Monthly Archives: August 2015

Burlington Writers Workshop Retreat!

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When my wife and I decided that life in the Greater Boston area wasn’t compatible with continued health and sanity and we were examining other possible New England locales, one of the key criteria for me was the local writing community. We liked all kinds of things about the Burlington area, but the presence of a really strong local literary community was definitely high on the list.

When we did actually make the move, I very quickly got involved with the Burlington Writers Workshop, one of the things that caught my eye in our pre-move evaluation. This has turned out to be a great idea! The group started out hosting free writing workshops for its members in Burlington, and has now added workshops in Montpelier and Midddlebury as well. Meanwhile, BWW has branched out to putting out an annual “best of” publication of pieces from the workshops, starting a literary journal that’s already making a name for itself (Mud Season Review, where I am incidentally co-Editor for Poetry), holding seminars on various aspects of writing and publishing and, starting this year, hosting writing retreats.

I got to participate in one this weekend, at Camp Abnaki a ridiculously picturesque (see above) old camp ground on North Hero island in Lake Champlain. It was only a day (in keeping with BWW’s ethos that what it does is free for members), but it was so helpful. In between a morning intro, lunch and potluck dinner, I got a solid day’s worth of writing, where I was able to:

  • Gather screenplay revision notes from several locales (my phone, e-mails, two different computers, written notes on a draft) into one place and organized them into a revision plan for the final draft
  • Work on revising several poems, including finding the right form for one that has been bedeviling me (decasyllabic ballad, as it turns out)
  • Start to revise a short story based on feedback notes from a BWW Middlebury workshop a few weeks back

I’m a pretty happy writer after this weekend. Also, i learned that Grand Isle County has that laid-back beach person vibe I had so missed from California and Gloucester. I can’t wait to go back!

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What I’m reading: August edition

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In 12ish years of attending writing workshops, writing conferences, and reading umpteen “so you want to write” articles, I’ve seen a lot of advice for writers slosh through. The three pieces of advice I most consistently see reflected for aspiring writers are:

  1. Keep a regular journal
  2. Get in to a feedback group or other community to support and review your writing
  3. Read

I’ll check in on the third now, with a list of what I’m currently reading (and why).

conspiracies Conspiracies and Secret Societies (Brad and Sherry Steiger) This is on my Nook. I like to have a paranormal type book on there at all times for lights-out bedtime reading. You get more interesting dreams that way. Since this is basically an encyclopedia, it’s custom-made for reading an entry or two a night.

Qur'anHoly Qur’an I like to be reading a sacred text at any given time, in order to stay tuned in to the transcendent wavelength. I’ve done this for years, and this is my second time through the Qur’an, this time in digital version.

meetIf You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! (Sheldon B. Kopp) I find it useful to have a spiritualaic book for brief morning as well. These days, that means it’s in my car, for a quick few minutes of centering before heading in to work. This was recommended by a friend in recovery, and I’m really appreciating it!

JLA 5JLA: Volume 5 (Mark Waid, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary) At any given time, I’m also reading a graphic novel of some sort. There are all kinds of complex very adult graphic novels one could be reading. Not for me- I want my superheroes. Comic book geek for life, yo! And the heroes don’t get any bigger than the Justice League.

MuahmmadMuhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (Karen Armstrong) This is my “main” book. I try to rotate between fiction, non-fiction and spiritual. We’re on to the spiritual rung in the cycle now, and I’ve read and admired several things by Karen Armstrong, so I was eager to see what her brief biography of the man behind the origin of Islam would be like.

GraceThe Grace of Kings (Ken Liu) Shout out to the Geek Mountain State Book Club! This is our next next book, but it’s so long I wanted to get a jump on it. We’d read Ken Liu’s translation of a Chinese sci-fi novel a few months back, so I was intrigued to see some of his original work. This is his fantasy take on an alternate-world version of China’s Warring States period, and so far it is excellent!

lostThe Lost Symbol (Dan Brown) This is what you might call my “bathroom book”. Strictly speaking, it can also be read for a few minutes in bed before turning out the light, at the beach, on train rides, etc. So, no hurry to get through it. But, being Dan Brown, it is a rapid page-turner whenever I do pick it up.

How about you? What’s on your current reading list?

Five reasons you shouldn’t be afraid of (Literary) Rejection

kamikazeI think a lot of us let fear of rejection keep us from taking the risks necessary to move toward our goals. I am certainly no exception. This doesn’t only apply to literary endeavors, of course. And I still work on it in many areas of my life. But one area where I absolutely don’t sweat it anymore is literary rejection. If I want to get published, I need to submit. If I submit, I’m going to get rejections. It’s just the price of admission. And, fortunately, it’s not so bad. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the course of submission and rejection that help soften the blow. I hope they encourage you to get your writing out there:

1. It’s not personal. Some of the fear comes from the idea of receiving an ego-destroying comment in the dismissal. In reality, you probably won’t receive enough content for your ego to latch on to in any form. Here’s a rejection I just received, stripped of the identifying information:

Dear <X>,

Thank you for sending us your work. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
Sincerely,

<Y>

Since being on the accepting/rejecting side of the equation as the Poetry co-editor with Mud Season Review, I’ve actually developed a lot of sympathy for this. For most of the places you’re submitting to, sheer volume doesn’t allow for personalized response. They won’t have time to get nasty!

2. You may not hear back at all. I’ve been keeping stats on my submissions since 2008. So far, I have not heard back on around 28% of my submissions. Some of these are from the last 12 months, so they’re probably still in the consideration pipeline. But many of them are years old. I figure they probably aren’t going to get back to me if they haven’t by now. It isn’t good form on the literary journal’s part, but it does happen. Once again, no ego-damaging blow. Although the eerie whistling void can be just as unnerving…

3. Because of #1 and #2, when you do get feedback, it’s usually good. In between the form responses and non-responses, when they do feel moved enough to respond, it’s probably because there’s something about your submission they responded positively to. I’ve come to really appreciate the “this is strong, but not quite there”, “it was a semi-finalist, and we encourage you to submit again”, and “it felt like aspect X could have been developed a little more”, Not quite as encouraging as an acceptance, but these kinds of responses do keep me going.

4. It’s tough for them too. More than once, I’ve gotten an e-mail, or (gasp!) a piece of real mail, that I thought was a rejection notice. Instead, it was a literary journal thanking me for my support and reporting that they, sadly, are folding up shop. Or even soliciting me for donations! There are some journals that are hot right now, and other marquee names that have been around for decades. But, more commonly, lit mags and journals are underfunded labors of love run by unpaid or lightly paid staff, doing this because they believe literature matters. Which is what you believe as a writer too. It can feel like we’re the plucky stowaways trying to sneak aboard their luxury liner. But it’s more often like we’re all in a leaky rowboat together.

5. You can do surprising things with semantics. I mean, come on, we’re writers, right? At a certain point, the “rejection” tally on my tracking sheet started to bum me out. Not the number of items under it, but the word “rejection” itself. So I changed it to “nonacceptance”, which felt a lot more value neutral. This has worked for a surprisingly long time, but it’s starting to lose some of its effectiveness. I may change it again soon. “They missed the boat on the greatest lightly published writer of his generation” is a little ponderous, but something like that. I’ll keep working on it.

How about you? What have you found that helps lighten rejection’s stinging blow?

Do you remember your first? Acceptance/Rejection, that is…

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One of my major sources of inspiration as I was retooling my blog and website was taking a workshop on social media for writers from writing and editing powerhouse and truly lovely person Angela Palm. She had a ton of ideas I incorporated, and along the way also suggested some possible blog post topics once the site was once again ready for weekly positing. One of her suggestions that particularly struck my fancy was collecting stories from my fellow writers about their first literary acceptances and first rejections. Because we’re all in this struggle together, and some perspective always helps!

Let’s start with the gory side. I always knew I should be a writer, but I lacked the confidence to really latch on to this dream and follow through. Still, it rattled inside me. Thus, my Junior year at Berkeley, even as a seemingly cut-and-dried Political Science major, I found myself taking a poetry writing seminar. Encouraged by the weekly feedback in the class, I ended up submitting a batch of poems to a campus literary magazine, whose name I can’t even recall. I do recall scanning the acceptance announcements (in those days a literal piece of paper tacked up on a bulletin board) when they were posted. My name, alas, wasn’t there. And I rallied by…not submitting anything else, anywhere, for the next 15 years. Sometimes a plant has roots too shallow to bloom.

The idea never fully left me, though. Through years of graduate school, diving in to the turbulent world of international business, going down in addiction and washing up in recovery, marriage and divorce, I continued to scratch out poems and stories in my journals from time to time. Finally, in 2003, freshly into post-marital separation, I came back to what I had always know. I started taking writing workshops again, going to readings, and writing regularly, no matter what. One of my delights in this early period of returning to writing was stumbling across the darkling wonderful true tales of the unseemly and strange that Loren Rhoads was publishing in her magazine Morbid Curiosity. These were the kinds of stories i wanted to hear about, and to tell. And so, in 2004, I submitted my true tale “Kissing Girls in the Dark” to her, which I was delighted to learn was accepted. It came out in 2005. Morbid Curiosity is now sadly defunct, but you can read the story here. You shouldn’t stop there, either- Loren has put out an excellent collection of some of the highlights from the magazine over the years, Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, and has several fiction and nonfiction works of her own you should check out.

My subsequent record has faded a bit from my initial 100% acceptance rate. It also took me a few years to get sufficiently tooled up to be as disciplined about regular submission as I was about regular writing. But I’m glad I did, because that’s the price of admission. For every acceptance for publication, there’s a rejection. Or ten. Or a hundred. (In my case, about a 6%-7% acceptance rate over several hundred submissions, so far.) Which is why, in retrospect, I’ve come to really appreciate my first experience of each.

So that’s me. I’d love to hear your story!