Sunday, February 28, 2010

On "Alone Time"

Some people have been miffed when I shut my door to write. Mom stood at the closed bedroom door, pointedly saying, "She's being anti-social," or "She thinks she's better than her own family." In the college dorm, floormates did much the same: "I bet she's in there writing." Bored with my non-response, they soon cut it out. Later roommates interrupted innocently ("Whatcha doin'?") or not (kick open the door and yell, "You're shutting me out of your life!"). This latter person -- a blocked artist -- was hard to dismiss, because what he imagined was true eventually became so. I got intimidated. I shied. Dragged down to his level I replied just as furiously. I used other people's homes to write in. I applied to writers' retreats where I cried from sheer relief and cried when I had to go home. This escalated to his coup de grace: "You don't love me!" One day, hearing "You don't love me!" I said, "You're right. I don't."

Adults should grant other adults periods of peace and quiet. But it seems that only some are glad to make that kind of deal. Others are rendered terrifically insecure by periods of unavailability. Hey, it doesn't mean we don't love you! We are only doing the work we were meant to do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pounds of Flesh, Etc.

I had some of my own books on consignment in a bookstore. It was not worth it. I had paid half the cover price for my own stock of books. The bookstore bumped the price up by $1.00 (using a sticker) and gave me 40 percent of what they got for it. I was losing money with every book purchased!

I think of this because a friend with a first novel coming out in April says his publisher will not stock his book on Barnes & Noble and so on will have it available online, but not Amazon. com. Publisher said Amazon takes too big of a percentage. Guess what? Everybody takes too big of a percentage. Amazon takes, I believe, 50 percent -- if they're working through a publisher. I'm not. I'm selling my books as one of those used-book, also-ran, independent type of dealers. The important thing is that my books can be found on Amazon, because that's where everyone looks first for a book.

I told the author his book HAD to be on Amazon and if the publisher would not put it there he would have to. Whether that's fair, right, monopolistic, sickening, highway robbery, etc. -- we writers allowed others to put us up against the wall like this, and we are the only ones who can fight our way out. In my book contract I had it put in that the publisher MUST make it available through

Monday, February 22, 2010

National Triumph Week

It's National Triumph Week, because I say it is; so Every Writer is hereby asked to think of and speak of their Triumphs.

At age 29 I was so out of touch with myself that I was doing graduate studies in Fiction Writing. I hadn't dared to apply for the poetry sequence. But I entered the grad-student poetry contest for the heck of it. Knock me over with a feather, I won. The Poets freaked out! Were they disgusted! Pamela Alexander's book flew out of the library and there were half a dozen Requests on it -- they wanted to read the (surely crazy or substandard) work of whoever had picked the fiction writer as the winner. Oh turning point, kick-start, shot of confidence! I am only sorry that the poets thought I had won at their expense.

About seven years later I met Pamela Alexander. I said to her, "You don't know me, but you changed my life!" p.s. READ THE COMMENTS BELOW!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


According to Webster's, the word "perfect" may also mean "legally mature," "fully formed," or "to carry to the end." I realized it is possible for a creative work to be all these things and still not meet MY standards. Then I realized that I don't know what my inner standards are, who set them, or why I hold to them.

I still sting from a book rejection that says "manuscript still contains some weak poems," and it may have been then I decided that the artist in me should be more of a drill sergeant.

All I know is that a few days ago I flipped through my "also-ran" binder, re-reading poems I'd abandoned as hopelessly imperfect and/or imperfectible, and found three that by all reasonable standards were likeable and worthwhile even if imperfect. I wondered why I had been so hard on them. Does an ending really have to "snap the poem shut"? Is "self-indulgent" -- whatever that is -- such a crime? Why isn't 99 percent good enough? 95 percent? 80 percent? WTF? Did Yeats bat 1000? Did Emily Dickinson? Did Dylan Thomas? Are all Beatles songs equally good?

I wondered who benefits when "legally mature" artists are excessively hard on themselves and their work.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Journal

Doggedly I've kept a journal since 1997, when I took The Artist's Way "morning pages" directive. At first I hated the discipline of a daily journal. Then I loved it. Currently it's an off-and-on thing, because I'm much more likely to start writing when I start my morning by READING some(body else's) great poetry or prose. (B.H. Fairchild, Kathleen Finneran, Suzanne Rhodenbaugh, for starters. . . If I've bought your chapbook be sure that I do read it -- it turns out that the better I know the author the more I'm inspired.) A kick-start of inspiration, plain and simple.

My journal by contrast is 60 volumes of the dullest document ever produced by humanity, a chronicle of the dullest possible existence, chosen because that is the placid kind that permits the most writing time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Publishing Opportunities

Doubts about the value of my work tend to snake up on me in February, and last year I seized a whole day by the throat, 23 February, and sent piles of manuscripts to places likely to want them. My results were quite good. To help find places that might want my work, I visited websites such as these: - Updated Daily
My favorite. Moderated by poet Alison Joseph of SIU-Carbondale. Sample item: "CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Bone Bouquet seeks to publish the best new writing by female poets, from artists both established and emerging. We are especially. . ." - Updated Bimonthly
Sample item: "EKPHRASIS, a biannual journal, seeking poems, each based on a single work of art. Free or formal verse considered. No simultaneous submissions. Previously published OK if credited. . ." (Don't use their search boxes; they don't work. Click on "List All Mags" at the top, and go from there.) - New mags listed almost daily
Sample: "A Thousand Faces is the quarterly journal of superhuman fiction. Published four times a year simultaneously online and in print, A Thousand Faces is the next step in the evolution of the superhero genre. . ." (If you are into contests.) Register to look at the free-contest database. Be sure to click on the Month with the deadlines you want or it will show only January.
Sample: "Free contest offers decent-sized prizes and web publication for creative travel essays about living and working abroad. Enter online only. . ."

Good luck!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Does This Author Photo Make Me Look Like a Rock Star?

Less-than-optimal author photos, men's division: Truman Capote, Devin Johnston (no insult intended), John Madden (mostly, only men will put themselves on the fronts of their books), Abbie Hoffman.

Does This Author Photo Make Me Look Fat?

A few less-than-ideal author photos, female: novelist M.J. Rose, Denise Levertov choking on something (I couldn't find that photo of her in the striped jersey top!); Sheila Lukins in see-through blouse.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Author Photos: 11 Tips from Experience

Here is my favorite new "author photo," taken specifically for Meet Me (now at the printer's). Tips if you are having your "author photo" taken:

1. Ladies, the one makeup item you absolutely need for your photo is Mascara.
2. Natural light will make you look better than any type of indoor lighting.
3. Scarves and/or fur are good clothing counterbalances for women self-conscious about strong or aging facial features.
4. Men, LOSE the shades. They are not cool in author photos.
5. Men, SHAVE. The Abbie Hoffman look is not coming back.
6. Do not dress as if you are going to clean your bathroom. Do not wear a hat. I removed my glasses because fashions in glasses can "date" your picture something awful; just look at your high-school yearbook, or your mom's...
7. Nobody wants to see your pets. Or your cleavage. I mean it.
8. Make photos available in both color and black and white.
9. Get a patient photographer and PAY him. Mine is semi-pro Mark Deffenbaugh, and he had the knowledge and equipment to blur the background while keeping me in focus, and use fill-in flash to assist the natural light. Don't know what I mean? Get a photographer who does. This photo is not retouched, but Mark did excellent retouching on poses that were marred by a shiny face, stray hair or odd item jutting in the background.
10. Standard digital resolution for decent print reproduction is 300 dpi. Don't know what that is? Your photographer does, or should.
11. I put the photos online at the photo site where if my name is typed into the searchbox anybody who needs my photo -- say, Oprah -- can get, see, and download one free. Free, however, it is copyright-protected. I ask only that they give credit to Mark Deffenbaugh.

Author photos will persist long after you are gone. If you are fortunate enough to need an author photo, please think twice about everything.