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