Here at Poetic Bloomings, we envision ourselves as a garden. One of our favorite garden-like traits is the delightful variety of poets and the poems they plant here. Our Poet Interviews feature wholly exhibits this trait. And in that vein, we are taking you from the NFL football field of our last poet’s interview, to the nursing home of today’s writer, DARLENE FRANKLIN. Darlene is a relatively new friend at Poetic Bloomings, and also a new poet. Her recent dabbling into poetry comes at the urging of our own Connie Peters, on the heels of a longstanding, successful affiliation with the publishing world of Christian literature. Now, don’t let the term “dabble” fool you, as Darlene’s editor recently referred to her poetry unit as “extraordinary.”
Please step through our garden gate, make yourself comfortable, and get to know Darlene a bit better with me.
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Darlene! I’m excited to learn more about you, especially as one of our newer acquaintances! Let’s begin with the poem you offered. The fact that it is entitled “Roots” made me smile, as it suits our garden theme, while introducing us to your own roots.
Roots (by Darlene Franklin)
I’m from . . .
Nuclei and Nebula
Nativities and nurseries
Nature and naves
Narnia and newsrooms
Never left and nearly there
Nowhere and now here
MARIE ELENA: I remember this poem, and how it wowed me. Still does! I’d like to explore it a bit more. Would you please offer insight into how each carefully chosen word defines your own personal roots?
DARLENE: I chose the words I did because they begin with the letter N, and for the pairings of the phrases that sounded musical to my ears. They are in no particular order of priority. The individual words reflect who I am, and some of what I’ve experienced.
Nuclei: The physical coming together of my body in my mother’s womb.
Nebula: My ongoing love affair with all things space. My mother let me stay up until 11:00 on school nights to watch Star Trek when I was only in junior high.
Nativities: Speaks to my faith, and the joyful celebration of God-in-the-flesh on the earth!
Nurseries: My childhood as well as years of experience in teaching preschoolers.
Nature: I’ve been privileged to live in some of God’s prettiest spots on earth (Maine’s rocky coast and Colorado’s mountains).
Naves: The importance of the local church and their fellowship in my life.
Narnia: The worlds that Tolkien and Lewis opened for me.
Newsrooms: The news that flooded the airways in the 1960s shaped how I view the world still today —assassinations; I have a dream; make love, not war; old enough to fight/old enough to vote; Martin Luther King Jr.; and John F. Kennedy.
Never left and nearly there: That speaks to my sense of duality. In some ways I feel like I drag my past along behind me; and in another sense, my future in heaven seems so close.
Nowhere and now here: This is from a Christmas poem I once heard — one of the best I ever heard explaining the importance of the incarnation — God himself coming to earth in the flesh of a baby. We can no longer say God is nowhere because He is now here. God with us, Emmanuel.
MARIE ELENA: Well done, Darlene. Thank you!
As I was doing a little snooping around, I discovered you are VERY well published. Something like 65 books, did I see?
DARLENE: What I call “stand-alone” titles (65 in all – novellas, novels, and nonfiction) are all written entirely by me. Those titles appear in various combinations an additional seventy times or so. I’ve also contributed significantly to 20-30 more books, 30-50 devotions, a chapter, and a short story. Not to mention newspaper, magazine, and curriculum writing. I have 130 books on Amazon, I think. Maybe more.
MARIE ELENA: Wow! Impressive! What and when was your very first publication?
DARLENE: After my divorce, I began writing daily in response to everything the Lord was teaching me to endure, and even thrive. My devotional Oil in My Lamp was published in Secret Place way back in 1993. After that, the process was long and labored. My first book didn’t come out until 2005 (Romanian Rhapsody with Barbour Books). Then I waited three years before my next book came out. Since 2008, though, a year hasn’t passed when I haven’t published at least one new book.
MARIE ELENA: Many of us have trouble getting our feet wet in the publishing aspect of our writing. Would you please share with us your process?
DARLENE: For one, I always wanted to be published. I had a friend who said, “God didn’t give you that story to leave it in a drawer.” I wholeheartedly agree, even though four of my original six books have never been published. That’s okay. I was growing, and getting acquainted with the Christian writing community.
I wrote, joined critique groups, and attended writers’ conferences, where I met mentors who paved the way. I submitted things for publication with very limited results. I entered contests, and won. I knew I was a good writer, but nobody was buying anything for a period of about five years.
Then I got my first book contract, and established an ongoing relationship with the publisher. I entered a new level — a peer with other authors.
Things have not always gone smoothly. Two book clubs I wrote for closed. Several magazines I broke into stopped publication. I’ve changed my emphasis from time to time. I didn’t dare write historical fiction until my first novella finalled in a historical fiction competition! I first found Poetic Bloomings when my agent dumped me.
Now I’m working with a publisher who publishes almost anything I send her way (we just might not make much doing it). After literally decades of trying to break into magazine writing, a national magazine invited me to write a monthly column. Although the magazine has ceased publication, the column is now syndicated (The View Through My Door). Although it’s still a struggle to break into new magazines, I have several who are eager to see my work.
In terms of publishing poetry, I have an “in” that most poets don’t: I write a column where I can include poetry whenever I like!
MARIE ELENA: I know most (all?) of what you write is tied directly to a Christian perspective. Would you please tell me a bit about your Christian roots?
DARLENE: I was raised in a Christian home, in that we always went to church. But when I was in second grade, my mother attended a Bible study hosted by a widow of one of the navy officers who died aboard the nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Thresher. She grew much closer to the Lord, and got on fire about her faith. I could see the change in her, and it made me interested in her faith. A month shy of my tenth birthday, I confessed that I was a sinner, and asked Jesus to forgive me and to come live in my heart. Which He did, praise the Lord!
Although this isn’t one of my best poems, I wrote it about the Thresher and its effect on me in a recent Poetic Asides Poem-a-Day challenge. The P.A. prompt was to write a dedication poem, and so it was a natural fit (the form is an eight-ette):
To those who died aboard the U.S.S. Thresher (by Darlene Franklin)
During Cold War
I don’t know their names
But I’ve felt their impact
Their wives carried on in faith
Leading me to the living Christ
Of course that was just the beginning, but as the verse I am coloring in my Bible right now says, “I will walk among you, I will be your God.” (Leviticus 26:12)
MARIE ELENA: Thank you for sharing that with us. Do you mind if I ask what your prayer life looks like? For instance, are you someone who sets aside time in each day to spend in your “prayer closet,” or are you more of a “talk to Jesus all the time,” type?
DARLENE: I’m a bit of all of that. Yes, I set aside time each day to read my Bible and pray. But I’ve never been very good at long, drawn out periods of prayer. Even if I don’t talk to Jesus all the time, he talks to me! I have read, memorized, meditated on, and colored so much of the Bible, that it’s my frame of reference. When someone asks me a question, usually a scriptural reference supported by my own experience comes to mind. People generally accept what I have to say on a positive note. In fact, sometimes they seek me out with their problems.
That approach to life is a foundational rock of my poetry – that in the hard times, God is always there. So yes, when someone comes to me with a problem, I will often pray with them right there and then. That saves me from the sin of forgetting to pray for them later. Often they leave with tears on their face, saying how much better they feel. A hearty amen for God!
That’s an area of growth in recent years. What a powerful gift to share with someone!
MARIE ELENA: Do you pray your way through your novels as you write them?
DARLENE: Not necessarily. God made me a writer and let go of the apron strings. He’s always there to guide me, of course, whenever I get stuck, either in terms of plot or career.
I absolutely prayed my way through two books—because I had to write prayers for the books! (A 12-Month Guide to Better Prayer for Women and Pray Through the Bible in a Year). I was honored to be asked to write prayers for (primarily) women of many backgrounds.
MARIE ELENA: Were books and reading a part of your upbringing as well?
DARLENE: Oh, my, yes, books were a part of my childhood! My mom read to me every day until I could read for myself. She also liked to quote poetry to me. She had at least one elementary teacher who made them memorize a lot of poems, and she loved to repeat those verses. She also was an avid photographer and could tell the most wonderful stories. A very creative person, as was my grandmother. Creativity is a strong trait in my family.
MARIE ELENA: I’m rather astonished at how often the poets I interview tell me their mothers introduced them to poetry — a legacy of sorts, and perhaps much like the music passed along to my sister and me from our own childhood.
DARLENE: Our Moms are our gateway to so many things! Music was my heart, and words were my safe place. I discovered throughout high school and college that I had a true gift for languages, and I was one of those nerdy kids who never found grammar hard. But my passion was music. I played piano and clarinet, and expected to become a music missionary. God had other plans.
I was raised by a single mother, who was a teacher and a social worker. My dad had deserted us. Grandma lived with us most of the time until she died when I was sixteen. I was born in New Hampshire, but I consider Maine “home.” The other home of my heart is Colorado, where I moved to, sight unseen, in 1990 and got to stay for twenty years. Oklahoma, where I live now, trumps everywhere else because my true heart (my son and his family) live here.
MARIE ELENA: Oh my. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad deserting you. Your mother was a teacher and a social worker, while raising you as a single mother? Such strength, and reminiscent of my last interview (Ryan K. Russell). It amazes me how different we can all be from one another, yet how much we actually have in common.
You have said, “You may not agree that my world is wide, since I live in a nursing home, but ever since moving into assisted living several years ago, my writing career has exploded!” That makes me smile, huge! What does a day in the life of a nursing home–based author look like?
DARLENE: It’s not very conducive to high productivity. That’s partly because I’m constantly interrupted, but it’s also because I’m prone to sleepiness. I try to focus on the most urgent projects when I’m most alert, and then fit other things around my day. I get a lot done, but I can rarely be certain of a deadline!
My room is crowded because I have a bookcase filled with my books. Books I’ve written or contributed to, notebooks with magazine articles and artwork, a few print Bibles, song books, and coloring books that I crowd around everything else. I remember how excited I was when I could first fill a shelf! Now I could almost fill an entire library rack with my books. God has blessed me.
I’m generally up about 6:00 a.m., and I try to read my Bible and pray then. After 7:00 a.m., my time is no longer my own.
When I talk about interruptions:
- Between 7 and 8 a.m. – daily weight, breathing treatment, meds, breakfast
- About 9 a.m. – shower three times a week and exercise
- About 11 a.m. – second breathing treatment, counselor, lunch, meds
- About 3:30 p.m. – third breathing treatment, getting ready for supper. By 3:00 I’m usually very sleepy, and regain some energy after supper.
I never know when I’ll have company or be called out for the nail doctor or hair dresser or the like. And of course the housekeeper stops by a couple of times a day.
In spite of all that, I’m on the computer all the time – more than I should be. I try to put in two solid hours on my major project every morning, and then I work on everything else throughout the rest of the day. Every day except Sunday.
MARIE ELENA: You do have very full days! So how did that boost your writing career?
DARLENE: It seems like now that I’m in a nursing home, whenever I ask God if it’s time for me to STOP writing, He gives me more to do!
About the same time I entered the nursing home, the book club I was writing for closed, and my agent dropped me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. Someone invited me to join in writing a self-published book with several other authors. It did very well. I self-published a few books, with the help of a friend who made my covers. She then began a publishing company, and I went into a novella-writing frenzy. One year I had about one published every month, with seven new novellas and other reprints.
It was also during that period that The Book Club Network invited me to write a monthly column, which took on a life of its own. Between the column and opportunities that came up through Christian Authors Network, I began selling nonfiction regularly. This past month, I’ve been asked for four articles. I’m trying to learn to say “no.”
I haven’t written a full-length book for some time. Instead, I am writing shorter pieces – novellas, articles, and poems. I have worked from writing-for-exposure with my nonfiction to writing-for-pay. I am taking risks. I work on one contracted, big project, every morning. In the afternoons, I work on a variety of things: my column, a monthly devotion, contracted articles, queries for more, and poetry. I take breaks to color, read, watch TV, visit with family, and I’m in bed for long hours at night—so I just praise God I’m able to get so much done!
MARIE ELENA: As I mentioned in the introduction, Connie Peters is the one who introduced you to poetry. How did that come about?
DARLENE: Connie is indeed the person who introduced me to Poetic Bloomings and Poetic Asides, and the community of poet. She has become my trench partner in writing poetry daily. She and I are the driving force behind Poem Away, which is our closed Facebook group. We have a handful of people who never post or comment, but who read our poems routinely. If anyone is looking for a group with daily inspiration among fellow learners, feel free to check us out.
I consider myself very blessed to have Connie as a partner! She’s such an experienced and talented poet! I first met her at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference back in the 1990’s. She later invited me to speak at her local writers’ conference. Eventually we both wrote devotionals for several of the same projects.
MARIE ELENA: As a writer of several genres, what do you most enjoy?
DARLENE: Given a choice between a biography, a book of poetry, and a mystery, I will almost always read the mystery. I enjoy reading novels the most, although I also enjoy devotionals and poetry. I love creating stories, but hate the long process it takes to carry a story from page one to the end. Devotionals and poetry are short and thus (comparatively) easy to write. They’re not easier, just shorter. I don’t have to spend as much time writing a poem as it takes to write a book, or even a chapter (most days). And I haven’t yet grown as much as I need to in knowing how to polish my poetry.
Even before I began writing poetry, people described my novels as “lyrical.” I love the sound of language. I love the way poetry describes concisely what I’m feeling or thinking, especially with rhythm and rhyme.
I love writing devotionals because I get to share what God is teaching me. Frequently, during my times of daily meditation and prayer, I discover something I want to share. A devotional is the perfect place to do that. I use prayer books more than devotional books for my own growth.
When I discovered my time might be relatively short (I have severe emphysema and last winter was difficult), I decided to focus on writing what I most wanted to write. And so, although I’m a new poet, I have plenty of work to draw from. I’ve pulled together the top third of my poems for a book of poetry. I’m also working on a “365 Day Poetry Prompt Handbook,” based on the prompts I created for myself that first year.
MARIE ELENA: Emphysema is a frightening thing. I hate the thought of you dealing with that, yet I sure do admire your attitude, Darlene!
As a writer, what would you say has been your most exciting moment?
DARLENE: The most exciting must have been the day I got my first book contract. But I can think of several defining or “aha” moments:
- The period when I learned how to use simile and metaphor effectively.
- Winning my first writing contest.
- Finalling in historical romance, which gave me the courage to write what has become my staple.
- Letters from readers.
- Having an editor tell me my work was “extraordinary.”
Ah, after that first book contract, I think I know the next most exciting moment: the day that The Book Club Magazine invited me to write a monthly column for them! I couldn’t afford their advertising, so instead they offered me a chance to write for a national magazine every month? That was the trigger to open the door to writing a lot more nonfiction.
MARIE ELENA: Shifting now to your non-writer life: What is the hardest thing you have ever had to endure?
DARLENE: My daughter’s suicide. She had a rough time of it from birth. Colic and ear infections which led to hearing loss, abuse, and her growing emotional problems were finally diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, which had made it difficult to live with throughout her life. But losing her the way I did, and learning about it the day after her twenty-fourth birthday, ripped my heart in half. That was eleven years ago. I said at the time that I knew my heart would heal, but a scar would remain.
And yes, it scarred me and shaped me and transformed me. At the same time, God gave me my first grandchild nine months later, and a new chapter in my life began.
MARIE ELENA: That is unimaginably devastating. I’m so very sorry, sweet lady. Sometimes I wonder how people survive the loss of a child or grandchild, but especially to suicide. It must be terribly hard to go on.
DARLENE: I discovered how many, many people, both writing friends and in my office job, cared deeply for me. They held me up through the coming weeks and months.
I could see how the peace my mother and I had during that time testified to others about God’s powerful presence in our lives.
No other loss can possibly outweigh my daughter’s suicide. It was a defining moment, with a definite before and after. I had a horribly difficult life, and I could see God always knew – gulping back a sob, here—that Jolene would be taken from me at an early age. He prepared me to be able to survive that loss. Life now that I’m in aging isn’t a lot of fun either, but that rock bottom truth – God is with me – is engraved directly over the scar line.
Jolene’s death was the first time I experienced a moment of writing triumph at a time of exceptional trial. The print copies of that all-important second book arrived in the mail the same week that Jolene died. The same pattern has repeated itself over and over.
MARIE ELENA: “God is with me is engraved directly over the scar line.” Even in its unbearable sadness, this has to be one of the most beautiful thoughts I have ever encountered.
Thank you so much for sharing Jolene’s poem with us, Darlene. This must still strike your heart each time you come across it. She certainly shared your way with words.
Obviously, you rely on God during such difficult times. Who else would you say has been influential and supportive in your life?
DARLENE: Different people at different times, but four people stand out as having stood by me from the first day we met: Mom, who’s in heaven now. My son – well, he had some bad years in high school, but as an adult, he’s very attentive, and I’m very proud of him. My one-time college roommate and matron of honor at my wedding. And Connie, whom I have known and worked with for twenty years or more.
MARIE ELENA: All of us need a good support system. It sounds like you have been blessed.
Darlene, I end all my interviews with this: If there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you want it to be … and why?
DARLENE: Oh, that’s easy, although it’s not about me, really. It’s this: God loves me, period. Whatever I have gone through or will go through in the future, God has been my solid rock, my foundation, my reason to continue going on. He loves me, and nothing I can do will ever change that. It gives me great freedom to embrace life!
MARIE ELENA: We are glad Connie brought you here, Darlene, and it has been a pleasure getting to know you on a deeper level. Thank you!
Darlene’s extensive work may be purchased on Amazon, here: https://www.amazon.com/Darlene-Franklin/e/B001K8993A