Mike Turner retired from a career in Federal investigations to the US Gulf Coast, where he took up songwriting, poetry and short story writing. His songs in blues, folk, country, Christian and rock genres have received radio and streaming play in the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand and on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Mike was named Gospel Entertainer of the Year by both the Alabama Music Association (2016) and the North American Country Music Associations International (2017). His poetry and flash fiction have been published in several on-line and print forums, including Red Planet.
"Oh Dusky Orb" (below) was featured in the second issue.
Do you have a process?
It varies depending on whether I’m writing poetry or song. With poetry, I tend to write first thing in the morning, while I’m having my morning coffee. I’ll start with an idea - a quote I’ve read in the morning paper, or a phrase I’ve heard in conversation, or very occasionally a formal writers’ prompt from one of the writing groups I below to - and write pretty much stream of consciousness. I’ll fairly quickly determine if I’m writing free verse or rhyming poetry - if rhyming, I’ll use on-line resources to look for rhymes or near-rhymes that fit into the narrative I’m shaping. Once a piece is complete - and I’ll write the first draft all in one setting - I’ll go back and do some light editing, usually concentrating on syllable counts and cadence. My “poem” process from conception to execution is pretty rapid. Then I’ll think about finding an outlet - an on-line or print journal or blog or whatever to submit the poem to.
My songwriting process is completely different. I may start with an idea for a melody and rhythm, but more often I start, again, from an idea - a topic I want to write about, or a “hook” I’ve come up with from reading, conversation, or whatever - and I’ll start roughing out a lyric. Here, as in poetry, I tend to focus on beat and cadence, so syllable counts are important; and I’ll usually come up with a song structure pretty quickly. From that point, I labor, and I mean labor, over the piece - multiple re-writes, changing out words (particularly in my rhyme scheme - I want all the words to actually MEAN something in the context of the song, and try to avoid “trite” rhymes for the sake of rhymes). The cadences will suggest a melody to me. I can take days or even weeks to get a song to the point that I’m ready to start actually playing it, and polishing to make it “singable.” And quite a while longer to get to the point where I’m ready to record.
Do you get writer's block? If so, how do you "un-block"
I don’t typically get “writer’s block.” I’ve certainly had periods where I’m not feeling creative, or I struggle in songwriting to come up with a second verse or bridge that advances the narrative of the story I’m telling. There are times I set a song aside for considerable periods, sometimes weeks, and then go back to it. I have a couple of half-finished songs that have been on the shelf for more than a year, although I go back to them every once in a while, and someday I’ll finish them. If I have a considerable period pass where I’ve written nothing at all, I’ll either find a writer’s prompt on-line, and write a poem; or write a simple lyric in a 12-bar blues format. That usually gets my creative juices flowing again.
What inspires your ideas?
I try to be an active listener and reader - newspapers, books, magazines, social media newsfeeds, conversations I’m both an active participant in, or overhear in public. I’m looking for unique words and turns of phrase that may serve as “hooks” for a song. I tend to write folk-style songs that deal with historical events and topical issues, so I watch for those that may interest me. I just wrote a folk-style song about a local legend in my area - an 1830s murder where it appears an innocent man was hanged for the crime. It’s an interesting story and it recalls old style folk “murder ballads.” I tend to turn to poetry if I want to give a “deeper think” to a topic than I may be able to in a 3-minute song.
Give us a fun-fact about you!
I came to writing late - I wrote my first song at age 55 after taking an adult ed ukulele class! I wrote my first poem about nine months ago, when I began to feel that song structure was too confining for some of the stories I wanted to tell. And I’ve only written once piece of flash fiction, about 3 months ago - which Red Planet Magazine ran, for which I’m grateful!
Where can people see more of your work?
The best place to follow my writing is at my FaceBook music page, www.facebook.com/MikeTurnerSongwriter. I post up new song videos when I record them, dates and locations where I may be performing, and links to journals and magazines that have published my writing. I also have a website, www.MikeTurnerSongwriter.com; a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/MikeTurnerSongwriter) and a Twitter account (@SchoonerSkipper). My poems have been published in such journals as Spillwords.com, GreyThoughts.com, and AutumnHouseJournal.com, along with Red Planet.
What drew you to Red Planet Magazine?
Once I began writing poetry, I began looking for outlets to publish my poems. Red Planet issued a call that was cited in a social media writing group I belong to. Although I’ve been a long-time science fiction reader - I’m a particular fan of the time travel fantasies of Jack Finney, and Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation - I have to confess, I had to look up what “speculative fiction” was as a genre. The idea of a magazine that had the “red planet” as its muse/mascot appealed to me, because I’m also a fan of the classic H.G. Wells, “The War of the Worlds” (as well as the Orson Welles radio play adaptation) and Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles.” Since nothing I’d written seemed to fit the “speculative fiction” mold, and also because I was somewhat amused at the idea of classic sci-fi having morphed into the genre, I used the term as a prompt and wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek poem, “Speculative Fiction,” that Red Planet ran in its first issue. After that, I tried to write a piece once a month specifically to submit to Red Planet - and, to date, Red Planet has taken every one, AND they’re the only speculative fiction pieces I’ve written. I’m grateful for your continued support of my writing! Red Planet is the only literary magazine I read cover-to-cover every month - it’s the only short-story reading I do, and much of my poetry reading as well. I find the works, as well as the art, entertaining, compelling and exceptionally well executed. Keep up the good work!
Oh Dusky Orb
by Mike Turner
Oh dusky orb
Dim planet of conjecture
Crimson target of desire
For ages we’ve viewed thee
Long contemplated thy exploration
Speculated on thy mysteries
Has life known your distant shores?
What forces carved your “canals”
Those of wind, wave, or Man?
Thou spark of imagination
Of storied rise and fall
Tales of fear and wonder
We are drawn to you
As a magnet attracts iron
As whispered memories call us home
Though the quest be arduous
The journey difficult
We shall attain thee
Shall we discover that which we’ve sought?
Imagined? Longed for?
Or will your reality be one more common
An essay of barren, dry desert
Bereft of civilization
Life at levels elemental, if at all
Regardless, we come to you
To learn your secrets
Confirm our suspicions
Realize our fictions
Or consign them to the dust heap
Of your barren surface
But we shall come
To scale your lofty mountains
Descend your deep valleys
Survey your vast plains
Embrace the world you are
Build the home you may become