Monday, December 31, 2012

A Song for New Year's Eve

by William Cullen Bryant
November 3, 1794 – June 12, 1878
 Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay— 
     Stay till the good old year, 
So long companion of our way, 
     Shakes hands, and leaves us here. 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong, 
     Has now no hopes to wake; 
Yet one hour more of jest and song 
     For his familiar sake. 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One mirthful hour, and then away.  

The kindly year, his liberal hands 
     Have lavished all his store. 
And shall we turn from where he stands, 
     Because he gives no more? 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One grateful hour, and then away.  

Days brightly came and calmly went, 
     While yet he was our guest; 
How cheerfully the week was spent! 
     How sweet the seventh day's rest! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One golden hour, and then away.  

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep 
     Beneath the coffin-lid: 
What pleasant memories we keep 
     Of all they said and did! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One tender hour, and then away.  

Even while we sing, he smiles his last, 
     And leaves our sphere behind. 
The good old year is with the past; 
     Oh be the new as kind! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One parting strain, and then away.
 WbtR wishes everyone peace in 2013. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Sandy Hook School Metaphor by Nancy West

Grendel’s Raid–December 14, 2012

Slinking out from the suburban fen,
The Kevlar-coated fiend
Will have blood.
Spawned in the neon glare of videogame gore,
Grendel, the grief-giver, is reborn.
From his dark lair, he lopes,
Guided by blood lust.
He stalks the asphalt roadways
To proud, high-walled Sandy Hook School–
A fortress for Truth-seekers and Fact-finders,
Its gold glimmers in tiny human forms–
Such tender treasure trove–priceless beyond measure.
Cain’s seed shatters the door’s steel locks
With his crackling death sticks.
Counsellors fall prostrate before the terror-monger;
Their plaintive pleas ignored–
No mercy bestowed on the 20 cowering younglings.
He ravages on into death’s dark vortex,
Slaughtering all in a wide death swath.
Eternal death-sleep came swiftly,
Thus, Mankind surrendered Hell’s portioned tribute
As they always have……

WbtR author Nancy West is a retired English teacher.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Notes from Dec. 17, 2012 WbtR Meeting

Key Announcements

  1. NEXT write by the rails MEETING – Thurs., Jan. 17, 2013 at 7 pm at Trinity Episcopal Church (Upstairs in Welcome Room), 9325 West St, Manassas  The next meeting of Write by the Rails will feature Bill Golden who has kindly offered to teach us about the mysteries of blogging with Wordpress.  Bill said in lieu of payment, members may donate to a charity of choice.  Thank you, Bill, for your generosity.    
  2. Please help spread the word about the VWC Young Writers Golden Nib Contest!

WbtR Officers: Cindy Brookshire – President/Treasurer; Linda Johnston – Projects Manager/Liaison to Virginia Writers Club; Katherine Gotthardt – Liaison to PWC Arts Council; Carol Keily – Keeper o’ Membership List   

Present – Tracey Brooks, Cindy Brookshire, Gary Caruso, Myrina Cordella-Marenghi, Patricia Daly-Lipe, Chip and Cathy Deyerle, Leigh Giza, Katherine Gotthardt, Ressurrection Graves and Deven Smith, Linda Johnston, June and Fred Kilpatrick, Claudia LeFeve, Alan Meyrowitz, Jan Rayl, Denise Roosendaal, Lisa Shaeffer, Yvette Soliz, Dan Verner & Val Wallace. 

Anthology – Editorial committee will meet for “lessons learned.” Denise Roosendaal suggested promoting anthology in VRE’s newsletter. Cindy will contact; Fifty copies are still available at $3 each (contact Cindy). We’ll vote in 2013 on use of $151.80 in royalties so far.  

Richmond Book Festival - Leigh Giza & June Kilpatrick participated. Suggestion: at any sale, no more than 2 writers per table (room for display materials). Next Meet and Greet is Tues., Jan. 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Panera/Merchant Square Plaza, Lake Ridge (where PW Pkwy splits from Old Bridge Rd).  

PWC Arts Council will vote on our application to become a group member on Jan. 8. Virginia Writers Club dues are due. Paid membership is encouraged (no dues for Write by the Rails). Linda Johnston will handle getting our chapter info on state website. 

Speakers @ WbtR meetings – Denise Roosendaal is looking for a speaker for the Feb. 21 meeting at 7 pm at Trinity. – Katherine, Leigh, Dan and Cindy need to check it once a week.  

Chip Deyerle has volunteered to take Author Head Shot photos of any authors when he returns to Virginia after April. Dan Verner will bring VWC’s Golden Nib Writing Contest for middle/high school students to attention of school admins; Leigh Giza will contact libraries. Everyone encouraged to distribute flyers to church youth groups, 4-H, Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, etc. Deadline is March 1, 2013. Learn more about the Virginia Writers Club Young Writers contest ("Golden Nib")!

Arts Alive! on April 14, 2013 at Hylton Center – Ressurrection Graves, Claudia LeFeve and Pat Daly-Lipe volunteered to plot out youth/adult involvement (pending Arts Council approval). Suggestions: Open mic, teaching haiku (Leigh Giza?) or 15-min Yes! You Can Write Now! prompts (Sheila Lamb?), acting out a poem or script. Lisa Schaeffer suggested shooting a 30 sec promo for Arts Alive!  

Woodbridge Writers Retreat is May 15-18, 2013 with authors Robert Bausch, Richard Bausch and Tom Zoellner. Cost is $650. Only 18 slots are available.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dan Verner's Holiday Tale

Thank you, Dan Verner, for this touching Christmas piece that demonstrates we are all connected by and worthy of the same source of love.

Up on the Housetop
A Holiday Tale Drawn from the Shoebox Where the Biscuit City Chronicles Are Kept

Quite a few years ago when our children were much younger (and so was I), I heard a lot of strange variations on Christmas songs, mostly courtesy of my children: things like ''Chipmunks roasting on an open fire/Jack Frost picking at your nose'' or ''Walkin' 'Round in Women's Underwear'' on a local radio station. The kids also made it a point to sing repeated choruses of two songs I could not stand, ''Jingle Bell Rock'' and ''Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'' which l felt a little better about when l discovered that Les Paul played guitar on it.

One of the strangest songs, though, if you really look at the lyrics, is ''Up on the Housetop.” It’s positively surreal, filled with sentence fragments and disconnected images. ''Up on the housetop, reindeer pause”--so far, so good, if we assume that these are Santa's reindeer and not some misplaced arboreal species. Then, ''Out jumps good old Santa Claus”--from the aforementioned sleigh, we assume, although it isn't specifically stated. Then, a puzzling, disconnected fragment—“Down through the chimney with lots of toys''--again, we assume it's the selfsame Santa from the previous line. Next, an explanation: ''A1l for the little ones, Christmas joys!'' A1l right--we've established in a bizarre, convoluted fashion that reindeer are on the room, Santa is in the vicinity, and toys have descended through the chimney. Then comes this odd commentary: ''Oh ho ho ho, who wouldn't go; oh ho ho, who wouldn't go?” The ho ho's are produced by Santa, I suppose, but what does ''who wouldn't go'' have to do with anything? If it's a question, who wouldn't go where? Up on the housetop? Down the chimney? Isn't that dangerous, especially for children? The next two lines are even more distressing if they're connected to ''who wouldn't go'': ''Up on the housetop, click, click, click'' (the aforementioned reindeer) and ''Down through the chimney with good St. Nick! '' Apparently the song expects children to climb ''up on the housetop'' and then slide down a filthy, carcinogenic chimney with someone they haven't met before. With songs like these, no wonder children are often hyper and confused all throughout December. I know I was...

I was most troubled by the fact that our house didn't have a chimney. For that matter, it didn't have central heating--a floor furnace served well as long as all the doors were open. It was also wonderful to sit on through cold mornings and read. But given that, how did Santa get in? I asked my mother this pressing question, and, as usual, she had a ready reply: ''He comes in through the stove.” This made a certain amount of sense because the stove did have a chimney.
lIwas satisfied for a while with this explanation, though I did worry about the stove being left on accidentally and frying Santa to a crisp. This would have been a tragedy of monumental proportions since l would not get anything for Christmas (something I had been threatened with for months anyhow). The down through the stove arrangement worked out well, since we left the obligatory milk and cookies on top of the stove where they were kept warm by the pilot light. After what happened the year I was seven, though, my mother changed her story to Santa coming in the back door with his magic key. She had to say something, and, of course, 1 was ready to believe it.

I was at my usual position Christmas Eve after I was supposed to have gone to bed, at my window, searching for signs of an airborne sleigh and reindeer. The first hint, l thought, would be the sound of sleigh bells, and I imagined I could hear them faintly again and again. The stars shone brightly in the midnight air and I dropped off to sleep at the window.

I was awakened by a bright glow from the house next door and a tremendous roaring noise. Huge flames were shooting out of the chimney, and instantly I knew what had happened: Georgie, that “special” boy who lived there, had turned on his oven to try to catch Santa Claus and was even then frying fried the jolly old elf.  That was the only possible explanation--and I had to try to save him. I hoped Santa would have the presence of mind to lay his finger aside of his nose and rise up the chimney, but as 1 watched, nothing happened. I had to act.

''Santa Claus is burning! Santa Claus is burning!” I screamed, running into the hall toward my parents' bedroom. I was violating the most basic rule of the house: 1 was supposed to be quiet while my parents were asleep. But I didn't care--if this wasn't an emergency, what was?

My mother and father sat bolt upright in bed, dim figures in the twilight. ''What in the world…” my father started.

“Dad! Mom! Georgie started a fire to try to catch Santa Claus and is burning him up! Hurry! Do something!''

This didn't make a whole lot of sense, but my father leaped from the bed and began putting on his pants.  My mother checked the window. ''The Shores' chimney is on fire!” she cried. “Hurry!”

''That's right,” I screamed, ''and Santa is frying! And all my toys!'' I knew he hadn't been to our house yet. I hadn’t heard him.

My mother and I watched from the window as the chimney continued to burn. Mr. Shore, who was at home because all the bars were closed, came weaving around the corner of the house carrying a ladder and a hose. My mother's hand flew to her mouth. ''Oh, I hope he's not going to...''

We watched silently as he put the ladder to the roof and climbed unsteadily up, trailing the hose. My father had arrived by that time and, unable to do much else, steadied the ladder. Mr. Shore reached the roof and jammed the hose down the chimney. The flames went out quickly, replaced by thick billows of smoke. He turned to go back, caught his foot on the hose, and rolled down and off the roof. My mother gasped and ran for the phone.

Half an hour later, my father came back from helping load Georgie’s father into the ambulance. ''Is he hurt badly?'' my mother asked.

My father shook his head. ''Nah. He was too pickled to be hurt.”

My mother sighed, ''They say the Lord takes care of drunks and children. Then she quickly added, to me, ''That doesn't mean you should drink.”

I wanted to ask about Santa Claus, but thought better of it. Besides, l hadn't seen the reindeer on the roof. They must have flown away at the first sign of fire. I hoped my toys were safe. I went to sleep with only slight misgivings.

The next morning, the presents from Santa were there--everything I had asked for, in spite of not having had a very good year. As Ron and I tore through the wrappings I couldn’t help but notice that some of the paper was ever so slightly singed. It's a good thing Santa is magic, I thought. There are lots of ways to get hurt in this world.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

You know those ever-popular inflatables? Take a gander at THIS Christmas story!

Invasion of the Inflatables
 by Cindy Brookshire, Co-founder, Write by the Rails

Peggy Groat squeezed behind the wheel of the ’98 Volvo and hearing a rip, eased back out.
 “Great,” she said, fingering the torn sleeve of her red Christmas sweater, a gift the Morning Glories, her Bible study group.  “What else is going to happen tonight?”
Sheffield didn’t respond.  Her 16-year-old son got in and strapped his seatbelt.  He was tall and bow-thin, with low-riding jeans and a red hoodie with black symbols on it, both muddy.
They drove home from the magistrate’s office in silence.
When they entered the front door, she could see that her daughter Lilly, dressed up in red velvet, was lighting candles at the kitchen table.  Hamilton, her fiancĂ©, pulled cartons of Chinese food out of a smiley-face bag.  He was more casual, in a soft sweater and navy dress pants.
“That was fast,” Lilly commented.
“They didn’t charge him,” Peggy said.
“What on earth did he do?” asked Ham. 
“You don’t want to know,” responded Peggy, setting down her purse and pushing up sleeves to wash her hands at the sink.  “It’s like when Lilly stole that glass bear off the cart at the mall.”
“What?” said Ham.
“I wish you’d stop bringing that up,” said Lilly admonished her mother.
“I never heard about this,” he protested.
“I was only 14.  Me and these girls stole some things for Christmas presents,” admitted Lilly.  “It was stupid.”
“So was this,” said Peggy.  The mirror over the sink reflected wrinkles, gray hair.
“I didn’t get caught, though,” corrected Lilly.
“And that’s better?” asked Peggy.  “I used to keep that bear right here on this window sill. It was the one thing that gave me…hope.”
“I made up for that,” Lilly said.
“Where is it now?” asked Ham.
“Salvation Army,” Lilly pronounced.  “She gave it away.”
* * *
Sheffield came to the table. He’d washed his face, changed clothes, even combed his dyed black hair.
“Where’s the hole in your face?” asked Ham.
Sheffield moved his tongue over the scar where his lip ring had been.
“Got tired of it.”
Peggy reached for hands, bowed heads, peace.
“Lord, bless this Christmas Eve dinner and the hands that prepared it.  Bless the retirement home manager and Officer Ashley. Bless the magistrate.  Keep us ever mindful of the needs of others.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.”
After a responding “Amen” they opened the white cartons, dumping clumps of steaming rice onto paper plates with globs of General Tso’s Chicken or Beef Lo Mein.  They pushed soy sauce, hot mustard packets and fortune cookies to a heap, stripped the paper sheaths from cheap wooden chopsticks and broke them apart.
Peggy measured rice, chicken and steamed vegetables on her digital scale as part of her program to stop eating compulsively and drop 50 pounds.
 “Okay, what happened?” demanded Lilly.
Sheffield shrugged.  “Eric tackled one of the balloons and when I jumped in, it popped.”
“Where were you?” asked Ham.
“Sunrise Assisted Living?” guessed Lilly.  You weren’t messing with the balloon people, were you?  Oh, my God.”  She turned to Ham.  “Remember? We drove past and you said something about Santa in military fatigues with a polar bear on the motorcycle? Penguins popping out of an igloo?  The Snowman snow globe?”
“Oh, yeah. Wow, that place is dwarfed by all those …you know they’re called inflatables.  There must be a hundred.”
“Fifty-four,” corrected Sheffield, before pushing more lo mein noodles into his mouth.
“Were you guys drinking?” Peggy asked.
“God!” Sheffield protested, and threw down his chopsticks.  “Why do you always think I’m on something?”
He got up so fast his chair tipped over.  He kicked it and was gone, slamming the front door after him.
 “Dram-a!” Lilly exclaimed.  “How do you deal with him?”
“Anyone want some hot tea?” Peggy offered. She put the kettle on, pulled a tin of assorted tea bags out of the pantry and made no move to right the chair.
“We have Lipton, Wild Berry Zinger, Gingerbread Spice.”
“Lipton,” Lilly requested. “Mom, what happened?”
“Zinger,” said Ham. Peggy lined up three cups and dropped tea bags in, picking Gingerbread for herself.  Drinking flavored hot water would save 90 calories and douse her craving for the real thing. 
“The boys popped one of the inflatables and the manager called the police,” Peggy said.  “They were arrested for trespassing and destruction of property.  I got a call to go to the magistrate at the jail.”
“And?” Lilly prompted.
“Maybe I look tired and miserable enough or maybe because it’s Christmas Eve, I don’t know,” said Peggy.  “Anyway the manager didn’t want to press charges.  He wants the boys to come over tomorrow and pick up litter on the grounds and do an activity with the residents.  The police and magistrate seemed satisfied with community service.”
“Wow, $184.98 with tax and shipping,” Ham said, holding up his iPhone to show a list on the Internet.  “For just one inflatable.”
 “That’s not even their usual marauding grounds,” said Lilly.  “Usually it’s the mall or the woods by the tennis courts.”
“They bought some energy drinks at the 7-Eleven and cut through,” Peggy explained. “The officer said lawn decorations like these are targets of vandalism.  People just seem to feel the urge to pop them.”
“Which one did they bust?” asked Ham.  “The igloo with Santa’s legs kicking out?”
“The reindeer playing poker?” asked Lilly.
Peggy poured boiling water into the three cups.
“A Nativity scene.”
* * *
Sheffield returned, righted his chair and sat down.  He reeked of cigarette smoke.
“I’m sorry. But I wasn’t drinking, okay.  Lay off of me about that.”
“Sorry,” said Peggy.  “I had no right to say that.”
Sheffield picked up the chopsticks and resumed eating lo mein noodles. 
Lilly rolled her eyes.  She was dying to push buttons, but Ham distracted her by opening the cellophane of a fortune cookie. “Allow compassion to guide your decisions,” he read.
Peggy cleared the table, stacking leftovers in Gladware tubs neatly in the refrigerator. 
“Coming to church with us?” Peggy asked her son.
He pushed his plate away, wiping his mouth on a crumpled napkin. “I’m not dressing up.”
“You’re fine,” she said.
* * *
When the kids were little, she and Reggie would take them to the early service with the Christmas pageant.  Lilly was once an angel in a tinsel halo and wire-hanger wings.  Sheffield donned a Wise Man’s tablecloth robe.  But now Reggie was remarried with a new family and a new church.  Now Peggy, Lilly, Ham and Sheffield sat shoulder to shoulder on a wooden pew in the late service. White linens, vestments and ornaments on the tree beside the altar magnified the illumination.  They sang the familiar carols. As a tradition, the rector always made his sermon a humorous one.  He would bring out a shopping bag filled with all the craziest things one could buy at the last minute from the corner drugstore, like a can of green Floam or an edible greeting card for your pet.  He used a plastic gun to shoot plastic discs out into the congregation, and then pressed a button on a stuffed dog that started singing, “Well, you know you make me wanna (Shout) come on now (Shout).”  When the dog sang “shout,” his ears shot straight up.  Everyone laughed and started raising their hands when the dog ears went up.  The rector pressed the button for an encore, and then, when everyone was laughed out, he put the dog away and talked about the real meaning of Christmas: that God had become human so that he could dwell among us.  “That’s what Emmanuel means,” he said, “God with us.”
Peggy felt stinging tears.  Reggie was gone, Lilly and Sheffield were finding their own paths, even if they did sometimes veer into inflatable lawn decorations.  Without even food to comfort her, she felt so alone – until she grasped what “God with us” meant for her.
The air was cold enough to blow smoke when they left, and the dark, clear sky was brightened by the moon.  Ham drove them home.  At a stoplight near Sunrise Assisted Living, Peggy saw the ghostly glowing inflatables, lit from inside.  In one, Santa’s sleigh was pulled up to an igloo with a drive in window.  A sign over top read “North Pole Hot Cocoa.”  A movable penguin popped up to wait on him.
“There’s close to $10,000 bobbing on that lawn,” said Ham.
* * *
He retired with Lilly, giggling, behind the guest room door. Sheffield warmed a plate of lo mein in the microwave and settled in front of the computer in his bedroom.  That left Peggy to put presents under the tree and fill the fireplace stockings.  She lingered with one of the Hershey’s York Peppermint Patties before letting it drop inside.  It’s not the extra green bean, it’s the thought behind it.  The next one she brought up to her nose, to smell the chocolate.  What’s one? I deserve a treat.   
“Hi, Charlene?  It’s Peggy.”  She had forced herself to call her sponsor in a 12-step program for compulsive eaters.  “Is this a good time? Well, I’ve had a tough day.”  As she connected to another person in the rooms, she felt the release, the surrender to a higher power.  While still on the phone, she finished filling the stockings with candy, threw away the empty bags and shut off everything except the tree lights.
“I’m worried about my son,” she shared. “No, eating compulsively isn’t going to help him.  No.  My plan is to go to bed and think about three things I’m grateful for before I go to sleep.  Okay.  God,” she began haltingly, as they prayed together by phone.  “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”
* * *
A knock sounded on Peggy’s bedroom door.
“Come in.”  The door creaked open and Sheffield lay on the bed.
“I’m sorry, Mommy.”
Peggy patted his head.  “What if you’d fallen on something sharp?  Or frightened one of the residents? ” she said.  “It’s not like you.”
“I pulled a cord,” he admitted.  “I wanted to see what would happen. It was like, I’m melting, I’m melting,” he flailed in the bed.  “Then I plugged it in again; it swelled up like ghost … stretching out … getting brighter … with this weird motor hum.  Nyat-ah-ah!”
“Okay, but why not pop a snowman or penguin?” asked Peggy.  “Why the Nativity?”
He curled up.  Peggy covered him with the blanket from the foot of the bed.
“Eric said, ‘Look, I’m going to dive bomb Balloon Baby Jesus!’  I told him, ‘Don’t do that.’  It wasn’t respectful.  But he goes to the driveway to get a running start.  One, two, three.  I had to stop him.  I rushed him and he pushed me down. I couldn’t breathe.  I just laid there and boom, next thing I know Mary and Joseph and the whole scene was swallowing him.  That’s when the manager came out.”
Sheffield stood up, swaddled.  “I don’t think Baby Jesus belongs out there. Not with cartoon characters. It’s not funny.  He’s real.”
“Love you,” Peggy called as he wandered off, starting her gratitude list.
* * *
Christmas morning Ham got a guitar; Lilly, a laptop; Sheffield, computer games; Peggy, new card-making supplies and a novel.  She made a pot of coffee, baked cinnamon rolls and ate plain oatmeal.  She called her sponsor and then curled up with the book.
Later, Eric came and the two boys walked over to Sunrise Assisted Living.  They picked up two bags of trash on the grounds, and played Battleship with some old guys, who regaled them with pranks they pulled as teenagers. 
“You should have seen this one guy’s tattoos.  They were awesome!” said Sheffield.
# # #

Monday, December 17, 2012

Come Party with Us!

Write by the Rails will hold its monthly meeting and holiday party this week!

Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012
7 to 9 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church
9325 West Street

Bring a banjo, bring a friend, bring your ideas for 2013!

We will be talking about the our recently published anthology, New Departures, and copies will be available for purchase. 

All members are encouraged to attend. New and prospective members are welcome, too!  

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

National Numbers in for National Novel Writing Month

It ended November 30, but it took a bit of time for the total numbers to come in.  Why?  Because National Novel Writing Month participants collectively wrote a whopping 3,291,071,794 words!

WbtR Co-founder Cindy Brookshire completed the challenge and reported how it turned out in our area.

Congratulations to Cindy and all our prolific, local writers!  Marathon writing during the holiday season is a true accomplishment.

Local Novelists Finish 50K Word Sprint
More than 3,000 in region participated in National Novel Writing Month.

By Cindy Brookshire

The baristas at Barnes & Noble on Sudley Road in Manassas keep the hot coffee coming. In a corner of the bookstore coffee shop, a pocket of sleep-deprived writers have pushed together tables for a final three-hour write-in, a communal sprint to the Nov. 30 deadline of National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo, as participants shorten it, is the world’s largest writing event and nonprofit literary crusade. More than 250,000 participants pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by Nov. 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.

Julie Ehrmantraut (“Jules”) is one of 650 regional volunteers in more than 60 countries who act as Municipal Liaisons for NaNo. “We have upwards of 3,000 writers participating from the Northern Virginia, about 500 active in the regional forum, and about 100 that I see over the course of month at write-ins,” says the 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from Montclair. She’s written nine novels since 2005, spanning genres from space western to paranormal. Her current entry is science fiction.

Natalie Foley, a 28-year-old nanny, crochets while lending support. The Manassas resident filed her novel early. “Typically I write romance,” says Natalie. While Julie is trying to find a publisher for her novels, Natalie prefers to keep hers private. “I’m very self-conscious,” she explains. “I write for me.”

A 25-year-old programmer analyst, Manassas resident Michael Reichelt turned an idea from one of his video game scripts into a stand-alone novel. His premise, “truth resists simplicity,” takes readers on a wild generation ship ride through the galaxy to another inhabited world. “I’ve done NaNo on my own before, but I never went to write-ins,” says Michael. “I’m more social this time around.” He plans to polish the novel and send it out for publication.

“Why do I do it? It’s a month of complete creative abandon,” says Layne Lewis, a 26-year-old Manassas native, who works at a title company and has been participating in NaNo since 2008.

“You let all of your restraints go and just put something out there and it’s a way to actually do it, instead of saying you would like to do it.”

“So even if you lose, you win,” agrees Elizabeth Roberts, a 27-year-old administrative assistant from Centreville. “A co-worker of mine is doing it and even though he knows he’s not going to make goal, still, he has 30,000 words! He never would have had that jump start if it wasn’t for NaNo.

And then there’s me. I had to try it. So I logged into the website and started my novel Nov. 1. They were right – the creative storehouse in my head poured out onto the page. I kept an easy daily pace of 2,000 words until Week 3. That’s when work deadlines and the holiday intervened. I logged back in and realized I’d missed eight days. The write-in saved me. I couldn’t let a bunch of Generation X and Millennials blow past me!

So today, Nov. 30, I uploaded 50,000 words for verification and hit the button. I have finished my first novel.

The best news of all – Jules, Natalie, Layne and the others meet year round at the Manassas Barnes & Noble. If you want to join them, head to the bookstore’s coffee shop Mondays from 7 pm to close.

Want to see a local published NaNo novel? Check out Katherine Gotthardt’s Approaching Felonias Park, published Nov. 30, 2011 by Aberdeen Bay. Gotthardt donates proceeds from the book to local food pantries.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Teachers: Call for Submissions

Teaching from the Heart seeks to provide a platform for teachers and educators to speak wholeheartedly about the challenges and possibilities that teachers encounter every day in their work. We ask you to submit a brief 250-word commentary describing how a particular poem inspires you, informs your work, or provides sustenance as you negotiate the complex challenges at the center your vocation. Importantly, this project is not just seeking poems about teaching and the classroom but poems on any topic that intersects with you think about your life and work as a teacher.

This book is will be a brand-new edition modeled on our best-selling Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach (2003). For samples of this book and information about the submission process, please visit: If you have questions, please email

The deadline for submissions is February 1, 2013. We hope you will consider submitting an essay and poem for the book. Please also forward this notice on to other colleagues that might be interested in this project.


Sam Intrator
Megan Scribner
Co-editors Teaching with Fire, Leading from Within and Teaching from the Heart

Friday, December 7, 2012

In lieu of snow, something to look forward to, at least...

...written upon request by the great Lori Connolly!  This is the back-story to a craft involving styrofoam resembling snowman poop!

Snowman Poop

by Katherine Gotthardt

I heard from Santa,
and here's the scoop--
for Christmas you're getting
snowman poop.

"Ewwwww!  That's gross!"
I bet you think.
But snowman poop--
it doesn't stink.

And 'cause it's white
instead of brown,
it blends right in
with wintry ground.

When you sled,
you hardly know
there's snowman poop
inside the snow.

You pick some up
and make a ball
and build snow babies
two-feet tall.

Then baby poop
begets some more.
Before you know it,
you've got four.

And then a dog,
and then a cat,
and all this just
from snowman scat!

Now make an igloo
from this poo,
now another
one or two.

Now form some flowers,
sculpt a tree--
there's nothing that
this poop can't be!

See snowman poop,
you'll realize,
is something used
to fertilize.

It's part of snowmen
(and women, too),
this useful, natural
form of poo.

It's mostly water,
just like us,
made from powdery,
snowy dust.

So when you finish
your snowball fight,
go right ahead
and take a bite.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Member Leigh Giza Mourns Twinkies (Poor Leigh!)


Twinkie, Twinkie
Yummy treat
How I do love you
You are so sweet
Cream filling inside
Your luscious golden cake
Never a finer
Pastry was baked
Hostess has declared
Bankruptcy, and so
Into the trash bin
You sadly must go
But I will remember
Your delicious taste
And how you always brought
A smile to my face

Twinkie, Twinkie
You are fantastic
I don’t care if one
Of your ingredients is plastic
It makes me happy
To take that first bite
And savor the ultimate
Junk food lover’s delight
When you are gone
I’ll miss you so much
It just won’t be the same
Eating Tastykake with my lunch
You have brought me joy
How much you will never know
Oh Twinkie, dear Twinkie
How I love you so.