The Pep Talk

My mother bought tickets to a book luncheon the other day. I’d never heard of that, but it’s a place where a lot of women wearing Chico’s mix-and-match outfits spend $60 to eat chicken while listening to an author speak about his or her books. The author in this case was a very nice man who had published twenty books. He told charming stories about writing, including one where he said that when he had a full-time job, he would write from 5 to 7 a.m. and then hop on a train to Manhattan. Hearing him, I felt ashamed. Why wasn’t I getting up two hours early to write? (Confession: on a very good day, I get in 30 minutes. Most of that is journal writing, so I only occasionally attempt fiction.) Then he told a story about writing a short story for a magazine by first reading six months of back issues of the magazine to determine that editorial board’s particular formula. And I thought, “Why haven’t I done that?” And he also talked about getting 250 rejection letters. And I thought, “Why don’t I get more rejection letters?” Finally, I had to stop comparing myself to him because my jimmy leg was making the water glasses tremble and the ladies were eyeing me over their reading glasses.

Failure is one of the main constants in a writing life. You fail when you get a rejection letter. You fail when you only finish two days of National Novel Writing Month. You fail when you aren’t able to get published in The New Yorker, or when you forget to sign up for Breadloaf or AWP, or when you neglect to renew your subscription to Poets & Writers. You can add them up in the self-torturing list you run through late at night. But really, the only way you fail is when you don’t write at all.

Unlike many well-known and well-published writers, most of us do not have the ability to take six months off from work to go write in the mountains. We did not ever land a job teaching to have our summer free. We have year-round professions, kids to raise, dogs to walk and, sometimes, we have TV shows to watch. We have to make a living, because writing fiction or poetry does not typically bring in the big dough. Most of us have jobs that consume two-thirds of our waking hours or more.

You can even fail at writing and still be a writer. There is no such thing as a real writer. You write and get published, you are a writer. You write and don’t get published, you are a writer. If you need to, hold on to the fantasy that your manuscripts will be published posthumously to great critical acclaim. Be sure to keep the best work in a waterproof envelope marked “for Scribner’s after my death.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you do not have to write at all. You should try to write. If an opportunity comes up to have a weekend to yourself or an hour, you could use that to write. Or not. It’s the pressure of the “shoulds” that can destroy your desire and enjoyment. “Should be” writing for five hours on a Sunday. Should be getting up at 5 a.m. Should be published by now. Should have done more than two days of NANO.

Stop. Writing is supposed to be something you like to do, not something you torture yourself with. You don’t have to enjoy it every second, but if it feels like an intrusion or a trial, don’t do it. But if it’s important to see your words moving across a page, write. Do your best at creating some discipline if you can. Your best effort might be five minutes a day. Or only when you’re on the subway in the morning staring at grumpy faces. But five minutes might turn into more. Or not. Five minutes a day for a lifetime is like…a lot of minutes.

Here are some other things you can do: Send out your work. Start a writing group. Sign up for an online class. Take yourself seriously for once in your goddamn life. It’s fine to fail. Most writers fail many, many, many times before they get published. The other secret few writers admit to is that you can get published and still feel like you failed. Failure is a state of mind that can continue on even after very obvious successes.

“Fail and ye shall find.” I think Shakespeare said that. Not many people know this, but along with plays, he also wrote a ton of sci-fi fiction about talking squirrels.* Did any of those stories get published? No, but I believe he loved writing them.

(*I made all that up. I am allowed. I am a writer.)

Are you ready to pursue your MFA

Answer the following questions as honestly as you can. If you say no at any point, stop. You are not suited to pursue your MFA. If you say yes, continue on to the next question.

 

  1. Do you want to be surrounded by other writers of varying temperament, talents, and levels of dedication? Think carefully before you answer. That means people who might fall anywhere on the spectrum of mental well-being from moderately maladjusted to psychotic.

We’re writers. We haven’t necessarily had the best childhoods. We might be better at writing than we are at say, interacting with other humans.

 

We might also be beginners. We might start our stories with “The alarm clock went off.” We might have just graduated college and be stalling before getting a full-time job and so we might write our workshop drafts between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. the night before class. And we might not even feel bad about it.

If you can tolerate these possibilities, continue on to the next question. Because you will also find people in MFA programs who you recognize as kin–people who love the way words sound, who have grown up coveting their library card more than church, who will become some of your best friends or your worst enemies (note: sometimes, in writing programs, the enemies can be the most inspiring. Those you don’t like or envy or fear can push you to do better work).

 

  1. Are you capable of taking criticism of varying levels of sophistication on a weekly basis about the things you hold most dear?

You might have a fantasy that you’ll walk into a workshop and your professor will have brought along her own literary agent, who is dying to sign you based on your manuscript. Fellow writers will be so blown away by your work that they only have a few minor punctuation tweaks and maybe an idea for a different title (one without ellipses). The whole workshop will be a lovefest. No variation on this scenario will ever happen.

 

Workshops are designed to find the places where your writing falters, to pry apart the unconvincing scenes, to ask questions about the premise, the characters, the plot, and the ability of the writer to realistically render any experience.

And not all of it will be well-meaning. Some of your workshop participants will have spent a total of five minutes skimming your work and will say things like, “I feel like the main character should die in a car crash at the end.” If you can hold it together, workshops are also the place where people other than your mom will try to give you the best guidance they can to make your work better.

 

  1. Are you willing to sleep with poets? Unless you are otherwise partnered (and sometimes, even if you are), it is my experience (and scientific research backs me up) that you will be required to have sex with a minimum of two other writers, most likely poets.

You may also develop a slight drinking problem, and you will most certainly doubt your decision to put your life on hold during this time for your own selfishness and desire for fame. You might also meet your life partner, and/or your best friend, as well as a cadre of people willing to read your work at any time for the rest of your days.

And poets can be good in bed, if you can deal with the aftermath (such as hearing about the poet’s version of the experience at a public reading with 50 of your colleagues where your name and physical features have only been slightly altered).

 

  1. Are you at a place in your life where you can take two or three years off from the working world to focus on writing? You don’t have to be 23 to do this. You can have children, other debt, no money, angry family members who want you to go to law school, and you can still do it. I know people who have earned their degrees at all ages and under all kinds of life circumstances. Some of them have gone on to be professors; others have gone on to be bartenders. Some continue to write and get published. Others decide that the whole MFA thing was a phase. All leave with a graduate degree, debt, teaching experience, and a portfolio of work that they never would have otherwise written in that amount of time. The one thing—the main thing about writing programs—is that they force you to write. It is the only time in your life when writing what you love is your job, your singular focus, your daily chore, and possibly your salvation.

 

Have you said yes to all of the above? I left out some parts about sleepless nights, crying jags, difficulty in finding gainful employment after graduation, and the gnawing fear of failure.

 

And maybe, after all of this, you won’t believe me if I tell you that it was the best thing I ever did for myself and I miss it every day.

As If

Are there any topics we cannot write poems about? Can we write about love or death or the soul or suicide or any other abstraction when Shakespeare and Dickinson and Frost and Plath have covered that territory so well already? Can we write about the funeral of our grandmother with her cold hands folded as if in prayer? About losing one’s virginity under a barnacle infested pier with Randy Tempoco? Can we write about walking down a sandy beach at sunset with seagulls squawking after having broken up with a partner who is a total shit heel? Can we use the term “shit heel” in a poem and still be well-regarded by our peers?

I say yes to all. I say yes, but under one condition: we do not write to impress. Often, much of my writing time is taken up not by writing, but rather by daydreaming about how blown away so-and-so might be with the breathtaking, new way I’ve described a man’s nose, sagging as if it were an eggplant on a vine. Or the reaction of the reader to a poem about the death of  beloved pet, how his eyes will cloud until a single tear rolls saltily down his cheek. That’s when I know I am stalling, because instead of focusing on the blank page, I am thinking about how amazing it will be, once it’s actually written.  At the same time, I have to remind myself that much of what I write will get whittled away in revision. The important part of writing is the act itself, at least in the beginning. For this reason, at the start of a project, I can write whatever clichéd nonsense gushes forth, using tired language and imprecise imagery and leaving out the details that matter. Write, write, write.

Then, I leave it for a few days, or move on to another piece that needs work. In revisiting the writing, I’ll often find that it’s better than I remembered, and also worse. I will have described someone’s face as withered and prune-like, or relied heavily on abstract words instead of concrete descriptions. That’s when the hard work begins, first with the act of cutting away the flourishes or trickery, and then getting back to the subject’s precise essence. The fish’s scales are not like rainbows, of course they are not, they are “like ancient wallpaper,/and its pattern of darker brown/was like wallpaper:/shapes like full-blown roses/stained and lost through age” (from Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”).

It is as if I cannot get to the good stuff without first writing the bad. I cannot write about the death of my grandmother without telling of wilted flowers and the head-ache-making smell of magnolias and the flickering candles and the clicking of rosary beads. So, I start there. Instead of trying to force it to be great for my invisible reader, I strive to remember the details of moment, such as the cranky toddler in front of us who sprawled across the pew, showing us her flowered underwear during the Hail Mary’s. This description might not make it into the final piece, but it will be the start of getting to the heart of the moment, so that I can remember it exactly as it was, and not how I think it’s supposed to be.

Breaking Bad Online Habits with…Online Writing Classes

In a desperate attempt to break my writer’s block (most notably my inability to sustain anything without getting sucked into the wormhole of the Internet, Googling phrases like “medieval brassieres” and “who is Demi Moore dating now?”), I signed up for an online writing class.  I was skeptical at first–thinking that it would be some kind of scam or that the writers would be fixated on vampire fiction, but happily, the experience has been extremely positive. The class meets online once a week for ten weeks and costs $450. The one hour chats are focused on a particular reading and on questions of craft. Students chime in with their thoughts via electronic group texts. I thought the conversation would be awkward or unwieldy, but the classes are small (only ten students), and we have a teacher who leads the discussion, and comes to each session with specific questions meant to focus us on reading like a writer. If you happen to miss the class, the instructor also posts a transcript of the whole thing in our electronic classroom.

Additionally, every Saturday, we have a two page writing assignment due, focused on a reading of fiction or poetry (Jane Smiley, Alice McDermott, Mark Halliday to name a few). Since we are all working on the same exercise and read each other’s work, there’s the added bonus of getting to see how other writers approach the shared challenge. For example, this week’s task was to model two pages of writing on Tony Hoagland’s poems “Benevolence” and “Mistaken Identity.” Both poems tackle the idea of writing about someone significant in your life who has transformed into something else. In “Benevolence” the narrator’s alcoholic father has turned into a dog drooling for a whiskey ice cube and “Mistaken Identity” has a stay-at-home mom turned into a biker lesbian. Our assignment then was to do the same–think of someone of significance in your life who has returned in another guise. The range of approaches is great–a bad boss returning as a donkey, a nun morphing into a male prison guard, a blind date bearing an eerie resemblance to the narrator’s dead tabby (that was mine).

We are also asked to comment on at least three of our classmates assignments; just as you would in a live workshop, but more manageable, because the assignments are short (never longer than two pages) and you only technically have to do three peer reviews (or more if you’re an overachiever like some people I could name). The teacher gives feedback on all of the pieces, so you are guaranteed feedback from her, along with at least two or three of the other students. As in real workshops, the student feedback varies–some are praise-filled and offer little to improve, and others pinpoint places where the writing could use work.

Lastly, the quality of the writing from the other students in this beginning craft class is uniformly good (no one, so far, has ended with “it was all a dream…” or made any of the other fledgling mistakes you might see from new writers. This might be because they are individuals who are paying to take the class for no credit; not bored undergrads wanting an “A,” or dabblers with a passing interest in creative writing. Most, I believe, would consider themselves serious writers who want to get all they can from the class and clearly spend time on the assignments, pay attention during the chats, and offer concrete feedback to others. The teacher is also good–she always has an agenda for the chats and her exercises are thoughtful and challenging.

Two downsides exist. One is that because of the truncated length of the weekly assignments, it’s difficult to work on a full length short story. For poets, this may not be a problem–two pages seems manageable for a poem, less so for a short story unless you’re focused solely on micro fiction.  However, if your goal is to get writing, you will emerge from the class with nine beginnings–nine opportunities to start on something new. The other downside is that there’s no guarantee that it will crack your writer’s block. You still have to maintain Nora Robert’s number one rule of writing (“ass in chair”) and since the class is for no credit, and there are no consequences for not doing the assignments, you could easily slip by without doing the work. This, thankfully, has not been the case for me. I am writing. I don’t know if what I end up with will turn into longer pieces, but the weekly deadlines have pushed me out of my Google funk and focused on the page.

Interview with Nomi Eve

[img_assist|nid=11593|title=Henna House|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=100]In 2001, Nomi Eve’s first novel, The Family Orchard. was published by Alfred Knopf with a print run of 100,000. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award. It also received positive reviews from the New York Times, Newsday and Time magazine. Her second novel, Henna House, is being published by Scribner in August. Set in Yemen in the 1920s, it tells the story of a character named Adela and the passions and trials of the Jewish community in Yemen. An excerpt from the novel can be previewed at nomi-eve.com. Eve, 46, is a lecturer in the creative-writing program at Bryn Mawr College. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.
 She spoke with Philadelphia Stories about her new novel, Henna House, out in August.

Your latest novel, Henna House, is set in the community of Yemenite Jews in the mid-twentieth century. What was the inspiration for it?

My father is from Israel.  A close cousin of his married a Yemenite woman.  She is like an aunt to me.  Her family lived through much of the history that I write about.  I grew up visiting her in her kitchen in Israel, eating her delicious food, listening to her wonderful stories.  She inspired me to write Henna House.

Did it take fourteen years to write?

After my first book, The Family Orchard, came out, I had three babies in four years!   I stayed home with my kids and only started writing again when our youngest went to kindergarten.  That was four years ago.  It took me two years to write Henna House.  It was bought by Scribners two years ago.  You do the math 🙂

I must confess I knew nothing about the history of henna and body art. What led you to these subjects?

Most people think of henna as a purely Indian tradition, but the Jews from the Arab lands have their own precious henna life cycle rituals.  The more I learned about the traditional Yemenite Jewish experience, the more I fell in love with their henna stories, henna rituals, and life-cycle ceremonies.
Based upon the selection I read, you have a good feel for bringing the past alive. I was quite taken by the Confiscator and the Orphan’s Decree. What is your process for bringing to life characters who lived in other times and cultures?

I always tell my students to write scenes, not summaries.  I try to posit my characters in vivid scenes — and I use dialogue and sensory writing to make people come alive. Also, when I write, I travel through time and space.  I’m actually there with my characters, long ago and far away.  My imagination makes it very vivid for me, and I hope for my readers as well.

How does teaching and raising a family fit in with the writing life?

When I first started to write again, I made myself an office on our third floor.  I was so happy with that little office, it was my own private space with all my books, my computer, my artifacts that inspire me to write.  But what happened is that I never would make it up there to that third floor.  My kids were always all over me, and it was impossible to climb up the stairs to my work.  I realized that I was deluded to think that my writing life was separate from my life as a mother.  I brought my computer down to our kitchen and started to write.  I found that I could write amidst the busy hubbub of our family.  Actually, I found that my children were an inspiration.  So, that’s how I work — in the midst of it all.  All these years later, my computer is still in our kitchen and if I’m writing while my kids are in the room they sometimes read over my shoulder or ask me about the people and places I am making up. 

What kind of novel is Henna House? How important are genre distinctions to you?

Henna House is historical fiction, but at its heart is a knot of thorny love stories.  Genre distinctions aren’t all that interesting to me when I am writing.  I don’t choose to write in any particular genre.  It’s only when a book is done and other people start talking about your book, that it seems to need to fit into some kind of category.

How does living in the Philadelphia area affect your writing?

I write about places that are very very far away, both temporarily and spatially.  Philadelphia nurtures me as a human being.  I live here, am raising my kids here, and love the city, but my art always comes from elsewhere.  I think its helpful for me to posit my fiction in other places.  It’s much easier for me to make things up if they aren’t right in front of my face.  Reality limits my creative process.  I’m a much better artist when the reality I’m fashioning doesn’t resemble my own.

Do you see yourself writing in any tradition? Can you name a few writers that have influenced you?

I am an eclectic reader.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton, Harper Lee, Pat Conroy, Ann Patchette, Jeffrey Eugenides, are just a few of my literary heroes.

Has being a teacher affected your own writing?

Teaching forces me to be self aware as a writer.  As a writer, I have a metaphorical toolbox.  I use the tools in this toolbox to write my books.  As a teacher, I have to figure out how to make a box of invisible tools visible to my students.  In the process of doing this, I wrestle with thorny problems that trip me up in my own writing.  I become a better writer as a result, and I hope, a better teacher too.

You can meet Nomi Eve at Doylestown Books (16 South Main Street, Doylestown) on August 16 at 2:30pm and at Main Point Books (1041 West Lancaster Road, Bryn Mawr) on September 11.

Interview with Nomi Eve

In 2001, Nomi Eve’s first novel, The Family Orchard was published by Alfred Knopf with a print

run of 100,000. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and was nominated for a National Jewish

Book Award. It also received positive reviews from the New York Times, Newsday and Time

magazine. Her second novel, Henna House, is being published by Scribner in August. Set in Yemen

in the 1920s, it tells the story of a character named Adela and the passions and trials of the Jewish

community in Yemen. An excerpt from the novel can be previewed at nomi-eve.com. Eve, 46, is a

lecturer in the creative-writing program at Bryn Mawr College. She lives in Philadelphia with her

family.


Your latest novel, Henna House, is set in the community of Yemenite Jews in the mid-twentieth

century. What was the inspiration for it?

My father is from Israel. A close cousin of his married a Yemenite woman. She is like an aunt to me.

Her family lived through much of the history that I write about. I grew up visiting her in her kitchen in

Israel, eating her delicious food, listening to her wonderful stories. She inspired me to write Henna

House.

Did it take fourteen years to write?

After my first book, The Family Orchard, came out, I had three babies in four years! I stayed home with

my kids and only started writing again when our youngest went to kindergarten. That was four years ago.

It took me two years to write Henna House. It was bought by Scribners two years ago. You do the math

🙂

I must confess I knew nothing about the history of henna and body art. What led you to these

subjects?

Most people think of henna as a purely Indian tradition, but the Jews from the Arab lands have their own

precious henna life cycle rituals. The more I learned about the traditional Yemenite Jewish experience,

the more I fell in love with their henna stories, henna rituals, and life-cycle ceremonies.

Based upon the selection I read, you have a good feel for bringing the past alive. I was quite taken

by the Confiscator and the Orphan’s Decree. What is your process for bringing to life characters

who lived in other times and cultures?

I always tell my students to write scenes, not summaries. I try to posit my characters in vivid scenes–

and I use dialogue and sensory writing to make people come alive. Also, when I write, I travel through

time and space. I’m actually there with my characters, long ago and far away. My imagination makes it

very vivid for me, and I hope for my readers as well.

How does teaching and raising a family fit in with the writing life?

When I first started to write again, I made myself an office on our third floor. I was so happy with that

little office, it was my own private space with all my books, my computer, my artifacts that inspire me to

write. But what happened is that I never would make it up there to that third floor. My kids were always

all over me, and it was impossible to climb up the stairs to my work. I realized that I was deluded to

think that my writing life was separate from my life as a mother. I brought my computer down to our

kitchen and started to write. I found that I could write amidst the busy hubbub of our family. Actually, I

found that my children were an inspiration. So, that’s how I work–in the midst of it all. All these years

later, my computer is still in our kitchen and if I’m writing while my kids are in the room they sometimes

read over my shoulder or ask me about the people and places I am making up.

What kind of novel is Henna House? A romance? Historical? Literary? How important are genre

distinctions to you?

Henna House is historical fiction, but at its heart is a knot of thorny love stories. Genre distinctions aren’t

all that interesting to me when I am writing. I don’t choose to write in any particular genre. It’s only

when a book is done and other people start talking about your book, that it seems to need to fit into some

kind of category.

How does living in the Philadelphia area affect your writing?

I write about places that are very very far away, both temporarily and spatially. Philadelphia nurtures me

as a human being. I live here, am raising my kids here, and love the city, but my art always comes from

elsewhere. I think its helpful for me to posit my fiction in other places. It’s much easier for me to make

things up if they aren’t right in front of my face. Reality limits my creative process. I’m a much better

artist when the reality I’m fashioning doesn’t resemble my own.

Do you see yourself writing in any tradition? Can you name a few writers that have influenced you?

I am an eclectic reader.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton, Harper Lee, Pat

Conroy, Ann Patchette, Jeffrey Eugenides, are just a few of my literary heroes.

Has being a teacher affected your own writing?

Teaching forces me to be self aware as a writer. As a writer, I have a metaphorical toolbox. I use the

tools in this toolbox to write my books. As a teacher, I have to figure out how to make a box of invisible

tools visible to my students. In the process of doing this, I wrestle with thorny problems that trip me up

in my own writing. I become a better writer as a result, and I hope, a better teacher too.

You can meet Nomi Eve at Doylestown Books (16 South Main Street, Doylestown) on August 16 at

2:30 pm and at Main Point Books (1041 West Lancaster Road, Bryn Mawr) on September 11.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rae Pagliarulo, Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize Winner

[img_assist|nid=11470|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=99|height=134]After a ten-year period when she didn’t submit her work for publication, Rae Pagliarulo won the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry with “Hide and Seek.” The Philadelphia native spoke with us to discuss the craft of poetry, embarrassing early drafts, her career in the nonprofit field, and what keeps her writing. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post Blog, as well as West Chester University’s Daedalus: A Magazine of the Arts. She holds a BA from West Chester University, and is happily working towards her MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College.

Congratulations on winning the The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry! Any thoughts on winning the prize?

It came as a complete shock! I was certainly happy enough with my work to send it out for consideration, but to learn that it won first place, especially among such a talented group of writers, was humbling to say the least. It was also the first time I put anything I wrote out for public view in 10 years, so it was more than a little validating that I’m on the right path with working towards my MFA.

Did you have the ending for “Hide and Seek” set before you began the poem or did it grow out of various drafts?

The ending definitely slipped out of me very quietly. It came after the brunt of the piece had been written, after I realized what exactly I was trying to say.

One of the features of your work is your attention to physical details; how did you come by this skill?

I’m an introvert, and I always observe my surroundings carefully. I will say that, with this poem, I was lucky. As background, I live in the house that my dad grew up in with his mother. I knew her, but she died when I was young. After my dad and I renovated the house, I moved in with my best friend, and she and her entire family are very tuned in to “the other side” and people who have passed. We both felt my grandmother’s presence in the house at first, but after a while, I stopped feeling her around. One night, we were talking, and out of nowhere, I smelled her. I think it was her perfume or hairspray. I said, “I can smell Grandmom right here, but nowhere else. How weird is that?” And she responded, “Not weird at all – you’re standing in the place she is every night when I turn out the light in the hallway before I go to bed.” I was so stunned that, even though she was my Grandmom, my roommate could feel her, even see her, better than I could. A few days later in class, my poetry professor gave us the prompt “lost and found,” and all I could think about finding was Grandmom. I simply had to walk around the house to figure out where she might be hiding. The physical details in the poem are things I live with and use every single day.

How has your academic and non-profit experience affected your writing?

Back in college I found it easy to write because I had seemingly unlimited time to “navel-gaze” and roll over things in my head. The work of life, and of work itself, makes that time harder and harder to come by. Once I realized I wouldn’t have endless hours on a park bench to whittle a poem together in my head, I learned how to carve out pockets of time, and how to be creative in the time I had available. Poetry really helps with my work, too – being creative and economical comes in handy when I’m writing a grant with strict word counts!

Are there any similarities in writing blogs and writing poetry?

The blogs I’ve written have mostly been professional, so they have to be persuasive in a way. The point I’m making is on behalf of a larger goal, like gaining support for an organization or cause. While the things I know about poetry help me in all my writing, I think style is the only similarity. Writing without a point to be made frees you up to see what else can happen.

What are some of your favorite books of poetry?

Nicole Blackman’s Blood Sugar” made me realize the power of a good poem many years ago. She certainly helped me cut my teeth on writing. I also spent years worshipping the Beats and the Nuyorican Poets. These days, I’m very into Sharon Olds. But, I will admit that I’m a glutton for memoirs and go absolutely nowhere without a good one in my bag. Lately it’s been The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham or A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill.

What motivates you to write?

Writing is how I best communicate with the world. If I’m not writing a poem or an essay for class, I’m writing a grant proposal for work, or a sappy diary entry about an awful day I had. I’m constantly writing, or talking. If I can’t get everything out of my head, things pile up and get very messy. It’s one of the downfalls of being a “creative” person. It’s hard to turn it off.

During school, I do what I call “listening for the ping.” We get so many prompts and ideas from professors and one another, and every once in a while, I hear one and something goes “ping.” That’s when ideas start sticking together and I roll them around in my head like it’s a big rock tumbler. I think a lot before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Usually the first written draft I put out is the fifth or sixth mental draft of that piece.

How do you know when you’re finished with a poem?

In high school, I knew I was done when I wrote it out by hand without any mistakes. Honestly. I was a little OCD, I think. These days, I just wait until it feels like there’s nothing more I can say. It’s a feeling. Reading it out loud helps a lot, too. When it feels good coming out of my mouth, I can walk away from it feeling accomplished.

Does music influence your writing?

I don’t know if it influences me, but I have it on constantly. I’m sure it seeps in, and I definitely have different kinds for different situations. At work, it’s upbeat indie rock, at home, it’s mopey singer-songwriters, and while I’m in the middle of a project, it’s piano jazz.

How long does it take for you to write a poem?

That depends on the poem and how we feel about each other. I recently revisited something I wrote in 2004, so that one was clearly a long game I didn’t know I was playing! Recently, though, it’s been around three days: days one and two are to think and roll ideas and pick words and recite them over and over in my mind, then I spend an hour or two on day three to get it out and clean it up.

What do you think of when you’re writing a poem?

Is anyone going to know what the hell I’m yammering about? Ooh, that’s a nice word, I should use that in Scrabble. Should I italicize or quote my dialogue? Do I even need dialogue? I think pizza will help me finish this. Hawaiian, definitely.”

How long have you been writing poetry?

I have a highly embarrassing notebook full of poems that dates back to 1996. I also used to publish poems in my high school literary magazine under the pen name Trixie Magpie, because I thought, as a little goth-rock-listening, poetry-obsessed, fishnet-covered teenager in a North Philly Catholic girls’ school, I simply wasn’t sticking out enough.

Do you have any regular process for writing poems?

I don’t know if you’d call it a process. I always type instead of write, because my brain moves too fast for a pen to keep up with. I think I imagine I’m talking to someone in a small room when I write. I want my poems to feel intimate, like I’m telling you something I shouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urgent Hymn

[img_assist|nid=11508|title=Amy Lemmon|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=118|height=118]The sonnet is a paradox: fixed yet flexible, consistent yet versatile. It’s one of the most lasting modes of literary expression, dating back to the 13th Century writer Francesco Petrarca. I’ve been thinking about sonnets a lot lately. As more animated gifs, emoticons, and emoji creep into daily life, supplanting not only words but complex feelings, what’s the sonnet’s role? What can Twitter bards and emerging writers learn from the conventions and puzzles of sonnets?

For insight into this rich tradition, I turned to Amy Lemmon, author of two poetry collections: Fine Motor (Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Press, 2008) and Saint Nobody (Red Hen Press, 2009) and co-author with Denise Duhamel of ABBA: The Poems (Coconut Books, 2010) and Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation (Slapering Hol Press, 2011). Her work has been featured in Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, The Journal, Barrow Street, just to name a few. An “omniformalist,” Amy writes convincingly in traditional forms, free verse, and everything in-between. Her work was included in the exciting anthology Hot Sonnets (Entasis Press, 2011), edited by Moira Egan and Clarinda Harriss. Amy is a Professor of English at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she encourages students to explore the intersections of visual art, music, and writing. On a sun-soaked April night, we met in Queens, New York, and discussed the enduring legacy, misconceptions, and permutations of sonnets.

Margot Douaihy: Do you remember the first sonnet that spoke to you or stood out in a unique way?

Amy Lemmon: Yes. There are about 154 of them. I was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, and I was taking a course called “Bibliography and Research.” The professor was a Shakespearian scholar, and he had us read all of the sonnets. We did all kinds of edgy readings of them, and there was a lot of gender-based inquiry, as well as the motions of scholarship. It was great education for me at the time, and that’s when I first started writing in form. I had already started writing in blank verse at the suggestion of Andrew Hudgins, who was my professor in my poetry workshop. It just seemed like a natural step. I wrote a couple of sonnets after that, but it wasn’t until I connected with a group of women poets [via a listserv] and we wrote a crown of sonnets together. That’s when I felt like I hit my stride with it.

Do you feel like the energy of the collective crown opened up a new kind of exploration?

Definitely. And, as you know with the crown, the last line of one sonnet becomes the first line of the next. So we were writing poems with each other, but in our own voices. It was really interesting and so much fun for me. I got hooked.

 How important is it to have that fidelity to either the Shakespearian or the Petrarchan style?

I would say it depends on the situation. When I was first writing sonnets, all I knew was that the poem had to be 14 lines; it was supposed to be iambic pentameter; and there are a couple different ways you could rhyme it. I am a real fan of the “snap” of that closing couplet. I’m kind of what Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes would call an “omniformalist,” writing in (or creating) the form that works for what you are doing at the moment. I think that there’s something to be said for starting with the idea, “I am going to do a series of Petrarchan sonnets.” It’s a great exercise. And then, when I collaborated with Denise Duhamel, the “ABBA” poems, [it confirmed] that the iambic pentameter is just there for me. It’s always there — always something that felt comfortable to me. But then I think of the sonnet form that was invented by Ernest Hilbert, a poet who lives in Philadelphia. Daniel Nester dubbed it, “The Hilbertian sonnet.” Basically, it’s sort of a hybrid of the Petrarchan and the Shakespearian. It has sestets, and then it has a couplet at the end. When I wrote my poem “Asymptotic,” it’s actually dedicated to him.

Who else is innovating in this space?

Kim Addonizio. Wyn Cooper. Quincy R. Lehr. Kathrine Varnes. Moira Egan and Clarinda Harriss. Jessica Piazza. Wyn Cooper’s book, Chaos is the New Calm, consists of 50 14-line poems he calls “sonnets,” though they don’t use the traditional meter and rhyme schemes. He visited my Poetry Writing class at FIT yesterday, and he told us that after writing the “postcard poems” that ended up in his book Postcards from the Interior, he started spontaneously writing 14-line poems. After writing 300, “they just ended.” What he does is so interesting; most of the poems are very short lines, shorter than pentameter. He also plays with stanza. He is mixing it up as much has he possibly can. He wanted there to be no repeats, in terms of the form. He wanted every poem to be different, which is what he accomplished. And Kim Addonizio’s latest book of poems is called Lucifer at the Starlight. She takes “Lucifer in Starlight” by George Meredith, and she rewrites it. It’s a dramatic monologue spoken by Lucifer, and she turns him into a guy at a bar, which is just so Kim. She also has a great sonnet called “Stolen Moments” where she uses the work “orange,” which, of course, has no rhyme in the English language. She rhymes it with “fridge,” and it totally works. She makes it work. She is somebody who’s played a lot with the meter. She plays fast and loose with it, but she knows it. The thing about Kim, when she does something, it’s deliberate. She’s doing it on purpose. Her craft is really, really top notch.

It’s tight. 

But at the same time, there may be looseness in the lines. She’s kind of the master of the slant rhyme. Again, think “orange” and “fridge.” She deliberately put the word orange in there.  

Do you feel that there’s a psychological advantage to slant rhyme?

That’s a great question. There is an ease of composition that comes from knowing that you have it at your disposal. It’s something I love to teach my students, because they feel enslaved to rhyme. Then they end up rhyming slant, anyway. So when I tell them, “You have your poetic license. You can do that,” it helps. And often what they come up with is actually more interesting.

Do you feel like there’s a growing appetite or hunger for sonnets right now?

As a teacher of undergraduate writers, I can tell you that some of them come to it on their own. The compression of the 14 lines is really compelling to them. It’s something that seems manageable. I just had a student write a villanelle, which she had apparently learned in high school. It was in trimeter; she wasn’t using pentameter, so it was really short lines. But it was a good poem!

Does formal poetry offer a different playing field for writers?

Definitely. Anything that offers guidelines — and guidance — is helpful. I return to Wyn and his Chaos is the New Calm. Everybody knows chaos. Everybody is feeling chaos. In a chaotic experience, whatever that might be, whether it’s societal, whether it’s personal, it’s good to have that. Molly Peacock has written about her experiences in very tight form poems. To write about chaotic, very difficult family experiences, the constriction helped. It was like a container that was enabling her to handle the material. It was the asbestos gloves that she needed to handle the volatile material. I think a lot of the younger writers that I am teaching experience it that way. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with after reading Wyn Cooper — his fractal and exploded sonnets. They are special.

What advice might you give to someone sitting down to write a sonnet — specifically someone who is relatively new to the form? Would you have any particular words of support or wisdom?

I’ll say what Wyn said yesterday in my class, “Read.” Read Berryman’s sonnets. Read the sonnet sequences by Meredith and Rossetti. Read Kim Addonizio and Marilyn Taylor. Read Karen Volkman. Read A.E. Stallings, who shines by sticking to the rules, and Sandra Simonds, who reinvents them. Read the sonnets that are strict. Read the ones that are veering off from the constraints. Obviously, read Shakespeare. You’ll get that music in your ear, and then you’ll make it your own. You’ll see what you have to say to add to that conversation, because it’s a long conversation. It’s a long and rich and varied and contentious — in many cases —conversation. People take their sonnets really seriously.

Do you take your sonnets seriously?

I try to. I try not to take the writing of it too seriously, though, so that I don’t block myself from finishing it. You have to think: “Okay. I see this. I can do this.” And then you go off and solve the problem.

Solve the problem? Do all sonnets solve a problem?

Yes. I think so.

How do you keep your sonnets so nimble and agile? What’s your recipe?

That’s a great compliment. And I’m glad that you see them that way. I have to remain flexible [with the form], or else I’m going to completely silence myself. You have to. When I write a poem, my spirit has to be in it, or else I’m not going to finish it. That’s just kind of the way I work. For example, in “Asymptotic” — which is in “Hot Sonnets,” — there was an occasion that I felt needed that specific form. And I also wanted to use it as an homage to Ernest [Hilbert], “onlie begetter” of what Daniel Nester called the Hilbertian Sonnet. And it fit.   

Is it fun? Is writing sonnets fun?

[Laughter] Fun? It’s satisfying.

Thinking about the compression of form, and knowing that you have an evangelical background, does the sonnet feel reminiscent of a prayer? 

I would say it’s more like the hymn than a prayer. Hymns are prayers, too, because you’re using music along with the words to pray. My family stopped going to church for awhile when I was in junior high, but we did these little services at home, when I was a teenager. We had all these old hymn books. The family gathered around and would sing. Hymns are really ingrained in me. And, of course, that was the meter that Dickinson used. All of that informed me.

I find that when something satisfies a person’s need for repetition or musicality, it feels like putting a hand in a glove. It fits. There’s utility.

Beautifully put. That’s a great metaphor. There is utility. There’s comfort. And aesthetics, as well.  

Is there crossover with your formal poetic projects and music? 

Music is one of the most important forms of art in my life. It’s in my DNA. At my house we had my great-grandmother’s piano, handed down so that I could play. I started lessons when I was six. My musical background made form so natural to me, so when I started being told I could write in form it wasn’t much of a stretch. When I went to college, everyone was doing these free verse poems, and you didn’t really do form. It wasn’t done, right? So, when I go the “permission” from my professors in graduate school it felt very comfortable to me. Plus, my father had all of these anthologies of the classics. He would read Noyes’ The Highwayman, and Emerson’s Concord Hymn. And we’d have all these poems. And Kipling. Oh, my God. He loved Kipling. He read that to us. So, with all of this, it came naturally.  

Why do readers respond so strongly to repetition?

First of all, the human ear — the human body — is trained for rhythm. The heartbeat in the iamb, and the breath. Music is a physical — it’s all about the body. It’s natural. I think about the history of how poetry started, with the bards, as an oral art. You had to have repetition, you had to have rhythm to memorize and remember. That was sort of a mnemonic device, too.

In your mind, what makes a sonnet radical?

Hmm. I’ve always loved the definition of radical as “root.” It has to have close to 14 lines. There could be 13 or 15. It has to have some allusion to rhyme and meter. That’s the radical root of a sonnet. And, there has to be a lyric impulse — a strong emotion that has a need to be expressed. That has to be in there somewhere. They may tell little stories. There may be little anecdotes. There may be a joke quality to it, right? It may be a dream song. But it has to have a sense of urgency.

Last question: do we need sonnets?

I can’t imagine life without them. And I think it depends on who you mean by “we.” In the English language, there’s nothing more lasting. There are very few forms that have stood the test of time. And it didn’t even start in English. I think we have to go back to the origins — what the meaning of sonnet is. Sonnet means little song. And then, I also think about the word stanza, which means room. I think of the wonderful Wordsworth sonnet “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room.” Roberta Allen’s assertion about micro fiction, that the compact story is “a container for change,” applies here. A container for change; a sonnet is that, exactly.

 For more information:

Kim Addonizio

http://www.kimaddonizio.com

Wyn Cooper

http://www.wyncooper.com

Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes’s Omniformalism

http://anniefinch.com/omniformalism-revisited/

• Amy Lemmon

http://saint-nobody.blogspot.com

•  Sina Queyras

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/03/to-sonnet-to-son-net-tuscon-net/

•  Sandra Simonds

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2012/08/shouldnt-the-sonnet-.html  

http://housefirebooks.com/four-sonnets-poetry-by-sandra-simonds/

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/12/poetry/three-simmons2012

 

 

 

Tricking Your Monkey Mind into Writing

When do you have time to write in your day? Is it at 6 a.m. when everyone but the dog is asleep? Or midnight, when the same rule applies? Lunch time? Or maybe it’s not really a matter of time (confess–you spend at least some of your free time skimming blog articles, or seeing if your ex has any new Facebook photo updates of his ugly baby); maybe it’s a matter of only thinking you want to be a writer, without, you know, actually writing anything.

I’m in a phase like that now, a kind of long one— years even. But I also know myself fairly well. When I decide on a project, I can be committed, though I need both a schedule, a daily practice, and a specific goal in mind, even if it’s just writing for a certain number of days in a row (note: this does not apply to National Novel Writing Month). I know that some people totally get into the challenge of writing five billion words a day for one of the longest months in the year, but I personally find it just a short cut to self-loathing (to offer an inspirational aside, I read recently that David Foster Wallace wrote the first draft of Infinite Jest during NaNo *).

I can’t seem to write unless I have a deadline pressing like a vulture on my back. I have found, however, that I respond to made up challenges and deadlines. You’ll have to find out what motivates you—praise from others, reaching a certain word count, jealousy that yet another story by Josh Ferris has been accepted in The New Yorker–but here are a few suggestions for making sure writing is part of your daily life:

1. Sign up for 750words.com. This is a free, private blog that counts your words for you (750 words a day being the goal), and gives you these badges when you reach certain goals. You can sign up for monthly challenges or just track your word count. You can sign up for daily email reminders and see your progress. The site also gives you a peek into your subconscious mind, showing what words you use the most, and what your themes seem to be given those words.

2. Enter a writing a contest with a deadline. Philadelphia Stories offers two: the Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction and The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Pick up a copy of Poet’s and Writers and you’ll  find plenty of other contests to spur you on.

3. Take a class. Temple’s Continuing Education program has night classes in various genres, and so do many other universities around the tri-state area. If you have a little extra money and are free in the evenings, a weekly class where you can talk to other writers, have specific writing assignments, and get feedback can be highly motivating. You can find a whole list on this very website here. Downside: some courses cost more than others and require you to be registered in a program. In that case, consider looking for a writing group that meets regularly in your area. Most of those are free, though  depending on the group, you may find that the participants tend to talk less about writing and more about their personal lives.

4. Sign up for Internet blocking apps
. If your main problem is a lack of focus and attention while trying to write–if you’re like me and will latch onto any excuse to stop writing and Google something (for example, “best fiction writing apps”), you might find it useful to try an online tool that will temporarily disallow you from tweeting a pithy line of text you’ve just written or checking your email to see if you have any more holiday coupons from Pottery Barn. Anti-Social, FocusWriter, and Think are three of the ones I found while distracting myself from writing this article by reading this article.
Those are my suggestions, but do whatever it takes. Butt in the chair, that’s the first rule. Then, go.

(*This is a made-up fact, i.e. fiction).

Aimee LaBrie received her MA in writing from DePaul University in 2000 and her MFA in fiction Penn State in 2003. Her collection of short stories, Wonderful Girl, won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction in 2007 and was published by the University of North Texas Press.Other stories of hers have been published in Minnesota Review, Pleiades, Quarter After Eight, Iron Horse Literary Review, and numerous other literary journals. Her short story, “Ducklings” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Pleiades.

Don Bajema’s Hero

Great writing has heart. It really is that simple, although it’s not easy. Former world- class athlete, Don Bajema, presents a ‘Baby Boomers’ generation that is wide-eyed and innocent. His self-styled anti-hero, Eddie Burnett, is taken to the horrible edge of things — but Bajema stops there, allowing the reader to bear witness and Burnett to make up his own mind.

Winged Shoes and a Shield (City Lights Booksellers, Fall 2012) follows the track and field star-turned-dropout’s trajectory through diaphanous rites of adulthood, dysfunctional family life, drug and spousal abuse, and the terrible reality of American racism — all under the specter of the draft for the Vietnam War. Bajema’s take on the dire nature of our national character during “Sunrise in America” is crushing, but there is always a choice offered in his work. His hero strives to remain beautifully awake. Don Bajema’s hero has heart.


1.    I’m quite struck by the innocence of some of your characters and point-of-views.  Their attitudes and perceptions seem to be from a more innocent time –almost like the adolescent idealism that was somehow forgotten in the generations following baby boomers, after what I would call “Sunrise in America.”

I think I’ve done all I can to deliberately retain innocence and an adolescent idealism in my life and work. Trauma fixes personalities in time and place and from ages 13 to 20, I saw that generation I write about — a perspective I will forever view the world from.  As the Kennedys, King and X were murdered, I saw riots, burned cities, dogs set on kids, and National Guardsmen open up on peaceful if vociferous protesters. I watched our military annihilate hundreds of thousands in a country of farming peasants, commit massacres of villages and napalm children running naked in dirt roads.  Then I was told Vietnam was our tragedy, and I watched my generation buy that lie, while I refused to believe it and became ‘unpatriotic ‘– an epithet I cherish since I am not a patriot.  We saw cops billy-clubbing hundreds of kids, watched the FBI pull civil rights workers out of swampy dams, saw churches bombed. We had grown up in duck-and-cover drills but saw nothing and no means to alleviate this stupidity and arrogance, wastefulness and corruption in our society. My perspectives are at once innocent and outraged.

I’ve felt sorry for the existence and fate of every generation that followed mine, knowing full well that I, and my generation, have failed miserably to realize the glimpse of what it could have been. 

2.    What do you think is a fundamental difference between the once-hopeful ‘flower power’ movement of the 60’s and subsequent generations? Are things more or less dire now?  

I think these are the best of times and the worst of times. I think the 60’s are perceived in error as the ‘flower power’ era. Nobody bought that flower in your hair nonsense.  That’s Wall Street advertising and appropriation. The Beatles were laughing behind “All you need is love.” We fought in the streets. Our rebellion was an affront to the police and dangerous as hell in most of the country. These times are worse in that we are at the beginning of ecological collapse, deprivation and constant foreign and domestic war in battlefields from Sandy Hook to the Middle East and back again. 

3.    Your perspectives, “at once innocent and outraged”, are very similar to Eddie Burnett’s.

I’m better at busting a lie than telling the truth. I don’t think we can know the truth. The world and our existence is chaos. We do all we can to delude ourselves, personally and through agreed upon delusions like government and the economy, to go forward in an overcrowded and unmanageable zoo. A zoo that is our overpopulated planet and a circus in which we observe it. Is there hope? Yes, if we just face the fact we are highly- complex primates conscious of our own mortality and freaked out by it. We do not have a god, we are not created in Superman’s image. Science cannot save us and most of our beliefs are ridiculous, especially any ones that are even remotely religious. But we are a very, very young species and we grow exponentially in intelligence if not in emotional compassion. 

Eddie and I in respect to these qualities? Yes, I think they are inseparable. So, the short answer is yes.

4.    The choice to remain “innocent” despite the horror and atrocities of the world, to choose good or to champion the inherent good within our human nature is quite insane, considering what is going on in the world around us.  

It does run contrary to the ‘fight or flight’ concept to champion, that which generates, protects, or provides for love and life, to be kind, to be generous, to be willing to extend these qualities first, in any given situation, is to be regarded or open to suspicion that one is weak, or a sucker.

I used to tell athletes enjoying their newly discovered power, and this is also true ethically and spiritually, that ‘strength gives the option to be kind’ but nobody ever knew what I was talking about.

It’s our values — as much as one’s neurosis or another. People want it simplified, and it’s the singular ego that holds sway over their thoughts and actions, especially in a competitive context. Yes, nature appears to be competitive but it’s really a kind of dance. Self-interest is important but it shouldn’t be paramount in our psyche. Nice guys finish last and “the meek shall inherit the earth” but to be meek is to be despised. For me, it’s war or not war, and my choice is not war. Which doesn’t mean if you invade my home with bad intentions I won’t go for it, but, and I have been in various potentially disastrous circumstances, — given the chance, I’ll opt for kindness every time.

The whole question of any individual and the world is a tale of heroic struggle, and I think a lot about Faulkner’s comment, “the only story worth telling is the story of the human heart in conflict with itself.”

5.    The inside look into Eddie Burnett in Winged Shoes and a Shield reveals the troubles of a seemingly well-adjusted athlete, at least you would think he’s well adjusted, — a star on the track and field, an operator like his dad, — but then you find out his back story, and all is not as rosy as it appears. Burnett is a winner, celebrated for his athleticism. He is victorious and stoic on the outside but, within, he is both too sensitive and too scared to admit it.

Jim, you are 100 percent right. Eddie Burnett’s and my own challenges are derived and contorted by being at once too sensitive and too afraid to admit it. 

6.    In Too Skinny, Too Small, your latest work, we find an adult, if not grown up, Eddie Burnett as a mega football star in a bloated and self-important NFL.

Too Skinny Too Small was a disappointment as an experiment. I found myself too nauseated by the values of the corporate game and industry of the sport, and the ignorance and appalling lack of compassion and voyeuristic jack-off of the fans, commentators, and just about every disgusting value the game has to offer that I bummed out hard on the topic. But I’ll keep writing it to a conclusion. I overwrite when I am unclear of what I want to convey. Basically, I’m predicting the inevitable, on field, nationally televised death that will occur fairly soon on your blog.

Too Skinny Too Small is going to make a reappearance during the play-offs.

I enjoy writing on Going For The Throat and I like the idea of people being able to read it off of a blog.  I’m not sure where it’s going to go but I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens.

7.    What can you tell us about your writing process?  What does a day of writing look like for you?  You once said to me, “Never try to please your audience”.

Carmen and I both work and we have two young kids, so I write when I can. Frequently late at night or early in the morning. I used to write listening to music, but lately I haven’t been and find that I write better without it.

Music, for me, even if I’m only barely aware of it, takes some of what would be in the writing away.

Almost everything in Winged Shoes And a Shield was written to be read on stage and most of the stories in it were written on the day of a show. I found that it gave the work an immediacy. Almost everything in the collection is a ‘one- take’ kind of thing, with very little or no rewriting. Rewriting, for me, is a bad thing. I tend to overwrite, not so much in terms of flowery, self-indulgent stuff, but when I rewrite, I frequently find myself adding a lot of material so that the work is ‘new’ to me. But then it may not necessarily have the impact of the original words first set down on the page. So, for the time being I’ve been convinced, and most of my friends and collaborators almost insist, that I should never rewrite my work. I think my best material comes from writing that is done on the day of a show.

The idea of ‘pleasing your audience’ means that you are writing to an effect rather than just sort of channeling whatever it is that is coming out of you. That does not mean ‘do not be aware of your audience.’ A writer should be considerate as all hell of the audience — but not necessarily doing anything to please them. What that means is ‘don’t make them work too hard, don’t make them wade through a lot of stuff.’ So, my best writing addresses the audience as though they were in a club or wherever it is I’m reading. But I never try to please them. I don’t even try to please myself. I just write it and then read it and let the chips fall where they may.

I also read what I’ve written out loud, this reveals the clunkers in the work and I can change them on the spot. So it might be a page and then read it out loud, then go on.

8.    What’s next for you and Eddie Burnett?

Eddie will stare me down as less than the man I was born to be and I’ll try to provide him the words. Since he is the universal observer, he’ll be around or in anything I ever write.

Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema is appearing serially on Going For The Throat throughout the 2014 NFL Season.  To read more visit jimtrainer.wordpress.org.