Friday, August 31, 2007

Irons in the Fire

I've got three book manuscripts out circulating, which rather takes my mind off the long, ambitious poem I sent to a magazine that may or may not take it, for political reasons (aside from the fact that they might not like it. But I do). Strange that I worry most about the poem, not the books.

It really helped getting my writing group involved in readying the Writing Group book for submission to publishers. One of us photocopied the book outline and sample chapters; two of us split the work of writing customized cover letters for each publisher; I made a spreadsheet to track submissions; someone did stapling and envelope-stuffing; she with the best handwriting addressed them and the SASEs; and finally one of us carried the packages to the post office and got them stamped for going (and returning; but we hope not). Any anxiety about that book -- now titled The Writing Group Handbook -- is divided eight ways. And so it rests lightly on the individual creative soul.

We, and specifically I, have no worries about whether the Writing Group book is good and worthwhile -- we know it is. Eight writers can't be wrong! A poet can never have the same secure feeling about a poem. But that's the price of writing poetry and wanting to publish it. I'll pay it -- but I am glad of having several other irons in the fire, and some writer friends.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Go For Broke

I just put all my eggs in the basket of Writing.

Decided not to return to school to retrain to do something practical.
Decided not to beg and campaign for raises, or go hat in hand to higher-paying employers. (I'm 50. Think I'd get the job?)
Not to go into advertising or public relations.
Not to start my own small business.
Not to punch cash registers or wait tables for the money.
Not to take a second job.
Not to tweak the resume so it won't reveal I write poetry.
Not to send an anguished email to all correspondents saying If You Have Work, Send It to Me, I Need It!
Not to look at 1960s motel-like apartment complexes with tiny cheap small-windowed units and think, "That's where I'll end up when I'm old -- if I don't decide to return to school. . .campaign for raises. . . go into advertising. . . .start my own business. . ."

Now I have no choice but to take Writing and go for broke.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

People Are Basically Good

I know nobody who wants to see a writer fail. In all my writing life, only one person ever elected himself as my sworn enemy. A writer, he actually wasted his energy trying to destroy others he thought were rivals. He did this by fault-finding. Their work lacked this, or lacked that. Moral, intellectual, or esthetic deficiencies: he found them wherever he looked, from the work of the lowliest E Comp student to the life work of the most decorated author.

I suppose his work lacked nothing. I did pay him some mind, and what he said annoyed me; that I recall. But the interesting thing is, ten years later nobody remembers what he wrote, or anything he said besides his catty remarks.

Guess what: He works in public relations now.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Remember This Girl I Hated

"Mickey," as she called herself (her name was Vivian) just loved to be wide-eyed and creative and stoned, and wear Danskins, and play with her food if someone was watching, and hang scarves from her apartment ceiling, and so forth. This was years ago; if it were today, she'd be designing slow-moving, psychedelic websites. She thought that although I said I was a writer, I was not creative. I lacked a cute haircut, a creative job. I wasn't taking a class in American Sign Language, lived in a basement I didn't bother to decorate.

I said creativity was not a feeling, or at least not necessarily a feeling. Writers create one step at a time, word after word after word, sentence following sentence. Creativity, yes, but sort of through a funnel. Plus some research and training.

She found this distasteful and made a childlike face, wrinkling her nose. If I had been five and not twenty-five, in return I would have stuck my tongue out.

Stoners, fake Buddhists, parlor pinks, and scarf-twirlers -- there they are, shelved in the past, where they stay, and where they belong.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Future of Writing: Read Locally

The latest issue of Creative Nonfiction, #31, is about the Future of Writing.

In the future, says one of the essayists, Astro Teller, huge omnimedia publishers will publish and mass-market seven books a year. People will buy and read them. But readers will be far wiser about the string-pulling and adthink that goes on behind those books. They will want to do a new thing: seek writing directly from the writer, guaranteed no middleman -- the Real Thing, the Genuine Item, pure and honest. It will be "in" to "read locally."

Writers will still want to write and sell one of those seven big bestselling books. There will be more writers, which means more competition. But you won't be looking for an audience; the audience will look for you. Books will rise to the top by choice of the readership, not the publishers. Local will be cool. And with no middleman, you will get 100 percent, not 10 or 15 percent, of what your writing earns.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

On Self-Respect

My book Island Universe: Essays and Entertainments, is done. Yesterday I got the letter from painter Siegbert Hahn of Germany giving permission to use the chosen cover illustration. That was the last piece in the puzzle of putting that book together. I will E-mail the ms. to the publisher Tuesday, when I can get a broadband connection.

Next, a project I almost forgot about -- to arrange my writing group's next book. And when that's done, maybe I'll hear about the manuscript I sent out in mid-June. And then -- how about harvesting some newer poems and putting together a poetry chapbook?

I didn't realize it, but over the years I had just kept writing and writing, sometimes articles and reviews only for the pennies they might bring me, always grumbling and berating myself: "This isn't the best I can do," "Wish I had more time," "It's the deadline, I have to finish now," and "One day I'll do some real writing." Darned if it wasn't all real writing. I'm only seeing that now, and only now respecting myself for doing it. You, of course, will be smarter, and take pride in all the writing that you finish.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Keeping Writers at Arm's Length

I spent December through March querying agents for our writing group's second book. Score zero. Or, better for my mental health, I can say, "I didn't find the agent who wanted us."

We're now sending the book proposal directly to publishers. More than ever, publishers' listings say, "We don't take "un-agented" submissions, or look at unsolicited submissions." No, not even a glance at a two-page book proposal.

It looks as if publishers think they benefit from a setup that keeps them apart from writers. Now, think: Does that make any sense?