Skeleton: A Poem

Dan Beckenmeyer CardioToday was the first day I felt your bones
And not your breath.
Today was the first day I ran my fingers over your clavicle
And not your skin.
Today was the first day I lay against your rib cage
And not your chest, taut and rich with youth and fear,
Today I felt the hardness of your jaw
Not the warmth of your tongue, not the richness of your lips, not the redness of your mouth.
Today I wrapped my hands around stark jutting knuckles
Not sweaty palms, not sweet grasping fingers
So eagerly seeking my own. .
Today as I slept my feet wrestled with bare bright shins
The kind of whiteness that blinds
Colder than January snows.
Today was the first day I listened not to the beating of your heart
But to the echoes of wind through your ribs, to words you never said,
To echoes of words.
Today I lay with the skeleton of what might have been
Dry and brittle, gaping eyes, wide smile
The dream of you
Crumbling into dust
At my feet.

Dan Beckenmeyer Cardio 2

Images are photographs of a mixed-media work by illustrator Dan Beckemeyer. Pen and ink with stitching and hand-felting on abaca paper. 

Mirrors: A Poem

“Forget him” was the most useless advice anyone ever gave me.
“Forget about him,” my friends said. “You deserve better, anyway.”
Forget him. The thought had occurred to me one night years before, but it meant nothing to my hoofbeat heart, stampeding in my chest, meant nothing to my butterfly eyes, wings beating open every five minutes as I slept.
Forget him.
My mother said the same thing on the phone the first time I broke up with a boyfriend in college.
“Forget him,” she said. “If he doesn’t recognize how special you are, he’s not worth your time.”
I didn’t understand.

I wonder where anyone ever got the idea that we are anything but mirrors.
Polaroids that capture wavelengths of spirit
After all, I’d have never seen a rainbow if not for clouds crying, cracking rays of sunlight into technicolor halos in the sky.
I’d never have seen the moon
Without the sun’s reflection to crown her every night.

(I am your ocean
You are my moon.
In the undulations of my body
You crystallize and bloom.)

Forget him? 
We are all refractions of each other
Prisms triangulated for a multitude of color
“Forget him” means nothing to my autumnal palms
“Forget him” means nothing to my bellows lungs
“Forget him” means nothing to the billowing sea,
When told
To forget
Her moon.

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Artist: Jim Hughes, Installation Series: “Give More Than You Take”

Saltwater and Ink: A Poem

Opalescent moon, senescent sky
A fog at dusk that speaks to me in tongues
Like the prophets of old
My phantom dreams, papier-mache and origami, so fragile,
Milk-white, and pale
Are laid at the altar
As I clutch this knife
With your name on my lips.

This love isn’t pretty but it is real
(Real like the paint peeling off your front porch
Real like the first scent of smoke on autumn’s breath)
Drenched in it, saltwater and ink
(Your sweat, and mine)
You will lick me clean, and I, penitent
Will baptize you.

John Atkinson Grimshaw

“Lovers in a Wood”, oil on card, John Atkinson Grimshaw

Promises: A Poem

Like smoke on the horizon
Like ash at my feet
Like grey soot and bony plants
I am afraid.

Like cryptic messages passed from hand to hand
Like acrid liquor in my throat
Like heat in my belly, growing
I am afraid.

Succulent fruit, lush and sweet
Are your promises.

Like smoke in my mouth
Like ash in my hands
Like grey eyes and bony limbs
I am afraid
Of your promises.


Skin Tone Delectable-Decadence

First image: South Downs Winter #1 by Christopher Knox. Second image: Skin Tone by Miss Hush (tumblr). 

Book Review: “The Vintner’s Daughter” by Kristen Harnisch

Last week I blogged about attending the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. I met so many fantastic agents, editors, and writers there, some of whom I hope will be contacts for years to come. One of the most astounding connections I made was with author Kristen Harnisch, who lectured at a session called “The New Model of Publishing: Combining Traditional and Partner Publishing For Success”. As a self-published author who is interested in one day publishing traditionally, I was naturally excited about her session, co-hosted by her agent April Eberhardt, who is one of the few agents working today willing to represent self-published authors.

Within the first few minutes of the session, I realized that Kristen and I had a lot to talk about, as her debut novel The Vintner’s Daughter featured a French female winemaker working in California at the turn of the 20th century. Many of my friends and readers know that every year I disappear from the internet as I get sucked into the vortex that is the grape harvest – that all-important time of year when we turn grapes into wine. (Which is coming up, in case you were wondering. See you all in November!) As a female winemaker who has worked in both France and California, and also as an ardent lover of history, I knew I was going to love her novel. Kristen did a book signing immediately after her session, and of course, the first thing I did was run down, buy her book, and strike up a conversation at the signing table. I had to wait until my Wednesday flight out of the city to crack the book open, but let me tell you: it was worth the wait.

Vintner's Daughter

The Vintner’s Daughter is the story of Sara Thibault, the youngest daughter of a prominent winemaker in the Loire Valley in France. But when her father dies in a tragic accident and the fate of the family winery falls outside Sara’s control, she and her sister Lydia are forced to seek other means of survival. A devastating incident with one of their creditors forces both girls to flee their home and country – and where else to run but to America?

Across the pond in New York City, Sara once again finds herself inevitably drawn back to the world of wine. Haunted by her dreams of becoming a master winemaker in the Loire, she follows the wine trail (much as this young writer/winemaker once did…) out to Napa Valley, where several Frenchmen are just beginning to discover California’s potential as a grape-growing region. There, Sara finds solace in reclaiming her heritage and true calling. And in the figure of handsome, ambitious Philippe Lemieux, she might finally find someone who understands and matches her passion for the craft.

In Sara I saw so much of myself. She is a headstrong young woman determined to do something – and do it excellently – that women are often told is out of our reach. Sara’s struggles mimicked my own: the desire to be taken seriously, the need to perform feats of physical strength often considered to be the reserve of men, the desire to work independently and be considered an equal in a field that is largely male-dominated. Of course, Sara’s struggle – and mine – is by no means restricted to the wine profession. It’s a microcosm of the war that women around the globe have been waging for centuries.

Harnisch references this large- and small-scale struggle, documenting the ways historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony influenced women in the Bay area, and featuring a character who is an activist in the campaign for suffrage. In the backdrop of Sara Thibault’s story is the fight for women’s suffrage, the right of a woman to protect herself against domestic violence, and the rights of women to care for their own children even in cases of divorce or physical abuse. Sara’s fight for autonomy over her winemaking is emblematic of the fight for women’s liberation on a grand scale, and Harnisch toggles back and forth between the two effortlessly.

In the historical details, the book was beautifully done. From rural France to industrial New York City out to the golden hills of California wine country, the setting of time and place was impeccable. I even learned something about historical winemaking methods. It turns out that, although I know quite a bit about wine production in the 21st century, I didn’t really know all that much about how it was made in the late 19th. Transported via carriage, boat, and train from France to California, I felt as though I was riding along with Sara through every step of her – often heartbreaking – journey to reclaim her identity.

Readers of my blog will know I’m no great fan of romance, but I can say assuredly that in no place does the love story here venture into the trite or the cliche, nor does Harnisch compromise Sara’s independence. From start to finish she is an admirable protagonist, both in her strengths and in her flaws, and I’ll freely admit I fell a little bit in love with Philippe Lemieux as well. I can’t wait to read the next installment in Sara’s winemaking journey.

Whether you like wine, historical fiction, romance, or just well-told stories, you’ll find a wonderful companion in The Vintner’s Daughter. Highly recommended. Thank you, Kristen, for such a wonderful read!

Writer’s Digest Conference 2015: A Reflection

This past weekend I attended the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. It was only the second writing conference I’ve ever attended, and far larger in size and scale than the first. There were maybe four times as many agents and editors as there were at the first one I went to (the Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference in 2013) and the info sessions and keynote speeches were jam packed with helpful information, great speakers, and conference attendees with smart and revealing questions.cropped-old-letters-436501_1280.jpg

Here, I wanted to reflect on a few things I learned at the conference, and a few points I think will be valuable for any writer who aspires to make a living writing books.

First and foremost, writing conferences are invaluable for the networking opportunities alone. I think every aspiring writer should go to at least one per year, and more if you can afford it. Every time I go to a conference I am amazed at the quality of people I meet. At my first conference, I met Daryl Rothman, who has turned into one of my most trusted writer friends and allies in my three-year authorial journey. I networked with an agent who requested a partial of our manuscript, and I was given the chance to pitch my novel for the first time. This most recent time around, I met multiple agents who not only answered my questions helpfully but also offered their services and assistance going forward (I cannot say enough good things about agent April Eberhardt) and I met several authors and aspiring authors who have connections, in their own ways, to my story, and together we will be able to collaborate on writing better stories and promoting each other’s work. The people you meet will justify your decision to attend thrice over.

There is a code of conduct at writer’s conferences, though it’s very much unspoken. Here are some quick and dirty rules I learned about attending a conference:

1. Don’t talk to everyone.
This might seem strange, but upon further examination, it’s not. Are you utterly disinterested in writing for magazines? Then don’t go socializing with magazine editors and writers, taking up their valuable time, because believe me, there are plenty of other conference attendees who can use that person’s time in a more productive way. The same holds true across genres.

2. Don’t ask for personalized advice about your specific projects during a general session, unless you can make your question relevant to many people.
It’s selfish of you and demoralizing to others to waste speakers’ time with questions that are pertinent to only one person. A general session attended by dozens, if not hundreds, of people, is not the place to ask questions particular to your problems and ideas. If you can make your problem broadly relevant, ask away. If not, save it for when you urgently corner the speaker after the session.

3. DO talk to everyone who might be helpful or valuable to you.
At first glance, agent April Eberhardt (previously mentioned) wouldn’t have seemed like she’d be much help in my cause. She doesn’t represent science fiction, which is the genre I write in. However, April is open to working with self-published authors, and when I learned that I didn’t hesitate to approach her (tastefully, after the session ended) for advice in how K. Makansi might go about seeking agent representation or moving forward with sales. April, it turned out, was extremely excited about the work we’ve done so far, and wanted to help however she could. I left with several valuable pointers and April offered to do me a few extremely generous favors, including introducing me to a crowded panel at a session later on that afternoon. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been bold enough to talk to her and solicit her advice.

4. DO remember that EVERYONE is a human being and that agents, editors, and famous authors are generally perfectly normal, nice, and down to earth human beings. And don’t be afraid of them.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in the fear of agents and editors as though they’re evil aliens from outer space who will never understand the true genius of your project. But by and large, this is totally wrong. Every time I meet authors getting ready to pitch, they look like balls of tense, terrorized energy, frantically rehearsing their memorized pitches, hunched over their computers and crying tears of despair before the pitch has even happened. Without fail, every single published author/agent/editor I met this weekend was down to earth, enthusiastic about meeting aspiring writers, and welcoming of questions, suggestions, or input. I’m sure those evil aliens exist, somewhere, but with luck, you will never meet them.

One of the things every single conference speaker or presenter hammered home, over and over again, at the sessions and keynotes I went to, was the idea that writing is more than just an art: it is also a business. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to be business-savvy as well. The ‘tortured artist’ mentality only carries you so far – basically, through the finished draft. Beyond that, you are responsible for your own business and your own book sales, and those who are most successful are those who understand that. In addition to being a writer, you are also a salesman, a marketer, a PR firm, a strategist, and an ad-man. Don’t ever forget that from the moment you decide you want to be published as an author, you are responsible for the sales of your book.

Finally, the single biggest takeaway from the conference, for me, was the idea that we are all in it together. Jonathan Maberry gleefully hammered this point home in his Friday night keynote address, and I want to reiterate it here. When I first started writing, my core group of Twitter friends – Jessica West, Rachael Spellman, Peter Samet, Jonathan Paul, Nillu Steltzer, Graham Milne, Drew Chial, Imran Siddiq, and many more – became my biggest advocates and allies. Not only did they help me edit and proofread my novels before they came out, they were instrumental in the marketing and promotion of the books prior to release. From the beginning, I knew that as writers, we could only grow in each others’ presence. Jonathan Maberry echoed this sentiment in his speech (and I paraphrase very loosely here): “When we help each other out, we all write better books. When we write better books, more readers read our stories. When more readers read our stories, we all succeed.”

With that in mind, go forth, dear writers, learn and profit from those around you, spread the gospel of writing, and sow the seeds of stories far and wide.


This Is How To Love Her: A Poem

This is how to love her:
Tell her about that summer you spent every night staring at the stars.
Ask her which is her favorite constellation–
Orion, Gemini, Scorpio?

This is how to love her:
Play her the CD you listened to for two months straight when you were seventeen.
She might laugh at you, but that won’t matter.
She’ll want to play you hers.
Let her. You can laugh at her, too.

This is how to love her.
Take her to the movies.
Not the AMC or Galaxy in the suburban complex next to Chipotle and Panera.
Not the newest superhero flick, not the summer blockbuster.
Take her to that cash-only theater with a hole in the sign and a neon tube that hasn’t worked in years.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Maybe you’ve never heard of any of the features, but that won’t matter.

This is how to love her:
Teach her to shoot pool, throw a frisbee, shoot a gun, surf.
Don’t laugh at her.
No, seriously.
Play tennis with her.
Let her win.
Or maybe she’s better than you. That’s okay, too.

This is how to love her:
Take her to an art museum.
Stay for hours.
Tell her which piece is your favorite.
She’ll want to know why–the real reason.
Tell her.

This is how to love her:
Take her to a bookstore.
It can be a strange one–used books, art books, comic books, science books–in fact, the stranger the better, maybe.
Browse. Get lost. Lose track of her in a different room and let her float away for the moment. Get comfortable with that.
Find a book of poetry.
Buy it.
(Who cares who wrote it? That won’t matter.)
Spend the afternoon reading poems to each other.

This is how to love her:
Name every place in the world you want to see with her.
Every city, every ocean, every river, every desert.

This is how to love her:
Don’t worry, these things will happen whether you try or not.

This is how to love her:
Kiss her cheek.
Kiss her eyelids.
Kiss her collarbones.
Kiss her palms.
Kiss the scars that dot her body, the stitches holding her together.
Let her do the same for you
Let her map you.

This is how to love her:
Take her to a park.
Bring your camera.
Take pictures.
You can sneak a few of her.
Hand it over to her; she’ll do the same for you.

This is how to love her:
Be honest.
If you don’t love her anymore, tell her.

This is how to love her:
Let her love you.

This is how to love her:
Don’t be afraid.
And if you are,
Tell her.

Gaylord Ho - We TwoSculpture: Gaylord Ho, “We Two.”

The Grand Canyon: A Poem

The Colorado River carves through two countries,
Seven states,
And half the history of the world.
They say it took seventeen million years
(What patience, what strength!)
To carve a line so deep you cannot see the bottom.
To think that you and I
Achieved the same feat
In a single day
(Our strength
Is of a different kind;
Our patience–
The kind that burns).
The gap between your shoulder, here against the pillow,
And my cheekbone, there
Looms dark and dense, a mile down at least,
So wide in places I cannot see the other side.
Unfathomable, this chasm that spans perhaps six inches
Of rumpled sheets, breath of cigarettes and whiskey,
Words dying on the vine.
I dare not plumb these depths.
This canyon I’ll leave for the geologists
And you on the other side.

Sleeping couple


Jarke Puczel Lovers

First image: Egon Schiele “Schlafendes Paar” (Sleeping Couple). Second Image: Jarke Puczel “Lovers”. First image chosen by me; second image chosen by Elena Makansi. 


Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

It’s been a long time since I read a science fiction novel–hell, any novel–that disturbed me in quite the way Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly did.


Forget science fiction. This is literature. This is one of those books that proves that genre fiction can be as real, hard-hitting, and thought-provoking as literary fiction, any day of the week and then some.

A Scanner Darkly is a psychological thriller based on the premise of a near-future world where drug culture has permeated real culture to the point where the two are no longer distinguishable. The cops don’t know who the addicts are; the addicts don’t know who the cops are. Indeed, in the case of Dick’s protagonist, Bob Arctor/Fred, the addicts and the cops can sometimes be the very same person, and neither is aware of the other’s existence.

Substance D, Death, high-grade Death, mors ontologica, death of the spirit–this is the drug that has permeated the streets of L.A., and more specifically Orange County, in a world where hash is worth thousands of dollars and every drug in distribution is cut with meth, at least a little bit. But Death, high grade, that’s what everyone wants to get their hands on. So when Fred, a nark, an undercover narcotics agent, is told to start surveillance on Bob Arctor, an addict, possibly high-up in the distribution chain, for a potential large-scale drug bust, Fred, the nark, begins watching himself, Bob Arctor, on holographic recording cameras as Arctor deals, and drops, Substance D, Death.

Got it?

What no one has told Fred, the narcotics agent, is that Substance D has unique chemical properties if used over a long period of time in high quantities. Substance D has the ability to split the hemispheres of the brain so that they are no longer able to communicate with each other. Death kills communication between the hemispheres, rupturing the brain (and by extension, the personality) down the middle.

This is why, over the course of the book, Fred, the narcotics agent, loses his understanding of himself, Bob Arctor, the addict/dealer. As the two hemispheres of his brain diverge, Bob and Fred grow further and further apart, until they no longer recognize each other as the same person. What results is a tale of unraveling, a classic story of descent into madness in a retro-future setting that leaves no one untouched.

The beginning is yin-and-yang, a few funny stories with tragic endings about the stylish ways other addicts before Bob Arctor have gone out. The middle is funny enough that you almost forget you’re walking on the edge of a knife the whole time, waiting to see who will fall victim to the addiction and who, if anyone, will make it out. It’s funny in a dark way, because of that walk-the-knife thing, but also just in a funny way–parts of it are almost like watching a sketch comedy show, with all these burned out, coked up addicts with their various impairments sitting around trying to solve problems and communicate ideas. It’s funny in the way Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is funny. But then the end starts happening, and when you realize it’s happening it’s not funny anymore. And right at the end the knife goes in and there’s a  twist that fucks you up, and I’m still thinking about that twist and what it has to do with the real world, our world, and I probably will be for a while.

Not since Fight Club have I read such a visceral depiction of schizophrenia. Not since The Basketball Diaries have I seen such a devastating picture of a man mentally obliterated by a mind-altering substance. (Hint: I’ve never seen Requiem for a Dream. I know. I need to get on that.) And never in my life have I read an author’s afterward that made clear how intensely personal this work of fiction really is.

In subject matter (though not in writing style) A Scanner Darkly reminded me of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The two books both ask the question of how far humans will go for fun, for entertainment, and both come up with dangerous answers. Infinite Jest is, if anything, more hopeful. A Scanner Darkly, as the title implies, shows us that when we turn the mirror on ourselves, only madness lies within.

Recommended for anyone who likes philosophical questions about the nature of entertainment, addiction, and madness. Recommended for fans of science fiction and suspenseful crime novels. Recommended, generally.

Devotional: Dance of Life

“Weathered faces crusted with white paste, they hunch like specters over the fire stones and blackened pot; perhaps they will rise and, in dead silence, perform the slow dance of the sennin–wild mountain sages of the ancient days in China and Japan who give no formal teaching but redeem all beings by the very purity of their enlightenment.

The sennin are a favorite subject of the great Zen painters, and sometimes their dance of life is staged against a landscape copied from these paintings, as if to suggest that such free beings perceive a master work in all of nature. Kanzan is studying a scroll while Jittoku leans easily on a broom; when the painting comes to life, the sennin begin the steps of a strange dance.

Soon Kanzan pauses, stands apart, gazing away into infinity. Jittoku, much moved, lifts his hands in an attitude of prayer and circles Kanzan with simple ceremony, kneeling beside him and lifting his gaze in reverent expectancy. Becoming aware of him, Kanzan inclines his head in acquiescence and kneels with dignity beside Jittoku. Together they open the scroll and hold it before them; the audience cannot see what is written, can only watch as the sennin read silently together. Now the two are struck by a perfect phrase, and they pause in the same instant to regard each other; the power of the revelation lifts them to their feet as they read on, eagerly nodding. Soon they finish, sigh, and turn away into the dance; for a moment, the scroll’s face comes into view. It is pure white, void, without the smallest mark. Kanzan rolls it with great attention as Jittoku, smiling himself, retrieves the broom.

Now Jittoku brings wine, but in his transport, he is holding the flagon upside down; the wine is gone. Not caring he refills it from the stream, and the sennin are soon intoxicated on this pure water of high mountains. Kanzan must be supported in the dance, and for a time it seems that the two might sink away into a drunken sleep. But they are summoned by the sublime song of a bird, and complete the dance by resuming the attitudes seen in the painting. Kanzan seems to smile, while Jittoku, regarding the audience for the first time, laughs silently, with all his heart. Before the audience can grasp what this might mean, the screen is drawn in a swift rush; there is only silence and the empty curtain.”

Uncredited - double exposure Ed Fairburn


Quote from Peter Matthiesson, The Snow Leopard. First image: Uncredited. Originally posted (as far as I can tell) in black and white by on Color layers unknown. Second image: Ed Fairburn, “Deutschland” Pencil on map.