Jul 21
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Litmags Don't Live Here Anymore

26 February 2009

The library here used to carry a score of literary journals. Today on my lunch hour I found only five. Where did they go? I hadn’t time to ask a librarian because I had to go buy an envelope. But thereby I found out where the journals went. They’re sold single-copy in the bookstore: Boulevard, New Letters, Tin House, Pleiades, Southern Poetry Review – about 10 titles in all.

The library chucked its subscriptions because it knows no one reads these things, except maybe for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction, and those just as bellwethers. Last time I read through the latest issues of literary journals at the library – noting on index cards their names and contents, and what percentage was fiction, what percentage nonfiction, etc. (so I can discuss them in classes) -- in THREE litmags I found poems about Persephone. Whoa. To be fair, about 10 to 20 percent of the published material took my breath. But on the same round I noted two essays, in separate journals, beginning with the words “My father,” and acres of bad fiction – full of neon signs, breasts, tragic foreigners, and petty quarrels.

Some journals make impressive publishing credits if you want to rub shoulders with laureates and academics – who won’t actually read what you published. So beyond impressing each other with our publication credits, what are these journals for? I had never seriously questioned their value. Do they serve as some sort of – standard? For us? Me? Time for self-examination. And figuring out that if they're not important anymore, what is?
Jul 21
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What Your Cr. Wrt. Prof. is Thinking

24 February 2009

-Wish I'd written that.
-This is freaking amazing.
-I just won't tell the class that no experienced writer would ever even TRY to write four essays (or a portfolio of poems) in 16 weeks.
-Man, the difference between the first draft and the third, like night and day!
-You're showing your depths and I really like that.
-I bow to your greater experience.
-I'm really sorry that you had to suffer _________. But it may help to write about it.
-I know of something you've just got to read!
-I know where this might be published!
Jul 21
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What is "Greatness"?

21 February 2009

NYT article today in "Books" section about how poets aren't "great" anymore. Don't waste your eyesight reading the familiar whines about poetry going to hell in a handbasket and that there are JUST TOO MANY POETS because of writing programs. The NYT simply isn't looking hard enough for great poets -- perhaps not west of the Hudson. The author is way, way off if he's honestly still thinking that great poets have to be dashing, cosmopolitan, and deeply troubled, with Anglo pedigrees.

Today's great poet:
  • Is a good friend to other writers, famous or not.
  • Doesn't kill himself/herself if NYC publishers or lion litmags aren't into his/her innovations.
  • Keeps learning and eagerly shares what he/she knows.
  • Acts locally.
  • Consciously contributes to the greater good.
  • Keeps writing while being chided for being one of JUST TOO MANY POETS.
  • Studies in a writing program if he/she wants to, and doesn't worry whether there are JUST TOO MANY WRITING PROGRAMS.
Jul 21
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WU Summer Writers Institute

19 February 2009

Word has it that novelist Saher Alam read great stuff at Duff's on Monday evening. Fortunately, she's also an instructor in this summer's annual Washington University Summer Writers Institute (SWI). This is two weeks of full-time, intensive work on your creative writing, held every June. This year, June 15 to 26.

I've been involved in SWI for 13 years now, either as a workshop instructor (poetry; creative nonfiction) or guest speaker. The Institute changes people radically. Lackadaisical writers become committed writers; pre-professionals solidify their skills and learn about markets; timid writers gain confidence; procrastinators get kick-started; lonely post-MFAs enjoy workshop feedback again; people make friends; editors give priceless information on publishing. It's a volcanic and exhausting two weeks -- but hardly anyone has ever dropped out. If it sounds as if you need this, I recommend that you apply.

Saher Alam will lead the Literary Fiction workshop. Other instructors this year: Kathleen Finneran for creative nonfiction/memoir; Suzann Ledbetter for popular and genre fiction; Kerri Webster for poetry; and Richard Newman for the Young Writers Institute -- which is for high-school juniors and seniors who write poetry or creative prose. The Institute can be taken on a non-credit basis or for 3 college credits.

Here's the website with details: ucollege.wustl.edu/SWI. Tell 'em I sent ya. I also have insider information if you want it.
Jul 21
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More Writers than Readers?

9 February 2009

Worry of the week (overheard): Won't self-publishing create more writers than readers?

Let's examine this question. Self-publishing doesn't "create writers." Self-publishing requires a text already written. Self-publishing creates authors -- writers who have their names on books. Self-publishing generates authorship.

The word "readers" in "more writers than readers" really means "readers who purchase books." There are plenty of readers. They're all reading stuff on the Internet, or at the library, or magazines, or books by their friends or faves. The real worry is, "Can publishers sell enough books to make profits?"

The question then becomes: Does the existence of more self-published authors generate less money for publishers and their authors -- less money than formerly?

Well, the vast majority of authors -- the unknowns, the rookies, the "mid-list" --could hardly make less money. But self-publishing could possibly generate more for them.

For publishers - well, you had your chance. When writers sent you these same manuscripts, you wouldn't even look at them. So they turned themselves into authors without you. They're happy. They sell their own books at least as well as you would have sold them; maybe better.
Jul 21
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Future for the Nonfiction Freelancer

8 February 2009

No longer able to pay for things with my good looks, I now barter, performing interpretive dances in the Best Buy in exchange for the multimedia equipment I will absolutely need if I want to sell freelance nonfiction. Nowadays.

Because the future for the nonfiction freelancer is tech. Writers hoping to make money must present editors not only with text but with a package including supplementary digital photographs, video, and recordings (podcasts), all of professional quality. Those are for the online version of the publication. The writer buys this digital equipment & must learn to use it, preferably at a community college. There you can learn techno-speak cheaply and there are labs for editing your digital stuff.

So said veteran journalist Harry Jackson Jr. to the St. Louis Writers Guild yesterday. His talk was fascinating, informative, and discouraging -- JUST LIKE ANY TALK about surviving as a writer. Jackson has survived 40 years in daily journalism by keeping up with technology, working his tail off, and by loving what he does. "If you don't love it," he said, "stay away."

Furthermore: Get a Mac, because it's better for multimedia. Have a specialty such as -- Mr. Jackson's example: "monitoring pharmaceutical companies." And keep up with all the news in this field, research it constantly (do more than google), and treat freelancing as your full-time job.

I attended "The Future for the Nonfiction Freelancer: The Yellow Pad and Pen Won't Cut It Anymore," because I wanted to get my head out of the sand. Well, I put it right back in, and man, is that ever a comfort to me. The only thing I liked hearing was that good writing/good storytelling will trump technology any day.
Jul 21
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Likeable Quotations About Writers and Writing

2 February 2009

The social responsibility of the artist is reuniting people with their reality. – I Ching

When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing. – Tennessee Williams

But isn’t creating a poem / skinning a pelt? – Vladimir Mayakovsky

All critics are infantile before the texts. – Catharine R. Stimpson

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything You gave me.” – Erma Bombeck

One has to commit a painting the way one commits a crime. – Degas

Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. – Thich Nhat Hanh

When the right words hit, I own the previously unknown, repossess the past, and my heart rings like a bell. – Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly

Jul 21
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NYT: Self-Publishers Flourish While Writers Pay the Tab

29 January 2009

Good article about reasons writers self-publish. Yes, the writers pay the tab, but they get exactly the book they wanted (see "The Book the Poet Wants") and also get 100 percent of the cover price when they sell their books. If someone's book is nothing but "an enhanced business card," well, golly, he or she can write it off as a business expense. Go, writers! Be fruitful and multiply! Did you know that 90 percent of the books published in the U.S. are published in editions of 99 or fewer copies?
Jul 21
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What Finally Drove Me to Enter a Poetry Contest

28 January 2009

I'll admit up front that I want two things from contests. One is money. My car skidded and is in the shop. (On me, not a scratch. God protects writers.) But when the repairs totaled $4000 I asked myself, where else does a poet have a chance of getting money? So I'm a-going for the green. Knowing very well the odds are long: estimate is between 800 and 1200 to 1. BUT NOWADAYS THAT'S ABOUT THE SAME AS THE ODDS OF GETTING A JOB. (P.S.I already have a second job.)

Next, I want honorable mentions, something nice to put on apps for writers' colonies, grants and the like. We all know good work is not enough. Publication is not enough. Someone from the outside has to declare you special. A fiction writer I knew turned "second place" and "finalist for the Umpteenth Named-After-Famous Writer Award" into a resume so awesome people in a neighboring state were talking about her in hushed tones two years later. Of course it takes a fiction writer to do that.

Collateral benefit: getting the work revised, updated, and in order. Somebody stop me, please, if I try this again.
Jul 21
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"Focus" for Productivity

24 January 2009

Experimented this month with telling myself, when I'm drifting-- "Focus!" And then focusing on the task at hand. It helps. Drifting wasn't daydreaming exactly. It's numbness from overload [insert long backstory here] or it's odysseys through the Web and its news, like trying to find out what John Updike died of. My Updike story: Another writer and I, back in our 20s, strolling in our paradise of Harvard Square bookstores, spotted John Updike -- he'd just passed us on the sidewalk. "I hate his books," said my friend. "I hate his books too," I replied. We turned around and yelled after him, "We hate your books!"

But I was talking about focus. It helps to say it aloud or have it on a Post-It. With this discipline, production and revision improved vastly. Now and then one must relax, but I do that 75 percent less than formerly, and do it consciously. Life is short and art is long. It seems that focus fits them together.

Note: 21 July 2011: In late January 2009, my former husband, whom I'm caring for, is dying of cancer; he will die February 6. My "boyfriend" broke up with me. I can't stop crying. I'm working and teaching two night classes. Meet Me is in production and I'm trying to get it proofread and finalized and get copyright permissions from 13 writers. My left breast is looking odd (it will be diagnosed and removed in May 2009). I was still writing?! And telling myself to focus!
Jul 21
Written by


24 January 2009

An anonymous comment on my "Self-Portrait with Dead Goldfinch" poem, posted at poemhunter.com: "I am reading this in a public library," it said, "and it made me cry."

Since writing it I have learned of a well-known 1829 painting on the same theme, "Boy with Dead Goldfinch," by Vasily Tropinin. The boy is wearing what we call a poet's blouse, and his goldfinch was caged. He appears to be a bit angry, not just grieved; I believe his faith in the life of beautiful things has been tarnished a little.

Today was not a good day for me; my faith has been tarnished in every area but my writing. So I turned towards it. There, it's eternal summer. A place where only words die -- to be replaced by better ones -- and lovely things may live forever. The page is calm and shows no grief at having been written on. The craft is tedious, absorbing, taxing, and in doing it you renew your faith. The times faith and words have failed you eventually fade from memory.
Jul 21
Written by

What's Your Name?

21 January 2009

You don't need a website. But you do need to register your name before someone builds a website for you -- that isn't about you. If your name is common, someone probably already has your name-dot-com, but you may have the option of registering your name dot-net or dot-tv or dot-biz or something else.

Through Namesecure.com I registered catherinerankovic.com for 10 years at a cost of $90. You can use Godaddy or some other service to register. But register.

Why? If people want to find writers on the Net, they tend to type in writer's-name-dot-com. Ntozakeshange.com was registered and is owned by someone who is not Ms. Shange. Ms. Shange would have to buy her own name from those people if she wanted, for example, to build an informational author website. She would have to pay them whatever they asked. And in the meantime whoever owns your name can build any sort of crazy insane possibly pornographic website using your name. A popular exercise-show host didn't buy her name-dot-com and when you type in that URL you get a crazy insane anti-abortion website.