Archive for the ‘Blessen’ Category

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

You’ve heard of a stray dog or stray cat, but have you ever seen a stray chicken? My daughter’s dog was chasing a chicken in their yard. They live in a city, not in the country. They’d never seen this chicken before.

A text: My son-in-law Grant caught the chicken.

Ironically, they are keeping the chicken in an outdoor barbecue house giving it water and food, veggies and a breakfast bar. My daughter asked me if I wanted to keep it. My husband said we have enough dependents at the moment, but I can’t help but think of my character Sunshine in the second Blessen book.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

Chapter One: Missing Egg    

            In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.  My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine.  And she lays the most precious light blue eggs.  Every day.

            But not today.

            I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.  I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.

             “Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. Here you go, come to me.” 

            Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders.  She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers.  She trills and shifts.  Tucking her under my arm, I rub her soft golden down hoping to settle her. I’ve never seen her so nervous. 

            When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs.  A little shiver runs up my spine.  Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked.  I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night. 

            I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year.  Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed.  I left the gate open.  She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor.  I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs.  But that doesn’t make any sense.  A hawk couldn’t get into the coop.  What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I? 

            “Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”

            I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed.  She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.

            I look over toward our neighbor’s house and see the shadow of a child moving across the screened porch.  That’s weird.  I thought the house was empty. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. I wonder who could be there.  A new friend?  An egg thief?

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved, from Sunshine, published by Border Press, 2019.

To order Sunshine from Amazon, click here. If you’d like to order a signed copy, let me know in the comments.

Read Full Post »

Sunshine, a Blessen Novel

Sunshine, the sequel to my first middle grade novel Blessen is coming soon from Border Press. I published Blessen in 2012 and began writing this sequel. I’m excited that her story with Sunshine, her new hen, and Harmony, a new friend, will finally be out in the world. Publication day is Oct. 15, 2019. The cover is a collage by Marcie Melancon, a New Iberia artist.

The Blurb:

Blessen LaFleur’s life is once again taking more twists and
turns than the bayou she lives near. Blessen is growing up
and taking on the responsibility of raising a hen, Sunshine,
who is broody and bothered. In this sequel, Blessen meets
Harmony who is homeless and missing her mother. Blessen’s
caring nature leads her to save Harmony from the despair of a
strange foster home by stealing her away on an adventure.
Together they call themselves “the guardians of nature.” When
an accident reveals Harmony to the grown-ups in Blessen’s
life, they both learn of the strength of family and love.

You can read the first review at A Word’s Worth by Diane Moore.

If you are interested in reading a pdf copy and writing a blog review, please let me know in the comments.

Read Full Post »

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.


It’s summer now. The sun sets more reluctantly than at any other time of the year, and as it slowly drops behind the canopy of live oaks and crepe myrtles, my remaining twelve hens drift nearer and nearer to the coop, pecking and scratching along in a lazy, singular unity.

I feel so strongly about these hens. As oblivious as they are to love and anything else that is neither food nor peril, they seem to carry with knowing authority the solutions to all mysteries, as our solutions are somehow in rosary beads, old pots, and June bugs. If they miss Passion, they don’t show it. Somewhere between earthworms and hawks, they carry on, finding the best spots for dust baths and squabbling over the grapes I feed them from my hand, until they inevitably make it home as the sun sets.

And rather than leave an empty space where Passion once perched on the roost, they will scoot closer to each other and fill it in, knowing that the world goes on and knowing — announcing, maybe, as Mary Oliver would say — their place in the family of things.

–Lisa Meaux, 1956-2016, excerpt from “The Birds: Passion” from Entropymag.org



Lisa Meaux

My friend, Lisa Meaux, loved chickens.  The above excerpt is from a short story she wrote about a friend and a chicken who both had ovarian cancer.  The story is just like Lisa, a mix of the ironic and the tender.

I first met Lisa when I was working on my masters in gifted education.  She was the lead teacher in a summer program in which I interned.  As the years went by, Lisa found her way to the writing project, and our relationship grew around teaching and writing.  Two years ago, she retired and married the love of her life.  Little did any of us know that her life would end so soon.

On Saturday, I attended a beautiful gathering to celebrate her life at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The stage was set with a portrait of Lisa holding one of her chickens.  Two teacher-writers from her writing group read from a variety of pieces that told the story of Lisa.  Her writing life centered around her love of her home, her animals, and her family. A fitting tribute to her through her own words.

Back in 2009, Lisa, Nettie, and I attended the New Orleans writing marathon.  The marathon focus was fiction.  I felt like such a novice at fiction writing, but the genre was comfortable to Lisa.  I remember she wrote a story about a woman who leaves a piece of her clothing at various places in New Orleans and eventually walks into Lake Pontchartrain completely nude.  It was a brilliantly crafted story.

At that retreat, Lisa gave me a gift of a bracelet of blue beads and thus the name for Blessen’s chicken, Blue.  If it hadn’t been for Lisa, there would not have been a chicken in my story, or, for that matter, a story at all.  She met with me to discuss my book and planted the seed that would become the theme for the book, “Death happens in threes.”

There is an empty space where Lisa lived.  Her friends feel it.  Her husband feels it.  Her students feel it.  Unlike her roosting chickens, I am not quite sure how to fill the space that belonged to her.  I still struggle to know where I belong in the family of things.  But I know this for sure: The world goes on, and I am a better person for having known and loved Lisa Meaux.

Read Full Post »

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Today I am celebrating comments. I am admitting how important comments are to me. They drive me to write more. They give me confidence. Comments are like attention from a close friend; they wrap me up in warmth.

Every Friday of Kate Messner’s Teachers Write Camp, Gae Polisner hosts a Friday Feedback on her site with a guest author each week. A week ago, the guest was Avi. Yes, the one and only. If you are steeped into the kidlit world of middle grade books, you know Avi well for books like Crispin and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and many more. I was a bit star struck when I saw this and hesitated to post anything, but I got my courage up and posted this little piece of Sunshine, the sequel to Blessen.

On the porch hidden by the screen door, I think I see a child. All I can see are eyes, big and round like white marbles, staring out at me. Still, I am startled by the voice.

“Hi, there! Whatcha’ doin? Swinging?”

A little black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side. She wears a tattered pink dress that’s too short for her long skinny legs. Her hair is plaited in braids close to her scalp. Her skin is as dark as a moonless night. She runs around me and pushes me forward on the rope.

I swing higher and squeal. Holding tighter to the rope, I ask the girl, “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“My name is Harmony, Harmony, Harmony.” Harmony sings her name higher and higher on the scale. “Who are you, you, you?”

Holding tightly to the thick rope, I unwrap my legs and stand.

“I’m Blessen. I live right there in that double-wide with my momma, Miss Gardenia LaFleur. Are you living here now?”

“Oh, well, it’s all just temporary. We’ll see, we’ll see. Will you swing me high?”

And from Avi, “Dear Margaret,
Not much to add, because this seems to work as is. Good job!. I assume there is more, and would like to read.”

And this week from Gae herself, “Margaret, I’d offer constructive criticism if I had it. But your writing is really stellar and compelling. Just beautiful. Keep going!”

How can I not keep going with support like this from successful authors like Avi and Gae. A huge THANKS to Kate Messner and Gae Polisner and all the other amazing authors who are devoting their time and energy to nurturing struggling teacher-writers like me.

Rami_Quote_Posters2 copy

I am trying to trust my authentic voice. Comments strengthen this voice and make me feel worthy! Totally selfish and totally true!

Read Full Post »

I believe that it is every artist’s right to determine what they create and not have that dictated to them.
Lisa Yee in A Rambling Rant on Race

I have been watching the Twitter frenzy on #WeNeedDiverseBooks closely because I wrote a diverse book. Blessen is a young bi-racial girl growing up in St. Martinville, Louisiana. She lives with her white mother and grandfather and discovers that her father is a black man. She builds a relationship with her black grandmother. One of my favorite scenes is when Mae Mae braids Blessen’s hair. Blessen’s white mother has never been able to fix her hair. My research on this scene happened when my friend who is black let me do her daughter’s hair. There were oils and conditioners and little barrettes. I loved learning about this scene with first hand experience.

For as long as I can remember, no one has ever done my hair. I’ve always just wrapped it up in a rubber band. Ella Mae works with her fingers, rubbing my scalp with oil that smells like the sweet olive tree. I breathe in and feel my shoulders relax as she massages my head and braids my hair into fine braids. She ties off each braid with a tiny rubber band…At this moment I forget that my daddy is gone and my momma is full of anger. At this moment, I am a blessing to Ella Mae. I am a blessing to my grandmother.

How can anyone say that a white woman cannot write with empathy about a black child? It never occurred to me that I couldn’t. Blessen came to me in a student. I see her again and again walking the halls of the schools where I teach. Like every child, she has her heartaches. She learns to love through the tragedies and losses she faces. I feel more than justified to have created her. She is part of me.

As Lisa Yee says, “We need diverse books because this generation of minority will grow up to be the majority.” Girls like Blessen will strengthen and enlighten our world, as she shows the world that it doesn’t matter what race you are on the inside. What matters is the strength of your character on the inside.

Blessen proof
Blessen can be found on Amazon.

Read Full Post »

"I would love to be a writer if only someone would give me confidence!"

“I would love to be a writer if only someone would give me confidence!”

Why do I write what I do?
I often tell my students that the only way to get good at something is to practice. We all would rather a short cut. I know I would. I wish that I had stuck with writing when I was younger. I wrote often as a teen, and I was bad at it. I unearthed one of these diaries, “I want to be a writer, if only someone would give me confidence.” And as any writer knows, it takes a great deal of confidence. Confidence must come from within, though, not from someone else. But it also takes perseverance. And maybe I don’t have enough of that because I turned to self-publishing for Blessen and for Illuminate. Both projects have brought me great courage. Now I feel more confident in writing for others to read. I trust my voice and allow her to say what she will.

Writing a blog is about connecting. Through this format, I connect to other teachers, poets, authors, and readers.

I write poetry because it’s my passion. My passion comes from falling in love with poets. They are some of the coolest people on this earth. They can say what I meant to say and so much better. I want to be like Mary Oliver when I grow up, walk my dog along the bayou and write beautiful words. I believe the world is more beautiful, more meaningful, more pleasurable because of poetry.

How does my writing process work?

I have different writing processes for different types of writing. For blogging, I just do it. I save a draft, re-read a few times, and publish.

For poetry, I am usually attracted by a prompt. That prompt can come from anywhere: an image, a presenter in Wordlab, a fellow blogger’s post, or the site of a hawk flying over the highway.

Fiction is tougher for me. I have a strong resistance to writing it. Blessen took 6 years. I started it in a writing workshop on fiction writing. I had many starts and stops, months would go by. And now, I have readers asking for her sequel. I just can’t get myself to open the document. What am I waiting for?

Some of my favorite books on the writing life include:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty
Views from a Window Seat by Jeannine Atkins (Reading presently and love how it feels like having coffee with a best friend.)

My National Poetry Month commitment is to write a poem a day using ABCs of forms, techniques, and tools. Today is brought to you by the letter G for ghazal. (pronounced “guzzle”) I am writing my ghazal in a form borrowed from a poet-friend, James McDowell. He writes using three line stanzas rather than the traditional couplet. This ghazal form is credited to Robert Bly and is called a ramage to the Mideastern ghazal, or American ghazal. “In its classic form, each stanza stands alone–has its own landscape, so to speak–and the theme of the poem is never stated. So the reader has much more to do than he would be used to in the contemporary English poem. When the ghazal has its full development, each stanza in a given poem ends with the same word.”

I wrote this loosely formed ghazal to a postcard sent to me by Laura Shovan. It ends with the Pantone color candy pink.

postcard candy pink sky

…candy pink sky

Purple-tipped clouds stroke the air
while the red-tailed hawk soars high,
a child points to azure sky.

Clipping waves ride the ocean
cradle the rocking schooner
air balloons a sail through sky.

Creator draws a straight line
separates water from air,
holds horizons of dazzling sky.

I am not old enough to
remember how war feels,
bombs exploding erase sky.

Heaven is here in colors.
Our eyes can see the rainbow
when the sun chases storms from the sky.

Every story has its lesson,
the one for Margaret is this:
Throw confetti to the wind.
Celebrate a candy pink sky.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Read Full Post »

The prairie inspires artists and writers.

The prairie inspires artists and writers.

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

This weekend I was invited to read at a festival in Arnaudville, a small town about 40 miles north of New Iberia. The drive to Arnaudville along Highway 31 follows the curving Bayou Teche. Years ago, I drove this same highway to a fiction writing workshop. It was in this workshop that I wrote the first chapter of Blessen. The workshop took place in NuNu’s, an arts collective with a performance area and a cafe in the back. The building sat on a high ridge near the bayou. A few years ago, the place burned. Now Nunu’s is housed down the highway in a large old lumber company building. Walking into the place, you step back in time on long leaf pine floors and high ceilings. You look out onto endless rice fields. I felt a sentimental connection to this birthplace of my first novel. And it was here that I connected with new friends who write.

Clare Martin organized the event in conjunction with the Fire and Water Festival “Le Feu et l’Eae.” (All festivals in South Louisiana have French names.) She titled the readings, “Words of Fire, Words of Water.” I felt privileged to be among the readers. Clare read from her recent book of poetry, Eating the Heart First. I felt an immediate connection to this woman who has turned her grief into beautiful poetry. Talking to her after the reading, I shared something about not expecting to sell many books that day. (I sold 6! A good day!) Her response was so encouraging.

Each success no matter how small in practice of what I love is a lightning strike against the dark.

I loved this! Another woman-writer-friend, Chere’ Coen, (See her blog post about the event.) gave me a Gris Gris bag for courage. And guess what symbol it had on it? A lightning bolt! More synchronicity.

The gris gris bag for courage with Clare's book of poetry, my prizes from Words of Fire, Words of Water.

The gris gris bag for courage with Clare’s book of poetry, my prizes from Words of Fire, Words of Water.

Traveling home from the lovely day in Arnaudville, (not to mention, after a delicious catfish po-boy, hazelnut latte, and double-chocolate cake ball) I felt full. I was full of the spirit that brings us life and creativity and art.

2012-12-01 13.48.09

This poem by Clare L. Martin moved me to tears:


The hospital room is cool.
There are moths in your breath.

Circled in ice, you’re enwrapped in white fire.
Coffee-colored urine drains in a bag.

I swab your lips with lemon glycerin.
Your pulse beeps loss. I buzz a nurse out of the void.

I cannot watch you die.
The doctor scowls at my cowardliness.

Stunted from birth, plucked too early—
You were wingless.

It took me years to believe it wasn’t my fault
you despaired in an infant’s life.

I choose blue for the burial
like the thunderhead in your eyes.

The undertaker powders the fine
hairs of your face, seals you in secret.

First published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
Reprinted by permission from the author

Read Full Post »

More Thanks

Link to Teaching Authors two weeks of thanks

Yesterday my 14 year old niece interviewed me for her journalism class. While my family around me wondered why she would choose me to interview, I felt privileged that she asked me…as an author. Her questions were good. They made me really think, and I enjoyed telling her about this journey. She asked me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I told her the story about finding my diary from 1975 when I was her age. (See this post.) When she asked what advice I would give to students who would like to be writer, I said surround yourself with people who affirm and support you.

Today, for the Two weeks of Thanksgiving, I am writing a thanku for all of my people who support this crazy writing life.

How the live oaks stand
On roots of strength and caring
I am blessed by you.

Read Full Post »

Friday is feedback day at the Teachers Write virtual writing camp. I am now friends with Gae Polisner on Facebook. She is the author of Pull of Gravity, and she hosts the Friday Feedback on her blog. She gave me a heads up about today’s feedback theme, hooking your readers.

The best first line ever written was written by E.B. White in Charlotte’s Web which celebrates 100 years this year. “Where is Papa going with that ax?” Who could put down a book like that? You are invested in knowing what Papa is going to do with that ax.

Here is the first line of Blessen.

Blue is cackling something awful this morning. That’s how she tells me she laid an egg.”

In the Teachers Write Camp a few days ago, we were asked to find an object in our work that has significance. I decided that object would be an egg. Imagine my thrill at reading Kay Ryan’s poem Eggs in this week’s New Yorker. “We turn out as tippy as eggs.” I would love to use her poem as an epigraph for Sunshine. Because here lies the theme: We are tippy as eggs. We are fragile, and we must have love to nurture us and hold us together.

With all this to think about, beginnings, symbols, themes, and the gosh-darn-hard work of crafting a novel, I place here for you to see the possible beginning and end of Chapter one of Sunshine. Does it hook you? Are you ready for another Blessen adventure?

First part:

Sunshine flutters her feathers on my cheek. She doesn’t wriggle or cackle. She’s still and calm, letting me hold her close and feel the warmth of her down. And on her nest, shining like a diamond in the dust is a light blue egg, soft as the clouds above my head on this new day.

According to my momma, chickens don’t like to be held.

“Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?”

Last part

A.J. reaches down to gather up my hen. Surveying her like a sculpture, he turns her all the way around.

“This is a fine chicken you have. Guess who knows how to pick ‘em?”

I smile and say, “You have good taste in chicks.” A.J. lets out a loud laugh at the double meaning. Then he crows like a rooster.

“Have you met Tux?” I ask.

“Don’t know that I have. Who’s Tux?”

“Mae Mae’s stray kitty she rescued. He and Sunshine are working on becoming friends.”
“A chicken and a kitten, that’s an unlikely pair.”

Read Full Post »

Broody Hen

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

On Friday I went to a pool party celebrating the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Still wearing my tie-dyed t-shirt from art camp, I sat in my kitchen with my laptop and talked with other teacher authors and read aloud a piece I had written this summer. What a fun party! It has been very rewarding for me to find a community of people like me. The support is valuable. The enthusiasm for the work of writing and the sharing of works in progress has filled my quiet writing world with encouraging voices and clapping hands. I have to thank Kate Messner and all her wonderful guest authors. Thanks also to Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent who led the Spreecast video party.

I read this excerpt from my work in progress, a sequel to Blessen. If you have followed this blog, you read about my chicken research. This chapter resulted from my visit with Harvey and Opal and their brood of hens.

Taking care of a chicken requires some expertise. Mae Mae has been helpful. When she was a little girl growing up in St. Martinville, she ordered 50 chicks of the heritage variety.

“We just went down to the post office and picked up the chicks, newly hatched. These were butchering chickens, grown for food. Of course, as a little girl, I had no idea what went into killing a chicken.”

Mae Mae told me all about caring for her chickens, what she fed them, how she cleaned up their poop, and all about their strange ways of taking a bath in the dust. I listened, all the while knowing my chicken would never be butchered.

Mae Mae said when she came home from school one day, she went out to care for her flock, and they were all gone. Her momma had butchered every one of them and put them in the freezer.
“I told my momma I would never eat another chicken, unless it came from the grocery store.”

Mae Mae raised her fist in the air and turned it up quickly. Snap! Just like that! Chicken for dinner.

Right then and there I decided I would never kill a chicken. I can’t even eat one without thinking about its suffering. Momma says death is a part of life and how would we live without the sacrifice of animals. She says that’s why God made them.

I say that may be why God made cows and pigs, but chickens are just too cute to butcher.

A few weeks ago, A.J. brought me a chicken-raising book from the public library. I am learning all kinds of stuff about Sunshine. For example, do you know how to tell if an egg is fertilized? Well, now I do. And there are illustrations to help.

Candling an egg: (Maybe in the old days they used a candle?) Use a flashlight. Shine it on the egg and look for a dark spot with veins spiraling off of it. A straight line with no black spot means no baby chick. Seeing as how we don’t have a rooster around and knowing what I know about the birds and the bees, there’s not much chance that Sunshine’s eggs have babies in them. But I check anyway.

Sunshine is acting so weird I may need to consult with my resource. I open the coop and call for her. She doesn’t move. She just sits still and makes a strange rumbling growling sound. No clucking, no happy head-bob. Her golden white feathers are fluffed so she’s all full and fat. I decide to give Mae Mae a call.

“Mae Mae, something is wrong with Sunshine!” I cry louder than I expected. Lowering my voice, I describe the symptoms, “She doesn’t want to move off her nest. She’s all fluffed up; her head is tucked down. She seems depressed. I’m really worried.”

Mae Mae is calm. “Blessen, listen carefully. I think Sunshine is broody.”

“Broody? What’s that mean?”

“She wants to nest. It’s her instinct as a woman. You need to pay close attention to her for the next few days.”

“What do I need to do?”

“As often as you can, take her off of the nest and wet her down. Be sure she eats. Give her her favorite foods. She could starve herself if you don’t help her.”

I’m in a panic. I barely take the time to say my thanks to my grandmother and run outside to attend to my ailing hen.

There she is, right on her nest. No egg is under her. I gently grab her on either side and carry her to the water bowl. She’s still growling. Brr, brr…

The water calms her a bit. She jumps out and walks about head bobbing some, but no talking. She finds her way to the coop and starts scratching under it. I grab the bag of feed corn and toss some on the ground, but she’s focused on her scratching.

“Come on, Sunshine. Eat somethin’. Don’t you go dyin’ on me like Blue did. Poor Blue didn’t have a chance against that hawk. But you, you’re my little Sunshine hen. You just gotta make it. You hear me. Now eat some corn here.”

Sunshine looks at me as if she understands. Her head turns this way and that. She bocks in her normal voice, takes about two bites, and hops back up in the chicken coop to roost on her nest.

This is going to be a tough job!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »