Mar 26
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What Writing Coaches Do

coach_bookevalProfessional book coaches told a recent St. Louis Publishers Association meeting all about "book shepherding," which is one name for what they do: consult with aspiring authors about their goals, keep them on a writing schedule if needed, and walk authors partway or all the way through the steps following manuscript completion. The panelists were Linda Senn, Lynne Klippel, and Christine Frank. It was a good meeting, and am I ever glad I don't need a writing coach. Having a coach is a very serious business. It will make you work. It will make you finish. Emphatically not for dilettantes or pub-crawlers.

Ms. Senn works with writers of nonfiction or business-related books, family histories, autobiographies and memoirs -- meeting in person (emphatically not by phone) with them weekly, semimonthly, or monthly, to follow up. At the first meeting she asks a list of questions that should and will make dabblers quake in their boots, such as "Why do you want to write a book?" and "Who will read your book?" Ms. Klippel specializes in working with "coaches, speakers, and entrepreneurs who want a write a nonfiction book to showcase their expertise and build their business." Ms. Frank's firm creates and packages books issued by, or related to, industries or associations: technical, agribusiness, and so on.

The reason that I don't require a writing coach is that around age 45 I became sharply aware of my mortality. "The clock is ticking -- and I've got a lot of stuff I want to write!" sends me running to the computer like nothing else in life.

Mar 25
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Mark Twain/Mississippi-Themed Poetry or Prose

mississippi_bookevalChesterfield (MO) Arts seeks poets and prose writers to enter its writing contest. Deadline is April 16. Adults (over age 26) and youth (ages 16-25) can submit poetry or prose about Mark Twain, his fictional characters, the Mississippi Valley region. . . details are here. Entry fee $15.

Recently I judged an essay contest with a similar theme, run by a different organization. Only eight writers entered. After thinking about it, I think the theme is too well-worn to appeal to literary writers -- What HASN'T been written about Mark Twain and his world? And why bother to lift a pen when HIS writings are still the best? -- and casual or student writers wouldn't lift a pen if they had to read stuff before they wrote stuff. But let's hope I'm way off base and that you have written some literature that has just been waiting for its chance to shine.

Mar 20
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Getting Up and Out

flower_rain_bookevalRaining. Cold. Don't want to go anywhere. There's a poetry workshop this afternoon. I could stay home. I have reasons. It's a 60-mile round trip. Gasoline is expensive. They won't miss me...I'd really LIKE to go, and I'm shampooed and dressed and I COULD go, but wouldn't I rather stay home and make an asparagus quiche? Maybe watch a Netflix? Write some stuff on my own?

Senseless! Go be with people! Support people! Support writing! Yourself you can be with any old time!

Mar 16
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Ancient Wisdom

quotes_bookevalThere was no online list of Judeo-Christian Bible quotations specifically selected for writers -- that I could find -- so I made this one. All writers believe in something. I believe in great quotations as sources of strength and inspiration.

By their fruits you shall know them. Matt. 7:16

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future. Jerem. 29:11 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book. Jerem. 30:2

With God all things are possible. Matt. 19:26

Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and work with your own hands. Thess. 4:11

Of making many books there is no end. Eccles. 12:12

Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in the time to come as a witness forever. Isia. 30:8 (NAS)

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Matt. 11:26

Mar 12
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The Revision Bug

Taking time to let it run its course, I allowed the Revision Bug to consume all my free time from mid-December until now. It happily revised about 15 poems for me, finalizing perhaps 8 of them; the rest much improved. That's about a weekend per poem.

How I made time: Did not plan any daytime events on Saturdays. Did not watch TV or movies. Fought to preserve solitary Mondays. Did not read books. Hosted only once. Kept away from appealing cookbooks and magazines with tempting, complicated recipes. Did not drink wine or beer. Used software to calculate 2009 taxes. Ignored yard work, dirty car, and plants. Let go of Facebook for a while; with reluctance turned down two or three nice invitations.

The backlash: Occasional sprees, of various kinds, to release the tension. (Revising isn't resting!) Buying lunches when I could have/should have made them. Skipped about half my walks and workouts. Friends don't call because I haven't called them. Sleepy by 8:30 p.m.

Mar 09
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Talking With: Angie O'Gorman, First-Time Novelist

Angie O'Gorman's first novel, The Book of Sins, is just out from PlainView Press of Austin, TX. Well-known for her human-rights activism, O'Gorman, a longtime St. Louisan, teaches "Theology for Peacemakers" at St. Louis University and is a staff member at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Her essays and articles have appeared in America Magazine, Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter, and Natural Bridge.

What is the best thing about publishing your first novel?

There is great relief when a publisher – no matter how small – accepts your novel for publication. But the greater satisfaction comes when readers find something of value in your work; something worth thinking and talking about. The actual placing of your work into public hands is a terribly unnerving event.

Please describe the plot in 35 words.

Against the backdrop of life in the United States in the year 2034, after Christianity has become a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of capitalism, an odd grouping of women come into each other's lives, and all hell breaks loose.

What are your hopes for The Book of Sins?

On one level, the story's premise is that Christianity is becoming capitalism's philanthropic arm. On another level, the story probes the consequences of this odd merger on those most negatively affected by it – the poor. I hope this narrative might incite doubt in readers about the status quo's own narrative.

What did your editors like about your novel?

This was a niche thing. My novel and PlainView Press's mission statement were a perfect match.

What advice do you have for people wanting to write and publish a novel?

Write what you have a passion to write, regardless of what the market is buying. Then go to the independent, small presses first. After you're a known quantity (and quality), go for the agent and the big publisher.

What is the worst aspect of writing a novel?

Losing all objectivity. While involved in writing a long work, the writer can become absolutely unable to hear or observe the small, subtle things that can make or break a good story.

What inspires you to write?

The world I see rubs my soul the wrong way. I know we can do better. The friction causes me to write.

Angie will be reading from and signing her book March 21 at the Center for Theology and Social Analysis (CTSA), 1077 S. Newstead, 4:00-6:00 pm; March 29, will guest on Literature for the Halibut, KDHX, FM 88.1, 9:00 pm; April 9: Reading and Book Signing: Plowsharing Crafts, St. Louis, 7:00 pm; April 21: Reading and Book Signing: Left Bank Books, St. Louis, 7:00 pm. Her book can also be purchased from

Mar 07
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Simple Fixes

simple_bookeval-First lines should create and hold tension.

-Find the point at which YOU become interested in what you have written, and chop off everything that goes before that.

-Axe "There are," "We were," "It has been," and other "to be" verb phrases. Usually the sentence holds another verb which can be activated. For example, "There is Mother's fur coat hanging in the closet," becomes "Mother's fur coat hangs in the closet."

-"A bad title is like a dunce-cap on a poem" - poet Adrian Matejka said it and I repeat it -- and it's true for prose pieces also.


-The final line had better be right, and if it takes three years to get it right, it takes three years.

-Fiction writers, for some reason you will always be advised to cut the last few sentences of your ending ("End it sooner"). Ignore this advice.

-If a work has a troublesome part, have other writers look at and comment on it.

-About 50 percent of the praise you get is mere politeness, so correct for that.

-If there's one line or paragraph that you cannot get right, try deleting it. Usually the work will be fine without it, perhaps even healthier.

Mar 03
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Things They Don't Tell You About Writers' Retreats

retreat_bookevalBeen resident at two writers' colonies or retreats, each for two weeks. They were great in their ways, particularly the first one, Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois, but there can be a downside to going.

  1. They tell you they serve one meal a day. True. And the rest of the time you and 15 other writers create unholy messes of burnt, crumby, spilled, sticky everything in the house kitchen. Because it made me sick, I cleaned out our house fridge and the OTHER HOUSE saw this, got their old bowls and canisters of rotting food and BROUGHT IT across the yard AND PUT IT IN OUR CLEAN REFRIGERATOR. Got depressed facing a dirty kitchen every day and tired of playing maid. I could do that at home. Went home.
  2. The meals were great and the cooks were very special people, but in both places we were expected to dinner at exactly the set time, no matter how deeply we were involved in our writing. They rang the bell a hundred times and when I didn't come downstairs they yelled for me and then came and collared me.
  3. You have to wash and blow-dry your hair and dress in real clothes every day because you are among other people. Also you should be friendly, kind, appealing, funny, generous, etc. For some people this was wonderful. As an introvert I found it exhausting.

Can't deny, though, that I made some fabulous breakthroughs at Ragdale in 2005, such as starting to write poetry again, and for that I am ever grateful.

Mar 02
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Aw, Do I Have to Do My Own Publicity?

snail_bookevalI had energy and time enough to either

a) work on finishing my writing and sending it out, or

b) do advance publicity and my marketing setup for upcoming events and the release of Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis (still at the printer's).

I chose "A" and am not sorry.

But I learnt JUST NOW that if I left publicity up to others, it wouldn't get done, not even by the sponsoring organization, St. Louis Poetry Center:

Catherine Rankovic and Ed Boccia will read their poetry Tuesday March 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Focal Pointe, 2720 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood, MO, 63143. This event is part of the Poetry at the Pointe series sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center. Free. For information call (314) 973-0616.

I swiftly wrote the above notice using a handy formula called the "five W's." For publicity and news purposes it will never let you down. It states "Who, What, When, Where, and Why", and – welcome to the 21st century! – "How Much?" Also, for "Where," it has become very important in the age of GPS to indicate the whole street address including the zip code. Keep it short! That way, editors will keep their meathooks off of it.

"Ask not" how YOUR event was the one that got lost in the welter. "Ask what you can do to fix the problem caused by neglecting your own publicity."

Jan 03
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Unagented YA Manuscripts Sought

Wide open market for UNAGENTED young adult fiction -- a new Harlequin imprint, actually -- reported on Tricia Grissom's Coffee and Critique blog. I know that you know somebody with a YA novel, so please pass the information on.

Jan 02
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Spring Course in Advanced Creative Nonfiction

If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.

The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.

To register, go to and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.

I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.

Jan 01
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Shame on You for Selling Your Books

If any empire deserves to crumble, it's publishing as we have known it. This good New York Times article discusses online amateur book dealing. When you sell your used books on Amazon it bothers publishers no end because they get paid for the book only once. Maybe like their writers they should get used to being paid only once.

By comparison, a publisher of eBooks can charge for every download, although texts must be priced more affordably. But easy and instantaneous transactions mean the publisher sells more -- even when downloaded books get passed around. More sales and no middlemen mean a bigger chunk of the profits can go to the writers -- not the current lousy 10 to 15 percent.

According to the article, brick-and-mortar bookstores must go down with the ship, and that's sad. But the best ones will adapt, mostly the smaller independent ones. They've been pulling for the writers all along, and we will pull for them. Don't confuse the demise of traditional NYC-centered publishing with the demise of books or reading.