Friday, December 15, 2006

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A big book

I spied a traveler holding the book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" as we boarded a plane for Washington.

Then my traveling partner and fellow author Dorothy Fletcher told me she heard it was a good book. We were in D.C. for several days, and happened to spy a bookstore The Trover Shop. So I picked up a copy of Jared Diamond’s nonfiction book about, as the subtitle says, “The Fates of Human Societies.”

That was last week. I’m still reading.

There’s a standing joke among family members that if it takes me longer than a day to read a book, I’ll be the only one who reads it.

I’m finding Diamond’s book interesting, but he is admittedly a tedious writer. An example occurs on page 55, after he’s told an interesting tale about how the Maori brutally conquered the Moriori on the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, in 1835. Both cultures stemmed from common ancestry of Polynesian peoples, so it’s interesting to compare why one group became peaceful and the other liked to kill people.

The author calls this event a “natural experiment that tests how environments affect human societies.”

It’s a straightforward passage. But possibly assuming his readers are dull of mind, Diamond goes into an explanation of the value of comparing the two groups by over-explanation, using experiments with rats as an example.

So far, I have a mental redliner going as I read. Of course, that’s typical of any writer—mental redlining, chopping, rearranging. We always think we could say it better.

But it is a fascinating book, winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science as well as a Pulitzer.

It doesn’t pack the wham for me though that another challenging nonfiction work did, Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa.” I couldn’t put that book down. I never knew a volcano could be so interesting and could, for centuries after blowing, impact history. And it was definitely a challenge to read.

On the other hand, a book also touching on why societies evolved as they did is John Keegan’s remarkable “A History of Warfare.” Sir John Keegan is British, so his sentences are multi-layered, very much unlike those of most American nonfiction writers. But that book, complex syntax and all, for me, was a page turner.

Early on, Diamond annoyed me with a dig towards everybody’s favorite global whipping boy, Western civilization. “Today,” he writes, “segments of Western society publicly repudiate racism. Yet many (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations privately or subconsciously.”

I’m guessing Easterners and Middle-Easterners would never do that, right? How about the Maori?

Sometimes I wish all men of science were forced to read more poetry.

It strikes me as amazing, since we have millennia of history behind us, we haven’t learned that man will be man no matter where he is. So many of the problems I see today are not a result of culture or geography. They’re a result of the human condition.

I resent conclusions being drawn about my “subconscious” and how does a person I’ve never spoken to know what I think privately? If it appears I'm taking this personally, I'd like to gently remind the reader my culture and heritage are Western.

But I’m plowing through Diamond’s book, and so far, it is interesting. I wish I’d been able to find it in hardcover. The bookstore only had the paperback and it’s a big fat book. Big books are easier to hold and read when the cover is sturdy.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Authors are plenty; writers are few

The other morning I saw a guest on one of those morning talk shows. I don’t remember the name of the show; they all sort of meld into one another they’re so much alike. A music group, a health segment, light politics, and the latest kidnapping, serial killing, or bombing. I figure broadcast curricula in colleges must include the course, “Formula for pre-commute shows.”

This guest was an attractive young woman who’s an author. She had a laugh like a small bell. She’s written some sort of book telling a person how to send greeting cards to people they love. I think the mute feature is a true gift from God to my remote.

I scanned the New York Times bestseller list today, and nonfiction has really come into its own. Among the top ten are three political books, one more book from an atheist talking about why God is a bummer, a book from Jimmy Carter whose output is regrettably ten times more productive now than when he was president, and something from Nora Ephron called “I Feel Bad about my Neck.”

That’s the state of the nonfiction book world we who write in that genre can aspire to. These books have stimulated enough orders to be classified as best sellers, and I’m guessing most libraries have eagerly clicked to stock them on the shelves in the interest of enriching American culture.

Everyone’s an author nowadays. Only a few are writers. (Kay B. Day/Dec. 10, 2006)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gifts for writers: cheap, easy, pleasing

He's not a writer, but he lives with one. Shadow likes opening his gift each Christmas, and he always appreciates whatever he gets, especially if it's edible.

There are a number of writers on my gift list, and I thought I’d share some of the more successful gifts I’ve given friends and associates in the past.

Most writers will appreciate paper. Although we’re supposed to be moving towards a paperless society, I feed my printer more often than I feed my dog. I even use both sides of the paper for rough drafts and business records. Still, I buy more paper than I like to.

Office supplies are useful—notebooks, large paper clips, file folders.

Writers like pens. Good pens—black, red, or blue.

Many of us like coffee or tea. My daughter’s boyfriend gave me a Starbucks gift card for my birthday, and I really liked that gift. There’s also a great new book out by Travis Arndorfer and Kristine Hansen: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea. I bought a copy for myself and have enjoyed learning about the beverages I drink too much of.

Then there’s postage. Email has definitely reduced my postage bill, but I still use stamps. A sheet or two of stamps will be appreciated by anyone.

Subscriptions to magazines are a treat that will last the whole year. In my last post I noted my own favorites.

There are several books a writer may find useful. Here are a few:
The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell (great resource);Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (for inspiration and crafting);The Brand Called You by Peter Montoya (for promoting your book).

For inspiration, consider giving your friend (writers and non-writers) a book of poetry. Any book of poetry. (We poets are famous for begging).

Some of us like wine. I picked up a copy of Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade by Thomas Pellechia. This is one of the liveliest, most interesting books on wine I’ve read. It’s a lovely, hardcover book with neat illustrations.

All the books mentioned here are available at a number of online sites.

Last but not least, invite your writing friend out for a cup of coffee or for lunch. We stay cooped up too much if we do this full-time.--Happy Shopping! Kay Day (11-27-06)

Because of the reading next week at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., my next post will be delayed.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Subscriptions to mags: what to do

I was talking to my friend Dorothy Fletcher this morning about magazine subscriptions. I have too many. So this is the season, as the fiscal year ends, to take a look at my subs and decide who stays and who goes.

Dorothy's a writer, so we talked about a few publications she might subscribe to. I told her if I had only one subscription to a writing magazine, it'd be to The Writer. Before you proceed, I disclose I've written for the magazine, the handbook, and currently do a Net column "Poetry Beat."

But I can share the magazine has been on my desk since I was a 17-year-old in a small Southern town, dreaming of being a writer. There was a newsstand in my town. I'd leave my job as a dime store clerk each Friday afternoon and head for the newsstand. I'd always purchase a magazine. One week I'd buy The Writer. The next, I'd pick up The Atlantic. Then it'd be The New Yorker.

Many years later, the newsstand is gone. I subscribe to a number of magazines for different reasons.

The Writer is one I rely on for news, articles on crafting, information on publishing, contest announcements. I found a treasure trove of information by writers like W. Somerset Maugham and George Bernard Shaw. They were published in past issues of this magazine that's been a friend to writers since 1887.

I subscribe to Christian Science Monitor for their balanced news coverage, interesting features, and poetry. I write for them sometimes too.

I've never written for Time or the Weekly Standard. I buy the first for liberal news and the second for conservative news. Nor have I submitted to National Geographic, but it's a sub I can't do without.

I get the daily newspaper here because I start my day with it and like to read it with my coffee.

I get Health because I'd like to submit to them if an idea strikes and I like their articles on fitness and women's issues. I almost forgot to add Poetry. There's at least one poem that really sticks with me in each issue.

Those are the subs I'm sticking with. They've served me well.

--posted 11-18-06 by Kay B. Day

Note (11-21-06):Sigh. A dear one wrote to remind me I also write for the daily newspaper sometimes. See what happens when you try to disclose everything? Since I didn't mention it by name, I figured I'd done things up right. But my dear one is wise, so be aware: the Times Union has published my freelance articles in the local sections.


I've signed up for something called Technorati Profile . So I have to put a link here. Dunno why, but I "claimed" my blog.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poetry Beat at The Writer goes live

My first Poetry Beat column for The Writer is now live. Read about poet Lee Slonimsky and how his poems are woven into his wife’s popular mysteries. I discovered Slonimsky’s sonnets while reading Carol Goodman’s The Ghost Orchid.

I talked about the book here on my blog. One of the poet’s workshop students read the blog. Soon I was corresponding with Lee Slonimsky. Concurrently, we were developing plans for Poetry Beat at The Writer. It was so fortuitous, the timing, because I can’t think of a better poet to launch the column.

Do have a read, and see who’s up next. And send me your story tips or post them on the special forum for Poetry Beat.

Note: I learned the column is premium content, so it can only be read if you're a subscriber to the magazine.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Poems that go bump in the brain

Each month when my issue of Poetry comes, I keep it on my desk. When I take a break or have lunch, I like to thumb through the magazine and enjoy the poems. In the November, 2006, issue, there’s a poem that stopped me in my tracks. It’s one of those poems that lingers like the scent of a garden rose, powerful yet delicate and pleasing.

I’ve read it to my daughters, my husband, and visitors. Everyone who knows me is accustomed to my commanding them, “Listen to this!” I’ve shared poems by many writers with that command, including my own work.

This poet is Reginald Shepherd. The poem is “My Mother Was No White Dove.” This is a blow-your-mind poem, ripe with lines like, “My mother was the clouded-over night/a moon swims through…” This poem alone is worth the price of a subscription.

The bio note says all of Shepherd’s books are published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. His fifth, Fata Morgana, is due out this spring.

I don’t know the poet, but I’m grateful to him. His poem took me away for awhile, and those moments have a value that only a lover of poetry can understand.

And in the interest of disclosure, I can rave about the magazine because I've never been published there and I never will be.

So there you go.

Note: Thanks to all of you who've emailed me with news tips for my new column at The Writer. We have some sensational stories lined up. Column will debut mid-November. And continue to send me those tips!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New poetry column to debut at The Writer

My new bimonthly column Poetry Beat will launch in mid-November at the Internet site for The Writer magazine. The column will focus on the topical aspects of poetry. We’ll feature esteemed poets who’ve made their mark in the canon, as well as emerging poets who are taking poetry to the people in unusual ways. Opportunities, contests, and events will all be part of our coverage. A special discussion thread will be available on the forum so readers can send tips or post comments.

Poets House in New York showcased over 2,000 new poetry titles last year, according to information on the Net site. Those are just the collections in the showcase. Many others were published by independent presses and individuals.

We hope this column will grow into a forum for all poets, and a resource as well. Do visit often as we journey through Po-Biz together.—Best to all, Kay Day

Friday, October 27, 2006

Grisham's new book focuses on conviction of innocent man

I just finished John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. I have a stack of books people have sent me, but I bought this one in hardcover.

As I read, the book made me think of a young man here in Florida. He was convicted of felony murder years ago. Although he played no direct role in the crime, he received a life sentence. I blogged about the case for over a year on a site that is no longer public.

Grisham tells the story of a man from Oklahoma, Ron Williamson. Williamson was a promising baseball player whose dream died because of drink, drugs and lack of discipline. He suffered from mental illness, and was railroaded by a prosecutor who had no real evidence but managed to create a case anyway.

The book gets a bit tedious in places, but overall it’s a good read. Grisham’s narrative reflects some of the same conclusions I came to as I blogged about the Florida case.

Our criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. Those with money have a good chance of escaping punishment.

Those who don’t have money end up with public defenders and harsh sentences.

In my opinion, there’s a lot of law but very little justice.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I was speaking at a writing/publishing seminar arranged by my publisher at Borders Books. The place was packed, and everyone there had an interest in some type of writing, with the majority of those present interested in fiction. My topic was “Research and Fact-Checking.”

Someone asked how we go about writing a book. Besides my publisher Frank Gromling, founder of Ocean Publishing, poet Michelle Leavitt (Powow River Anthology) and novelist Victor DiGenti (Windrusher series) were part of the speaking team that day. So each of us offered our own perspectives.

I shared the story of an interview with Nicholas Sparks. Years ago, I did an article about him for a now defunct Internet site. But I remember what he told me. He said when he starts a new book, he sketches it on a single page. He goes from there.

I have come to realize that I’m a spurt writer. Often I hop from document to document. I may have a poem open and an article for a magazine in addition to the file for my new nonfiction book.

I do prepare an outline for a book, but it’s a loose one and basically covers the points or topics I’ll write about. When the rough draft is ready, I print it and edit the hard copy. There’s an amazing reaction to seeing a 50,000 word document printed. For one thing, it just looks so big compared to a manuscript of 50-60 poems.

Ironically, poems are the hardest to write. They take longer. They have to cook longer, in my opinion.

Articles and essays are the most immediately rewarding. For one thing you get to see them in print quicker. I usually take an essay through five or six drafts.

I tend to think and compose within the writing process. I start out with one perspective and it may change, it will definitely deepen, and it will morph into something else entirely as the writing process progresses.

Victor DiGenti gave a great tip to fiction writers. He does a resume of each of his characters.

Many of the questions asked that day rested on self-publishing. I’ll write about that next time.

Each writer develops his or her own process. It's like voice: every writer has a different one.

What’s up: I’ll be reading with Dorothy K. Fletcher and Rize Cole at the Library of Congress for Poetry at Noon on December 5. A new essay will be out soon in Christian Science Monitor, and a story about a young writer who won a national award is forthcoming in the Florida Times Union. A sonnet is part of the new Letters to the World anthology (Red Hen) from the WOMPO poetry group online. The group was started by Annie Finch in 1997. And I’ll have an essay in the hardcover book Faces of Freedom edited by Rebecca Pepin.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Another Goodman novel coming soon

A couple days ago, I was talking to a friend about novels. I mentioned how much I enjoyed reading Carol Goodman’s books. So when news of her new novel The Sonnet Lover came, I pre-ordered the book.

Goodman usually works mythology and poetry into her books. I’ve read each of her novels, and her voice and style have steadily grown stronger and more distinctive.

There’s an interesting interview at Beatrice. I'd like to interview her--I think she'd be very interesting.

This author is a born storyteller, but she’s literary without being oppressively literary. The books entertain, and they also make the reader think. She’s very good at weaving several subplots into the main plot. Her last book included fine sonnets by her husband Lee Slonimsky. I’m awaiting her new book to see the tie-in with the title.

Otherwise, autumn is always busy for a freelancer. Exciting speaking events coming up include my reading with two other Florida poets at the Library of Congress. I’ve never been to Washington, so doing poetry there and being able to see the capital will be a treat. I’m hacking my way through my nonfiction book, trying to decide where to go once it’s finished. And as always, tinkering with my poetry manuscript in the last stages of the final edit. Well, the almost final edit. I feel like my poems are never really finished.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Resources for news in a Florida classroom

Every day my high school senior comes home and regales me with stories. It’s one of the highlights of my day, sitting down around 4 p.m. with her. As she packs in the food, I listen, appreciating not only her storytelling skills but her perspectives as well. I also appreciate the blessing of thin people who can eat multiple servings of carbs and never gain a pound.

Today, it came as a complete surprise to me when my daughter told me she isn’t allowed to use the Internet or newspapers either as a resource for her honors history class (American Government). The only acceptable source is television news.

You can imagine my surprise. For one thing, there is no better resource for information about politics and world affairs than the Net, provided you go to reputable sites. For another, television news is often skewed politically one way or the other. For yet another, there isn’t an anchor who bears the charisma of the old guard, all of whom are gone now. The possible exception to this is a fellow named Shepard Smith. He does a show on Fox News. It’s straight news, with no commentary or as best I can tell, no advocacy platform. I don’t watch it very often, because I don’t watch much TV anyway.

I am around a lot of teens and college students, courtesy of my daughters. I have come to one conclusion and I don’t need a survey to back me up.

Young people get their news from the Net mostly. If they’re watching TV, they aren’t watching news. Young people will also read the Entertainment section in the newspaper. Young people in Jax will read the Sports section because this is where the Jags live.

As for omitting newspapers as a news source, that is an intellectual ripoff because print media often provides more in-depth coverage than the Net or TV. What about magazines? What about books? With elections pending, books will multiply like Florida lovebugs in September, and believe me, those little bugs are everywhere right now. When I sit outside with a cup of coffee, I check it to make sure there aren’t a couple of those flighty critters swimming around in it.

It’s a teacher’s call on how to run a class. It’s my call to comment on that and anything else of interest. Freedom to opine is a small perk (all the perks are small) of being a freelance writer in a free country.

Come to think of it, that freedom began with newspapers long ago.

A few of my many favorite links:

The Drudge Report

Time Magazine

Google News

NewsLink (includes links to newspaper, TV, radio)

Christian Science Monitor

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Can't speak Farsi? Me neither.

I write a column for a site with a focus on homeland security. When I’m checking facts, or trying to learn more about global political events, I have to rely on whoever translated if the site is from a country whose language I can’t speak.

I recently discovered the site MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute. I found translations from media in many different countries. The site is well-organized and also has a film section. According to the description, material is translated into seven different languages.

Considering the complexities in world politics today, sites like this one really help. Anyone interested in the Middle East will find very interesting reading. Some paint MEMRI as biased against the Arab world, but since I read Arab news sites as well, I can at least compare information and make an informed decision. Problem is I have to read the Arab sites in English.

I’ve focused on studying the Middle East lately because of the column. And I just ordered an interesting looking new book Letters from an American Farmer by J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur. The book was first published in England in 1782 as the Revolutionary War of Independence came to an end. I’m looking forward to reading about American concerns at that time. The book, according to the back cover blurb, was “written by an emigrant French aristocrat turned farmer."

I realized most of the books I’ve read lately are either poetry or nonfiction, with the exception of Marcia Preston’s excellent The Butterfly House. I highly recommend her novel; it was a very good read. She uses the motif of the study of butterflies, and successfully creates a character we care about. The book embodies a mystery, and features some very interesting characters.

Gazing around my office, I realize there are so many books I want to read. And write. As always, those are good problems for a writer to have.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Kids get a laureate

“CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation will inaugurate the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children’s Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, as part of the third annual Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago on September 27, 2006.”—news from The Poetry Foundation September 18, 2006

John Barr, president of The Poetry Foundation, says children’s poets go unrecognized. I’d have to agree with him. But then poetry in general often goes unrecognized. Designating a poet whose work resonates with youth certainly can’t hurt.

Children respond to poetry with levels of honesty and acceptance unreachable by adults. If youth experience poetry early on, there’s a chance as adults they will be receptive to it.

I believe reading poetry and responding to it will enhance anyone’s education. My own children are strong writers and readers. As toddlers, they’d always calm down when I read to them. My daughters were wide open at an early age, so I used books and together-time to help them learn to sit still and pay attention. We also used stories and poems as springboards for the imagination. As they’ve grown older, they’ve both made a place for poetry in their lives.

It perplexes me that unlike many other countries, America keeps poetry confined to aesthetic tribes and small journals. I’ve never understood why major women’s magazines don’t publish poetry. More newspapers seem to be giving the genre some attention, and on occasion, a television program will feature someone reading a poem either at a funeral or a wedding.

I encourage others to read poetry because, in my opinion, it adds a beautiful dimension to life. I’ve often thought poetry could use a few more good missionaries. Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and Annie Finch are fine poets who, by various activities like readings and networks, have furthered the reach of our purest form of writing.

On the other hand, I’ve suffered through more than one reading where I wish the poet had kept things to himself.

Poets. We’ll never be 100% happy with anything. If we were, we’d be writing fiction.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who judges a book by its cover?

My publisher sent me a critique from several judges after he entered my memoir in a book contest. I finally got around to reading it, and was surprised at what I found. I got high marks for editorial and writing; the book got low marks for cover design and for interior graphic design. One judge even recommended the book to her friend.

That experience led me to think about book buying in a different way. I’d always accepted opinions that the front cover of a book is a critical buying factor for book browsers.

But I never really look hard at the front cover. I usually go first to the back cover. If there’re just blurbs there from other authors or reviewers, I read no further. If there’s a description or excerpt, I do read that.

I read the bio page of the author. Then I usually read the first page or two of the text.

Then I decide do I want the book.

This applies to titles that I’m not specifically looking for, when I’m in the mood to load up on new works to read. Otherwise, I order the book online if it’s one that’s been recommended, or that I’ve read about in the news, as opposed to reviews. I’ve rarely bought a book because of a review either, now that I think about it.

I buy a lot of books.

I admit I don’t read much Chick Lit or romances. Maybe covers are important to those readers.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How can I become a [published] writer?

Maybe it’s because of the end of summer, fall easing up like a familiar friend.

But in the last two weeks, I’ve gotten about six or seven emails asking me how you can become a writer.

I can’t get around to answering all the email—most people can’t. And there really isn’t a quick answer to the question.

I think you just write down what you think about and all else follows. A popular buzz phrase right now is “I write because I can’t not write.” Or something like that.

But what I’m getting at is I never thought about how to become a writer. I just wrote.

Curiosity helped in the publishing endeavors. I learned to study publishers and magazines—almost all of them have Net sites now. And I joined several networks after looking at organizations—all of them have Net sites. I dug up what I needed to know simply because I focused on learning about the business of writing and also on the process of writing.

In between, I read and still do read tons of books.

What’s important is the journey each writer follows in determining his or her true passion. And I don’t think you can be a writer unless you follow the path solo.

So there you go. It sounds deceptively easy.

Enter Poetry Spotlight III at The Writer online. Poets Dana Wildsmith and Dr. Carl Horner will join me in critiquing winning poems. Deadline is September 15.

To the Georgia bookstore owner who featured my memoir Killing Earl in a special display I wish I knew the name of your store so I could thank you properly. A reader let us know about the display, but she didn’t share the name of the store.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Exploring the Middle East: War, Faith, People

It’s good to be back on the blog. Summer is on its final roll, and because of professional and personal constraints, I haven’t had a lot of time to update my column here.

When I wasn’t writing or taking time off,books about Judaism,Christianity, and the Middle East in general occupied my time. I’m doing a column for Family Security Matters, and wanted to learn more about the areas, cultures, and faiths that dominate the global consciousness. I read a few blogs about the subject too; most of those I found are gloriously inaccurate and skewed by one political view or the other (the latter without benefit of an “opinion” tag unfortunately).

So here’s a list of several books I read, with opinionated annotations—if you choose to read one of these titles, let me know your reaction. I’ll list some more next time—I’m trying hard to learn to write shorter pieces for the Net.

INSIDE ISRAEL (Marlowe and Company, 2002) by David K. Shipler and others
This is a collection of essays, and in my opinion, it’s the best of the dozen or so books I read. Featured here are essayists like P. J. O’Rourke, whose “Zion’s Vital Signs” illustrates why he is one of the best essayists writing today. Other essays by Saul Bellow, Karen Armstrong and the like make this book a page turner. The collection is very even-handed, and not at all irrational, which makes it an unusual book in its genre. Many of the pieces first appeared in publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic. O’Rourke’s essay is my favorite—he’s one of the only writers I know who can be simultaneously funny and serious about the Middle East.

WHAT WENT WRONG?(Perennial, 2002) by Bernard Lewis
Lewis, a highly respected scholar on Islam, is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton. This book offers a very objective, informative view of historical and current events. He’s not a dry academic writer; unlike many formal scholars, he can actually write as opposed to presenting information.

ISLAM (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Sort of an all-about-Islam book by University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Central theme of the book is faith; excellent information about the various manifestations of Islam in terms of place and culture. At times, the author’s attitude can be wearisome—a reliance on the-Western-world-makes-them-do-it is a convenient rationale for violence perpetrated by political factions in some Islamic countries. But a useful text for looking into the mind of a man serious about his faith. Sort of an Islamic take equivalent to a book about Christianity if Billy Graham were to write one focusing on the topic from the same perspective as Nasr.

THE ASSASSINS (first publication Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1967; preface to paperback added 2003)
Fascinating account of the “radical sect in Islam”, the Ismaili Shiite sect described in the book as the first group to make systematic use of murder as a political weapon. This book is a very useful tool for understanding all the different branches of Islam. I liked Lewis’s book listed above so much I bought this one too. He really is a fine creative writer.

Link of the week:The Renegade Writer

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What's Up

When June rolled around,it looked like things would slow down. Many editors take early summer vacations. I envisioned having time to work on some creative projects.

Well, this isn’t the first time a bubble burst. June has taken off like one of those skinny little rockets we light on July 4th and send zooming skyward.

I just signed on as a contributing editor for a site, Family Security Matters. I’m facilitating an ongoing Poetry Spotlight for The Writer, and also writing on a regular basis for the Florida Times Union. My latest for the T-U is an article about a talented musician named Kent Smedley. What he can do with a guitar is unbelievable.

I have an essay pending in The Christian Science Monitor, and I’m still doing the writing residency at Shands Jacksonville. The new poetry collection is almost there, and of course, I’d like more time to work on it. I managed to make some gains on the new nonfiction book. The novel’s drafted, sitting on the shelf like an abandoned puppy. It’s done, but I think it needs to just leave my mind for now. Then I’ll go back in and edit it and start looking into publishers.

Never a dull moment. I’m doing the poetry workshops for the Southeastern Writers Association Conference next week, so I won’t be blogging again until the last week in June.

And since I’m starting school at UNF in the fall, I’m trying to get all my ducks in a row.

Every full-time freelancer I know stays time-challenged. It’s a good problem to have.

Recommended book: A History of Warfare by John Keegan. Mind-blower of a book.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The state of the American book

The big “do”, as we say in the South of any event that is significant, in the book world just concluded, and guess what? The book world has changed. John Updike says so. It must be true.

A release about Book Expo America from the Associated Press quotes Updike as saying the written word is “supposed to speak for itself and sell itself.”

I reckon if you’re John Updike, you can endorse an attitude like that.

Updike didn’t talk about his own upcoming book during his presentation at Expo, so I won’t either.

But as a poet, I can guarantee you that if you do not get your work out into the public arena, the only people who will buy it are your family members and maybe your very good buddies.

I’ll say it again: American literature has gradually become American entertainment. Mysteries, crime-of-the-week books, celebrity penned muck—those are the dominant categories on a best-seller list at the moment headed by book facilitator James Patterson.

If you think I’m sucking on sour grapes, that’s fine by me. But I don’t rely on my books to survive. Why do you think I stuck with freelance writing for all these years?

Take poetry, for instance (yep, that again). Go into your nearest library and try to talk about poetry with whoever’s in charge. You’ll be lucky if the librarian can identify ten living poets. Go into your nearest bookstore. Try to find a poetry title. Allow extra time if you’ve got anything else to do. Turn on your TV, pick up your newspaper. Pick up one of those glossy women’s magazines—after all, well-educated women, according to the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry in America study are primary readers of poetry. If you’re lucky, you might find some greeting card verse in a magazine like Woman’s World. Most guidelines for topical women’s magazines state emphatically: NO POETRY.

To the seven sisters in glossy women's publishing, I suggest you add some poetry. You are neglecting an important interest in your readership.

So we’ve split the purest most demanding form of writing apart from our mainstream literature. Intellectuals like to expound that your average American can’t understand “serious” poetry.

We got another word for that kind of attitude down “heah.” But I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing it with you.

I’ll concede this: Americans can’t understand it if they can’t find it. And at the moment, foreign owned publishers that dominate American letters and large corporations and small companies as well are doing a fine job of keeping poetry from the American people. The book world is no longer run by those who consider our literature the keeper of our language. It is run by packagers, marketing people and publicists. Bean counters figure in there somewhere.

I challenge anyone to read any of the plentiful articles penned about Book Expo. If you find a quote from a poet, do let me know. (Click on the title of this column for a sample).

Meanwhile, go read a poem. You may actually remember some lines or find yourself inspired. It won’t go from your eyes through your brain into the cerebral center where useless information vaporizes, and that’s where most of what you will find at the front of bookstores and libraries goes.

Finally, it isn’t the idea of reading to be entertained that bothers me. It’s the fact that this is the book industry now, lock, stock, and barrel. You’d think with the diversity buzz word on everyone’s lips, we’d apply that to the written word as well.

Friends don't call me a poetry warrior for nothing.

Hero of the week: Phillip Milano, assistant Metro editor and River Bend Review editor (also columnist and author of I Can’t Believe You Asked That). Phillip ran a poem I wrote about a photo taken by Dan Scanlon, metro writer and RRR writer. He ran it on the front page of the community sections. That may be a first in Jacksonville—for poetry to appear on the front page of anything. I freelance for the TU and Phillip is my editor, but if he hadn’t thought it worthy, he wouldn’t have run it. So I’m singing his praises.

A wilted bouquet to: Jacksonville’s public library foundation (NOT the library, but the private fundraising organization). Why? Poetry was completely omitted from this year’s book festival. James Patterson keynoted.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Q&A with Poetry editor

Writers are sometimes the last to know--I just found out that my Q&A with Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, is now live at The Writer. Visit the site to read:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A first for me

For the first time--I think, if memory serves me right--one of my poems has been published in a newspaper.

The Florida Times Union's neighborhood news sections, including the one for my own part of town, ran the poem today on the front page. I wrote the poem after seeing this cool photograph a reporter named Dan Scanlon took. I sent the poem to Dan so he could see what his photo inspired.

The photo showed the sun rising and the full moon in the sky at the same time. Unfortunately you can only see this photo in the print edition. But the poem's online.

I wrote about writing the poem in an earlier blog.

To read "The wishing sky" click on the title of this column or go to:

It's a neat thing having a poem in the newspaper.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finding night

My daughters read it and were profoundly moved, but until recently, I’d never read Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night. When the book group I visit selected it, I confess I was a little unenthusiastic. Not because I thought it an unworthy book, but because I’d already read so much about World War II and Nazi Germany—nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

So I picked up the slim little volume and read it last night. As I began, I wondered if it would affect me as sharply as Anne Frank’s diary. As I continued to read, I realized that although both books deal with tragedy, Frank’s diary, kept while she and her family were in hiding, pulls at the reader because her perspective is so innocent.

Wiesel’s memoir, however, recounts the direct experience of living in a concentration camp, of being subjected to forced labor and savage conditions. His innocence dissolved as soon as he was en route to the camps, and even earlier, once his family was moved from their home into the temporary ghetto in Sighet. The only innocence in Wiesel, narrating as a teenager, is in the brief pages that precede the deportation of his Jewish family, friends and neighbors.

Not long ago, I read news stories about Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called the Holocaust a “myth”. As I read Wiesel’s book, I wondered at an intellect that could deny the Holocaust. After all, there’s a daunting paper trail—one archive, according to an article in The Telegraph comprises over 50 million documents and includes records for over 17 million people.

One element that makes Wiesel’s memoir so disturbing is his narrative style. He recounts his experiences in an almost clinical tone, with occasional spurts of metaphor. He speaks in sparse prose passages of seeing prisoners hanged, of watching a man crawling to a soup cauldron die, by accident because of Allied bombing. He applies the same tone to thinking about the possibility of having his own leg amputated, and to caring for his dying father.

The most powerful image, in my opinion, is at the end of the book. Wiesel’s camp has been freed, and he’s in the hospital after a case of food poisoning. He gets up to go look in the mirror, something he hadn’t done since leaving his home town to go to the camps. “From the depths of the mirror,” he writes, “a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”

Reading Wiesel's memoir is like looking into the mirror alongside the author. And books like this never leave us either. Perhaps we might gift a selection of nonfiction books like Night and The Diary of Anne Frank, and maybe a novel like Sophie’s Choice to Iran’s top government leader. Are such books readily available, I wonder, in that country?

After all, Iran doesn’t exactly embrace freedom of speech. Unless of course you’re the president.

Recommended link of the week:Chicana Poetics
Interesting blog, but a must-read is the poem “Brandy down our throats like fire”. Just an exceptional work.

Suggested reading:
Creative Writer US; great advice for aspiring writers in my Writers at Work feature on W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Monday, May 08, 2006

There's something about poetry

Last week, I did a poetry program for a trade association. I began by asking how many people liked to read poetry. A few hands were raised. Slowly.

Then I asked how many of them either read or listened to poetry being read when they were young. Almost every hand lifted. Enthusiastically.

When I asked how many liked poetry, every hand went up.

My findings were in line with information collected by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of the magazine Poetry. Another finding that I have experienced: people search for poems to read at funerals, weddings and other special events. Every time I check stats for my blog, I find at least one search string with one or more of the following words: poetry, funeral, wedding, healing. Click on the title of this column above to read the entire report at the PF site.

Poetry is a bit like God. Maybe we turn to it when we need it.

During last week’s program, I spoke about the significance of poetry. It’s the key to our culture and our passion as well as our history. It’s the best method for teaching students critical thinking. In my opinion.

I told my audience they likely won’t find a poetry book at the front of a store—any poetry book. Most poetry is pubbed by small presses, and I don’t know very many of those that can buy display space at the rate of $10,000. I read poems from my forthcoming collection NOTES FROM A FLORIDA VILLAGE, and a poem or two from A POETRY BREAK.

By the time they left, those who shared their time with me were excited about poetry. My publisher was very happy with the program and the results.

I like to think they all frolicked off to read some.I meant to tell them to pick up a jug of wine and a loaf of bread.

Link of the week: Poetry Magazine.
If America has a defining poetry publication, this would be it.

Tip of the week: Visit The Writer for my Q&A with Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry. It should be posted sometimes this week. Thanks to Anne Halsey, media coordinator of the Poetry Foundation, for helping to facilitate the interview.

And while you're at The Writer, enter Poetry Spotlight II, a free contest I'm coordinating there.

Monday, May 01, 2006

National Poetry Month in Jacksonville, Florida

What’s in your hometown for National Poetry Month?

I was in the middle of telling someone how much I liked Jacksonville. I told him I’d moved here about 3 years ago, and fell in love with the place.

“I don’t like it anymore,” he said. “I used to.”

We started talking about why. After all, this is the biggest land blob in the contiguous United States, as various Net sites like to tout. We’ve got a river next to none, a generous coastline, and temperate weather. Hurricanes more often than not avoid us. We’ve hosted the Super Bowl, for cryin’ out loud.

He started telling me how Jacksonville had changed the downtown area, how the jetty even changed—the popular pier was destroyed, how things used to be different when the downtown area was a place for people to congregate and entertain themselves. He believes those in charge completely miss the boat on our potential.

I’d have to agree with that. Go to St. Augustine on the weekend and you’re lucky to find a place to park. The historic downtown section is packed. Merchants have a field day. Go to downtown Jax on the weekend, and unless there’s a football game, you can have a parking field day.

But it’s not all about entertainment. Jacksonville has—dare I say it? A poetry issue. Let me give an example.

We get a Pulitzer winner here. His father won the Pulitzer for poetry too. Nary an official attended his reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve been to dozens of poetry events and I have never met any type of official (both political parties included herein) at a single event.

My publisher reissued an anthology of poetry by Jax writers. Nary a mite of support from anyone anywhere connected with the structural leaders herein. And there was actually some good poetry in that anthology—not all of it was brilliant, but some of it was written by leading magazine editors and university professors. I can whine about it because none of my work was in the anthology. So at least my criticism is objective.

What gives? I just read an article by someone who works at the library. She didn’t know April is National Poetry Month, except she works at a library and so she knows April is NPM.

Our annual book festival here, sponsored by the foundation for our city library, included a poet last year—from an out-of-state high school creative writing program. Word of mouth reviews were unkind.

That isn’t to say we don’t have poets here. We have them crawling out of our ears. We’ve got poets who go for formal work, a poet who teaches classes on a riverboat, a poet who is a university professor who edits an internationally known journal.

We’ve got poets here like me, who speak in many cities about our work, who have won awards that go far beyond North Florida’s rigid border in terms of recognition.

One of our poets, Dorothy Fletcher, just won the Robert Frost Contest.

A Jacksonville poet’s book was the only Florida poetry book cited by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association for poetry book of the year last year. A Jacksonville poet is organizing a reading of Florida poets for the Library of Congress in December, for the Poetry at Noon program. A Jacksonville poet writes regularly for well-regarded national magazines about poetry.

Our daily newspaper will absolutely not review a book of poetry, although it will do features on self-published poets in the community section. Thank God for community news. When I think about it, if it weren't for the community news and local book events sections, you wouldn't know the city had a single poet. Our city magazine rarely features anything to do with poetry. A leading women’s publication here has no idea what poetry is (I suspect).

April is National Poetry Month. In cities like Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, people know about it. But poetry should be a year-round interest. The people are interested in poetry. Teachers at schools are. I know because I am frequently invited to speak about it,not just in other places, but here at home.

Up here, “where Florida begins,” I reckon we need to tattoo it on one of our famous billboards. Maybe we could dress up a Hooters waitress, draw dark circles around her eyes and drape her with a sandwich sign asking, “Got Poetry?” Maybe we could decorate a poetry manatee? Could we invent a poetry football helmet?

Maybe we should all just send the various powers that be a poem. We could offer operating instructions with it.

Recommended poetry link of the week: Julie Carter’s blog, Carter’s Little Pill.
Why? Because her poetry works magic on your mind and ear.

Recommended to-do of the week: Enter The Writer Magazine’s online Poetry Spotlight 2 Contest.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Inspiring students, students inspiring

Driving across the Buckman Bridge last week, I listened to one of my favorite songs on the radio. My husband plays the song on the guitar, so I know most of the words. Josh Turner’s song “Your Man“ is a ragtime sort of tune. I viewed it as a positive sign, hearing my favorite song and being uplifted as I went to a place where I hoped to do some uplifting myself.

As I drove across the bridge—it took me months to adjust to driving over 3 miles of water with a very low concrete wall on either side—I wondered what sort of class I’d be doing poetry with.

The J.E.B. Stuart Middle School students I met are in 8th grade advanced language arts—Joe Cramer is the teacher. The first thing I noticed about them was how they paid attention to the teacher. Joe introduced me and I began my presentation, asking them questions about poetry. Suddenly, a very big WONK WONK sound erupted.

Someone yelled, “Fire Drill,” and we proceeded outside. I worried a little because once you interrupt a presentation, the audience may lose interest, especially when it is a smack dab perfect April day, with a temperate breeze and enough spring fever to fill a hospital.

I needn’t have worried. Once we returned, we dialogued about poetry together and I read a few pieces from my new collection. I deliberately selected poems for all ages for my 2007 book Notes from a Florida Village. I peppered my talk with comments about my childhood, my desire to be a writer, and how I overcame a difficult upbringing to do what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted them to know they can do the same; this school is not in a well-heeled area.

They asked a number of questions—When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Do you ever write about your children? Do you write about your childhood? Do you ever have writer’s block?

The most amazing thing was the attention span. The class is full, and every student in the room gave me undivided attention. That’s a first. There was an exciting current of kinship in the room. These kids are in the 8th grade, and they know what a sonnet is, what a cinquain is, and they know their poets well. We talked about Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, and many more writers.

Joe Cramer is one incredible teacher. One of the projects they worked on is making a poetry anthology, not of their own work but of work by other poets. They type the poems, lay out the book and design it themselves. One book I looked at had the quality of a professional artist, and included both classical poets and modern ones.

I’ve extended an invitation to Joe to select two of his students for our Florida State Poetry Reading in Washington. I invited Joe to read too; he is a master writer of sonnets. Joe is one of the most dedicated teachers I’ve ever met where poetry and writing are concerned.

I went to J.E.B. Stuart to inspire. I came away inspired.

Link of the week: Winning Writers; Why? Free newsletter. Admission to full site requires subscription for a small price and a mountain of good information.

Reminder of the week: Enter your poem in Poetry Spotlight 2 at The Writer online.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Confessions of an addict

Some of us can’t imagine a life without poetry. My own love for it began when I was very young. My mother didn’t have a formal education, but her reading to us is one of the first early memories I have. One of my favorite books was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. One of my favorite poems was Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott. I discovered Walt Whitman and many others when my Aunt Cornelia, a woman known for her beauty and genteel nature, gave me an anthology of poems. The name of that book escapes me, but I read it until it fell apart.

I carried my passion into adulthood. I read poetry to both my daughters from the moment they breathed on their own. Now that they’re older, we’ve shared many “poetry moments” together, often when I come across a poem that stops me on the tracks of a busy day, like a train. I am probably one of the only people I know who doesn’t mind the interruption of a train on a city street; I like to watch the box cars and read what people write on them. I like to imagine what’s inside them, where they’ve been, where they’re going. And that’s how I feel about poems.

I read such a poem yesterday. Vince Gotera, in an article about imagery, cites a haiku written in the 1700s by Taniguchi Buson. Gotera teaches a course on the Craft of Poetry at the University of Northern Iowa. His site is an act of generosity for both writers and readers.

Gotera uses this poem in the context of an instructional article about imagery in poetry, citing Pound’s In a station of the metro as well. I was so taken by Buson’s lines that I called my 16-year-old into the office and read it to her. She listened, then smiled at me and said, “Wow!” Here’s the haiku, borrowed from Buson’s site (in the interest of poetry instruction):

The piercing chill I feel:
my dead wife's comb, in our bedroom,
under my heel . . .

When you consider the sound implied, not only literally but in the context of history, the poem unfolds even more. Combs of that period wouldn’t have been made of plastic; this comb would have been created from bone or tortoise shell or a material that surely would have produced a high crackle. The poem is amazing.

As someone addicted to poetry, all kinds of poetry in its many manifestations, I don’t think I could enjoy life as much without it. I think most poets would agree with me. We may battle like barbarians over style and technique and aesthetics, but on the matter of the importance of poetry, I am certain we all concur.

First recommended link of the week: Poetry Magazine, the essay I Go to AWP by Kay Ryan in particular. Brilliant poet, brilliant essayist. I suppose I identify so passionately with the essay because like Ryan, I can’t imagine teaching and writing at the same time.

Second recommended link of the week: W_O_M_B Poetry, a new site offering promises of good poetry to come.

Tease of the week: Watch The Writer Magazine online for an upcoming article of interest to poets.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A National Poetry Month Stroll

April inspires a good stroll, at least in Northeast Florida. If weather can be perfect, we’ve got it. Moderate temperatures, lots of sunshine, and the ever-present breeze that makes this such a comfortable place to live. With the idea of a stroll in mind, I’d like to invite you to take a poetry stroll, but instead of watching children play, dogs chase Frisbees, and gardening enthusiasts put in their petunias, we’ll gaze at a few poetry sites.

Nicki Leone hails from North Carolina. I first met her when I read at a booksellers’ retreat sponsored by the Southeast Independent Booksellers Association. Nicki comes off as a low key, gentle sort. I remember thinking to myself she looked like a writer; at the time, she had a management position with a large independent bookstore. I was delighted to learn last week that Nicki Leone has had her first poem published, and in a major daily newspaper no less. Intersection is one of those haunting poems that stays with you; the title struck me as perfect, because it works on several levels, among them the intersecting of the poet's with the reader’s own experiences. I’m sure we’ll see more fine verse by this young poet who I am certain will blush when she sees herself mentioned here.

The villanelle is one of our language’s most difficult forms. I’ve been working on a lot of poetry information for The Writer magazine’s online site. A few days ago, I scrolled through the general poetry forum there and found a villanelle that made me want to try the form again. The poem, “Lament for the Absence of Content” written by a grad student named Christina, is on the Poetry Thread. The winning poem in Poetry Spotlight I, “My Muse” by Mary Rose Betten, is on a special thread at the top of the page; it’s in free verse. Please do visit the pages and comment on the Poetry Spotlight poems. Comments by Kim Addonizio, Alfred Nicol, and Dr. Claudia Grinnell are on the winner’s thread; Spotlight 2 winner will be critiqued by Patricia Gray, David Wright, and Shoshauna Shy. Articles on the site include a roundup of comments from award-winning poets (“What makes a poem rise above the ordinary?”), and a sneak preview of upcoming guidelines for poets who’d like to read at the Library of Congress for Poetry at Noon.

I discovered a site by a fellow Floridian G. Michael Palmer and co-founder Orson Scott Card. Strong Verse has some interesting work, a forum, and an open submissions policy. Guidelines suggest a preference for accessible poetry.

Jacksonville is home to a number of publications, and at the top of the literary category is Mudlark, edited by William Slaughter. I hope to meet him when I return to college this fall—I’ll be taking courses at the University of North Florida.

There’s an interesting article at Newsday, Plotting a course back to Long Island about one of my favorite novelists Carol Goodman, whose latest book THE GHOST ORCHID I’ve highly recommended in a previous column. What does this have to do with poetry? Goodman’s latest book includes some incredible poetry by her husband Lee Slonimsky whose work I wouldn’t have likely discovered had I not been a fan of hers. I highly recommend reading both novelist and poet. I plan to pick up Slonimsky’s book when it’s released by Ochises Press. I hope both of these talented writers see their work gain a broad audience.

Do visit Creative Writer US for news about writing, contest announcements, book reviews, essays and just about everything related to writing. We’ve just posted a National Poetry Month tip page for teachers and poetry enthusiasts.

If we go any further, we’d have to call it a run rather than a stroll. I hope you enjoy the sites I’ve pointed out—and please do read poetry, lots of it. We’re having a special month!

Recommended poetry link of the week: The Writer magazine online.
Why? For going beyond the call of duty for poets.

Friday, March 31, 2006

On the eve of construction: Poetry Month begins

It’s about to begin, that month when poets and media intellectually couple to celebrate poetry month. As I’ve said before, the celebration has its naysayers. But personally, I like the fact that my favorite genre struts to center stage.

Activities are as diverse as the poets. Poet Jayne Jaudon Ferrer does a special newsletter celebration. She selects a poem for each day in April and emails it. Last year’s poems arrived in my inbox daily, and I enjoyed every one of them. She favors diversity in her selections, and there’s never a dull poem. Jayne will happily add you to the list for free; to get the newsletter, visit her signup page.

I received an email today from Poetry Daily, a special edition of the regular newsletter. PD selects 20 past featured poets to select poems to be delivered to you each weekday in April. PD leans towards university presses and MFA style, but many of the poems will certainly be pleasurable. Visit the PD site for more info.

As always, the Academy of American Poets who founded National Poetry Month in 1996, will have a variety of events and abundance of information on their Net site. The Academy is a veritable bastion for the purest form of writing, leaning towards poets established within the Northeastern literary network (Southerners are of course included if they pass the smell test). It’s a great resource; visit the Academy page .

Do visit the feature I’m writing and coordinating at The Writer. Just announced: the scoop on guidelines for an opportunity to read at the Library of Congress. I talked with Patricia Gray, coordinator of Poetry at Noon for the LOC, and the woman has a vision poets can help bring to fruition. Read more at The Writer online.

In Jacksonville, Peter Meinke arrives April 8 at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts for a top quality writers’ festival. Adult members from the community can attend; the fee is so low it’s almost silly. To learn more, visit DASOTA Net pages.

My first NPM event is with poetry compatriot Dorothy Fletcher. Dorothy set up a program with Starbucks, “Authors at Starbucks.” She and I do free workshops and assorted readings there—Starbucks devotes a lot of resources to literacy and treats authors incredibly well. We’ll read and do a workshop (sponsored in part by the National League of American Pen Women, Jacksonville) on Sunday, April 9 from 1-3 p.m. Poetry Café, as we tagged it, will be held at Starbucks Coffee Company in Lakewood Plaza, corner of San Jose and University, in Jacksonville. For a full description, visit the writers’ resource site I edit.

Otherwise, I’m speaking to a variety of groups during April and I’ll do my special poem for the month as always. I’ll have the poem up on my Net site soon.

Another small treat for you: I’ll feature a top poetry site link at the end of each April column.

So do poetry a favor. Grab the nearest willing ear and pull it along to a poetry event. Buy a book published by a small press. Stand on a street corner and recite “Howl.” Or read something racy by Sharon Olds at your next club meeting.

It’s all good.

Recommended poetry link: Ron Silliman
Why? Because nobody does poetry better. Or more extensively.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

April is the kindest month

If you’re a poet, you know all about April. And if you’re not a poet, here’s a tip. That’s the month when Poetry takes center stage with a deliberately capital P.

Now there are poets who think this is silly. The thinking goes that poetry should be special every month. A few years ago, Charles Bernstein garnered quite a bit of press for himself by voicing anti-poetry month sentiments. He summed up further thoughts in an essay for the University of Chicago Press Net site, and later read a briefer version of the essay on public radio. Pretty good press for someone who doesn’t like the annual celebration.

Each to his or her own I say. As for me, I like the idea of National Poetry Month. Each year, I write a special poem to commemorate the occasion, and I get a number of invitations to speak about and read poetry. It’s always been a mission of mine to turn people onto poetry—not just my own, but to other poets as well. There are certain poems that stay with me, poems that I recommend to audiences because I admire the skill of the poets. Poems like Wendy Cope’s “The Orange,” Julie Carter’s “But Soon,” Kim Addonizio’s “Therapy”, and just about all verses by Emily Dickinson, many by James Wright, Charles Simic, Frank O’Hara, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Bishop and others too numerous to list—these are poems and poets I tell others about.

It’s easy to persuade people to read poetry if you’re passionate about it. I suppose from my list you can tell I’m a very diversified reader, and I confess to being a diversified poet as well. I bore easily.

The American people love poetry, all sorts of poetry. Smarmy poems and sophisticated poems, spoken word poems and prose poems, sonnets and rambling free verse. I know because I’ve logged thousands of miles traveling this great country to connect others to poetry. I’ve received many kind emails and expressions of appreciation for my own work, and I’ve enjoyed book sales that please my publisher.

But I’ve also been bashed on the trope by poets who didn’t care for my style or subject matter. On one occasion, I became very angry at a poet about that sort of thing, but in a short time, I let the anger go and never looked back. Because for me, poetry is a pleasure separate from love or friendship. I have many people in my life to ease my journey through the human condition. So I won’t worry about those who can't. And poetry, that purest form of writing, goes far beyond petty concerns of the human realm.

So I’ll pursue my usual NPM ramblings. I’m doing a very pleasant reading with Dorothy Fletcher at Starbucks Coffee Company (Authors at Starbucks) on April 9. Dorothy and I do these events together in part, as an outreach for the National League of American Pen Women, Jacksonville branch. And I’ll devote the entire month of April at Bookbeat to NPM events and themes.

Mainly I do poetry for me. I can’t sit still long enough to get a manicure, and I never did like to shop. That my efforts encourage others is the silver lining in a very intriguing cloud.

Visit The Writer online for a special celebration of National Poetry Month in April. The Writer’s Online Poetry Spotlight 2 will continue through the month. I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems submitted.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Good Reads

Reading is both a learning process and a means of escape for me. Three excellent books have brought me pleasure lately, two of them poetry and one a novel that includes poetry.

Carol Goodman’s THE GHOST ORCHID (Ballentine Books, 2006) weaves myth, history, poetry, mysticism and mystery into a tale that takes the reader on a journey of self-revelation with the main character Ellis Brooks. The Bosco estate, a retreat for artists and writers, also functions as a character by undergoing change and by impacting on the actions of those in residence. Adding a layer of luxury to the novel are the sonnets written by Goodman’s husband Lee Slonimsky whose collection will soon be released by Ochises Press. The sonnet is one of my favorite forms to read and to write. Slonimsky’s sonnets are among the very best I have seen in contemporary American letters. He brings the form to an exceptional level, and integrating his poems into the novel was a masterful stroke on the part of Goodman. I’d highly recommend this book to any reader, and it can be appreciated with a variety of perspectives. Goodman is an accomplished novelist who always spins a riveting and memorable tale.

Claudia Grinnell’s CONDITIONS HORIZONTAL (Missing Consonant Press, 2001) is a collection of poems that illustrate why free verse is a complicated form. No one is more gifted than Grinnell when it comes to poetry, and reading this book has been sheer pleasure. I’ll do a full review of it soon at Creative Writer US.

My publisher sent me a copy of THE POWOW RIVER ANTHOLOGY(Ocean Publishing, 2006), edited by Alfred Nicol. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through this book—poems by Rhina Espaillat always ring well to the ear and the heart. I hadn’t read Bill Coyle until now, and discovering his work was a special treat. I look forward to reading all the poems. The anthology is a collaboration by the Powow poets, a New England group spurred to action by Ms. Espaillat.

These books certainly brought some calming moments to a schedule that for me has been too hectic of late. This is my busiest year ever, with newspaper work, magazine work, online work, and my latest book about 40% complete. So time with a rewarding read is a great way for me to forget my own work. If you’re looking for a good book that will soothe you like a friend, I highly recommend each of these.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A holy moment

Years ago, as a student at the University of South Carolina, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Because I have always been unconventional, I dreamed of being a writer without a day job. I aimed at earning a living by words.

I never realized the mix of skills I’d need to fulfill that dream. I didn’t know then I’d have to be a small business owner, marketer, secretary, and general errand girl as well as a writer to sustain myself. A friend of mine, W. Thomas Smith, Jr., is one of the only other writers I know personally who does the same thing I do. His career is far more distinguished than mine, because he’s written for the cream of the national crop and his credits are very impressive.

When I traveled to South Carolina this past weekend to read at the book festival there, I invited my fellow writer to have coffee with me. We traded stories about our constant deadlines, time-challenged workdays, and unrelenting email, how there’s never enough time in a day. Then he invited me to talk to his journalism students at the University of South Carolina where he is an adjunct faculty member in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Today when I returned to the office, I made a pot of Popayan coffee and tinkered with a poem while I awaited Thomas's call. I marveled at the technology that would allow students in South Carolina to ask me questions as I sat here in my Florida office.

They asked fine questions—about the writing process, about the need to establish an area of expertise, about sonnets and poetry and inspiration—even about healthcare topics. Their voices sounded so positive and hopeful. And as we were ending the call, I thought of something to share.

Many years ago I sat in a classroom on that same campus, dreaming about doing exactly what I am doing now. It was a holy moment.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Confession is good for the writer's soul

Some days are just tougher than others. For one thing, I can’t find our chicken. We don’t know where she came from—she arrived last May, zooming over our 8-foot fence—and we don’t know where she’s gone. I’m hoping she’s okay. She can fly, so I hope she didn’t fall prey to the wildlife we’ve got running around here, mainly because they’re trying to cut down every forest fragment left in this city, and hawks, possum, and raccoons have to eat. I’ve written about her several times; here’s a link to the Times-Union story I did.

On top of that, I got a rejection from an editor I really want to write for. She’s asked for one piece, but not until the first of 2007, and I’d tailored this other piece just for her and boom, no dice.

The good news is I got a really great assignment to cover a presentation by a family from Afghanistan—our neighboring county is reading THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini. I read the book as it was being released, courtesy of an advance copy. I loved the book. So it will be interesting to go to the presentation next week and write about it.

We’ve got tons of poems, and some of them are really strong, for the contest at The Writer. I’m also doing an article that will accompany the crits of the first winning poem.

I’m beginning to delve into the project I’m doing for Shands Jacksonville, as writer-in-residence here for the Arts in Medicine program. The history is absolutely amazing; the time capsule found by construction workers dates to 1930. It strikes me that the community has relied on doctors and nurses and healers at that location for over a century. I’m very excited about writing the stories.

Seeing some nice numbers at I love working on that site; I wish I had more time. Right now, I'm updating weekly except for the regular news; I update that every other week.

Otherwise, heading to South Carolina for the book festival. Poet Janet Carr Hull organized an exhibit, Pure Poetry, and I’ll be reading with her, Dorothy Fletcher, Carolina’s Poet Laureate Marjorie Wentworth, Ellen Rachlin and Patricia Gray, director of poetry for the US Library of Congress. We’re featured at a reading Saturday afternoon; I think it will be very inspiring. Dorothy and I will stay at my brother’s place on the lake; we’ll just take it easy Friday evening—sip wine and watch the deer eat my brother’s shrubbery.

Meanwhile, there’s a poem driving me nuts—I saw this photo that a reporter took of a full moon over downtown Jax. The thing is the moon was still in the sky, but the sun was beginning to rise too. Came up with two strong lines and can’t seem to get past that.

Never, ever a dull moment, even when you wish for one.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Internet termites

When I first began to use a computer, I rarely thought about invasion of privacy, phishing, or emails promising to enlarge an appendage I do not have.

I met poets by way of Gazebo at Alsop Review and I met other writers through various message boards. At some point, I joined, establishing the Women’s Poetry site and later the Poetry site. I connected with thousands of readers by way of the discussion threads at those sites.

On occasion, I actually met some of my Internet friends in person. They were all nice; some have become true friends. In those early years, the Internet seemed a light and airy sort of place, with limitless possibilities for learning, research, and networking.

I don’t remember whether my first computer even had virus protection. But in the last few years, I’ve invested in all sorts of virus protection and spyware programs, and wouldn’t even think about foregoing the latest updates for just about every software program I run on both computers I depend on now.

I back up everything. Twice.

I won’t open an attachment from someone I don’t know; I don’t read ‘forwards’ because they’re almost always followed with an apologetic email saying something like, “I really thought the cure for the common cold had been found. The email I sent you was a scam. Sorry.”

SPAM has become downright silly. Whether it’s an appeal to send personal information so I can share millions with some poor soul who can’t spell and whose family died in a plane crash, or buying prescription drugs at ridiculously low prices, or engaging in activities that you’d have to be brain dead to engage in—well, you get the general idea. Silly stuff.

And we have to do some pretty silly stuff to keep all that stuff from being even more annoying than it already is. As young as the Internet is, the good old days are already sorely missed.

Enter a poem in the online contest sponsored by The Writer. No entry fee. Guidelines are on the Net site.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Poetry flows at funeral

It happens all the time. Someone dies, and an aspiring poet pens a verse or two. Sometimes the poet even reads it at the funeral. And sometimes, the media will seize the poetic moment for all the rest of us to witness.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to me that poetry found its way to the funeral of Coretta Scott King this week in Lithonia, Georgia. After all, Maya Angelou was there. But my thoughts don’t dwell on Ms. Angelou.

The poem I remember was read by the Reverend Joseph Lowery. I caught part of the reverend’s verses as I glanced at clips shown on the evening news.

I don’t know who wrote the poem. Credit wasn’t cited, and I haven’t been able to find out the author’s name. In my opinion, the verses illustrate everything that is right and everything that is wrong about poetry in America. And there’s an opportunity of sorts as well.

The poem aimed at a political statement. But that isn’t what bothered me. This is America. You want to use a funeral to stump, it’s fine with me if it’s fine with the family of the deceased.

But it seems to me, considering all the talent in this country, Reverend Lowery might have enlisted some budding bard to craft a real poem in honor of a woman revered by people of all color.

Here’s a line that suggests the artistic level of this poem: “She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar.” While none of us favors inflicting smart bombs on innocents, I can vouch for the fact that there are thousands of liberal poets in this nation who would be happy to pen a poem for an occasion such as this. And I do not believe a single one would have followed the word ‘way’ with the word ‘afar.’

There was a nugget in the poem—“weapons of misdirection.” That might have led to greater things had the poet put a little elbow grease behind his or her pen. But that was the single nugget in the entire piece. Reporters noted the reverend’s reading as “playful.” We're discoursing about smart bombs, poverty, weaponry, and the death of a person integral to changing American culture. “Playful”?

It’s a good thing to mark a person’s greatness with a poem. That act is a practice in myriad cultures dating to ancient times. But thoughts strung together with forced rhyme, ragged rhythm, and passion do not constitute a poem.

Next time someone famous and beloved is publicly praised, hire a poet. I can vouch for the fact that poets can always use a little extra cash. And, I’d advise reporters who cite poetry to read more of it. That way, you’ll know a real poem when you see one.

The audience gave the poem a standing ovation. In truth, they were applauding the politics. Anyone who applauded that poem never read a real one.

Click on the column title above to read more of the poem discussed.


View calls for submission, reviews, and articles about writing at Creative Writer US.

The Writer is having an online contest. Visit the site to learn more. No entry fee.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Confessions of an author-mom

The book business can weigh on an author like an elevator malfunction. If you’ve ever been stuck in a metal enclosure with music that sounds like a vending machine hamburger tastes, well, you know what I’m talking about. You’re just stuck there in an enduro.

There are the bright spots and the low spots, and it’s all part of the game we play once we see our name on the spine of a book.

Sometimes, a bookstore will give an author that boost she craves. I recall a signing I did here in Jacksonville at the Books-a-Million in Orange Park. The store manager, regional public relations rep, and all the employees made me feel very welcome.

They made regular announcements, personalizing them instead of saying something like, “Author Brownie Brown is signing her book The Only Living Fat Woman in France: A Fictive and Afflicted Memoir. Meet the author at the back of the store where the poetry half-shelf is located.”

So it was a good day, and when the signing ran over an hour longer than scheduled, I apologized to the manager. “No, no,” he said with a smile. “You’re good for business. Stay as long as you like.”

Remembering that day, this author wishes all events were like that. But of course, they aren’t. Last year, I walked into a bookstore and not a single person greeted me. It was inventory day. Two customers came in during the 4 hours I was there. A festival was occurring in the immediate area, and that’s where everyone appeared to be. It was my first zero-book-sale event.

The lighter moments in an author’s life make it possible to suffer the book biz without lasting mental damage. My older daughter Jen brought a smile to my face yesterday.

I’d sent her to the bookstore for a novel my younger daughter needed for school.And I wanted to read Bernard Cornwell’s new book The Pale Horseman. Plus I wanted Kenyan coffee beans. I told her to put the charges (and the frilly frothy latte stew she likes to drink) on my debit card.

When she returned, she said, “You’ll never believe what I did.” She handed over my package, explaining that she was checking out when the clerk said, “I need to see a picture I.D.”

So my daughter starts fishing through her inadequate purse (way too small; way too crammed) for her driver’s license. Then she checked her pockets. Then she remembered she’d stuck her license into the pocket of her other jeans. She explained it to the salesperson who said, “Oh, sorry. But we’re still going to need an I.D.”

Jen thought about it for a minute. Then the fine mind my brand new college grad has served her well.

“I tell you what. You sell my mama’s new book, and my picture’s on the back of it. So if you go over to the shelf and get a copy, you’ll see I’m exactly who I say I am. My name's on the back of it too.” And Jen gave her the smile that can light up an entire afternoon.

The purchase went through without another hitch.

Being a small press author does have its bright moments. Being a mom is even better.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Fray Over Frey

Most of us writing nonfiction face the challenge of seeking truth by way of recollection.

Oh, my. Oprah’s brought James Frey back for his Day of Reckoning.

This afternoon, I caught the last 30 minutes of Frey’s second appearance on the American confessional icon's talk show. Memoir’s newest bad boy projected the image of a man who became a better man because he’s admitted to millions of viewers that he lied. He probably wouldn’t have made the admission, or returned for his DOR had it not been for the Internet site The Smoking Gun.

Either way, sales are booming. As I write this column, his controversial book is ranked #5 at His second, the one that picks up where the first left off, is ranked #16. Lying is profitable. So what else is new?

I haven’t read Frey’s book. Didn’t want to. I have loved two substance abusers in my lifetime, serious substance abusers. Both of them died young. Both of them left a trail of sad memories and grief because all who loved them hoped against hope that addiction could be overcome.

I figured if James Frey did happen to be straight while he was doing the book thing, it wouldn’t last long. Forgive me if I have little faith. Being burned on a regular basis tends to make a skeptic of those of us who have wiped up actual vomit, cleaned up bloody wounds from fights, and dealt with a drunk or a druggie when he was going through withdrawal.

I do, however, understand the challenges in finding truth by probing memory and recalling painful events. When I wrote my own memoir about our troubled move to Jacksonville and the bog that formed when our 12-year-old had an illness doctors couldn’t figure out, the quest for truth kept me anxious for the (roughly) 16-month period it took to finish the manuscript. A sub-theme in my book involved the death of my youngest brother when he was a baby.

I recall one afternoon in particular. I remembered parts of the day my brother had died, but I couldn’t remember a lot of the details. The only person who could help me was my mother. My surviving brother was younger than I was when the events occurred. I put off asking Mom about it day after day. I knew this would cause her great sadness, to recall losing a son. But finally I had to ask her questions. She might be over seventy years old, but she’s still very sharp. She answered all my questions, and her responses awakened images long forgotten in my mind. For some reason, as we talked, I could envision the window on the back door she and my dad came through the night the youngest member of our family died suddenly. Before I hung up, my mother and I were lost in a sea of very painful memories, but I had the facts much straighter than before I phoned her.

I checked other information by referring to my personal journal, to the notebook I kept once our daughter’s illness got into full swing, to the daily agenda I’ve kept in my office for over 20 years, to the radiology reports and lab results. I reviewed real estate documents, school records, every scrap of paper I could find from that time in our lives. The documents I used fill two large boxes in my supply closet. I interviewed both my daughters, quizzing them at length. I wrote and phoned our daughter’s doctors. I checked every single statement I made. In the interest of truth.

Over a period of a year, my publisher read and questioned some of what I wrote. We re-drafted about six times, if memory serves me properly. He’s a small press owner, but he happens to believe in accuracy.

Compared to Doubleday, my publisher’s resources are minuscule. But he took the time, a lot of it actually, to be sure that the book we hoped to sell to readers was as accurate as a human being could make it. After all, he was categorizing the book as nonfiction because I told him it was true.

I felt good about the book when it was completed. I had great hopes that it would help someone going through the same ordeal. I had great hopes, and still do, that if even one person is spared an emergency surgery because of the information in my book, then I did a good thing.

When you journey through a dark period in your life, if you survive it, you come to fully understand the meaning of the word redemption in a very personal way. I’ve received a number of emails from readers who’ve thanked me for writing the book.

My book will probably never be #5, or even #16 on I have no plans to sit on the dais with Oprah. To be able to do that, I’d have to change my whole attitude and method of writing.

To be able to do that, I’d have to be published through a press that could buy end-caps in book stores, a press that could schmooze bookstore owners and send a fleet of publicists forth to woo media, a press that could purchase co-op advertising, and do all the other things that make a bestseller zoom its way to the nightstands in millions of bedrooms. At the very least, I’d have to sensationalize some of the bitterest parts of my life.

It’s sad how some writers and publishers just don’t care about integrity. It’s all about the bottom line.

It’s inspiring how some writers and publishers do care. As for profits, small presses and their authors just hope for a bottom line, period.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sometimes a poet’s just gotta’ have fun

I often team up with fellow author Dorothy Fletcher for special events. Last year we conceived the idea of a writers’ retreat—we decided we wanted to go beyond the typical workshop and create an experience that would do more than simply inspire writers. We wanted a true writing experience, one that allowed time to go below the surface—a writers’ gathering that a 1 ½ hour time frame would never allow.

We had no idea what to expect. We found a place in Jacksonville’s historic Riverside area. The Riverdale Inn perfectly matched the vision we had for a setting—atmosphere, gardens, a genteel attitude. We spent months planning our format. Limiting the number of writers seemed to be a good idea. We wanted an intimate, individualized experience. We crossed our fingers, hoping other writers would like our idea.

Both of us are excited about our Wordstream writing retreat. Several teachers have signed up; several other writers have come on board. We wanted a group of 10; it looks like we’ll come very close to our goal. An independent bookstore, The Book Nook near San Marco, donated some very nice totes, and Starbucks Coffee Company donated gift cards for each of our writers. I picked up issues of The Writer to include in the bags; Dorothy found some creatively rendered notebooks. We have lots of handouts and information pieces for the bags too.

While we were planning this, we came up with another idea, one just for fun. We were trying to come up with an author event for our favorite Starbucks Coffee, the one in Lakewood Plaza. We do an ongoing “Authors at Starbucks” event there. With Valentine’s Day in mind, we decided to hold a “Love Poem Clinic.” We both laughed as we came up with this idea. I realized this would be something that would be just plain fun. We organized the “clinic” as a resource for others who want to write their lover a poem for Valentine’s Day. We pledged to assist them in rewriting their poems, hopefully taking the craftsmanship up a notch or two.

I’ve received dozens of love poems in email over the years, all of them from aspiring poets. Most of the poems are completely personal; only the person’s significant other would appreciate such a poem. A poet who’s into technique and form usually groans at the sight of such a poem. But when I think about it, anyone who even tries to write a poem for his or her lover is giving a genuine gift from the heart.

Other than those endeavors, I’m juggling a project for The Writer (will announce it February 1), beginning a really fascinating corporate freelance project, and prepping for the SC Book Festival. Making plans for speaking at a writers’ festival in Rockledge. Poetry Month is coming up and I’m trying to figure out how to make room for all the activities associated with that. Coming up with an overview for the 80th anniversary of my National League of American Pen Women branch—we’re holding an arts showcase in May.

My work is featured in this month’s issue of the Florida Council of Teachers of English journal. Considering the other poets they’ve featured, I am humbled by the company I’m in, and I’m very grateful to the organization for supporting my work.

Still hammering on the novel, have an essay in the hopper, and trying to build up my site. Still slogging through research and information about the felony murder rule for my nonfiction book. And of course, as always, writing poetry, the latest a blank verse sonnet.

Had a late lunch with my daughters today. We ate at Cross Creek so we could catch the first part of the Steelers’ game. The weather here was sunny with a temperate breeze. Like spring. Returned to the house and we watched the first half of the Seahawks/Panthers game. Every time one of us yelled, “Catch the football” the beagle hound raced to get his football, baying and pleading for one of us to pass it to him.

When I sat down at my desk tonight, I looked around me and savored the fact that some days, life is better than I ever thought it could be. Considering the first part of my life, most days I’m pretty sure I’ve been handed a miracle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bookstore Angst

Over the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time in bookstores. I signed in a number of cities with A Poetry Break (2004) and Killing Earl (2005). I’ve spent enough time in both chain and independent stores to realize that the bookstore we once knew and loved no longer exists.

The busiest bookstores where I’ve signed function as community centers. These stores have extended operating hours and a café that usually stays open until 11 p.m. They are always located in areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. They also sell a lot more than books—everything from gift items like bookends to coffee beans. Most of them stock the same titles up front, and most of those titles have enough orders in to be classified as best-sellers. Most of those titles, in hardcover, anyway, will be heavily discounted within weeks of being displayed.

What’s missing from almost every store where I’ve signed is the long-term employee who loves books. I don’t mean to disparage the employees who work in bookstores now. But the day of the truly diversified book lover is, I fear, long behind us.

For one thing, all bookstores depend on major publishers to spur sales. Harry Potter makes the register sing. Mysteries drive the market. You will rarely see a truly famous author signing books in person, although ex-presidents, rock stars, and politicians will do so, and tickets are usually required for the purchaser to meet these media personalities.

What you will also see, in droves, is the mid-list author, or perhaps a local author. Tickets will not be required, and this type of author will spend no small amount of time single-handedly recruiting warm bodies—any warm bodies—to come in to purchase a book. Once this author leaves the store, his or her book will likely be banished to a back shelf and forgotten, at least by the bookstore.

That same mid-list or local author will do scores of book events outside the bookstore realm, and will likely sell more copies at book festivals, independent gift and coffee shops, and speaking events than the author ever sold in a bookstore environment.

Bookstores as centers of literacy and literature are scarce. They have become places where study groups do homework in the café, and where you are likely to see an upfront display of the latest yoga DVD rather than the latest poetry collection by a Pulitzer prize winning poet. The book business in America, like almost everything else, manifests as an extension of the entertainment world.

I miss the bookstore of my youth, the store where I meandered through hallowed aisles of books by all sorts of authors, where books were still produced as a quality product rather than rushed into print as a print-on-demand title, something even traditional, large publishers now do. I miss the employee who could actually name five living poets, the employee who could talk with me at length about authors like Carson McCullers or James Joyce. I miss the employee who could think for herself, rather than follow the mandates set out by management to push the latest alpha-titled-series mystery.

What’s really missing from the American bookstore and the American literary scene is the independent reader, one who can think for herself and who will browse aisles looking for something that the New York Times hasn’t stamped with approval.

I miss the reader who wouldn’t have been duped by James Frey despite his television infomercials portrayed as talk shows. The first thing I asked, when a friend mentioned Frey's “great book” was how come he’s walking around free if he’s wanted in three states? How many felons can hide after center staging themselves on Oprah?

The reader that bookstores knew and loved is missing, compliments of the international marketing conglomerate that determines a handful of publishers comprise the world’s reading list. The conglomerate, though it's made up of different corporations, functions single-mindedly.