The Artist’s Corner – Visionary Editor, Kori Frazier Morgan

Prior to meeting Kori Frazier Morgan, I heard her name mentioned several times by fellow writer, Don Ake. Then I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the writing group Don facilitates, The Write Stuff. She was quite professional and pleasant. I, however, wasn’t in the right place to receive what she talked about. Finally, at the annual Christmas party hosted by The Write Stuff, Don insisted that I sit down next to Kori and talk with her. He even cleared a chair beside her so we could speak uninterrupted face to face. Well, all I know is that I can only avoid so many divine appointments before the lightning bolt successfully strikes through my thick skull. Kori was exactly what my novel needed, and I am so thankful to God for her. She’s also what I needed, and she came along at just the right time. Take a moment to meet this marvelous woman through her interview.

Welcome to the Artist’s Corner. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Kori Frazier Morgan. I grew up in Kent, Ohio and now live in rural northeast Ohio with my husband, Curtis, who is a machinist and craftsman. We have three pets—two cats, Anastasia and Moe, and Gus, a basset/beagle mix. I hold a B.A. in creative writing and professional writing from Ohio Northern University and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Aside from reading and writing, I enjoy long-distance cycling, watching movies, seeing live theatre, and listening to vinyl.

How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write?

I have been blessed to pretty much work in some area of the writing field since graduating from college in 2007. I have created educational content, taught writing classes, and worked as a copywriter and content developer. Even when I worked in retail, it was at a bookstore, so I was still operating within the writing world. All my jobs have helped me get better at writing and learn new things.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you develop your love of writing?

I have enjoyed making up stories and writing them down since I was a kid, but I didn’t start to really think seriously about writing as a career until eighth grade, when I found out that creative writing was something you could study in college. Up until then, I just thought it was a cool hobby. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers in middle school and high school who helped me develop my talents. I worked on the newspaper staff, took acting and communications classes, and loved being in AP English and history courses, where writing essays was a big part of the class.

Have you ever worked as a freelance writer?

All the time. Every day. In 2012, I left academia to pursue freelance writing full time. I returned to the classroom for a few years to teach at a career college and later worked in marketing, but I can’t say I’ve ever totally left the freelance world. Now I run a small business (more on that later) and freelancing is a big part of my life.

What genre do you write?

I have primarily written fiction in the past, but I am now working on a collection of flash nonfiction essays. I also run a weekly blog, Creativity Matters, as part of my business, Inkling Creative Strategies.

To which writing communities do you belong?

I am a member of The Habit, a worldwide community of Christian writers. We work together to study writing, encourage each other, and help each other to become proficient in our craft. The fellowship at The Habit is extraordinary. People care not just about helping you write excellent work, but about you as an individual. We take writing classes, share our writing on a forum, and have virtual writing time on Zoom, where we hang out and work on our projects.

More in our immediate area, I’m part of A Writer’s Life NEO and The Write Stuff, groups based in the Akron/Canton area that meet monthly to critique members’ work. You can either bring something to share or just read and comment. It’s a very low-key, informal way to get some feedback on your writing and The Write Stuff goes out to eat afterward.

Who or what influences your writing?

I am a big fan of music and film. I listen to music while I write and try to put together playlists that help shape what I’m working on. My novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, is heavily based on my dad’s experiences as a member of the Northeast Ohio music scene around the time of the Kent State shootings in 1970, and I have a whole Spotify playlist devoted to the songs that are in the background of the story. When I’m not writing, I enjoy listening to everything from classical to classic country to hymns to Metallica.

My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption, which I’ve seen an obscene number of times. I think it is the perfect film for writers to study to learn about narration, character development, foreshadowing, and just how to deliver a satisfying story in general.

How have your favorite authors and/or books shaped your writing?

My favorite author is Flannery O’Connor, and my favorite book is her novel, Wise Blood. I love that she is a Christian author who is not afraid to look at the darkness of the human heart. All of her characters have to face the question of what we are to do with Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection on our behalf, but she does so in a way that resists sentimentality. Many of the stories conclude in a way that is open-ended, leaving room to speculate about what their answer might be. I’m not sure exactly how her work has directly impacted my writing. I just know it has.

What’s your dream goal as a writer?

I want my books to get to as many people as possible whose lives will be impacted by them.

Which authors/genres do you enjoy reading?

I like literary fiction, memoir, and books about theology and spirituality that will help me grow in my faith. I also love studying the Bible. It is God’s inspired Word and contains everything I need to learn more about Him and receive His direction for my life.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading The Door on Half-Bald Hill, a novel by Helena Sorensen. Helena is a member of The Rabbit Room, an organization I support that provides encouragement and edification for Christian artists of all kinds.

What have you published and where?

I have published two books: Bone China Girls, a poetry chapbook, and The Goodbye-Love Generation, both through my independent imprint, Bezalel Media. Numerous individual pieces have also appeared in literary journals such as Shenandoah, SN Review, Switchback, Rubbertop Review, Blanket Sea, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and more.

Describe your journey to publication.

I have been writing professionally for more than 15 years, and the landscape of publishing has changed tremendously in that time. I am an independent author and do the majority of the work to publish and promote my work. During my MFA program in the late ‘00s, we were told that self-publishing was not a legitimate way to publishing a book and that going that route would destroy your credibility. As a result, even as time passed and it became more accepted and prevalent, I was reluctant to pursue publishing my own work.

Things changed after my chapbook, Bone China Girls, was still being rejected after five years. The book recounts the true story of the tragic death of a sixteen-year-old girl in the mid-’60s at the hands of teens and children in her neighborhood, and I felt that it commented on issues such as sexual abuse, bullying, and violence against women that were widely discussed and that I could provide insight into. I decided to publish the chapbook myself because I saw it as an urgent matter. The book’s message was important, and I simply couldn’t wait around for the gatekeepers to tell me I could share it.

I am an independent author and I enjoy publishing my own books. As a marketer and editor with a desktop publishing background, I have the majority of the skills necessary to do the work on my own. I would certainly not recommend this path to everyone—there are some truly hideous books out there that have resulted from authors taking on the responsibility when they are not equipped to handle being the entirety of their publication team. You have to be able to do it professionally in order to be taken seriously.

Have you faced any challenges with writing and/or publishing?

I have struggled with superimposing my own will on my work—trying to make my writing do something that, within the context of a particular project, it is simply not able to do. The Goodbye-Love Generation was like this. I had an agent turn it down when I was finishing grad school because it was a novel composed of short stories and not a traditional novel. As a result, I assumed there was something wrong with that format and spent ten years trying to make it work as a novel or abandoning it for periods of time because I was so frustrated.

Eventually, I realized that I had it right the first time. It was supposed to be a collection of interconnected stories. The fragmented nature of the story fits the characters’ own fragmented perception of the world and themselves. No other format would work to tell this story. Instead of just working with what I had, I let one person’s opinion dictate what I did with my book for ten years. You have to believe in your vision for your writing even if it isn’t what the powers that be seem to want.

Are there any comparative titles to your work(s)?

I am a big fan of two other authors who have written fiction about the Kent State tragedy. Sabrina Fedel has a book called Leaving Kent State that addresses the year leading up to the shootings from the perspective of a high school senior dealing with a friend who returns from Vietnam with PTSD and a debilitating injury. I was also thrilled to receive an endorsement for my book from the fabulous Rita Dragonette, whose novel The Fourteenth of September impacted my revisions. The book is about a college student in the ROTC nursing program who secretly becomes involved with an anti-war group on campus and is caught between her family’s traditional conservative values and her growing feelings that the Vietnam War is wrong.

Describe your research process.

I like to get immersed in places. When I was researching The Goodbye-Love Generation, I felt it was necessary to get the reader out of Kent for some of the stories and move away from the politically charged narrative of the shootings. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but some thread or another of my Google searching led me to Chippewa Lake Park, a now-defunct amusement park that played an active role in giving local musicians exposure back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It found its way into two stories in the book. That wasn’t something I planned on, but I think it brought an element of innocence to a story that is otherwise very violent and full of loss.

I also wrote some of the book at a cafe in downtown Kent across the street from the former site of J.B.’s, the bar where my fictional band, The Purple Orange, performs in the book. Downtown Kent is very different now than it was in the ‘70s but being able to imagine the characters there really informed how I described the setting.

Tell me about your newest business venture.

Inkling Creative Strategies is an author services company that offers editing, project development, consulting, typesetting and interior book design, mentorship, and more. My inspiration is the Inklings, the writing society that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other writers at Oxford started to encourage each other in their work. My goal is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers. We have been in operation for almost two years, and in that time, authors have released books, completed manuscripts, developed short stories, and started blogs. It’s been awesome to see how it’s developed!

Where can one find you on the Internet?

You can visit my website to learn more about Inkling Creative Strategies. On my website, I offer free writing tools, including workbooks and checklists, as well as the opportunity to schedule a free Zoom consultation.

For more information about my book, visit The Goodbye-Love Generation.

You can also find me on Instagram @inklingcreativestrategies.

What advice can you offer for someone seeking an editor?

I think an ideal editor balances being knowledgeable about the English language and creative writing with understanding the author’s vision. It isn’t about being correct all the time—it’s about collaborating with the writer to make their work exactly what they want it to be. Editing has to be an ego-free process, and you can’t be married to the rules. You need to show the author grace in terms of helping them execute their ideas. I would strongly advise writers to not take on an editor who is rigid and not willing to collaborate.

What’s your dream job as an editor?

I would love to see an author I work with just totally blow up with their work—get tons of readers and attention, and maybe even become a hit nationally. Not because Inkling might get some credit for that, or that even I would, but because I would have accomplished my mission of helping someone reach their full creative potential.

Where do you see yourself in the world of writing in ten years?

I would love to see Inkling grow enough that I can partner with other editors who share my vision. I also, of course, hope that I will continue to write and publish work that will make an impact on readers, whatever that looks like. I also fantasize about The Goodbye-Love Generation being made into an Amazon or Netflix limited series.

Those are great goals and dreams. Wishing you all the best in your pursuits!

Welcome Back

It’s been a while since I posted, but please don’t believe that I haven’t been busy because I have. I took the plunge some time ago and pulled back from social media. What an amazing advantage that proved to be when I shook off the fear of walking away. I realized quite quickly that my life wouldn’t implode if I wasn’t connected to social media twenty-four hours a day. Furthermore, my value as a person and a writer didn’t diminish in the least. The best part about that whole endeavor was when I connected with real people in real time. Go figure.

I may sound as if I’m welcoming you back, which I am, but I’m hopeful this will be an opportunity for you to welcome me back into your life. There’s a lot out there on the Internet and choosing to read what I create and post is appreciated more than words can say. But I’ll say it anyhow. Thank you!

However, this post is not an apology. As mentioned above, I needed the time away to craft better fiction of which I am extremely proud. I trust you will be, too, as I work to get it into the hands of my followers, whether I publish traditionally or independently.

As you come to know me better through my blog, one thing you’ll probably notice is that it’s different from other writing blogs out there. There’s a heavy personal touch to my posts. I did this in an effort to create openness and honesty. You’ll see the real me.

I’ve left everything intact since I started my blog, so please don’t hesitate to poke around. The first reason I did so is because I haven’t discounted the other novels I’ve written. They may still be published someday.

The second reason is because I’m not afraid to show a progression of growth in all aspects of my life on my blog. There are some things I posted that make me cringe but being vulnerable doesn’t compromise my strength. I’m open to discussion, so let’s have a conversation.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments about the creative endeavors are you pursuing. All artists are welcome here but kindly refrain from marketing and selling.

~HL Gibson

Anya by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Don’t read Anya by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer if all you want is a quick read about the Holocaust. Today’s writers are cranking out enough of those complete with prescribed character arcs and inciting incidents occurring within the first three pages guaranteed to keep you hooked. If, however, you’re willing to be stitched into the fabric of life of the protagonist, if you are willing to invest yourself in details and description, if you are interested in conversation that reads like it takes place at a large family gathering, then Anya just might be your novel.

The book reads like one long memory, and I believe it is this quality that makes the events of Anya’s life so seamless. The transition from well-off daughter, wife, and mother to a woman scrambling to keep her family together in the ghetto and then hold herself together mentally and physically in the concentration camps is so smooth. Perhaps it’s because very little detail about the war is provided as if the reader should already know the particulars of how, why, who, when, what, and where. Rather, we are given Anya’s perspective and reaction to everything that occurs. In fact, it’s very late in the war years that Hitler is even mentioned and only then as somebody far away who somehow has power over Anya’s life.

The reader will always be right in the moment with Anya. Schaeffer creates tension that keeps the reader from holding on to Anya’s past because the danger of the situation prevents one from mourning what was lost. There is simply no time to do so. That will come later. Maybe. As for the future, don’t bother contemplating it because it is inconceivable that a future—at least a positive one—could even exist with all Anya is forced to endure and to do just to survive. The only saving grace is that this is not your story, dear reader. Unless maybe it was.

What I found to be the most chilling as I lived Anya’s story with her was the fact that I mentally collected her actions and words to fall back on in case I found myself in a similar situation. Perhaps it is the political, social, and cultural climate of today that subconsciously prompted me. I honestly cannot say. Still, for a work of fiction, Anya is one novel whose influence and impact will stay with me for a long time. I have said before that finishing a well-written book was like leaving behind great friends. The same is true for Anya. The ghosts will live on.

The Artist’s Corner – Tracking Down the Facts With Author Jane Turzillo

I first met author Jane Turzillo at an informal meeting for writers. Jane writes non-fiction that requires her to complete extensive research. Recently, she shared her research techniques and online resources at a presentation at the Hudson Library & Historical Society. After attending the presentation, I invited Jane to interview for The Artist’s Corner to share some interesting history about herself as well as the many links she uses when tracking down facts for her books.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I’m sure you’ll find the links Jane provided beneficial to your search for information.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything. I started out at college (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) on a vocal scholarship as a music major, but it just wasn’t my calling, so I quit. I’ve worked for construction companies, a cosmetic store, and a few clothing stores. I even taught piano for a while. Then I went back to school at The University of Akron to get a degree in criminal justice because I had dated a cop and became fascinated with police work. I realized I loved investigation, plus I knew I wanted to write crime and mystery. I also love going to school, so I went on to get a degree in mass-media communication.

I’ve worked in the development office of a private school and taught at a business college. I even worked at a travel agency for a few minutes. One of my favorite jobs was at the Akron Art Museum, where I was the public information assistant. Before I retired, I went back to the museum to work in the store part time. I also worked for two weekly newspapers. One of them, the West Side Leader, I co-owned. I was the police and fire reporter. That was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed riding with the police on weekend nights. One of those nights, I saw Jeffrey Dahmer sitting in the back of a cruiser, having been arrested for the first time. This was before we knew what a monster he was. Another case that I covered, and will always stick in my mind, was the murder of Dean Milo. The case stretched on for a year, but in the end eleven people were arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder.

I now work fulltime as an author and presenter. It is the best job in the world!

To which professional writing organizations do you belong?

National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime

How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write books?

Everything contributes to my desire to write books because I get ideas from my surroundings, whether it’s a person or situation I dealt with during my work experience, or a newspaper article that piqued my interest. Once I get an idea, I think “what if.” It just goes from there.

Why did you decide to write non-fiction?

I fell into nonfiction when I first started to write seriously. A friend and I had been to a writer’s conference given by Western Reserve Magazine. The editor told the group of wannabes how to break into the magazine. I was excited after that and needed a subject. It came in the form of an old-time counterfeiter whose story was in a book I picked up at the Summit County Historical Society. My first publication (that I knew of) was in Western Reserve Magazine. It was not on the counterfeiter but on a pioneer woman from our area. When I say “that I knew of,” years later, I got two contributor copies of a small magazine that published a short story I had written and forgotten about.

What are you favorite non-fiction topics to write about?

Crimes and trains in history. I’m in love with the research. I guess it’s the thrill of the chase.

Which historical figure did you most enjoy writing about?

Whichever one I’m writing about at the moment. This is something I’ve been asked lots of times, so I’ve had a chance to think about it. I always come up with the same answer. I like the madams:  Ardele Quinn in Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio and the four, Lizzie Lape, Rose Pasco, Clara Palmer, and Ginger Pasco, from my next book Wicked Women of Ohio. I’m also fond of “Akron Mary,” a bootlegger’s girlfriend, and Sarah Robinson and Annie George who shot boyfriends who treated them poorly all from Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio.  Sheriff Maude Collins of Wicked Women of Ohio joined the list this year.

What non-fiction title and/or topics do you enjoy reading?

This year’s favorites are: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann about the murders of Osage Native Americans who discovered oil on their land in Oklahoma during the 1920s; Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson about two deep sea treasure hunters searching for the pirate ship the Golden Fleece that sunk during the seventeenth century; and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a first person account of an ex-marine/Yale-educated attorney growing up in the Rust Belt.

Which authors do you enjoy reading?

My reading habits go in spurts. I’ll find an author that I really like and read everything that he or she has written. I like mysteries the most. Right now, I’m into western mysteries, and I like Craig Johnson. I’ve always liked Tony Hillerman. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Grisham never disappoint me.

How have these authors shaped your writing life and/or style?

I pick something up from every book I read—whether it’s writing that I think works well, or something in the plot.

Tell me about the books you’ve published.

Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio—ten women who didn’t play by the rules, eight murderesses, a madam, and a bootlegger’s girlfriend.

Murder & Mayhem on Ohio’s Rails—ten train robberies and murders right here in Ohio.

Ohio Train Disasters—twelve of the worst train collisions in Ohio, including the 1876 Ashtabula bridge disaster, which still ranks as one of the worst in the country.

Unsolved Murders & Disappearances in Northeast Ohio—eight unsolved murders, plus the disappearance of two children.

Wicked Women of Ohio—twelve more lawbreaking women from the state. Due out in June.

Where can an interested reader find your books?

They are available at almost any independent bookstore in Ohio or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Even Giant Eagle carries them.

Describe your research process.

That’s a tough one because every subject takes me in a different direction. I’ve been out on lonesome dirt roads, in cemeteries, libraries, churches, police stations, court houses. I read old newspapers, track down relatives, talk to other historians and townspeople. I go wherever the road leads me, and I love every minute of it.

Will you share your favorite research sites with us?

Genealogy Bank

Newspapers.com

NewsLibrary.com

Google News Archive

Newspaper Archive

Ancestry  When accessed through your public library, you can search more for free.

Find a Grave

New York Times Article Archive  Requires a subscription

National Archives

FBI Records:  The Vault

Library of Congress

Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works Archive

The Charley Project Missing persons

Ohio History Connection

Cleveland Public Library

Cuyahoga County Public Library

Akron-Summit County Public Library

Where can one find you on the Internet?

My blog is Dark Hearted Women

The Artist’s Corner – Talking Poetry With Poet Carrie Tangenberg, Part 2

Welcome back to The Artist’s Corner for the second portion of my interview with poet Carrie Tangenberg.  Today, we’ll continue with Carrie’s amazing insight into poetry as well as enjoy one of her original poems.

Why is poetry important?

A literary question for the ages. I can only look through my biased poet’s lens, but I think it’s valuable not just because academia tells us it is.

For me:  Poetry gave me a way to express myself early in life that did not demand absolute clarity or lots of text. I could write what I felt or wanted to feel. I could focus on rhythm and the sounds of words. It didn’t have to make sense to anyone but me, and even then, it took me a long time to be so kind to myself. I used to be quite experimental, moving from puns to invented words and concepts, creating sense out of nonsense. Poetry lets me stretch linguistic connections, explore different word combinations and uses of any given word or phrase, and discover new routes to meaning and beauty.

In general:  Poetry offers a shortcut to evoking reader emotion, making us feel deeply, recalling our humanity. Poems explore, celebrate, articulate, and enhance life, death, love, art, nature, and human connection. Poems invite different ways of seeing everyday things, different ways of thinking about life. Poetry is lyrical, musical, rhythmic, with creative phrase order, language use, lines, and “paragraphs.” Poems present puzzles and riddles to solve and enigmas to wonder at. Poetry can add a touch of class, beauty, spirit, weight, or emotion to more logical or pragmatic ceremonies, presentations, and texts.

Poetry can be challenging, not lying down easily before you just because you showed up to read it. It makes you work by being in stanzas and by making readers pay attention to details to gain meaning. It’s a useful form to renew our concentration abilities, recovering them from Tweet and sound bite, back toward longer literary forms. Among literary modes, poetry pre-dates the novel, the news article, and the textbook. It has longevity. Poetry lets readers and writers approach the depths of meaning to find a way to shine a light and share. Poetry offers greater variety of form than fiction or non-fiction does. It is a diamond of many faces. Poetry offers a niche to fit into when your work or interests don’t fit neatly anywhere else. For instance, poetry lets non-visual artists, listeners, and readers penetrate and fill the spaces between too-reasonable words and wordless music. Songs are poems, and they lend insight into and mark the passage of our culture’s generations.

Beyond that, I refer you to The American Interest online article “Why, Poetry?” by David Kirby (2007). Great stuff. Addressing poetry’s value, he asks, among other things, “Why is there a poet laureate but not a novelist laureate or playwright laureate?” It must mean something to us. Poetry is easier than it used to be, more accessible, and more diverse. New forms are invented on the Internet, and poetry culture moves forward.

As with any art or literature, not all poems work for everyone, but poetry is a unique form with so much mileage that there really is something for everyone.

What do you see as the role of humor in poetry?

As with many aspects of poetry, humor in poetry is often subtle, but there’s no rule against including the comical in a poem that doesn’t also apply to the rest of the poem or non-humorous ones as well. As long as a poem can breathe, that is if it’s of sufficient length, there can be room for humor in even the most serious. The tension between opposing emotions is something that makes art great.

Billy Collins is the perfect example of a poet who has woven humor masterfully into much of his work. See “Paradelle. Silly and/or psycho form from Billy Collins.” – from the Writer’s Digest article “List of 50 Poetic Forms for Poets.

Humor’s role in poetry varies and can be manifold. It can be an effective method of emotional contrast for emphasizing a concept or point, or for deepening a dramatic effect. It can help some readers better relate to a poem’s message. It can be pleasurable in its own right. Then, there are the forms of poetry designed for or generous to humorous content: limericks, rhyming couplets, parody, and others.

There are also poetic forms, such as the elegy, that are meant to be serious. In the end, the poet should aim to match form to content and mood. For a simple example, if a humorous shape emerges from a concrete poetic image, the reader expects funny content.

What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?

We both tend to be long winded. I’ve always been a formal speaker and an even more formal writer, using words often beyond the understanding or comfort levels of readers and listeners, who in my experience tend to be young or struggling students. But because I dabble in so many different genres, forms, and purposes with my writing, I’m still trying to find a cohesive voice for each. In some ways, just as novelists must put themselves in different frames of mind to get into different characters, a poet can use the poetic space to explore different perspectives and different voices from different characters. The narrator/speaker is not always the author in either poetry or fiction, and they should not be equated. Qualities of an author’s history or personality may echo through his or her work, but not all poetry or fiction is fully or even partially autobiographical.

I think, though, that it is a rare person who is able to speak the same way to every other person encountered in life. Because of this, even our speaking voices are not internally consistent, let alone matched up perfectly with our written voices. On one hand, you wouldn’t want to speak to a stranger the same way you speak to your child or partner. On the other, even when we try to “be ourselves,” we unconsciously hide and reveal, emphasize and downplay, different parts of ourselves depending on who we interact with, our comfort levels, intentions, vulnerabilities, experiences, habits, and modes of being—recreational versus professional atmospheres, for example. People not only can change but do, quite often from moment to moment, in how they represent themselves. It may be dishonest at times, but just as truth can be subjective, so can our identities be flexible. People rarely walk around unfiltered. There’s always a hidden and a visible self. Self-control, invaluable to civilization, means suppressing our first impulses, and that’s a kind of lie, too.

Do you belong to a writing group or community of poets with whom you share your work? Has this been beneficial?

I’m in a writing group, but it’s multi-modal and focused on fiction. Luckily, there are a few members who are also poets, which can add a layer of insight that those less familiar with poetry may not be able to offer. It’s always good to have an outside perspective to consider during revision. With the group, I learn things that apply to all my writing, including poetry.

What do you believe is the measure of success for a poet?

That’s an excellent question. The short answer, unfortunately, is the unsatisfying “It depends.” In this day of self-publishing at the drop of a hat, it’s not the ability to self-publish or be “published.” It’s not solely the ability to get the words on the page with confidence. It’s not necessarily being held in high esteem by authorities with clout, or receiving poetry awards. It’s neither self-defined nor externally defined alone. I suppose it could be a blend of self-perceived success, some degree of circulation of one’s poetry amidst the masses, and some acclaim as a result of that.

If you don’t feel successful, that doesn’t mean you aren’t, but success in poetry can rarely if ever be defined by financial reward or income sustainability. It’s a long-standing sad joke among poets that this just doesn’t happen with poetry alone. A writer has to diversify. Focus on non-fiction of various kinds, including researched biography, instruction books, a cultural niche, or journalism than to rely on poetry for lucrative ends. Once the poet accepts this reality and still commits to the work of writing verse as part of the repertoire, the aim is to continue to develop as an artist, to advance your craft beyond what it was yesterday. If you can do that, and know that you have, you are succeeding as a writer.

What advice do you have for aspiring poets? Do you believe writing poetry can be taught or is it strictly an inherent ability?

Certain principles and several specific forms of poetry must be taught, but writing good poetry also requires innate orientation to the music, cadence, rhythm, sounds, imagery, lyricism, phrasing, or forms of poetry. It requires a thorough understanding of the effective use of language to communicate, to suggest, to imply, and it requires knowing what not to write and how not to write. It requires study, whether self-driven or received in a top-down fashion, as in college or an MFA writing program. True poetry rarely just happens, though I suppose it has occurred and remains possible in that rare individual.

I come from a verse writing education where my professor encouraged further study of certain aspects of my work beyond the scope of my courses. However, I believe a poet can emerge without formal higher education. Poetry is one of those modes of writing with so many variations in approach and form that experimentation and innovation may actually be more readily achieved in poetry than in long-form fiction, for one.

Consistency and cohesion within a poem are key. You can break the rules, but do so across the poem without restoring them at any point. For example, if it’s going to be a poem with end rhymes, you must carry that through to the end. If the first lines are not rhymed, suddenly starting to rhyme part way through is jarring to the reader. If you don’t apply techniques consistently across a piece, you’ve probably written at least two different poems or parts of poems, thinking they’re one when they’re not.

Poetry is all about patterns and the communication of the parts with each other. This is more important in a short form of writing, including short stories, than in longer forms, though novels still do better with some discernible shape—the rising action, conflict, climax, etc.—than without it. If a poem is poorly organized or incoherent or disjointed, it’s really, really noticeable. You can more easily get away with a little nonsense or minor error in a fiction manuscript.

How would you recommend someone reading poetry for the first time approach a poem?

Any poem of significant length, complexity, or difficulty should be read in phases for its layers. First, read it for the basic idea, and then read aloud to listen for its music. Poetry is designed to be read aloud. Next, read it over and over again with a different focus each time, including: (1) prosody, or the elements of versification and metrical structure, (2) meter-related rhythm, (3) form, including stanza division and line breaks, (4) rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and other sonic devices, (5) use of literary tools such as personification, metaphor, and simile, (6) point of view and speaker vs. author, (7) relationship of title to poem, etc.

Form should reinforce meaning, support and not work against it, so the more you learn about how a poem is constructed, the closer you come to understanding its message. Sometimes, form can be a large part of message. Poetry is a mode not infrequently used in a self-reflexive way, with poems about poetry, to express poetic principles in structure and words. Finally (or first!) and most important of all, try to pinpoint what you like and dislike about a poem and why. This will inform your reading choices, increasing your enjoyment in the future, and help you learn more about poetry and how to write it.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

A poet should not make it her primary or even secondary aim to impede the reading of her poem. I don’t believe in purposely self-defeating behavior. If you’re reasonably intelligent and you’ve read a poem repeatedly, discussed it, studied it, and still can’t figure out the major strokes, it’s not worth any more of your time. It’s probably unnecessarily difficult.

However, because there are layers to any good poem that’s not a couplet or simple Haiku, most poems can be appreciated at multiple levels. Something I enjoy most about poetry and any art form is the richness that allows the audience to discover something new with each return to the work. In academia, poetry reading and study involving sustained, diligent effort markedly increase your chances of fulfilling whatever analytical requirements your instructor has assigned. In pure enjoyment especially, however, poetry is in the eye of the beholder. Like all art, it is subject to matters of personal taste. It’s a subjective enterprise and a personal study. If you’re not required to work hard to solve it, why strain?

What do most poorly-written poems have in common?

A bad poem can be bad—or have bad sections—for many reasons. It states the obvious, confuses concepts, turns personal grievance into whining, stops at surface-level emotions and ideas, employs clichéd imagery, demonstrates careless word choice, uses length as a crutch to seem important, applies techniques inconsistently, ends after the first draft, abandons form for content, or, conversely, abandons sensible content to show off a certain structure—or all of the above.

If you start with free verse, let it remain free. Start with metered verse, and it should probably conform to the meter your first lines set, though some poetic forms deliberately shift meter across the poem. Unless your specific purpose is to explore the different effects deliberate shifting between formalism and free verse has on the structure or ideas, pick one or the other and stick to it.

Examples of excessive structural worship include using rhyme in a forced way, writing a sonnet with hackneyed imagery and stale word choice, writing in meter with awkward rhythm (i.e., bad meter), breaking lines in awkward places just keep lines neat, or only ever breaking lines at sentence endings.

There are still other ways poems can be poor in quality, but I think those are the main ones.

What do most well-written poems have in common?

The bottom line is that quality poetry, and any writing, is earned. Achieving quality in most things demands study, careful craft, practice, revision, and polish—and those efforts show in the final product. Beyond the opposite of all of those traits described in the previous answer, freshness and originality, masterful vocabulary, applied nuance, and skilled balancing of all aspects set great poems apart from the herd.

Who is your favorite poet?

Too many to list, but here are the main ones: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Judith Wright, John Keats, Walt Whitman, W. B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, Amy Clampitt, Philip Larkin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Wislawa Szymborska, Matthew Arnold, Wilfred Owen, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, Rita Dove, Theodore Roethke, Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Hugh MacDiarmid, W. H. Auden, Christina Rossetti, Robert Burns, Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many 20th- and 21st-century songwriters.

Other poets I enjoy: William Matthews, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Hirschfield, Carolyn Kizer, Mary Jo Salter, D. H. Lawrence, Henry David Thoreau, Dylan Thomas, Robert Pinsky, James Merrill, Richard Wilbur, Kenneth Koch, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Donald Hall, Ted Hughes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, and Elaine Feeney.

What is your favorite poem?

That’s a bit like asking someone to pick a favorite moment in life or art. Some of those I’m most passionate about, which I highly recommend everyone reads, would be:

American trailblazers: “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman; Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” “A Route of Evanescence,” “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers,” “My Life had stood a Loaded Gun”

Best war themed: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen (WWI) and “First Snow in Alsace” by Richard Wilbur (WWII)

A downright favorite: Amy Clampitt’s “Beethoven, Opus 111” and “The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews” (love, love, love Clampitt!)

Quintessential Romanticism: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”

Love breaking the rules: “since feeling is first” by e. e. cummings

Pure contemporary, comic enjoyment: “Forgetfulness” and “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice” by Billy Collins

Self-reflexive poem about what poetry should be: “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish

A good feminist spin-off: “Eve to Her Daughters” by Judith Wright

20th-century metrical verse: “The Sunlight on the Garden” by Louis MacNeice and “One Art” (a villanelle) by Elizabeth Bishop. Most poems by Elizabeth Bishop.

Comparing fish: “The Fish” by Marianne Moore and “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

Oh, the sounds: “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke and “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats

Avant-garde, nature, ephemeral love & line breaks: Book I of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower by William Carlos Williams and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

A favorite Scots poem: “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns

Epic post-colonial poem: Omeros by Derek Walcott (having some French will help)

Best (only?) nonsense poem I know: “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Philip Larkin: “Church Going,” “For Sidney Bechet,” “An Arundel Tomb” & “Talking in Bed”

Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” “Tulips,” “Ariel,” and “Daddy”

Men of Ireland: “When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney’s “Punishment”

What kind of work are you most drawn to reading yourself? Do you find yourself reading work similar to your own or completely different?

With writing, I think like attracts like. I seek out what I want to emulate, and I try to emulate what I find most precise, original, musical, and beautiful.

What book are you reading right now?

A book club book: The Good Earth, itself written with lyrical, rhythmic prose by Pearl S. Buck. I’ve recently collected some books of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Wislawa Szymborska, Judith Wright, and Elaine Feeney. I received A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver as a gift, but I haven’t been as impressed with her work. Also on my bookshelf are almost all of Billy Collins’ poetry, an old complete works of Emily Dickinson, poems by Rumi, and the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition, along with many other books of and about poetry.

Do the Internet and social media contribute to the well-being of poetry?

I believe so, though I couldn’t say how at the moment. Or, rather, I can’t tell whether the net effect is positive or negative. But like any major cultural force, it does have impact on art. So much is more readily accessible than before this digital information age. Quoting is a pastime for many. And yet, the impulse to speak constantly to others, to comb and scroll and scan through endless talk must also diminish the preciousness of words. We increasingly employ the short form in communicating with one another—the sound bite, tweet, Facebook shout-out, Instagram posting—but that doesn’t make it poetic, any more than reading print copies of novels makes us necessarily more poetic.

Where can one find you on the Internet?

Blog: “Philosofishal

Twitter @Carrielt37

Facebook: Carrie Tangenberg

LinkedIn: Carrie Tangenberg, Writer, Tutor

Do you have any non-poetry/writing creative outlets?

My most prevalent non-writing hobby would probably have to be photography. I like to draw occasionally. I’ll paint a picture every once in a while, but not without guidance; I’ve enjoyed a couple of those wine and painting events. I love color in general, so I dabble in home decorating, gardening, coloring books, and the occasional craft project.

Please share an original poem.

“Ode to Cantwell” by Carrie Tangenberg © 6/9/01, revised 4/10/16, 11/3/17

First composed at Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills State Park, south central Ohio

Ferns cry up the greenest

moss-kissed stones I’ve seen.

Fellows dress in fringe,

and cascade merriment.

 

Velvet mats outdo

a frond-sprawl of delight—

in one vale, fresh spinach,

another, shamrock shake (or

is that lichen?), then lime

green Jell-O, young

avocado—ever glad

in rained-soaked shade.

 

If trees are chefs and servants,

then falls of ale ensconce

a vast buffet, inviting

calls to Cantwell Cliffs.

 

No hearth yet in view,

we walk, my love and I,

grasp at crags and creases.

A share of these replaces

clasping hands—too fraught,

despite appeasing warmth.

 

Plump rock faces, deep-

set stoned eyes, cliff chins,

talus noses, unkempt

joyful, bearded jaws

of giant height (or depth),

bouldered, flaunt their black-

and-green tartan patterns,

like heady Guinness pints

wrapped in Beltane bands.

 

We lurk the upper lip

and scarce escape the teeth.

 

One walking stick—scepter-

shaped, a hovering torch—

guides a canty man

askance our emerald path.

Swift, glad and keen,

earthen steps from rod to

root, his wordless cant:

 

“I am the fateful ambler,

chief of my migration,

god of my life and strife.

I come here to be, to pass,

to climb, to stir green trails

to sight and sense, imbibe

and feast in any weather,

hearth or no, till I’m full

and satisfied. I’m noble

but free, for I leave it all

here, fulsome as before.

 

“Though I look not behind,

I know return is rare.”

 

Serrated plumage wags

at slightest breath of man.

Untrod, the mosses cling.

Ebullient, verdant things.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I recently read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  If you follow me on Goodreads and you’ve read the book, you might think I’m rather rigid in my assessment of the memoir.  I’ve read other fiction and non-fiction accounts of the Great Depression in America as well as extremely poor people in Ireland, Appalachia, and other such places, and I must say that for a Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes did not strike me as exceptional in any way.

I’m not sure why the book is titled as it is when the story is predominantly about McCourt’s experiences as a child.  His parents’ courtship and marriage prior to his arrival was necessary to set the stage for what the entire family would endure due to his father’s alcoholism and eventual abandonment, but again, the bulk of what one reads focuses on young Frank.

The prose is pleasant (riddled with Irish slang, sayings, and swear words galore), but nothing poetic or beautifully descriptive.  Sometimes dialog is properly placed between quotes and employs commas, periods, or question marks where necessary, and other times it’s buried in long paragraphs of run-on sentences.

One saving grace from all the depressing tales McCourt relays is the hilarity of the situations he’s writing about.  The thing is, the humor is derived from circumstances that are simultaneously horrific.  Yet the reader has to laugh because the truth is almost unbelievable.  Sadly, some of these dreadful circumstances include the way adults in the story treat McCourt, his siblings, and friends.

It’s unacceptable when adults express the depth of frustration, prejudice, and ignorance-born hatred toward each other that McCourt conveys, but children should never have to suffer at this level.  Educators, employers, priests, nuns, relatives, and hospital administration inflict verbal and physical damage on par with child abuse.  It’s a wonder any child living in these conditions turned out normal.

Near the end of the book, Angela McCourt finally takes the self-sacrificing initiative to do something for her children’s welfare.  Prior to that she tolerates her alcoholic husband’s actions to the extreme detriment of her family by keeping her abuser front and center in her life.  Perhaps it was the era in which the story takes place, perhaps it’s that divorce still carried the stigma of shame back then, perhaps it’s that Angela suffered from some type of battered-woman syndrome (hers being in the form of neglect beyond all reason), but because she refused to rid their lives of her worthless husband’s presence, they underwent shame to an equal degree anyhow.

There comes a point in the book when, in my opinion, McCourt rushes through years thirteen to nineteen because to tell it in any more detail would read as more of the same depressing ground already covered over and over and over.  Things turn around for young Frank ever so slightly; he hops a boat to America, end of story.

I’d like to say that Angela’s Ashes is one of those books that just shouldn’t be missed, but I can’t.  I’m not sorry I read it, but if asked whether or not it is a worthy read, I’ll probably shrug my shoulders, suggest the reader try it, and make up his or her own mind.

Word Refiner Extraordinaire

One of the best parts of an author platform is making new connections that turn into friends.  Such was the case with fellow word nerd, Mark Schultz, of Word Refiner.  The Weight of Words, found in my Writing Toolbox, is all about the complexities of words.  I believe this is what caught Mark’s eye and started the conversation between us.  With that being said, it just made sense to feature Mark and Word Refiner on my blog.  Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce Mark Schultz and his homonym-sniffing sidekick, Grizz.

Hello and welcome!  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I have been married for over forty years to my wife (she is a keeper).  We have three kids, girl-boy-girl, who are now ‘adulting’ quite well, and three beautiful granddaughters who we love and see frequently.

What has your experience been?

I am a journeyman sheet metal worker and a journeyman HVAC service technician.  I work outdoors a great deal and love it most of the time.  I had nearly twenty years of experience in retail before I launched into construction.  I like helping people.

Did your work experience lead to the creation of Word Refiner?

No, but my love of reading led me in that direction.  I have been a super reader all of my life.  Reading is one of my favorite things to do.  During my college years, I worked as a proofreader for a firm of consulting engineers, proofing specifications and contract documents.  This was in the dark ages before the Internet, before computers, cell phones, and calculators.  The new exciting thing was correction paper for a typewriter.  That is the only experience in the industry.  But I was alerted to the fact that I was really good at finding all types of spelling errors, including homonyms, typographical errors, missing words, misplaced words, and multiple words.  I was better at it than everyone else in the department.

How did you develop your passion for words/spelling?

I read some books, then I read some more books, and more books, and … you get the idea.  I have read many thousands of books in my life.  In college or at work I had three books I was reading at the same time:  one for home, one on the bus, and one at school or work.  I read very widely as a boy and an adult.  I was very bored growing up on a small, non-working farm.  I had only my younger sisters and baby brother to play with.  I devoured encyclopedias and spent many happy hours in a twenty pound dictionary.  Relatives sent me books for birthdays and holidays.  I read my parents magazines and loved Reader’s Digest.  I read very widely and loved every minute of it, no matter how many times I had to go to the dictionary.  I also checked many books out of the school and public library.

So, you’re an avid reader?   What do you enjoy reading?

At the moment, I am in the middle of Paul Cude’s Bentwhistle the Dragon, Volume One, in between book reviews.  I am reading this for fun and have found it quite enjoyable.  My favorite genres are sci-fi and fantasy, but I have come to appreciate good writing in whatever genre.  I have read some great cozy murders, historical fiction, and romantic stories.

When did you decide to create Word Refiner?

Many years ago, a friend was writing a book.  He sent me his tenth draft.  It was typewritten and double-spaced.  He liked my suggestions a lot, and I proofed for him for many years after that.  I started looking for other authors and found it very hard to meet them.  I had the concept in mind for a long time, but could not connect with very many authors.  I advertised on Craig’s List for several years with a little bit of success.  I found it really hard to connect with authors on Facebook and some other social media portals.  When I looked into Twitter, I realized I had struck pay dirt.

How does a client contact you?

I can be contacted on Twitter of course: @wordrefiner.  I can also be reached at my website: Word Refiner, and by email: wordrefiner@yahoo.com.

How does Word Refiner work?  What is the process?

While it is detailed on my website, here are the basics. I offer a free evaluation of a manuscript whether fiction or nonfiction.  My skill is in spelling, so I tell a client that I can provide the best value after all the editing and rewriting is done.  When the client thinks the book is ready to be published, I should be the last set of fresh eyes.  I ask for a section from the middle of the book, two to three thousand words.  I go through it and provide the estimate based on the density of errors in the sample.  My pricing is based on word count and starts at $3.00 per thousand words; as the number of errors increases, so does my price.  If we agree on the project, they send me the entire book in a format compatible with MS Word 2013.

What does a client receive from you?

I use the commenting feature in Word; I do not make any changes in the book.  There is a sample of what that looks like on my website:  Learn More.  If I find a weird formatting error, such as a line cut off in the middle and moved down, I will fix that for continuity reasons.  Otherwise, I believe in a hands-off approach.  I want the author to be able to see exactly what they wrote and consider my suggestions.  If any particular suggestion is not liked, then no harm is done.  While I am not a full editor, I do offer suggestions for readability, plot points, and technical details where warranted.  Many authors have been very grateful for my suggestions.  I know a little about a lot of things.  I am a super reader and the Hyper-speller. I know my strengths and don’t stray too far from that sweet spot.  When I send the book back, I have changed the name of the file.  I keep the original file as received for safety purposes.

Do you specialize in one type of book:  fiction or non-fiction?   Do you work on promotional materials, programs, brochures?

I can do all of the above and more.  My specialty is words.  If it has words I can read, I am there.  I am also cognizant of the differences that can exist in British English and Australian English.  I have clients in many parts of the world.

Can you tell us some of the titles you’ve worked on?

I have worked on quite a few books.  The full list is at Books We Have Refined.  I would like to mention the books of one of my favorite authors, Diane Munier: Darnay Road, Deep In The Heart of Me, Finding My Thunder, and most recently, Bayah and the Ex-con.  The first three were done post-publication.

Any favorite words?

My favorite group of homonyms is rite, write, right, and wright.  It is the longest group of homonyms I know.  I would love to find more of equal or greater length.  I also heard a phrase on a BBC production: “insalubrious morass” was a bit of dialog and stuck in my ear.  I relished the sound of it and feel in my mouth.  It means an unhealthy, swampy area.

Word(s) you see misspelled most often?

From and Form come to mind first.  Their, there, and they’re are also very common.  There are so many homonyms that can be mixed up, and typos are created so easily.  I know because my fingers are pretty sloppy on the keyboard.

Is Word Refiner your dream job?

Yes!  Getting paid to read books is my dream job!

How do you see Word Refiner growing?

I am one person; I have not found anyone that can do what I do for the price I charge.  My rates are very reasonable.

So this is a solo operation?

It is the three of us:  me, myself, and I.  Let’s not forget Grizz.  Call it 1 ½.

Is there any truth to the rumor that Grizz has 51% controlling interest in the business?

I have defeated his proxy attempts a couple of times now.  I am not sure he has given up.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 20

writers-soul-20I’m two years into my author platform with my third-year anniversary coming up this August. I have a nice quantity of followers on my blog which is the most important part of my platform as far as I’m concerned because it reflects me most personally. I greatly appreciate the people who take the time to view, and hopefully read, my blog.

For this reason, I maintain quality posts that I trust my followers find interesting. These posts include samples of my writing, stories about my family life to give people a feel for who I am, and articles and recipes promoting my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I try to post on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I revisit these posts based on a follow-up schedule of one week, one month, and two months. Then there is my presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Why do I mention all this? Because once again I find myself questioning the benefit of the author platform. I went in search of articles, statistics, and/or facts that would answer my question, and here is what I found. Keep in mind that I’m interested in finding info as it relates to the fiction writer.

Per Jane Friedman’s July 25, 2016, post, A Definition of Author Platform, in answer to the question Do you need a platform to get published?:

It depends. If you’re a fiction writer, no.  Fiction writers should focus on crafting the best work possible. That’s not to say a platform is unwelcome if you have one, but an agent or publisher will make a decision first based on the quality of your manuscript and its suitability for the current marketplace.

I was quite pleased to know Mrs. Friedman believes the most important part of our careers is to write good fiction. As anyone who writes knows, that doesn’t always come easily. I try to write 1000 words a day, but life has a way of crashing in on my writing that sometimes makes this difficult. Still, I press on without making pathetic excuses, and if I don’t meet my word goal, I hope I come away with at least one brilliantly written sentence for the day.

Here’s the thing, though: writing three quality posts for my blog takes quite a lot of time. True, they vary in word count, and sometimes I can squeeze three posts out of my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes more, sometimes less. I devote Sundays to writing my posts. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling that the blog is taking away valuable time from my other writing.

Coming up with three different blog posts is like having three different battle fronts open on top of the one for my novel, the one for querying, and the one for maintaining the other aspects of my platform. That’s a whole lot of fighting going on which leads to stress and fatigue. It can negatively affect my frame of mind when I approach my novel. In short, there are too many irons in the fire to allow for good writing on one project.

Then I came across statistics for the fiction writer, who is given the grace of shooting for lower stats than the non-fiction writer for whom platform is crucial, on the Writer Unboxed site in the article Building Your Writer Platform — How Much is Enough?, and I almost had a heart attack. These are loosely defined targets that the fiction writer is to aim for:

Blog Page Views Notable: 20,000/month

Twitter Followers Notable: 5,000

Newsletter Subscribers Notable: 5,000

Public Speaking Appearances Notable: Speaking to 1,000 people (total) a year

Sales of Previous Self-Published Books Notable: 2,000+ for fiction

So, now I’m curious to know if my platform is enough. Luckily, a few agents addressed the question of readiness within the same article, and I would direct you to Writer Unboxed to read them as they are quite lengthy. I’m also not sure if the agents are speaking to non-fiction or fiction writers, but in either case, I’m wondering if an author platform is a good and/or just measure of how worthy a fiction writer’s work is for publication.

I don’t want to live in fear of dropping stats on any portion of my platform, and more than that, I don’t want to offend my followers in any way that would result in losing them. And yet, so much of what I read and hear from fellow writers, whether traditionally, self-, or pre-published, is that it all comes down to how much money a writer will make for a publisher. Worse, if sales are poor, the publisher has a tendency to place the blame on the writer. Does that mean I won’t get looked at until I achieve a certain level of stats on my author platform thus guaranteeing big sales for a publisher?

Perhaps the question I should be asking is: what’s being done to make writers’ lives more conducive to writing and less stressful? I found some relief in the latter portion of Mrs. Friedman’s article, and although she was addressing non-fiction writers, I believe the same clarifications apply to fiction writers when she expounds upon What platform is NOT, What activities build author platform?, and Platform building is not one size fits all.

At the heart of this matter in my quest for publication is the desire to make a connection with other writers who may be experiencing the same concerns. I don’t want to feed the misery loves company aspect of this busines. Rather, I would love to hear from people on how they view the issue and how they are positively dealing with it.  But here is another portion of my anxiety regarding my author platform: why don’t followers engage? In a world where people love to give their opinion on anything and everything, writers are asking, begging even, for people to leave feedback and input, reviews and comments.

In closing, I agree yet again with Jane Friedman from her above-mentioned article when she says:

It rips me apart to hear very new writers express confusion and anxiety about their platform, especially when they have not a single book or credit to their name. Well, it’s not a mystery why platform is so confusing when you may not yet know who you are as a writer.  First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that.  It’s very difficult, next to impossible, to build a platform for work that does not yet exist.

Brothers by Yu Hua

brothers-by-yu-huaWhat I loved about Brothers by Yu Hua is that within the pages of one book I found a story that made me laugh and cry over and over. The tale is both horrifyingly dark and twisted, but with seamless transition, Yu Hua writes some of the best comic scenes I’ve ever read. Life in America for the past eight years has made it possible to understand the absurdities about which Yu Hua writes, and for this reason, they are believable.

The story of Baldy Li, one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in fiction, and his brother, Song Gang, opens right before Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Scenes in which neighbors are unified in a common cause or belief and turned into enemies the very next day are chillingly similar to what is happening in the world today. When Yu Hua writes about Li Lan’s, Baldy Li’s, and Song Gang’s grief over the death of Song Fanping, I thought my heart would rip in two so great was their anguish.

The two definitions of stupidity (knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies, and doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) often came to mind while I read Brothers. I’m watching the premise of the story take place right in front of my eyes as the youth of America believe they can make certain political systems work in their generation even though overwhelming evidence of failure exists in other countries. I have to wonder if they’ve forgotten the past or are purposely not being taught. In either case, we’ll all be doomed for it.

The story is engaging based on the time period and cultural differences. Yet the prose is so simple that I have to wonder if this is due to the translation from Chinese to English or if the author chose to keep his words plain. In either case, his writing style works. Another thing I noticed while reading this translation was the repetitive nature of the writing. I’ve only encountered this in one other translation, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and I wonder if this is a style particular to Asian writers. I find it lends emphasis to details and storylines.

Yu Hua broke the rules of writing brilliantly by not following plotting formulas. Two ways in which he did this was by the introduction of a new character and storylines in the last one third of the book. Not surprisingly, the pacing of the novel was not interrupted, and as a reader I wasn’t jarred out of the book. Obviously, Yu Hua writes for intelligent readers, and in this way, it reminded me of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo with its large cast of characters, interwoven storylines, and backstory. In both cases, readers willing to stay with the book to the end will absolutely not be disappointed.

I know the book was written as a criticism on political systems and to show all the evil and craziness that stems from them. I found my interest focused on the relationships of the characters enduring life under the various political systems and how their relationships were further affected by their personalities which dictated how they reacted to circumstances and each other.  I came to the conclusion that all one can probably do in such a situation is be kind, work hard, and do no harm.

Despite the depth of the tale Brothers presented, as I said there were some hilarious moments including a chicken search party, Yanker Brand underwear, and actual blind men drawing blind conclusions. But again, that’s part of Yu Hua’s ability to make a reader laugh while getting his point across. The best line though was probably Yanker Yu explaining politics to Popsicle Wang when he said, “…comfortable circumstances breed freethinking, which is why the rich love politics.” I laughed aloud as I shuddered thinking how stirred up the politicians are keeping the world.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 16

Writers are an odd lot. We’d be the first to admit it. Writer’s post things like “That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.” And because we’re writers, we’re also readers. At least we should be.

We reading/writing types are deeply and emotionally attached to the characters we read about. They become real for us in a way that often defies description. The closest I can come is to say that when I finish a well-written book, I feel as if I’m leaving behind great friends. Non-readers may scoff at us, suggesting that we simply re-read the book. That is an option, but what we want as readers is to move forward with our favorite characters, possibly gathering them all together regardless of genre, entwining them in our lives. That may seem a titch odd, but what can I say? We’re artists; perhaps this is why we write.

The interesting thing I have discovered as a reader/writer is that just like our real friends, we each have different criteria for which fictional characters we will allow in our lives. What first brought this to my attention was when I learned that my friend was reading Gone With the Wind for her classical literature book club. We discussed the book over lunch during which I admitted that I pushed myself to read it and could barely make it halfway through. I hated every minute of that piece of vintage literary fluff which actually surprised me because it came so highly recommended. After Margaret Mitchell’s endless declarations about the quaint South and dreary passages of battle scenes, the book was incredibly mediocre. Yet it wasn’t the writing that ruined it for me.

Scarlett was. I hated her. Each self-centered deed and word I had to endure at the hands of Scarlett made me want to beat her with a stick. I rooted against her at every turn and rejoiced when she didn’t get her way. Throw in spineless Ashley and sickening Melanie, and there was no way I was going to finish this book. I simply cannot stand annoying people in my real life, so why would I waste my time enduring three fictional nuisances? My friend, on the other hand, found Scarlett to be funny in her total self-absorption. Maybe my friend is more patient that I am.

Writer's Soul 16Then Dale came to mind. She’s a character from Joanna Trollope’s book, Other People’s Children. Dale was every bit as self-serving and manipulative as Scarlett and more so because she possessed a psychological hold on two other characters. She was evil, she was brilliant. I hated her with a passion and seriously considered writing Mrs. Trollope to request a sequel in which Dale was killed off slowly and painfully.

So what was the difference? Well, I’d never willingly allow someone like Dale in my life, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take her head on either. Whereas pathetic, annoying Scarlett wouldn’t earn a second glance from me as I ignored her in the most obvious ways possible. However, we’re dealing with the fictional realm, and in this world, Scarlett would never be able to compete with Dale as a worthy opponent and one that would engage me as a reader. Where Margaret Mitchell failed with Scarlett, Joanna Trollope succeeded with Dale.

In addition to the writing behind amazing characters that have the ability to evoke great response from the reader, our desires and tolerances make them appealing to us whether they are the protagonist, antagonist, or peripheral character. These factors combined determine who we will welcome into our minds. The beauty of this is that your choices don’t have to be all pleasant ones. You can fall for the bad character without any harmful side effects unlike real life where allowing the wicked person into your life may destroy you. It’s quite brilliant, really, and I wonder why more people don’t read.

Write Happy!

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