Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Next American Author?

You’re at a reading: The final one of the season. The arena is packed, and a group of agents and editors comprise a panel of judges to choose the “Next American Author.” Ten finalists, of whom you are one, stand backstage, clutching dog-eared, marked up manuscripts. You survey your competition. Three poets, poring over their sheaves of poems.. Pah! Go stick your head in an oven, you think. The real writers write prose. You disguise your disdain by giving them a thin smile, hoping they trip up on their line breaks.

The Creative Nonfiction writers, or CNFers as they like to refer to themselves, share jaunty jokes and easy confidence, as if they know they have already won. Ironically, when they lose, the CNF crowd will later go out for a raucous time and swap stories of their immersion journalism and fly on the wall observations. Jerks. I’d like to CNFU, you think to yourself. Fiction is where all the real writing happens. But again, the toothpaste commercial smile appears on your lips.

Your stories are good and you know it. Via quirky characters who seduce readers with their charm and complicated plots, you have assembled a good collection of published work. (You even got a handwritten note from the New Yorker!)  Your syntax is elegant, not unlike Faulkner, as it winds its way through tunnels and alleys, picking up the detritus of humanity in all its glory and wretchedness, revealing the complexity of the human experience.

Your only true competition in this arena is that wiry guy standing alone in the corner: Lance Strongworde. His prose is edgy, and lean, containing powerful verbs and nouns. His work has heft, and he has not been in the bottom three since this competition’s inception. Granted, that guy can write. Prolific, almost like a machine, Strongworde can compose on demand. Give him a prompt, and he cranks out a tale of such power it makes audiences weep and laugh simultaneously. A regular Ray Carver. You hate that guy. Where does he find the words?

Strongworde stands alone, appears to be reciting to himself from memory, half in shadow, his lips moving. Then you notice a hand pass something to him. Lance grabs for it, a small plastic zip loc bag. He opens the bag and swallows its contents. Before Strongworde stashes the bag in his pocket you notice the lettering on the outside: power words.

Damn! He’s juicing, being fed words like candy. No wonder writing doesn't seem to rip out his soul like the rest of us; he has no soul. He’s all artificial verbs and nouns.

Here’s my chance, you think. You can win this thing; all you have to do is turn him in. But what will make the better story? Portraying a tattle tale who receives much deserved accolades and a book contract, or waiting this out?  Or later, in your blockbuster novel, where you reveal the truth about a character you call Ward Lanceatale, a man so bent on fame he chews up the last of his integrity for the sake of fame and money?
 Happy Writing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is Print Dead?

Available now 

Shortly after Christmas I visited Barnes & Noble. I spent a lovely afternoon having a latte in the cafe and  browsing the shelves. I walked to the registers to pay for my purchases. As I stood in line, I perused the magazines racks near the counter, and was stunned by the banner across Newsweek: This is Our Last print issue. Something in me shifted; science fiction is no longer fiction.
 Those of you who subscribe to and read my blog regularly know of my ambivalence with emerging technologies, particularly in the book realm. I own several devices, and use them regularly. I composed The draft for this post on an iPad, so arguing against technology is moot. However, my argument is not to ban existing platforms, as is happening in this Texas library,

Is this a trend? The library of the future?  Look at the accompanying illustration in the artcile. What do you notice about the people? There are none, only a series of screens and empty stools. The shadowy figure behind the desk is solitary. Does that mean libraries will not only do away with printed matter, but their staffs as well?

Libraries throughout the centuries have adapted to the needs of their clientele. Every few years the death of the library is predicted, yet libraries have demonstrated a perseverance and adaptability. Yet this latest shift could put a serious dent in library services.

(Bookstores, however, are experiencing a shakier fate. see

Probably a gazillion of us have some access to screen technology, be it a TV, computer, laptop, smart phone, e reader, or tablet. I use all of the above to some extent, yet there is an aesthetic to printed books not found with a digital version. Perhaps this reveals my age. I grew up in a time before reliance on cell phones dominated our lives, relatively un-tethered to friends and family if I ventured out alone. Now I can update my status 24-7 via Facebook, revealing what I ate for dinner , find the weather and upcoming TV listings on my phone, yet when I use my e reader, Big Brother knows what I am reading.

E readers are great for travel. When I take a trip more than three days long, I generally like to pack 3-4 books, which now that airlines charge us for every last speck of dust in our luggage, loading a variety of books on my Kindle makes sense. The device is about the size of a trade paperback, and weighs about the same as a hardback book.

My Kindle is the second generation, which does not have a backlit screen, yet,  there are some issues with reading from backlit technology, particularly at night, the blue spectrum light emitted by screens interrupts sleep patterns.

This is bad news for those of you who like to curl up with your iPad or Kindle Fire and read in bed.  

 I don't hate technology. It enables me to write and post this readers in a variety of places, twitter, Google plus, and Facebook. In the old days, before blogging, when all opinion pieces  were printed through edited means, my ideas would be limited to cocktail hour chats or perhaps a letter to the editor. Now I can have a global dialogue and Instant access to feedback.

Another ironic bonus to technology is instant books.  I live an hour's drive from a brick and mortar bookstore, so if I need or want a book right away, I download it. Recently a publication where one of my stories appears (Triskaidekan,) was delayed by the printer, (see photo at top.) but the publisher posted an e book version, and I gained instant access to the anthology, which I was able to promote via social networking. Yet I still plan to also order a printed copy.

Ironically, readership is on the rise, yet print media are declining. It's the chicken or the egg. (Is digital downloading of books on the rapid rise due to vanishing bookstores, or are book stories vanishing because of digitalization? But this post isn’t supposed to be about bookstores…)  According to the Pew Research  Center , “The popularity of electronic books is increasing in the United States, with nearly one-quarter of American bibliophiles reading e-books, according to a survey released on Thursday…The number of e-readers aged 16 years and older jumped from 16 percent in 2011 to 23 percent this year, while print readers fell from 72 to 67 percent in 2012.”

But technology has its limits. Things break down. The power goes out, security leaks, files corrupted, devices get lost, or stolen, (who steals books anymore?) screens break, or go wonky. There are also economic issues.  . I live in Appalachia, where 45% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunched.  Many of our students in my HS still do not have access to computers and the Internet outside of school. Checking out books is free.

Lets hope the death of printed matter becomes, like the predicted death of radio with the advent of television, a shift n emphasis, where books and gadgets forge an alliance rather than declare war.

Please visit your local Library. Ask for information. Check out a book or other printed media. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Disturbing Comedy of the Writing Life



Recently a close friend of mine launched her poetry page on Facebook. Several people, me included, wrote posts congratulating her.  Then THIS guy, who I will call Richard, shows up: typos, spelling and punctuation errors are from the actual transcript. I admit I don't fare well here, either. I have changed names to protect innocent and guilty parties except my own.


AJ:  Congrats, now [my daughter] Julie and I can post poems and her illustrations.

RICHARD: poetry....lame

RICHARD: why not REAL writing??? I would write a Poem demand anytime of the day....but a novel!!!! Wow.

RICHARD: so another bs journal of poems that no one will read....ppl hate poetry with all due respect .

RICHARD: poetry on FB!

DAVE:  Rick. :(

ME: People love poetry. Even on FB. Poetry unites souls of all stripes.

RICHARD I still KNOW that sooooooooooo few ppl read or understand real poetry.

RICHARD: Laura...good. Lets see ur real TOTally original really moving or real????

DAVE: I can hear my grandmother saying "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

RICHARD: no moon in June

RICHARD: so what

ME: Go away.


RICHARD: u go away asshole

RICHARD: what have u ever done??.??

DAVE:  Yes, I detect some ego issues' or a hint of jealousy. If I could delete this post I would.

RICHARD: she told me to go away. I have the right to stay and simply asked her what she's done- I mean in literature???

ME: I have done nothing notable. I write out if live and need, not accolades.

RICHARD: I write out of live and need not accolades, even this is incorrectly written

DAVE: When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about the person; it merely says something but our own need to be critical."

ME:. Typos. I write out of need.

CRAIG: Keep it down people, I'm trying to watch The Walking Dead

ME: LOL Craig

RICHARD: all bs

RICHARD: try and spend 30 years writing 8 novels to live off writing and living in shit rooms, etc. trying here and there. I made $50,000 on one book- and well- not good just now. Just published a piece in NDF journal...nothing but if.

RICHARD: The Walking Dead is for total idiots - zombies --! Man. Dumbing down man can't u see that!!!

AJ:  poems and novels are different beasts. They do different things. Sometimes I need the compressed language of a poem to tell me things I didn't realize I knew. Sometimes I need the expansion of a story to let me fall in love with a different life.

RICHARD: TV and espec commericals brainwash and dumb down the ppl as does the food for the kids and the allowance for terrible morals. All obese and stupid. A take over by a fascist government is eminent....based on the population weaknesses.

RICHARD: aj...unpublished novels? I mean with A REAL PUBLISHER? As standards have lowered with books...congrats to u

DAVE:: And we all walk away and ignore the guy in the classroom who thinks he's trying to teach everyone a lesson. Leaving him in his UTTER SILENCE. Goodbye.

RICHARD: WHY. Why why why why are ppl? So obsessed with zombies and vampires??? I have a theory but who cares..

RICHARD: DAVE LOL ur sooooooooo correct!

AJ: I didn't say I was published. I am talking about reading. But you're making me sad and tired and I have work to do and a (not obese or stupid) daughter to chat with.


What disturbs me most about this dialogue is how easily writers can slip into a state of despair when our work is not validated. As crazy as Richards argument is, and he does all the wrong things by shouting at and insulting his audience, not backing up his( unclear) thesis, and drifting way off topic, he has a valid point about having spent his entire adult life committed to writing, with nothing but 50,000 and a few journal publications. I feel bad about telling him to go away; I had resorted to playground antics.


My friend AJ cyber stalked him afterwards and sent me some links. Richard has some street credit the writing realm, and turns out to be a good writer. Perhaps he was having a bad night.

Writing is a bad influence on a happy life. It requires monuments of time, gives back little to nothing, and betrays you by forgetting to lock the door at night. A career in writing is not for the faint hearted.


I empathize with Richards commitment of time and having little or nothing to show for it. I too have devoted nearly 30 years to this wobbly venture. Most of my publications have been for copies, or small stipends. (When I got $25.00 for a poem I felt I had won the lottery!) . Yet some ineffable force  propels me to keep tapping at the keyboard, producing reams of bird -cage-liner-worthy fiction and poetry. Occasionally a gem shines through, and someone who doesn't know and love me feels fit to publish it in their anthology or journal.


Why do we write? Humans need to share stories. We need poems and tales to reinforce what it means to be human. AJ said it well when she stated:

Sometimes I need the compressed language of a poem to tell me things I didn't realize I knew. Sometimes I need the expansion of a story to let me fall in love with a different life.


Writers, if you're looking for glory, money and accolades, play the lottery. Your odds of success are better.
Happy Writing.