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:

  • http://www.uga.edu/garev/spring05/spring05.htm

    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.