Apr 25
Written by

A Writer's Week

Sunday: Led poetry workshop. Made a friend.
Monday: Decided to make trouble at the big fancy university, and submitted Island Universe for inclusion in the "Faculty Celebration of the Book," a glittery, every-five-years university event at which real faculty (not adjuncts like me) are invited to show off and sell their books. Asked two friends for the recommendations that were required.
Tuesday: One of the above friends, an editor, sent SOS for an essay. I hadn't any that were near completion. I contacted 7 writers including former students. Six writers had essays, finished and polished and stockpiled, and sent them to the editor for consideration.
Wednesday: Writer's group meeting. We planned our group retreat; it will include a group goal-planning session.
Thursday: During lunch break, rehearsed and timed Saturday's public reading.
Friday: Woke from 2nd consecutive dream that told me I should become a full-time freelancer for big markets.
Saturday: A.M.: Consigned copies of new book to local bookstore. P.M. Public reading.
Sunday: Rested.
Monday: Took 3 "poem idea" scraps from my carnival-glass "idea holder," and drafted three new poems. Received ninth rejection of writing group's manuscript.
Apr 25
Written by

Authors, Put Yourself on Amapedia

Amazon.com has a new feature called "Amapedia." You can write an encyclopedia-like entry on anything you like, and for us that's books. Others may add to this entry (as with Wikipedia), and you won't get paid but you don't have to pay for the privilege either. Easy:

1. Locate the book of your choice on Amazon.com.

2. Scroll down until you find "Product Information for the Amapedia Community."

3. Click on the link that says "Be the First Person to Add an Article" to compose an entry. Or you can add TO an existing entry. Registered Amazon.com users can start writing on the spot.

Amapedia wants facts, not opinions, and they don't want you to "cut and paste" quotations or material from other sites. If you can live with that...

Start with your OWN books or those you love!
Apr 25
Written by

The Optimist's Club

The St. Louis Publishers Association (SLPA) is a bunch of people who publish and promote their own books. They all get together once a month, a diverse and lively crowd, rainbow of colors, rainbow of ages; and man, for a bunch of writers, are they ever CHEERFUL.

I went to my first meeting in July and liked the energy. They print a catalog of members' books, a great range from homeschooling manuals to fiction or fashion advice ("Dressing Nifty After Fifty" -- why doesn't an NYC publisher snap that up?*). Networking is scheduled before the program begins, and there's a brag session -- anyone who's accomplished or sold anything stands up and tells everyone (it's a packed room) and we all applaud -- sincerely -- and then there's the program: "Promoting Your Books on the Internet" was the last one; the link takes you to part of that program.

I can't see a single reason NOT to join. Yeah, I'm different, I'm literary (there's one other poet I know about); I don't write how-to books (the HECK I don't! Sweatin' blood trying to sell a publisher our group's Writing Group Handbook!!); I want money but have shied away from thinking about how to make some. But I feel so REFRESHED after every meeting. They're so generous! They know stuff! They share what they know! I got people!

*Meanwhile, the author makes money on her book without an NYC publisher taking 8o percent as middleman.
Apr 25
Written by

Response to "A Nation of Artists"

Poet Helen Eisen writes:

The information you give us about the T'ang Dynasty reminds me of a wonderful story by Suzette Haden Elgin, "For the Sake of Grace" in the Norton Anthology of Science Fiction, 1993. I first read it in 1969 when it was first published. And I planned (in my fantasies) to read it aloud at a podium as I accepted some grand lifetime achievement award for my own writing, of course on behalf of all women writers the world over. If you've already read the story, or read it now, you'll know what I mean.
Apr 25
Written by

A Nation of Artists

I think the creativity I see all around me is getting to critical mass and we are about to become a nation of artists.

The Internet has its users making their own films, posting their own writings and music and art, organizing and collaborating, and sharing ideas, opinions, and new software. But the Internet is only part of the arts revolution. The postal carrier does crafts; the doctor paints; the street kid makes up poems; the stay-at-home mom does Japanese-style gardening; the teenager designs and sews her own clothes; Grandma writes and publishes her own cookbook.

Somewhere I read that "The M.F.A. is the new M.B.A." and I believe it. Employers used to shun "creative types," thinking them too dreamy or weird to become compliant worker bees. Now these companies are clawing the walls to get creativity.

During the T'ang Dynasty, if a man wanted a high-level job he had to go to the regional capital and take exams. One of the tests was whether he could write a good poem.
Apr 25
Written by

I Gave Up Cleaning and Lived

It isn't like me, but I haven't cleaned house for four months while manuscripts, queries, synopses, proofreading, job, etc. took up all my time. But the cobwebbing doesn't look that bad. And three books got done while I spent March through June lying flat (axing cedar trees, I tore a ligament or something). Vacuuming caused pain. Bending. Opening the oven. Washing sink. Bedmaking. Pulling clothes from washer into dryer. Just sitting up was an ordeal. Sorry, Mom (she's Polish, and the only people scrubbier than the Dutch are the Poles), but I couldn't do anything for longer than 1 minute but write. From the bed I used a wireless keyboard and mouse.

This is the longest time I've ever gone without housecleaning, and the most productive writing time of my life so far. Coincidence? V. Woolf advised writers to "kill the angel in the house." Who knew she meant: "Don't clean"?

I'm mobile and pain-free now, thanks to Laura Self, physical therapist at SSM in Eureka, MO. (When we met she asked agonized, skeletal me if I'd like to sit down. I told her, "Oh, no ma'am. I don't sit.")
Apr 25
Written by

Irons in the Fire

I've got three book manuscripts out circulating, which rather takes my mind off the long, ambitious poem I sent to a magazine that may or may not take it, for political reasons (aside from the fact that they might not like it. But I do). Strange that I worry most about the poem, not the books.

It really helped getting my writing group involved in readying the Writing Group book for submission to publishers. One of us photocopied the book outline and sample chapters; two of us split the work of writing customized cover letters for each publisher; I made a spreadsheet to track submissions; someone did stapling and envelope-stuffing; she with the best handwriting addressed them and the SASEs; and finally one of us carried the packages to the post office and got them stamped for going (and returning; but we hope not). Any anxiety about that book -- now titled The Writing Group Handbook -- is divided eight ways. And so it rests lightly on the individual creative soul.

We, and specifically I, have no worries about whether the Writing Group book is good and worthwhile -- we know it is. Eight writers can't be wrong! A poet can never have the same secure feeling about a poem. But that's the price of writing poetry and wanting to publish it. I'll pay it -- but I am glad of having several other irons in the fire, and some writer friends.
Apr 25
Written by

Go for Broke

I just put all my eggs in the basket of Writing.

Decided not to return to school to retrain to do something practical.
Decided not to beg and campaign for raises, or go hat in hand to higher-paying employers. (I'm 50. Think I'd get the job?)
Not to go into advertising or public relations.
Not to start my own small business.
Not to punch cash registers or wait tables for the money.
Not to take a second job.
Not to tweak the resume so it won't reveal I write poetry.
Not to send an anguished email to all correspondents saying If You Have Work, Send It to Me, I Need It!
Not to look at 1960s motel-like apartment complexes with tiny cheap small-windowed units and think, "That's where I'll end up when I'm old -- if I don't decide to return to school. . .campaign for raises. . . go into advertising. . . .start my own business. . ."

Now I have no choice but to take Writing and go for broke.

Apr 25
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A Battle in the Pay-the-Writer War

Since 1997 I have given a one-hour talk/presentation at an annual two-week writers' retreat. In 1997 I was paid $150. In 2007 I was paid $150. So it goes for us writers. In 2010 I was paid $150. Told that my presentation last year was effective, I agreed to do a talk again this year, and set a date and time. Then I get an email:

"We are paying speakers $100 this year"

As soon as I read that I wrote back:

"Sorry, I will not do it for a pay cut. Gas prices, etc."

Why is it that everything goes up in price except what writers are paid? After 14 years, a 33 percent cut in a speaking fee? I'm no less experienced than I was in 1997. I'm no less published. I'm no less of a speaker. I'd be offended if it wasn't such a common occurence. But I respond differently than I once did. I DO NOT ACCEPT such insane offers. I don't accept the gig and then resent it and steam. I stay in the sanity bubble. Their budget is less this year? That's not my problem, it's theirs.

Yes, they may get someone else, but they will not be getting Catherine Rankovic. They have met their match. Maybe they will think twice before lowballing any other writers.

Apr 19
Written by

Literary Lies

. . . . Honesty is power. We know this because half our upbringing is learning how and when to put a lid on it. Our culture idealizes honesty, but most of our institutions and social customs are not built on it; instead, they are built to withstand its force. In place of speaking honestly, we are taught to use honesty’s back roads: gossip, kidding, sarcasm, exposé. “Tell us what you really think” is usually only said, these days, as a way to shut you up.

. . .Intimate essays and memoirs and poems serve as antidotes to daily low-grade mandatory dishonesty. My motives for writing intimately, besides the pleasure of telling my version of events, include exploring what happened and why, finding excuses for myself, getting even, and nailing hypocrisy—and I am as honor-bound to nail my own as I am to nail someone else’s. It’s not just a matter of honor, either. If I know I did wrong and in my writing I don’t admit to it, my writing will lack the voltage of honesty.

The personal essay or the memoir provides a portal through which the reader may pay a visit to himself, his real self, the one who doesn’t have to dissemble or lie. Just as an athlete has a moral obligation to not use performance enhancers, the writer of first-person nonfiction is obliged to present readers with an honest record of human experience, not only because it is human but also because honesty itself needs preserving.

On my computer I have stuck a little note: “I have a doctor’s excuse to tell the truth.”

Hidden in that note is a piece of folk wisdom: that the truth is medicinal, that it cures. We believe this so fervently that when we hear a memoirist has lied, we feel outraged, as if we had been given poison instead of medicine. . . .

-Catherine Rankovic, excerpt from St. Louis Magazine essay, Dec. 2006
Apr 15
Written by

Why the Agent Stops Reading at Page 2

Fascinating workshop at MO Writers Guild conference with literary agent Kristin Nelson "thinking aloud" as she read manuscripts (first two pages) submitted by members of the audience. She said aloud where and why she would stop reading and take a pass. Here is the link to her own summary of the event, must-reading for anyone wanting know what stops an agent cold: Kristin Nelson's Pub Rant. Her list may surprise you. The good news: Everything that's wrong can be learned and corrected, so you can confidently proceed.
Apr 14
Written by

Talking With: Alice Azure, Native American Author

Poet Alice Azure wroazure1te Along Came a Spider (Bowman Books), about her 35-year search to trace her Native American ancestry. She found her spiritual home in the Acadian-Métis culture of Nova Scotia, where Europeans and the Mi’kmaq (pronounced Mic-mac) tribe intermingled in the sixteenth century. While piecing the story together, Azure says she sensed she was “being sought out by Invisibles as much as I sought them.” During the rigors of writing and research, Azure met her spiritual guide, Grandmother Spider, who urged her to complete the work and to write honestly. The conversations with Spider are included in the book. It was all so interesting and so unheard, I let the interview below run to full length.

What drove you to claim a Native American identity when according to your genealogy and DNA test your known ancestry is European? Your genealogical searching was intensive and expensive. Why go to those lengths?

From the time I began a serious search for my Native ancestors (1974) up to the completion of Along Came a Spider (late 2010), I never had a DNA test. With regard to my genealogy, I only knew for sure was that my mother and her folks were from Norway. It was my father’s family from Nova Scotia, Canada that presented the genealogical challenges with regard to identifying Mi’kmaq ancestors.

Although my father, Joseph Alfred Hatfield, and his grandmother, Celestine Porthier Boudreau, always asserted their Mi’kmaq ancestry, it wasn’t until graduate school at the University of Iowa that I decided to learn more about my Native roots. One of my professors, of Mi’kmaq ancestry himself, challenged me to research my heritage. I took up his challenge—vigorously, I might add. When I began, in the early 1970s, the American Indian Movement was at its zenith. Many times there were questions about my tribal enrollment, the name of my reservation, the Native names of my family, my clan and why I was interested in working with tribal communities. All of these questions I regarded as reasonable, and I wanted to be able to answer them. So I began by focusing my search on family names.      

You belong to the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaq, is that correct? What are the benefits of tribal membership?

I don’t belong to the Aroostook Band. Early on, I applied for membership in the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaq in Presque Isle, Maine. I reasoned that since I would never live in Nova Scotia, it might be worth my efforts to petition for tribal membership in the state where my father had lived and worked most of his life. There were no benefits for me other than to be able to say, “This is my spiritual home.” In spite of some encouragement from a staff member from the Aroostook Band, the politics were not in my favor—living in Illinois as I did at the time. In addition, I needed proof of my father’s residency in that northern area of Maine. The years he worked as a lumberman, starting with his teen years, were before the advent of Social Security—so I was facing digging up payroll records, etc. It was too much for me to sustain, to be a family person, stay on top of my career and keep building my family tree.

I have found a “home of the heart” in the Association des Acadiens Métis-Sourquois (salt water people), based in Saulnierville, Digby County, Nova Scotia, which has granted me recognition of aboriginal status as a person of Acadian descent in Nova Scotia. The “Epilogue” chapter of my book, Along Came a Spider, explains the Canadian law with regard to who is aboriginal in that country.

I and many other people of Acadian descent recently have come to the understanding through study, research, and now DNA testing, that from 1604 up to 1755, a hybrid people and culture was born in Acadie (roughly, the Canadian northeast Maritimes) through the cooperative bartering for fur pelts, fish and lumber between French and Mi’kmaq people. This new culture—neither French nor Mi’kmaq—developed into what today is called Acadian.

Why have I never heard of the Mi'kmaq? Are they historically a small or isolated group? What are some of the things unique to their culture?

The Mi’kmaq are basically a Canadian tribe, so that may be one reason you didn’t know or hear much about them. Historically, they were a powerful group, estimated by Daniel N. Paul in his book, We Were Not the Savages, to be around 200,000 at the time of first European contact—1504. By 1838, disease, warfare and deliberate English policies of genocide and scalp bounties had reduced the people to a population of 1,425 (Paul, 187,188).

What I think is unique about Mi’kmaq culture is their wonderful array of creation stories. I most love the ones about magical Power—“[h]ow to acquire it, how to use it, how to lose it and the consequences attendant upon all of the above.” I just quoted from Ruth Holmes Whitehead’s masterful book, Stories from the Six Worlds: Micmac Legends (13). It is timeless!  

When did you understand that you had to write and publish this book?

I began to slip into a serious depression after my husband Alec died February 11, 1993. Also, I couldn’t find employment, and was fast running out of money. Realizing that I was losing my way, I asked for some guidance from my medicine women friends. They took me into the woods, so to speak, watched me, prayed over me and conducted some ceremonies. That’s when I saw Spider on my blanket. I knew I had to recount as much as I could, or I would not remember everything. So I recorded in my journal all the happenings of what I call that holy time—from Alec’s death to November of 1994 when I finally secured a job in the United Way at Green Bay, Wisconsin. At first, I had no intention of writing a book. Increasingly, I found my understanding of Grandmother Spider expanding to such an extent that I began to realize that I was being sought out by Invisibles as much as I sought them. So around 2004 I knew that this amazing, numinous experience in my life had a pattern, had meaning and significance. I wanted to share it. And I believe Spider goaded me on. Sometimes she would sit on the upper left corner of my computer screen—at a time I wasn’t advancing the story. I became very discouraged when I couldn’t find a publisher after about twenty queries. Late in 2009, I submitted an essay to an academic journal—Studies in American Indian Literatures. The editor for that particular issue, Siohban Senier, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, asked to see some more of my writing and poems. The rest is history. What a coach she turned out to be—encouraging me to finish the manuscript and send it to Bowman Books. 

In the book you mention that many French-Acadians seemed insulted when you asked about Native ancestry. Recently, others have seemed eager to claim that ancestry. Lots of Americans want to do the same. You said you don't know the reason. What is your best guess?

In 1974, when my first husband and I traveled to Nova Scotia to begin my search for Native ancestors, I did “cold calling,” knocking on doors in Wedgeport where many of my father’s people had lived. Yes—it was obvious they were surprised, maybe even insulted when I inquired about Mi’kmaq ancestry in the Boudreau surname. That was in the summer of 1974. Father Clarence d’Entremont, the well-known Acadian genealogist, wrote me letters in 1978 saying that there was no Indian blood in the Boudreau line. Stephen A. White, another authoritative genealogist, in a 1977 letter outlining my father’s female line, also said there was no Mi’kmaq ancestry. They both were wrong. Through a rigorous process of application first to the Kespu’kwitk Métis Council l (which I resigned from, for lack of communication) then to the Association des Acadiens-Métis Sourquois, my genealogies have been certified as Métis—of aboriginal descent. So you deal with the denials, the subtle racism—the outright racism—and go on and do your thing.

I certainly think one has to factor in greed when considering the significant increase of Native American ancestry being claimed through the census. Some of it is said to be due to discrimination by the tribes themselves. It is well-known that tribal governments have the power to enroll—and dis-enroll. There’s a lot of discrimination at that end. The new-found casino wealth of a few successful tribes may be driving some of that greed. I think people with Native ancestors who have never interacted with tribal communities may also feel entitled to the meager benefits—the usual situation—of tribal enrollment. It’s a lot of work to go through that process. Some of my friends have been persistent and received their cards. For others—like a granddaughter of Alec, my late husband, enrollment has eluded her, again because of mean-spiritedness.

With regard to the burgeoning of Acadian-Métis people, I believe it is driven by a sense of history, a pride in having had ancestors who suffered, perished in or survived le grand dérangement (the savage Acadian Removal of 1755). More and more, the several DNA tests now available are confirming a great variety of haplotypes—which must give the French purists heartburn. In Nova Scotia, we even have our own “lost colony of Roanoke” story. Its name was the Fagundes Colony. A group in 1520 set out from the Azores to settle (not to just fish) near the Outer Banks—Cape Breton Island. What happened to them cannot be known at this point, but a whole lot of Acadians are testing for U6a haplotypes, a bloodline that shows up in France only among people deported from Nova Scotia—who had established themselves there over generations, then were kicked out. Suppose, goes the theory, that the Mi’kmaq killed the male settlers and took the women and children into their own camps? The women eventually settled into Mi’kmaq life. Mitochondrial DNA tests—which track only the female lines—daughter to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother and so on—would never pick up the paternal Indian lines.

Is Grandmother Spider a spirit guide, or is she a goddess, or--?

I think Grandmother Spider is a spirit guide that comes out of my Native ancestry. In the book, I talk somewhat of another spirit-guide, MW. In retrospect, I think he comes out of my western, or Christian, tradition. Vine Deloria, Jr. in his book, The World We Used to Live In, asserted that spirits from different cultures or traditions are quite compatible. Spider is real. I believe that. I don’t know how else to say this, than to encourage the reader to read my poem “Blessing” on page 169 of the book. Other cultures—in Africa and somewhere in the Caribbean, have a Grandmother Spider being. In my book, I use a creative nonfiction style to introduce and close each essay through a conversation with Spider—always under my arbor. I’ll never forget the very first time she spun her web on my arbor. The vines were not mature, the moon was shining so bright, and I saw her hanging there on the arbor on a shining web.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I include a good bibliography in the book for the reader who may want more information about the ideas or topics I discuss. A glossary is also included to help with some of the words, tribal names and phrases I use. I hope these two aids will add to the book’s appeal.