Monday, May 31, 2010

A Schedule: First Two Days

Sunday, May 30. Wake 5 a.m. in dread (nothing's really wrong). Coffee on porch, paging through a friend's poems. At 7:30 a.m. decide I must use the cool of the day for brushcutting and lawn mowing. After three hours of that, I shower, lunch, create no-knead bread dough and set it to rise, then, unbelievably, needing to escape the house, I go to the gym, grocery, and gas station. After dinner look at a friend's poems. Decide it's now or never to do my scheduled work. So tired I feel poisoned, but that has killed the dread. Taking up a copy of Rattle, Summer 2010 issue, I find exceptionally good poetry and interviews with Carl Phillips and Aram Saroyan. I read also the author bios. Gemma Mathewson's includes this: "Poetry is, for me, a kind of skywriting. It involves melding the twin vertigoes of altitude and disclosure, in the medium of vapor. " Good read. Want my work in that mag. Bed 9:30 p.m.

Monday, May 31. Wake 6:30 a.m. Feed birds. Bales of straw are required to complete my yard project, but it's too early to shop. I could plant tomato plants, but remembering yesterday, I halt myself and at 7:30 a.m. begin assembling chapbook for Midwest Chapbook Series competition run by Laurel Review, litmag from Northwest Missouri State University. Deadline is June 1; do it now or never. First chapbook competition I have ever entered, following my own advice to attempt the local before I try national. Picking up the contest guidelines I see I've scribbled on it a possible chapbook title: Soviet Life. I like it and use it. Manuscript and mailing package assembled and finished by 11:30 a.m. Manage to do it by literally gritting my teeth. Relieved it's done.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Schedule?

Annie Dillard, a prolific essayist, wrote about having a writing schedule, concluding that it's a net that traps that fleeting commodity, time. So I embark tomorrow (not today! Too busy today!!) upon an entirely scheduled writing week as an experiment. I think four hours a day, in the morning, let's say 8 to 12, is reasonable for writing and writing-related duties (writing in journal does not count; reading literary magazines does count); two hours a day for exercise, housework or yard work; two to six hours for paying work; & the rest open. I will let you know whether rigidly dedicated writing time turns out to be productive -- so many writers have said it is -- or if I can't make myself do it for seven straight days, and why.

I tend to start with unfinished material, tinkering and thinking, and within a few days get totally in gear, ready to draft new material.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Usually I refrain from offering the information I am a writer, and recommend this practice to all writers. "English Teacher" is so nicely cut and dried. But walking on the wild side this week I said "Writer" to a shoe salesman who said he's been in the same business since 1954. He asked what I wrote. My mom chimes in, "Oh she just wrote a book on St. Louis writers," pegging me as a local in a place rather far from St. Louis. Shoe salesman begins recalling many trips to St. Louis to Brown Shoe and International Shoe headquarters, 15th and Washington streets. I tell him that area has changed, is mostly loft dwellings now. "I'm a poet and an essayist," I added rather desperately. "She just won a poetry prize," my mother chimed in. "Yeah. This poetry stuff," I joked, "is really paying off," and I escaped with my new sandals, however sheepishly and lamely. Next time: English teacher.

Monday, May 17, 2010

They'll Do It Every Time

Poets who have poems accepted frequently tell each other, "...and from the set of poems I sent, the editor picked the one I liked least," or "the one that I thought was weakest," ....thereby creating a "Can I Get a Witness" moment:

"That happens to me, too!"
"They never take what I think are my best poems!"
"They took the one I sent as 'filler'!"
"I sent that one just to patronize them, and that's the one they printed!"
"They always do that!"

This phenomenon needs a name. Why do editors single out your least favorite submission when fellow poets, your teachers, and critics (who may or may not know you) zero in on the best ones right away? Is this a "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Come On-a My House" thing, where the artist freaks because his lamest song becomes the biggest hit?

In my case, I notice "they" "almost always" select the shortest of the poems I send, and then they always want changes in it. Either that, or it will appear with a typo or misprint (most recently: "indefinitely" instead of "infinitely"). It seems to be a joke that the universe plays on poets. But I say that only because otherwise I must conclude it's a joke poets play on themselves.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good News for Old Writers

Refreshing: A group of 150 TV writers age 40 and over sued Disney, Fox, NBC, Paramount, talent agents -- more or less their whole industry -- for age discrimination. Execs had "graylisted" them, wanting only younger writers, assuming only younger ones had the schtuff to attract the coveted younger audience. The gray ones didn't take this lying down. After eight years in court they got a settlement of $70 million. I read this in AARP Magazine; click here to see the article.

For an energizing 3-minute YouTube rant called "Pay the Writer," by screenwriter Harlan Ellison, click here. I watch it often to remind myself that writers should get paid for writing.

I like it when writers get mad and pull together. Remember, they can't hire hot young interns for everything!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Magical Thinking About Agents

The creatures from the Magic Kingdom of Art, specifically writers, want to attract creatures from the Kingdom of Business called "agents." A great gulf separates the two. Because agents are few and remote and do not care to bridge the gulf, and because we writers are so creative and so broke, we have myths about them. Thus almost everything writers believe about getting an agent is a misunderstanding.

Getting an agent is not "the next step." Just out of school? Just completed your first book? The real next step is to develop grit and a professional attitude, because for the next several years you will have to learn how to act as your own agent, pitching and querying, knowing your market, and selling your own work, and maybe self-publishing it. When you have a track record and your work commands five figures, then getting an agent is "the next step."

"It's almost impossible to publish a novel without having an agent" is untrue. Three times in the past year I have seen first novelists, writers I personally know, get published because they looked for years for publishers, not disdaining small publishers, and they had manuscripts good enough. The hard truth is that most of the time if you can't get a manuscript published it's because it's not yet ready for publication.

Or, you may write very good manuscripts indeed. But agents want manuscripts that appeal to large, established sectors of the book-buying public, and not "writers" as we know them, but writing machines who can crank out similar manuscripts every 18 months or so, if not faster. They get paid only when you do. They don't want to get paid only once.

"I want an agent so someone else will take care of the business stuff so that I can write" is a rosy illusion indeed. An agent has many clients, is not at your beck and call, and is not necessarily accountable to you. What you are really asking for is an accountant.

"A starter agent" is not necessarily a boon. Researching the only agent who asked to represent us, my writing group discovered that he was a newbie, the largest part of his career having been spent in Europe coaching kids' soccer. We decided it was not good business to accept his offer. Later, however, he did develop a track record. We contacted him again, but by then he did not want us. I am so glad we didn't sign on with such a fickle creature.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sneak Peek at St. Louis Anthology

"Anthology" comes from Greek roots meaning "gathering of flowers." And here, just a bit too late to give to your mom for Mother's Day, is a glimpse of the coming An Anthology of St. Louis Verse from Walrus Publishing of St. Louis, gathering poems from 56 area poets. It's an advance copy so it's not finalized; the cover may be different, the interior tweaked, but what matters is that editor Matt Freeman, in a heroic effort, made sure it contains poetry of consistently good quality: two or three poems from most of the poets. You will find some familiar names (Castro, Finkel, Newman, Van Doren, Revard), and some very young and new. Freeman says, "There's only one bad poem" in it, so I've been trying to find it. No word yet on publication date or price. How did I get a hold of this? We have ways.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chuckin' Books

Time to weed the bookshelves, always difficult because of course the book you toss today you will need tomorrow, but I'm parting with:

Griffith, Bill. From A to Zippy. Compedium of Zippy the Pinhead comix. Loved Zippy in the freaky '80s but I've read all the strips 50x now. The original Zip the Pinhead was a 19th-century Barnum sideshow freak, an African-American, so celebrated that he was photographed by Matthew Brady.

Jonas, M. Rose. Can I Lie on My Resume?: Strategies that Win the Career Game. In this economy, all bets are off. There are no strategies. It doesn't matter if you look hard or not. There is either job or no-job. By the way, welcome to Wal-Mart.

Sabin-Wilson, Lisa. WordPress for Dummies. Obviously I don't use WordPress; I use Blogger.
What possessed me to imagine I might have time to read 350 pages on how to migrate?

Lorelei, Mistress. The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl's Guide to Female Dominance. I will let you guess whether this one was a gift.

Murdoch, Tom. Streamkeeper's Field Guide: Watershed Inventory and Stream Monitoring Methods. I got this when I joined the volunteer Missouri Stream Teams to monitor the purity of Missouri streams, and became Team #1340, along with two friends who are now dead. Later I belonged to ad hoc Team #2701, Brush Creek Sewer District. Those days are gone.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, 5th edition. Celebrated text I found unreadable in every edition, but I managed to write well anyway.

Miller, Sue, ed. Best American Short Stories 2002. Not a book but a monument to who was who in 2002.

Grant, Beata. Daughters of Emptiness: Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns. An example of faultless scholarship and faithful translation. But I now believe self-abnegation is morally wrong.

Campbell, Susan. The Couple's Journey: Intimacy as a Path to Wholeness. The kind of book that would help your husband so much if only you could persuade him to read it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Talking With: Novelist Claire Applewhite

Like the photo? Read on. Claire Applewhite's second novel, just out, is Crazy for You, about obsessive love among St. Louis's wealthy elites; the first was murder mystery The Wrong Side of Memphis (2009), both published by L&L Dreamspell. She is also the new President of the Missouri Writers Guild, potentially a very powerful organization. She wrote novels for a decade before getting published, and has an MBA.

Your novels are fun to read. And they have a satirical edge. Did you have fun writing them? Whom do you picture as your readership? I hope that my novels take my readers to another world, and that there is a message waiting for them there. The challenge is to deliver the message couched in fun. I don't believe a writer's job is to judge, lecture or preach. I think it is to suggest, question and/or present--and allow the reader to form a conclusion based on individual experience and imagination. I hope that the "fun" in my novels encourages readers to read them. As far as my readership, anyone who enjoys a story with quirky characters, multiple dilemmas, and a Midwestern and/or Southern setting.

I know some people very much like Bunny, the spoiled St. Louis heiress in Crazy For You, and her parents and friends. Do you? I think everyone knows a "Bunny," don't you? For this reason, a lot of physical description almost wasn't necessary--again, the suggestion of her appearance and mannerisms are left to the readers to form their own conclusions based on individual experience. The challenge as a writer was to expose the part of the characters that was not stereotypical.

How were sales of your first book? Sales of The Wrong Side of Memphis were very competitive for a first book from a small press. However, I actively and aggressively promoted it, assisted by a publicist. I lectured at luncheons and book clubs, made multiple public appearances, scheduled many book signings and distributed complimentary copies. I asked for blurbs from other authors and journalists, and obtained reviews from book reviewers and Kirkus Reviews. Promotion was as integral as writing in launching the book.

You once said you got up at 5 a.m. to write. Do you still do that? Actually, I have become a night owl. I find that the writing is best between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The world is quiet, and the characters' voices are clear.

What is your ultimate career goal? To become the best writer that I can be. I would like to pick up one of my own books someday and say to myself, "I couldn't have done any better," or, "Hey, I'm impressed."

Where'd you get those extra-foxy photos of yourself in evening wear? And why did you have them taken? Ah, the photos! I got those photos taken in response to my "readership" regarding the professional photos I had been using. To quote one younger reader, "You look like Meryl Streep in the Manchurian Candidate," or another well-meaning friend, "You look like a banker." I concluded that I did not look like a writer. I asked people in journalism for the name of a good photographer. We did a ten-hour photo shoot, with six outfits, and, well, these were the best ones.

As the new president of the Missouri Writers Guild, what is your vision for its future?
I am excited to promote literary talent in Missouri--and there is a wealth of it. My vision is to encourage new writers with the accomplishments of those Missourians who have achieved success.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Loosely Identified Poetry Night, May 17

The women's poetry workshop "Loosely Identified" (LI), active now for more than 25 years, consists of about 40 poets, about 25 of them active members of the group, and at every monthly workshop, attendance totals about 15. Every two years, some of us read our best poetry in the River Styx at Duff's series. This year is remarkable for the quality of its poets, of course, but also for the publicity poster custom-designed by LI member gaye gambell-peterson. Trust me, each figure resembles the actual person.

I joined LI in '07, and we meet monthly. I value this workshop group in particular because of its warmth and humor, and the feedback my poems get from 15 very different minds. Because we're Loosely Identified, the group doesn't fall apart if anyone takes an extended leave to care for a family member, travel abroad, and so on. New members join, and if former "Looselies" come to town, they visit. The group published an anthology, Breathing Out (Cherry Pie Press) in 2002.

Any women poets who would like to join or visit a meeting, please ask me; you will need a member to introduce you. Or talk to one of us May 17 at Duff's!