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.