Archive for March, 2010

14th Annual Poetry Ink

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

For anyone interested, I’ll be reading at the 14th Annual Poetry Ink event held on Sunday, April 11 from 12-6 p.m. at the Moonstone Arts Center, 110A S. 13th St., 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA. More than 100 poets will be reading for about 2 minutes each. I’m scheduled to read in the noon-12:30 time block.

If you’d like more information, visit the event page at the Moonstone Arts Center site.

The event promises poetry, refreshments and conversation. Should be fun!

Review: Booklife

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First, a shout-out to Greg, the owner of Between Books in Claymont, Delaware, who recommended this book. James VanderMeer takes a detailed, informative look at the practical realities of the modern writer. Many books have been written about the writing process, but VanderMeer writes from a business and marketing perspective, with hints on how to go from being someone who loves to write to someone whose works are published and read.

His instructions are inspirational and helpful, not just because of specific tips. He also provides a framework for how to think about what sort of writer you want to be, what kind of career you want, and how to achieve those goals.

In addition to the main book, there are a wealth of appendices picking up side topics. A piece I found especially interesting dealt with the despair of not living up to expectations. Not only are many writers solitary folks, but many of us are also perfectionists who place our expectations too high. This often leads to disappointment and disillusionment. A friend recently told me how proud I should be to have my work in books I can actually hold and show to people. Yet, I am not the success I feel I should be: I feel like I should be supporting myself with my writing, not through other work. Apparently, I am not alone in feeling frustrated, and VanderMeer’s book provides some good ideas about how to transition to the sort of career I want.

This book gets at the core of essential questions and concerns of the modern writer. It is not only a good resource now but will likely continue to prove useful.

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Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.

Review: This is the Red Door

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

This Is The Red Door This Is The Red Door by James R. Whitley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
James R. Whitley combines richly-textured language with thoughtful introspection for a lyrical journey through heartbreak and loss into acceptance and healing. His poem “Chai Tea, Raw Sugar” once appeared in my magazine,, and it embodies the center section, about a troubled relationship. Ultimately, the poems progress into hymns of hope, as in these lines from the last stanza of “Cantata No. 21”: “And I’m thinking about the coming dawn and how, / despite the nagging hangover I’m sure to have, / that brilliance will flood every dim corner of / my room with its sweetness, like an auspicious / heralding, like a merciful golden revision.”

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Writing Dos and Don’ts

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

While going through submissions recently for Wild Violet, I thought about both what I look for, as an editor, and what I try to do in my own writing. These simple rules emerged:

1) Strive for a strong opening. The first paragraph, first line, or first stanza is essential to grab the reader’s attention. Often, I find my first draft will contain extra “scene-setting” verbiage that I trim down for maximum impact.

2) Avoid anthropomorphizing inanimate objects and animals. Unless I’m going for humorous effect, I avoid writing that “the sky wept” or imagining that a robin is contemplating his tax write-offs. In a serious work, such language comes off as sentimental and amateurish.

3) Pay attention to structure and form. Whether writing a poem, a story or an essay, I try to address the main goals of that particular type of writing. In poetry, I pay attention to language and line breaks; in stories, I work to achieve a strong narrative; in essays, I lay out an argument and provide support. While I admire experimentation and have written my share of experimental works, I firmly believe in learning the basics. Even Picasso learned to sketch the human form before he developed Cubism.

4) Use the strongest possible verbs and modifiers. While passive voice (“it is,” “she was”) does have a place in the English language, active verbs guide the reader more effectively. Limiting modifiers to only those that matter likewise packs more of a punch.

5) Avoid cliches. Yes, avoid them like the plague. Nothing pauses a reader in his or her tracks quite like reading an overused metaphor. When such phrases tempt me, I think about why they popped into my head and find another way to convey that idea.

6) Know your audience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a newspaper article or a comic strip. You need to consider who will read it and what you want them to take away from it. I try to remember to “open up” what I’m writing so my readers will understand. This means not taking explaining specialized terms unless I’m writing for an audience who will know them. I try to write in a way that’s clear enough and detailed enough for someone else to understand.

7) End effectively. Just like with an introduction, I’ve found it’s too easy to simply ramble on and on, then tie it all neatly with a bow. Often, on a rewrite, I’ll trim my final paragraph or stanza. I trust the reader to fill in some blanks, as long as I’ve done the work of the poem, story, or essay. Leave the reader with a thought. Make your words count.

Writers: What do you cultivate and avoid in your writing?
Readers: What makes you stop reading? What makes you continue?


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