Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Something to Think About if You're Busy

I never know if I'm really busy, or if I just think I'm busy. Sometimes I shuffle a lot of paper (or dust) and think I'm accomplishing something. Thought I'd look up some quotes to see if any of them applied to me...and thought I'd share.

Let us not get so busy or live so fast that we can't listen to the music of the meadow or the symphony that glorifies the forest. Some things in the world are far more important than wealth; one of them is the ability to enjoy simple things. ~Dale Carnegie

I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance. Then whenever doubt, anxiety, or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal and soon they'll forget my number. ~Edith Armstrong

Busy people are never busybodies. ~Ethel Watts Mumford

And the following quote is my all time favorite in this batch.

I wish I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours. ~Bernard Berenson

I hope you'll pop back in to see me on Saturday and read my Louisiana Saturday Night interview with . . . Drop in and find out!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Something to Think About

I love quotes of all kinds. I have a really bad habit of reading books with a pen and underlining sentences that sound especially good. My daughter wants me to go through all my books and get rid of what I've read or will never read. I'm trying. So... while browsing I came across a book called Final Analysis by Lois Gould. It's a book from the late 70s and I remember it made quite an impression on me. I underlined alot. Funny thing--reading over what I'd underlined when I was in my 20s, well, the 60+ year old me can't relate. I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that--but I'm keeping the book!

Here are some great quotes to think about:

I hate the term "mystery". That's not what I write. I think the Scarpetta novels are much more character-driven than an average puzzle solver. Writing should be like a pane of glass - there's another world on the other side and your vision carries you there, but you're not aware of having passed through a barrier to get there. ~Patricia Cornwall

I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer. ~Doris Lessing

The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads. ~William Styron

Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have, and advertising seems to do very little good. ~Thomas Wolfe

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.
~John Steinbeck

Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was stabbed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire; then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer -and if so, why? ~Bennett Cerf, co-founder of Random House

When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business. ~Flannery O’Connor

Friday, June 18, 2010

Louisiana Saturday Night with Poet J. Bruce Fuller

I'm very excited about my interview with poet J. Bruce Fuller. When J. spoke at our Bayou Writers' Group meeting earlier this month, everyone left all jazzed up and feeling pretty inspired. After reading his book, 28 Blackbirds at the End of the World, our inspiration intensified. I believe we're all trying to write poetry now, or wondering how we might start our own small press. I don't think any of us will ever look at a blackbird in quite the same way.
J. shared with us his world of poetry and publishing, and I'm thrilled that he let me pick his poetic brain a little more to share with you. I hope you enjoy hearing from the heart of a poet.

1) Tell us a little about yourself and when you wrote your very first poem.
I’ve been writing poems since I was a kid. I couldn’t tell you when I wrote the first one, but I’m sure my grandmother has it tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

2) Do you have a basket full of credits or just a handful? Tell us where you’ve been published and how many books to your credit and how many poems you keep in the mail?
I’ve been lucky enough to have many poems published in the last few years. Some of the most recent ones have come out at Yankee Pot Roast, Rougarou, A Handful of Stones, & The Tipton Poetry Journal. I try to keep a dozen or so poems out and circulating at a time, which helps keep the credits coming in. I try a lot and succeed a little.

3) Tell us about your book, 28 Blackbirds at the End of the World. How did it come to be…and why?

I wrote the poems back in 2007 intending them to be a chapbook, but wasn’t sure who would be interested in publishing twenty-eight haiku as a collection. I published them as a single poem in 2007 and it was reprinted in 2008. A publisher saw the poem and asked if I would be interested in publishing it as a chapbook. I jumped at the chance and so it ended up being a chapbook anyway.

4) Give us your personal definition of a poem, and are you a real poet—meaning one filled with sorrow and angst – or are you a different generation of poets? You seem awful cheerful for a poet.
I’m not sure what a real poet is, but I am definitely not a brooding person. I am not even a very emotional person. Most of the time I am more like a stand-up comedian than a poet. I think a poet is simply someone who looks carefully at the world around them and comments on it using heightened language and imagery. There may be tortured poets out there but I’ve never felt that I needed to suffer to write good poems. In fact, I think suffering would probably get in the way of the poetry.

A poem needs to have good sounds and strong images, and should reach for something great in terms of its emotion or ambition. Now, do I think a poet should have terrible tragedy in life to write that poem? No. At least I hope not, because I like my life, and I would rather not write poems than have to go through something terrible to get at some great universal truth.

5) Tell us when you sit down to write, what goes through your head when you face the blank page.
I try not to look at a blank page unless I have an idea to start off with. Otherwise it gets a little depressing… Usually I will start off with a line or an image. Then I see if the poem goes somewhere. If things go well one thing will lead to another until the poem is done.

6) Hurricane Katrina forced you out of New Orleans – how did you choose to settle in Lake Charles—instead of Baton Rouge?
After Katrina my wife and I moved to Monroe, LA, where I finished my B.A. in English at ULM. I came to Lake Charles to attend the Master’s of Fine Arts program in poetry at McNeese.

7) How would you describe your writing?
I consider myself a sort of a regionalist, which is to say that I write a lot about Louisiana. On the other hand I’ve never lived anywhere else so I wouldn’t know what else to write about. I am fascinated by the landscapes and voices of this state. Regionalism gets looked down upon by some, but it would be foolish of me to write about what I don’t know. I tend to focus on voice in my poems, and try to be as strong with imagery as I can.

8) What poets influenced you the most, and why? And who do you read, and why?
As far as the greats, I really like Walt Whitman, Dante Alighieri, and John Milton. They capture what I mean about greatness in ambition. It doesn’t get much more ambitious than Leaves of Grass, The Divine Comedy, or Paradise Lost. Those works show what poetry can accomplish, though it may take a lifetime to achieve it. As far as more contemporary poets I really love Galway Kinnell, Charles Simic, Martha Serpas, and Gregory Orr. I love them all for different reasons, but those are just a few on a very long list.

9) Do you pay attention to rhythm, rhyme, meter, theme . . . How do you know a poem is good?
I really don’t know when a poem is good; I just know when I’m done with it. I tend to like all of my poems because I’m so invested in them, but oftentimes they miss the mark on many different levels. In the end I think you have to write a poem you love and then let it go out into the world. Eventually an editor will want to publish it, or they won’t, but after the poem is done it really isn’t yours anymore. I like to think it is trying desperately to get off of your hard drive and into a reader’s hands.

As for craft things like rhythm and meter, I definitely pay attention. A poem must be solid all the way down to its bones.

10) What’s your best advice to a young poet who is just beginning to try to get published?
Read as much as possible. I wrote a lot of bad poems before I discovered an anthology of contemporary American poetry. Reading all of the best poets of the last fifty years helped to show what can and can’t be done, and it gave me a wake-up call as to exactly how good I needed to be to get published. I subscribe to the adage that a good writer is a good reader. A good crime scene investigator keeps up on the latest developments in science and forensics, and poets should be no different. The way for us to do that is to read, read , read.

11) Give us a few publishing/writing/marketing pet peeves? In other words, anything tick you off? What’s the most difficult thing about being a poet?
Nothing really ticks me off, but there can be annoyances. I hate waiting for submission responses, but that’s just part of the business. It is annoying that there is not a lot of money or support for small presses. It goes beyond decreasing readership—writers want to be published by a journal but never want to buy a copy of it. If everyone who submitted poems or stories bought one or two issues a year, the small presses would be in better shape. That means more books get published and more writers get discovered. Since we are the only ones who care, we are the only ones who can save our industry. I think the most difficult thing about being a poet is dispelling stereotypes. Most people have a lot of strange notions about poets and how we operate.

12) What’s your proudest accomplishment in this crazy writing business?
It has to be between being accepted to an MFA program, and publishing my first chapbook. I think the harder of the two to accomplish was the MFA program. They are typically hard to get into and I consider myself very lucky to have been accepted. The opportunities that have and will come from being in the program are hard to ignore. Still, there’s nothing quite like getting your first book in the mail and holding it in your hands. That’s been great.

13) Share your long-term goal; where would you like to be in five years—in your writing and in your personal and/or academic life?
In five years I will hopefully be getting close to finishing a Ph. D. I would like to keep teaching college English, and with any luck have a new book or two come out.

14) Where does your confidence come from? Are you an arrogant poet or a sensitive poet? And is there competition among poets?
I think I am an arrogant person—but I don’t consider myself an arrogant poet. That sounds ridiculous but poetry is so vast I am in awe of it. I don’t think I’ll ever be successful enough to be arrogant in the face of masters like Whitman or Milton.
As far as competition… There’s competition among people—it is no different with poets.

15) When you sit down to write, what’s the first thing you do to put your mind, heart and soul in that mental, emotional, spiritual place to create? Or do poems just spew out of you?

Reading helps to inspire me, and when I feel inspired, the poems just seem to come out.

16) If you could accomplish one huge, wonderful thing with your writing, what would it be?
I want to say something cliché like, “If my poems touch one person then I’ve succeeded…” But the truth is I want to write a great epic poem. I am just not sure if I have one in me.

17) Do you recite poetry to your wife and children?
No. My kids are a little young to be interested yet. I’m sure I have read some poems to my wife over the years, but never my own.

18) How do you think poets differ from other writers?
Poets aren’t that different from other writers, and many of them write in multiple genres. Perhaps we see the world through a slightly different lens, but the end goal is the same—to try to shed light on the human condition, and answer our deepest questions.

19) Tell us where we can learn more about you, buy your books and broadsides and keep up with what you’re doing??
My blog is my general hub of activity. There is also Twitter and Facebook, for those so inclined.
If you'd like to learn more about J. Bruce Fuller or order your own copy of 28 Blackbirds at the End of the World, GO HERE.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Did You Learn From the Last Book You Read?

I’ve been on a reading binge the past few weeks. I leaped—unknowingly—into a five-book series. I say unknowingly because I bought the last book first. Standing in the WalMart book area, a romantic suspense grabbed my attention. I read the blurb and the first page and was immediately hooked. Only after I got home did I realize it was the last book in the series. Yeah, yeah, I know they say all these series books stand alone, but if you believe that, I have some real estate in . . .

I read the book, googled the author and I found the other four books. For a week or so I did little more than read and study.

Funny what you can learn when you read five books in a series, one right after another. First, authors have their favorite phrases and boy, do they overuse them! They probably don’t even realize it. That’s something we should all be conscious of—smiles pulling at lips, juices pooling at the back of his throat {blahhhhh}, raking fingers through hair. If we use those phrases too often they become annoying to the reader. (And sometimes a little sickening).

This series was about siblings that were turned over to the state when dad killed mom and then himself. Oldest brother tried to keep the family together, but of course, he couldn’t. As an adult, he hired a detective to locate his brothers and sisters. My kind of stories. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for Book 2—at all, but I forced myself to read it because the detective hired to locate these brothers and sisters was …. Yummy. And he turned out to be the hero in the last book… the one I read first. :)

I’m amazed when authors can write continuing stories and keep the facts straight. Examples: Sara’s eyes are blue in each book. Kathy was five-four in book one and is still five-four in book five. Jake drove a Tundra in book three and actually sold it in book four. I made these examples up but that's the sort of thing I'm talking about. It takes wonderful organization to pull that off. I enjoyed the way all these siblings found their way into all the books—one way or another.

Another author has captured my attention. Her books are called romantic suspense but I believe I’d label them thrillers. If you can get past the graphic sex and use of profanity, she’s quite the storyteller. I skip a lot in her books. In fact, I skip everything that doesn't move her story along--that includes foul language and sex. Her ability to keep back story at a minimum, dropping it in here and there as if it’s a dash of salt or a hint of flavoring has been a real eye-opener for me. And her plotting is great.

So… now you know what I'm doing. Reading and studying, and enjoying every minute of it.

Tip for the day: don’t get so busy writing or marketing or cleaning house that you give up reading.

Now tell me: what did you learn from the last book you read?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

About Critiquing

I'm back... and I finally have something to say. You may not agree with me. . . but . . .

Everyone who knows me, knows I really have a problem with critique groups. It's not that I don't like 'em ... or want 'em or need 'em, it's ... well, it's that I don't always believe they're doing it the right way. I've never been completely satisfied with a critique. Not in a very long time. To my way of thinking, critiques are either too much or too little, or coming from the wrong direction.

Yes, yes... I participate in them. I allow other writers to rip me up one end and down the other--we all act and sound as if we truly know what we're talking about--and I do my share of ripping too. And then I come home, glance at their comments and suggestions, stuff them in a file folder and there they stay for a very long time. Because they just doesn't feel right.

And now I know why:

I've been thumbing through Natalie Goldberg's Thunder and Lightening, the sequel to Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. One paragraph jumped out and kicked me in the gut. It's on page 188. Goldberg is talking about reading Editor Linda's first comments on a manuscript and how Editor Linda was only twenty... what could she possibly know...and how Editor Linda "splayed me open with her red pen." Goldberg said she called Linda and asked how she knew so much, and here's what Linda said:

"I used my wild mind to edit. I drop away, enter your mind and move through your writing. What is Natalie trying to do, to say? I pull you out, make you clearer."

That's what I want. That's what I'm looking for. Someone who can move through my writing as if they're inside my mind. Someone who will look at my writing as if they're me... not another writer who thinks, "I'd do it this way. I could write it better." I think that's often what we think--we can't help it. We're writers. How can we NOT view everything we read in that I-could-write- it-better-manner?

Goldberg goes on to tell how she came to understand the intimacy of a writer-editor relationship. She writes: "Someone who edits your work--at any level--is giving you their mind, just as in your writing you have given them yours. Mind-to-mind transmission."

Mind to mind transmission.

I like that. Makes great sense. Someone who is giving me their mind, just as I've given them mine. I've only had one critique partner (out of many) who had the ability to critique me as if she knew exactly what I wanted to say. We wrote in the same genre and I honestly think that's the key to critiquing.

In another chapter, Goldberg writes of a reference she came across in the Book of Serenity: "Like pouring milk into milk." When you're done you can't distinguish the first glass of milk from the second.

That's beautiful. That's exactly what I want in a critique partner. I want to look at those comments and suggestions, written in bright red, and see missing puzzle pieces slotted into my disjointed sentences and haphazard characterizations, vague settings and faulty plots. When I get my manuscript back, I want it to look like one big, satisfying, glass of milk.