Saturday, January 26, 2008

Showered with Jewels

Proof that great ideas DO often strike in the shower! A news brief in the June 2007 Ladies Home Journal quotes recent research: "'Our skin is designed to naturally administer the right proportions of molecules to have a beneficial, stimulating effect on our thinking,' explains Frank Rice, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience. . ." Credit your endorphins -- the stuff that gives you your natural highs, like those you get from exercising or massage. Or maybe from hugs. I read somewhere that for maximum creativity, you need 12 hugs a day.

What's a few wet footprints on the carpet compared to inspiration? Each gift of sudden inspiration comes only once, to only one person. You don't want to lose it. Even Emily Dickinson thought, " 'Twill keep," but it won't -- and you don't want to have to say along with her, ruefully, "The Gem was gone -- /And now, an Amethyst remembrance/ Is all I own."* Get out of the shower, out of bed, or pull over the car, and write down that idea or first line. I do, even if it's a bother. My personal research says that you have two or three minutes before the gift turns to vapor. (Writers do receive other gifts -- such as book ideas -- that are less perishable.)

To be an artist is to be a channel or gateway for creative power. Enjoy your appointment to the welcoming committee!

*"I held a Jewel in my fingers--" (#245)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Going to Readings is Good for Your Health and Ego

Poet Erin Belieu read at Washington University's Duncker Hall last night. Full house; did my heart good to see it. She read "In The Red Dress I Wear at Your Funeral," the climactic long poem from her critically acclaimed new book, Black Box. I am so glad I went. It was good in all ways for my health as a writer.

At least once every two weeks I attend a literary reading or event in order to stay current, to learn, to enjoy, to listen to the hot new poets or honor the hot old ones. Always I keep a notebook and pen at hand, because it seems that poems attract poems -- at readings, the whole room fills with them, like butterflies -- and I want to capture my share to take home. Some of my best ideas for prose and poems are conceived at readings. It's a stimulating environment, full of thoughts and ideas: totally writer-friendly.

That said, I like Ms. Belieu's poems, but at their best they are only about 5 to 10 percent better than mine -- a great boost to my confidence. And on the way home it occurred to me that no matter how painful, the end of a love relationship is not at all like real death. That metaphor originated with court poets who wrote for the elite. We in the wealthy USA use that metaphor to lend drama to our lives. Anyone who has seen death knows that by comparison, a love relationship gone bad is bubblegum.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Advice for the Unpublished

Picture a longtime couples therapist who has written a book for men. It's short and snappy, because men can't read good. Publishers also told her that men don't buy or read books, especially books about relationships, and that's because they're sort of like, well, unevolved, and live in basements, and now and then their women and kids throw bananas down the stairs. After a year of rejections, the author, unwilling to give up, came to the January meeting of the St. Louis Publishers Association. The speakers were two authors fiendishly successful at marketing their books. The therapist presented her problem and asked for advice.

I listened, majorly, because I wanted to tell everyone with unpublished manuscripts what was said.

Could you maybe start a blog about relationships? they asked the author. Everyone's interested in relationships. Did you place some articles on that topic online at or Helium? Yeah, you don't get paid for those articles, but it costs you nothing and your name is on them, and a link to your website or blog, and if they're good articles and get picked up by various websites and e-zines, they travel, give you a presence, establish your credibility as an expert in this field, which is what you are. Then publishers might give you a listen.

And maybe put excerpts from your book online? Maybe some chapters on your website? Yes, before it's published, so people will get to know and appreciate your work.

"But I don't want to give too much away," the author said.

"There's no such thing as giving too much away," the expert said. "If people like what you have on the Internet, if they read and value what you write there, they will want to buy your book."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stealing Prose

Author-friend's nonfiction prose article was published by a good litmag about 15 years ago.
Long before that, pre-Internet, the mag, without authors' permissions, had agreed to allow its contents to be republished in a lit-crit series sold to libraries. This series was later sold to a database, which allegedly "licensed" the article for use on a website -- one that caters to lazy or dishonest students, providing downloadable research papers, articles, bibliographies, and so on. The author was stunned to find the article there, priced at $6.99.

Author contacts this Plagiarism-R-Us website. Meets with arrogance and refusal to remove
the work. Database which allegedly "licensed" the article ignores Author's phone call and letter. Author contacts website's apparent ISP, which says it isn't the site's ISP. Nevertheless, after months, article is finally removed.

Author learns that although the copyright reverted to the author after publication, unless it was then specifically registered with Library of Congress, the author's right to this individual article is essentially theoretical. And it's highly unlikely damages could be recovered, for example, in court.

Screenwriters have a union. Songwriters have a union. For freelance writers there’s a National Writer’s Union offering legal advice and grievance assistance to members ($120/year) -- but how many editors would cheerfully “Hire a Union Writer!”? The Author’s Guild offers members ($90/year) much the same support, plus health-insurance deals, but no self-published authors are allowed.

Now read this again and underline every snag, snafu, artificial difficulty, loophole, clusterf---, and cryin’ shame in this true story about our profession.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Stealing Poetry

True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.

Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.

This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from

Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!

Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

E is for eBook

The writer now has control. You can fix it so your book is available as both a downloadable eBook file that anyone can download into his or her computer -- and as a printed book. This latter as long as someone places an order for a printed copy.

I've explored two reputable companies that do this: and Lulu is simpler. You do it all yourself, and you can choose to be your own publisher or let your publisher be Lightning Source has district sales reps, support via E-mail, a bunch of manuals, and you should be set up as your own publisher already, and have bought your own ISBN.

Both companies will distribute your book through the normal channels and also online bookstores such as Both let you keep all your rights to the material.

With that kind of control the writer now has certain responsibilities. To wit:
1) You have to have a finished manuscript and the confidence that you can do this.
2) There's an initial outlay of money to publish such a book. But not a lot. Can you scrape up $100?
3) You have to follow directions and certain rules, and there's some legal stuff, and tax stuff if you make any money.
4) You can't publish just anything. Porn, for example, or pirated material, is not allowed.
5) You must proofread the copy, lay it out in book-style pages (some cheap or free software programs can help you do this), for turn the file into a distilled pdf (using Adobe software). And you provide the cover, unless that's a job you want to farm out to a graphics professional.
6) If you catch a mistake in the book after it's gone into distribution, and you want to fix it and reprint, that'll cost you mucho dinaro, or, as the Serbs say, mlogo slan, which literally means "much salt."
7) Your publishers make the book available, but they don't market or promote it. You do. A lot. There's a saying I hate that's painfully truthful: "Success is an ongoing effort." (spit-spit-phewie!)
8) Your publishers and distributors take their percentages, just as in the real world, and what's left belongs to you.
9) You have the "self-published" stigma, at least for now. The only way around it is to have kick-booty material! A darned good and worthwhile book that people will want to buy! Ah! That was what those old-fashioned publishers wanted! Does your book have what it takes?

I'll jump in first, and tell you how the water is.