Jun 28
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EBooks on the Rise

Check this out: There's now an alternative to Amazon.com's Kindle reading pod, and you can get it (it's a Sony) at Target. E-Books are gaining in popularity. Oprah likes the Kindle. The average Kindle buyer is 55-64 years old, believe it or not. (Younger folks read on their I-phones, apparently.) Follow the link for complete juicy details about E-Books and reading pods in the technology column at nytimes.com.
Jun 28
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Fiction Writing Tips: The Rules of Three

Drab? Unexciting? "Shallow"? My short fiction was. As so much of it is! Why?

The questions of art are big, but the answers are small. Story writers, try these (my original discoveries):

1. Give three traits to every character, including the walk-ons.
2. Take your main characters to three distinctly different settings.
3. Have no more than three main characters.
Jun 28
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Your Skill Set and Power Blouse

Whatever you write -- know how to write something else. That's how I got lunch with the publisher mentioned in the previous blog. I know how to write public-relations materials such as press releases. The publisher wanted me for my "skill set."All writers should be able to write more than one type of thing. I told the publisher I also knew where to send the press releases and what to do after that. Normally I hate the phrase "skill set" -- it's so 1980s "corporate." But mine works in my favor. No 1980s bow-tie power blouse is necessary.

Know-how -- in something other than creative writing -- got me the face-to-face meeting with a publisher who incidentally happened to be looking for a book ms that sounded rather like mine.
Jun 28
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Dont' Be Modest

The most overrated virtue in a writer: modesty. Especially when opportunity doesn't just knock -- it clubs you upside the head.

Last time I sent my latest book ms. out was February; the rejection (fourth) came in August. I sighed and let the manuscript rot. This past week I had lunch with a publisher. We weren't there to talk about my books, but the publisher described books the press was looking for, saying, "But who has a book like that?"

"I do," I boldly ventured for the first time in my life, "and it's finished, about 35,000 words; it has this, and this. . ." Mmmm, let me see it, said the publisher. I hate to think I almost said nothing -- out of misplaced modesty. It needed only to be printed out (pat myself on the back). Off it went into the mail today.
Jun 28
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Get Born, Dude

Acquaintance, perhaps 20 years younger than I, has finished his first novel (writing it, not reading it), and isn't sure if it's good or saleable. He said he gave it to five friends to read. One friend read it; no word from the other four. He expressed anxiety. What I saw was a writer being born. It ain't pretty.

Picking up the forceps, I said, "Why don't you hire a professional editor to read it and give you feedback?"

He said, "But that's so counterintuitive!"

Clamping the forceps around his head, I said, "Business is counterintuitive. But business is part of writing. We can be 90 percent artist, but have to be 10 percent businessperson."

Then I decided I didn't have the right to yank on him; he might yet be 10 to 20 years away from being ready to be born as a (professional) writer. But if he's ready, he will:

-budget to pay for professional advice.
-not be scared to learn a professional's opinion. In fact he will be eager for it.
-realize he needs help, that he can't do it alone or with just one or two writer friends his own age.
-see that I am not trying to drag him down to my (less talented) level; I'm just telling him something I learned.
Jun 28
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Skirmishes in the Money Wars

I got three offers, two of them with figures attached. Of both, I asked for more money, pointing out my well-known reliability, track record and 30 years of experience. Asking for more felt very risky -- remember, I'm a writer and am supposed to be grateful for anything at all. But I know budgets are always more flexible than managers say, that an initial offer is always a lowball, and that it's a game. I have often meditated on this motto I saw framed in a real-estate office:

"In business, you don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate."

Result: One offer withdrawn; they just didn't have more money. One offer on hold.

The third offer, a contract job. I was asked to make an estimate. I did -- noting the source and therefore asking for 25 percent less than the market price. And I asked for a percentage of the money up front, like a normal contractor. Never heard from them again.

In fighting for us writers to get paid what we are worth, I ain't winning but neither am I caving and kissin' people's feet. Now hear this, everybody: Pay the writer.
Jun 28
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Donald Finkel, 1929-2008; Link to Interview

The poet Donald Finkel, a beloved artist and teacher and my MFA thesis adviser, died two weeks ago and I just heard. The memorial gathering takes place Dec. 12, 11:30 a.m., at the Women's Building on the Washington University Danforth Campus.

In 1994 I interviewed Don for The Riverfront Times in St. Louis. Because I knew him well it became more than an interview; rather, it's a portrait of the artist at the last major juncture of his career: the end of 30 years of teaching, and the beginning of "retirement." Click here to read the interview.

O he was wise.
Jun 28
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More Money

Writer friend and I were discussing how hard it is to ask for the right amount of money for a job. Especially if the amount of money initially offered is ridiculously low or degrading (recent request for material custom-written for some business's blog offered $10/hr. I could do better at Ponderosa.). How far should we go in naming our price? She said an older friend had advised her:

"Ask until your toes curl."

Good advice!
Jun 28
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Your Own Back Yard

You're good enough for the nationals, no one disputes that; but after 5 or so years wondering why The New Yorker and Ploughshares don't publish you --

there's at least one literary journal or rag nearby. Your big city has several; your home state has a score. And, insofar as the fit is right, start submitting your work to those closest to home. Advantages:

1. Local editors will see your work and know you exist. If you're published, local writers will read your work (they're in the same journal) and when you meet them at literary gatherings (because you DO go) your name will sound familiar and you can make some friends.

2. Local writers will introduce you to local editors, because editors are writers too. See if you like them. Take them up on any offers to read their slush pile or hang out at headquarters. And then submit your best work. Do it soon-- before you're on their masthead.

3. Publish in two or three local journals and keep showing up for events, and local literati will seek you out for readings of your work.

4. Doing some readings may lead to teaching a workshop, judging a contest, or to a guest appearance in front of a college class. And somebody is always assembling an anthology. Now that he or she knows you, you might get asked to submit some work. Bingo; you go into a book without even trying.

I wrestled with the biggies and didn't get much of anywhere until I tried my homies. Does that mean I picked the low-hanging fruit? The above got me jobs that I live on, tons of great friends, and published. By their fruits ye shall know them!
Jun 28
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Chapbook or Magazine Publication? Which is Best?

Real life-question: Poet has a sheaf of excellent poems, all unpublished. Should she skip ahead & enter them as a manuscript in a chapbook competition -- or first try to print individual poems in journals, and THEN do the chapbook thing?

Answer: No journal wants to publish poems that appeared first in a chapbook. I'd try first to publish individual poems in as many local print journals as possible, setting a deadline of one year; then -- no matter what the result -- I would make a chapbook ms. Local journals will further your work much faster than will national publications. How so? See next blog entry. Send to 'em all. Don't enter contests, just send the poems. And send simultaneously!

Think you have some good poems? Get a bunch of them out to your local journals by Dec. 15!
Jun 28
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Are We Feeling Better Yet?


Some contributing writers and the editors at the book launch today, 11/19, for the fabulous new anthology Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (Penultimate Press), edited by Colleen McKee and Amanda Stiebel. Book will be on Amazon.com very soon; $19.95; click here to see and order directly from the publisher, St. Louis's only nonprofit press. The book -- 21 essays, three years in the making -- will make a great holiday gift for any woman finding herself in contact with the U.S. health care hydra. In the photo, left to right: Amanda Stiebel, Cathy Luh, Janet Edwards, Corrine McAfee, Denise Bogard, Colleen McKee, Catherine Rankovic. Penultimate Press, run by Winnie Sullivan, is a nonprofit organization. Taken at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Jun 28
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Write Some Coded Communication Today!

There are 17 writers represented by the 22 poems in the anthology Poems from Guantanamo: The Inmates Speak (University of Iowa Press, 2007). This slender book represents only a tiny percentage of thousands of prisoner-written poems because the Pentagon wouldn't clear most of them for publication. Why? Seems "The U.S. government contends that poetry presents a 'special risk' to national security, since the form lends itself to coded communication."

From an interview about the book.

Andy Worthington: And Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost, the Afghan [prisoner] poet, wrote 25,000 lines of poetry, much of it scratched onto Styrofoam cups and passed from cell to cell?

Marc Falkoff (editor of Poems from Guantanamo): Yes.

So being able to write today using a pen or computer, even though writing is a big pain and isn't going well, I'm glad. There was one former POW who once said, "A good day is one on which the lock is on the INSIDE of the door."

Here's one of Dost's poems that made it into the anthology:

Cup Poem I

What kind of spring is this,
Where there are no flowers and
The air is filled with a miserable smell?