Tag Archives: small press

A few thoughts (and a few too many words) on publishing

28 Oct

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

THE POST IS NOT MEANT TO DISRESPECT ANY FORM OF PUBLISHING WHATSOEVER.

Just so there isn’t any confusion about what I’m about to say.

So I was invited to participate in the Indie Fall Fest by Krista and Kristen. My very cool press BookFish Books hooked me up with them and I was excited to have a chance to share my latest novel, This Is Sarah, with the world. Both Krista and Kristen have been unbelievable  – juggling a million different writers and blog posts, handling interviews and giveaways. Honestly there are 141 books being given away. This thing is huge.

So part of the procedure involved me filling out a questionaire and the first question on there said:

Which was the first Indie book that you can recall reading?

And I stopped right there because I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. And the reason was because the word “Indie” means different things to different people.

To some indie means what it has meant since bands started their own record labels in their garage in 1983. It means “Independent.”

But these days, in publishing indie can mean small press OR it can mean self-published.

Now, at this point I emailed for clarification. Because I wanted to double check and see. Did they think that I self-published This Is Sarah? Was that why I was invited? NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH SELF PUBLISHING but my press and my editors at BookFish worked really hard on this and the last thing I wanted was for people to think it was all ME. Cause honestly, this cover?

cover

Not me. So very much not me. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to make something like that nor would I even know how to go about finding someone like the talented Anita who made the cover.

Mine would have a stick figure. And not even a good one.

And the scene in the book where Colin gets into that fist fight with Michael. This one:

 

I hang up just as Michael grabs me and pulls me out of the closet. The phone falls out of my hand, clattering to the floor. I don’t have time to balance myself, let alone get him off me, before he throws me against the wall of lockers.

Just for the record, you see this sort of shit in movies all the time―people getting thrown into walls and doors, and they just bounce right back like the whole place is padded or something. Well, the lockers sure as shit aren’t padded, and as one of the locks grinds into my lower spine, I can promise you, it hurts way more than you imagine. White hot pain shoots up to my shoulders.

“What the fuck did you say to her?” Michael growls.

For a moment, everything goes blank, and I curl my hand into a fist. Michael lets me go, and I turn to walk away. But he’s not done, and now, he grabs me again by the shirt and throws me back against the locker.

More pain and then something just snaps in my head. I picture them together. I see Michael kissing Sarah, taking off her clothes. I see him whispering in her ear. In my head, everything goes white, and I swing.

My fist connects with his jaw, and his head snaps back. I swing again, even though my hand is on fire with pain, and I worry that I broke at least a few bones.

 

I might have written those words, but the scene itself was suggested by Mary and both Jen and Erin cleaned it up so it didn’t sound like crap.

This is what I’m getting at with Small Presses. They take care of you. The pick you up, dust you off, make sure you don’t sound dumb and push you out the door like a kid on her way to 2nd grade. They walk you to the bus stop, wave as you go and when you get home they’re right there waiting with cookies to hear all about your day.

And they bust their butt promoting your stuff online.

Back in 2013, I wrote a post for Pen and Muse about how my first novel was rejected by every major press in America. It was both utterly liberating and utterly humiliating to talk about. No one wants to talk about failure right?

Except maybe it isn’t failure.

I understand that my first book – a story about a girl who discovered she was the last living descendant of Shakespeare and gets swept away to a magical version of New York –  might not be a marketing department’s cup of tea. They all let me down real easy – “thanks kid, you can write but this just isn’t for us.” kind of thing. So instead it went to a small press.

And when I wrote This Is Sarah – it was just a novella – not the sort of thing a major press would be interested in especially from a nobody like me. But there again was another small press ready to talk.

Marketing a book these days is not easy. It’s an incredible amount of work – work done by both the press and by the artist. There are blog posts and facebook posts and tumblr and tweets that need to be going all day. And they can’t ALL be about your writing because then you’re one of those really annoying people on twitter that only talk about their work or their book, this unending noise of “BUY ME BUY ME BUY ME!”

Instead it has to be this suave version of “hey i’m really funny and interesting and that’s just me being me and oh, what’s that? Oh yeah, I wrote a book. No biggie. Here it is. Shrug.”

Not so easy, especially  for us (*ahem*) less than outgoing types. I was so thankful for all the extra promotion that Bookfish got me – setting up the cover release tour and book reviews and tweeting and facebooking their little hearts out when this book came out. I couldn’t have done all of that by myself. Which means those self-published people who have no press support got it even harder.

I was talking to a blogger named Rosie who read a copy of Sarah and we got talking about presses and different kinds of publishing choices and she said the following which I thought was incredibly insightful:

It’s authors like you that make me want to urge people to look past the books being pushed by big publishers occasionally and not be afraid to books published by smaller publishing companies or self-published authors…..

Before I had a Kindle I’d never even thought that their might be small pressers or authors funding their own books, which was very naive of me but on the other hand I’d only had access to what bookshops are pushing which is always big publishers.
When I heard that people self-published on Amazon, it was like discovering a whole new world and I started looking for smaller authors and I’ve discovered some amazing books. There does seem to be a bit of stigma around self-published books or small publishers, like they aren’t good enough because Harper or Penguin didn’t want them but I’ve read some bad books published by big publishers and some amazing books that are self-published or small press. The size of a publisher isn’t a reflection on quality.
I think what I like best is that authors like you are writing because you love writing, not because your publisher wants to make more money out of you. I’m fed up of reading trilogies that don’t need to be trilogies. “
This was very encouraging. This idea – that online book sellers give you access to more than what is in the store – is especially telling. I know that Amazon is a behemoth and there is the Hachette dispute but the fact is, that is where many many people get their books from. My press told me that 90% of their sales come from Amazon. So that begs the question how many readers am I missing by not being in brick and mortar bookstores?
I’m not really sure. I just know that ebooks have opened up a lot of doors for writers to get their work in the hands of readers – with or without a press. Plus the work that Katie and Kristen are doing to get people familiar with small press books makes me think we have a stronger voice after all.
Maybe we just need to all shout at once.
 
Anyway…many thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, promoted, supported or gave me a shout out when I was writing or promoting This Is Sarah.
I do write because I love it. It’s the best thing that I do. I just want to keep doing it.
Peace Love and Starbursts,
Ally

 

 

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Interview with Samuel Snoek-Brown on the release day of Hagridden

19 Aug

 

hagridden

 

So today’s the kick off to the blog tour for  Samuel Snoek-Brown’s debut novel, Hagridden and guess who gets to start it?

That’s right!

Me!

Sam and I met via Jersey Devil Press – a great magazine that I am proud to be a part of. I’m a big fan of his writing so when Columbus Press contacted me to help out with the tour for Sam’s book I jumped at the chance.

sam

For those of you unfamiliar here’s some information:

As the Civil War winds violently down, fears of the South’s uncertain future fuse with its unraveling traditions. Against the backdrop of this post-apocalyptic landscape, so littered with corpses and mythology and desperation, two women, stranded and alone in the Louisiana bayou, fight to survive.

Described as both a historical and contemporary piece of literary fiction, Hagridden, is a hunting drama that unflinchingly approaches race, culture, apathy and humanity.

I got my hands on an ARC and this book is the real deal. Sam is also going on an in-person book tour down in Texas so if you’re in the area – be sure to check him out. Dates and times are available on his website here.

And the book is available for sale here!

 

It is clear from just the first opening pages of Hagridden, this book must have took an incredible amount of research. Can you talk a little bit about how you went about that research and why, as a Portlandian (well, technically Ex-Texan Portlandian) you chose to set your book in the bayou?

 

I did grow up in Texas, but I have a lot of family from Louisiana. My mother was born in Deridder; her parents are buried in Rosepine. My aunt and uncle and cousin lived out near Johnson Bayou and Cameron, in exactly the region where Hagridden is set, and that’s why I set it there — when I decided to write a Civil War novel that set aside the battlefields and the national-scale politics so I could focus on the intimate, the personal, the struggle for individual survival, those saltmarshes of southwest Louisiana made perfect sense as a setting.

 

It’s funny that you bring up the difference between my own place in writing the novel and the setting of the book itself. I hadn’t really thought of that before , but I did write this book all over: in Texas, in the United Arab Emirates, in Louisiana, and of course here in Oregon. (And my publisher is in Ohio! That’s a wide-ranging story!)

 

That distance did impact the research. When I was drafting it overseas, I didn’t have access to any print materials about the Civil War, let alone the minutia of Acadian homebuilding, 19th-century American clothing, books on bayou flora and fauna, Cajun folklore, etc. So I did most of my initial research online, and only really got to the book sources when we moved to Portland. But even then, our interest in and perspectives on the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest is different than it is in the South, and that’s reflected in our libraries’ print collections, which is why I finally took a research trip to Cameron Parish in Louisiana to hit their local collections, talk to the people, walk the land, visit the cemeteries, dodge the gators . . . .

 

Where did the story at the heart of Hagridden come from? I read in a previous interview that while working as an office cleaner you once found a compartment in a wall containing papers, money and lock-box for a handgun. That, to me, sounds like the beginning of a novel right there. Was Hagridden a similar experience? 

 

Oh yeah! That old story! I was a maid, actually — or, I worked for a maid service — and the hidden compartment was in some guy’s home office, which made it even creepier. Later, I babysat for a home hairdresser whose client claimed to be a mercenary and once showed her his secret gunroom. Yeah, I should definitely write that book!

 

The kernel of the novel came when I was in grad school in Texas. I’d been tapped to introduce Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux when he visited our campus, and the morning I was writing my speech, I was watching old samurai movies on tv, and in my mind, the civil wars of medieval Japan came together in my mind with our own Civil War and with the Southern fiction themes of cultural isolation and survival amid change. Once I saw that, the book felt necessary — I really wanted to read that novel! So (eventually) I wrote it.

 

You were the recipient of a 2013 Oregon Literary Fellowship. Can you tell us a little bit about the award and what it meant for your ability to write your novel?

 

The Fellowships are organized by Literary Arts, Oregon’s literary nonprofit that also hosts the Portland Arts & Lectures visiting writers series and the Oregon Book Awards. With the fellowships, the idea is to provide support for writers and publishers to develop or complete their artistic projects, but they go beyond just the finances: the year I received a fellowship, I also got season tickets to the Arts & Lectures series (I got to meet Salman Rushdie and Chris Ware!) and a week-long retreat at a writer’s cabin. It’s a big deal because a lot of the writers and publishers the fellowships have supported have gone on to become major names in Oregon and national literature. Stevan Allred, Kerry Cohen, and Cheryl Strayed are all former fellowship recipients, and the fellowships have helped develop important indie presses like Chiasmus, Forest Avenue Press, Future Tense Books, and Hawthorne Books.

 

With Hagridden, the core of the book was basically done when I submitted it to Literary Arts. It needed a lot of work, sure, but roughly speaking, the story was there. I just needed to revise it, and to revise it, I needed to be able to see the book as a finished whole. But at the time, I was still more focused on the words that made up the book, the trees but not the forest. My wife recognized this and encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, and even just the application process helped me see Hagridden as a complete book, ready for polish, which I spent the rest of that summer working on. Receiving the fellowship gave me both the drive and the confidence to actually start thinking about publication. And, of course, it also funded the research trip that helped me develop those important character details and get a stronger feel for the geography and the history of the region — the book wouldn’t have come out as rich as it did, and might not have caught the attention of my publisher, without that trip.

 

You don’t use dialogue tags. What’s that about? Is it a direct influence of Cormac McCarthy? How do you think it changes the storytelling?

 

That initially came about as an accident of the drafting process. I wrote the first draft of the novel for NaNoWriMo in 2009, but that year my wife and I were planning a trip to Vienna for Thanksgiving, which meant instead of the usual 30 days to knock out the rough draft, I only had two weeks. So at first, I was just skipping the quotation marks and even some of the speaker tags because they slowed me down. Anything to keep the writing going.

 

But as I got further into the draft, I realized I liked what it was doing to the narrative, and when I got into revision and tried adding the quotation marks into the dialogue, I felt like that punctuation was setting the dialogue apart, separating it from the story. Without the quotation marks, every sentence on the page is part of the story — it’s all narrative, even when people are speaking. That’s what I wanted for this story; it made it feel larger somehow. I don’t usually write dialogue this way, and I’m not planning to in my next novel, but here, it felt necessary.

 

And yeah, McCarthy is absolutely an influence on me. Him and Tom Franklin (who turned me on to McCarthy) — they weren’t the only voices I turned to while writing Hagridden, but they were the loudest voices in my head.

 

Your other book, Box Cutters is a collection of short stories. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about stories as if they were stepping stones to writing a novel. Did you feel this way? Was Hagridden your first attempt at a novel?

 

I think from a craft perspective, when writers are first starting out, it’s useful to think about it in this way. I like to point to Faulkner’s comment in a Q&A at the University of Oregon in 1962: when someone asked him about the difference between short stories and novels, he said, “All the trash must be eliminated in the short story, whereas one can get away with some of it in a novel.” I usually use that quote to complain about the sloppiness in some of Faulkner’s novels (I generally prefer his short fiction), but it is a good introduction to the idea that one should learn short stories before attempting a novel, because the short story teaches you compression and control. If a writer can learn that early, it will help her contain any narrative at any length.

 

But I don’t think any writer should treat stories as “stepping stones” to the novel, as though the novel is the ultimate form of fiction that we all should be striving toward. It’s true that novels sell better than novellas and stories and story collections, but that’s a problem for the marketers to figure out, and it certainly shouldn’t suggest that the novel is somehow the bigger, better version of the story. If anything, Faulkner was right in that the story is the better form for being so contained and precise.

 

So, frankly, I think once a writer has learned the craft of writing, her sense of story should be developed enough that length isn’t really an issue anymore. These days, I don’t often sit down and say, “I’m going to write flash fiction” or “I’m going to write a novella” or “I’m going to write a novel.” I did plenty of that early on, and if someone has solicited something from me and length is an issue, I can still do it, but mostly I just sit down at the desk and say, “What story do I want to tell?” And the story dictates the length.

 

And no, actually, Hagridden isn’t my first novel. I started a cheesy action novel when I was in seventh grade, though I never finished it. I wrote most of a bad Anne Rice-ish vampire novel in high school and college, but it, too, never really went anywhere. The first novel I finished was a comedy I wrote for my undergraduate thesis, and I wrote another novel as part of my doctoral dissertation. I still sometimes think of revisiting those, but really, they were mostly practice novels so I could figure out issues of time management and story structure. They were, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, the stories I had to tell so I could tell you this one.

 

What was it about teaching writing that interested you? What do you make of the adage that you can’t “teach” writing? Probably not much! What have your students taught you about your own writing?

 

I think that last part of that question wraps up everything else I have to say about the first two questions: I teach writing because my students become a writing community and they wind up teaching me as well. Mostly they do this by reminding me to keep returning to the beginner’s mind, as Natalie Goldberg says — they keep me fresh. One of the biggest complaints about writing workshops, especially at the graduate level, is that they can homogenize writing, and I think that’s a legitimate concern. It’s something to guard against. But when I teach writing, whether it’s upper level creative writing or introductory essay composition or summer workshops for teenaged writers, the students I get to work with haven’t gone through graduate workshops, they haven’t been trained to write in certain ways or according to certain traditions. That training is important, and I value the traditions I come out of as a writer, and I encounter a lot of student writing that would benefit from some of that training — but I also encounter total freedom, the utter absence of preconceptions. I sometimes read work from students that reminds me there are no rules except the rules that work, and they blow the cobwebs off all my old habits and wake up my own writing. That’s exhilarating, and it’s why I wanted to go into this field, as much to share what I’ve learned from great writing teachers as to learn what I never knew from great student writers.

 

Since you are a teacher and you teach writing, what is your view on work-shopping your own work? Do you have a writing group that you work with? If so, what was the biggest piece of advice they gave you when you were working on your novel? What piece of advice did you ignore?

 

I don’t actually have a formal workshop group in the way I did in college or in the way some of my writer friends do. Sometimes I think I’d like to have one — I have always benefited from it. But mostly, my experience in workshops taught me that in a din of disparate voices, I needed to find those few writers whose feedback I could trust to push me in the directions I needed to go, and then I had filter out the rest of the noise. In my writing life now, I feel like I have that in the few writer friends I work closely with. So when I send things out for feedback, it’s not in a formal, workshop-group sense, but one-on-one. I share things with some colleagues at the colleges where I work and from a handful of writer friends online.

 

These days, I’ve also learned how to read a rejection letter as feedback, and I sometimes get valuable advice out of that. When I received my Oregon Literary Fellowship, an agent in New York contacted me and asked to see the manuscript. She ultimately turned it down, but in doing so she gave me some valuable comments that helped me develop the characters quite a bit and refine the themes in the book.

 

I don’t think I really ignored any advice regarding Hagridden. When it got to my publisher, we discussed some questions about some of the vocabulary, and I was right about some of it but a lot of it I changed. Other than that, as far as I recall, no one ever really gave me feedback that challenged the nature or structure of the story, and the advice that required fairly substantive rewrites was all good advice and I took it. I feel fortunate to have gotten such good feedback on this novel!

 

I read in an interview that if you were marooned on a desert island the only piece of fiction you would have with you is Alan Moore’s The Watchman. Are you a big comic book fan? And if so, do you see links between the way mythology is used in comics vs literary fiction?

 

Ha! I’m sure that answer changes every time I see the question, but yeah, I definitely reread The Watchmen once a year. It’s practically a perfect book. And I am a comic book fan, absolutely. I’m not an ubergeek — I can’t compete with the real fans! — but I do have a pretty sizable collection of comic books and a growing bookcase of graphic novels. I’m fascinated by visual narrative, and I think the insights that comics authors bring to the narrative craft are profoundly useful even for us textual writers.

 

I don’t know exactly what the relationship here is — maybe it’s because our contemporary Western mythologies are best expressed in the form of superheroes, or maybe it’s because our very first religious/mythological texts took of the form of sequential visual narrative (comics!) on ancient scrolls and stone friezes — but I definitely think there’s a connection between mythology and comics, and I do think it’s often more effective (or at least more immediate) in comics than in literary fiction. When I wrote my dissertation novel, probably the strongest criticism I got about it was that the characters all felt a bit too large and the story a bit too outlandish, which of course was the point when I wrote it, but as I went back over the book after finishing my PhD, I realized it was such fair criticism that I couldn’t bring myself to leave that too-large outlandishness in the book. I would need to do a major rewrite, to effectively start again from scratch, which broke my heart because I loved the story so much. I wrestled with it for a long time and tried several versions of manuscript reboots, but it just wasn’t coming together. And then I realized it’s because the problem wasn’t in the story– it was the medium. If my novel could become a graphic novel, all that “outlandishness” would suddenly seem perfectly ordinary, and no one would question it. (That’s still something I’d like to work on, if I could find the right artist — or the right artist could find me — to collaborate on that afterlife novel!)

 

I think by treating the legend of the rougarou as a legend in Hagridden, and not as a literal thing, I’ve circumvented some of those problems and, I hope, made a new myth of the bayou. But it’s just grand enough, I think, that I do sometimes daydream of a graphic novel version of Hagridden. (Again, if the right artist came along, I’d love to see that happen!)

 

The publishing industry is a state of flux currently. Self-publishing or Indie publishing has become such a force that many of the big name presses are putting out digital only imprints. What is your opinion on this? Are they legitimizing good writers who need the support from a big name press or are they taking a bite out of the indie world on a venture that is low cost to them since it’s e-book publishing only? And what advice would you give to new writers trying to break into the publishing world?

 

I confess, I’m not involved enough in the industry as industry to speak with any authority on the issue of large corporate presses encroaching on the digital indie market. But advice to new writers? That I can tackle.

 

Here’s the most important thing I can say to writers trying to break into the market: Be patient, and keep working.

 

This is actually terrible advice, because the patience part is almost impossible to do. I know. I’m terribly impatient, especially about my writing.

 

But it’s important to keep in mind. When you send out a story and you have to sit around waiting, whether it’s the traditional months the lightning-fast digital hours — the wait can be excruciating. That’s why I always have several projects in various stages of work, so that when I send something out, I can focus on the next project and hope to forget about the current project floating around out there in the world. I don’t forget about it, of course, but in between all those mail checks and long sighs and stiff drinks, I have something else to work on. I’m writing, because that’s what we do: we write.

 

There’s this traditional path toward publication, this story we’ve all been told. I might be in the last generation for whom this would actually still apply, because this is a revolutionary time in literature and the traditional narrative is shifting, but the old story was this: You read a ton and went to readings and met other writers, and you wrote stories. And you sent those stories out, and you collected rejection slips until finally something took, and then little by little, you put together a list of publications. And you kept reading and studying and meeting people. Eventually you met the right people, or pulled together the right manuscript, and you put out a collection, maybe a chapbook. And that got your name out of the magazines and onto the bookshelves, and in the meantime you worked on a novel. Which is when you started all over — collecting rejections, putting together lists, honing your craft. Until finally you found the right person at the right time, and your first major book comes out, and suddenly you’re an author.

 

It’s an old-fashioned and heavily romanticized story, but it’s one I latched onto early on and, little by little, over years and years, I’ve actually managed to live that story. I’m tremendously fortunate, and that story involves so many generous people, and I feel so lucky. But to truth is, it wasn;t just about luck. It was about the work, and it took me YEARS. Like, decades.

 

These days the story is different, and with so many amazing small presses and the improvements in self-publishing, the path for some people (some people) is getting shorter. But for most of us, breaking into publishing takes an extraordinarily long time, and the only thing you can do to ensure that it might eventually happen is to keep working.

 

So my advice to new writers is to be patient, and in the meantime, keep writing, keep reading, keep putting in the time.

 

You’re just starting out your blog tour…what do you hope that readers will learn about Hagridden? What do you think we should know before we start your novel?

 

I suppose the one thing I keep hearing a lot are some preconceptions about the book. Some people hear that it’s historical fiction and they think it’s going to be a romance. Some people hear that it’s a Civil War novel and they think it’s going to be about battles and politics. Some people hear that it’s about an older woman and her daughter-in-law trying to make their way in the world, just the two of them, and they think it’s a heartwarming story that kids might like. Some people hear about the rougarou and think it’s going to be a horror novel.

There’s a love story in here. But there’s also some fairly graphic sex.

There are some soldiers fighting in here, but there aren’t large battles — most of the violence is brutal and intimate. And that brutal, intimate violence starts on page 3.

The woman and the girl do have a complicated but deeply devoted relationship — but they’re often ready to kill each other. Literally.

There’s at least one rougarou in this book, but it’s not supernatural — and it’s possibly more terrifying because of that.

 

 

Monday Morning Poems, an Excerpt link, and A Small Ranty Thing About This Country

19 May

Good morning, lovelies…

I am exhausted this morning from a fantastic family weekend so I’ll keep try to keep this short.

The very cool Jonathan Penton at Unlikely Stories was kind enough to accept this How To Be An American poem to add to what is a great collection for the May issue of Unlikely Stories. Please be sure to check out the rest of the issue. It’s chock full of goodness.

And I would also like to say thanks to Stephen Williams at Dead Snakes for taking these poems.

I’m a lucky girl.

Also the Forked Road has another THIS IS SARAH excerpt. The book is written in alternating viewpoints from Claire (Sarah’s little sister) and Colin’s (Sarah’s boyfriend).

You can read Colin’s piece here and you can the Claire one here if excerpts are your kind of thing.

And finally I know I said that this is going to a short post but I’ve got this thing nagging at me. I’ve received some rejections for poems lately for the How To Be An American series and both times I was called Anti-American. Before we go into this I feel the need to say the following:

DISCLAIMER: I HAVE NO PROBLEM BEING REJECTED. MY WHOLE WRITING CAREER IS 90% REJECTION, 10% PUBLICATION.

That part is really important to understand. I get that if you put stuff out there you’ll inevitably get most of it rejected. That’s fine. My thick skin is fully insulated. So it’s not about being rejected, okay? Understand? Good.

It’s about the notion that these poems are Anti-American or more so that to criticize our country = Anti-Americanism. I’m just curious when that happened? When did observing our failures (because we do have them) become akin to ignoring our successes? When did my acknowledging that there are places where we have seriously dropped the ball suddenly mean that I’m a communist (which I was called)?

This all seems particularly short-sighted.

This Sunday the New York Times had an article on adding trigger warnings to texts so that college kids can be prepared to deal with thing that make them uncomfortable.

At Oberlin College, a draft petition asked teachers to flag anything that might disrupt a students learning. This is from the NY Times article:

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the guide said. “Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” For example, it said, while “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe — a novel set in colonial-era Nigeria — is a “triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read,” it could “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”

Where do we go from here?

How do we possibly grew and fix society if we don’t face the ugly upsetting things head on? Isn’t the point of art and college to challenge us? To make us think?

Now, please don’t for a second thing that I think that just because I wrote a poem that might cast America in a poor light that I should automatically have it published because that would be nonsense. Editors have the right to publish whatever they want. I’m just curious about this notion that to criticize a nation is akin to being its enemy.

Did we really all take Bush’s “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” thing to heart?

Or as we so isolated, constantly hearing opinions that mirror our own that something outside of our experience shatters our delusions about the world we live in?

I write about this country because I want it to be better.

I want the kids that go to school to not worry about dying when they refuse a prom date.

I want parents to trust that when the drop off their kindergarten those babies will come home at the end of the day – alive and well and not in body bags.

In what universe is that wrong???

I want us to be better. And to be better we need to talk about where we fail. And isn’t that the purpose of art? Not to pad down all the ugly parts but to hold them up so that we can see the cracks in the glass. So that we can figure out how to seal them over again?

So that we can actually strive to be the country we’re currently pretending we are?

Sigh….Anyway….that’s enough out of me.

Happy Monday.

Be nice to each other, okay?

Peace, Love and Starbursts

Ally

I Screwed Up

2 May

So I screwed up. Shocking, I know.

I forgot to thank one of my absolute favorite presses out there because these poems went up on Blue Hour when I was away and it just sort of slipped through the cracks.

So my sincere apologies to Blue Hour Press who are wonderful and who took these poems, one of which is called After Silsbe and it was written after reading this fantastic little book

SilsbeLGCoverwhich was published by LowGhost Press.

I highly recommend Scott’s collection, the rest of LowGhost’s catalog and the books put out by Blue Hour which you can get here.

Many many many thanks. I’m a lucky girl to be surrounded by so much good writing juju.

Peace Love and Starbursts,

Ally

 

The Heart of this Beastly Industry: My Thank You to Small Presses

11 Jul

This is a weird time to be a writer. At least the kind that tries to publish (not the Emily Dickinson-they’ll- find -it -when- I’m -dead kind). Everyone keeps talking about what a boom this is for writers these days – with the old guards crumbling and writers being able to connect directly with their readers via facebook and twitter and all that fun stuff that lets us whittle away the hours at our day job – and I agree….to a degree.

Here’s the thing – and I know a lot of people might not agree with me and let me say upfront that I’m not bashing indie publishing. I’m not. If I wasn’t publishing via Antenna Books, I would be putting this book out myself. I think independent publishing is a force that has already changed the publishing industry. And the music industry for that matter. Things are changing and editors need to heed the warning – ask not for whom the bell tolls and all that stuff…but that is a post for another blog.

But between the world of self…er… independent publishing and traditional long shot publishing lies a wealth of opportunity for writers.

I’m talking about small presses, who have since their inception been the often overlooked champion for writers like me – writers who write poems and stories more than anything else. Because let’s be honest, without small presses, these days you need a MFA and tenured teaching position at Columbia University to put out a poetry book on a major press. If you’re lucky. And short stories are not the kind of thing Penguin is banging down your door for if you’re a new author.

Not counting Pendragon, the literary mag in high school, I got my first poem published in college. It was pre-internet, or at least back when the using the internet meant Netscape and Telnet and you had to type in directions first and we laughed when businesses listed the name of their website at the end of  their commercial. Now we laugh if they don’t.  Remember the SNL clownpenis.fart joke? Remember when SNL was funny?

Anyway, back then we had staple and paper mags – which are still around praise the heavens (I’m looking at you Issa) – and you mailed your poems in with your SASE and waited weeks and weeks and weeks to see if you were accepted. That was what my first experience was like. And the magazines were given out free at rock shows and passed from hand to hand, sort of like the old school versions of email distribution lists.

I thought the whole thing was incredibly cool and decided with a couple of girlfriends of mine to put out our own. Since this was pre-internet we made signs and tacked them up around campus. We got a PO Box. And we waited for people to send us their writing. And they did. In droves. We were inundated with entries and picking and chosing was no easy task. So many  hours were spent reading and discussing other people’s work. In the end, we put together a collection we were proud of. We even did a reading at a coffee shop paid for by beer sales from a party our friend hosted. We called the magazine “Avenue.” And we loved it. But there was only ever one. Because the truth was it was more work than we were up for. Yes indeed, I am a failed Small Press Publisher.

Thankfully, that is not the case with everyone. Because those same guys and girls (who didn’t crap out like we did) who were cutting and stapling then are online now, still cutting and stapling, and working their butt off for ART for ART’S SAKE. They owe the authors they accept or reject nothing. They put their time, money,  and energy into it all because they believe that good art has a place outside the mainstream and they want to share. And people like me reap all the benefits.

For the list of the mags that I was fortunate enough to be in see here and here.

If you are a writer interested in small presses, do your research, use Duotrope (they rock!) and READ what  a mag is already publishing, what they are interested in. Some do genre, some don’t. Some only want poetry, some only want prose.  Do your homework, polish your work, I mean really polish it and you’ll find a home for it.

So this my thank you to Small Presses. If I ever hit the big time (HA!) I’ll still send my poems and stories to small presses. Cause they are the heart of this business. They believe in the work and getting it out there. And isn’t that why writers write? To be read? To reach out across that divide and connect with someone else? To share this ridiculous ride that is the human experience?

I mean otherwise, what are we doing?

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