Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scribd.com

Scribd.com is where writers post their work for readers to download and get 80 percent of any sales. It's an alternative to Amazon.com which takes 50 percent. I've priced my poetry book, Fierce Consent, at Scribd's suggested retail of $5, in PDF format. And I'll see if my experience at Scribd.com is at all different than, or more trafficked than, lulu.com. I'm always looking for ways for writers to get more from what they do.

Read the NYT article about Scribd here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ever Want to Quit Writing?

Found this on Salon.com; adviser Carey Tennis's worthwhile answer to a letter from a self-confessed "failed" novelist, age 60, who wants to give up writing because it just doesn't pay. It caught my eye because one rarely hear about anyone "quitting writing."

That individual letter writer, who signed himself "Lost on Boulevard of Dreams" has cancer, has a disabled wife who needs him at home, so can't hold a day job, and needs money. Maybe the view is different from age 60. But I know so many happy writers 60 and over -- some just finding their voices, getting involved in projects, mastering their craft, getting happily published; publishing themselves too. But "Lost" is actually considering suicide.

The adviser's answer says writing is about having a dream. I agree, but prose writing can be jimmied to be somewhat practical. I would have suggested to the novelist a few courses in journalism or creative nonfiction so he can write saleable things. If he says, "I can't, I'm a fiction writer," I would tell him he's creating his own artificial difficulty when he's got difficulties enough.

Monday, May 18, 2009

About the War and the Holocaust

Friend Helen Eisen published a poetry chapbook about herself and her parents, survivors of the Holocaust, titled The Permeability of Memory (Cherry Pie Press). It was favorably noted, and Helen was interviewed, in the blog Writing the Holocaust. Helen says her family and their friends did not say "the Holocaust"; instead they said, "the war."

This is a point I've tried to make for years. "The Holocaust" is an insultingly reductive shorthand label that our culture finds way too convenient to use. I have had to correct careless people who equate the Holocaust with the war.

Upcoming Events

Tim Leach, one of my favorite St. Louis poets, will be reading from his work next Tues. evening, May 26, at Poetry at the Pointe on Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood, 7:00 p.m. On the same bill is poet Pam Garvey, professor at STLCC-Meramec, very accomplished younger poet. Don't hesitate to be there. That series has been very uneven, but for that evening I personally guarantee you some good poetry. Tim, a fomer showboat actor, almost never reads his work in public, for reasons too complicated for me to understand.

Then on Thursday, May 28, the Poetry in Motion winners (count 'em, 15 of them) read the poems to be posted on groovy posters on the MetroLink transit system for one year. That event will be at 6:00 p.m. at the Regional Arts Commission, across from the Pageant Theater on Delmar. Look for the poems on the MetroLink and buses very soon. It's mind-bending but refreshing to see poetry in such strange, anonymous places. I wonder who first came up with the idea of posting poetry on public transit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yes, I Knew Derek Walcott

Poet Derek Walcott is in the news, the NYT reporting 30-year-old charges of sexual harassment forcing him out of a professorship at Oxford. He was the Hurst professor I studied with at Wash U. This was 1989, before his Nobel Prize.

How gruff Walcott was. Students had to go to his special visiting-professor apartment to meet with him. He answered the door reluctantly. He said some snappish thing as I walked in. I stopped, looked him in the face and said, "You're a tyrant."

He did a double take. Immediately he dropped the tyrant act, and we had a productive discussion. Later he told me my poetry was "damn good."

Normally I wouldn't have faced down Derek Walcott, except coincidentally he shares my birthday, 23 January, and I felt as if that were a key to his personality. What else I remember: his light-blue eyes. His white girlfriend. His urge to level things. I wrote a poem that made fun of a Hawaiian bar. He urged me to rewrite it, have yet more fun, and "destroy Hawaii!"Now circumstances conspire to level him. What goes around comes around.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Your Future Holds Many Many Chapbooks

Every poet’s got a chapbook, is making one, is competing to publish one – and is showing us the future. Readers want
  • short
  • intimate
  • prettily designed
  • highly portable and
  • cheaply-had books. Chapbooks seem disposable because they seem slight; but then they’re not so disposable, because they’re usually not worth the trouble to re-sell.
Plus, I find myself picking up chapbooks from my shelf and enjoying brief readings; I do this more often than pick up full-length, hardback poetry books, some of which I begrudge reading because they cost me so much. Last full-length poetry book purchased was a 90-page paperback, $17.95, titled Enterprise, Inc. Love the poet, Chuck Sweetman. Hated the price.

Q. But will people download poetry chapbooks?

A. I think they will. I’d rather pay $9.95 and see half of that $9.95 going to the poet. Easy to make a PDF of a pretty chapbook. It'd cost nothing to add a sound file, too, so one can hear the poet read a few poems. In the chilly electronic cocoons that we're spinning for ourselves so that we can't be hurt, we're going to be craving more truth and intimacy. Poetry will fill the need.

I’d only miss getting the poet’s autograph and smile.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Big-Screen Kindle Unveiled Today

NYT reports today that Amazon.com has unveiled a larger-sized Kindle reading pod -- looks like about 8.5 x 11 inches, screen 9.7 inches -- and will sell it this summer for $489. Wisely they have realized that there's a market for BIGGER AS WELL AS smaller electronics -- you know, like those foot-long, big-button TV remotes for old people? Well, everyone gets older. . .and everyone still likes to read. . .and $489 won't get you very many brand-new hardback books. More precisely, $489 gets you 17-3/4 hardback books at $27.50 each. (And where in your house is there room for them?)

The new Kindle DISPLAYS PDFs (the Kindle 1 didn't) and holds 3,500 books.

Discussing Kindle with people, I sometimes fail to mention buyers get the "wireless" component of it free. Amazon assumes you'll make it up by downloading books. They're correct.

Friday, May 1, 2009

If You Want to Be Famous. . .

By the time you read this, Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis, will be at the publisher's, in production. Curious writer friends now ask why I didn't interview THEM for the book (since it's a book of interviews with St. Louis writers). The men ask jokingly but directly. Miffed women give me reproachful looks and won't congratulate me on publishing the book.

Look, writers: If you want press, if you want to be interviewed, you will have to:

1) write something and make it available.
2) alert the media. They won't come looking for you. I know you think they should. But they're media. They have to hear buzz.
3) do some publicity on your own, such as scheduling a book launch, sending postcards, press kits or other. That may be beneath you, but it is rather like going to the bathroom -- you can't deceive yourself that you're above all that. Get a publicist if you can pay for one. College students majoring in marketing are a good option.

My interviewing-writers days are over, but remember the above, because somebody else someday is going to be seeking out and interviewing writers about their processes and secrets.