Happy New Year! (Also, Have Some Turn-of-the-Year Ritual)

Happy New Year! Now that all the time zones are in, I think we can safely say ciao to 2018 and look eagerly forward to 2019.

As a creature of habit, I appreciate the measure of structure and stability that routine and ritual provide, and at this time of year, I enjoy indulging in a little bit of year-in-review. I also tend to make public my writing resolutions for the new year, as if publishing them will help hold me accountable. (I mean, sometimes that works.)

So here we go!

On Sappho’s Torque this past year, the most popular posts, hands-down, were the ones in which I shared either my or other people’s poetry. In April, to celebrate National Poetry Month here in the US, I curate a poem-a-day series. It has been going strong for several years now and remains one of the most popular features on my blog. Here are a few of the other top posts — ones which had nothing to do with poetry — this year:

My Little Free Library
What We Say, Or Don’t
The Pep Rally I Cannot Forget

Interestingly, that last one is from 2015, but it always makes a big splash again during high school football season.

A couple of years ago, I made a commitment to read more books just for fun, and doing so has improved my quality of life exponentially. I became a writer in part because reading has been one of my absolute favorite things to do since I was very young; I loved reading stories and felt compelled to create new ones. Teaching and parenting tend to drain away one’s free time, and so reading just for fun (like other things I did for self-care) fell by the wayside.

Disregarding one’s self-care generally doesn’t end well.

So I started carving out the time to read, even if only for ten minutes before bedtime each night. It reduced my stress and improved the quality of my sleep. I incorporated free choice reading into some of my classes; that helped, too, because I did it alongside my students. And then I began keeping a list of the books I was reading for fun each year. I try to read a wide variety of things, but I will also concede that I most enjoy reading books in the genres I write or want to write, and at least half a dozen of the books on this list were for research for my writing or teaching. So here is my list for 2018; you’ll find a preponderance of fantasy and magic realism and poetry, as well as some science fiction, realistic fiction, romance, and comics. These titles are not ranked in any way but listed alphabetically by author. I strongly recommend maybe a dozen of them (starred). (A few of these books were re-reads from many years ago; I’ve also not listed books which I began reading but did not finish, for one reason or another.)

Dawn (Octavia Butler) *
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
Close to the Edge (Zara Cox) *
Unleashed (Caitlin Crews) *
When a Scot Ties the Knot (Tessa Dare)
The Mistress of Spices (Chitra Divakaruni) *
Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel) *
Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness) *
The Book of Life (Deborah Harkness) *
The Midnight Queen (Sylvia Izzo Hunter)
Justice League: Volume 1, Origin (Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams)
At the Bottom of the River (Jamaica Kincaid)
Hallow Point (Ari Marmell) *
His Majesty’s Dragon (Naomi Novik) *
Binti (Nnedi Okorafor) *
Wicked Like a Wildfire (Lana Popović) *
the magic my body becomes (Jess Rizkallah)
The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan) *
Mala of the Heart (various authors) *

This brings me to my writing resolutions for the new year. Most of my Writing Career Time has been consumed the last few months with finishing up my forthcoming book of poetry, The Sharp Edges of Water. We’re on track still for a January release date, which is awesome, but this process has really taken a long time (as it does). My goals for this year include finding some way to write at least 200 words a day (or a complete poem or blog post). What would be amazing is if I could finish the first draft of the new novel I’m working on, which has really taken a backseat to the book of poetry (as it had to).

But this week, I’ll be getting back to the WIP, and I’m super excited about that! I’m happiest when I’m writing a story I love.

I have a few other resolutions, too, such as hitting 100 rejections this year (which I came close to in 2018, I think, though I wasn’t honestly counting). The idea behind this is that if you’re submitting your work out often enough to hit 100 rejections in a year, you’re bound to get some acceptances. I’ve found this logic to be quite sound: the more I submit my work, the more publications I garner. The main obstacle for me is just making time to do it. (Don’t get me started on the millions of ways the publishing industry makes it a financial, emotional, and logistical challenge for writers to get individual pieces published. We’ll be here all day. I’m in the game and aware of it; that has to be enough for now.)

I’m also looking forward to participating again in the August Postcard Poetry Fest; last year was my first time to do it and it was awesome! And as if that weren’t enough, I have yet another collection of poems which will go into editing later this year. Watch for news on that when it manifests.

I won’t say it’s easy being both a fiction writer and a poet. I will say it’s fulfilling to do both, though, and for me, each type of writing informs the other.

So that’s all for now. I’ll write more later with some fun opportunities you might be interested in. Until then, enjoy the book you’re reading, and if you’re not reading one, find one. It will likely do you good.

New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted the first part of this round-up, in which I discussed my blog’s 2017 statistics and some cool author and artist things coming up for 2018.

New Year’s being a traditional time to make resolutions about one’s life, and my general penchant for fresh starts and improved routines being an ever-present concern, I feel optimistically compelled to participate.

Yet I’ve had some real trouble crafting this blog post. All of last week, it was so hard to do it. It’s not just that Continue reading “New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)”

2017 and the Concept of the Reset

Happy New Year! (Let it not suck.)

As is usually my wont at this time of year, I like to post with some fun statistics about my blog’s performance over the past year and with a discussion of my New Year’s Resolutions. I’ll get the stats out of the way first; I find them interesting and hope you will, too.

Even though I did not make nearly as many posts in 2016 as I’d hoped to, Sappho’s Torque was being read in 83 countries, with the vast majority of hits coming from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Brazil, Germany, and India.

Most of my posts this past year happened during April and December, which is no surprise since those are the two months in which I have consistent daily series: the Poem-A-Day for National Poetry Month in April and 12 Days of Christmas Music (the description changes each year) in December. Look for those two series to continue, by the way, in 2017; I’m already curating them both.

But I had plenty of other posts which did well in 2016 that weren’t part of those series. Not all of them were written in 2016, but they did get a lot of attention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a few of the posts contain my critiques on society and culture, although if that’s all you looked at, you wouldn’t get a complete sense of who I am or what I do or think. Here’s a list of some of last year’s greatest hits:

A Graduation Message and the Fundamental Lies of Our Culture

This Ish Just Isn’t Fun Anymore

Observations on a Long Drive Through the Country

Our First Home

Thanksgiving 2016

Why Our Society Is Failing As A Collection Of Human Beings

Is It August Already?

Rocket Science at Bedtime

Waffle Wednesday and AP Gothic Lit.

Electric Car Diaries: The Inspection

It’s Time

A Rule-Breaking Poem for a Nail-Biting Vigil

Forbidden Cookbook: Can’t Complain Beef Stew

I also had quite a few queries from potential guest posters to my blog this year. Generally, I’m open to this, particularly in the areas of fashion, food, culture, writing, and literature, so if you want to query me to guest post, please send me an email at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com.

Now, as to the Resolutions. I’m actually not making them anymore. Not entirely. They always fail. Instead I’ve been making Goals. That seems to be more successful, I guess because of some sort of subconscious semantic baggage? I don’t know. But recently I heard a really interesting piece on the radio with some commentary by nutritionist Roberta Anding (whose daughter I used to teach). Dr. Anding made an excellent presentation on food with regards to health and wellness at our school a few years back, and I think she generally has a lot of wisdom to share on the subject. Anyway, her basic idea was that a Reset is a better way of approaching the traditional New Year’s Resolution, because a Reset is a specific daily goal that you can evaluate every evening and then set a new one — or continue the same one — for the next day.

So what are my goals for 2017? Well, one goal for every day of 2017 is to write something. We shall see. I have several projects knocking around over here at the moment so we’ll hope for the best.

2016 was, not gonna lie, a rough year in many ways. I’m at an age where the cultural icons of my youth are at an age to be exceedingly mortal. That’s never a cheerful place to be. And anyone who knows me at all probably understands how very opposite of my values and hopes for the world the toxic results of our current political system’s brokenness is. Like many creative types, the last couple of months haven’t been super awesome for artistic output. But as other authors more famous and accomplished than I have pointed out, we must endure. We must make art. It is through art that we will retain our sanity and reflect our deeper purpose. So I’m making that my daily goal. Oh, and also to become even more politically active, which I’m doing like gangbusters, yo. That feels useful. And sometimes the results are immediate and positive, which feels good.

As rough and shocking as 2016 was, though, lots of good things happened too. Among those were a visit to see my dear friend Sarah Warburton, doing several Book Fair or other author events (with significant sales at each), and adopting my lovely kitten, Salaadin. Please to enjoy these charming cat pics.


Salaadin and me on September 6, 2016, the night I brought him home from the shelter. He was about two months old and weighed 2.3 pounds.
Salaadin and me on September 6, 2016, the night I brought him home from the shelter. He was about two months old and weighed 2.3 pounds.


And here he was this afternoon, just over six months old and weighting in at about nine pounds.
And here he was napping this afternoon, just over six months old and weighing in at about nine pounds. So much growing makes a kitty tired!


So what are your resolutions/goals/resets for 2017 or for today? I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

The Turn of the Year

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016!


free image from http://minndirmzs.tk/new-year-free-pictures/
free image from http://minndirmzs.tk/new-year-free-pictures/


Like I typically do, I want to share a few interesting — well, interesting to me at least — statistics about this past year in the life of my blog, and to also let you know about what’s coming up for this next year in my writing life. Brief mention of a resolution or several might accidentally find its way into this post, but since those things are notoriously adept at self-sabotage, maybe I’ll just make some suggestions about where, in this moment, I’m eager to see my writing career meander. You know, all casual-like, because we’ve seen that Pronouncements are rarely flexible enough to work In Real Life.

So first, some nifty stats.

Sappho’s Torque had a good year, with nearly 7,000 hits. That might not sound like very much, but for my tiny little operation that doesn’t even get a new post every week (more on that later), it’s kind of lovely. Building a platform with social media and a blog is a long, slow process, but a worthwhile one, it appears, since new subscribers are jumping on board with pretty much every post. (And hey, thank you!) WordPress tells me my blog is being read in 99 countries, but I’m not sure how much of that number matters and how much of it is Wonky Computer Network Ephemera That Means Nothing In A Practical Sense. What is interesting — again, to me — is that, after the US, the blog’s biggest readership is in the UK (not a surprise) and Brazil (definitely a surprise). It appears that Brazil has edged out Canada and Australia, which were previously two of my biggest audiences. Yet I know I still have faithful readers in Canada and Australia, so… Go Brazil! Welcome!

Among the most popular posts on my blog this past year were ones from some of my periodic series, including April’s Poet-a-Day, Women Writers Wednesday, and the 12 Days of Christmas Music That Won’t Turn Your Brain to Goo. But the most popular stand-alone post — and in fact it was one of the most popular posts of all this year — was The Pep Rally I Cannot Forget, an intense little memoir piece. These kinds of posts, ones that allow me to tell stories and comment on them, and sometimes come to terms with them, through the perspective of hindsight, are my favorite ones to write. One of my goals for 2016 is to write more of them. I’ve got a lot of material for this type of post, a long list of stories I want to tell, and my hope is that this coming year I’ll find the time to write a bunch of them and share them with you.

A recap of my writing accomplishments for 2015 includes the achievement of a few goals that I can’t quite tell you about just yet (though I will as soon as I can, depend on it), but also a few noteworthy things that I can now mention. For one, my newest collection of poems, PLAYING HOUSE, is almost ready for publication and should be available this year. Watch for exciting announcements in that vein in the coming months.

And for two, those of you who are fans of FINIS. — and oh, how I do so appreciate you and your emails and posts on my social media and your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! — you will hopefully be pleased to note that the new, illustrated print version is now out and available! The print edition contains four beautiful drawings by Houston artist Lauren Taylor.


Elsa and Gerard, as imgined by Lauren Taylor
The fifth image for FINIS.: Elsa and Gerard, as imagined by Lauren Taylor.


You can click here to get FINIS. on Amazon in either ebook (unillustrated) or print (illustrated) form, but know that the ebook is still available pretty much everywhere ebooks are sold, and the print edition is coming very soon to other stores. (It may already be there by the time you read this post, but slow distribution times at the holidays being what they are, etc. etc. you know how it goes, etc.) I hope you love the illustrated print edition — early response to it so far has been very positive — and that you will continue leaving reviews of it on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews are the best way to expand the audience for a book. Thank you again to those who have done so!

Many people have asked, since FINIS. came out, if I plan to expand it into a larger novel or if I’m writing a sequel. The answer on both of those, at the moment, is no; however, I am writing more stories set in that world. One of them is in its final stage of editing right now and is called “Farce Macabre” — a title I hope it will get to keep. I have a third story set in this world which is still in process and a fourth which is in notes. It appears a collection is in the offing, though the timeline on when it will be done is nebulous at best. A few other short stories and novellas, primarily of the “literary” fiction variety, are in the works, too.

My hope is that 2016 will see me write another novel and also launch the vlog I’ve been planning with the exceptionally awesome Sarah Warburton. We keep saying we’re going to do it; now we just need to finish what we’ve started. Other goals I have for the near future include finishing setting up my study in the no-longer-quite-so-new-to-us house and continuing to strive for something like balance in my two careers (writing and teaching). I swear, if I do nothing else this year but achieve work-life balance, I will consider myself the most accomplished person alive. (I will also never experience stress again and probably be able to fly around the world in five minutes like Superman, so don’t hold your breath.)

You can expect to see more fun stuff on the blog this year like A-Poem-A-Day for April and more recipes and stories and maybe even a writing contest or two. We have some political conventions coming up later this year, and those are always good for a short-form poem contest like the one we had back in 2012. I’m actively soliciting more work for the Women Writers Wednesday series, too, so if you’d like to suggest a female-identifying author for it, please send me a message here or on Facebook or Twitter (@AngeliqueJamail).

I’m also curious: what else do you want to see here on the blog in 2016? Feel free to make suggestions; I’m always interested in what you want to read.


Special thanks to Dharma Comics for permission to use this image. See their other work at www.dharmacomics.com or on Facebook here.


March Poetry Contest: Short Form Resolutions

Remember back in January when I held the haiku contest about New Year’s resolutions?  Zillions* of you submitted entries!  It was awesome!  I had to split it into two contests, though, in part because there were so many entries that I wanted everyone to have a better chance at winning, and I didn’t want the post with the entries to be so long you’d stop reading before you even got to the massive poll.  It was easy to split the entries along the simple line of who had really conformed to the guidelines of the outlined form and who hadn’t.

This is the contest for the people who took more license with the form.

The entries are great, the prize for the winner is a copy of Strange New Words by Ari Marmell, and you have until midnight central time on Sunday, March 16th to vote.  You may vote once a day.  Please spread the word and share this contest with others who might like poetry.

And — especially if your poem is one of the entries here — be sure to keep checking back on this blog to learn the results.  I will announce the winner in a new post soon after voting ends, and the winner will need to contact me by email to give me a mailing address to send the prize to.

Good luck, all, and happy voting!  🙂  Here come the entries…


by Mystic RK:

think differently,
intent to live;
my life


by Kuheli (@AamiKuheli):

my new year’s
resolution; pedal out
our sufferings


by Aaijoni Das:

one resolution;
regular exercise,
an illusion.



keeping old promises
onto winter winds
new resolutions spring on wings


by surajvinay:

stroke of midnight..
the year’s last puff with fireworks
is new years first


by Ajaya Mahala:

to clear the cache before
starting afresh


by B. Lee Brown:

Snow lays like spilled milk
pooled in brown fields. The crows
don’t cry, nor will I.


by Poornima:

new years morning
I resolve not to sing
your songs


by Charishma Navneet Gupta:

new year’s eve –
my resolution sets
at sunrise




*  Okay, not actually, “zillions,” per se, but a heckuvalot of you — more than ever before — and I do appreciate that.

January Haiku Contest Winner and A Valentine Challenge

First off, congratulations to Sky Vani, who is the winner of our most recent haiku contest!  Here’s her winning entry, on the theme of New Year’s resolutions:

failed resolutions
with joint forces strive to goal
~ living happily

Sky Vani, please send me an email (to forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com) with your address so I can send you your prize.

Everyone else who entered the contest but whose entries were reserved for a new contest in March, please check this blog again over the next few weeks for when that round begins.  And thank you to everyone who participated by sending in an entry (or more than one) and by voting.

And since tomorrow is Valentines’ Day, I’m going to make my annual request that, even if you aren’t part of a couple and even if you dislike the holiday on general principle, you go a little out of your way to do something nice for someone this weekend.  Kindness Day and all.

It doesn’t have to be romantic: you could just tell a friend how much the friendship you share means to you.  It doesn’t even have to be personal: just be nice to a random person you might otherwise ordinarily walk past because your eyes are locked on your smart phone screen.

Of course, if you want to write a sweet love poem to someone, well, that’s a charming gesture, too.  🙂

Happy weekend, everyone!

January Haiku Contest

Hello there!  I’ve been thinking it’s time to do another haiku contest, and in honor of New Year’s Month, the theme of the contest is New Year’s Resolutions.

Here’s a quick reminder of what the haiku form is all about:  it’s a poem with seventeen syllables divided into three lines offering both description and comment.  The first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven, and the third line contains five more.  Traditionally haiku often were about nature in some aspect, but within their brief imagery the poet often embedded some sort of opinion (the comment I referred to before).  You can take on as much of that form into your haiku as you like, but for the purposes of this contest, please use the three-line/seventeen-syllable format, as part of the challenge is to express your idea in that tight space.

The subject of your haiku is to be New Year’s resolutions.  The winner will receive the excellent new anthology (in paperback) Strange New Words: Tales of Heroism and Horror by Ari Marmell, celebrated author of fantasy and horror and other speculative fiction.  Anyone who has won a contest on my blog in the last six months is not eligible to win this prize, though you are more than welcome and even encouraged to participate by submitting a haiku for fun and by voting on the entries later.

You may enter as often as you like by submitting your haiku in the comments section of this post.  Please make each entry a separate posted comment; any entries posted together will be considered one entry.  (This just makes it easier to figure out what your intentions were when I’m putting the voting together.)

The deadline is, naturally, the end of New Year’s Month!  So you have until midnight U.S. central time on January 31st to get your entries in.  After that, I’ll put the voting together, and you the readers will determine who wins the contest.

Happy New Year!  I look forward to reading your haiku!


UPDATE 1/14/14:  There has been such a wonderful response to this contest so far.  Thank you all!  Please stay tuned to this blog for more posts about this contest, for more information about voting, etc.  I intend to communicate with all entrants via this blog as much as possible, but I will also be posting updates on my Facebook author page, which you can get to by clicking on the link in the sidebar to the side of this screen or by clicking here.  Remember, the deadline to enter the contest is January 31st, and the voting will happen soon after that.  Keep checking back — or better yet, subscribe to this blog to get my posts sent straight to your email (and make sure your settings are arranged to get my posts “immediately”).  Thanks again!