The Shape of the Soul

rody for RWBFor Easter, we wanted to feature a poem by one of our members who offers some thoughts on the question: What is the shape of the soul? Rody Rowe says he awoke with these words on his heart. Thank you, Rody, for sharing this meditation with us.

“The Shape of the Soul”

for John Doerper

a cup without handles so both palms can mime a cradle.

tin, not crystal, light, durable, in a way, eternal,

easy to pack and carry even up to the high mountain

streams close to cloud-birth, tumbling, granite-cold

and clean the way God will taste on the sabbath morning

you find the sanity to kiss her full on the lips, but until

then, a deep well of seasons to pray up into the waiting

light, to dip the rim into a salt of frost, ethereal snow,

then ladle up spring’s syrup and forget-me-not honey

andhonesttogoodnessdblackberryjam for holy toast,

stews and chowders, cioppinos, broths and bisques,

and alms songs that rattle round the rim like shiny coins

and psalms of held breath and mourning doves,

and symphonies swelling all the seams,

something Copland-like or Lark Ascending

or a fiddle-full of ale and amber-poured shanties,

and last, a crush of tears, and twilight,

where we can only hope

the dents and scars of the longest dark,

will be repaired from our earliest need,

the red blouse parting, this glad reprise,

this chalice of flesh,

our old mulling mouths

gently guided home.


Rodolph Rowe


NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—Dive in!

This month, one of our resident poets, Susan Chase-Foster, gives us some encouragement to join in on the National Poetry Month activities and festivities. Check out her blog post below. Thanks, Susan!



Hi April Writers,

It’s a blustery day here in B’ham and for a while the sky was so white and the temperature so cold it looked like snow. Normally, I’d murmur (or shout) an unglamorous expletive, but today I simply added “April Snow!” to my expanding list of poem possibilities for National Poetry Writing Month or, way more fun to say,

Now, many Red Wheelbarrow writers are familiar with NaNoWriMo, the November write-a-thon in which a novel is written in 30 days. Some of you have created a novel of your own, while others have written a chapter in one the collective RWB masterpieces that Laura Kalpakian and Cami Ostman initiated. Both were great fun! Well, NaPoWriMo is kind of like that only, instead of a novel, participants write a-poem-a-day so that by the end of the month you pretty much have a chapbook of original poetic musings. That’s why I’m taking the plunge.


Don’t worry! There are a ton of supports for those who participate.

• On the NaPoWriMo website, which you can access by clicking on the link above (or right here), what you will see right away is the blog on which each day a wonderful and optional prompt appears (no kidding) along with an explanation, supporting links and an example or two.

• There is a daily “featured press” to which you might consider submitting your writing.

• A daily “featured participant” whose poems and blog you can access by a click also appears, and if you’d like to share your blog with other participants you simply click on the tab at the top of the page that says “Submit Your Site.” I did that with my blog.

• There is an FAQ tab for those who need more information and a Participants Sites tab for those who want to read other writers’ work and maybe make some new friends.

• You can also access NaPoWriMo via Twitter (@napowrimo2o14) and NaPoWriMo’s Facebook page.

Lastly, I want to let you know what a delightful time I’m having writing a poem each day. Before Day 1, I was terrified thinking that I’d never be able to keep up, but what a surprise! With the delicious prompts and supports it’s been surprisingly easy and, most importantly, it’s not too late to start! Not at all. I really hope we can make this an RWB event and that, if you aren’t already participating, you’ll decide to join me and other writers from around the world for this delightful challenge.

If you’d like to take a look at my poems for the first couple of days please head to and check out “If Only Eyebrows Were Wings,” “Wild Night! Wild Night!” “La Llorona,” and “How to Enthuse a Muse.”

Happy writing!

Susan Chase-Foster


Take a Virtual Tour

Hi Writers. Cami here.

Recently, I was asked to spell out how to do a “virtual book tour,” and rather than write a lengthy email to the person who inquired, I said I’d explain the virtual book tour on our RWB blog here, so everyone can benefit. If you’re peddling a book or even just building your platform for the day you will be peddling your book someday, the virtual tour may be for you. Here goes.

Pug leaves homeThe idea of packing up and hitting the road is exciting. We’ve probably all imagined driving from town to town introducing our books to new readers, but is this the most efficient way to get the word out? What about embarking on a virtual book tour?

What is a virtual book tour, anyway, and why would you want to go on one?

Well, a virtual book tour is you touring with your book, just like you would if you went from one bookstore to another to do readings and signings, only instead of going to brick and mortar locations, you stop at blogs and websites. Instead of engaging with 25 people who show up to a reading, you engage, potentially, with hundreds (or even thousands) of readers of the blogs you choose.

There are many reasons to do a virtual tour. Touring virtually is cheaper and less time-consuming than a physical tour; you may reach exponentially more readers than you might reach in person; and you build a relationship with bloggers or webmasters who may love and support your material for years to come.

So how do you DO a virtual book tour?

Step 1: Make a spreadsheet with 6 columns labeled: website address, contact person, email address, physical address, date contacted, response from blogger. Now, do Google searches for websites and blogs that cover your topic, review books, or would be sympathetic to your book for some other reason. For example, if you’ve written a novel about a teenager with an eating disorder, find blogs about eating disorders, blogs that review books, sites that discuss parenting issues, and blogs that generally cover women’s issues or youth issues. Make your list long and keep adding to it every chance you get.

Step 2: Write a stock inquiry letter that you can alter and customize for each blogger (see one of mine as an example: Blog Tour Example Letter). This letter should start by being complimentary about the site and show that you’ve really familiarized yourself with it. Then it should introduce you and ask the webmaster to feature you or your book. There are several things you can ask for along these lines. You can suggest you do a guest blog on the topic the website covers. You can send a book and ask the webmaster/blogger to read it and offer a review on their site. You can provide an excerpt from the book. You can offer a give-away, where everyone who comments on the post gets put into a drawing for a signed copy of your book. You can ask the blogger to write some interview questions for you to answer. Or you can do a combination of any of these things together.

Step 3: Prepare an author bio, an author picture, a jpeg of your book cover, and links as to where readers can buy your book and/or contact you. When a blogger agrees to feature you, you’ll need to send all of these things to him or her along with whatever you’ve agreed to do for the blog (interview, guest post, actual book, etc.).

Step 4: Be ready to gently prod bloggers who agree to feature you. Bloggers get busy and sometimes don’t follow through without a nudge.

Step 5: Be generous with your reciprocity. Get on the sites of the bloggers who feature you or your book and respond to comments not only about your guest post or review, but also their other posts. Perhaps you can put links to their sites up on your own website or offer a chance for them to guest blog for you. Friend or follow these folks. RELATIONSHIP IS THE NAME OF THE GAME!!!

Step 6: Follow through and follow up. If you’ve promised something, deliver it. Say thank you for the airtime after you’ve been featured. Create good karma for the future.

Ultimately, while the setup of a blog tour is a great deal of work, once you get your ducks lined up, the process can be fairly smooth.

For those of you who don’t have a book out already but who are building your platforms in preparation for your book, you can still work this process. If you have an expertise and want to begin to make yourself more findable so that when you start to pitch your book to agents and editors you can prove you’re “out there,” go for it. You can still offer to guest blog or to do interviews. You can still offer excerpts of the book or give-aways of workshops or other services (if you have something to offer). Be creative and get yourself out there.


Keep Going

Mary Ellen Courtney is one of our own Red Wheelbarrow Writers. She is launching her second self-published book and guest blogs below to share her journey with us. You’ll find this encouraging, authentic, and funny. 


imageI just launched Spring Moon, the sequel to Wild Nights. And I’m two-thirds of the way through the messy first draft of my third book. Fun! Fun! Fun! I was “going to” write a book for over three decades. In the meantime, I read about writing. The words ran off me, and calendar pages turned. Why the stars aligned just so, and I finally came to a writing life, is a mystery. So, I can’t help you there. I can tell you a few things I have learned in the process.

​Finishing a book means that I left terra firma in a way that most people only talk about. I saw the world from a new perspective, marshaled my wits and my inner resources, and made it back to earth in one piece. I did a big fat thing I have always wanted to do. Then, because I have an addictive personality, I kept doing it. That’s a great obit line, even if it doesn’t pay the rent.

​I love to write because I love adventure, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I actually lost weight sitting in a chair. Writing is hard, satisfying work. But, it’s not half as hard and dissatisfying as not doing it.

​Everyone talks about the inner critic, the voices. Mine natter away when I write. They natter away when I don’t. The act of writing puts a muzzle on the second one. I have a cartoon on my desktop that says, “Write the f*%#ing story!” It helps me stay on point when the first voice starts in. Also, I love to swear.

​The chatter outside the walls of my head can be even more daunting. Opinions run wild. An entire industry has grown up to torment our writer brain insecurities. Kaching! It used to be we stood, hat in hand, at the monolithic wall of The Big Six. Now there is so much information out there about writing and self-publishing, it could make a lesser person cry. Publishing is a moving target. What I understand today will be different tomorrow. You can learn it. And learn it. And learn it. You have to keep learning.

​It’s a rough crowd out there. Beware of anyone (except me) who makes unequivocal proclamations about writing. I just read a blog post by an author who pronounced anyone who doesn’t write at least four or five books a year, “A Hobbyist.” My jaw dropped. Ignore. Don’t get chased off by the bullies and braggarts. Google Donna Tartt if you need some timber to buttress your backbone.

​There is the oft-repeated law that you have to write a great book in order to succeed. I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a lot of highly acclaimed dreck by financially successful authors in the last few years. I’m not suggesting that you write dreck, but I urge you not to seize-up over the idea of ‘great.’ They don’t. Writing a book, if that’s what you want to do, is success. Let your readers be the judge of quality.

​There are two main schools of thought about how to write a book. The first is to plot from germ-to book. What I think of as sneaking up on the book, camouflaged in process, so it doesn’t see you coming. The second is to let ‘er rip and see where the road takes you. Let the book sneak up on you. There are as many ways to write a book, as there are authors. Sometimes I write twelve or more hours a day, sometimes I don’t write at all. I’ve written two books and I’m into the third. My way is the right way, so is yours.

​My first book, Wild Nights, started with a spew draft and no idea in mind. So did Spring Moon, except that I had the characters in place. This is how the year it took to write Wild Nights looked:

Month One: 160,000 words. Surreal. Sidekicks to my protagonist were a talking chicken, a cat that spoke only in Zen expressions, and a young girl who communicated solely by humming opera. I forgot my husband’s name that month.

Out to development editor who gave great feedback, which included killing off half the characters, conversations, and words. She liked the sidekicks.

She said, “Keep going.”

Month Two: Down to 70,000 words. Sidekicks gone. I don’t know that much opera. I was hallucinating from the sheer mental effort of swinging an axe 90,000 times.

Second read by development editor. Split feedback. Half of it was productive; she was very impressed by the word murdering I’d done. The other half felt so scathing it was hard to read without closing one eye.

Months Three to Five: Weep and wring hands. Garden-variety self-flagellation mixed with self-righteous confusion. Mild paralysis, tingling on left side (I might have imagined that). Husband talked me off ledge several times. Talked over editor’s issues with a psychotherapist friend, in produce section of grocery store. She said I had the character right. Mull. Reread the critique, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. I took what I needed and told myself that Mark Twain didn’t have a development editor.

Months Six to Ten: Sucked it up. Shuffled scenes. Wrote a bazillion words. Started to have some fun. Cried with my character, laughed out loud at my character, walked around depressed with my character. I got a grip on the story. I got a grip on myself.

​I killed so many trees making copies that even the young guy at the copy place gave it a jovial, “It’s all Skymiles,” when he handed me my receipts. I used all the ink in all my red pens scratching out scenes, conversations, and sparkly words. I had backs of envelopes all over the place with serendipitous snippets delivered from the universe that got folded into the story.

​I finally reached a point, 98,000 words, give or take, when I felt like I was done writing. I looked for a copy editor. I got four samples, two paid for, and two free. The results stopped me in my tracks, again. The first was too light-handed. The second changed key words because she liked hers better. Never mind they would never fall out of the mouth of my first-person narrator. The third dropped a critical riff she felt (after reading 20 pages) was not germane to the story. Interesting. It was the story. The fourth did a full rewrite in someone else’s voice. Uh oh.

​More dog walking time was needed while I gave myself the Mark Twain pep talk. Did Mark Twain have a copy editor? No. He. Did. Not. Not as far as I knew. It didn’t matter. I needed one. I found a woman on our island who read it, twice. We worked great together. You must have your work copy edited. That is unequivocally nonnegotiable. Even when you do, you are going to be shocked by the number of things that are missed when you read the proof(s).

​I self-published. I’m not tech smart, so it sounded like a foreign language when I started. I got help with the physical book from a guy here who does that for a living. He uses InDesign. He installed it on my computer so I can do my own edits now, which saves hours and money. I used LiberWriter for the eBooks and did them myself. Easy! You can do it.

​Marketing is another arena where there are thousands of people making huge promises with nothing but their say so to back them up. If you want to make your life easier, write non-fiction, or clear genre. I haven’t hit the magic market formula yet. I poke at it a little each day. Friend me on Facebook! I gave away ten books on Goodreads, which netted exactly one review. It appears the other people sold the books. I entered award contests, and won. That sticker helps. I put out press releases. I go to book groups. I’m in the local bookstores. The second book helps sell the first.

​You can’t count on your friends and family to buy your book. I ran into a friend in the wine aisle the other day, she said she was skeptical about reading my books because she assumes the people she knows can’t write. I might need friends with more self-esteem. Don’t put your friends on the spot. You need them. And, oddly, they frequently aren’t your audience.

​I’m not in a critique group. I don’t believe in crowd sourcing a novel. I have an eclectic handful of readers I use toward the end. None are writers. They tell me how the story is working for them.

​Own your writing life. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so much energy to go around. If you’re talking about writing, you’re not writing. If you’re reading about writing, you’re not writing. That said, I think everyone should read Stephen King’s, “On Writing.” And, you should have Roget’s Thesaurus open on your desktop. But, as my pal Stephen will tell you, don’t get carried away. Magniloquent words stop the story like a poke in the eye. The heart of the matter is usually formed from humble words of clay.

​It’s a business. Take it seriously. It’s exciting to be your own boss. Hold your head up, even around your snarky sister and the people who sniff that you’re a hobbyist.

​Just do it. Boil through it. Mow it down. Pull up your socks, brush your teeth, and tie your shoelaces. Cross the road and see what’s on the other side. Keep going. It’s fun!


Thank you so much, Mary Ellen, for sharing your journey with us. Keep up the good work everyone!

imageMary Ellen Courtney grew up in Southern California where she ratted around on the beach and daydreamed to avoid high school. Despite her sketchy attendance, she went on to love college. She worked in design and in the film business.

Like most writers, her biggest adventures are all in her head. She lives on San Juan Island in Washington State, with a large dog, a canary, a husband who understands, and a license to fly.

Her debut novel, Wild Nights, was the 2013 Winner of the Indie Excellence Award for Fiction, the Silver Medal Winner in the 2013 Global eBooks Awards for Fiction, and one of five finalists in ForeWord Reviews 2013 Best Fiction contest.

Her third novel is scheduled for release November 2014.

Feel free to contact her at: 
and on Facebook

Spring Moon and Wild Nights are available at

How About a Writing Prompt?

We had so much fun writing collectively for NaNoWriMo, that we thought maybe another collective writing project was in order. How about a writing prompt? Here’s how it would work:

1. You write a piece (fiction, non-fiction, or poetry) inspired by the writing prompt below. The prompt can remind you of something in your own life. Or it can spark a piece of fiction or poetry. No rules–except that for narrative pieces, let’s keep them at or under 2000ish words. No deadline, but let’s shoot for the end of February–that way we can read bits of our submissions at the March happy hour.

2. Post your writing in the “comment” section. If you have any trouble posting it, email it to Cami at and she’ll post it for you.

3. Read one another’s pieces and comment liberally.

4. It’ll be fun.

So here’s the prompt:

The following broken balloon and note fell out of the sky into the yard of a friend of mine (Cami). I asked for it because I knew it had a story. But what is the story?

The note starts: “I love you and I’m so sorry that I didn’t help you that morning.” It ends with: “I HAVE TO LET YOU GO!” You’re welcome to use any of the other words you can make out.

Balloon Prompt