Chera Hammons: Poet and Writer

"…a slow shutter on ambulation…"

Archive for News

Brief Update

Hello, readers! Please accept my apologies, as I have been dealing with life and its many consequences. Between being busy, there have been migraines and some sickness, some breakdown of appliances (the dishwasher in particular appears to be cursed), and last week, we lost my grandmother to a long illness.

She wasn’t like other grandmothers– I never saw much softness in her– still, until last Tuesday, I had never known a world without her in it, and I have felt disoriented since. She had severe dementia and hadn’t recognized her family members for awhile, so it was really like she had been slipping away slowly for a couple of years, and her passing was simply the next step. But I don’t know if that made it any easier.

She was raised on a red dirt farm in Oklahoma and was one of the toughest people I knew. She was the last of her siblings, the last of her friends. It comforts me that she believed my mother, who cared for often her in her illness, was her own mother towards the end. I like to think that means she felt safe.

I will feel more normal, I suspect, when I can write something about it, but right now, it’s still too soon, and I have learned it is not helpful to rush how one processes loss. Loss is always complicated.

Please check back soon. I will write a real blog entry (a more cheerful one!) again in the next few days. In the meantime, I wish you good writing and good health!

Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom

Happy Tuesday, friends! I have some great news: I have signed with the wonderful Torrey House Press to publish my suspenseful literary novel Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom. The novel is set in Northeast Kingdom, Vermont, which is the coldest region in the state. The protagonist is an aging woman who is chronically ill. Like me, she has Lyme disease. When she is abruptly left on her own, she must figure out how to protect her land and what she loves from danger. There are horses, dogs, coyotes, bears, poachers, and all sort of surprises. Readers so far have told me they couldn’t put it down. One reader told me she wants a sequel (okay, I have to be honest– that particular reader was my mom! Seriously, though, my parents are super supportive of my writing, and I appreciate them. Thanks, mom!).

My husband Daniel, whose doctoral thesis Animal Ethics and Theology was published by Routledge a few years back, and who currently writes genre ecofiction, first pointed me in the direction of Torrey House, for which I am grateful. I am careful about where I send my manuscripts. My choices largely depend on what I need for the book to accomplish in the world. Everything I read about Torrey House impressed me. Among other things, the press is conscientious, it cares about the same issues I do, it’s run by women (yay!), and the books are all attractively designed. It seemed perfect. So I submitted the book and let time pass, and then I got an email that led to a phone call. I stood at the window and watched the sun set over the canyon while I spoke to an editor about publishing my book.

I am so thrilled this press is willing to give my book a chance. They’ve been amazing to work with and their books are gorgeous and important. Publishing novels has been a lifelong dream of mine. I’ve outlined and begun writing at least twenty novels I’ve never finished over the years; I always got to about 12,000 words and stopped. I’m sometimes too harsh a critic of my own work to write things longer than poems, because I can start to get more and more unhappy with what I’m writing, and then I get discouraged and abandon it. But this time, I told myself I’d finish my novel no matter what. For me, that meant it had to be on point all the way through. And now, miracle of miracles, I will be able to share it with other people. More than that– I hope it will be the first novel of many.

To say I suffer from imposter syndrome would be an understatement. I am one of those unfortunate people who distrusts good news; I always wonder, at first, when I receive some recognition, if it’s a mistake. Right now I have two personally important books coming out at dream presses in 2020 (besides Monarchs at Torrey House, I also have a poetry book– Maps of Injury— forthcoming from Sundress Publications), and I’ve poured so much time, energy, and love into them, I’ve run empty in my daily life a few times. The anxiety is trying to take hold. I keep asking myself, “How can this be?” Right now, 2020 seems like a long way off. Here’s hoping life as we know it (actually, preferably, a better version of it) can continue for at least the next two years or so–

At any rate, I have decided to enjoy the prospect of publications ahead without worrying so much about everything. I decided to write my first novel, and then committed to doing it, so I can decide this, too. I wrote at least 700 words every day when I was writing Monarchs, and those words slowly but surely became a book. Every day that passes now brings it closer to something I can hold in my hand.

To anyone out there, reading this– If you’ve been thinking of writing your own book, but the task seems too daunting– Start small. Set a daily or weekly goal you know you can reach, and don’t quit until you reach it. Start anew every day. You can do this. And guess what? Once you’ve done it once, you’ll know you can do it again.

I Will Do Better (Really! I Mean It!)

Dear friends– You have, by now, probably realized that I am the least consistent blogger in the known universe, and perhaps in universes as yet unknown, as well. I am going to genuinely try to start making more consistent posts so that they are less “Update! Important news! It’s been two years…” sorts of posts and more “Here is something to think about this week” sorts of posts. (Do I hear distant laughter? Hmm. It’s probably just the wind.)

Some of you already know that my most recent poetry book, The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City, was a recipient of the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award. When Traveler’s Guide was announced as the poetry winner, I couldn’t have foreseen the changes it would lead to in my daily life, and I am grateful for all of them. It was strange, because up to that point I had worked on my craft in silence and relative isolation; I had given up on getting any sort of real recognition for it; I had taught myself to be content with the work itself. And that really was (and still is) what I cared most about– making my work the best it could possibly be. Then, suddenly, I wasn’t invisible anymore, and some amazing people locally started to care about my work and help me to promote it. And my parents weren’t the only people coming to my readings anymore. (When I said something like that to one of my publishers, he said, “My mom has never come to my readings,” and frowned. But my mom has been to some of his readings, so don’t fret too much, dear readers.) At the same time, I had started a treatment for Lyme disease that was working– slowly, but steadily, I was beginning to get my life back. (If you’d like to know my treatment protocol, I’d be happy to share it via email. It involves strengthening the body’s overall immune system.)

I am now the Writer-in-Residence at my undergraduate alma mater, West Texas A&M University. It is the job I have always wanted but never dreamed I’d actually get to perform, and I intend to give it my all. Though I am still getting a feel for the position, I have been thinking of the ways I can best add value to the school and its programs and developing a plan. If you are a student at WT and you are reading this, please get in contact with me. We can talk about your work in a friendly, safe, relaxed atmosphere; no question is too big or small.

Though I have had to make adjustments to accommodate lingering health issues, I am glad it has been possible to do so, and the effort has been more than worthwhile. The students I have spoken to are enthusiastic and talented. I am so very happy to be here. I take the responsibility of assisting student writers seriously. I remember how it felt to be one myself– the excitement and the vulnerability of beginning to share my writing. The type of feedback a writer receives at the beginning can have a big impact on what happens next, and this feedback must be handled with care so that it is both encouraging and helpful to the student’s work.

I started this position at the end of the fall semester; I expect the real work for me will start in January. And I am looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I wanted to let followers know about my current main work-in-progress, because I will sometimes post about it. I am writing a young adult historical fiction novel set during the Dust Bowl. I’ve done a lot of research, which has given me a whole new way to think about my home and my ancestors. I have so many projects going on at the moment that I don’t work on the novel daily, but when I do, it’s the sort of writing I get completely lost in, where hours fly by. I’m hoping to have it finished by spring.

I hope all of you caught in the snowstorm are warm and safe, and that you have mountains of books you can read, and tea, and maybe cats, if you, like me, profit off of their body warmth. (Hey, I feed them, they can earn their keep.) Please check back and see if I’ve been able to make another post before two years is out. (There’s that Texas wind blowing again…)

Updates!: Recognition for Recycled Explosions, Barnes & Noble Signing for Traveler’s Guide, etc.

Just some brief updates, friends!

A couple of days ago, I was notified by the Texas Institute of Letters that Recycled Explosions had been named a finalist in the 2017 Bob Bush Memorial Award for Best First Book of Poetry. Thank you to the folks at TIL for that honor!

I’ve also just finalized a signing for The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City at the Barnes and Noble in Amarillo, TX. Come out and see me on February 18th at 2:00 p.m. Don’t worry– I’ll have plenty of copies for all! And if you can’t make it, you can always buy a copy here.

I probably ought to also mention that my poem “Shriven” will appear tomorrow at Rattle.com! I recorded the audio with a sore throat, but I think it still turned out okay. During part of the poem, I curse my dog. Please don’t think I ever actually treat my dog with anger. I don’t! But I had to sound angry / upset when I recorded the audio for the poem because my voice has a sort of sweet, nice quality to it, and in my early recordings, it didn’t sound like I meant it when I cursed. It sounded super cute. And anyway, the poem isn’t really about the dog, is it? Thank you once again to Tim Green for having my work in Rattle! Always one of my favorite sources of poetry.

Where I’ve Been

Hello, friends!

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted, but I’ve got a good excuse, because as it turns out, I’ve been living with a misdiagnosed neurological condition for about 17 years or so, as near as we (myself & the doctors) are able to guess. I haven’t felt well for ages, have always had weird symptoms and sicknesses, but for the past year, my health has been exceptionally poor, and in a fit of desperation after dealing with 1. debilitating fatigue; 2. months of near-constant heart palpitations; 3. getting lost on the way home from work and driving the wrong way down an access road on which I drove every single day, I switched doctors. I felt that I would die if I didn’t find someone to help me soon, it had gotten so bad. The new doctor did not tell me I was imagining the symptoms or laugh at me when I said I was afraid because I couldn’t think anymore, as my old doctor did. Instead, she ran a plethora of tests– several lab visits with 8 to 14 vials of blood drawn each time– and in the end, we found out that I have Lyme disease. It’s like a cross between dementia, heart disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, meningitis, and anxiety disorder, among other conditions.

I’ve had increasing trouble reading and writing for the past 8 months, as it’s so difficult now for my brain to make connections, my eyes and head hurt, my hands hurt, and sometimes blocks of text just look like squiggles to me– my brain just won’t connect words to their meanings at times. I’m now being treated and hope to be back to my old self in 18 to 24 months (though I have to admit I don’t know who my “old self” might be, at this point). Anytime I feel relatively “clear,” I work like mad trying to get something meaningful done, but it’s only been recently– the last week or two– that I stopped feeling as if I were just quickly disappearing.

Other writers who have Lyme disease, that I know of, include Amy Tan and Meg Cabot. So there is some hope for me, that I still might be successful at reaching my writing goals.

In the meantime, during those months of fear and worry, Steve Schroeder of Purple Flag Press, whom I had met at a reading, solicited my current magnum opus (current because it is my intention to write more of them) manuscript The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City, and I sent it to him, though I had it out at about 15 places at the time. Steve used to live in Amarillo, though now he lives in Chicago, and I ended up accepting his offer to publish at Purple Flag because I knew he would take care of the book and value it as I did. I knew I could trust him. That sort of regard from someone for what you create means even more when you are ill. And I’m glad Purple Flag released it, because it turned out exactly as I wanted. It even feels soft and lovely in your hands, inviting, the way a book should feel.

guide

This manuscript has been read and critiqued by many people, writers and friends I admire, and it has been revised, re-revised… Poems in the book have been published in many of the poetry reviews I love to read. This book began as my creative thesis at Goddard College and grew into something that really matters to me. It’s about my home– a place that doesn’t have a lot of poetry written about it. My husband tells me it’s like living for a year in Amarillo, which is nicknamed Bomb City because it is near the nation’s only active nuclear weapons assembly plant. To me, this book is about what we come to accept and why. When the esteemed A.G. Mojtabai called it “very, very good work,” I knew I didn’t have to worry about whether the book had done as I hoped it would do.

It was technically released on January 5th, but I’ve had trouble getting the energy to promote it, which has been frustrating.

Today I’ve managed to get it listed for sale through Paypal here.

I’m also doing a reading at Chalice Abbey Center for Spirituality and the Arts in Amarillo on January 28th at 6:00 p.m., and I’m reading again at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, OK, on Friday, April 7th. If you will be either of those places, you can buy a book from me in person.

I’ll try to post more as my energy picks up– and as always, I thank you, readers, for being here and for perusing my ramblings!

Visual Poetry, Recycled Explosions, and Scissortail

Readers, in honor of the upcoming release of my full-length poetry book Recycled Explosions from Ink Brush Press, I have been trying my hand at what I think is called “visual poetry.” I’m taking some of the more accessible, vivid poems in the manuscript and making videos out of them. I posted the first a couple of weeks ago; it uses my own photographs to illustrate my poem “After the Blood Moon.” Be sure to have your audio on when you play it.

I have eight total visual poems planned so far– two more are already completed but won’t be posted until closer to the book’s release sometime in the next several months. My husband Daniel Miller, truly a man of many talents, illustrated those two for me.

In other news, I received word today that I have been selected to perform at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival this spring. If you’re attending, I would love to meet you!

Poetry on the Patio

I know I haven’t written a blog entry since February, but let’s pick up right where we left off– shall we? Like old friends. After the dismal failure of the poetry slam outing mentioned in an earlier post, my quest to enjoy and/or cultivate a more poetic atmosphere in my hometown seemed to be at a standstill. I couldn’t find any good outlets or any fellow poets or poetry appreciators anywhere. They seemed to all be hiding, scurrying about in the shadows at night like literate mice, leaving evidence of their existence tucked away in corners at the local library sales, where I would find their old marked-up poetry books and buy them for myself. Finally, in a burst of frustration, I told my husband, “What do I need to do to get some poetry going here? Stand on street corners and read Whitman through a bullhorn?” He indicated gently that doing so would be pretty extreme and suggested that I try to arrange something with the Amarillo Botanical Gardens instead. I know and like the director, whom I worked with at a previous employer’s, so I already had an “in.” I outlined an hour-long event at which I would pick 21 poems from classic and contemporary poets, aligned with a common theme. I intended for each poem to have a different reader, so I would need 21 volunteers from the community. When I approached Kevin, the director, with my ideas, he said it sounded like a good experiment, and then asked if I represented an organization. Things would have been much easier if I had. For example, I couldn’t get food donated without 501( c)(3) status, so I ended up bumming my mother-in-law’s Sam’s card to get veggie trays, cheese cubes, watermelon, and bottled water in bulk for the event. I also organized the event single-handedly, which took several weeks of constant work, all told.  It looked a bit scary there for a while. However, the graphic design, poem-picking, reader-asking, program-making, food-getting, etc. all somehow miraculously fell into place, and the event turned out to be really inspiring. I began with an introduction touching on why poetry is so important to us as people, then between each reader, I introduced the next reader and provided what I thought were cool little insights about the poems (for example, that Emily Dickinson’s work can be sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”). I had no idea if the format would work, but it seemed to flow really well.

Poetry on the Patio Program

Poetry on the Patio Program – Click for Larger Size

As you can see from the program, I did not end up finding my 21 readers. Instead, I had 7 readers who read 3 poems each– but holy smokes, were they amazing! I started by asking my friends in the local art and theater communities to read, and they asked their friends. The readers made the event a big success. Whenever I’ve moderated readings in the past, I’ve been far too anxious to enjoy the readings themselves. This time– whether because of the beautiful summer evening setting, the apparent enjoyment of the audience, or just the way the readers carried me into the poems as a listener– I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I enjoyed myself so much that I feel like I threw the thing just for me– when really, I did it to try to feel out my community and get something going that many might appreciate. The botanical gardens has asked me to do four of these events per year now (one for each season), but alas! With working full time, I don’t see how I’d be able to do so without experiencing some sort of nervous breakdown. I will throw another one, though. Soon, I hope. Stay posted, Amarillo!

Poetry on the Patio setting

Poetry and flowers… Yay!

And fellow poets out there in isolation, if you would like tips on putting something like this together yourselves, please comment or email any questions. I would be more than happy to  help spread the poetry. Happy writing!