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1. Writer Wednesday: Why NaNo Isn't Really For Me


My participation in NaNoWriMo this month has taught me something. NaNo isn't designed for people like me. I fast draft—sometimes writing crazy amounts of words in a single day. I finished my 50,000 words on November 7th, but NaNo won't let me verify my word count and ultimately win because I achieved that word count too soon. What?!?!?!? I can't wrap my head around that.

So now, I can't earn all my badges, like writing every day this month. I almost feel like I'm being penalized for writing too quickly. And that's crazy! I wrote the entire book in seven days! Of course I won! But yet, I didn't according to NaNo. So I've decided to cheat. Yup. I'm cheating and working on another novel and adding that to my word count. This book is one I started last year and had to put aside. I'm editing for clients right now and so far I've only been writing about 1,500-2,500 words a day on this book. But still, even if I continue to write until November 30 (though I highly doubt the book will take that long to finish) I won't get my badge for writing every day this month. I guess I should have read up on NaNo before I decided to join in on the fun, because I'm going to have two completed novels by the end of the month and I still don't feel good about it.

I most likely won't participate in NaNo again. It's just not designed for me. It's making me feel like a failure even though I've already won, and let's face it. This industry is hard enough on our egos. I don't need this on top of it.

Anyone else find that NaNo makes you feel bad instead of encouraging you to write more? 

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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2. Monday Mishmash 11/14/16


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. NaNoWriMo  So I won NaNo a week ago today, but they won't let me validate and confirm my win. On Wednesday I'll be sharing what I've learned from NaNo and why it's not geared toward writers like me.
  2. Editing  I'm editing for a newish client this week. I did a one-chapter edit over the summer for her, and now I'm editing her full book.
  3. Thank You  I want to thank everyone who visited my daughter's blog. She was so excited to see your comments. Since she has books by several of you, it was even more exciting for her to recognize your names. If you haven't checked out her blog, you can find it here.
  4. Parent-Teacher Conferences  My daughter is home today and tomorrow because it's conference time at her school. My conference is tomorrow morning.
  5. Continuing to Draft  Even though my NaNo book is finished, I'm going to keep this momentum and finish a book I started last year and had to put aside to meet other deadlines.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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3. Writer Wednesday: Working With Freelancers


Today's topic comes curtesy of Sheena-Kay. Thanks, Sheena-Kay! She wants to know:

What do you do when a freelancer (cover artist, editor, etc) suddenly up and cancels on you or what advice would you give to someone else in that position?

Okay, this is something you hope never happens to you, but I've seen it a lot. Most freelancers are good because this is how they make their money. They need repeat clients, and so they do their best to meet deadlines and make their clients happy. But...

There are times when freelancers go MIA or cancel on you. The first thing I recommend is trying to figure out why. Life happens. A death in the family can cause a freelancer to go offline. Let's face it. When a loved one passes, the last thing we think about is checking our email, and that's understandable. So if this is a freelancer you really like, try to find out if something like this happened. If you don't know the freelancer and you can't wait for them to respond, do what you have to do. Deadlines are deadlines.

Now if a freelancer cancels on you with no explanation, I wouldn't advise working with them again in the future. And to be honest, I'm in several groups where people share info on freelancers—ones who don't meet deadlines, ones who take payment and then don't follow through on the work, etc. They do get blacklisted, so they don't want to be talked about this way.

I think the best way to get involved with a freelancer is by word of mouth. See who others recommend after having used that freelancer. Like anything else, do some research and protect yourself.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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4. Monday Mishmash 11/7/16


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. NaNoWriMo  According to NaNo, I'm supposed to finish today. Last week, I wrote way more than I thought I would. Of course, winning NaNo doesn't mean the book is finished, so I'll still be writing after today.
  2. Editing  I have two edits on my plate after finishing one this weekend. One is my backward read, which is the slow read to catch those pesky grammar and punctuation issues. The other is a short story, so I'll be doing a content read and the backward read on that one this week.
  3. See numbers one and two  I don't have time to tackle anything else this week! LOL
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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5. Writer Wednesday: How Do You NaNo?


We are officially two days into NaNoWriMo, so I thought I'd share how it's going and why I decided to finally participate. I wanted to try NaNo as a way to convince myself that I don't have to fast draft like a crazy person in between client edits and do nothing but edit when I have editing jobs on my schedule. I guess I take things to extremes, doing one or the other like a mad woman. I need to stop this. I know it, and I keep saying I'm going to, but it hasn't happened yet. So NaNo is about forcing myself to split my days between editing in the morning and writing in the afternoons. So far, I'm doing it.

The odd thing is that most people do NaNo to get a book drafted quicker than they normally would. For me, it's the opposite. When I draft, I usually hit anywhere between 10,000 and 18,000 words a day. (Yes, you read that correctly!) But splitting my days and committing to NaNo while I have edits on my plate, means I have to aim much lower, like 3,000 to 5,000 words a day. So I feel like NaNo is very different for me than most people. It's forcing me to slow down. Will I like this? It's too soon to tell.

How about you? Are you NaNoing? How do you approach it? (And feel free to buddy me. I'm khashway.)

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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6. Monday Mishmash 10/31/16


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. Happy Halloween!  I hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween. 
  2. NaNoWriMo Starts Tomorrow!  If you're taking part in NaNo, buddy me. My name is khashway on the site. And good luck! 
  3. Editing  Even though I'm drafting a new book, I have client edits to tackle this month. Eek! NaNo is pretty much my way of showing myself I can find balance between doing work for others and doing work for myself.
  4. Field Trip  I'm chaperoning my daughter's field trip on Friday. Um, when am I supposed to write for NaNo? I'm not panicking. Nope. Not at all. Okay, maybe a little. I guess I'll be writing in the evening on Friday. Send coffee please.
  5. Fading Into the Shadows  Fading Into the Shadows is fully edited, proofed, and ready to go over two months early! I'm so excited for this book. E-ARCs are in, so if you have time to read the book before January 16, 2017 and would like an ARC in exchange for an honest review, sign up here. The cover reveal will take place November 16th-18th. If you're interested in sharing the cover on any social media site, you can sign up for that here.  
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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7. Writer Wednesday: Writing For Adults


Today's topic comes from Mirka, who said, "...tell us some more about your adult suspense book, and how writing for grown-ups is different than MG or YA, beyond the MC's age."

Great topic, Mirka! Thanks!

Okay, well my adult books are very different from my YA or MG novels. It almost seems like there are different rules for writing for adult. Let me start with what I've noticed from reading adult books. First, things are described in much more detail. Second, backstory is common and often told upfront. Third, there are more dialogue tags. 

I could go on, but these three blew my mind. For years, I listened to everyone say, "No info dumping!" and "Try not to use dialogue tags!" Yet every adult book I've read does both. Now I don't mean pages of backstory. Not at all. But a brief paragraph of who the MC is and how they go where they are is totally common. I've even see the dreaded "My name is..." format. Again, this blew my mind. And no, I'm not doing that. I've been conditioned not to.

So writing for adults is tough for me. I have to remind myself to step back, observe the scene, and give more details than I would to a teenager whose attention span isn't very long. I also need to make sure my characters are all introduced in ways that the reader will remember them from one book to the next, which means reintroducing them in books two, three, four, etc. Again, this is so different for me. But my adult beta readers are telling me this is normal, and from the books I've been reading, they are correct.

The easy things for me are writing characters who are closer to my age. Mine tend to be in the mid/late twenties to early thirties. I know how people this age speak, act, think, etc. Teens can be challenging because they change so much! Adults, not so much. I also think it's fun to write about adults in different professions. I'm exploring some that I've considered but never followed through on for various reasons, and that's kind of amazing. 

In many ways, writing for adults is freeing. I feel like a rebel, breaking rules I've always been told to follow. ;) Who doesn't like to break a few rules, right? And the dialogue and actions come more naturally for me. So yeah, I'm enjoying it, and I think I'll keep writing for adults.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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8. Monday Mishmash 10/24/16


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. NaNoWriMo  I have decided to officially participate in NaNoWriMo next month. I've unofficially participated in the past, writing a novel in the month of November, but since I have an adult mystery that needs to be written, I'm committing to doing this. Who else will be participating?
  2. Editing  I'm finishing up another client edit this week.
  3. Plotting  I have the research done for my adult mystery, but I need to flesh out my plot before NaNo begins.
  4. Fading Into the Shadows e-ARCs  e-ARCS for my YA paranormal (releasing January 16, 2017) Fading Into the Shadows are being formatted tomorrow! I'm so excited for this book. If you'd like to sign up for an e-ARC, you can do so here.
  5. Cover Reveal Signups  If you're interested in signing up to help me reveal the cover of Fading Into the Shadows on November 16th-18th, you can find the form here. This is a social media cover reveal, so you don't need a blog to participate.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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9. Call for Entries: The 2017 PBBY-Salanga Prize


The Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) is now accepting entries for the 2017 PBBY-Salanga Prize. The contest is co-sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Library of the Philippines (NLP). The winner shall receive twenty-five thousand (25,000) pesos and a medal. Prizes will be awarded in an appropriate ceremony to be held during the celebration of National Children’s Book Day in July 2017.
Contest Rules
  • The contest is open to all Filipino citizens except those who are related to any PBBY member up to the third degree of consanguinity.
  • Stories should be intended for children aged 6 to 12 years old. The plot and the sequence must be capable of sustaining an illustrated book of 28 to 32 pages.
  • Entries may be in Filipino or English.
  • Entries must be in hard copy, double-spaced, on short bond paper. Maximum length is five (5) pages.
  • A contestant may send in more than one (1) entry.
  • Each entry must be signed by a pen name only. Five (5) copies of each entry should be placed in an envelope, on the face of which only the pen name of the contestant should appear.
  • Together with each entry, contestants must submit a second envelope, on the face of which the pen name shall appear. The second envelope must contain the contestant’s full name, address, contact numbers, a short literary background, and a notarized certification from the author, vouching for the originality of the entry and for the freedom of the organizers from any liability arising from the infringement of copyright in case of publication, and affirming that the entry or any variant thereof has (a) never been published nor (b) won any other contest i.e. that it has never won 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or honorable mention in any other contest or otherwise been awarded a medal, a citation, or included in a publicized list of meritorious entries to a literary contest.
  • All entries must be sent through snail mail to the PBBY Secretariat, c/o Adarna House, Inc., Scout Torillo cor. Scout Fernandez Sts., Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City.
  • All entries must be received by the PBBY Secretariat no later than 5:00 p.m., December 2, 2016.
  • Winners will be announced no later than February 3, 2017. Non-winning entries will be disposed of by the PBBY Secretariat.
Grand prize and honorable mention winners shall be subject to a bidding process to be facilitated by the PBBY, to determine which publisher/s will publish their winning stories.
The winning story will be the basis for the 2017 PBBY-Alcala Prize.
For more details, interested parties may contact the PBBY at (02) 3526765 local 203, or email pbby[at]adarna.com.ph.

0 Comments on Call for Entries: The 2017 PBBY-Salanga Prize as of 10/21/2016 6:56:00 AM
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10. The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katherine Towler


     Dawn again,
and I switch off the light.
On the table a tattered moth
shrugs its wings.
     I agree.
Nothing is ever quite
what we expect it to be.

—Robert Dunn

Katherine Towler's deeply affecting and thoughtful portrait of Robert Dunn is subtitled "A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship". It's an accurate label, but one of the things that makes the book such a rewarding reading experience is that it's a memoir of struggles with place, solitude, and friendship — struggles that do not lead to a simple Hallmark card conclusion, but rather something far more complex. This is a story that could have been told superficially, sentimentally, and with cheap "messages" strewn like sugarcubes through its pages. Instead, it is a book that honors mysteries.

You are probably not familiar with the poetry of Robert Dunn, nor even his name, unless you happen to live or have lived in or around Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Even then, you may not have noticed him. He was Portsmouth's second poet laureate, and an important figure within the Portsmouth poetry scene from the late 1970s to his death in 2008. But he only published a handful of poems in literary journals, and his chapbooks were printed and distributed only locally — and when he sold them himself, he charged 1 cent. (Towler tells a story of trying to pay him more, which proved impossible.) He was insistently local, insistently uncommercial.

Robert Dunn

Dunn was also about as devoted to his writing as a person could be. When Towler met him in the early '90s, he lived in a single room in an old house, owned almost nothing, and made what little money he made from working part-time at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. He seemed to live on cigarettes and coffee. When Towler first saw him around town, she, like probably many other people, thought he was homeless.

If a person could start a conversation with Dunn, which wasn't always easy, they would discover that he was very well read and eloquent. He was not, though, effusive, and he was deeply private. It was only late in his life, wracked with lung disease, that he opened up to anyone, and the person he seems to have opened up most to is Towler, though even then, she was able to learn very little about his past.

Towler got to know him because she was a neighbor, because she was intrigued by him, and because she was a writer on a different career track, with different ambitions. Dunn certainly wanted his poems to be read — he wouldn't have made chapbooks and sold them (even if only for a penny) if not — but he didn't want to subject himself to the quest-for-fame machine, he didn't want to do what everybody now says you must do if you want to have a successful writing career: become a "brand". He didn't bother with any sort of copyright, and Towler quotes a disclaimer from one of his books: "1983 and no nonsense about copyright. When I wrote these things they belonged to me. When you read them they belong to you. And perhaps one other." In 1999, he told a reporter from the Boston Globe, "It just feels kind of silly posting no trespassing signs on my poems."

His motto, written on slips of paper he occasionally gave to people, was "Minor poets have more fun."

When Towler met him, she was struggling with writing a novel. She had lived peripatetically for a while, but had recently gotten married. She wanted to be published far and wide, and in her most honest moments she probably would have admitted that she would have liked to sell millions of copies of her books, get a great movie deal or two, get interviewed by Terry Gross and Charlie Rose, win a Pulitzer and a National Book Award and, heck, maybe even a Nobel. Success.

Once her first novel was published, Towler discovered what many people do in their first experiences with publication: It doesn't fill the hole. It is never enough. There are always other books selling better, getting more or better reviews, always other writers with more money and fame, and in American book culture these days, once a book is a month or two old, it's past its expiration date and rarely of much interest to booksellers, reviewers, or the public, because there's always something new, new, new to grab attention. You might as well sell your poems for a penny in Market Square.

By the time Towler's first novel is published, Portsmouth is deep in the process of gentrification. Not only have the local market, five-and-dime store, and hardware store been put out of business by rising rents and big box stores, but all seven of the downtown bookstores have disappeared. (Downtown is no longer bookstoreless. Bookstores, at least, can appeal to the gentrifiers, though it's still tough to be profitable with the cost of the rent what it is.) Towler gives a reading at a Barnes & Noble out at the mall, a perfect symbol of pretty much everything Robert Dunn had lived his life against: a mall, a chain bookstore. He attends the reading, though, and seems happy for Towler's success. He stands in line to get his book signed, and then says something that cuts Towler to the bone: "I'll let you get to your public."
As Robert turned away, leaving me to face a line of people waiting to have books signed, I felt that he had seen through me to the deep need for approval, the great strivings of ego, that lay at the heart of my desire to publish a book. Only by divorcing myself from the hunger for affirmation, his quip suggested, would I find what I truly desired. This is what he wanted for me, what he wanted for anyone who wrote.
The Penny Poet of Portsmouth continues to think through these ideas, and to work through the contrast between Dunn's fierce localism and solitude and Towler's own conflicting desires, hopes, dreams, and fears. She begins in great admiration of Dunn, who seems to have sacrificed absolutely everything to his writing and has somehow overcome any yearning for fame or reward. In that sense, he seems saintly.

But at what cost? This question is always in the background as Dunn becomes ill and more dependent on other people. If he wants to stay alive, the sort of solitude he cultivated and cherished is no longer possible, leading to some difficult confrontations and tensions.

Towler does her best not to impose her own values on Dunn's life, but she can't help wondering what it would be like to live as Dunn does. Though she sympathizes with him, and shares some of his ideals, she's no ascetic. She can't help but think of Dunn as lonely, since she would be, especially in illness. She cherishes her husband, she likes the house they buy together, she enjoys (at least sometimes) traveling to readings and leading writing workshops.

Dunn's life, as Towler presents it at least, shows the inadequacy of the question, "Are you happy?" In illness, Dunn was obviously not comfortable, and when he couldn't be at home, he was often not content. But happiness is a fleeting thing, not a state of being. Even if you believe that happiness is something that can be captured for more than a moment, there's no reason to think that, except for illness, Robert Dunn was unhappy. He sculpted a life for himself that was, it seems, quite close to whatever life he might have desired having. I doubt having a life partner of some sort would have led to more moments of happiness for him, as Towler wonders at one point. The accommodations and annoyances of having another person around a lot of the time are insufferable for someone inclined toward solitude. Was this the case for Dunn? It's difficult to know, because he was difficult to know. Towler is remarkably restrained, I think, in not trying to impose her own pleasures on Dunn — she doesn't ever record saying to him what the partnered often say to the unpartnered, "Wouldn't you be happy with someone else in your life?" (I often think partnered people work a bit too hard to justify their own life choices, as if the presence of other types of lives are somehow an indictment of their own.) But even still, it does seem to be one of the more unbridgeable gulfs between types of people: the contentedly partnered seem as terrified of being unpartnered as the contentedly unpartnered are of being partnered, and so one looks on the other's life as a nightmare.

What The Penny Poet of Portsmouth shows is the necessity of community. Robert Dunn was, for many reasons, lucky that he lived in Portsmouth when he did, because there was a real community of writers and people interested in writing and reading, and these people looked out for each other. Before the rents went whacko, it was possible to live in Portsmouth if you weren't rich. This is why the word place in Towler's subtitle is so important. The book is not only a portrait of Robert Dunn, but a chronicle of the city that allowed him to be Robert Dunn. Towler is careful to chronicle the details of the place and community, both its people and its institutions. She shows the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracies of illness, and without being heavy-handed she depicts the ways that poverty is perceived in a place as ruggedly individualistic as New Hampshire — once she gets to know Robert Dunn, she also gets to see, feel, and struggle against the assumptions people who don't know him make. (In some of what she described him experiencing from nurses, doctors, and pharmacists, I couldn't help but think of my father, who did not have health insurance and who died of congestive heart failure. After he had a heart attack, he felt patronized and dismissed by hospitals that knew he couldn't pay his bills. Whether the hospital employees themselves actually felt this way, I don't know, but he perceived it deeply, and it contributed to his determination never to see another doctor or hospital. I'll forever remember the way his voice sounded when he told me, briefly, of this: the shattered pride, the humiliation, the rage all fraying his words.)

In its attention to the details of community — and a number of other ways — The Penny Poet of Portsmouth makes a perfect companion to Samuel Delany's Dark Reflections, another story of a poet, though in a very different environment. Arnold Hawley in Delany's novel is far less content than Robert Dunn in Towler's memoir, but their commitments are similar. Arnold is more seduced by the desire for fame and success than Dunn seems to have been, and so his personality is perhaps a bit more like Towler's, but without her relative success in everyday living. Having known Dunn, Towler is perhaps more capable of imagining Dunn as content in his life than Delany is quite able to imagine Arnold content — I've sometimes wondered whether Arnold is so tormented by his life because Delany himself would be tormented by that life, a life that is the opposite, in nearly every way, of his own. No matter. The books have much to say to (and with) each other.

There is much in Towler's memoir that is moving. She takes her time and doesn't rush the story. At first, I thought perhaps her pacing was unnecessarily slow, perhaps padding out what was a thin tale. I was wrong, though, because Towler is up to many things in the book, and needs her portrait of the place and person to be built carefully for her ideas and concerns to have resonance and real meaning. It's a tale of growing into knowledge and into something like intimacy, but also, at the same time, of coming to terms with unsolveable mysteries and uncrossable borders.

By the time I got to the fragmentary biography Towler offers as an appendix, those few pages were the most powerful of the book for me, because they show just how much we can't know. (I suppose the power was also one of some sort of personal recognition: Robert Dunn grew up only a dozen or so miles from where I grew up. The soil of his early years is as familiar to me as any other place on Earth. He was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where I finished my undergraduate degree and am now working on a Ph.D. I've only spent occasional time in Portsmouth, though enough over the decades to have seen some of the changes Towler writes about.) Primed by all the rest of Towler's story, it was this paragraph that most deeply affected me:
He went south in the summer of 1965 with the civil rights movement with a small group of Episcopalians from New Hampshire. Jonathan Daniels, who was shot and killed as he protected a young African-American woman attempting to enter a store in Hayneville, Alabama, had gone down ahead of the group. Robert would not talk about this experience, though others and I asked him about it directly. He did say once that he had known Daniels.
Had Towler rushed her story more, the resonances and mysteries in that paragraph wouldn't have been nearly as affecting. (It helps if you already know the story of Daniels, I suppose.)

The book ends with a delightful collection of what we might call "Robert Dunn's wit and wisdom", taken from various interviews and profiles in local papers that Dunn had stuck in a folder labeled "Vanity". Of the civil rights movement, he told Clare Kittredge of the Boston Globe in 1999: "We had our hearts thoroughly broken."

Let's end these musings with what mattered most to Robert Dunn, though: the poetry. His poems remind me of Frank O'Hara (whom he discusses with Towler) and Samuel Menashe. They're colloquial and compressed, full of surprises. Thanks to Towler's book, I expect, Dunn's selected poems have finally been collected in One of Us Is Lost, and a few are reprinted in The Penny Poet. Here's one that seems particularly appropriate:

Public Notice

      They've taken away the pigeon lady,
who used to scatter breadcrumbs from an old
brown hand and then do a little pigeon dance,
right there on the sidewalk, with a flashing
of purple socks. To the scandal of the
neighborhood. This is no world for pigeon
ladies.

     There's a certain wild gentleness in
this world that holds it all together. And
there's a certain tame brutality that just
naturally tends to ruin and scatteration and
nothing left over. Between them it's a very
near thing. This is no world without pigeon
ladies.

     Now world, I know you're almost
uglied out, but . . . just think! Try to
remember: What have you done with the
pigeon lady?

—Robert Dunn

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11. The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katherine Towler


     Dawn again,
and I switch off the light.
On the table a tattered moth
shrugs its wings.
     I agree.
Nothing is ever quite
what we expect it to be.

—Robert Dunn

Katherine Towler's deeply affecting and thoughtful portrait of Robert Dunn is subtitled "A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship". It's an accurate label, but one of the things that makes the book such a rewarding reading experience is that it's a memoir of struggles with place, solitude, and friendship — struggles that do not lead to a simple Hallmark card conclusion, but rather something far more complex. This is a story that could have been told superficially, sentimentally, and with cheap "messages" strewn like sugarcubes through its pages. Instead, it is a book that honors mysteries.

You are probably not familiar with the poetry of Robert Dunn, nor even his name, unless you happen to live or have lived in or around Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Even then, you may not have noticed him. He was Portsmouth's second poet laureate, and an important figure within the Portsmouth poetry scene from the late 1970s to his death in 2008. But he only published a handful of poems in literary journals, and his chapbooks were printed and distributed only locally — and when he sold them himself, he charged 1 cent. (Towler tells a story of trying to pay him more, which proved impossible.) He was insistently local, insistently uncommercial.

Robert Dunn

Dunn was also about as devoted to his writing as a person could be. When Towler met him in the early '90s, he lived in a single room in an old house, owned almost nothing, and made what little money he made from working part-time at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. He seemed to live on cigarettes and coffee. When Towler first saw him around town, she, like probably many other people, thought he was homeless.

If a person could start a conversation with Dunn, which wasn't always easy, they would discover that he was very well read and eloquent. He was not, though, effusive, and he was deeply private. It was only late in his life, wracked with lung disease, that he opened up to anyone, and the person he seems to have opened up most to is Towler, though even then, she was able to learn very little about his past.

Towler got to know him because she was a neighbor, because she was intrigued by him, and because she was a writer on a different career track, with different ambitions. Dunn certainly wanted his poems to be read — he wouldn't have made chapbooks and sold them (even if only for a penny) if not — but he didn't want to subject himself to the quest-for-fame machine, he didn't want to do what everybody now says you must do if you want to have a successful writing career: become a "brand". He didn't bother with any sort of copyright, and Towler quotes a disclaimer from one of his books: "1983 and no nonsense about copyright. When I wrote these things they belonged to me. When you read them they belong to you. And perhaps one other." In 1999, he told a reporter from the Boston Globe, "It just feels kind of silly posting no trespassing signs on my poems."

His motto, written on slips of paper he occasionally gave to people, was "Minor poets have more fun."

When Towler met him, she was struggling with writing a novel. She had lived peripatetically for a while, but had recently gotten married. She wanted to be published far and wide, and in her most honest moments she probably would have admitted that she would have liked to sell millions of copies of her books, get a great movie deal or two, get interviewed by Terry Gross and Charlie Rose, win a Pulitzer and a National Book Award and, heck, maybe even a Nobel. Success.

Once her first novel was published, Towler discovered what many people do in their first experiences with publication: It doesn't fill the hole. It is never enough. There are always other books selling better, getting more or better reviews, always other writers with more money and fame, and in American book culture these days, once a book is a month or two old, it's past its expiration date and rarely of much interest to booksellers, reviewers, or the public, because there's always something new, new, new to grab attention. You might as well sell your poems for a penny in Market Square.

By the time Towler's first novel is published, Portsmouth is deep in the process of gentrification. Not only have the local market, five-and-dime store, and hardware store been put out of business by rising rents and big box stores, but all seven of the downtown bookstores have disappeared. (Downtown is no longer bookstoreless. Bookstores, at least, can appeal to the gentrifiers, though it's still tough to be profitable with the cost of the rent what it is.) Towler gives a reading at a Barnes & Noble out at the mall, a perfect symbol of pretty much everything Robert Dunn had lived his life against: a mall, a chain bookstore. He attends the reading, though, and seems happy for Towler's success. He stands in line to get his book signed, and then says something that cuts Towler to the bone: "I'll let you get to your public."
As Robert turned away, leaving me to face a line of people waiting to have books signed, I felt that he had seen through me to the deep need for approval, the great strivings of ego, that lay at the heart of my desire to publish a book. Only by divorcing myself from the hunger for affirmation, his quip suggested, would I find what I truly desired. This is what he wanted for me, what he wanted for anyone who wrote.
The Penny Poet of Portsmouth continues to think through these ideas, and to work through the contrast between Dunn's fierce localism and solitude and Towler's own conflicting desires, hopes, dreams, and fears. She begins in great admiration of Dunn, who seems to have sacrificed absolutely everything to his writing and has somehow overcome any yearning for fame or reward. In that sense, he seems saintly.

But at what cost? This question is always in the background as Dunn becomes ill and more dependent on other people. If he wants to stay alive, the sort of solitude he cultivated and cherished is no longer possible, leading to some difficult confrontations and tensions.

Towler does her best not to impose her own values on Dunn's life, but she can't help wondering what it would be like to live as Dunn does. Though she sympathizes with him, and shares some of his ideals, she's no ascetic. She can't help but think of Dunn as lonely, since she would be, especially in illness. She cherishes her husband, she likes the house they buy together, she enjoys (at least sometimes) traveling to readings and leading writing workshops.

Dunn's life, as Towler presents it at least, shows the inadequacy of the question, "Are you happy?" In illness, Dunn was obviously not comfortable, and when he couldn't be at home, he was often not content. But happiness is a fleeting thing, not a state of being. Even if you believe that happiness is something that can be captured for more than a moment, there's no reason to think that, except for illness, Robert Dunn was unhappy. He sculpted a life for himself that was, it seems, quite close to whatever life he might have desired having. I doubt having a life partner of some sort would have led to more moments of happiness for him, as Towler wonders at one point. The accommodations and annoyances of having another person around a lot of the time are insufferable for someone inclined toward solitude. Was this the case for Dunn? It's difficult to know, because he was difficult to know. Towler is remarkably restrained, I think, in not trying to impose her own pleasures on Dunn — she doesn't ever record saying to him what the partnered often say to the unpartnered, "Wouldn't you be happy with someone else in your life?" (I often think partnered people work a bit too hard to justify their own life choices, as if the presence of other types of lives are somehow an indictment of their own.) But even still, it does seem to be one of the more unbridgeable gulfs between types of people: the contentedly partnered seem as terrified of being unpartnered as the contentedly unpartnered are of being partnered, and so one looks on the other's life as a nightmare.

What The Penny Poet of Portsmouth shows is the necessity of community. Robert Dunn was, for many reasons, lucky that he lived in Portsmouth when he did, because there was a real community of writers and people interested in writing and reading, and these people looked out for each other. Before the rents went whacko, it was possible to live in Portsmouth if you weren't rich. This is why the word place in Towler's subtitle is so important. The book is not only a portrait of Robert Dunn, but a chronicle of the city that allowed him to be Robert Dunn. Towler is careful to chronicle the details of the place and community, both its people and its institutions. She shows the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracies of illness, and without being heavy-handed she depicts the ways that poverty is perceived in a place as ruggedly individualistic as New Hampshire — once she gets to know Robert Dunn, she also gets to see, feel, and struggle against the assumptions people who don't know him make. (In some of what she described him experiencing from nurses, doctors, and pharmacists, I couldn't help but think of my father, who did not have health insurance and who died of congestive heart failure. After he had a heart attack, he felt patronized and dismissed by hospitals that knew he couldn't pay his bills. Whether the hospital employees themselves actually felt this way, I don't know, but he perceived it deeply, and it contributed to his determination never to see another doctor or hospital. I'll forever remember the way his voice sounded when he told me, briefly, of this: the shattered pride, the humiliation, the rage all fraying his words.)

In its attention to the details of community — and a number of other ways — The Penny Poet of Portsmouth makes a perfect companion to Samuel Delany's Dark Reflections, another story of a poet, though in a very different environment. Arnold Hawley in Delany's novel is far less content than Robert Dunn in Towler's memoir, but their commitments are similar. Arnold is more seduced by the desire for fame and success than Dunn seems to have been, and so his personality is perhaps a bit more like Towler's, but without her relative success in everyday living. Having known Dunn, Towler is perhaps more capable of imagining Dunn as content in his life than Delany is quite able to imagine Arnold content — I've sometimes wondered whether Arnold is so tormented by his life because Delany himself would be tormented by that life, a life that is the opposite, in nearly every way, of his own. No matter. The books have much to say to (and with) each other.

There is much in Towler's memoir that is moving. She takes her time and doesn't rush the story. At first, I thought perhaps her pacing was unnecessarily slow, perhaps padding out what was a thin tale. I was wrong, though, because Towler is up to many things in the book, and needs her portrait of the place and person to be built carefully for her ideas and concerns to have resonance and real meaning. It's a tale of growing into knowledge and into something like intimacy, but also, at the same time, of coming to terms with unsolveable mysteries and uncrossable borders.

By the time I got to the fragmentary biography Towler offers as an appendix, those few pages were the most powerful of the book for me, because they show just how much we can't know. (I suppose the power was also one of some sort of personal recognition: Robert Dunn grew up only a dozen or so miles from where I grew up. The soil of his early years is as familiar to me as any other place on Earth. He was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where I finished my undergraduate degree and am now working on a Ph.D. I've only spent occasional time in Portsmouth, though enough over the decades to have seen some of the changes Towler writes about.) Primed by all the rest of Towler's story, it was this paragraph that most deeply affected me:
He went south in the summer of 1965 with the civil rights movement with a small group of Episcopalians from New Hampshire. Jonathan Daniels, who was shot and killed as he protected a young African-American woman attempting to enter a store in Hayneville, Alabama, had gone down ahead of the group. Robert would not talk about this experience, though others and I asked him about it directly. He did say once that he had known Daniels.
Had Towler rushed her story more, the resonances and mysteries in that paragraph wouldn't have been nearly as affecting. (It helps if you already know the story of Daniels, I suppose.)

The book ends with a delightful collection of what we might call "Robert Dunn's wit and wisdom", taken from various interviews and profiles in local papers that Dunn had stuck in a folder labeled "Vanity". Of the civil rights movement, he told Clare Kittredge of the Boston Globe in 1999: "We had our hearts thoroughly broken."

Let's end these musings with what mattered most to Robert Dunn, though: the poetry. His poems remind me of Frank O'Hara (whom he discusses with Towler) and Samuel Menashe. They're colloquial and compressed, full of surprises. Thanks to Towler's book, I expect, Dunn's selected poems have finally been collected in One of Us Is Lost, and a few are reprinted in The Penny Poet. Here's one that seems particularly appropriate:

Public Notice

      They've taken away the pigeon lady,
who used to scatter breadcrumbs from an old
brown hand and then do a little pigeon dance,
right there on the sidewalk, with a flashing
of purple socks. To the scandal of the
neighborhood. This is no world for pigeon
ladies.

     There's a certain wild gentleness in
this world that holds it all together. And
there's a certain tame brutality that just
naturally tends to ruin and scatteration and
nothing left over. Between them it's a very
near thing. This is no world without pigeon
ladies.

     Now world, I know you're almost
uglied out, but . . . just think! Try to
remember: What have you done with the
pigeon lady?

—Robert Dunn

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12. Writer Wednesday: Coauthor Projects


Today's topic comes from Sheena-Kay. Thanks, Sheena-Kay!

"What do you think of coauthor projects and have you ever or will you ever do one?"

I fully admit that I'm crazy when I draft a book. Honestly, I'd feel sorry for whoever was brave enough to coauthor a book with me. Part of me really thinks it would be fun. I see authors who team up repeatedly to write together, and they appear to be having a blast. But then that other part of me thinks it would drive me crazy to relinquish control of the story and also to have to wait for someone else to get chapters back to me before I could continue.

There are definite benefits though. You have two audiences you are essentially merging. That's double one author's readership. So the marketing possibilities and the reach are greater than an author writing on his/her own. That part has always appealed to me, and I'm sure it always will. You also have someone to travel with to events to promote the book. I like the idea of having another author with me at book signings and speaking events. Furthermore, writing can be lonely at times, but coauthoring certainly isn't. So yeah, there are definite benefits to coauthoring.

Will I ever coauthor a book? Who knows? For now, I'll say I admire those who do.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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13. A Long and Narrow Way


And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
"It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)" 
First, some axioms. Points. Nodes. Notes. (After which, a few fragments.)

From Alfred Nobel's will: "The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: ...one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction..."

Even if every winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature were universally acclaimed as worthy, there would still be more worthy people who had not won the Prize than who had. Thus, the Nobel Prize in Literature will always be disappointing. The history of the Nobel Prize in Literature is a history of constant, repeated disappointment.

The Nobel Prize in Literature's purpose is not to recognize the unrecognized, nor to provide wealth to the unwealthy, nor to celebrate literary translation, nor to bring attention to small publishers. Occasionally, it does one or more of these things, and doing so is good. It would be nice if any or all of those were its purpose. I'm not sure what purpose it does serve except as a sort of Hall of Fame thing, which reminds me of what Tom Waits said at his induction to the Rocknroll Hall of Fame: "Thank you very much. This has been very encouraging."

As with many things, Coetzee probably got it most right: "Why must our mothers be 99 and long in the grave before we can come running home with a prize that will make up for all the trouble we have been to them?"

"Ballad of a Thin Man" via Sotheby's
My personal pick for a Nobel Literature laureate among the writers who seem like plausible candidates — that is, among the small group of writers whose names continue to be mentioned, year after year — is Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Among such American writers, I guess I'd pick Pynchon (not just for the early work — Mason & Dixon is a wonder, and Against the Day continues to seem to me to be the best science fiction novel of the 21st century), though I doubt they'd give it to him because he's pretty much guaranteed not to show up for the ceremonies. Among writers never/seldom spoken of for the Prize, I can hardly come up with a list without narrowing it somehow; for instance, U.S. writers I would like to see in contention include Ursula Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany, as well as countless poets, various nonfiction writers, a playwright or two (Wallace Shawn! Suzan-Lori Parks!), and maybe some unclassifiable weirdos. (I certainly feel no excitement for the idea of Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates winning, the two Americans typically mentioned.) We live in a very rich time for literature of all sorts, whether popular or elite.

But — brace yourself — hard as it is to believe, my personal desires are irrelevant to the Nobel Prize in Literature. I'm not even Swedish!

Anyway, I'm quite happy with Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature because I like Bob Dylan's songs. Thus, the Prize as such seems to reflect well on my taste, and I want to defend it because my taste is mine and therefore I like it. If the Prize went, as it sometimes has, to a writer I don't especially care about, or whose work I don't especially like, I would feel annoyed, because isn't the job of prizes to flatter my taste?

I suppose this is how people who have passions for corporate sports teams feel when their favorite corporate sports team wins the corporate sports team tournament.

I adore Dylan and thus I agree with the Nobel Prize Committee. Their referees this year have made good calls, generally, though of course if I were one of the referees this year, the calls would have been even better.

No, I don't think Dylan is a poet in a strict, contemporary sense. He doesn't have to be. It's not the Nobel Prize in Poetry. ("Literature" is always in the making.) Dylan is a songwriter and a performer. Separating his lyrics from performances of those lyrics can be clarifying, but it does violence to the work, leaves out an entire realm of communication. Nonetheless, his lyrics have proved portable, his music malleable, as he himself has often shown in performance (listen to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on MTV Unplugged or "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" from Live 1975 for just a couple of the many examples) and countless musicians of various styles have proved (one of my favorites is Chris Smithers' version of "Visions of Johanna"; also, Antony & the Johnsons' "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"). 

The living U.S. Nobel Laureates in Literature are Toni Morrison and Bob Dylan. Obviously, American literature (what means "American"? what means "literature"?) is far more capacious than any two people, no matter how talented or accomplished, can represent, but nonetheless, look at the idea of American literature embodied in those two figures together: there's a perspective there on history, myth, and experience, on culture and creation. Both are popular artists, despite their obscurities and weirdnesses and highbrow allusions. They draw on and contribute to what can be called, for all such a term's inadequacies, an American vernacular. They are both obsessed, in their own unique ways, with the old, weird America, its slave songs, murder ballads, hymns, blues, and jazz. There is something that feels very right to me about the pairing of their oeuvres, the way their poetries sing stories together.

I don't really care about the Nobel Prize, though. All prizes are awful. I won't defend the Nobel as a prize. Say what you want about it; I don't care. (Unless they give it to me. Then I'd care and I would accept the prize and I would do whatever they wanted me to do, because hey, why not? And the money would be nice.)

I care a lot about Bob Dylan, though — not the man, who I doubt I'd get along with very well, but his work, which awes me. The song "Blind Willie McTell" alone would be enough to assure its writer of a place in the pantheon, and he's written dozens more of equal wonder.

To draw a bit of attention away from the ultimately useless questions of "Is it poetry?" or "Did he deserve to win?", here are some random, fragmentary thoughts on just a few corners of Dylan's body of work:

Everyone who has any liking for Dylan at all likes some Dylans more than others. I don't at all care for the current torchsong-singing Dylan. The last album I really adored was 2003's "Love and Theft", though there are individual songs on the later albums, particularly Tempest, that I enjoy. But there's a looseness to his later work, a tendency to let songs go on and on with the same rhythm, that doesn't do much for me. My favorite period is the 1970s, the period from roughly Self-Portrait through At Budokan, a period I often prefer in bootlegs and alternate versions of individual songs rather than the album versions, but which also includes my single favorite album, Blood on the Tracks. Maybe it's because I was born the same year as Blood on the Tracks, and maybe it's because I grew up listening to Dylan — but I didn't grow up listening to the '70s Dylan, since my father, the Dylan fan in the house, seemed to have given up on Dylan after he went electric. By the time I entered high school, I knew all the words to the first five albums, but had no idea there were later albums. Those later albums would be a revelation, first with Highway 61 Revisited, then Blood on the Tracks. A friend in college had the first official Bootlegs album, and we listened to it like a secret hymnal. (I feel a bit sad that I heard "official bootlegs" before I ever heard the real boots, but the official ones are pretty great, and now that the Basement Tapes have been released, there are only a handful of unofficial tracks I really love.)

Two somewhat unheralded albums are among my favorites: Hard Rain and World Gone Wrong. Hard Rain is punk Dylan — live recordings in bad weather, with all the instruments going out of tune and the musicians furiously trying to get through their set. That album's versions of "Maggie's Farm" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile..." are especially fierce, but it's all great, wild, angry, dissonant. World Gone Wrong is one of a pair of albums (with Good as I Been to You) that brought Dylan back from the brink and rejuvenated him for some of his later masterpieces. Good as I Been to You is good, but World Gone Wrong somehow goes beyond it, and sometimes vies for position as my favorite Dylan album: it's just Dylan and his guitar, singing old songs. Each track is wondrous, a reinvention that is also a summoning.

I love how much of a magpie Dylan is, a thief and a scoundrel, a channeler of all he's ever heard. I said a year ago, and still say: "Dylan's references, allusions, echoes, riffs, cut-ups, and copies expand his work and connect it to networks of meaning." Also: "Dylan is all poses, all artifice, and he always was. He's not, though, a postmodern ironizer; his earnestness is in the earnestness of his artifice. (His art is real for as long as he performs it.)"

Ahh well, enough of this. Go listen to some songs.

This is hard country to stay alive in
Blades are everywhere and they're breaking my skin
I'm armed to the hilt and I'm struggling hard
You won't get out of here unscarred
It's a long road, it's a long and narrow way
If I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday...
"Narrow Way"


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14. Autumn Creative Harvest

I love Autumn. Absolutely love it! Every day there seems to be so much incentive to create, explore, start new projects--and the holidays are some of the best. This month I'm trying #InkTober (haven't skipped a day yet!), and next month will see me celebrating NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. I've lost count of how many years I've participated in NaNo, but win or lose it's always been a productive experience.

So besides the chance to try out new pens, journals, sketchbooks and unfamiliar materials, some of my other reasons for being crazy for Autumn include:
  1. The weather is near-perfect, quite a bit cooler than summer, but here in New Mexico we can still wear T-shirts in the afternoon. As far as I'm concerned, there's no better time of year for sitting outside to read, write, or paint--especially as all the bugs have magically disappeared.
  2. Along with the more comfortable temperatures, the autumn scenery is magnificent. Talk about inspiration! The colors are at their absolute best: amethyst, pomegranate, yellow gold, black plum, pumpkin orange, and every shade in between.
  3. The stores are full of "back to school" sales; the discounts on stationery and other supplies are massive. Buy those gel pens! Grab those glue sticks!
  4. Some of the best new movies and books are released in the fall. (Which can also be something of a distraction when you're trying to fill pages with your own work.) But giving yourself a few hours to read or watch a new movie makes a good reward for meeting your daily word count.
  5. The flavors of autumn are so conducive to story-telling: spicy warm drinks, buttery cakes and cookies. Just don't forget to go for a nice long autumn walk to burn off the calories!
  6. Misty, foggy, rainy, nippy: my favorite books and stories have always contained a Gothic ambience that I like to include in my own writing. I can't think of a better time to write than when you're cocooned inside against the elements.
  7. Shorter days mean less time to be outside playing or lounging in the yard, which means I have a little extra time to write or draw every night before dinner or before going to bed.
  8. Although the weather can be a bit colder in the morning, it's not too cold to get up and still write my morning pages in relative comfort.
  9. There's a sweet sense of harvest in the air, making this a great season to examine and appreciate what you've accomplished in the previous months. If you find there are still some items on your goal-list, the good news is we all still have time to catch up before the New Year.
  10. I don't know about you, but I always think sweaters and socks are just cozier to wear while writing. (Especially my cat ones.)
  11. Bonfires. The other day at my writing group I tried to explain my memories of Guy Fawkes and the 5th of November, but I guess you have to be from a British background to understand "A penny for the Guy" and why English and Commonwealth children commemorate a centuries-old attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. No matter; fire pits, barbecues, and Homecoming and Halloween bonfires are good American traditions, too, and there's nothing nicer than toasting marshmallows or tofu-dogs on a moonlit autumn night.
  12. Travel--consider taking your WIP or sketchbook to a new and/or foreign setting. The fares are lower, hotels have more rooms available, and most tourists are back at work or back in school. The only problem is choosing where to go!
Whatever season you prefer, each one, or all four, can become the cornerstone of your creativity: painting a single scene in four versions of summer, fall, spring, winter; or using seasonal transitions when you're trying to invoke a sense of time, place and character in your manuscript. Even jewelry and ceramic work can reflect the changing seasons: blues and greens for summer, reds and oranges for fall. Each time of year has its own associations, many of them unique to our own memories and tastes. For me, it will always be autumn, hence my new Autumn Pinterest board. Enjoy the scenery!

Tip of the Day: How about creating a seasonal sketchbook or journal to record your favorite memories? Try some collage, or use natural elements such as leaves or seashells for printing and stamping. Write or draw on toned paper with colored inks. Make each turn of the year a season to remember.

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15. Writer Wednesday: Mixing Exercise with Creativity

When I posted that I've been walking while editing, I had no idea it would get such a reaction from people. To clarify, yes, I'm walking on the treadmill WHILE editing on my laptop. My laptop sits all nice and cozy in the magazine holder on my treadmill. I set my speed at 3.2, which is a nice pace for a walk. Not slow, but not power walking.

Now, I know some of you are wondering how I'm doing this since I fully admit to being accident-prone. To be honest, it's not difficult. Typing keeps me in the perfect position on the treadmill so I can't accidentally trip myself and fall, scraping up both knees so bad I have scars. Not that I've ever done that or that my knees are now covered in purple scars. ;)

But seriously, walking while working (either editing or writing) keeps me focused and feeling creative. You know how when writer's block hits and you feel compelled to step away and take a nice long walk to clear your head? Well, I'm essentially clearing my head while continuing to work! And you know how exercise gets your brain working, which makes you feel more creative? See where I'm going with this? It's amazing. I feel so refreshed and focused when I walk while editing or writing.

So I encourage you to try it if you have a treadmill handy. But please do be careful.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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16. Reflections on Samuel Delany's Dark Reflections


At the Los Angeles Review of Books, I have a new essay about Samuel R. Delany's 2007 novel Dark Reflections, which is about to be released in a new and slightly revised edition by Dover Books. Here's a taste:
In many ways, Dark Reflections is a narrative companion to Delany’s 2006 collection of essays, letters, and interviews, About Writing. In the introduction to that book, Delany says that its varied texts share common ideas, primary among them ideas about the art of writing fiction, the structure of the writer’s socio-aesthetic world both in the present and past, and “the way literary reputations grow — and how, today, they don’t grow.” The book is mainly, though not exclusively, aimed at aspiring writers. It provides some advice on craft, but it circles back most insistently to questions of value, and especially to questions of the difference between good writing and talented writing — and what it means, practically and materially, for a writer to shape a life around an aspiration toward the highest levels of achievement. While About Writing poses and explores these questions, Dark Reflections dramatizes them.
Read more at LARB

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17. Reaping what you Sow in Life and in Writing…

Have you ever stripped a piece of furniture to give it a new life and a fresh purpose? Recently, I finished a project that I’ve been dragging my feet on, and found the process actually refreshing and satisfying. I inherited my late brother’s trunk, which he in turn inherited from our late father. It was sooo dated that it would have made a great prop for a pirate movie. Yet, there was so much history and character to this trunk, I wanted it for a personal challenge, as well as to have a keepsake from my brother and father. So, after being ‘stuck’ as my hubby called it, in the garage since February, I began to seriously work on my trunk at the end of the August.

Honestly, I really, really hate the stripping process. It’s kind of like editing the first draft of your book. You know you have to grin and bear it to remove the gunk, and get to the bones of the story. So you do it. My elbows and hands are still screaming at me! Slowly, but surely, the old red and gold paint peeled off to reveal the trunk’s original color. The poor thing appeared so naked, so exposed, like a newborn baby with bits of after-birth stuck to it. Sorry for the visual, but it’s true.

Next came choosing the new paint color. I wanted to go with a dark brown—mostly to hide all the flaws in the trunk’s body caused by my scraper. Perhaps I used little too much elbow grease. Hubby helped me with this part, carefully spraying the sides, allowing the trunk time to dry, then giving it another coat. Covering the flaws reminded me of the care a writer takes in creating characters. Like the gouges and grooves in my trunk, your characters NEED flaws because readers must feel some sort of connection with them. Readers WANT to cheer on those flawed underdogs, see them scream, watch them change and grow. And when that connection happens, they wholeheartedly invest in your characters and the hell authors drag them through.

Once the paint was completely dry, it was on to varnishing the trunk. Boo-yah! This was a painstakingly long process, done by hand. But there was no turning back now! I did two coats and allowed the varnish time to dry and hardened. Like revising and polishing your book before submitting for publication (self or traditional), the varnishing step protects and gives a glossy finish to the trunk to give it life. This process reflects something every writer needs to do in order to get the best quality book in the hands of their readers.


Finally came the finishing, the piece de resistance. I wanted the trunk to be cedar-lined. Call me anal (hubby did), I don’t care. I wanted to be able to use the trunk to store bedding for guests, as well as double as a coffee table. I’d already invested quite a lot of time and money into this project—think how much time writers invest in their books, and you’ll understand me completely. So I went all in and did it the way I visualized the trunk that I wanted. This was hubby’s job, as he’s a skilled woodworker and finisher. And he didn’t disappoint. The trunk smelled of cedar (love the smell) and had a fresher, cleaner look to it. Truly an improvement my brother and father would have been proud of!

Speaking of improvements, Book #2 of the Last Timekeepers time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret was originally written in 2001. There’s been so many revisions and rewrites to this novel that fifteen years later, I’m so proud of the final product. I do hope you get a chance to check it out when this Timekeeper mission is released on October 17th! So grab your spy gear and suit up, the Timekeepers are going undercover in their next time travel adventure! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!


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18. Simple Writing Tips

Following these few tips will improve your writing greatly.

https://medium.com/an-idea-for-you/the-two-minutes-it-takes-to-read-this-will-improve-your-writing-forever-82a7d01441d1#.qbkfbjbfl

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19. Show, Don't Tell

We've all heard the advice to show, don't tell, but how do you do that?

https://nerdychickswrite.com/2016/07/26/brushing-up-on-show-dont-tell-by-marciecolleen1/

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20. Monday Mishmash: 9/26/16


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. Only One Week Until After Loving You Releases!  I can't believe October 3rd is almost here! 
  2. Editing  I'm finishing up a client edit this week in time for a new one on October 1st.
  3. Two Work Days With Extended Hours  This week my daughter has student council and chorus after school, so thus begins my longer work hours on Tuesdays AND Wednesdays. 
  4. 2017 Publication Schedule  I'm going to be releasing books every two months in 2017. Stay tuned for more information on that this Wednesday.
  5. Fall!  My favorite season is here! I love the smell of fall, specifically the smell of October. October has been my favorite month all my life. There's something special about it.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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21. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.4: Corona 4 typewriter, 1924

Number 4 in this series of 10 Images from my Archives found at my dad's house is my old typewriter... and I mean old typewriter!

Corona Model 4 portable typewriter, 1924 pattern

When I was 16 I discovered the work of the Golden Age illustrators (Rackham, Dulac, Heath-Robinson, Stratton etc). In fact it was a re-discovery really as my mum had kept a couple of compendiums from her childhood that had been illustrated by these artists, but I rarely saw those. It was only in the mid-70's that I began seriously examining children's illustration, Arthur Rackham's work in particular began transporting me to realms of the imagination. Gradually my artwork at school began to take on the iconography of old fashioned ethereal fairy tales, anthropomorphised animals and so on. By the time I reached 6th Form I knew I wanted to be a children's book illustrator, so it was only natural I'd also pursue writing too.

My first attempts at writing children's books had been laughable copies of Enid Blyton adventures, written by hand when I was around 13.... none extended past the first chapter! But by 1977 I was serious, and so managed to persuade my parents to buy me a typewriter.

Of course, what I had in mind was a modern, zippy electric typewriter that I could churn out pages of manuscript. But, ever watchful for a bargain, my mum spotted an ad for something second-hand, and what I ended up with was a Corona 4 manual machine,  released onto the market in 1924. I remember the day we picked this up from a big old house on the private estate, I didn't quite know what to make of it - this wasn't hi-tech! though I fell in love with it's look.



I'd never touched a typewriter before in my life, so the fact the ribbon feed was rusty, you had to bang down the keys so hard it made your fingers ache, or that the 'e' was slightly misaligned didn't bother me, I had no other experience to compare to so just got on with it - it was the only way for me. I felt I was following the route of the great writers, rather than obsolete, it was 'classic'.

While other 18-year olds were discovering pubs, I spent most of my free time typing out my first manuscript In Search of Summer Gold - my one and only attempt at a novel - a long, pretty unpublishable tale of anthropomorphised mice and fairies in the 18th century, a mix of The Wind in the Willows meets The Lord of the Rings, with a good dollop of Brothers Grimm and Peter Pan thrown in for good measure. And of course I illustrated it with highly derivative pen drawings. From a professional level it was not very good and was turned down by two publishers before I eventually shelved it .... but at least it taught me to type!


Later on I used the Corona to type up my degree thesis, and in the early '80's the first issues of the Norwich post-punk fanzine/magazine The Blue Blanket ... banging those keys down with a satisfying smack! smack! smack! as they hit the ribbon, it was the perfect instrument on which to take out frustrations with the world. But thereafter it was retired, and I've never attempted to write a novel again.

It took a battering in the years I used it, 35 years in my dad's loft has not been good to my old stalwart either, but I was very glad to rediscover it there.


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22. Writer Wednesday: A New Release Every Two Months?


Now that I'm officially going indie, I can do exciting things like set my own production schedule. Why is this so exciting? Because over the years, I've had to either months between releases or releases stacked so close together it was tough to market my books. No more.

I have 2017 and 2018 mapped out and my release schedule looks like this:
January 
April 
July 
October

That's two months between releases. Will it be tough? Yes! But I think the schedule is going to keep readers happy, and I work better on a schedule so I think I'll be happy too.

Right now, my January 2017 release is so close to being completely finished (and it's only September!). My April release is with my editor, and I'll be polishing up my July release to get that ready for my editor as well. Things are looking good so far. :)

Do you like when authors release books a few months apart?

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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23. The Six Week Check-in

Many of us are fast approaching the sixth week of school. Many of us consider that the first of countless milestones in our school year. Six weeks in, routines are beginning to solidify,… Continue reading

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24. Writer Wednesday: How to Write Faster

When I announced my release schedule for 2017, it prompted the question "How do you write so fast?" (Thanks for asking Kristin Smith.) I seem to get this question a lot, and I realized that I usually answer it by saying I fast draft. But since the question keeps being posed, I realized my answer up until now hasn't been good enough.

So let me try to explain. My editing schedule tends to fill up very quickly, which means I don't have a lot of time to draft books. I'll get a week or two here and there. Writing "quickly" becomes a necessity. I don't have any other choice. Sometimes I have a log of ideas I haven't yet written and I'll pull one of those out to work on. From there I type as much as possible whenever I can find a few minutes. When I have an editing break, I get the entire school day to write, and I write for the ENTIRE school day. I eat (when I remember) at my laptop, which means I need to eat food that only requires one hand so I can keep typing. I kid you not when I say I'm crazy when drafting. With a capital C. 

Basically, what I've learned is we can train ourselves to adapt. If your schedule requires you to write at ten o'clock at night each night, then do it. You will train your brain to be creative at that time every day. Or if your schedule means a few minutes here and there throughout the day, do it! You will train yourself to be creative on a whim. It does take training though, so when you are struggling, push through. You have to get your brain to that point where it gives in and says, "Fine, let's do this!" So often I tell myself I have to type faster because I have an edit coming in two days and I need to finish the draft first. I'm tough on myself, but that's because I need to be.

So no matter what your schedule is, if you train your brain to be creative when you need it to be, you will be able to write faster.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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25. Resources for New Writers on Publishing and Craft

If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?

Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.

as fast as words could fly image
Image from As Fast As Words Could Fly

Advice for New Writers

In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.

Hooks, Worldbuilding, and Plot

In this Ask the Editor series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award. The advice she shares includes how to hook the reader early, world building in speculative fiction, and refining plot.

The Revision Process

Once you’ve made it to the editing phase, check out this interview with two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the MusicEn pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

The Path to Publication

Every writer’s journey to publication varies, so to share their publishing experience, Authors Debbie Taylor (Sweet Music in Harlem), G. Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty), and LaTisha Redding (Calling the Water Drum) give writers insight on how different the path to publication can be here.

 Additional Resources

We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.

The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.

Picture Book
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.

Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.

Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.

Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
One of the largest organizations dedicated to children’s book writers and illustrators. SCBWI produces bi-monthly national and regional newsletters which list awards, grants and articles pertaining to publishing. See the Bulletin for advice on how to promote your first book.

resources for new writersAs we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:

The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)
Now this might not be a necessity, as real live dictionaries are not out of most writer’s budgets. However, you should give it a try.

Websites specifically for illustrators:

The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature
The NCCIL provides recognition of the artistic achievements of illustrators and gallery exhibition of their works.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art 
Collects, presents, and celebrates the art of the picture book from around the world.

The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.

We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.

 Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!

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