Sunday, December 11, 2005

Touch of Florida winter

Today I had a book event with fellow author Dorothy Fletcher. Dorothy worked out an arrangement for us to do bookish things at the Starbucks Coffee located in the Lakewood community here in Jax. Lakewood is just off San Jose Blvd., also known as Florida 13.

I signed some poetry books, and in between, watched people come and go, all bundled up because by Florida’s standards, it was cold here today. The temp was in the upper fifties; it’ll go down to 32 degrees tonight. I can’t figure out why it feels so cold. One fellow told me it’s the dampness, since we’ve got the St. John’s River and the ocean close at hand. Compared to the winters in my upstate Carolina childhood, I guess it’s not all that cold. But maybe I’ve just grown used to the balmy Florida climate.

The coffee shop manager invited us to come back and sign any time. She says Starbucks Coffee is into literacy. I have to say signing there is just so pleasant. The patrons are the sort who read, and of course, you’re surrounded by all those great coffee smells. I even got some of my Christmas shopping done; they have all kinds of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea assortments and the prices are reasonable. I’ll do anything to avoid the mall.

As I drove back home, I listened to the end of the game between the Jags and the Colts. We came so close—at least we lost honorably, coming within 8 points against a tough team.

I’m trying to wind down my ‘to-do’ list for a two week vacation. I haven’t been home to Carolina since June, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my family again.I’m already filling 2006 up, so for a small press author, that’s a good thing. I didn’t meet the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, but aiming at it got my novel about 75% complete and it helped me form a habit of writing fiction every day.

My new poetry collection is going well and should be in first draft stage by late winter, 2006. Some nice assignments are on the books, and I’m looking forward to working with writers on the Wordstream retreat Dorothy and I are doing. We’re holding it at this historical inn in Jax’s Riverside district. The Riverdale Inn set us up with a very reasonable package, and they’re throwing in a gourmet meal.

Plus I’ll be poetry instructor for the Southeastern Writers Association conference. It’s good to have things to look forward to.

Best to all,
Kay Day

Friday, December 02, 2005

Catching up

November 16, 2005

It's hard to believe the year is almost over. With the
arrival of 2006, I'll pick up where the tour left off, with
events scheduled in Florida, South Carolina, and
Georgia. I'm planning to take several weeks off mid-
December through the first week in January. I realized
last week this has been a challenging and sometimes
exhausting year.

My poetry will be featured in the December issue of the
journal published by the Florida Council of Teachers of
English. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking at the October
FCTE conference. Florida is blessed with some
spectacular English teachers.

Watch for an interview with poet Billy Collins in the April
issue of The Writer. Soon, my essay about working with
students on poetry at Nease High School in St.
Augustine, Florida, will be featured in the St. John's Sun.
And I'm penning a Christmas story for the Florida Times
Union. I'm also pitching an essay about the Felony
Murder Rule, and I'll let everyone know who bites and
where it will be published.

Other than than that, slogging through the trials and
tribs of freelancing. I found out last week that I need a
license from the county to freelance. Spent an hour or
so getting all that together--who'd have thunk you'd
need a license to do this? My former home state never
cared, but then again, Florida doesn't have the personal
income tax that South Carolina levied. Either way, the
government's gonna' dip into the pocket.

Best to all,
Kay Day

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Writing Nano

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Writing NaNo

The first thing that popped into my mind this morning relates to
what I never have enough of. Time. Where does it go? I start out
every morning early and finish late. I’m thinking I need to take a
time management course. Only I don’t have time.

I opted in to NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. I’ve
had an idea for a novel zooming in and out of my muse space for
at least a year. So I mapped the characters and sketched a plot
scene by scene. I didn’t question whether I could write 50,000
words in 30 days. After all, there’s no editor sitting at a desk
somewhere, ready to send me one of those ‘where’s your story?’
emails I get from time to time. So it's like I hit 'delete' on the
pressure key.

I started writing on November 1. What really impresses me is the
fluidity. Normally, I’ll write graf after graf to get an article sketched
out, until I land on the lead or angle I want. But with this book,
once I let the character through the door, the story just started
running like a marathoner.

I’m not kidding myself that this will be a finished manuscript. I’m
a neurotic reviser. But scheduling 1,667 words a day has merit.
Maybe it’s a result of so many years of meeting deadlines for a
set amount of words. But for the first time, I’m not struggling with
fiction. I’ll know in 30 days whether I can do this. My goal is to
produce a first draft.

Fiction is a whole lot easier to draft than nonfiction or poetry, in my
opinion. Note the emphasis on the word ‘draft.’ When I write
poetry, it’s like climbing a steep mountain one small step at a
time, and I’m wearing flip flops. When I write nonfiction, it’s like
digging a long garden row before you drop the little seeds in the

But with this NaNo project, once I got the main character going,
she took over and began to tell her own story.

Who says you can’t teach an old freelancer new tricks?

For the latest Bookbeat, visit

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Changes, News

I'm trying to pen a regular column at a new site I've built,Creative Writer So approximately every 7 days, I'll archive the column here since a number of readers have bookmarked this site. Plus it's just plain easier to move the previous column here.

This has been convention-crisis month. I haven't had a free minute--7 weekends in a row spent doing the authorial ritual. But the book's going great. I just found out yesterday, at a banquet in Gainesville, Florida, that Killing Earl won second place in the letters competition sponsored by the Florida State Association of the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. I won some other awards too, in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. I was a whole lot more surprised than the audience. FSA/NLAPW has over 600 Florida members. The book that took first prize is Mary Cameron Kilgour's Me May Mary, published by the Child Welfare League of America. I am honored to be in her company.

I'm also doing NaNoWriMo--you can keep up with my progress at Can She Do It? I have no idea if I can push out 50,000 words in a month. But I've had this young adult novel in my head for a long time. And on a regular month, I write more than that; it's just that I write it in segments for different newspapers and magazines.

Hope everyone's doing well today. We're keeping an eye on Wilma.

best to all, Kay Day

Creative Writer

Sunday, October 2, 2005

first posted at

Welcome to my new digs. I decided to move my blog to Creative
Writer because it's just easier all around.

I established Creative Writer because for one thing, I get tons of
email and phone calls from aspiring writers of all ages. I figure
now I'll be able to share information in a less time-consuming

This site will also give me some opportunities. I get many
requests to review books. But I can't always place a review. So
when I read a book that moves me, I can put the review here.

Since I'm also moving my personal pages from to, I'll probably use Creative Writer to host my "good
cause" pages, such as those for the National League of
American Pen Women's Jacksonville branch, and my literary
archive pages, By Invitation. This will take some time, though,
because I have to sandwich it in between assignments from
editors and book events.

Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Billy Collins. That
will come out in The Writer soon, so stay tuned. Billy Collins is
one of the most interesting American writers I've ever talked with.

In other news, co-author Dorothy Fletcher and I are collaborating
on a new book, and we've set up our new Wordstream Writers'
Retreat to debut January 28, 2006. Watch for more on this unique
approach to exploring our favorite pursuit.

Meanwhile, visit either of my other sites, and know that I'll be
adding to these pages at Creative Writer on a weekly basis.

I'll archive this blog at my Bookbeat site.

NOTE: I'm always glad to see friends and fellow writers place a message here. But those who post advertising links--well, I'd rather they not do that. A classic example is the individual posting an ad for Carrier equipment. Well, I happen to know about heating and a/c equipment, and I'm here to tell you don't blindly buy that brand. There are less costly brands that are just as good.

Please don't automatically click on the advertising links embedded in these banal messages. I don't know where the links will take you. I don't click on them at all. I plan to remove those messages as soon as I have time.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Long time coming

I don't need a calendar to remind me how busy September is. I could easily climb to the top of the paper pile and rappel straight down to the wooden surface of my desk.

This is an event-heavy month. I have a health event with author Donna Hicken Saturday, September 24, and then will introduce Patricia Gray, author of RUPTURE and director of Poetry at Noon at the Library of Congress next Thursday, September 29. Ms. Gray is our special guest for the Community Poetry Series I facilitate six or seven times a year for Mandarin's Barnes and Noble location.

I'm juggling several different assignments for newspapers and magazines, one on an organization that repairs homes for needy and disabled people; another a review of the movie Bears; yet another that will feature Billy Collins once he and I make contact. Still working on other projects--poetry and my novel. Got accepted as a professional member of the Online News Association. Will soon add a new site to my assembly, I'm putting it together as a resource and news site for writers; it'll be useful especially to those who come to the workshops and presentations I do here and there.

And of course still advocating for Taylor Wells, whose hearing has been advanced to November. Beth Ciofoletti has the scoop on that at her blog( I'm working on an essay that I'll post in a few days.

Books of note include KRAKATOA by Simon Winchester and ZEN FISHING by Dorothy Fletcher. Both are exceptional reads--Winchester's book explores not only the volcano eruption but also scientific minds like Charles Darwin and others whose work influenced both Darwin's and scientists of today. Dorothy's book is a combination of essays and poetry; she's an excellent wordsmith. I'm reviewing that book for the Pen Women magazine.

I'll try to get back in the swing of regular posting. I've been trying to deal with a back injury that occurred some months ago, courtesy of the beagle hound trying to play with our cat who leapt onto my leg then dug his claws in. I basically fell backwards. But I was in a squatting position, trying to empty the filter basket on the pool. Good thing is I have plenty of padding on the backside to cushion the fall. Bad thing is a disk is aggravated and the heavy summer travel didn't help.

So there you go. An update. Finally.

Best to all,
Kay Day

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ramblings: poetry, unexpected; challenges of the book biz

Poets will know what I’m talking about. One minute you’re sitting there with a mountain of work. And a line or two just drops right in. It’s an assault on the spirit in a way, and there’s not much to be done about it. Then you’re off on that poetry tangent, the one that I call a creative seizure. Time ceases to be of consequence. I have burned dinner because of a poem.

Lately, there’s been a lot of commotion. I switched to a laptop for all my computing, keeping the desktop for our daughters. For some reason, the tech couldn’t get my email to switch over. I couldn’t get all my web site files to switch over. I’m trying to adjust to a tighter keyboard and I don't really miss the mouse that much. But I love the portability of the laptop. We moved my office to a bigger room, one with lots of windows and a view of the back yard. Much more creative environment. The claustrophobia I experienced in the smaller, windowless room (now a supply room) dissolved.

I realized yesterday I’m booked tightly with events, pretty much through early January, 2006. I’m hoping to take time off in December; if I don’t, I’ll be in trouble with my family. Received a review request from a distinguished writer from India; made my publisher and me feel good. Prepared the final outline and chapter-by-chapter summaries for my new book; wrote a few freelance pieces, got an assignment from a new editor who is very nice. Prepped news releases and the print newsletter for readers on my mail list; sent out the email newsletter. Skimmed the best-seller list and groaned.—Dracula, James Patterson and meeting people in heaven. Only McCullough’s nonfiction book saved me from going into an intellectual coma. I love that book.

So there it is. And sitting here, distracting me wildly, the poem I penned in the midst of it all.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Tour, the tensions, the times

After returning from the latest tour stops in Miami and Savannah, I confronted enough paperwork to drive a writer nuts. My email knew no bounds. The message center held greetings from a number of callers. In the middle of all this, I took a call from a person who is considering freelancing for a career. He seemed to expect me to deliver a course in Freelance 101 on the phone.

Assorted emails contain writings from various people who’ve visited my author Net site. If I critiqued them all, I’d be busy for a week and get absolutely nothing else done. Plus, if you do comment on a stranger’s work, s/he will never be satisfied unless you say something like, you are the greatest poet since Walt Whitman. Emily Dickinson is writhing with jealousy in her grave.

There were some bright spots too. The Barnes and Noble where I facilitate the Community Poetry Series invited me to be a featured author at their Tenth Anniversary Party. I had a good freelance month, with five new pieces soon-to-be released from various publications.

I'm looking forward to hosting a reading and presentation by Patricia Gray, director of Poetry at Noon at the Library of Congress. Patricia has a new book out, Rupture.

I don't know her personally, but she's swinging South on her own tour and I'm delighted to help introduce her work and LOC information session to our area poets and poetry lovers.

Book sales are strong in stores, but they’re lousy at amazon. I’m satisfied with the status at amazon, though. My publisher is a small press, and his profits and royalties from book sales there are dismal. The site crawls with used books, many of which are new and some of which were given free to reviewers who will, under no circumstances, review your book. If you’re not a top tier author, a discount site is of little benefit. Everywhere I go, I tell audiences, please do not buy my book at amazon.

Another bright spot is the retreat Dorothy Fletcher and I are planning. We found a gorgeous site for WORDSTREAM.

Thunder sounds in the background as I type.

The new book is going well; it looks like a late 2006 release. Otherwise, I’m wading through email and paperwork.

I wanted to ask the fellow on the phone, after he told me he’d decided to consider freelancing.

Are you sure you want to work that hard?

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Glad to be home for a bit

These weeks are filled with book events and work-related duties. I’m glad to be back home for a bit, even if the office is knee deep in paper. Coming up on August 11 is a signing at the new Barnes and Noble in Jacksonville. Located at St. John’s Town Center, the store invited me to sign with several other authors from the area. Dorothy Fletcher, who’s also signing, and I will have information about our new writers’ retreat, Wordstream. Dorothy and I are teaming up to facilitate these retreats every few months or so, always in a location by a river. We’re aiming at a writing experience, as opposed to a standard workshop.


Savannah was great. The Barnes and Noble at Oglethorpe Mall is a big, bustling super store. The traffic was insane. Yesterday was a sales tax holiday in Georgia, so everyone was out picking up back-to-school books and supplies. As is often the case, my new book Killing Earl sparked some interesting conversations. I talked with several parents whose children are experiencing hard-to-diagnose illnesses. It’s becoming more evident to me that dealing with the medical profession can be perplexing even for those of us who are educated.

A highlight of yesterday’s event was meeting a young man named Jared who is from a small Georgia town. Jared is a serious writer. He picked up my poetry book, and I gave him some information. I thought about him today. I’ll bet that one of these days, he’ll be signing his own book.

After the event, I went with fellow writers to Belford’s . It’s a fine restaurant near City Market. They do their crab cakes tall rather than flat—they’re supposed to be the best, and they surely looked that way. Ken Bell, Joyce Dixon, Janet Carr-Hull, Kathryn Wall and I (with my husband Ran and Kathryn’s husband Norman) really had a good time talking shop. A fine writer, Joyce Dixon is also the ultimate nurturer for Southern writers (well, we’re calling Kathryn Southern because she lives here now and we keep forgetting she’s a transplant). Joyce’s Southern Scribe is a great literary resource for all writers, and we thank her for organizing this event.

Net nuggets
A source of valuable information to me lately is Jim Amaral. I know Jim through Southern Scribe. Jim’s our Computer Guru. I’ve been looking at laptops, and he’s really helped me out. Jim writes a column, Cybermac for The Columbus Dispatch.

My friend W. Thomas Smith, Jr., has been named executive editor of World Defense Review, Reporting War . This news site is updated twice weekly; a variety of viewpoints and positions are featured. I read several articles. Dr. Alma Bond’s feature America’s First Woman Warrior caught my eye for two reasons: the woman warrior angle plus the fact Dr. Bond reviewed Killing Earl recently. I don’t know this distinguished writer, but her article is fascinating. I printed it for my daughter who’s interested in empowered females, being one herself.

You’ll note some new links I’ve added on the right column. One, Sarah Weinstein’s blog offers a wealth of information about writing and the book biz. Check out her post of July 26, and the breakdown on sales outlets for a sample best-seller. I’d no idea the impact Wal-Mart can have on book sales.

Finally, I've added a new page to my Net site, Patient Communications. The page offers tips for dealing with chronic illness.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mim-Mo magic

Miami is a city of sensations. Music dances around each corner. Spanish and English bounce off the street like staccato notes. Humidity settles onto brown skin and white skin. Expectations hang in the night air as clubs come alive.

We stayed at the Omni Colonnade on Aragon Avenue, just a block away from Books and Books. The hotel was phenomenal—a historic structure featuring heavy crystal chandeliers, gurgling fountains and artwork depicting times long ago when the city was in its infancy. The rooftop pool is a work of art. We chose this hotel because we combined a much needed vacation with my work obligations. They gave us a great rate because it was partly a business trip and we needed two rooms since our daughters came along. We were also able to walk everywhere we wanted to go in Coral Gables. We only drove the car when we went to South Beach the next day.

I signed that night at the bookstore and if you never visit another bookstore, go to Books and Books. The place feels more like a library than a retail establishment. Shelves run from floor to ceiling, and there’s a courtyard where various events including music performances take place. There’s a café, and large rooms filled with books and items related to books.

I was happy that a respectable number of people came to hear my presentation. I didn’t count because I never had time. I realized after I spoke that Killing Earl really touches people in a way I didn’t anticipate. One woman came with her daughter who is experiencing a mystery illness of her own. Another woman came because I’d spoken to her mother’s book club in another city last year. Everything fell together nicely.

After my event, we had dinner with Beth Cioffoletti and her husband John. Beth is the woman whose email changed my life a few months ago, resulting in my tackling another book quite a bit earlier than I’d planned. We had a meal and drinks together at Puchetta Restaurant a few blocks from the bookstore. What a restaurant—a very diverse menu, with fresh seafood and food prepared with no canned or processed foods. Pastas are made on-site. Our host made us feel as though we were dining in someone’s home.

We did South Beach while we were there, and enjoyed the Mi-Mo architecture of the hotels. We had lunch just across from dunes and seagrass, and the food was excellent. A group of Hare Krishna disciples filled the air with music; pretty young girls with cigar boxes strapped to their bodies wandered up and down the boulevard.

In all, the combo business-pleasure trip was a resounding success and a much needed respite. If you sign anywhere, sign in Miami.

Next up is this weekend in Savannah, city #4 on my tour. As always, come and see me if you’re in the neighborhood near the Oglethorpe Mall Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Miami Bound

First thing tomorrow, I head for the tip of Florida. Well, close to the tip. I’m signing tomorrow evening at Books & Books in Coral Gables. I’ve never been to Miami, so I’m looking forward to experiencing the city.

Spent the day re-writing a piece for one of my favorite editors. I displeased him a bit with a piece I did. I thought about it this evening and realized that when I admire an editor, I am so disappointed in myself when I don’t get things exactly right.

Early this morning, before the Florida heat set in, I cut the front yard. Note: we Southerners say “cut the grass” rather than “mow the lawn.” I love to cut grass. It is soothing to me, and I take pleasure in knowing that despite 50 years on my body, a body I did my best to wreck in my college years, I can still do such things and feel great afterwards. With the heat index, it was close to 100 degrees.

We have fairly new neighbors who are astounded when they see me doing our grass. We’re one of the few families in the neighborhood without a yard man. All I can say is, to a Southerner, the heat is a familiar. I grew up in a home without air conditioning. As a child, I was banished to the yard from sunrise to sunset every day in summertime.

Of course, you have to know how to deal with the heat: how to breathe, how to cool off, how to eat light foods, how to pump yourself full of water the day before you’ll be doing a waltz with the sun. I always take a small hand towel outside with me, and a thermo-glass with ice water. When I finish mowing (we have a big front yard), I take the towel and wet it with the ice water. Then I wipe my face with it and lay it across my neck. The sensation is exquisite. Such a simple pleasure, really. I usually pray for a small breeze, and I almost always get one. I figure there’s an angel flitting around, one who looks for old Southern gals crazy enough to be out in the mid-morning sun, in a state of exertion. There is a purity in sweat that I cannot describe.

I should point out I wouldn’t be caught dead on a riding mower.

See you again next week when I have a couple days back in Jax before going to Savannah, Georgia.

If you’re in Miami tomorrow, come and see me.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Harry and me

Spent the day in Fernandina Beach. Books Plus, in the downtown district, was the second stop on my tour. The shop is one of my favorite book stores of all time. Wooden floors, big showroom, comfy chairs. Regional authors get their books displayed up front. Don Shaw has been a big supporter of my work, so I was very glad to be able to visit his store. The store is nestled on a block with quaint shops and eateries. The district was wise enough to hang onto its old buildings and trees, and the result is a village-like atmosphere.

I met a variety of people—one woman who travels a lot told me about the challenges of maintaining the three homes she and her husband own, a problem I will never have, I am certain. She brought a reference book to the register and asked if there was another copy in the store. Mrs. Shaw, the co-owner, said there wasn’t. The customer pointed to a tiny bent corner on the back cover. “See, that will drive me crazy,” she said. Mrs. Shaw offered her a 10% discount. No way. Amazing to me the patience a businessperson has to have.

I didn’t have a banner day, but I had a great time. J. K. Rowling had a double banner day.Today was, for those who may have been on a deserted island this week, Harry Potter Day and it belonged to the tweens. One girl walked in, grabbed her book and began to thumb through it while her mother paid. As she left, book held in her arms like a baby, the smile on her face would’ve been fodder for a visual artist.

Florida-related titles do well there; books about locales and of course, mysteries. I made a mental note: must write a mystery one of these days.

After the signing, my husband picked me up—he and the girls had gone exploring while I signed. We went to Slider’s grill and sat outside on the terrace. The ocean breeze was perfect. The water is a deep blue color; the sea oats glistened and the shine seemed to say, “All is well.” We drank a couple of Coronas with lime and, for the first time, tried Florida’s famous fried pickle slices (served with Ranch dressing). I didn’t think I’d like them, but they were surprisingly good and light. I told the girls Southern cooks will fry just about anything.

Then we headed back to Jacksonville. This was an easy tour stop because we only live about 40 minutes from Fernandina Beach. The nicest part was being able to come back and sleep in my own bed rather than at a hotel.

Next week, once I’m done with a piece for the newspaper and some other assorted projects, we head for Miami where I’ll sign in Coral Gables, tour stop #3. Everybody raves about Books and Books. So we’ll see what excitements lay ahead.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tour heats up; poets & publishing part III

Work these days is a challenge because of Earl-related projects. Plus Taylor’s case is cooking up; a story will be out in a major Florida newspaper soon. I’ll keep you posted--the reporter just interviewed me yesterday.

In the next 10 days, I’ll sign in Fernandina Beach, Miami and Savannah. Details are always posted on my Author Visits page. If you’re near any of those areas, come by and say hello.

How my poetry got published

We decided on the Florida move shortly after my self-published collection came out. I’d originally planned to do a small scale book tour. But then my daughter got sick, America was attacked, and the housing market in our area was like the last pancake on a plate: flat, cold and unappetizing.

Of course, that all resolved itself in time, and in 2002, we finally reunited the family in Florida. I did a few book events after joining Florida Writers’ Association, an organization that connected me to Caryn Suarez, consummate events organizer. Barnes and Noble asked me to start facilitating their poetry group and that evolved into the Community Poetry Series. Two different publishers, both respected by many in the lit field, approached me about doing my book. I declined because neither publisher was a good fit for my situation. Sounds crazy I know, but who gets rich off poetry? You may as well hold out for what you want.

A subsidy press also approached me, but that wasn’t an option. I already had two presses who’d invest their own money. Why should I invest my own?

Then I met a publisher, Frank Gromling, at a writers’ festival. We talked and I liked his vision for his press, Ocean Publishing, and he was impressive. So I began to urge him to publish my work. He declined a couple of times, explaining that poetry wasn’t something he knew how to market. I persisted. We talked a few more times. Eventually, he agreed, and one of the most significant relationships in my career was formed.

Bear in mind that my ability to find a publisher was based on personal contact, on people who knew me, who’d heard me read, and who knew I would work. All the presses were commercial. They made their money from book sales, not from contest fees.

A press driven by sales is the only one I can support. I figure if the press survives, it means the books drove that success rather than a lot of naïve people who cough up fees to have their manuscripts rejected. Don’t take offense if you’ve won a major literary contest. That’s fine by me. But I think unless you’re very cozy with literati or involved in an academic program, you are not likely to win such a contest. I wrote about this in my first book, long before others were looking at contests in a suspect way. So if you’re, say, a banker by day and a poet by night, keep your contest fee. Just my personal opinion.

Anyway, the book came out, I hit the road, and we sold enough copies—I honestly don’t know exactly how many because I haven’t added up all the royalty reports. I stopped adding at around 600 copies and that was last year. A year ago, my publisher said he printed 2,000 and had 1,000 more to distribute (Jacksonville Business Journal, 12-31-03). I spoke to a lot of groups, mostly professional or educational groups, and read at a lot of festivals and bookstores. Most of the people who bought my book are not poets, or at least the ones who bought a signed copy.

So then my publisher agreed to do my nonfiction book and we are seeing a lot of interest and book stores always say ‘yes’ when I want to sign and the nonfiction book outsells the poetry book by a ratio of roughly 12:1.

Sad but true.

Throughout the years I submitted to magazines and saw my work get published in respected journals, though not the type that your average AWP type lusts after. I don’t really submit poetry to many journals, although I did recently receive a rejection from Pedestal, the online magazine. I have options for publishing another poetry book once I’m finished editing new work, but the next book out will be Taylor’s story and that’s nonfiction. But I figure I’d just as soon see most of my poetry published in a collection rather than journals in various incarnations. Plus I just don’t have time to do a lot of poetry submitting these days.

That’s basically my story.

I’ll do a sort of publishing tips for poets for part IV. Then I’m going to put this series on my Net site. That way, when poets email me and ask how they can get their book published, I can tell them good luck and send them a link.

Question, if you’re reading:
How’d you get your poetry published?
I know there will not be too many responses, but we may get one or two of interest.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Hurricanes in Florida

Hurricanes are a Southern familiar. This poem was first presented at the SEBA trade show in September, 2004, when I read as part of the late night readings sponsored by Simon and Schuster. Admittedly, paganism and Christianity dance with me at times concurrently,largely owing to my ancestry. At any rate, the poem seems appropriate at the moment.

Our last weather update forecasts a lot of rain, wind and possible tornadic activity--we're on the East coast, so at the moment, it looks like the mother storm will miss us, dealing us only the outer bands.

Storm Warning

Two loaves of bread shine on the shelf at Winn-Dixie.
Bread is valuable, because another hurricane
is aiming at Florida. Store aisles fill
with seekers of water and ice, and canned food
that will be eaten only if She hits us. Brown
black and white we smile with more nice
than normal. Our words shape fear into chuckles.

One man says, “I’m not going anywhere.
I die I die right here.” Our hands inspect apples
and melons. “Can’t nothin’ be bad as Andrew.”

We savor the comfort of lies. “This,” says a woman
cradling oranges, “is the price we pay for living in Paradise.”
Reassured by bread and batteries, we nestle in the arms
of our she-storm—watchful—wide-eyed
siblings taking turns at Mother’s bitter breast.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More tour notes; Pt. II Poets who want to publish

There's so little time right now, because of project deadlines for freelance work and of course, the book tour. So I'm late with this second post. I'm using this blog to create a map for how I did what I wanted to do with my work, in hopes it will save me re-typing answers to email from poets who want to know how to get their books published.

How my poetry got published, part II

There was never a time in my life, once I could form words on paper, when I didn’t write. Poetry has always been and will always be my strongest inclination, but I also enjoy writing fiction and nonfiction.

I chose the college I wanted to attend because a poet I admired taught there. He was a “famous” poet, a very learned man. I spent 4 years studying with him and several other writers who taught there. I formed life-long relationships with some of them, in the sense of friendships based on intellectual interests.

I practiced writing in different forms in my classes, but my tendency during those years was almost exclusively free verse when I could choose. Even then, there were illusions of meter, because to me sound lends a dimension to poetry much in the way variations in chords influence a song. I studied music for 11 years as a child, so I am certain this influences my poetics.

I continued to read poetry from different time periods. I submitted work to my university’s literary magazine and to magazines at other colleges. I simply sent the poem with a straightforward letter along the lines of, “Please consider this poem for publication in your magazine. I have been published in the Coco-Crunch Review.” And like that, names of small magazines and such.

I set the letter up in a standard business format; I produced all my work then on an Underwood manual typewriter. In my junior year, I entered a contest because one of my professors urged me to do so. I earned an honorable mention; it was one of the Academy of American Poets contests, but I don’t remember the name and haven’t any idea where the certificate might be. I do remember who won first place: a fine poet named Paula Goff, for a wonderful poem about an owl.

Once I entered the workforce full-time (I'd worked in various part-time jobs since I was 13),I began to workshop online and occasionally attended workshops by poets who’d published widely. I did this for several years and learned a great deal because of the diversity in the workshops I frequented. I had some lovely jobs, but I was basically a work-place cripple. I’d nurtured the idea of being a renegade writer since childhood. I simply couldn’t do things any other way. By the grace of God, I survived.

I began to submit work, and some small magazines as well as a few larger, mass trade type magazines published my poems. I entered many contests and won or placed as a finalist in some. Concurrently, I was writing articles and educational material for various organizations, newspapers, and magazines in order to contribute to our income. I tried to keep a list for awhile. I gave up. There are around a dozen large boxes in my garage, full of articles, books, manuals, posters, and other publications for which I received payment. One day, I hope to make a complete list.

If a poet I admired was reading within a hundred miles of my house, and if it didn’t cost too much, I went. I learned a great deal by watching other poets present their work. This became useful to me once I began to do public speaking.

During all those years, study and scholarship occupied as much of my time as writing. This is my preference; it may not necessarily be yours. However, I do not see how a poet can move beyond his familiars without knowing what has gone before. I read history, poetry, fiction, and most anything I could get my hands on. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize I do not know.

A book that was an eye-opener, in the sense of broadening my perspective, is Women Poets from Antiquity to Now by Aliki Barnstone (Schocken). I emphasize its influence because with one exception, the poets who taught me personally were male.

Perhaps because I am Southern, I always had a keen sense of female empowerment. So as I visited and revisited voices that stretched back to 2300 B.C., I felt a kinship that was almost holy.

Once my children were born, they quite naturally affected my outlook, subject matter, and philosophies. I continued to write for a living, sandwiching poetry in between projects.

A festival director, having been sent some of my work by a mutual friend, invited me to read with distinguished writers. The director assumed I had a book. I didn’t. So we organized a small chapbook and it was printed in a small run, 200 copies if memory serves me correctly. The chapbooks sold there at the festival and at conferences where I spoke, often on creative writing and publishing topics. By this point, my children were getting older and my time was opening up. Soon all but a few of the chapbooks were gone.

I took the manuscript and added essays that had been published in various places, and for $99 a new print-on-demand outfit (recently acquired by produced my self-published book. It was profitable.

Two years later,when I signed with the commercial press Ocean Publishing who now publishes my books by a traditional arrangement (no subsidy or cooperative publishing), I agreed to pull the self-published title off the market. A few copies remain in stores and on Net sites, but the book is no longer being printed.

At the time, I was earning a comfortable income with writing, and finding time to study works by other authors and to write poetry.

And then everything changed because my younger daughter became ill and my husband, with all of us in the family in agreement, accepted a promotion with his company. When we moved to Florida, everything changed.

Stay tuned for part III

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Book Tour Notes & Poets Wanting to Publish

Post 1 of 2, June 28, 2005

Earl notes & office redux

I had a phenomenal signing at The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, SC. This is the city where most of the events in my latest book occurred. So many people visited and picked up both Killing Earl and A Poetry Break. This was technically my first tour stop, since the Jacksonville events were pre-release. Next up on my calendar are Fernandina Beach (Books Plus), Miami (Books and Books), and Savannah (Barnes and Noble) followed by Jacksonville again (new Barnes and Noble store, St. John's Town Center). I’m working on a New York event, and will also make my way to North Carolina and possibly Alabama. My publisher is busy working with the book orders and will soon have the online book sites fleshed out. I’ve been busy doing direct mail, news releases, emails and other contact work with media and those interested in my book in each geographical area. Meanwhile, I had a couple stories to turn out and some inquiries to tweak. I’m tweaking a new post for One Night for Life. Never a dull moment. A side perk: I can still see the lovely Carolina hills and the lake where I stayed, about 50 miles west of Columbia. That is beautiful country, upstate South Carolina.

Post 2 of 2, June 28, 2005

How my poetry got published, PT.1

The next few posts will be directed to poets who are hoping to publish a book. I get dozens of emails from poets who ask me how to go from poet-in-residence-of-the-home to a writer whose work leaves the kitchen or home office and hops into the world of either academic or commercial poetry. These opinions are my own, no one else’s, and if someone tells you something different than I’ve written here, listen to him or her. Evaluate many different opinions and suggestions and see what is best for you. All I can do is tell you how I met some goals and missed some others.

In the beginning

I wanted to be a writer since I can remember remembering. My mother read me Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and for reasons unknown to me, it influenced my intellect immediately and my poetic ear years later. In 3rd grade, our teacher Mrs. Eleazer asked us to write a poem. I wrote mine about a haunted house. She sent it to the newspaper and it was published. A small taste of accomplishment stayed with me, the sense of it, really. It felt nice. I had won an essay contest in first grade, so being rewarded at an early age probably had a serious impact. Otherwise, I was a shy, difficult child.

I wrote poetry from that point on. By high school, I was sending work to The Atlantic and other magazines who were merciful enough to stuff the rejection slip into an envelope and return it to me. I continued to write poetry. I also continued to read poetry and just about any other printed page I could get my hands on. I thought a lot about it, and I think I read so much because I am just plain curious.

When a person tells me she or he writes poetry, I ask, “What poets do you like to read?” If the person doesn’t immediately, with enthusiasm, name several poets he or she adores, I’m sad. This diminishes the idea of their work immediately, at least as far as I am concerned. I am sorry to say this. But it is true and to offer you anything but the truth about poetry as I know it would be unfair. So if you don’t read poetry, lots of poetry or at least a few poets in depth and volume, I can tell you I probably will not enjoy your work. But it’s not your fault, it’s my mindset. Your mother or spouse may praise your poems, however, and that is fine by me.

I have often said we poets take ourselves too seriously. We don’t, as I like to remind people in workshops, perform brain surgery. But we do aim at performing a sort of intellectual surgery, or spiritual (or both), and thus we must exercise great care in what we do with a poem. Otherwise we are dangerous to ourselves, like a blindfolded person behind the wheel of a car on I-95 in Labor Day traffic.

So my first recommendations to a poet wanting to publish rest on simple suggestions. Read poetry, a lot of it. Read about poetry, in magazines, on literary Net sites, in books. Equally important is that you must live as fully as your spirit will permit. Be curious. Nurture your intellect and your imagination. Pick a holy book and read it. This way, you will have something to write about and you will have an idea how the masters wrote about it, because there is virtually no new subject matter in poetry.


Stay tuned for Pt. 2.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Book biz miscellanies

The official pub date for Killing Earl draws near, with my number 1 tour stop in the city where the story began. Freelance writer Rachel Haynie surprised me with a very nice article about my book and signing in The Columbia Star. The pre-release launch and sales have gone great, and I’m hoping the book will help anyone who navigates a medical crisis, especially if the patient is an adolescent female.

Read an interesting piece in an old issue of USA Today (3-10-2004) about the book biz, with a focus on how the book market has changed over the last decade. There’s a wealth of information if you click the links in the right column, and this is a good resource for anyone who has a book coming out. There are many dismal facts. For instance, USA Today points out that sales of Cliff Notes for The Scarlett Letter outpace Hawthorne’s classic at a ratio of 3.6 to 1. Sad. The book biz will break your heart.

On another note, a young writer I admire and have had the pleasure of knowing is about to send his first novel forth into the marketplace. It’s a fine work and I am certain he will succeed. I met Christian Bahr two years ago when he rallied a news crew for Jacksonville’s most popular news team to cover a poetry press conference that a diverse group of poets hosted. We were astounded that a news crew actually taped and broadcast. That day began a friendship that I treasure and it opened a door for me to see his work progress.

Hope all you fathers had a great day. I lost my father when I was in my early twenties, so I marked the day by writing him a poem and by appreciating my husband, who is one of the greatest fathers in this world (just ask our daughters!)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bikini Reads, part II

I am convinced that if I hadn’t lived during a time when various disorders hadn’t yet been popularized, I’d be diagnosed as ADD. I do seem to struggle with an attention deficit on a regular basis. Always have.

I’d meant to do the second part of my Bikini Reads shortly after posting part I. Naturally, I shelved it to a dusty corner in my brain and retrieved the idea only after glancing at prior posts today.

So, without further self-recrimination, here are my selections, part II.

Oh, a side-thought. I realize that the term “Bikini Reads” conjures images of lovely young girls frolicking, stretching themselves supine on beach blankets, turning themselves over and over beneath the hot sun as they chatter like sweet, oily birds in a garden of sand. Okay, I admit that’s overkill. Just having a bit of fun.

What I want to say is that these suggestions are for anyone who likes to read at the beach. I just didn’t want to call it “Books for the Beach,” because that’s such an overused term in marketing and book sections in newspapers.

So regardless of your gender or sexual preference, whether you wear a top and a bottom or just one of those skinny little bottom things,whether you enjoy gazing at bikinis or just the bottom halves, these books are for you, dear reader. Nothing much shakes this old girl’s boat.

Warrior Women
by Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Ph.D. with Mona Behan
At first glance, I thought this book would be one of those little volumes filled with anecdotal stories about women beating the crap out of historic male figures. Instead, it’s a delightful work that details Ms. Davis-Kimball’s archaeological experiences and theories. Fascinating stuff about the amazon warriors and the cut-the-breast-off motif, the hetairai of ancient Greece, and the goddess adored by headstrong women, Lilith. Requires patience on the part of the reader because the writer is methodical and detailed, but well worth the excursion.

Mr. Spaceman
by Robert Olen Butler
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Butler last year, and had never read a word he’d written. I picked up several of his books, and this one is a classic. Absolutely hilarious and profound, all at the same time. You’d never imagine being able to take an alien so seriously. A do-read.

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
If you haven’t read this, you should. One of the most beautifully written works of fiction in contemporary times. I see it as a Mother goddess sort of book, but then, my ancestry began with some serious pagans and I seem to have a preoccupation with them. Another do-read: a journey of the spirit of a young girl whose story goes several levels above her own and will touch yours if you let it.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli
by Andrew Sean Greer
Truth is, I hate this book. I thought it was boring, preposterous and silly. I mean, a guy recounts the moment of his own procreation, from the mindset of his mother? Did you think I’d just list books I like? Go read my personality post: I scored 58% of normal. So there you go.

Atlanta Blues
by Robert Lamb
You want a good mystery that moves quickly, develops characters soundly, and gives you something to think about after? This one’s a good read and is one of those hunker-down page-turners, if you’re a mystery lover. Pleasurable and entertaining.

by small press authors ( a generic recommendation)
Pick up any book of poetry by a small press author you either know or don’t know. I can think of half a dozen great ones, but I’ll leave the pleasure up to you. Point is: buy poetry books by independent presses. And if you really want to do a good thing, pressure your library to purchase poetry books by independent presses. Sigh. A girl can hope.

Now I have fulfilled my obligation to round out Bikini Reads. There will be no more of these beach themes for the rest of the year. I promise. Go forth and turn pages.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Outrageous beauty in The Georgia Review

Yesterday, my husband told me this issue of The Georgia Review carries a feature on art by Nancy Terry Hooten. We don’t know Ms. Hooten, but we do know her son and his family. So first thing this morning, I hopped over to The Georgia Review to have a look.

The magazine features an article and photographs of Ms. Hooten’s bead work. On first glance, I felt transported to ancient times because of theme, but the content is modern. The magazine notes these pieces as examples of “Outrageous Beauty,” and I agree.

My favorite is “Go to sleep, there’s nothing under your bed!” What parent hasn’t uttered those words to an imaginative child? But a close study of the work brings to mind night-fears that may occur at any age, an impression that came to me because of the delicate skull. And of course, the skull segues the brain waves to thoughts of mortality. Deft placement of the dragon gives the idea he’s about to jump out at the viewer.

I was also quite taken with “Watching, Watching.” There are so many themes compacted into that visual rendering—of course, I thought of Little Red Riding Hood. It was a dark sensory for me because I remember Little Red in the original, when the wolf gobbled her up. I have an old primer of my grandmother’s that has original versions of folk tales, and “Watching, Watching” brought them to mind.

Do take a look at the site. Ms. Hooten’s work is engaging to the point of distraction, and I mean that as a compliment.

As I sit here surrounded by “to-do” lists, and stacks of papers urging me to work, I’m glad I got side-tracked by this talented artist’s work.

Also in that same issue is an excerpt from Phillip Levine’s essay, “A day in May: Los Angeles, 1960.” The excerpt is a wonderful account of Levine’s experiences with Thom Gunn and John Berryman. Poems by Stephen Dunn and C. Dale Young deliver a sturdy punch.

Do go and see all these lovely things for yourself. Sometimes, sidetracked is a benevolent place to be early in the morning when there’s too much to do.

An afterthought: I remember when The Atlantic used to be that good.

  • Table of contents page for current isssue, The Georgia Review:


    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    Back to biz

    As the official publication date approaches, a get-real perspective takes hold. Soon, I’ll meld to the road, or the air, depending on the city, and take Earl along. I've already received some great comments from those who bought the book at the pre-release events. That gives me confidence.

    I’m doing a signing in in a couple weeks in Columbia, SC—actually the first official signing. I’m also doing an information session there for the National League of American Pen Women, Inc., in an effort to “resurrect South Carolina.” There’s only one NLAPW branch left in Carolina. I'm thrilled to have my event at the independent store The Happy Bookseller. That store carried my very first collection, a book I repubbed myself after my chapbooks were gone. Plus if I had to pick a bookstore I frequented from the time I was around 20 years old, it'd be that one. Love that place. We don't have a store like that in Jax.

    Spent much of last week sleuthing for press contacts, writing letters, sending my author letter to publications who received a review copy from my publisher. Spent additional time trying to pull a freelance piece together that just isn’t cooperating. Wrote a new poem; worked on an old one—my “bluegrass” verses, as I see their spirit, seem to preoccupy me at the worst possible times. And found myself pounding away on the novel, something that means a great deal to me because I’ve been in love with this character for years and absolutely am determined to finish it.

    Will host a reception next week here at the house for Dorothy Fletcher’s new book—wine, poetry, writers of different persuasions. We always have a good time with those. Dorothy is a fine poet, and I’m honored to host her launch as part of my Community Poetry Series at Barnes and Noble.

    Somewhere in-between, tossed informal ideas about a workshop a group has asked me to do. Wrote 2 more chapters on Taylor. Never a dull moment.

    Grass got dry enough for me to mow, and I finally, finally got to swim today. Water was a wee bit cold, but I was so glad to see the sun overcome all this rain—fully understood the power of the Sun God for ancient Egyptians. Great piece in National Geo about Tut; do read if you haven’t already. The reconstruction of his countenance on the cover is absolutely mind-boggling.

    I wanted to also thank the writer who inspired me to do my own blog. Ron Kattawar has a deft way with prose and is on his way to screenplay success. So thanks, officially, Ron!

    Watching a piece about Southern Rock with my husband; more next week as I get down to the nuts and bolts of a new book release.

    Monday, May 30, 2005

    Sunday blog-walk on Monday

    The long weekend held surprises and socializing, so my Sunday blog-walk is late. I ended up spending part of the morning with a news crew from Jacksonville’s ABC and NBC affiliate First Coast News. They came to tape the poem I wrote for W. Thomas Smith, Jr. as a Memorial Day Tribute.

    Blogs continue to fascinate me. Rachel Dacus has a new poetry collection out from well-regarded publisher David Robert Books. Femme au chapeau has been praised by both Rhina Espaillat and Ruth Daigon. I’ve read Rachel’s work for years, and she never disappoints. She's one of those poets who practices scholarship, but who also writes poems that are accessible on many levels.

    I discovered Anne Haines’s blog Land Mammal. She’s the sort of person I’d like to know, maybe share a cup of coffee or glass of wine with. I don’t know her other than through her blog, but she writes beautifully.

    Poetry Hut Blog offers news items, photos and commentary. Neat place for a stroll.

    Finally, there’s a new chapter up at my free book-on-a-blog, One Night for Life.

    So go forth and go blog-wild.

    And that’s a wrap for this week’s walk.

    Friday, May 27, 2005

    Free book on a blog

    I didn't intend to offer anyone a book for free.

    But shortly after my new book Killing Earl went into production, I chanced upon a story that needed to be told. I began another new book.

    After talking with my publisher, I realized that it would take well over a year to bring another book out. But this story couldn't wait.

    I decided to tell the story of a young man, Taylor G. Wells, as an unfolding book on a new blog. I hope you visit One Night for Life. There are links on the blog to sites that explain the young man's plight.

    And if you know anyone who might help, please let us know.

    Thursday, May 26, 2005

    Gifting a poem, Pt. II

    Last week, I wrote a poem for an author I admire. I gave him the poem, rights and all. I've never done that before. All is explained in the post Gifting a poem.

    I've known W. Thomas Smith, Jr., for years, and I've always admired his courage, whether he was fighting for his country in a foreign land or fighting for his country by covering tragedies like 9-11 firsthand. As a Southerner, I'm aware of a long military tradition in my region. And of course, Beowulf is one of my all-time favorite works. That epic has always influenced my thinking. Having written a poem about the foe Grendel many years ago, it seems fitting to finally write a poem about a modern-day warrior, in the interest of balance.

    So it gives me great pleasure to share that the poem Battle Cry is published at Military Week.

    To learn more about Thomas, visit W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    Bikini Reads, Pt. 1

    Each year I share a list of great beach books with my newsletter list; this year, I’m also posting it on my blog. Let me know if you read any of them and send me comments or post them here if you like. My reading preferences are deliberately diverse, so there ought to be a book or two here for everyone. Oh, and I don’t always pick new titles. Each of these will tuck nicely into a beach tote. It was around 95 degrees on the beaches here in Jax today. Both my daughters went and came home coated with sunscreen and sand. Ah, the joys of Florida living. I guess I’ll do this in two parts so I can comment on each book. So my first five titles are:

    Nine Parts of Desire
    The Hidden World of Islamic Women

    by Geraldine Brooks
    Television personality Shaima Rezayee was murdered in Afghanistan because of her liberal tendencies and another woman was murdered for suspected adultery (Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2005). So while you’re enjoying the freedom of exposing at least 80% of your body, enter the world of Islamic women through the eyes of a woman who lived among them. This is one of the most incredible books on the subject, and reportage is as objective as any I’ve found. It’s a fast read, despite the complexities of the subject.

    The Drowning Tree
    by Carol Goodman
    Mythology, classic literature, art. All woven into a mystery that ends with a not so tidy love knot. Skillful writing. What’s not to like?

    Schott’s Original Miscellany
    by Ben Schott
    A great gift from the British; good book for hit and run reading. You can thumb through and quickly absorb such matters as symbols for cattle branding and how to tie a bow-tie. Charming book. Good gift for a guy.

    Their Eyes Were Watching God
    by Zora Neale Hurston
    One of the best modern novels in English. Poetic, imaginative, haunting. To me, Hurston is a writer-goddess. Should be required reading for all poets and writers of fiction.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
    by Mark Haddon
    It’s amazing what a writer can do with a novel. This one’s a must-read for any serious writer or reader of fiction, and is accessible on many levels. You could write a book of criticism about it.

    Okay, those are the first five. And of course, in a shamelessly self-promoting plug, both my books are great for the beach. Links to each, top right on this page.

    Sunday, May 22, 2005


    I got the idea for this post when I visited Suzanne Frischkorn’s litwindowpane. Her post “Around the Neighborhood” listed several blogs of interest. So, figuring Suzanne won’t mind, I’m following suit. This blogging practice is new to me, but one pleasurable result has been the discovery that many of the poets with whom I’ve workshopped or published also blog. Through Suzanne’s site,I discovered C. Dale Young's blog. I’ve long admired his poetry, have never exchanged a single word with him officially, but did leave a message at his blog today. I offered a compliment about some thoughts he wrote about poets and poetry. He has a link to an intriguing quiz there; you can take the quiz and see which Romantic Poet persona best suits yours. My quiz resulted in a likeness to Samuel Taylor Coleridge—here’s the summary:

    “You are Samuel Taylor Coleridge! The infamous "archangel a little damaged!" You took drugs and talked for hours, it's true, but you also made a conscious choice to cultivate the image of the deranged poet in a frenzy of genius. You claimed you wrote "Kubla Khan" in an afternoon after a laudanum, when you pretty manifestly did no such thing. You and your flashing eyes and floating hair. And your brilliant scholarship and obvious genius.”

    I have to say the quizzes I take surprise me most of all. So far, I’ve been dubbed “Culturally Creative” and have a normalcy rating of 58%. I am growing more leery of quizzes.

    Completely new to me is the site bluelineblues.

    It’s interesting to me because it’s from the perspective of a copy editor. I found bluelineblues by clicking “next blog” on my own page. I’m certain in all these years of freelancing, I’ve given several copy editors a definite headache (typical feedback from one editor I adore: “Everything can't be a poem, Kay, for cryin’ out loud.”).

    For a look inside the mind of a lawyer-poet (I know that sounds ludicrous, but it is true, nonetheless), stroll by Seth Abramson's blog.

    Especially interesting, considering my involvement with Taylor Wells’s predicament here in the legal bowels of Florida’s justice system, is Seth’s list of truths about the Criminal Justice System.

    Finally, for those who want to know more about HTML, visit HTML Help.

    So there you go—my Sunday Blog-Walk can be yours for the clicking.

    Thursday, May 19, 2005

    The greatest expectations

    I meet a lot of young writers. At just about every book festival and in almost every bookstore where I’ve signed or spoken, there’s always at least one young writer with questions. I help a lot with the parents’ group at the school of the arts where my daughter is a creative writing major. So I’ve grown used to those perky questions from young people who are close to embarking on a college or career path.

    But I surprised myself the other night. Some students came to a board meeting and we were discussing school events of the almost-finished year. One 15-year-old writer mentioned respect. “We are the red-headed stepchild in this school,” she complained. I fully understood. All the other arts disciplines have the advantage of performance—dance, theater, vocals, instrumentals. And the television majors at least are able to stand back and watch their films in a sort of performance-by-proxy mode. The writers do get to read several times a year, but only twice to a school-wide audience. The student added a few more comments about the plight of the writers and waited intently for my answer.

    “Writing is all about rejection,” I said. I wanted to choose my words carefully. Here was a fertile young brain just waiting to soak up wisdom from one who writes every day and somehow ekes out a modest income. “You have to really be tough, because the business itself is so tough.” And I felt myself becoming more intense. “You almost have to embrace rejection, pull it to you, and realize that what’s important is the writing. Nothing else.”

    The next morning in my email I found a letter from a poet. She writes lovely lyric poetry, formal mostly. She wanted me to see some of her poems to see if they live up to my expectations. I thought about that for a moment and wrote her, saying my expectations don’t matter. I explained that the writer’s own expectations count—does your work satisfy you?

    I have hundreds of poems and essays and pieces of short stories in this house. I won’t show them to anyone. They don’t measure up to my own expectations. They’re incomplete. Sometimes I’ll take a piece out of my self-slushed pile and manage to redeem it. But often they lay in their folders like mute, abandoned puppies, never to see their mother again. Such is the nature of this art that captures us.

    As I grow older, the expectations of others matter less. In my youth, I could not see that development ahead. From point A to point B, I have experienced rejection, dismay, depression, disappointment and failure at times. Yet I would not trade it for the single moment of joy experienced when a work does meet my expectations.

    Well, to be truthful, when it almost meets my expectations. Because nothing ever does that completely. And that is the nature of this art.

    Sunday, May 15, 2005

    Gifting a poem

    I’ve written poems about people, to people, for people. But yesterday, I not only wrote a poem about, to, and for a person, I literally gave him the poem.

    It all started when I read a column by W. Thomas Smith, Jr. in Military Week. Thomas wrote a beautiful tribute to Colonel David Hackworth who died last week. After reading the column, I visited various Net sites, including Colonel Hackworth’s, and came away impressed by a man who was truly a hero, who both praised his Army and objectively criticized it. I wrote Thomas to tell him how much I liked his tribute. And I told him he had inspired me to write a poem.

    We exchanged a few more emails, and I decided to literally give my friend the poem—in other words, to give not only the poem but also the rights. He asked me what I planned to do with it. I told him that as long as I could include it in my next collection, the poem is his to do with as he pleases.

    I’ve admired Thomas’s work for a long time. He’s written for so many magazines and newspapers, it would fill the page to list them all. He’s written acclaimed books on military themes. That goes to follow, because the author served in the military. His official bio at notes, “He served in the United States Marine Corps as an infantry leader, parachutist, and shipboard special-weapons security and counterterrorism instructor. Following his hitch in the Corps, he served on a para-military SWAT team in the nuclear industry.” As a correspondent, he has reported from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East, as well as from Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. His story-book career deserves a poem.

    I met Thomas years ago at a writers’ conference where we were speaking. After the conference ended, we had drinks and stayed in touch. I felt immediate common ground because Thomas is one of the few people who do what I do: write for a living. He also is an adjunct at the University of South Carolina, his (and my) alma mater. He is a complex and learned man.

    And because I’m Southern and deliberately politically incorrect, I will also say he is very attractive.

    Tom is one of those men who is born to soldiering. My father-in-law is the same kind of man. I grew up with a strong sense of military service from the males in my own family, reaching back to the Revolutionary War. So I took great pleasure in offering a poem to these warriors by way of a poem that rests on Thomas's own biography.

    They are one of the primary reasons I can write whatever I like today. And I am grateful.

    Visit W. Thomas Smith, Jr., on the Net at:
    Includes links to his writing sites and blog.

    A digest of Thomas's writings and books.

    Thomas's bio and weblog link
    Click on the "Enter" icon. Link to his blog is at the bottom of the page.

    Thursday, May 12, 2005

    Greetings & Solicitations

    Like a pack of wolves, deadlines eyed me as I strolled to the computer this morning. My priority stack of paperwork threatened to topple. The phone rang like a machine possessed. So I made a rational decision.

    I decided to office-clean.

    When things get really stressful, sometimes it’s a good idea to do something that doesn’t require brain cells in overdrive. I needed to have four packages, three of them proposals, ready for the afternoon mail. Considering other things that needed my attention, I knew there was no way to get those packages ready and in the mail. So I bumped the proposals to my “tomorrow” list. I’ll attend to them when I return from presenting some awards at a high school ceremony.

    I ground some Peruvian beans and made a fresh pot of coffee and began to trudge through paperwork. Why, I wonder, do I keep those direct mail solicitations for every charity under the sun? I did a quick triage, holding onto City Rescue Mission (helps the homeless) and the Salvation Army (all-around good guys). I made a mental note to send a check to Inside/Outside, Inc., a juvenile rehab group that does great work on a shoestring budget with young boys who want to turn their lives around. I made another mental note to try to come up with a fundraiser idea for that last organization.

    I plowed through old bank statements, printed copies of flagged emails, and a stack of poems I’ve been revising.

    Then I did a really logical thing. I began to draft a poem for my friend, author W. Thomas Smith, Jr. I promised him a poem so I must give him one.

    I took out Taylor’s file and made notes on the manuscript I somehow managed to start. I organized the files so that I won’t have to search through so many papers to find items I’ll need as I continue to write.

    Then I worked on another manuscript that’s been begging for attention.

    Then I dusted. This was an accomplishment. I’m amazed I don’t have sinus problems, what with the nice coat most of my furniture was wearing. And I closed up my day at least feeling that I accomplished something I could accomplish. The organized look that came over my work area soothed me pleasantly.

    The wolf eyes on those deadlines are looking more ferocious as I speak.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2005


    I decided today that the book world is not for the faint of heart. For authors like me, whose names aren’t exactly a household word, and whose books are published by small presses, the climb can, at times, make you want to jump off the nearest peak you have been able to scale. Not to fret. My peaks aren’t tall enough to do any damage if I jump.

    So much in this business is controlled by the big publishing houses and their front runner authors. They own the racks in the entry area of bookstores. They own the end-cap positions at the end of the book racks. They own the review pages in major magazines. A cursory scan of the book page (emphasis on the singular; we get 1 page about books once a week in our daily paper) reflected reviews on 2 Putnam titles. Mysteries. What is it with cops and robbers in America today? How many mysteries can American readers devour? Don’t we get enough of that on the evening news?

    I couldn’t help thinking this past weekend as I signed books how well a book will do if it has exposure. Once the signing’s over, your book gets shelved. Then it becomes a real challenge for both publisher and author. You beg and plead for reviews. You hope for media coverage, and you hope people will like the book. You go from enjoying the process of writing the book to agonizing over the process of moving the book.

    My schedule is driving me crazy. We ended up scheduling three signings here before the book is actually released because we had to book signings out-of-area during the summer months when I can travel more freely because of my younger daughter’s school schedule. The month of July will be insane, with the fall months hectic and demanding. Then it’ll be holiday time and that is major book time. Then it’s winter festival and convention time.

    The book I decided to write about Taylor is engaging me to the point of distraction. I finally found an expert I really needed, though, so that gave me the two sources I wanted in order to put things into perspective. And of course, that book is growing beyond the simple idea I began with, as all books will do.

    Scattered on various horizontal surfaces are articles, essays, and a pile of papers for two organizations I agreed to lead. A few poems are languishing by my file trays. And scattered around the office are various parts of my brain, speaking figuratively, of course.

    There. I feel better now.

    P.S. I know I said I’d keep these posts short. Obviously, I blew it.

    Sunday, May 08, 2005

    Poetry's bite

    Several teachers stopped by my table Saturday to purchase my book. Two of them asked me about my development as a writer, and I explained that every English teacher I had nurtured my obsession. This included professors in college, and poets after college as well. Early poetry workshops on the Internet also figured into my development as a poet. But the day came when I realized that I am not a very good poetry groupie. I like many different styles of poetry, from spoken word to language poetry, from formal to free verse. Poetry is abundant these days, with more poetry books being published and readings occurring in most cities several nights a week.

    Another thing that is abundant these days is back-biting. I recall a reading where a woman who’d edited an anthology was on stage. She noted that purchases of the book would benefit charities. Another editor in the audience spoke up and declared the book worthless, in so many words. Ironically, that same editor later published, by means of a grant from a cultural institution, one of the poets in that anthology. What once was dubbed worthless suddenly became worthy in the convenience of the moment.

    I’ve never understood mean-spiritedness in poetry. It seems so pointless and counter-productive. Once upon a time, I believed that networks were good for poetry, groups of poets supporting one another so that their work might find a broader platform. I don’t feel that way anymore. If anything, networks function as a counter-productive benefit. I believe they encourage an approach that rests on uniformity, and that a poet deeply embedded in a network will eventually refrain from taking chances.

    Perhaps the popularity of networks is an offspring of the multitude of writing programs in America. It seems there’s one on every corner. And of course, many who opt to obtain an advanced degree end up teaching, because through that venue, one may obtain an NEA grant or perhaps a coveted prize, if one is affiliated with a major or even a marginal program. Try getting an NEA grant without an advanced degree.

    Mentoring is still valuable, if there's one-on-one interaction, and if the mentor is willing to look beyond his or her own aesthetic. Some of the greatest poets I've met are very broad-minded individuals. But all writers eventually outgrow a mentor. There comes a point when, if you really care about the writing rather than publishing, you basically have to wing it.

    William Packard once said, “You can’t lead a bunny life and write tiger poetry.” That resounds with me. Long ago, I chose to become self-employed, making a living by writing, because I knew any sort of official 9-5 writing job would drain me of the creative freedom I needed to do the writing I wanted to do. But there aren’t many people willing to give up comforts that come with frugal living and sacrifice. I got lucky. Things worked out well for me. But the early years were certainly no picnic.

    Meanwhile, on the poetry workshop boards that once fostered camaraderie and derring-do, a poet trying something that veers from the aesthetic endorsed by a board isn’t likely to endear herself to the board’s community. I’ve seen some of the most small-minded comments imaginable in poetry workshops not only on the Net but also in major print journals. Some of those same journals insist they are “inclusive.” But when I read them—and I read a lot of them-- there is a sameness to the work, and much of that work is quite forgettable.

    Poetry seems to have at times lost its self-respect. The result is back-biting and lack of support for work that may differ from one’s own. I don’t believe poetry has ever been more exclusive despite the fact that technology gives us the means to journey farther than any poets who’ve come before us. Poetry’s bite nowadays is louder than its bark. The result is a near-universal whimper.

    Florida launch: efforts result in a great book event

    Sometimes we plan an event and things just come together. The community relations manager for Books-A-Million really put forth an effort to help make my Saturday event a success. She's truly a friend to small press authors. She and I worked closely together for over 2 months. My publisher and I came up with ideas, and I learned several important things about a super signing.

    It helps that the store is a sensational bookstore--big, lots of natural light, busy. Here are some other elements that made my Florida launch a definite success:

    1. Publicity: display ads don’t need to be big, but positioning counts. Ask the publication about placing your ad in as visible a position as possible. We opted for the community weekly and Northeast Florida’s widely distributed alternative paper Folio Weekly. FW, one of the top alternative papers in the nation, really delivers a bang for your buck. Plus the folks on staff are very nice. I also made bookmarks with the event info and I handed those out over a one-month period prior to the event.

    2. Writeups about the book: a definite bonus. This isn’t something an author can really orchestrate. My publisher sent out several news releases and this resulted in follow-ups from reporters. Three reporters did stories because of the book’s human interest angle and because of the widespread interest in health-related matters.

    3. Author efforts: I emailed 35 selected people on my newsletter list. I chose individuals I know personally. I asked them to assist me in a grassroots campaign to simply let people they knew in the area I’d be signing my book. I had info about the event on my Net pages several months prior to the event. Wherever I spoke, or whenever I socialized, I mentioned the event. Three weeks prior, I sent the newsletter to my full list of around 300 recipients with information about the first three events for Killing Earl. During the events, I always stand and I always greet people politely, even if they just walk on by. It’s business, not personal. So if a person doesn’t respond, it doesn’t bother me. It helps that I like people and rarely meet a stranger.

    4. Bookstore support: BAM put up my posters, created a flier for stuffing in bags prior to my event, and made regular announcements during the event. The announcements really helped; I was amazed at this because it’s the first time I’d experienced the benefit. The staff making the announcements used promo copy to blurb my book; the announcements were sort of like a 30-second radio spot. Worked wonders. I was at the interior mall entrance to the store and that was a great position because customers saw my poster, book, and table first.

    5. Support materials: I took my bookmarks. They include several web site links related to my book’s subject and also my own Net site. Even if someone doesn’t buy the book on site, they may keep the bookmark. I always put a small basket of hard (wrapped) candy on the table. That’s really my only table decoration other than the bookmarks and books. I’m Southern, and we have an obsession about hospitality. I don’t think the candy has a lot to do with sales, but it’s a nice touch and it looks pretty on the table.

    Hope these are useful to other authors. Today was a sensational day for my book. I’ll have a small break next week to clear my desk, work on publicity for summer events, and continue to work on my new book as well as articles for magazines. I may even take a day off!

    Saturday, May 07, 2005

    The inexplicable nature of writing

    Lately, my work day has been all about the new book. It’s sort of like bringing a new baby home. The phone rings incessantly, and someone seems to need me constantly. Frequently updating Net pages, responding to questions from my publisher, talking to festival and events directors, planning booksignings with stores—there don’t seem to be enough hours in a day.

    Ironically, at times like this, my writing output stays constant or actually increases. Poems form without much effort, at least the first drafts anyway. And as we put this book to bed and my publisher prepared to take over the book I’d nurtured for three years, an email arrived that changed my life and my plans.

    I’d returned to a partial manuscript, a novel that I started while I was writing Earl. But I opened my email one morning to find an appeal from a woman. She’s friends with a young man, Taylor G. Wells, who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.

    Because I’d written for prisoner rehabilitation programs, and once mentored a gifted writer in the prison system, I didn’t dwell too much on the stranger’s appeal in my inbox. No prisoner in his right mind wants to remain in jail. But later that day I reread her message. I looked at a photograph of the young man doing time. He has big, expressive eyes. He looks like a kid, even though he’s 30 years old. His friend sent me a lot of information, and also posted information on a Net site she created.

    As I began to sort through trial transcripts, depositions, and newspaper stories, I realized that this young man’s story needed to be told. After weeks of questioning, corresponding with him, and cross-checking facts, I realized that sometimes things happen for a reason. I talked the case over with a highly regarded criminal justice expert who agreed to help. And I began to write a new book.

    I told a friend of mine who directs a creative writing program that somehow, as I saw my new book come to fruition, I also grew a new poetry collection and started a new nonfiction book. In between, I wrote articles for magazines and pitched a new editor. During the last year, I traveled thousands of miles, from Texas to Hawaii, with my poetry book.

    Who can explain it? A writer just writes, and somehow, we find the time to do it in between work projects, volunteer projects, and our duties to our families. I don’t know why this is, why we can’t resist the tango with the paper and ink. It doesn’t even matter if it’s published. It just matters that we find a way to do it. Inexplicable, this writing dependency. And so necessary, if, like me, you are hooked.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Treading water (literally)

    Today was a happy day for ducks in Jacksonville, with showers pounding since last night. Several ducks from the lake across the street quacked their hearts out this afternoon. Glad to see someone found the weather suitable.

    The last few days have been full of surprises. Last night, I had the pleasure of dining with the 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry, Franz Wright. It was an incredible evening, and we talked poetry for a long time. He is a very eloquent and interesting man. I have the pleasure of doing an article about him for The Writer; it will be in an upcoming issue. I thought about how long I’ve enjoyed Franz Wright’s poetry as well as his father’s work. We also talked about a lot of poets he knows, and some have a connection to my own background, such as James Dickey. It was a memorable night, one I will remember for a very long time.

    Early reader responses to Killing Earl are very positive. I’ll be trying to post more of those on the book page soon at my home pages. The week has been a whirlwind of activity because my publisher and I are working out events for 2006. I’m thinking I will continue to be a very busy girl.

    A useful link for authors is AcqWeb’s Directory of Book Reviews on the Web. I’m eager to see what sort of response my publisher gets to the review copies he sent out several weeks ago. Seems to me that authors learn to be experts at holding their breath.

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    What does a publisher do for an author? Pt. III

    Thoughts on this question filled my brain yesterday. I had an event in Georgia and spent some time talking to the bookseller, an independent who knows a lot about the book world. She complimented me on my publisher (“very professional”) and we talked a little about some of the authors she’s met this year. She mentioned one very high profile name, an author of maybe a dozen books. She also mentioned the author, who is successful, but not a household word, doesn’t receive much support at all from the very high profile publisher bringing the author’s latest books out—“no travel, no publicity, no….”

    I’ve heard that story many times from many quarters. I had to ask myself if the author has asked for those things. Because simply put, you never know what you will receive unless you ask. So I’d advise any writer to become adept at politely asking for resources if they’ll increase sales.

    I think about the differences if I were to self-publish compared to the traditional arrangement I have now with My publisher walked with me through every page of multiple edits, sent out dozens of review copies of the book, contacts events groups, assists with publicity, and of course produced the book, ships the book, and keeps track of who gets what. I can’t imagine trying to do all that and write the books.

    There’s another intangible as well. When I get discouraged, my publisher is one of the greatest sources of support. He believes in my work strongly enough to restore my positive attitude when the going gets rough, and it always does get rough. Because I have respect for his talent, reassurance from him means a lot.

    Being represented by a small press can be challenging for an author, but I believe there are also advantages that an author may not get from a big house.

    So, keeping it short, these are a few more things a publisher may do for you.

    If you ask politely.

    Friday, April 29, 2005

    What does a publisher do for an author? Part II

    I missed posting yesterday. I hosted a big poetry program at Barnes and Noble, with guest poet Janet Carr Hull coming from South Carolina (see April 26 for full details). We had many poets and guests come out, and it was absolutely exhilarating.

    I can’t talk about publishing without talking about validation. One of the greatest things Ocean Publishing has done for me is to validate my work by association with a quality press. Now you can possibly do this for yourself if you publish your own book. The best means of validation is having your work published in respected journals, magazines, and newspapers. By “respected,” I don’t necessarily imply “nationally distributed.” There are lit journals that are tiny, but a clip from some of these can be a plum for the academically-bent. By acknowledging publications in your book for anything you’re reprinting, you get to ride the coattails of quality.

    Jeff Bahr, a talented poet, has done the lit world a big favor by creating pages devoted to print journals. He ranks them. Visit Jeff’s site: Jeff is an accomplished poet and he is also very cute. Read some of his poetry. For info on journals, click on “Submission Resources.”

    If you’re into mainstream writing, go for popular magazines like Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, and the essay page in Woman’s Day. Or opt for smaller, regional magazines. The tradebook I use for this purpose is The Writer’s Handbook published by Kalambach, publisher of the nation’s oldest trade for writers, The Writer. I've written for both those publications, but I used them long before I was published there.

    My main quibble with many of the writers I meet when I speak at conferences involves credentials. I cannot see how a person can tackle self-publishing a book if he or she has never been published anywhere. I'm not saying it's impossible to succeed without establishing your credentials. I am saying it's unlikely.

    Okay, keeping it short. Bottom line on Part II: an author needs validation.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2005

    What does a publisher do for an author? Part I

    I was talking with a fellow author yesterday. Her book is about to be released by a small press. She asked me what she might expect from her publisher in terms of marketing, and what the publisher might expect of her. It turned out to be a long conversation.

    Another friend of mine mentioned that my blog posts are too long. So I’m breaking up my response to my fellow author’s questions.

    An author’s expectations of course depend on the size of the publisher. A large house has more resources. But even big publishers do not knock themselves out for most mid-list authors. Case in point: one afternoon I went to a bookstore to meet an author whose book had been widely touted in the news. He’d been on major television programs and interviewed by several nationally circulated magazines. When I arrived, he was uncrating his books. He’d brought them with him on the plane. We talked at length in between visitors to his table.

    He shared with me the following facts: (1)he’d paid his own travel expenses, with no expectation of reimbursement; (2)he needed reviews; (3)he was very much involved and on top of his publicity. I made the following mental notes: (1)he did not have any display posters; (2)there were no bookmarks on his table; (3)he stood to greet visitors rather than sitting down.

    His publisher is an imprint of one of the very big publishers. I am deliberately keeping his name private. I did not ask for his permission to print what he told me.

    I followed his title. It’s a nonfiction work marketed to a specific niche, and although never a best-seller, continues to sell at a consistent pace. The book was released first in hardcover, and no expense was spared on production. It is a lovely book.

    Bottom line: in addition to paying for the book’s production, the publisher did arrange some very visible publicity. But the author himself was doing most of the grassroots legwork to sell his book. And his publisher has very deep pockets.

    Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow. I will try diligently to keep these posts shorter.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005

    Author on Skates

    The pre-release launch is a done deal, and the tour is heating up. The last 2 days have been a whirlwind of activity. We’re booking events daily, so I ended up changing my author calendar to a 2-month format. It just wasn’t logical to cram so much information into a single page. I’ve also created a tour page where you can see photos of my stops along the way, and some notes about my events.

    Today is a busy day because I’m preparing for a Poetry Extravaganza to be held Thursday, April 28, (7-9:15 p.m.)at the Barnes and Noble location in Mandarin. We’ll celebrate poetry’s designated month with many special guests, including Dorothy Fletcher and Janet Carr Hull. I do a special poem for National Poetry Month each year. If you’d like a sneak peek at the poem I’ll present Thursday, visit my National Poetry Month 2005 page. I always make a poem card and print it to hand out at random. Last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a news anchorwoman hold up my poem card and make nice remarks of it during the evening news.

    Besides all that, I’m getting ready to head to Brunswick, Georgia, for a weekend workshop at Hattie’s Books, meeting a few reporters in-between for interviews. As president of the writers' booster club, I'm helping to plan a special residency that Pulitzer winner Franz Wright will do for Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

    Busy girl. Busy world