Old Moon

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Eve...

Even as a child, I remember being in some way relieved after the Christmas holiday season was over--even if school had started again, even if the weather was going to get worse before it got better, even if I had received whatever I might have had on my list. (I don't remember ever writing a list, but can't believe I didn't!)

I have begun to wonder if I'm simply lacking in some desirable human trait. Could it be that we're doomed to disappointment the minute we have expectations? No, that can't be it, because by the time we've been around a few decades, we've discovered how often some things (relationships and meals and movies, for example) turn out way beyond the best we envisioned.

Is it that we're just tired after the excitement fades? In childhood and age, I believe that may have something to do with it.

Now it occurs to me that as time affects our perception of it (changing its relationship with our sense of its length according to how much of it we've been through), we gradually realize that ends mean we're on the verge of something new and thus unknown. At this time of the year, it's that eve of a New Year that we see before us.

Curiosity or uneasiness or merely anticipation can all cause some psychic discomfort, but I seem to be one who is glad to have all that tension become a thing--not of the past, but of the here-and-now. When you have to remember to change the date when you write a check, you know you're launched, and there's no going back. You pull up your socks, take a deep breath, and prepare to face ahead and get on with it.

So, New Year wishes to us all! Good ones!

A new set of submissions, a renewed search for an agent, a new project, renewed hope...and not just for ourselves.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Greetings

Merry Christmas

The trick is not to be boring and trite…
Yet, clich├ęs are because they apply
--to you and me and the butcher, the baker,
the candlestick maker…you see what I mean.

With or without a literal fireside, may you be warm;
with or without heaps of parcels, tinsel, and ribbons,
may you feel the beauty and know the bounty
of the impulse of generosity and the comforts of love.

2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice

I've just read a wonderful piece by a teacher of writing that cautions against overuse of metaphor. I've tried to take his words to heart. Sometimes, though, the circumstance can make a metaphor virtually unavoidable. He said that metaphor is a reductive device, and it is, which is one reason I so like to make use of it. What hadn't really concerned me before was his assertion that its use invites misinterpretation. ! Why didn't I think of that?

If your reader sees something different from your vision when you chose (or as happens, were chosen by) a metaphor, is that necessarily a bad thing? If you're trying to convey some difficult and relatively abstract piece of information (a concept in physics, for instance), perhaps it would be a bad thing. So what about fiction and poetry? Could the inherent flexibility of metaphor be an advantage?

In my personal case, the date drives me to a metaphor I can't ignore. Our wedding anniversary is December 22nd. Need I say more?

Friday, December 17, 2010

...and so to bed...

On the eve of another departure for New England, my focus has shifted towards what to pack and how to arrange the boxes of gift-wrapped packages to keep them from the eyes of evil-doers in the back of my grandson's station wagon. I make myself stop watching the Weather Channel. Visions of sugar plums (whatever they are) don't dance in my head, but worries about bills that will arrive while I'm away do. Who did I miss on the Christmas card list? Did I send all the checks for the year-end contributions? And then I think of Samuel Pepys and his standard end-of-the day sign-off in his diary--see above.

And then I stop short mentally and try to concentrate on the fun I'm going to have with with the family. When you get to be old enough, one of the compensations is a kind of automatic reassignment of the primary satisfactions we're allowed on this earth. There are too many things out of our control to waste energy figuring out anything more than how to try to be prepared as much as possible and remembering common sense. If it snows a little, never mind. If it snows a lot, get off the interstate and find a motel. And so on...

Maybe there'll be a column for Senior Women or a poem or two that will arise from the the adventure. Surely one must grasp an opportunity when it's available. One of my friends will fly from North Carolina to Italy to spend Christmas with her daughter and two grandsons, another will do the same to Iowa City to be with her family. What's a mere 800 or so miles for me? We each have to be aware of how uncertain our chances really are of doing the same after another year has gone by.
Carpe diem!

Friday, December 10, 2010

A (Mild) Rant

It's too late now. I was an English teacher, raised by real nit-picking parents and grandparents when it came to correct speech and grammar, and I can't seem to forget enough. I just read an interesting blog about and by an extraordinary young woman, and I wanted to post a public reply--until I realized she's just too young to have been taught properly. "...if I wasn't a writer..." raised my blood pressure. What ever happened to the subjunctive? [My father would have told me to look it up if I asked what that meant. If you don't know, you should look it up.] If is a little word, but it conveys either something that hasn't become fact or is contrary to fact, which requires a change of tense.

Why do 90% of TV anchors, columnists, and authorities on everything you can think of insist on confusing "convince" and "persuade?" Doesn't anyone care about the distinction between "take" and "bring?"

I understand about a language being forever evolving, but it's so galling to have the incredible possibilities for precision in English be simply allowed to die on the vine of usage. With one of the largest vocabularies of any language in existence, it seems such a shame to neglect it as we do.

One of my most aggrieved reactions is to the bastardization of that useful word, "gay." All the connotations of my childhood have been tossed into the trash. If it described what it means, I might forgive those who put it to its current use. But I doubt if the people who are indicated when it's used would consider it does them any justice.

Writers of the world, UNITE! before poetry can't even be written any more because there won't be enough words left with connections to readers' memories and sensibilities to catch what the authors intend to convey.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

South to North and Back Again?

The last post dealt with location, and so will this one. Over 800 miles north for Thanksgiving with my children involved more than a usual amount of consideration of settings. From the moderate early winter of North Carolina to the honest chill of end of November in the Berkshires was a big enough change. I won't go into the idiosyncrasies of the household that took me in, though I must mention a Great Dane tall enough to steal my dog's food from the top of the hutch on my granddaughter's computer desk.

The days are shorter up there, the color of the sun is paler, the trees are completely bare except for the oaks and an occasional beech, and there's no holly growing wild to color the greys and browns of the woods. I'm working on a poem about that. Grazed fields are still bright emerald, birds throng the feeders, and a walk with the dogs brings one back grateful for warmth.
And the best kind of warmth is what you get among your own. I wish I could be properly eager for yet another major holiday so close to that one. While both are delightful, for my family Christmas is even more special--and my wedding anniversary is the 22nd. I just wish we had been as wise as the Canadians and put our Thanksgiving in October!

Anyway, onward into the fray! My issue of our newsletter is almost finished; I've printed some of the cards I'll send as soon as I have time to write them; I have most of my gifts wrapped because I may have to go to Connecticut again with my grandson in his car. He gets out of college on the 17th! You see, there isn't time to get things done!

Happy Holidays, in case I never get back to this site till it's all over.

Monday, November 22, 2010

From One Place to Another

We read a great deal about the effects of place in fiction. Usually the discussion concerns the setting or settings for the story. Having just driven from the foothills of the Blue Ridge to the foothills of the Berkshires, the notion has entered my head that where the writer is may have almost as much to do with whatever comes from the keyboard or pen as the place in which the story comes to fruition. It was a pleasant journey through the Shenandoah Valley to this small valley at the foot of the wildest mountain in Connecticut.

Home for me these days includes a view of Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Grandmother, Hawk's Bill, and even Mount Mitchell. It's an hour's drive to Linville. The space is as great as the escarpment of ancient mountains and coves we look at with awe and pleasure every day.

For 45 years I lived in these Litchfield Hills that seem almost to hold us in the curve of a sheltering hand. The one thing I've learned is that the sensibility that touches me is closely related to whichever end of the Appalachian chain where I find myself. Familiar without making me blase or unobservant now that I'm learning both. I've come to understand the Western North Carolinians' fascination with the beach.

We had friends with a piece of property on Little Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. When we were lucky enough to visit there, restful and utterly quiet except for nature's sounds of sea and wind and birds, I couldn't stop taking notes. Maybe the contrast, the usual reactions to the unfamiliar, or maybe something more subtle and more powerful would take hold.

Our friends never spent more than a month at a time there. The only access is via St. Andrew's Sound by boat from Jekyll Island. Once one is of a certain age, the isolation becomes a consideration in spite of electricity and phone service. The hurricane season must be something calling for guts and endurance, winter may be that of the subtropics but not as gentle as spring and fall, summer must be almost unendurable without air conditioning. But the views, the vegetation, the incredible numbers of birds we saw only on the barrier islands, the beach and marsh were like constant entertainment and stimulation.

Maybe this is why so many writers take to cafes to write. I think the need for the unfamiliar is something I can grasp in theory, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm attached to home at this time in my life. Granted that it may not take too long to find a new attachment, but I simply can't imagine not being so distracted by people and sounds in a public place that I'd never be able to consign anything to paper. Or maybe that's another sign of encroaching age.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Oops

Just heard from Books to Go Now that the second story won't be up till early 2011. Something about arranging Amazon sales...
As if anyone were holding her breath!

What If...?

Day one of a pre-Christmas show of antiques, crafts, stitchery, jewelry, edibles, cards & bridge tallies, photos and art--and books.
Having just returned from setting up a table, I'm feeling a bit the way one does while waiting for a tooth extraction.

Because I can't afford to have a raft of books I've bought sitting around, I refused to buy more than the half dozen in my possession at the moment. IF people are interested enough, I can get them in less than two weeks if they're willing to wait and pay for mailing. Why would anybody shopping for the kind of things other vendors are offering be interested in POD books, and maybe even less in a homemade poetry chapbook?

Friends who visited for a couple of days sent a thank you bouquet that arrived yesterday complete with handsome vase. Thank goodness! I was going to make the best of the remaining mums and some colorful leaves from my yard! After probably a total of 30+ years working in retail, this doesn't strike me as a situation designed for this old lady.

Besides, when I signed up, I didn't realize it would be two 6-hour days. I have to get someone to take care of my poor dog, or cover my table while I go home to do it, and I'll certainly be mighty hungry before I get dinner!

Wish me luck! Either novel will cost $18 including shipping; $9 for the chapbook, also including mailing. I'll post some photos if I get any worth showing.

What if I don't sell a single one?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perennial Question

I've just taken a rare look at the little list of my "followers." Clearly I should have done it sooner. There are a couple or three that I decided I'd like to know something about. How to do this? I went to the other blogs they follow. Having done that, I wonder if it was a good idea. What in the world has led them here in the first place, and especially, why would they list themselves as followers? If they visited once, have they ever read anything here again? Is there some kind of (sinister?) prank better suited to social networking sites? I'll bet if they do read this, they'll know who they are. If they're gentlemen, maybe they'll post a comment that will answer my question.

Some bloggers are obviously grinding axes; some are venting; some have miseries or excitement they want someone else to know about. I thought this was to help promote my books, etc. Well, I've realized after far too long that bragging is something I don't know how to do in a way that wouldn't alienate a homeless puppy. So I put something in the "gadgets" to let any reader know what's been published, but I have trouble doing more than that. Note: another story should be on Books to Go Now in a few days. Note: a poem will appear next March (2011) in an online journal called Lowestoft Chronicle. There, I did it. I think this is the second time I've mentioned these things.

So then I have to ask myself if there's any good reason for commenting on writing and being old, and all that. Probably only the sort of built-in compulsion of a would-be writer. Thank goodness there are so many of us out there I needn't feel peculiar. If I could claim the ability and need to earn a living writing, it would be different. I'd starve if I had to do this to get fed! So on I plow. As I sometimes tell my friends at a distance and my children (ditto), it keeps me out of the traffic.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time, the Enemy

There are too many days when even after (long) retirement, you can't get to do what you want to when you want to do it. I'm not really complaining because I understand how good for mind and psyche it is to be busy, but...

Having been asked to make and offer for sale some poetry chapbooks for the upcoming pre-Christmas event here where I live, I did my best to comply. BIG mistake! Before I started, I considered how few gift and craft buyers might be interested in poetry by a complete unknown, but I reasoned that I could use my computer, copier, and printer to turn out something acceptable for that particular venue. If you're interested in how that all went, check out www.seniorwomen.com, where I vented for their Money and Computing section. It will probably be up next week. The point is that it took me literally days to do something so seemingly simple. Now if I don't sell a hundred of the things in the next year I'll never consider more than the first two hours were worth it. And how likely is that?

Then there are the committees that you know are needed that deal with matters you know are important to the community as a whole or to you personally. Once you get on one, just try to get off! I love our newsletter. It's uncommonly good for what it is, and I know because I've seen two dozen others from other communities. I've been on the editorial board for years--too many years. I want to get off (because I have to assume editorship of an issue twice a year and that's a week or two out of my life), plus a monthly meeting. I've been trying for more than a year. Looks like feet first will be the only exit from that. After nine years, I did get someone else to do the library catalogue.

We're a bunch of elderly and often failing souls here, and we're friends. Fortunately, there is a resident census small enough to allow us to know almost everybody. You can see where this is going. When you're one of the ones left standing, you have to step up to the plate, and indeed you're glad to. You substitute at bridge, take a friend to a doctor's appointment, pick up something at the grocery on a day you never go there, etc. If only you weren't in the middle of something you've put off for months because...

Well enough said. I'd just like to remind any writer/readers out there that they need to try to cultivate a stubborn "my work first" streak if they can. Don't be like me and take two years to revise a book you finished the draft of five years ago. And consider this: I'm a widow with only my animals to care for at home. If you're under forty, forget I said that.

PS: another story of mine will soon be up on www.bookstogonow.com. I'll post the cover when I see it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Whoopee!

This has been a good month. Another online publisher has just accepted a poem. The Lowestoft Chronicle as you can guess, is an English literary journal specializing in matters connected with travel. My poem is set in Ripon Cathedral. We'll be looking for it in the March, 2011 issue.

So great to be given some legitimacy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Electronic Publishing, Again

I love books. I mean those bundles of paper and print that you must turn pages to read, hold in your lap or up in your hand, with their handsome or ugly covers, their special smells, and that give off the instant signal that what you have before your eyes is YOURS! Sure, you may decide to lend it, but you expect to get it back...well, you get what I mean.

The problem with getting into one of those wonderful things is that you have to be either much better at writing than 99% of others who do it, or you have to stumble on a subject that has unexpected importance and resonance for an enormous number of potential readers so your publisher can hope to make a financial killing, or you know the right people in the right places who are willing to support and/or promote you because of who you are. When none of these situations apply, you end up with electronic publishing when you run out of time or hope or can't afford to do it yourself.

Well, I've just happened on another one of these havens for homeless manuscripts. Www.bookstogonow.com is calling for short stories. Their turnaround time is impressive: less that two weeks. I haven't been able to get out of them what the copyright status is, but they offer a return to the author in the form of a portion of their small charge for the story they publish, which is supplied with a "cover" and an author's note. They seem to have a pretty varied list, largely genre, but they took my short story that isn't of that ilk. I might earn a dollar or two if I'm lucky. Give them a look--for fun.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Have I Been Thinking!

When I signed on this afternoon, I didn't intend to write a new post. I was going to try to catch up to reading some of my favorites after six days with no Internet access (my modem/router died).

Now, after allowing those tantalizing links to draw me ever farther from the original blogs, I realize there's something I want to toss out in the nature of a question that basically isn't intended to be rhetorical:  must a writer be a survivor of more than an ordinary stint at living to be any good? Must one be a one-time addict? An abused child or even adult? A divorcee? A bereft parent? An erstwhile POW? Victim of crime? Sentenced to an incurable disease?

I don't even remember my adolescence as unhappy and fraught. Youthful stupidities came out all right in the end; I got a reputable college degree and a job. I made one forgivable mistake and broke an engagement, but quit crying about him in a couple of months. Then I married the best man for me that probably could have been chosen by the stars or a matchmaker. Chemistry, matching ethical values, contrasts where we both needed them, synchronicities that welded us like the gates of Fort Knox. Three children who have made us proud. In 57 years, things go wrong, but so many were right, the sense is of the best we could have had.

Does that mean I might as well throw in the towel as a writer? Looking back on my short stories and probably half of my poetry, even what was written many years ago, I see I often used loss as a theme. Doubtless evidence of cowardice, a fear of no longer having what I at least had the sense to value, even at the time.

A quick scan of literary biographies is a daunting prospect. Either I have to decide to ignore them, or find something else to satisfy this urge to make connections. Is there any other writer out there who has been unlucky enough to live a happy life?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

By Another Name?

In the blizzard of commentary on whether or not books are dying out, there has been a recent flurry of argument that suggests that reading is far from being on the wane.  Writing is flourishing like mushrooms after a rain. Never mind the whole explanation of how technology has given rise to this situation. The point seems to me to be that people on each side need help. Those of us who write to be read (as oppose to those who do it for "fun" or pure therapy) need some means of reaching agents, publishers, and above all, marketers with the message that instant classification is helping none of us.

Some genres are easy to toss into a single section of a bookstore, granted. Others, should be allowed to make their way into readers' hands through other hints of content and style. "A mystery is a mystery," you may say. Probably, but so often it's a whole lot more. Nowadays I'm happy to see the term "crime" or "mystery" connected with the term "novel" for those whose  plots center around a puzzle or villainy, but where the characters are multi-layered and the focus of the solution or lack thereof. It seems to me that there's a world of difference between Phyllis George and Ellery Queen.

Some terminology amounts to a kind of kiss of death for a new author. "Literary" is one these days. I believe there must be a hundred nuanced definitions of that term, and none of them is likely to entice a bookseller even if the work gets into print. An ebook so labeled might get half a dozen downloads in a year. I used to think it was a compliment to the author to be assigned that designation. I've been lured into horror, depravity, total obfuscation, and real chicanery by that label. I've also read some wonderful writing under the Literary banner. The point is that I don't think it's a useful term to a person who is unfamiliar with the author and/or publisher of a new work.

Is there anything we can do about this? I'd be the last to know!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Titles

If a novel is in print, its cover becomes one of the most important things about it to anyone who has no clue about what's inside.  The title has needed to take on a life of its own just in order to get the book to the cover stage.

I just read a how-to book on queries. The author tells us that the title has to "blow the socks off" the agent or editor, just as the cover letter and query must do the same. [Already I know I'm defeated. I don't write thrillers, can't relate to horror or dark fantasy, can't imagine a bodice buster I could pen.] Instructions are to include the title as early as possible in the letter, and to repeat it if we can. Following are orders not to self-dramatize, not to rave about your wonderful story, and above all, to be brief--all standard, like reminders to address an individual and to try to say why you've chosen that person.

Discussing the synopsis, we're told to include every character and the contents of every chapter, and never to hide the ending. This we must be accomplish in no more than two pages--one and a half is better. Later on, these instructions are mentioned again, but this time, we're allowed ten to twenty pages. We are exhorted not merely to state what happens, but to include atmosphere and theme and descriptions! The short form is for the query. Well, so is the long form. How can you possibly include everything in a 500-page opus in less than two pages? If the person being queried gives no limits in the guidelines, which synopsis should we use? If there isn't an obvious subplot, or perhaps there are a couple of short ones, do we leave them in or remove them in the interests of brevity?

Anyone who has written a novel is aware that the writing is a whole lot easier than trying to produce a synopsis at all, let alone one that is readable, interesting, and doesn't quickly guarantee utter confusion among characters and plot points. The book on queries does absolutely insist that no query should go out without a synopsis. The reasoning is that if the reader is even slightly intrigued, the synopsis will at least provide a glimpse of the story and the author's ability to write.

All the examples cited (quite a few) are from mysteries, thrillers, and other genre material. No wonder my editor mentioned (again) the problem of selling a literary novel after he had worked with me for about nine months. After six drafts, a good deal of investment of money as well as time, I'm beginning to have a sense of futility. I'll write yet another synopsis, then send out another couple of dozen queries to agents about whom I know nothing that doesn't appear in their websites or Publisher's Weekly, and try to concentrate on essays and reviews and poetry. I get the feeling, it's much too late. I can't collar agents at writers conferences any more, I don't know anyone with an agent who will reveal that persons's name, I don't have influential acquaintances. What I have is the Internet. I've given up (because of the cost of postage and paper and ink) on anyone I can't approach online. And besides, I need a really good title.

 I've considered four different ones. The first I rejected after the third draft. The one I'm sticking with for the time being I picked because it states the theme of the book. Unfortunately, I know well enough it won't blow anyone's socks off. In fact, it isn't labeled for the unimaginative until two thirds of the way through the story. The thing is, the whole point is inherent it its title. That's why I feel stubborn about trying to dream up another (though I did consider THE MAN WHO LOVED HORSES; it might bring to mind WATER FOR ELEPHANTS?)

 So don't hold your breath looking for SECOND GROWTH.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Something to Say?

It turns out that trying to get everything into the computer  or onto paper takes just about all the time I have. Having written that, I realize how foolish it must look. "Everything?" Haven't you noticed that there's a perpetual motion machine in your head? Stick your toe out to trip it up and make it stop? No Way. Some people may hope to drug or drink it into slowing down at least, but that's only a temporary solution.  My efforts for a rest drive me to try to get words to help--just by putting them down so I can read them back to myself and decide if they might be useful, comforting, amusing, educational, or offer a leg up to somebody's creative genie. Besides, if I don't know something, I have to find out about it. As for opinion: I need to write to find out what I think.

This situation is relatively new for me, and I've no doubt is connected to age. After a certain amount of time has passed, the most insulated or self-absorbed personality is bound to discover there's stuff he or she knows now. I wish I could save somebody else the trouble of discovering them the way I did:  by accident, or by finally being open to the message. So the blog is  a duty and is becoming more of a necessity. Naturally, I really hope someone will want to read something else I've written if they read this.

Enough of this mental meandering. I have a deadline for a newsletter and one for my review and an essay for the webzine www.seniorwomen.com. Besides, there are about three more contests I'd like to enter...

More later.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Left Hanging

I understand some of the problems of the editors to whom we shove off our little underdeveloped literary offspring--they have only so many hours in their days; they never heard of you, so your spot on the priority list drops to the end; a look at the page suggests the blocks and divisions aren't what the poetry editor wants to see; or if it's prose, there's a punctuation goof; or maybe we live at an address with a host of biases attached for that particular editor, (who can't stand Yankees or Californians) but darn it! Why can't they say a quick "No" and let us off the tightrope? Thanks to those who do take the trouble! When they say they respond in two to four weeks, couldn't they take the time to send an email after six?

One of the worst things about these non-responses is that if the recipients of the story or poem or article really would like more of what they do like, it would be useful to the writers to know what that is in the context of what they've sent. I understand it's hard to put in "guidelines" descriptions both exact and free enough to narrow the number of applicants for a place on their pages, but once we've given up hope of an advanced degree or a place at the Iowa Writers Workshop, or what have you, wouldn't it be great to get help we can afford?

And don't start with "join a writers' group, attend conferences, take a class, " etc. because somewhere in the description for this site, I'm sure I mentioned aging as one of its concerns. A writer's group of 15 or 20 is not for me, nor is one that meets at night (unless it's within ten blocks of home), nor one whose members' interests I haven't a clue about; I don't have time! I can't afford workshops, tempting as they sound. I have to go back to what got me writing in the first place:  reading. Then I try again.

If there's an editor out there (and probably there isn't), I just wish s/he would send off some kind of reply, even without a comment (I understand--you don't have time), but just don't leave us hanging! We already know that asking to be paid for our work is probably too much to ask.

What do you strugglers do? And I know about forgetting about it and sending it out again. Thank heaven for the Internet and those who accept online submissions! Postage, paper, envelopes, and ink would have bankrupted me by now without it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Who is Your Muse?

Recently I read one writer's views on muses. Her contention is that love and longing make poor muses because something as tough and enduring as art can't arise from anything as fragile and fleeting as love. I think I beg to differ. It's hard to imagine (at least for me) anything more stimulating to the metaphorical impulse than loss. And loss is as great as its opposite: love.

The way human beings deal with loss has been an ongoing theme in my writing since I began trying to put ideas on paper. My first published short story was about loss, so was my third. It is the stimulus for the poetry I try to produce now.

If there is an artistic problem with this it is probably the danger of bathos. When I read some contemporary poets, and the best prose, however, it becomes clear that a good many fine writers know how to escape that snare. I need not refer to the Victorians or the 17th Century greats--there are so many who have taken off from the emotional fall into bereavement--from persons or ideals or places, especially from innocence--to produce iconic works of art. Even the contemplation of losses still to come have been spurs to send out a writer's talent at full gallop.

I might as well admit that I'm disagreeing with one of the best writers in English: Francine Prose. I would like very much to hear what you think!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Everybody a Writer?

I suppose in a literal sense, everybody is a writer who can handle a writing implement, read, and has been taught how to make meaningful marks on paper. Have you noticed how many contests show up daily inviting all readers to submit their own personal stories? Sometimes there's a contest with monetary reward, sometimes the story had better prove the desirability of a product, sometimes the payoff is merely "publication," which might be on line or in print.

The problem I have with this is that I don't understand the attraction for the average computer user. We all have blogs, Facebook and other "social networking" sites available at all times. If we just want to make words public, they should be enough, shouldn't they? Is everyone equipped to provide free advertising copy, free publicity, free testimonials to people and firms whose interest has little or nothing to do with real writing, and less with literature? Even some publishers who solicit material from anyone willing to submit annoy me. I've given in to the hope of finding my work between hard covers myself, but on reflection, I wonder if these enterprises can provide the exposure serious writers are hoping for.

Is the large number of open submissions devaluing authorship?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bucket List and Teaching

There is probably a list for everyone, and they aren't all the same. Sometimes I suspect we don't know all of the entries. I think I may have checked off one of mine yesterday. Years ago when I first got serious about writing, I longed to go to a full-fledged writers' conference. As it happened, I was close enough to one of the most well-known if I could gather the necessary funds. My ever supportive husband agreed to hold the home fort if I could manage. Thanks to a scholarship on the strength of a short story I submitted, I got to go. The experience is another story. Yesterday, nearly 25 years later, I went to a poetry workshop.

What does one expect of a poetry workshop? After a lifetime of writing the occasional poem, teaching the usual (well, maybe not so usual) poetry units to high school students, my concentration until recently has been on prose--nice, carefully worded, it is to be hoped grammatical and clear prose. Poetry, however, has captured my attention since I have needed its therapeutic effects so much more than ever before, so I decided to try this out.

It's only fair to add that one reason I wanted to do this was that one of the presenters (?) leaders(?) (teachers?) was to be the editor who has been such a help and support on my novel-in-progress. I wanted to meet him.

As this was my first acquaintance with such an activity, I cannot compare with anything else. The time allotted was short, less than an hour. By using one basic technique (new to me) and  a wonderfully layered poem as an example, he taught us would-be poets a lesson that is doubly useful: one way to evaluate another poet's work, and a means of testing our own. If the price had been double its modest $10, it would have been worth it.

Talented teachers are among my biggest heroes. It doesn't really matter how they arrived or where they got their inspirations or their own lessons.  My first big conference had Joyce Carol Oates as the keynote speaker. She taught us that all art (in her opinion) derives from play. Now I can recall much of the argument she offered in support of that idea. One of the lecturers on fiction was Madison Smartt Bell, who first used in my hearing the wonderful term "architecture of fiction." These brief catch phrases serve to remind me of the points being made in those inspiring lectures, and now the "end words" of poetic lines highlighted by Richard Krawiec are added to my by-words as a writer.

These teachers are as rare as black tulips and blue roses. So herewith advice to aspirants in any field:  if you can find one of these special people, take anything they have to offer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Cry of Anguish

A friend has just passed on to me some work by a fifteen-year-old girl with a request for comments. It consists of part of a "story" (unfinished, according to its author) and two poems. Whatever an older generation may think when faced with extreme psychological pain and general teen angst, it seems to me that we shouldn't ignore what are so often cries in the wilderness.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the role of self-expression on paper as therapy. What becomes less clear to me rather than more, is how much of such material is worthy of dissemination. I have never had the money or privilege of psychiatry to help in difficulties, and my sense is that some of our most emotionally charged and passionate utterances most likely belong in the offices of practitioners. What I'm not mentioning is the legion of artists whose productions have become part of the literary, musical, and artistic canon. The point seems to be that to be an artist of whatever medium and still be able to evaluate these outpourings for their intrinsic value is perhaps the greatest talent of all.

What can I say to this young person (or should I say anything at all) that is honest without being yet another layer of misery to pile on what she has already revealed? Not only is the material "dark," it has no appeal to an outsider. The characters are two-dimensional: the author is a victim with no other revealed characteristics; her teacher and classmates are cruel bullies. There is no context or back-story to illuminate the positions assigned to the characters, yet the reader can't escape the pain of the writer who seems to have no outlet and no hope.

I'm no longer a teacher, but there may be a reader of this blog who is, and who might have a comment on this kind of "creative writing." Is it best to read, use a platitude for response, and duck the issue? Should a reader assume the writer is honestly interested in comment on literary value? I know better than to correct the grammar and punctuation and spelling, but what should my position be?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

Almost every hour of almost every day I am reminded--and today is another example. My husband always put our flag up on patriotic occasions. We have a socket for the pole affixed to the side of the house. No flag has graced it for more than a year now because I can't reach the socket, and perhaps couldn't heft the flag on its pole up there anyway.

Personal remarks like these seem trivial when we look at the big picture, of course, so herewith apologies. I have put the word "writer" in the subtitle of this blog. As such, I'd better grasp opportunities to prove I'm entitled to that moniker by exploiting any material for this space. At a late stage of life, I find more material than I have time to commit to paper, even if I'm willing to put ruminations out there where someone else can judge them. Then I think of those offerings from others that have been instructive or supportive or encouraging to me, and so here I go again.

First, anyone interested in memoir should have a look at the recent posting on Cool Plums Weblog. I may just be ready to declare a sort of independence day myself.

A problem with memoir, as I see it is that unless there is an extraordinary and/or exotic background (like Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight) for the story, the autobiographer is in danger of sounding merely self-absorbed. Perhaps the author is. But I think in the best cases, as in a classroom, it's the obiter dicta--the throw-away remarks, the tone of voice (implied in the diction for a written piece, of course), the opinions that slip out that provide the fascination and usually, the instruction. The blog post mentioned above may give a good many people the courage to try the form once they get a feel for how to go about it while maintaining not only dignity, but credibility.

Enjoy your families, the grill, the fireworks, the pops concerts, and remember the occasion for the celebration today!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writers Circle: Writers' Circle or Writers Circle

Writers Circle: Writers' Circle or Writers Circle

What a great idea to alter the obvious meaning of those two words! This is what we all need to do: circle! I'm beginning to notice that we won't have much choice defending ourselves against the invasion of the electronic book (if we feel threatened by it), but still need the fellowship of those on the same journey. So let's form at the least a metaphorical circle and support one another against rejection and disrespect for our words.

Words are important. They're what we think with. They're also the first way we show how we feel to others we want to see it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

At Last!

I call your attention to the new link below: The Writers Circle, Glenda Council Beall's new blog. As always, she's at the front of the small army of supporters of those of us who aspire to greater skill, better instruction, encouragement from a pro, and publication. Enjoy her postings.

It's hard to believe after ten months that I can say I sent the last 25 pages of novel #3 to my editor yesterday. I found Richard Krawiec's ad on Hope C. Clark's sites for writers, and a happy day it was for me. Now, of course, I look forward (?) to the task of completing yet another draft incorporating his suggestions. To work with someone who "gets" every hint I want to include in the narrative is an extraordinarily encouraging experience. Now I discover that this novelist and teacher is also a poet. He will be heading a poetry workshop (what happens at a poetry workshop?) nearby so I can get to meet him--and perhaps learn something useful about writing poetry. I'm nervous, but I guess at my age, there's nothing to lose. [That was what my husband said to me when I was offered a contract with a POD publisher. Unfortunately, I got the answer.]

I "thank whatever gods may be" that there seems to be something challenging me almost ever day. For any readers of these notes out there, I wish the same for you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Exotic, Frightening, Inspiring

If you're like me you can't help reading. I've got past the cereal-box-if nothing-else-is-available stage, but I always need to have a book in progress along with a dwindling number of periodicals that I'm trying to catch up with. I wouldn't have it any other way. The problem is that from time to time, one of those books grabs a hold on my imagination and emotions and won't let go in time for me to go on to the next one.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller is one of them. It's an autobiography about growing up in some of the most unforgiving conditions on the planet in three different countries in Africa. Fuller's parents' work ethic was phenomenal, and their capacity for endurance would have made the Oregon Trail feel like a stroll to them. Because there is nothing familiar to the ordinary American reader about places, names, people, circumstances your interest is guaranteed. The author has a unique voice. Descriptions rarely include conventional modifiers, but instead depend on hyphenated phrases that do more than a paragraph of ordinary prose could to make you aware of what Fuller wants you to understand.

There is so much horror and tragedy that the opportunities for bathos and self-pity by implication are too numerous. Not one is taken up. It's clear from the beginning that the mother is an alcoholic. Before long, it's also clear why. The entire white society seems heavily dependent on drink, and the children learn early, but the sorrows and defeats facing the Fullers would drown most people. No wonder they drink. No wonder the mother succumbs to it. Everyone smokes. Every day a new misfortune seems to befall the family. Yet you come away from the narrative with the most profound admiration for what they withstood without giving in. I have a profound admiration for someone who could tell such a story while resisting any temptation (or so it seems) to reveal how many scars she must bear.

If Sophocles was right when he proclaimed that one must know himself first, Alexandra Fuller has made it difficult to tell whether she has followed that admonishment. To have written this account with so little reference to her own feelings and that reveals almost nothing of how she now views the rest of humanity is a feat.

I can't help wondering if Wyoming (where she now lives) can possibly be wild enough for her. One thing she made no secret of in the book is her enduring affection for Africa, in spite of its frustrating failings, all of them the result of the amoral greed of Europeans. This is a memoir of a stripe as different as a zebra's from a palomino's.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What to Say?

I'm trying to decide what to say to what will doubtless be a small though sympathetic audience at a reading/book-signing tomorrow. Having been asked to "talk about the book," MaidenRun, I wonder what I can offer. A work of fiction should give hope of surprises and a story to entertain, naturally. The cover "blurb" provides as a good a hook as I could dream up, so is there any need to repeat that -- even in different words?

I look into the carton with half a dozen copies ordered for the occasion, remind myself to include a pad for taking orders (trying to take the optimistic view), and wonder if there's a way to make use of a couple of complimentary reviews. Do I really need to take so many copies? Should I have ordered more?

I left out the worry about leaving the dog behind when it's likely to storm before I return. I haven't mentioned dithering over what to wear. What if people can't hear me? I've been told I'll do this in a part of a large auditorium. There was no sound reinforcement the last time I did this in the same place for the first novel. Maybe there won't be anybody listening who is hard of hearing?

If I admit that when I write a story, what I want is to entertain, but admit that I intend some food for thought to be available along with the yarn, will that put off a potential buyer? So many people (perhaps more men than women) are proud of the fact that they don't read fiction. It's unlikely that I could launch into an apology for the non-factual in a program that no one wants to last more than 30 minutes -- less if possible. Besides, I'd only resort to quotes from writers whose names would be familiar to almost anyone present, since my qualifications to make pronouncements are virtually nonexistent. Redundant?

Then, to read the first chapter aloud will take at least ten minutes. A quarter of an hour more or less that probably should include time for questions isn't much, even for an unopposed debate. Again the need to figure out a couple of succinct but challenging remarks. What about a joke? The great speeches of recent days always include one. Why do I think I can make good speech off the cuff? Well, I hate "canned" talks. I feel cheated if I can't make snap judgements about the speaker.

If only I were "into" promotion! I envy those who have no discomfort when doing their utmost to sell something. I'm able to be persuasive if I'm convinced and committed -- but about a book I understand to be flawed -- that I've written? Not so much! It would help if the darn thing didn't have nearly 50 misprints! Do I mention that I've discounted the price on that account? Where is a mentor/publicist when I need one?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Bother?

Do other writers (or would be writers) happen on those days that make them wonder why they bother? It's supposed to be inspirational to read wonderful things, isn't it? Sometimes, of course. However, more and more as I get older and older, I have a month or two when almost everything discourages by its very presence on the page.

I've just finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, not a new book, but one that can't fail to stir up any lover of the kind of fiction that tells more than a story. Lyrical, insightful, muscular prose about individuals in a unique situation who become instruments and victims of tragedy--a true Aristotelian tragedy. so what if he stole the plot that Shakespeare stole? By the time Wroblewski got through with it, it was as new as it is old. I may never try another piece of fiction when I get through with my third novel.

Then I move on to some poets: Marie Ponsot, Tony Abbott, John Updike, Malcolm Cowley, Scott Owens. The same result. There is once in a while a moment when some of us get to feel superior. Mine was last week while I tried to catch up on The New Yorker. Two of three poems simply yielded not a scintilla of meaning after three readings. After I got over feeling just dumb, I decided to adopt the attitude that either the poetry editor needed to admit the truth or was being duped. Even if meaning is subtle and requires some of that mid-century Deconstruction to interpret, a reader needs to find at least a little of it. Otherwise, when there are neither rhythm nor rhyme to give pleasure, there should be no excuse for the kind of payment meted out by a publisher with such a reputation for excellence.

Local (in a broad sense) poets manage to be humble and penetrating. Glenda Council Beall, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Owens and Abbott, Mary Oliver, and so many more offer a reader that touch on the psyche that reminds us that we're all in this together, and writers can find satisfaction by doing something to inform, amuse, console one another. Wherever you may be, fellow searchers, find the words that speak to you. That's what I try to tell myself when I'm hoping to find a reader for the ones I write.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poetry and Poets

I will never get over the number of people who write poetry. They seem to be legion. The question of how many read it is unavoidable. Even if we all had access to the newest poems, could hear their authors reading their output, and were consciously dedicated to taking in as much as we could manage in a day, we couldn't come close to absorbing what's out there.

Why write poems instead of stories or essays?

In the 21st Century, how do we define poetry vs. prose?

Is there room in any publisher's list for material that doesn't fall clearly into a category -- i.e. "contemporary," "confessional," "lyrical," "nature," and so forth?

Sometimes I write poetry (I must use the term loosely) because something about the thought I need to express demands diction I wouldn't use for prose. Maybe if I understood what a "prose poem" is, I could use that designation without feeling I need to make the written lines look on the page like something that can't be prose. More than that, though, is the need to give expression to an idea that requires metaphor. If I'm honest, I have to admit that some notions are too vague in outline to lend themselves to ordinary sentences and lack of ambiguity. So many facets of everyone's life are inchoate, and it's those that need poetry to give them any form at all.

Having attempted to trick some of my high school English students into defining poetry (as opposed to prose) over 30 years ago, I have a notion of how poetry seems to define itself to me, but feel certain the criteria would satisfy neither an academic nor a young poet. So now I'm hoping to get educated. Oh, I should confess that I buy and read young poets, and some wonderful older ones like Marie Ponsot. Still, looking for clear-cut absolutes, I don't see much to help identify them.

I just hope that the answer to the first question doesn't turn out to be: because it's easier than to write prose!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Carolina Blue Day

Had to sit down after about an hour of strenuous (for me) gardening. Might as well put it to some use. If one is fortunate enough to be in good health and as old as I am, this will probably sound like a reply should be "Duh!" Two things remind of me my age: the difficulty of getting things moving when I get out of bed, and the fact that no matter what I do, I can't do it as long as I could before I got where I am.

Today in NC is like something out of a real estate brochure -- and the whole week has been the same. I can't stand to be indoors all day.

This brings up the old problem of priorities. IF it rains tomorrow, at least I'll have about a quarter of the gardening I need to do ready for it, but I'll be two days behind what I hoped to be my self-imposed deadline for two reviews and an essay I've promised. As they say, "Sigh." Besides, I want to go to an art show and poetry reading on Saturday, so hope the weather isn't a problem. I hate walking in the rain with a new permanent. How's that for triviality?

What I really need to do is go out and take a new picture for this page.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Criticism

You've read and heard the aphorism: those who can do, and those who can't teach. I wonder if it applies equally well to reviewers. Movies, music, painting, books, and a raft of other artistic endeavors are regularly subjected to published opinions. I should know something about that, since I write monthly book reviews for an online magazine.

I try not to forget the first command (written large on our blackboard in the ninth grade) from my high school English teacher:
All criticism should be in plus values. It occurs to me all these years later that that was a remarkable introduction. Its implications weren't lost on us, and they continue to echo to this day.

Have you ever been in a writer's critique group? Do you have trouble deciding what to say about an offering for the current meeting? As comments are made, are they useful? Do they inspire a rewrite? Do they lead to new approaches? Do they make you wish you had stayed in bed?

Admittedly, critique and criticism are not the same breed of cat, though certainly they are related. Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of moving many hundreds of miles from my home has been the absence of opportunities to receive and discipline myself to hand out "constructive" criticism among fellow writers. Writing with a hope of publication becomes kind of like trying to walk without staggering on a strange road after dark. Just remember you can't trust your best friend to show you the way unless they have a flashlight. You really need someone who already knows where the potholes are.

If you are attempting any kind of artistic production, seek out those who may be willing at the very least to make comments that begin with discussing what your story or sculpture or song is before they try to tell you what it isn't, where its problems may be. Maybe equally important (an idea my editor has suggested to me), give yourself the same courtesy.

Until I achieve a critical success with a "traditional" publisher, ignore this whole blog. Don't listen to me, for the reason quoted in the first line.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Energy

If someone who aims to be a "writer" can find enough models, I keep thinking she can learn enough to succeed at it. Today I read an essay by Liz Flaherty that combined the offer of that hope with the usual sense that I could never do that. So now it occurs to me that maybe we should be careful not so much what we read and wish for, but how we read it.

It's so hard not to let the admiration overwhelm the determination to learn how to do what Liz has done. This comment doesn't apply to fiction for the simple reason that (at least in my case) we tend to be so much better at writing one kind or style of story than others. I couldn't craft a good who-dunnit for all the tea in China. Nonfiction is so much more elastic, and so much more self revelatory. That's where we ought to be able to find opportunities to emulate, to steal ideas and approaches and adapt them, and even to learn to add humor.

Liz Flaherty is a romance writer. She is also so talented an essayist it makes me wonder how she decides where to put her energies. And there's another word of real significance: energy. As time rushes by, no one gets more of it. Any secrets on how to preserve and enhance the drive and strength to keep at what we love should be shared! (I don't include the usual health article instructions.) Whatever spiritual and/or emotional spurs could be shared, couldn't they?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Mourning

At the risk of sentimentality, triteness, and self-absorption, I guess I'll throw this comment out to those to whom it might be relevant. In the incredible annual burst of renewal -- blossoms, birdsong, the occasional thunder storm, I feel almost as ambivalent as I ordinarily do in autumn. It hit me as I began to trade woolens for cottons in my closet. It seemed to me that almost every item I moved into the garment bag stirred recollections I don't need right now. So did the ones I took out. Memories of an event I we attended while wearing it, or the day the absent one picked it out when we were shopping together, or that he gave it to me.

I had a hard time with removing his ingenious raccoon deterrent (an electric fence transformer wired to the iron hangers for our bird feeders, deck railing covered with unsightly aluminum flashing) in the hope that I can get the deck reconditioned this summer. Every room in this house bears his signature. He hung nearly all the pictures, all the curtain rods, constructed shelves, planted half the shrubs and all the roses. He took care of fertilizing the lawn and cleaning the goldfish pool, wired for hi-fi, helped choose all the furnishings we didn't inherit. Stifling my extreme reluctance a few months ago, I managed to make a couple of necessary alterations both indoors and out.

I got my comeuppance pretty fast from the raccoons. It took them about a week to discover they could raid at will. I had a hard time chasing two of them off at 9:30 at night. Now I have to take the hanging feeders in at night, and forget about filling the big one on a post because the beasts have figured out how to get seed out without putting weight on the perches and closing the openings. Three pounds gone in a single night. They drained the hummingbird feeder too.

It crossed my mind that maybe the fact that we neither want to forget nor can, could be made more tolerable if we could make really drastic changes. For instance, if we could afford to, exchange all the familiar and loved things around us with all new from Pottery Barn or Ikea. Put all the family photos that aren't already in them into albums, maybe even move. Let the happy memories sympathy notes remind us to to lean on come so they can't drown us. I know a few who have done that, but I don't know if it helped.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wanted: More Hours in the Day

With all the inventive talent in the world, where is the means of adding hours to our days? (Leaving the same amount of time for sleep, of course)?

If the sun is shining and I'm at my desk, I see all the work needed outdoors; when I'm in the garden, I try to forget what's waiting to be done at my computer. That would be enough, but then there are the meetings that are the fault of my interests and willingness to commit to something, and add the things that come up unplanned that are musts, and...you get the drift. Almost everyone could use help with this. Think of the money to be made...

About one third of the way through novel No.3 on the suggestions and critiques coming my way from my editor, I can't even catch up to what he's done to date. That would be all right if only I didn't need to rewrite the rest of the book to incorporate what he's already taught me. For the first time in my life I can understand the drive to speed up electronics. I always thought "high speed" was more than fast enough for me. Now I'm beginning to get it about gigabytes instead of measly old megabytes. Unfortunately, the speed of light wouldn't help with the speed of my fingers on the keyboard and especially with the slow pace of my mind!

It's nice to see the flowers coming out and to be able to take a breather watching the mockingbird having a drink in the bird bath on the deck. Thank goodness today is cloudy and cool. After putting in some perennials yesterday, I even hope it will rain. Now I have to get back to those pages.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Favorite Words

There are a few words that have jumped into common usage in the past fifty or so years that were once so rare as to make a reader have to go to the dictionary. I'm not sure how they achieved their new status, though I think political speechwriters may have brought "charisma" to the forefront. I learned it as a college freshman in a Greek class and never thought to see it anywhere else. The other is "serendipity." I do wish that one weren't becoming so hackneyed that I feel I need to find a synonym when I'm tempted to use it. The trouble is that I can't find another single word that says exactly what's implicated in that one word.

One of the things I'm often trying to do is write something under a maximum word count. For that, single words that can take the places of phrases are really neat to have. Of living languages, English is said to have probably the most separate words of any. (About 885,000.) True or not, borrowed from other languages or not, our mother tongue gives wondrous opportunities for precision. And that's my problem: too few writers, readers or listeners seem to care about that virtue. Whatever comes close to the intended meaning seems all too often to be sufficient.

Like any other erstwhile English teacher, I cringe at all the misuses of the verbs "to lie" and "to lay." I become twitchy with irritation at the references to "healthy food." I wouldn't eat sick turkey,would you? "Less calories" and "less commercials" make me almost willing to turn the darn TV set off and go read Jane Austen. I won't "bring my car" to the garage to get it fixed. I don't have the knowledge or the equipment. I'm going to take it to the shop. Well, you get my drift.

So to go back to those two words at the top of this post--I'd like for someone to suggest some precise synonyms for each of them; not approximate meanings. I can use a Thesaurus like anyone else. This is a challenge.

I just love it when there's one word that's just right. Then I feel justified in using it, and nowadays nobody would criticize my diction for being too hoity-toity, would they?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do You Get What You Pay for?

I'm somewhat embarrassed by the time that has passed since the last post. As one of my sons says, "Life happens," or words to that effect.

I'm finding out a little about how it might feel to be schizophrenic. As I work through the comments and suggestions being made by my wonderful editor on my third novel, I wish (no joke!) that we were back in the hard copy age. I could separate chapters and new and old versions in stacks and/or folders and find them again. As it is, I have the (at least three times rewritten) original copy on my computer. I cut and make a new file of the section being sent for critique. It comes back to me with the notations. I need to make a new file of that section to reword and rework and hope I'll end with what I might consider finished--for the time being. Then I copy and send the next section for comment again, and again. (This is a pretty long book now, and getting longer.) Nowadays I feel that I may truly be "losing it" completely as I try to come up with something resembling a final version that I know will have to be rewritten. Which of the expanding list of files is the right one to copy and paste and send, which is the last with tracked changes, which is the first one before the corrections, additions, cuts, et al.? My eyes cross as I survey the open files.

Yes, I remember to give each file a different name, and I print out what I think I've finished with, but I'm digging out of drifts of paper that I hope I won't have to retype until the whole thing is ready for submission, I'm floundering and coming up for the third time from the depths of too many megabytes in Microsoft Word.

I'm still stimulated by the challenge and the hope of print someday, but there are times when I understand what makes people turn glassy-eyed and catatonic, or into raging maniacs. I think even if I'd started when I was younger, if there had been computers then, I'd still feel as if I were trying to find my way back to the car after a carnival ride. Talk about dizzy!

Reading a blog on the subject of finding an agent has made me come to a cynical(?) conclusion: to get fiction published, a writer needs money. Since finding an agent who might be a match involves finding ways to meet one (conferences, workshops, other writers, signings and the like) that aren't possible in your own back yard, you need time and funds with which to travel and buy books -- so you can have ten words with the authors thereof. You need to do a lot of this if you're to meet enough of them to have a hope of being able to choose.

I recently read an ad in a Sunday New York Times book review section that was placed by a "vanity press." "___________(the press) affirms that ________(author)of _____________(title), is free of blame in regards to omitted words or grammatical errors in his book."

If you can't get what you pay for, at least you can get noticed in The NYT. It makes me wonder if any agent who might be seeking a client looks first at self-published, subsidized, or POD writers. Should we be paying to be published after all?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Little Perspective

More weather gloom. The lights of the day turn out not surprisingly to be the email messages from people I have never met. It's amazing how much talent is around, more or less undiscovered. One of my correspondents is a lady I met (on line) when I reviewed her first book. Her talents are broader than her incomparable charm at telling a story. Now I want to meet her whole family! We had lost touch for a few years, and now I have her back (and vice-versa, of course).

Another is someone who is as much a writer as she is a painter, though I suspect the latter feels more comfortable to her. Among her other talents, she is a therapist. Without going into qualifications, let me just say that her presence on my computer has turned into a true blessing for me, along with one or two others I speak with in the same way.

I've never been able to subscribe to the view that whenever a door closes another opens, or that all "is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." (Alexander Pope?) Yet some hurdles seem to show if not ways over them, then paths around them we haven't sought.  Now we all have to hope the rest of the world can make that the case for those in such desperate straits in so many places in the world, most lately Haiti.  It just seems a shame that it takes someone else's greater misfortune to make us appreciate our own happy circumstances.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frustration and Judging a Book by Its Cover

Now that my second novel is out, the comments are beginning to come in. I was so discouraged by the errors in my galleys, I couldn't face reading the print copy when it arrived, after I saw two pages with blank spots and letters left out of the headings. Now a friend has called to say how much she's enjoying the book, but how amazed she is at the number of typos. Two reviewers of the e-book version commented on the same thing. I had re-proofed and redone (at the publisher's request)  the entire ms. before sending it again for the print version, corrected two sets of galleys, and still...

The publisher offered three versions of a cover (for which I had to submit the photos) and I picked the one I liked best. The book was printed with one different from any of the others, the color is distorted and made incredibly ugly, and the layout is now unbalanced and as amateurish as the text.

I'm so embarrassed I'd like to scream. I guess I have no recourse, since I paid nothing to have the book published, but I feel betrayed since nothing but publication is included in the contract, and it's hard enough to promote for oneself without a big budget and connections, and now I'm not even able to be proud of the product. 

Now the question is, how many readers (if I get any more with this cover) will overlook the things over which I seem to have had no control? I'm now spending money I can ill afford to have a detailed edit done of my next book in the hope (doubtless vain) that some agent or publisher might take me seriously. Forgive my venting on this site, but maybe another writer will at least relate.

Or maybe it's the unrelenting downpour that's affecting my perspective. At least, I have one reader who is enjoying the book in spite of its problems, and another who is "delighted" with my language. I guess it could be worse.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Looking for Justification

It's the same old problem of trying to put one's life into the right proportions and perspective. If we hope to accomplish something, we find ourselves forced to consider and act upon the need to focus and be willing to exert ourselves, even to sacrifice. Then comes the question of whether we have any right to that effort for ourselves, given the needs of everyone else near and/or far.

History is rife with the biographies of great artists and the sacrifices they forced others to make so they could (albeit while most of the time suffering themselves) do what they had to do. So as I add this small blogging task to others in an attempt to learn to be a sort of artist, I am beset with guilt. There are at least three other volunteer jobs I could do that I don't want to undertake because I want the time to work on what I want to do for myself. Does my age give me a right I couldn't feel I could claim when I was thirty or forty? Does the fact that I worked for a wage from the age of fourteen until I was over sixty give me a right? Does the fact that I can still walk and drive and make sense and use a computer mean that I should be doing those things for others?

Thank heaven my children are not only grown, but make me proud, that their children are doing the same, that I can afford to live comfortably. Should I be "paying back," as the current saying is? Or can I claim to have "paid my dues?"

As Yul Brynner sang so poignantly in The King and I: "Is a puzzlement!"

So now I have to write a press release.