May 20
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Almost Done with That Novel

I notice that many authors bail out, or want to, when their books are 95 percent of their way into reality. It's not writer's block; it's a more insidious self-subversion rooted in stress and exhaustion, like that of a mother who feels she can't summon the strength for one last big push to bring her baby into the world. True-life examples:

Apr 26
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Talking With: Poet Ben Moeller-Gaa About Today's Haiku

At a recent reading I met Ben Moeller-Gaa, well-published poet who writes only haiku. I had to ask what that was like.

-Tell us about your interesting last name.

My wife is a Moeller and I am a Gaa and when we got married we decided to join our names. The name Gaa is German, and it’s really that short. My family comes from the town of Hockenheim, where there are still Gaas today. I have no idea what the name means. It is a historical question mark.

Mar 23
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"Unfelt Words" in Written Dialogue

Writer Carol Bly had a trick for improving and tightening dialogue in fiction and nonfiction. Take a page of dialogue from your manuscript, lay a one-inch-wide ruler on the left margin of your writing, and pencil a line down the ruler’s right side. Everything in front of the penciled line must go.

Mar 17
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Why Writers Hate Their Publishers

It is normal for writers to hate their publishers: They don’t promptly return emails or calls. The book, they said, would be out in May but now they say August. You tear out your hair. They choose the typeface and cover, the fun stuff, while you collect copyright permissions and back-of-the-book blurbs (isn’t that their job?), and they demand that you have an author platform and a marketing plan. They want images at 300 dpi. Awful. This is as true of self-publishers as it is of commercial publishers.

Feb 25
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Quoting Song Lyrics in Your Book?

The "John 3:16" of rock lyrics is that "Hotel California" line: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Authors like to quote song lyrics and are often surprised to learn that to avoid being sued for copyright infringement they need written permission from the song's owner, traceable through one of three sources: www.ascap.com , www.bmi.com and www.sesac.com.

Feb 12
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Proud of My Authors

I collected all the hard-copy books I've edited or worked on. In press are The clientbooks2014Devil Came to Town (nonfiction) by Bonney Patterson, spring 2014, and Icarus Flees the Garden of Earthly Delights (poetry), by Tim Leach, scheduled for publication in May 2015. Two more client manuscripts are out seeking publishers; one is on an agent's desk right now. Eleven of these books were published by established presses with the authors acting as their own agents. I love when that happens.

Feb 09
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Bye, Jay: What Jay Leno Meant to a Writer

I will miss seeing Jay Leno; seeing him each weeknight reassured me, as if he were a friend or, God help me, a husband, a good one: worked hard,  talked to me for 12 minutes on weeknights, liked laughter, didn’t cheat, maintained his hair, paid for his own expensive hobby of car-collecting – dependable, and devoted (his last words on Tonight were “I’m coming home, honey”), and that added up to a chick magnet for women of his demographic, average age 57.8.

So I was always glad to see him and devoted to him, up to a point. I switched off the TV after Jay performed what had been written or engineered for him: the monologue and the comic segues that preceded the interviews with celebrities--who were as interchangeable as cold cuts, too often flogging their new books. 

Jan 31
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Checking Out the Contest Judge

Even if your work is top-of-the-line and everyone else says so, take time to consider, before entering a contest that asks a $20 or $25 fee (those add up), who the judge is. Most of the time the entity holding the competition is pleased to announce the names of its judge or judges, who are often well-known.

This is a great opportunity for you because the best way to gauge your work's chances of winning or placing in a contest likely to have 400 to 1200 contestants is to look up the work of the judge. If he writes "masculine" hunting and fishing stories he probably likes reading them, and if your story is about a sewing circle, the odds of its winning are not very good. Or if his poetry is super avant-garde and yours is traditional, you won't win no matter how good your submission is. When you and the judge share the same literary values your chances are much better.

Jan 20
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Being an Adjunct Is Not A Problem

I’m an adjunct professor. Always have been. A talented creative-writing professor, I enjoy what I do and helping students and writers, and won’t give it up. Adjuncts are now 75 percent of the university teaching workforce. Who are the rest? The Chronicle of Higher Education says 17 percent of faculty members have tenure, and 8 percent are tenure-eligible.

Dec 13
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Are You "Beginning to" "Find Yourself"?

When someone mentions the overuse of “beginning to” and “starting to” and “finding yourself” in prose writing, does your skin begin to redden? Do you find yourself thinking you should start to re-read your latest draft and begin to red-flag these common but unnecessary phrases?

First Draft: Todd was beginning to light his cigarette when he saw Anne beginning to cry.

Better: Todd was lighting his cigarette when he saw Anne crying.
Dec 08
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Trending: The Micro-Bookstore

stlbooksLet's scoop Publishers Weekly, which spoke with new indie bookshop owner Robin Theiss for an article about the phenomenon of micro-bookstores, intimate spaces with curated collections and personalized service. In a reversal of a longtime trend, Theiss, a book collector since age 13, moved her online store, stlbooks.com, to brick-and-mortar on November 21. STLBooks, at 100 W. Jefferson, Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis, already has regular customers and neighborhood foot traffic thanking her for opening a bookstore. It's a cozy space devoted, Theiss said, to her interest in creative expression, so the store carries plenty of literature new and classic, books on art and design, books by local writers (she has read them all), and Theiss loves graphic novels and wishes they had been around when she was in art school in the '70s.