Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Self-publishing - is it for you?

Have you ever been tempted to say - If no one wants to publish my novel / memoir / poetry collection / picture book etc. I can always publish it myself? Before you take the plunge, read the post and comments at Editorial Anonymous - "Why? Why?"

I actually did self-publish my first collection of poems Calendar -- and aside from some initial problems with the printing (I put the whole thing together myself, took it to a copy shop for them to print the cover, make copies -- 100 -- collate and staple, but they lost my masters, and the second set was missing a page so they had to do the whole run again) it was an inexpensive and painless experience. But at 60 pages, 100 copies, it was a modest project. Chapbooks are that.

Here's the "Second Edition" done entirely by me this time. I had to reprint after I ran out of copies. It's been fun to give away or sell at readings and conferences.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: Ralphina, the Roly-Poly by Claudia Chandler

Title: Ralphina the Roly-Poly
Author: Claudia Chandler
Publisher: Leathers Publication, Hardcover, 32 pages, 2008
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Reading Level:
4-8 years
ISBN-13: 978-1585974627

Ralphina the Roly-Poly – a picture book written and illustrated by Claudia Chandler – is a colorful introduction to roly-polies, those garden insects also known as pill bugs, sow bugs, or potato bugs.

The story involves the roly-poly Ralphina and a little boy named Alec. Ralphina wants to meet Alec and be his friend. She eventually does meet him, but then spends the whole time they are together listing facts about herself.

Though the characters are sweet, the story itself comes across as flat. After the two meet and Ralphina spews her facts, they never get together again. The book lacks the complications that make for a truly compelling tale.

Friendship is touted as one of the story’s themes, but this friendship is one-sided and becomes a device for dispensing information. By choosing to handle her subject in this way, I feel Chandler misses an opportunity to do several things: inform children about themselves (something that is commonly done in books targeting preschool and early elementary ages), show how they are different from creatures like roly-polies, and illustrate one of friendship’s qualities – how friends are interested in each other. I was waiting for Ralphina to ask Alec about himself and experience some give and take between the two. But it wasn’t to be. Little Ralphina was interested in no one but herself.

Though I question the promotional claims that children will beg for repeated re-readings, the science material in Ralphina the Roly-Poly is interesting. The facts about roly-polies that appear within the story are reviewed in a summary at the end for added impact.

The ending also has a page of rainbow facts. That was a surprise as rainbows really don’t figure in the story at all and are only mentioned twice in passing (“…the tulips were blooming in every color of the rainbow” and “Ralphina was so happy that she spent the rest of that day and the rest of the summer painting their garden all the colors of the rainbow.”). The rainbow focus seems like a somewhat arbitrary addition to give the book more science value.

Ralphina the Roly-Poly is colorfully and beautifully illustrated, however. The illustrations plus the science facts would make it a useful addition to a preschool or early elementary library.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Contest buzz

Big congratulations to Shelley Haggard, a fellow poet and member of MSA Poets Potpourri for having three of her poems included in The New Poetry - In Love - a collection of poems published by Copeland Books of North Wales, UK.

Way to go, Shelley!!

Maybe you're tempted to try your luck in a contest.

The Ontario Poetry Society sponsors several. Their Golden Grassroots Chapbook Contest has a deadline of April 30, 2009. All the details are here.

I heard from The Ontario Poetry Society about another contest -- today in fact. The results of the Open Heart Poetry Contest were announced a week ago. My poem "To Mother" placed among the top 19 (winners included one first place and 18 honorable mentions). This came in today's mail. (So sweet:)

For Christian poets, The 9th Annual Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Contest is now taking entries. All must be postmarked on or before February 28, 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Getting started

One of my favorite books on how to write fiction is A Passion for Narrative by a former professor at the University of Victoria, Jack Hodgins.

I pulled it out to reread in the past few days as I attempt to encourage myself in this most difficult (for me) type of writing.

Here is his advice about beginning a piece of fiction:

Often it is a good idea to resist starting on a first draft of a story so long as you have nothing more than "an idea' or "a character." Instead, I suggest you write "pieces" -- bits of description, snatches of dialogue, notes on ideas, and so on. Do this until one of the pieces catches fire and you can't bear not to keep going, or else until staring at all these pieces causes an explosion of insight, some new understanding that comes from the connections amongst them, giving you a richer sense of what you're up to.

And about writing the first draft:

Write the first draft for no one but yourself. Write to find out what you're writing about. Think of this as just a way of nailing the story down so that it can't get away. No eyes but yours will see it. Writing the first draft should be fun (you're telling yourself a story after all), and surprising (you're making a journey, where people will reveal things you hadn't anticipated) and free (you can change your mind or change direction as often as you want so long as you feel you're getting somewhere that might pay off).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Poem - memory fragment

American Life in Poetry: Column 199


I'd guess that most of us carry in our memories landscapes that, far behind us, hold significant meanings for us. For me, it's a Mississippi River scenic overlook south of Guttenberg, Iowa. And for you? Here's just such a memoryscape, in this brief poem by New Yorker Anne Pierson Wiese.

Inscrutable Twist

The twist of the stream was inscrutable.
It was a seemingly run-of-the-mill
stream that flowed for several miles by the side
of Route 302 in northern Vermont--
and presumably does still--but I've not
been back there for what seems like a long time.

I have it in my mind's eye, the way
one crested a rise and rounded a corner
on the narrow blacktop, going west, and saw
off to the left in the flat green meadow
the stream turning briefly back on itself
to form a perfect loop--a useless light-filled
water noose or fragment of moon's cursive,
a sign or message of some kind--but left behind.

- By Anne Pierson Wiese

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Anne Pierson Wiese, whose most recent book of poetry is "Floating City," Louisiana State University Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from "Ploughshares," Vol. 33, no. 4, Winter 2007-08 by permission of Anne Pierson Wiese. Introduction copyright (c) 200p by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review: Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

Title: Meet the Austins
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 1997 edition, hardcover, 224 pages
Age: 9-12 years

When the first thing Maggy, just-arrived house guest, says to Vicky is “You’re not as pretty as Suzy,” Vicky’s not impressed. The rambunctious, tactless Maggy can’t be gone too soon, as far as she’s concerned, even though the poor kid is newly orphaned. But it seems Maggy has come to stay – for a while at least. In Meet the Austins, Madeleine L’Engle tells the story of how Maggy changes as a result of living with the warm, wise Austin family. Of course all the family adventures and interactions rub edges off the Austin children as well. Though the story was first published in 1960, it’s still an entertaining and worthwhile read.

Twelve-year-old Vicky Austin tells the story and the plot is an easy-to-follow series of disastrous and rollicking family adventures which take place over about nine months. My favorite character, besides Vicky – who is a sensitive, self-aware narrator – is little brother Rob with his long detailed prayers. I also love how the parents are portrayed – for once in a kids’ book they aren’t the enemy, even though they scold, send the kids to bed early whenever they want them out of the way, and spank them (indeed– I think I’m going to faint!). And of course one can’t but be fascinated by the spoiled and spunky Maggy and her general badness.

Though the language, plot and characters are suitable for children (9-12 is the rating given), there is richness and wisdom for adult readers too. I loved the upholding of time-tested values like respect, helpfulness, obedience, the importance of family – all done with big doses of compassion and dollops of kid-friendly fun.

I also appreciated the heavy topics L’Engle addresses in the story, topics like faith, God, prayer, death, and what happens after death. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this because this is a coming-of-age story and such subjects are well within the purview of the genre.

I had forgotten how enjoyable and deep kids’ books can be. This 50-year-old treasure was a good reminder!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A caution to children's writers

This from Funds for Writers - a newsletter by C. Hope Clark - January 11/09 edition:

"Cobblestone Publishing is unable to pay writers at present."

She and her grandson prepared a piece for their Appleseeds magazine, it was published in December but when she requested payment, was told not to expect payment in the immediate future because of 'difficult financial times.' In fact, they could not say when any writers would be paid.

Cobblestone Publishing includes:

APPLESEEDS - general history and cultures (for ages 6-9)
CALLIOPE - world history (for ages 9-14)
COBBLESTONE - American history (for ages 9-14)
DIG - archeology (for ages 9-14)
FACES - world cultures and geography (for ages 9-14)
ODYSSEY - science (for ages 9-14)
BABYBUG - for babies and toddlers
LADYBUG - for ages 2-6
SPIDER - for ages 6-9
CRICKET - for ages 9-14
CICADA - for ages 14 and up
CLICK - opening windows for young minds (for ages 3-6)
ASK - arts and sciences for kids (for ages 6-9)
MUSE - the magazine of life, the universe, and pie throwing
(for ages 9 and up)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Poem - Iraquee expat.

American Life in Poetry: Column 198


This column has had the privilege of publishing a number of poems by young people, but this is the first we've published by a young person who is also a political refugee. The poet, Zozan Hawez, is from Iraq, and goes to Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington. Seattle Arts & Lectures sponsors a Writers in the Schools program, and Zozan's poem was encouraged by that initiative.


Born in a safe family
But a dangerous area, Iraq,
I heard guns at a young age, so young
They made a decision to raise us safe
So packed our things
And went far away.

Now, in the city of rain,
I try to forget my past,
But memories never fade.

This is my life,
It happened for a reason,
I happened for a reason.

By Zozan Hawez

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Seattle Arts & Lectures. Reprinted from "We Will Carry Ourselves As Long As We Gaze Into The Sun," Seattle Arts & Lectures, 2007, by permission of Zozan Hawez and the publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Self-edit tips

Want some great self-editing tips? "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do" talks about:
1. Repeats
2. Flat writing
3. Empty adverbs
4. Phony diaolgue
5. No-good suffixes
6. The "to be" words
...and more. Read this helpful piece.

Monday, January 05, 2009

So begins another writing year

Happy New (Writing) Year!

The holidays are officially over and it's time to get back to work! Have you made some resolutions? How are you doing with keeping them so far?

I surprised even myself by signing up for a one-month course. An excellent writer's blog I read is Kristi Holl's Writer's First Aid . She alerted me to the existence of WritersU which offers many courses. One that she recommended and which is running right now is called "Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors," taught by psychologist Margie Lawson.

The courses are not expensive ($30 and this one runs through January, or you can purchase the lecture packets through Margie Lawson's website for $20 and do the course on your own).

I signed up, and am hoping to slough off some of my time wasting and avoidance habits like distractibility, getting sidetracked on internet bunny trails, being a slave to email and blog stat checking etc.

If you're interested in signing up, new registrants will be accepted through the first week of January. The advantage of the course is that you can participate in discussion, learn from others, and get involved with a Change Coach. Lurking is also allowed. Of course you can purchase the lecture packs to do the course on your own any time.


My latest (January 1st) Poets Classroom column is about voice. Check out "Poetic Voice Lessons - Lesson 1: Sharpen your ear."