picking blueberries (a poem)

picking blueberries
2010 – Bolton, CT

A few years ago I drifted away from writing poetry. This year, after publishing Lifelike, I found the daily barrage of bad news and work stress was pounding the imagination out of me until I just couldn’t write anything new. So, in an effort to rediscover my muse, I turned tonight to some poetry I wrote a few years back. Almost immediately I discovered this one, which although a little self indulgent perhaps and in need of some tightening, I think is actually quite good. I hope you enjoy it.

picking blueberries

My father wears a white bucket around his neck,
shaded by a wide brimmed hat.
I’m ten years old, jostled along
on the flat bed of a converted farm truck.
Its enormous, bald tires kick dust
into the sweaty Connecticut summer.
A line of tall trees wilts in the shimmering heat,
too far away for shade.

The truck turns, grouches to a
bumpy, dust-bowl halt.
The teenagers in their frayed cut-offs
and faded bandanas
leap off even before the truck stops.
They gather and mosey into the spaces
between long rows of blueberry bushes.
My father hops off, turns and reaches for me.
I hand him my bucket, and he watches me
squat at the truck’s edge before
I drop carefully to the soft, bent grass.

He picks us a pair of untouched bushes
just far enough away from the others.
He teaches me to roll clumps of berries
off their sagging stems.
He shows me how to reach inside,
under, around to pick the bush clean,
unlike the teenagers whose impatience
seems like an injustice to the bush.
He pops fat, juicy berries in his mouth.
I follow, but unlike him I select the
red berries, their tartness like
summer lightning in my mouth.

As our buckets fill, hollow plunks
give way to a soft, rain-like drumming
of berries falling on berries,
and I treasure the growing weight
pulling down on my hot neck.

Now I am nearly forty years old,
and the sun seems hotter and the
air seems stiller and the teenagers
seem exactly the same.
Ethan and Sam hang empty plastic buckets
around their necks, complaining of
the rope’s dull bite, the sweaty day.
I lead them over yellowed grass
between the rows of bushes
the boys can’t see over.
I teach them to roll clumps of swollen berries
off sagging stems, to peel back the branches
and pick the bush clean.
And I pop a plump, juicy berry into my mouth
as the boys seek out the summer lightning
lurking inside the little, red ones.

I’m giving up

I’m giving up my book sale profits to support mental health.

My friends at Community Health Charities have helped me start WriteCause, a way authors, readers, and others can support those who are struggling with depression, suicide, and other mental health challenges.

This summer I’ll be donating the proceeds from all my book sales to WriteCause. Because I know that you know that I don’t make much money on book sales, I’m pledging a minimum of a $250 donation.

How you can help

Buy my books. Or buy books by other participating authors. At the launch of WriteCause, it’s just me; I hope that over time many authors will join in, as mental health is something a lot of authors or their loved ones struggle with.

Tell your story on the WriteCause page, or on social media, and tag it with #WriteCause. Read and respond to others’ stories that get posted. Engage in the discussion. Browse the mental health resources CHC lists. Pay attention, and care.

If you’re an author, visit the WriteCause page and contact CHC or me to learn how to join in the pledge.

Why WriteCause? Why mental health?

I could choose any cause. A few years ago I donated my book sale proceeds to our local library. Another year I donated to the group that runs NaNoWriMo. I could choose to donate to cancer or ALS or homelessness or any number of important causes. (And I do, through my workplace giving campaign each year.)

The last two years, however, someone I love very much has been struggling with serious depression and suicidal thoughts which have led to several hospitalizations. This, with other things, has made me far more aware of the difficulties that so many people face with serious anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional issues that interfere with their ability to simply function in everyday life. With suicide rates on the rise (both teen and generally), mental health issues are quickly becoming a tragedy that few people are talking about. I think it’s critical to raise awareness of the issue, help people who don’t struggle with these conditions understand them and engage appropriately, and provide preventative and treatment services for people who need them.

I’ve known too many people who have lost a loved one to suicide, and I’ve seen too much beautiful talent lost to depression and anxiety. I can’t do very much about it, but I will do what I can. Thus, WriteCause.

Upcoming free and discount book promotions

I really really want you to read and rate Lifelike before June 18. So I’ve got a bunch of free and discount days coming up for Lifelike and my New Eden trilogy.

Three books for under two bucks

The entire New Eden trilogy will be discounted beginning June 14:

  • Semper free June 14 – 18
  • Forsada $0.99 June 14 – 17, then $1.99 June 17-21
  • Freda $0.99 June 14 – 17, then $1.99 June 17-21

Lifelike introductory price

Lifelike, available now at $5.99, will be just $0.99 June 16 – 23, to celebrate the launch of the print version. Please mark your calendar to buy it on June 16, and rate it as soon as you can. Before June 18 if possible. To read a preview version for free before June 16, email me.

Get a $5 off coupon for Lifelike print edition

When Lifelike launches in print on June 16, it will retail for $14.95. Anyone who joins my email list by July 4, however, will get a $5 off coupon in their inbox July 5.

I really do love you all.

I love you all

Seriously. Life is short; we have limited hours on this Earth, and none of us knows when those will be used up. I am in awe that people read my work, and I know that each rating posted is a statement that someone spent some of their limited hours on my stories. One star or five, I am grateful for your time and feedback.

Also, June is my half-century birthday month, so if you love me back…

I read your novel. Are you a painter?

I want to send you not just one, but two free* Lifelike bookmarks, and I want you to deface one of them.

Last week a reader sent me a note:

If I didn’t know better I would think that you were a painter/artist by profession.

Question: When someone reads your novel and thinks you’re probably a painter, is that like saying, “You have a great face for radio”?

I’m a terrible painter. If I were to take the “easy A” high school art class today, I’d get a B. I can appreciate a painting, even intellectually understand how the artist made it look the way it does. I simply have no talent with color, shadow, or texture; my attempts always fall far short of my vision.

But a writer who is also a painter sent this to me after reading the rough draft of Lifelike:

Are you a painter also? I am, and I am very surprised that you have such an accurate sense of how an artist feels about a sense of place and light and thought.

So at least I can fake it, which is good enough for me.

But about the bookmarks: I designed them with a line sketch of one of the characters from Lifelike on the back, meant to be painted or colored in.

I’ll send* you two bookmarks if only you ask. One will be personalized–painted by me!–and the other will be blank–for you to paint! Just send me your postal mailing address (US only, sorry). The only thing you have to do is color or paint the blank, then send me a photo or scan of your finished work. Your bookmark will hang in my virtual gallery (coming soon).

     
* Free to you, for a limited time. I have to pay for the bookmarks, envelopes, paint, and postage. Which is why this is only open to people in the United States. Sorry, most of the world. But if you send me a self addressed, stamped envelope, I’ll send you back a few bookmarks.

Lifelike Cover, Preorder, and Launch Promo

I’ve put Lifelike up for preorder in the Kindle store.

But don’t preorder it!
The list price is $5.99*. If you preorder it, you will pay full list. But on June 16 I’ll drop the price to $0.99 for a few days. So wait until June 16 to buy it. If you absolutely positively must have it before then, email me and I’ll send you the file (but promise to buy it for 99 cents on June 16 so I get credit for the sale). If you have a bad sense of finances, you can buy it for $5.99 now through June 16 (ebook publication date is May 16).

To sum up:

  • Wait until June 16.
  • Buy it for $0.99 before the promotional price expires.
  • Read it.
  • Write a review.

A side effect of offering it preorder is I uploaded the cover to the Kindle store. So this isn’t really a “cover reveal” post (which I find almost as curious as those “gender reveal” parties that are oh so premature) because the cover has already been revealed. But I’m revealing it to you here, now!

Lifelike Cover - Wendy Russ, designer
Sexy, isn’t it? That’s Jewel, the main character, in the blue dress holding the roses.

What do you think? Sexy, dark, intriguing? Bewitching? Let me know with a comment here.

So put June 16 on your calendar. If June 16 is already on your calendar, write “Purchase Lifelike for 99c!” on the spot where June 16 is. Then write in the URL for the Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Lifelike-Peter-Dudley-ebook/dp/B071421YB6/

* Apologies to non-US friends. I default to USD because I’m an arrogant American in that way.

Lifelike Playlist

As I mentioned in my last post, the Evanescence song The Only One was a huge inspiration for the idea that became Lifelike. On a cross-country flight recently, I discovered that several other Evanescence songs really fit the plot and characters. It wasn’t until I started reading the lyrics of some of my favorites that I realized this.

Although a lot of the songs I really like aren’t on this list, the playlist below includes those songs that I thought really fit the book. Either they fit the theme overall (like The Only One) or they fit a particular moment in the book, like Erase This.

For those of you who’ve read the book, are there other songs you’d suggest for the story? One friend suggested Rachel Platten’s Fight Song. I can see it, but I wouldn’t have picked it out myself.

Read Lifelike Free

Lifelike will be available June 16. You can get a prerelease e-copy for free. All I ask is you leave an honest review at Amazon or Goodreads after reading it! Just contact me or join my email list.

Inspiration

In June I will publish my next novel, Lifelike, an urban fantasy set in San Francisco. To keep up with release information, join my email list.

I’ve never understood why non-writers assume all my novels are essentially autobiographical. Many non-writers, even after reading my books, look for ways in which I’m secretly telling the story of my own life through my novels. I don’t do that.

Of course there are parts of me in every story I write; that’s what make them uniquely mine. And some of the settings in Lifelike are real places, like the De Young Museum, a beautiful place in the heart of Golden Gate Park.

But my stories are entirely fiction. The characters are not people I know. The plot does not consist of things that actually happened to me or to people I know.

This flummoxes non-writers. “Then where do you get your ideas?” they always ask. I guess it’s a fair question, though most writers I know will tell you that coming up with ideas is not the hard part; the hard part is picking which of the thousands of ideas we have is the one we’re going to commit two years of our creative energy and spare time to writing.

In the case of Lifelike, inspiration came from two sources. These two sources–two paintings in the De Young, and a song by Evanescence–struck me at different times. The story itself didn’t come right from these sources. They inspired a feeling, an idea, that ultimately became a story as I turned my thoughts over and over in my journal. A story rarely appears fully formed, and working out the details takes time and work. But the inspiration can come from anywhere.

The Evanescence song is The Only One, and I’m sure that the idea it created was not exactly what Amy Lee had in mind when she wrote it. It just created a feeling and sparked some ideas that largely fit the lyrics.

The other half of the inspiration came from a gallery in the De Young, where two paintings hung opposite each other. As I stood between the two portraits of young women, I felt an eerie connection to their history, even though I knew nothing about them. Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about that connection, which felt like an almost ghostlike presence in the room. I won’t explain how this turned into the story idea for Lifelike (no spoilers), but that feeling became the main theme that got entwined with the lyircs of The Only One and eventually became my novel.