Thursday, September 25, 2008

Top Ten Blogs for Writers

Thanks to Tricia Grissom over at one of my favorite blogs, Coffee and Critique, for posting the link to the megablog that has picked the Top Ten Blogs for Writers out of hundreds of nominations. The top selections focus on going for the gold -- selling freelance articles. If you have not yet learned how to write articles for a mass audience, or have never tried, you can enroll in a journalism course and learn it in a short 15 weeks. In any case, the blogs are upbeat and inspiring, and we all need that right now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now They Have a Name for It

On the wonderful CR WRT OPPS site there's a posting announcing a reading series by

"Post-MFA / Pre-Book Poets."

Finally we have a category! See, we M.F.A.s who had no books thought that we were merely losers, when in fact we were "pre-book."

I spent 16 years pre-book. It was like spending 16 years pre-root-canal. I'd been warned that self-publishing could destroy my career. What career? Poetry is a career? For what percentage of the population? I decided to risk the said career and get it over with.

And -- surprising me endlessly -- the results have been all to the good: much satisfaction, a small monetary return. A "legitimate" poet turned green when I flaunted my $54 check from a bookstore that sold my books on consignment; she never got a check that big for her book! She actually grabbed the check from me to ascertain that it was what I said it was! Plus, I learned that I could have kept to myself that my book was self-published because it's got an ISBN, looks professional, and has another publisher's name on it. In some quarters my baby could pass as "legitimate"!

Now, poets M.F.A. and pre-M.F.A. are beginning to routinely self-publish, saving themselves 16 years of wasted time. While some of their efforts are a bit tentative, they haven't been consigned to career hell or even been burnt. BTW, the last 12 or so poetry books I've bought have all been chapbooks. Do you think I'm going to chase down and order some $22 hardback from the Press at the University of Squat, written by somebody I don't know? LOL!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ships Start to Come In

This week I got multiple payoffs for hard work done long ago. Book about women's health care, the anthology Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak Out About Health Care in America (Penultimate Press), including essays by myself and former writing-group buds Cathy Luh and Janet Edwards, will be published on schedule and launched at the University of Missouri - St. Louis on November 19. Editors are writers Colleen McKee and Amanda Steibel, who spent 2 years seeking a publisher.

Then comes in the mail today the contract for two poems of mine to appear in as-yet unnamed anthology of St. Louis poets, edited by Matt Freeman (author of the admirable poetry collection Desolation on Delmar).

Introduction to Creative Writing, in the Washington University night school, had its first-ever workshop session Thursday. This one treated poetry by all 8 of my students -- some of whom had never before written a poem. Successful workshop on all counts. Next week a guest poet will read for the class and speak about her work: Susan Grigsby, former student in that same class in the Fall of 1997, who went on to a career as a poet for both adults and children.

Learned a lot in my poetry group tonight. It's a group of women called Loosely Identified. I've been going to the monthly meetings for little less than a year. They passed around a photo of the group as it looked 25 years ago. Some of the same people in the photo still attend meetings!

Helped another writer polish up a grant application. Sure hope she gets the $17,000 she's aiming for!

And I hugged a writer today. If you see one, please hug one.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Wasted Day

Plans fell through and I was alone. Painfully disappointed I packed a picnic and camera. Drove about 10 miles and hiked for 3 hours, with lunch near the end of it. Took 98 photographs, mostly flora. Wondered why four of my closest friends, intimates, are sick, all at the same time. Decided it couldn't be me. (Could it?) Needing a guaranteed intoxicant I listened to ABBA on the drive home. Back home, listened to disco CDs. Sent 2 encouraging emails to sick intimates, attaching photos. Wondered why I don't listen to more music, even though I have terrible taste. Admired the hummingbirds sipping homemade nectar. It's not red but they like it just the same. Tinkered with non-writing hobby while watching bad TV. With relief found somebody to IM with for a while before bed.

Very slowly, in the attic of my mind, began to think again about the 2 book manuscripts I've left in the pipeline for a couple of months because I don't know what my next move should be.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nabokov's Day Job

Today I learned that Vladimir Nabokov spent six years in the 1940s organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. He told species apart by looking at their (microscopic) genitals and wouldn't consider any other way. He collected their genitals. His books are loaded with butterfly references and inferences. In upstate New York he discovered and named the tiny Karner Blue butterfly. Apparently it doesn't hurt one's career to obsess about something in life besides writing (if, like Nabokov, you can rely on your wife to drive you everywhere and run the household -- i.e., you have "an angel in the house"). But this 3-inch beauty from Missouri I photographed today -- although it looks blue and black to me -- is in fact called a "Red-spotted Purple" butterfly -- Limenitis arthemis astyanax, as Nabokov might say.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

That, Plus 50 Cents, Will Get You Coffee....

I once edited an autobiography by a Holocaust survivor. The author was 10 when transported to Auschwitz with his father, an M.D., late in the war. The doctor told the Nazis – then badly in need of a camp M.D. – that the boy was 16 years old and his assistant. Both were therefore allowed to live, and both survived.

However, because the author was so young when imprisoned, he retains few vivid memories about the camp and its inhabitants, and most of his narrative described his life after Auschwitz – emigration to the U.S., medical school, his career, marriage, and retirement.

The author’s question was: Did I think he could get an agent for the book? It was, after all, a memoir by a Holocaust survivor. Life stories don’t get any more dramatic than that.

My research turned up these surprising (to me) facts: Holocaust memoirs are “a dime a dozen.” Agents, publishers and readers don’t buy such books out of respect for the survivors. They snap them up only if such memoirs are very detailed and shocking and revelatory, and if the book centers on the camp experience. Agents and publishers want THAT so badly that they will seize upon phony Holocaust memoirs cooked up according to that recipe.

Very carefully and politely I told the author my crushing conclusion: If he wanted to see his memoir in print, he should self-publish. He wouldn’t stoop to that. Can’t blame him. But since that time, someone has tried to establish a Holocaust-memoir vanity-publishing business to make themselves some money from these dime-a-dozen manuscripts. I’m not kidding.

And you want an agent for that memoir you wrote about your relative with Alzheimer’s? Your broken hip? Your infertility treatments? Save time and effort: Publish it yourself.