer.

What are your hopes, or dreams, or goals for your writing?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of my dreams was to see my titles regularly appear on the bestseller lists. That’s the ultimate form of recognition for any author. Beyond that, my hopes and dreams are that my books are able to touch those who read them. I’d love for my words to leave a lasting impression. Fiction has the ability to impact readers in profound ways. To accomplish that would be the ultimate high point for me.

As for my goals, I want to keep writing until the characters in my head stop speaking to me. And I hope that never happens.

I hope so too :-)

Have you had any “formal” training in the art of writing?

Aside from one college English composition class, no, I’ve had no formal training.

What do you feel has taught you the most about “how to write”?

That’s a tough question. Different things, to varying degrees, have helped me along the way. If I had to name the one thing that taught me the most, I’d have to say reading. As a writer, I read differently. I pay attention to pacing and style, take note of what I like and what I don’t. This isn’t something I set out to do with pen and paper and note-taking. Instead, it’s often a subconscious thing that occasionally jumps out at me.

After I’d written my first novel, I realized I had a lot to learn about the process. At that point, I read a lot of “how-to” books that I obtained through Writer’s Digest. I learned quite a bit that way. The other two big teachers for me are the process of writing in and of itself and talking to other writers, sharing thoughts and helpful tidbits.

Who are your favorite writers and why are they favorites?

Oh, so many and for so many reasons! I can’t name a few authors because I know I would inevitably leave out a few other equally important favorites. I have eclectic taste and read a wide variety of both fiction and nonfiction. I am inspired by authors with unique voices, who are able to bring characters to life and suck me into their world. I love fiction that entertains while tackling a social issue, whether that is poverty, greed, homelessness, etc. These types of books make me think long after I’ve turned the last page. But I also enjoy fiction that is light, with the sole ability to make me forget the evils of the world for awhile. For me, there is no one formula, genre, or writing style. My favorite authors are those with the ability to step out of the way of the story they’re telling.

Yes, step out of the way of the story they’re telling

Where and/or how do you get the ideas for your writing?

I wish I could tell you! In all honestly, I don’t know. Most often, a character will pop into my head out of nowhere. I have competing voices in my head almost all the time. Sometimes it will be a 15-second scene that plays in my head. Occasionally, a plot idea is the initial spark and a character fitting the scenario will emerge as I mull the idea over. I’ve always been fascinated by human nature and the drive behind certain behaviors, so this is likely the root of all my ideas. I’m always character-driven first. Plot is secondary in my approach.

What is your normal revision or editing routine?

I typically write the entire novel first in a rough draft. I don’t like to spend a lot of time dissecting my work at this stage. For me, that ruins the creative flow. I do my entire first draft on my laptop. When the rough draft is complete, I print it out. I have to do the initial revisions using printed pages. I need to hold them and feel the pages as I work. I read through, make corrections, expand on characterization, add scenes, remove scenes, etc. Then I take my jumbled mess of corrected pages and retype it all onto a Word file. This forces me to work slowly and, as I do this, I make further changes. These are typically the minor edits, such as word choices and sentence structure.

Once I’ve finished, I like to let it sit for at least a few days. I’ll work on cover design, write the blurb, and do assorted tasks unrelated to editing. This gives me a fresher perspective when I go back to the manuscript for the final micro edit.

Please tell us a bit about your blog and your published books.

My blog is a hodgepodge of book and writing related information. I try to make it both fun and informative. Each Thursday, I host a guest author. Typically, this includes an interview about a book I’ve read. Occasionally, the author will instead write a guest post on a topic related to his/her book. Mondays were my day for random posts from my own perspective, on anything from the history of book burning to background on one of my novels. I’ve recently begun a new Monday feature called Quirky Question Monday, in which I ask an indie author one quirky question. On Sundays, I toss out a sample of my writing. I also host giveaways and keep my readers posted on new developments.

As for my books, all six are some aspect of suspense. Enemies and Playmates (my first) is romantic suspense. The Cutting Edge (my last) is dark comedy/suspense and also the only book I’ve written in first person. My other four are a combination of mystery and suspense. Number seven, the book I’m working on now, is my first paranormal suspense.

I’d love it if you’d give us a little behind the scenes on a couple of your books. How about No Justice?

Some time ago, I served on a jury for the murder trial of a man accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. While I had known that our justice system had flaws, this was a close-up view of those injustices behind our justice system. We, the jury, were not allowed to hear anything about the plaintiff’s past. His life was a locked box. The victim, however, had no such privacy. The defense attorney gleefully flaunted the victim’s past, including her sexual history from as far back as her teen years. I will never forget the look of anguish on her parents’ faces.

The defense did a great job of spinning the tale and making the victim out to be less than virtuous. After a week of this, when we were sent to deliberate, only two of the 12 jurors initially voted for murder one. I was one of them. The other 10 wanted involuntary manslaughter, citing her behavior and his cocaine use as “excuses”. I should mention here that the man had left his dead girlfriend in his bed, while he went out and partied with friends all night. Also, according to witnesses, he was quite sober at the time of the

The other juror and I fought for, and eventually won, a murder one conviction. Before we left the courthouse, the judge spoke to us privately. She congratulated and thanked us for the conviction. At that time, she was able to tell us what had been carefully kept from us throughout the trial; the man we’d just convicted had a long history of abusing women. He’d already been convicted of several assaults and one rape. An involuntary manslaughter charge would have been little more than a slap on the wrist. He’d have
been out in no time, free to rape and murder yet another woman.

My husband and I were discussing this one day; that case specifically and the justice system in general. That’s when the character Michael Sykora was born. In many ways, Sykora is my husband’s alter ego. (But, to be clear, my husband does not moonlight as a hit man!)

As for the specific plot, that developed from a combination of the characters’ voices and the conversation with my husband. I don’t write from an outline. I start with a character and a vague idea. Then I listen and follow where that leads me. About midway through writing No Justice, I realized that I had way too many plots and subplots going on. At that point, I knew that Michael Sykora needed to be a series. He wasn’t happy with one book. I stripped down that initial manuscript and told the story of where I thought the series needed to begin.

And, Beyond Salvation, the sequel to No Justice?

Homelessness is a huge problem in the U.S. Every age range, from children to the very old, exist in a separate and hidden world on our streets.

In No Justice, two homeless teens made a brief appearance when they helped Nicki out of a difficult jam.

I wanted to bring them back and let them tell their story. That’s when Sara popped into my head and led the way.

Sara is a teenage runaway, friends with the two boys, and missing. The problem with runaways is, when they disappear from the streets, no one but their few friends on those same streets notices. Often there is nowhere to turn for help. Michael Sykora works within that lost world and sets out to find Sara.

To be honest, when I began writing this book, I had no idea what had happened to Sara. I don’t outline and only began with that vague premise. As I explored the reasons behind Sara and her friends winding up on the streets, I was led to the few options they might have to reach out for help. Sadly, there will always be people who prey on those who are desperate. Cults are one of the biggest offenders, often masking themselves as Churches and various sanctuaries of hope. Sara stumbled upon one of these.

As I was writing this book, I wasn’t looking to give a lesson in morality or write a societal thesis. I simply wanted to give these lost people, the characters in my head, a voice. I hope that I achieved that and managed to entertain at the same time.

Darcia, thank you, ever so much, for taking the time to tell us your background as an author and give us your insights about writing; and, those two Stories Behind The Stories :-)
Darcia’s WebSite
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