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kellyrfineman July 24 2014, 14:17

My thoughts on putting together a chapbook -- let me show you them

This is what I have committed to completing by tomorrow. Mind you, this has been on my to-do list for something like six months now, and I have already spent hours and hours and hours over days and weeks and months on it.

Here's what I have figured out about it.

1. There's a certain amount of hubris to pulling together a chapbook. I mean, you have to assume that somebody might want to read it, right? And who am I to go about thinking I'm good enough to be read? (Hmm . . . maybe this should be there's a certain amount of self-loathing to pulling together a chapbook?) I feel like I'm constantly having to get past my own self in order to commence work on the project at all. Nevertheless, I push on.

2. I have to pick and choose among my own work. This is difficult, because, of course, on any given day I may like (or loathe) every single poem I've ever written. Also, on the one hand I am trying to select my best work, and on the other hand:

  I am thinking that the poems that I consider my BEST work that haven't been published yet ought to get submitted to journals first, where odds favor them being repeatedly rejected, but still, sometimes poems get accepted

  I am thinking that a chapbook made up entirely of poems that have already been published someplace wouldn't be that interesting

  I can't always figure out which are my best poems, although I have my suspicions

  I have poems that I am especially fond of, which may not actually be my "best" poems, that I kind of want to include

  poems that seem perfect one day and therefore must be included don't appeal to me after I've let the collection sit for a while

  my chapbook is supposed to be, say, around twenty pages, and I have only picked 12 poems for it; or, conversely, I have picked 37, and can't seem to decide which of those ought to go in the collection and which ones ought to go back in the file

  other stuff and bother

  some or all of the above.

3. Why bother? I might get rejected even after all this to-and-fro-ing. And I might not.

4. Once I have selected the poems that I think ought to be in the collection, I have to put them in some sort of order. Suddenly, I realize that I have 14 wry or humorous poems and four that are super-heavy, sad poems (or some other, similar conundrum) and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to intersperse things without seeming unhinged or, worse, creating an expectation that "this is what these poems are like", which turns out to be a false one, but it's too late, people already put the collection down and walked away. So I take some out and put some other ones in and start over. Or I put the whole thing down and slowly back away.

Or I figure out that some things go together, subject-matter wise or thematically or whatever, but not all of the poems work that way, and then I have to figure out what to do about it. At this point, I resort to pulling down various and sundry chapbooks from my bookshelf, to see how they were organized, and then I fall into reading the poems again, because they are there, and my, they are so very good - are mine anywhere near this good? - and then I start rocking quietly, wondering why it is that I thought this was a good idea anyhow?

5. There is no "right" answer. This is what I've finally figured out, after spending the past two months repeating the actions in the previous two paragraphs. Today, I'm resolved to push past/through it and arrive at an order. Then it's on to the next step . . .

6. A chapbook needs a title. Of course it does. And as many writers will tell you, coming up with titles is hard. Books should be written on the topic, but as far as I can tell, they haven't been. A common practice is to pick the title of one poem from the collection to stand as the title for the work. Even Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, and Mary Oliver do this. Probably I will do this, too. But did I mention that it's hard? Which one title speaks for the collection as a whole? Speaks for me as a poet? I guess eventually I will pick one that seems best (or least bad) and go with it.

7. As has already become evident to you if you've read this far, there's a lot of whining involved in the process. Maybe not for everyone. Maybe, once I have done this more than once, or more than more than once, I will get good at it. Perhaps it will be a speedier, simpler process. I will only find out if I finish this one and move on.

And now, I am off to sort and compile and shuffle and whatnot. But first, there will be tea. It can only help.

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slatts July 24 2014, 13:11

24 JULY 2014

ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO AMELIA EARHART was born. One hundred and nine years later, I took this ink on muslin image of her to my batik workshop and had a disastrous day. To use aviator-terms, you could say, I "crashed and burned!"

The inks claimed to be waterproof, but they were not. The batik dyes caused it all to smear and just become a mess.

This happened to two other images as well, but for some reason, the image of Amelia Earhart getting ruined was too much for me.

Too much failure.

So, I went home and later that night, I created this image.

On paper. With colored pencils. In a style I knew would not fail.

So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY-Anniversary, Amelia!

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cynthialord July 24 2014, 10:50

At the shore

Today, I'm visiting with Fit Girls of Wilton Maine, a reading and running club for girls. They read Half a Chance and they have been taking scavenger hunt photos, like Lucy in the story.

We're meeting at Wilson Lake (that has loons), the girls are going to show me their photos. Then if it's not raining, we're going on a hike together. How cute are these two?

kellyrfineman July 24 2014, 00:53

Woodland Litter Critters ABC by Patience Mason, illus. by Robert Mason

Patience Mason was kind enough to send me a copy of her self-published abecediary, Woodland Litter Critters ABC, which has one of the clearest alphabets, in both capital and lower-case letters, that I've seen in a while.

Each page features different "litter critters", which are small creatures assembled by Patience from items she finds on her woodland walks -- what some people might consider cast-offs, or detritus, repurposed creatively by Patience and photographed by her husband, Robert. The very last page of the book includes some photos with diagrams that explain what some of the "critters" were made of, which would allow readers to make some of their own critters.

Patience's sense of fun is plain to see, and the entire project just goes to show how creative people can be.

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kellyrfineman July 22 2014, 23:13

Working on poetry this week

Well, mostly.

Yesterday, I put in my proposals for next spring's New England SCBWI conference. And I had a small editorial project land on my desk, so I attended to that as well. But for the rest of this week, I'll be working on poetry -- the writing, typing, and editing thereof.

I'm putting together a possible chapbook to submit for consideration at a small local press, and I'm working on a very personal poem for my sweetheart, who has a birthday this weekend, and I'm working on a bunch of other poems.

And next week, I'm probably switching my primary focus back to picture book revisions. Of course, some of my picture books are in rhyme, and most of them resemble poetry one way or another, so perhaps it's a distinction without a difference.

Meanwhile, I am quietly celebrating a small piece of good news, which is that a poem I wrote was listed in the "top ten" poems for Day 3 of National Poetry Month's posts at Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog at Writer's Digest. There are still at least a handful of days unjudged, so I'll keep checking back there. Meanwhile, something small to celebrate.

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slatts July 22 2014, 12:42

22 JULY 2014

REMEMBER 16 MAGAZINE back in the sixties?

OK, maybe not. Not everyone's an old dog like me.

So, here's a visual reference.

I'm quite sure I never owned a copy because it was kind of a "girls only" sort of magazine. But I lived in a neighborhood where the girls outnumbered the boys almost 2 to 1, so, I had a lot of girl-friends. And I do remember these magazines. In particular, the illustration style of putting photograph heads on cartoon bodies. As a young developing artist, I thought it was a cool and fascinating style, as you could illustrate almost anything—like this cover where everybody is attending a Beatles' concert or the craziest things—like the Beatles fist-fighting with the Dave Clark Five!

In fact, this illustration style made such an impression, many years later, as a designer at The Booklet Factory, I proposed a kid-magazine illustration style based on this—real photograph heads with cartoon bodies—it was a huge hit!

Anyhow, I have been reviewing the sketches I made for my illustration of the Beatles and their "1966 issues"—like the one below with John Lennon and Imelda Marcos—and I've decided to try for a 16 magazine look (vs. this sorta Beatle-cartoon look).

Maybe I'll share what I've come up with in the next couple of days.

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kellyrfineman July 21 2014, 15:47

Why is it so hard to own the good stuff?

I'm not talking about money or about actual possessions, here. I'm talking about personal accomplishments. And maybe you have better self-esteem than me, and this won't make any sense to anyone else, but

why is it so hard to register and take pride in one's own accomplishments and successes?

I've been thinking about this in the abstract for more than two weeks, and been mulling this blog post for more than two days, and I'm still not certain I can articulate this well, but I hope you'll let me try. What follows is not intended as anything like a brag, but more like a reality check, as I hope you'll see:

I've been writing seriously for about 12 years now, or since the autumn of 2002. I spent those first few years hoping for a sale, sure that would mean I had "arrived." My first publishing credit was a poem that appeared in an anthology called Summer Shorts in 2006. My response was underwhelming, in part because I'd had to edit the poem in a way that I objected to, but still ... I'd been published. I should have been celebrating and happy, right? And I was, but it was short-lived, and then I found myself not bothering to mention it much as years went by.

My next publication was a poem that appeared in Highlights for Children magazine in 2007. I don't know about you, but I'd always wanted to sell a poem to Highlights. That, I thought, would mean that I had "made it" as a children's writer. This poem was actually my first-ever sale, before the one in Summer Shorts, but it took a couple years to get published, in part because it was a seasonal poem about Hanukkah and had to go into a December issue. I was so happy to sell the poem, and pleased to see it in print, but again, it was a short-lived happiness.

I had poems win awards from Writer's Digest Magazine, including one that won third place (and earned me money and mention inside the magazine). I had poems published in online and print poetry journals. I had poems appear in anthologies for adults and for children. All of these things felt big when they first happened, and quickly lost their shine somehow. While the rejection letters far outnumber acceptances (still and always), there came a time when I realized that the rejection letters no longer had any sting to them - I mostly shrug and move on. There also came a time when I realized that my celebrations of any publishing successes in the arena of journals and such were extremely short-lived. Mostly, they consist of me squealing when I get the acceptance email, then telling my sweetheart about it, then, essentially, shrugging and moving on.

In 2012, my first-ever picture book came out from tiger tales books, a small, independent press in Connecticut. I was thrilled to have a book out. Pleased as punch with my editor, who is the delightful Jamie Michalak, now a full-time author. In love with the illustrations by Mònica Armiño. Finally, my own book!

Now, though, it is 2014, and I haven't sold another picture book (yet). And I find myself forgetting what a triumph it is to have a realio, trulio book out in the world. It's so easy to say "but it's just the one book", or "it's not from a major publisher". I forget that it not only came out, but it was also picked up by Barnes & Noble. (Lots of books aren't.) Not only was it picked up by B&N, but it was also featured in their "summer" collection on their picture book walls, all across the United States. (Lots of books aren't.) It is hard to place poetry anywhere, and I'm lucky to have poems in award-winning anthologies for children. And to have poems in anthologies for adults. And in journals and magazines.

Yet most days, I still feel a bit like a failure. All of these years writing, and I feel as if I have nothing to show for it, despite a shelf full of books and journals and magazines that say otherwise.

My friends, that ain't right.

On Saturday, I had lunch in Philadelphia with Jenn Hubbard, a good friend and a most excellent author. We got to talking about these sorts of things, and Jenn reminded me exactly how hard it is to sell poetry anywhere. There are great poets all over the country and world, and publishing venues aren't as abundant as they could be, and the competition is terribly stiff, and it's difficult to get an acceptance.

Oftentimes, a "sale" to a journal means you get paid in copies of the journal itself, and there's no money. Jenn reminded me that it does not mean, however, that the sale is unimportant or that it is not a huge success. The same reasoning applies to sales to anthologies, where payment per poem tends to be on the low side (because how else could they afford to put out an anthology with a lot of poems inside?). Given how difficult it is to sell one's work, actually selling anything is a huge deal, and deserves to be celebrated.

Interestingly, I had already decided to take a sort of step back and to start celebrating things like actually getting drafts of picture book manuscripts completed, as I mentioned in this post, which concludes as follows:

An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.

I plan on sticking by that from now on, and on trying to remember that even if I'm feeling a bit like a failure on a given day, there's no basis in fact for that. Not just because I have that shelf full of stuff that says otherwise, but also because I keep writing.

Edited to say: I haven't been sad or upset about this, just wondering why it is so hard for me (and possibly others) to feel good about the things they have done, or to wish for something "more" even when you've achieved a measure of success (however small).

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jbknowles July 21 2014, 13:05

Maybe I was wrong...

Hello and welcome to Week #3 of Teachers Write! I hope you're all having a wonderful time writing and creating and thinking and learning. I know I have!

Today I want to talk about moments of clarity. Moments of realization. In real life, these can come like a slap to the forehead, or sometimes more deeply, like a fist to the heart. I'm going to give an example.

Last week, my son and I spent five days volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. We got up early, met with an incredibly inspiring group of people, received our goals for the day, and got to work. By the end of the day we'd be tired and sweaty, and extremely grimy. My job for most of the week was putting up vinyl siding which had been stored in a wet spot of ground that received little sun. Each strip was covered in mud, leaves, pine needles and a fair amount of slugs which I continuously stuck my fingers in. We'd sweep the siding off (there was no electricity or running water for a hose) cut it with what we lovingly called "snips" which had my hands bruised by the end of the week, and cross our fingers that we'd measured correctly and hung them true. Most of the time, our fearless leader would come around the corner, inspect our work, and have us start over. It was difficult, and frustrating, but we kept our sense of humor.

As you can imagine, coming home to electricity, water, soap and (honestly) a toilet, was pretty nice. On one day, I went out to check our blueberry bushes and discovered several were ripe and ready to eat! Plus, they were HUGE. Beautiful, plump and oh so sweet. I took a photo of one and posted it on Facebook. Then, since I'd been away from electronics all day, I started to read headlines from the BBC, and catch up with friends' posts. And I realized that while I was off feeling so good about building this home and then celebrating the glory of a blueberry, horrifying events were happening. In that moment, I thought of that stupid blueberry photo and how insensitive and lost in my world I'd been. It was my punch to the heart moment.

Here's what I wrote on my Facebook wall:

"After I posted my blueberry photo, I realized how crazy and selfish it is to post a photo of an especially large blueberry when there is so much horrific violence going on around the world. And close to home, learning of the tragic death of a woman who babysat for us when we were kids. I am thinking about all the people who are touched by grief every day. Every day there are horrors and tragedies. And every day there are things like the wonder of a blueberry you picked from a bush you've been nurturing for ten and a half years. And every day there are cats doing cute things. And baby photos posted by a proud new grandparent. Every day there is sadness. And every day there is joy. And every day there is love. And who gets what every day seems to be a cruel crapshoot. And I don't know what to do about that except try to remember it. And try to be more kind. So I am sorry about the blueberry. But I am also grateful for it. Maybe more so because it grows despite the sorrow."

After that initial punch of guilt over the blueberry I realized that the world continues to spin no matter what happens on it. I have had my share of grief and I know what it feels like to not understand how this is so. There have been days in deep sorrow when I couldn't understand how people could keep going on with their daily lives, oblivious to the pain next door. But they do. We all do, eventually. And this, too, is another type of moment of clarity, or realization: That when faced with despair, we have a choice. We can feel the despair, and carry on trying to make the world a better place, or we can feel the despair and let it win.

The day after the blueberry incident, after feeling that despair and anger over all that senseless killing, I was filled with more determination than ever. I wasn't changing the world, but small acts of good work add up, and they do make the world a little better. I really believe that. I went back to that frustrating siding with a vengeance. I was determined to work harder. To make that house more beautiful. Liveable. Loveable. It fueled me. On the last day, we nailed the final piece of siding up. But the walls were still dirty-looking and it was hard to feel 100% proud. So another woman and I (she is a teacher!) filled a bucket with water from a nearby stream, got some rags, and washed every last strip until it looked new. We had to refill that darn bucket over and over because the water got muddy so fast. I fell in the stream up to my knee and had to spend half the day with one wet foot. It was gross and stinky but I didn't care. Because in the end, the siding did look just like new.

So what does all of this have to do with fiction? I would argue that this is how stories work. The protagonist makes a big realization, usually early on in the story, and it's what sets the story in motion. It's how quests begin. They hinge on a choice: give up or carry on and try to fix the problem. Fixing the problem, solving the mystery, trying to survive, whatever the situation, that's your story. And whatever it is that fuels your character to try, that's your characterization.

So what, specifically, is your character's big realization and what fuels him or her to try to make things better, or survive?

I started this entry talking about my work with that gross siding. And it seemed like kind of a drawn out story to get to my point. But I told it because of all the parallels I see in writing, and in particular revision. We almost never get it right the first time. We think we've measured correctly, or at least well enough, but when we step back and look, we can see it's a little off balance. So we take things down. We get help. We get feedback. we remeasure. We try again. We get dirty. We get frustrated. (Luckily there are no slugs!) But something in us doesn't let us give up. Something fuels us to keep going. And eventually, we get it right. Then we clean it up. And hopefully we feel good about it. Hopefully we feel proud. :-)

Today, I want you to think about your story, your protagonist, and what he or she is facing. Why is his or her story important to you? Why is this story worth telling? Try filling in the blanks:

This is a story about a _________________ who realizes/learns that _____________________________________________________ . So, he/she __________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________ .

This story is important to me because ______________________________________________ .


If you aren't working on a particular story, try writing to the prompt, "Maybe I was wrong..."

I hope you'll share what you come up with!

And as always, have fun. :-)


My son and I, working for Habitat for Humanity

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