Wednesday, July 13th, at 6 pm to 8 pm, poet Susan Briante will be reading some of her poems from The Market Wonders at Co+Hoots. The Market Wonders, inspired by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, encompasses more than stock fluctuations and financial markets; the poems call upon others topics such as theoretical physics and the function of art. This event is hosted by The University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Walt Whitman Circle. It is free and open to the public.
We begin romantic relationships with the best of hopes. We believe in forever, or at least, we thrive on the thrill of not knowing how or how long a relationship will endure. How happy or miserable can we possibly be? At what point does the façade wear off so that we start leaving our dirty socks in the bathroom floor, stop pretending we don’t eat Twinkies at 1:00am? And how, in a flurry of rage or discovery, or in a moment of can’t-take-the-standstill-anymore, will it end, once and for all? When will we change our Facebook status to “single” or “it’s complicated”? And how will it feel when people tell us, “I’m so sorry you and so-and-so broke up”?
A writing mentorship is a kind of love story, a kind of celebrity crush come true. As an undergrad, I was told that the MFA was an apprenticeship, and that I should choose a program with poets whose work I loved. I did. I picked a poet whose books wormed their way into my soul and left me dying to know how he could help me—me, the underprepared unlikely MFA candidate, who had just switched from pre-med to English 18 months before that moment, who hadn’t read or written nearly enough—learn to write great poems.
The first morning of my first residency, I met him. He walked into the room, tall and grey and good looking, but with an air of assholery that didn’t sit well with me. He was still wearing sunglasses, and his hair seemed to have been styled via a handful of gel and a few quick trips around the block in a convertible. He was in shorts and sandals. And when he opened his mouth, he spoke loudly in a thick New York accent. He seemed to know everything, and to want to be sure we recognized it.
This wasn’t going to work, Heather the farm girl, who drove a pickup truck with no cruise control, who still had red mud on the tires, and the hotshot New York poet. In our first conference, he asked what poetry I’d read. My answer sent him on a tirade about getting serious, about being in over my head, about how far behind my classmates I was. I hated him, and I thought about quitting the program. I went back to my room and packed everything up—everything except his books, which I’d left on my nightstand, hoping to have him sign.
I picked up my favorite in the stack and opened it. All over again, I fell in love with it, and I did what any girl does when she likes a boy who seems out of her league—I resolved to make him like me back.
That semester, I took masochism to new heights, cranking out sestinas and sonnets, reading twice the recommended number of books, doing annotations on all of them, listening to and desperately trying to implement my mentor’s suggestions for my poems. His passion for poetry was wonderfully contagious, and we turned out to love many of the same poets. Sometimes, he’d call what I’d written “bullshit,” but only when it was totally true, and I came to crave that no-nonsense attitude. When the praise came, I knew he meant it, and during the time we worked together, I lived for it.
Three years later, after my thesis defense, I went back to my motel room and cried like a brokenhearted seventh grader. The defense went brilliantly. I passed with flying colors. My committee members were pleased. But my time with my beloved mentor was officially over.
He had become a surrogate poetry father to me. Even though I knew all along the end was coming, when it came, it hurt. Because when a mentorship is at its best, you give yourself over to it; you become a willing horse to the shadow of your teacher’s whip. You let yourself forget where it’s going.
When it ends, it ends on good terms, and you find yourself in foreign territory. You see him again someday, with other students, and you want to punch their noses in. You can’t write a damn thing post thesis, and this is totally normal, but you don’t know that yet. You want to talk to him again, but you’re afraid to be a nuisance. You send heavily edited emails at carefully spaced intervals so as not to appear like a stalker.
You are grieving everything—the end of the routine, the end of the feedback, the end of his constant motivation. Your toes are curled over the rim of a canyon and you are shouting his name across a vast chasm and your whole life is the echo it makes.
Eventually, you realize he misses you, too. Eventually, you reach a frequency of communication you can live with. He hasn’t vanished into the abstract. He is still a source of encouragement.
Keep writing, he tells you, every time you speak. So you do. Finish that book, he tells you. So you do. Keep me posted, he says. So you do. And that urge to please a beloved mentor—that desperate need for his atta girl—it never goes away. You never stop hearing his voice in your head when you revise. You never throw away the drafts with his notes on them.
Yes, there will be times when you will not be able to write, no matter what. There will be times when you’ll think of quitting. There will be times when you will drink a caramel vodka milkshake at 10:00am on a Thursday (yes, it happened).
But here’s the thing—you’ll let the misery have its moment, but then you’ll do what you learned to do years ago, the first time you felt that way. You’ll go to the shelf, and you’ll pull down his books, and they’ll remind you why you never left. And you will take those poems into your body like a cure.
1. Take care of yourself. Much like the announcements before flights regarding the placing of oxygen masks, you can’t expect to render your characters fully if you’re out of shape and eating poorly. Exercise regularly and eat fresh foods. Caffeinate moderately. Get eight hours of sleep every night. To underestimate the power of the subconscious, the breakthroughs that undoubtedly come from the dream-state and walks in the park, is foolish and undermining of the imagination at work. Never mind that your ability to contribute to the literary canon is severely compromised if you’re sick or dead.
2. Become aware of the effects of environment on your process—and change it up if need be. If you can’t settle in at your desk today, try the couch. If the sun is shining during your writing hours and you can’t stand being inside your apartment one more second, find a park bench or an outdoor café. If you’re in public and one-sided phone conversations keep intruding on your characters’ dialogue, seek out someplace quiet. Go wherever you need to be to enter the fictional dream as completely as you can.
3. Write first drafts in longhand whenever possible. My initial drafts almost always turn out truer to my vision when I’m connected to the physical page through a pen or pencil, thus saving time later during revision. I think there might be scientific data to back this up, but regardless, one obvious benefit is that you are much more apt to cross-out and play with alternative phrasing in the margins and between sentences, etc., sometimes literally question what you may be attempting to say on the page. Whereas in word-processing software, you don’t like a phrase, Delete-delete-delete, and not only is it gone forever, but so is your record of what you were aiming for, even if your initial attempts at grasping for an image or line fell short. When you type up the handwritten pages, you’re composing your second draft—added bonus.
4. Keep questioning the stakes of your premise. Often, at the beginning of a new story or before a revision, I’ll write, “Is this a great story of love and death?” across the top. If the answer is no, then consider how you might approach the premise differently to make it more gripping. If it is a novel, trace the narrative backwards to see where you may have gotten off-track, or strayed from the tension. You may be surprised in going over your drafts at how much of what you may have considered essential is in effect tangential.
5. If you’re stuck or between scenes or sections and uncertain where your protagonist goes next, take a short nap. Again, sometimes a quick dip into the subconscious is just the trick for stirring up new ideas/images. Although you’ll have to wait until you get home if you’re at a coffee shop.
6. That said, sometimes you have to just power through. This is tricky advice to give, when to step away (or nap!) and when to power through, and largely instinctive. But powering-through happens for me after I do a good bit of questioning and jotting down of potential ideas in my notebook regarding where the story needs to go next. There follows the sort of heavy feeling of anticipation, excitement, and despair regarding how I am going to accomplish what is to take place—but all that remains is doing it. That’s when it’s time to log out of Facebook, brew a fresh caffeinated favorite, push ahead, and trust.
7. The Internet/Facebook/Twitter/Etc. Figure out your relationship to it. I love nothing more than perusing for articles on strange happenings and the idiosyncrasies of my friends’ lives; as such, I’m a self-proclaimed Facebook addict. I’ve never been a big procrastinator, either, but when I arrive at my desk I tend to scroll the Facebook newsfeed until I have an overwhelming feeling that I’ve been pummeled enough by everyone’s happenings and achievements, and am then happily driven to the page and my inner world. In between scenes or sections and when I take a snack break, I will often log back on. Sometimes I go to coffee shops because although I have a smart phone, I am much less likely to be distracted by the Internet when I have actually driven somewhere and purchased menu items with precious dollars. Only you can figure out how to balance the work/Internet pull.
8. Learn to trust and develop your gut instincts regarding your work, and others’ critique of it. True, you’ll always be too close to it, because you’re the creator. And there will always be some voices ringing out in workshop that are way off for your vision of the story, your aesthetic, etc. But then there will be some who are right on, whose searing feedback or advice matches the quiver in your middle when you hold the draft up before your eyes. Better to have a handful—even one—of these voices in your corner than none. Cherish such readers, yet also keep in mind that someone who may have resonated deeply with a previous project of yours may not have the same relationship with the next one. Have the courage to seek out fresh eyes.
9. Realize the value of your work—because if you don’t value it, why should others? Delegate as many nonessential, non-writing tasks to whatever degree you can—to agents, interns, teenage children/siblings, eager grad students, etc. If you’ve got a $50,000 a year teaching gig, hire a maid service to clean your house once or twice a month so you can invest in those precious days off to write. Figure out which holidays you prefer to celebrate with family and which ones you can skip to attend a writers’ colony, or borrow a friend’s cabin in the woods for a couple of weeks.
10. Meditate on your death every day. This meditation will usually be fleeting and hardly morbid—but certain, yes. You are going to die. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or six months down the road. Then again, maybe today. All that will be left of your essence in this life will be what you’ve left behind, written down. Is what you have to say essential? If not, how to make it so? Most everything pertaining to the craft of writing can be boiled down to those two questions.
I was destined to write. My grandmother always told me I’d be a writer, and she had an uncanny ability to see the future. She said, “If you clown around in those roller skates and fall down on that rough pavement and scrape your knees, you’re getting no sympathy from me.” And it happened exactly the way she predicted. (I’d just like to know where she was with her front-porch-rocking-chair advice when I really needed it? Like, “If you marry that idiot you’ve only known two months, it will turn out bad.” Stuff like that, I could’ve used.)
After years and years of Mama’s reverberating prognostication, I tiptoed gingerly to the edge of the cliff of artists’ angst and submitted my first piece for publication. Of course, she proved to be an accurate soothsayer yet again when I was the first nine-year-old to have a poem published in The Daily Sun. Unfortunately, at forty-three, I’d yet to have my second piece accepted for print. So I decided to sail head-first and backwards off that damned cliff and get an MFA in Creative Writing. Since then, I’ve started my own irreverent blog, Blu-hoo, and I’ve had a few pieces published. Mostly for free.
Look. I’m the last one to burst your bubble, but let me tell you: Get a day job. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll have to have another source of income because writing doesn’t pay all that well. Yes, the enormous success of some first-time writers is enticing. But for every J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or E L James, there’re thousands of writers toiling to get noticed. One thing I’ve discovered is that dreaming about writing doesn’t make it happen. It’s hard work unless you are a celebrity or a statesman. However, there are things you can do to improve your chances for success.
Write. A lot. While it may seem impossible to squeeze one more second out of your compacted day, sleep is really overrated. Write instead.
Bone up on your grammatical skills. As Stephen King posited in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, the most brilliant guide to the art of writing ever, “Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking” (114). No one wants to read error-filled drivel. And for heaven’s sake, capitalize the personal pronoun I, or somebody’s going to get hurt.
Read. For example, since I write primarily creative non-fiction, I’ve read a slew of memoirs to determine things that work and things that don’t. I love Haven Kimmel’s memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, so much that if the state of Indiana allowed matrimony between people and inanimate objects, I’d marry it. (Since the state currently doesn’t recognize unions between people with identical 23rd chromosome pairs, I don’t hold out much hope.) Reading Haven is like listening to her talk. She creates metaphors so stunning you want to poke your eyes out with a hot fireplace tool, but her cadence is easy like an hour on a front-porch swing. Augusten Burroughs, master memoirist, also employs a believable conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting right next to him—comparing hardships—in some wino-breath-scented dive while your own vomit chunks flake off your shirt. When you read exceptional writing, you learn to emulate your role-models.
Get followed. Unless you have a substantial Twitter/FaceBook/Tumblr/Pinterest following, it’s hard to pique a publisher’s interest anymore. If you already have a fan-base, you’ve got an advantage. But. You still have to be able to write. And write well. Be fresh. Exciting. Create magic.
It’s also helpful if you’re able to divine “the next big thing,” so that your writing will ride the wave of whatever is popular. Fortunately, topics tend to be cyclical, so by my calculations, it’ll be 63 billion years before vampires are hot again.
If all else fails, become a celebrity. Shoot. If Honey Boo Boo can do it, so can you.
King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Pocket Books.
You can read Elane Johnson’s word essay in issue 6 of SR.
Call for Summer Interns and Fall Trainees, Superstition Review
Are you interested in the field of publishing? Do you wish you could get marketable job skills while earning college credit? Do you like to have a little fun while you learn? Then an internship with Superstition Review is right for you. We are currently accepting applications for Interns in Summer Session A and Summer Session B, and Trainees for Fall Session C. All work is done completely online through Blackboard, Google Docs, Skype, and email. I welcome interns from all fields, but especially from creative writing, literature, web design, art, music, film, and business.
Superstition Review has published 10 issues featuring over 500 contributors from around the country. Each spring and fall we take submissions from established and emerging writers and produce an issue full of dynamic Art, Fiction, Interviews, Nonfiction, and Poetry.
Summer 2013 Internship
Students will register for a 3 credit ENG 484 course in Summer 2013 (there are two sessions: A=May & June and B=July & August). Students will gain experience with the processes and practices of a national literary publication. While we don’t produce an issue in the summer, we do maintain an active presence on our Blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, iTunes, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter accounts.
I am seeking trainees for the online literary magazine Superstition Review. Trainees will register for a 3 credit hour ENG 394 course in Fall 2013. The course will offer a study of the field of literary magazines; it will introduce students to the processes and practices of a national literary publication, and it will include review and reading of contemporary art and literature. Students will be encouraged to create their own literary brand that will help make them more marketable for publishing jobs. Upon successful completion of ENG 394, trainees will enroll in ENG 484 in Spring 2014 and become active interns with the magazine.
Trish provided valuable experience in my field of interest that is not offered anywhere else. This class has been a huge eye-opener for me and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the publishing and editing industry before graduating. The skills I learned have given me a huge amount of confidence as I begin my search for a job, and I’m so glad this course was available. Trish is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and very trusting of her students. Although all the work for SR goes through her, she allows for students to take some control and engage in the work fully. Thanks for the wonderful experience!
I really enjoyed this course and found it to be one of my favorites taken so far at ASU. I feel like the instructor taught me a lot and really challenged me. The class was well structured and I always felt as though I knew what was expected of me, but what I like was that within the structured assignments there was a lot of room for me to work independently and complete assignments in my own way. I would recommend this course and others by this instructor to friends.
Trish is extremely personable and is great at making people feel welcomed and she listens very well to her students.
Trish is extremely accessible and welcoming. I felt very comfortable coming to her with questions, even if they seem stupid. I feel I got a great internship experience that will help me post graduation.
Very organized, and even though it was an online class, the instructor was always willing and available and kept in contact through email.
I was able to learn so much about publishing, editing, and running a magazine. There were always tasks that could be completed that were never regarded as busywork. Patricia is very knowledgeable, friendly, respectful, and encouraging. She truly values the work of her students and her students themselves just as much, if not more, as we value her teaching and her.
Very personable and involved with the students as to what is going on in their academic and personal lives.
Trish is very knowledgeable in what she does. She’s technologically savvy, and very educated in literature and the arts, as well as aware of current happenings in the modern literature and art world.
Applications are open January 31 and will be accepted until positions are filled.
Splash of Red is an international online literary arts magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, interviews, and graphic narratives. They have published interviews with many Pulitzer Prize winners, US Poet Laureates, and acclaimed writers as well as some of the top editors and publishers in the country for their Industry Interview Series. What sets these interviews apart from others is that they focus on the readers of the literary magazine, many of whom are writers themselves. The interviews delve into writing processes of the interviewees, editing techniques, and strategies for getting around writer’s block. And the Industry Series investigates the other side of the table that writers rarely get a glimpse into in order to better their odds at getting their work published. But the meat of the publication is the fantastic submissions that come from all over the world.
The name of the publication comes from three inspirations: 1) the infamous red ink in draft after draft to get the best quality writing, 2) the blood and passion that goes into only the most skillfully crafted art, and 3) great work stands out just like a splash of red.
In 2010, Splash of Red organized numerous live events where authors came to speak with audiences for live Q and As. Some of the authors included Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, famed writer Eleanor Herman, and Daniel Wallace – author of Big Fish, who spoke with eager audience members following a showing of the film based on his novel at a local independent theater. Additionally, the online magazine involved local communities by spearheading a special public mural on the New Jersey boardwalk in Asbury Park. Three artists chose three poems published on the website and created pieces of art inspired by and including those poems which were then painted in multiple large murals across the backdrop of the mid-Atlantic.
Interested fans can follow Splash of Red on Twitter, Facebook, or become a member and get email updates about newly published work and events. One of the things they pride themselves on is creating an online literary arts community where readers can post comments on anything published on the website, submit art inspired by splashes of red for their Red Gallery, and involving members in creative decisions and directions for the publication including suggestions for interviewees.
If you take any one thing away from this blog post, take this: check it out. The website is www.SplashOfRed.net and feel free to peruse, read, comment, and investigate at your own leisure. Make it your own and enjoy!
Submission Bombers, a new group founded by Weave editor Laura Davis, has organized a bunch of writers who all feel marginalized in some way, encouraging them all to submit to the same market at once. The idea of Submission Bombers is to give editors what they claim they do not get: submissions from “the marginalized.”
When SR informed me that my creative nonfiction piece “Across the Flats” was receiving the most hits of any for its issue, I was shocked. Who was reading it? I’m always thrilled to have work accepted for publication, but I pretty much just assume that no one will read the work. There’s a lot out there in the world.
I did publicize the piece on my Twitter account and three Facebook pages I have (personal, blog, business). That’s all I did. Nothing magical. Unless you take into account a few big things:
1) I’ve had a writing and gardening blog http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com for nearly five years now. In that time I’ve amassed a modest set of readers. And though I see only 80-100 visits a day on the blog or on its Facebook page, it serves me well by creating a long term audience. Since my essay was both a piece of creative writing and garden-themed, I could hook up to my two main audiences. I’m two-faced that way.
2) The garden theme carried over much more to Twitter http://twitter.com/brvogt, where a vast majority of my followers are gardeners and garden writers. I’ve only been on Twitter for eight months, but I posted the link to the essay twice a day for a day or two, then a few times over the course of a week. That’s the beast of Twitter, redundancy. More beasty yet is that Twitter is both a link happy place AND a relationship-heavy place (although the two don’t really go together in my mind). Twitter is constant work like having pet fish. Twitter is interaction-heavy—quick glib and jokey comments or heartfelt and interested comments, anything to make a split-second connection like flirting with someone across the room. Once you catch someone’s fancy (and creative tweets can help), it takes a split second for them to share your tweet to their followers, who share it to their followers. My approach with posting the link on Facebook was different. Facebook feels more intimate, which is why I posted just once on each of my three pages.
3) What I’m getting at is this: people visited SR to read my work, (and hopefully others), because I’ve spent part of each day working for free online. Some days it’s a major chore and distraction. Some days it’s a natural extension of myself. But it takes time—and you have to be constantly interesting and authentic on any media platform. By this I mean not narcissistic or whiney, and not a promotional machine. I’d say that 90% of tweets and 50% of Facebook interactions should have nothing to do with you—talk to people, share interesting links and photos, pretend you aren’t being archived and sold and stalked by company platforms to third parties. And something else I’ve discovered: Facebook is much more active M-Th during the day (people at work goofing off?). Twitter is pretty much 24/7.
Behind every blog is a blogger. They are the unspoken authors of the internet that filter in a constant stream of news into your RSS Feed. As a Social Networking Coordinator for Superstition Review, Bri Perkins has learned first-hand just how challenging that job can be.
Working with a small team, Bri helps to maintain and write for the SR blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, which can include everything from interviews with esteemed authors to email correspondence to creating the latest trending topic. A resident night-owl, Bri usually can be seen tweeting in the wee hours of the morning or slumped over a keyboard asleep.
Having never really experienced the editorial process and the inner workings of a publication, Perkins applied to Superstition Review in hopes of getting hands-on experience in the literary world. Since then, her taste and exposure to art, literature, and writing has grown exponentially. Now a fan of Tin House and Ploughshares (and of course SR), she has developed a love of fiction and short stories. Her favorite readings range all the way from J.K. Rowling to Flannery O’Connor to the labels on shampoo bottles.
Bri is quickly approaching the finish-line of her undergraduate degree at ASU. Studying the unique combination of English and Psychology, she found she had a passion for the anatomy and physiology of the body, and in particular, the human brain. After graduation, she is planning to take a gap year to travel and read, which will be something new for a girl that has been barely beyond Arizona state borders. She subsequently plans to attend medical school at Midwestern University where she will study to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and ultimately, a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Bri hopes to translate the underlying themes of the liberal arts into the science realm in order to take a more well-rounded approach to healthcare.
Bri is 22 years old and is a Glendale, Arizona native. She loves overcast and rainy days, which are a rarity in the Valley of the Sun. She has no children and no husband, but she keeps the company of four very lovable mutts and one very fluffy kitty. Perkins currently works as a technician (also known as a Genius) at Apple fixing iPods, iPhones, Macs and iPads. She also volunteers as a Research Assistant at ASU’s Cognition and Natural Behavior Laboratory where she is studying the effects of shared space on productivity, and the effects of physical interaction on mental faculty and memory. Bri also works as a Psychology and Writing Tutor with the STEM/TRIO program on the ASU West Campus, which focuses its efforts on providing support for first generation and minority students.
With Issue 9 approaching, we’ve deployed our social networking teams to take to the web and spread the word. We’re forging new connections with our readers, authors, writers, and other literary journals.
We have a goal. We want to reach 1,000 likes on Facebook and 1,000 followers on Twitter. But we can only do it with your help.
We aren’t very far off from that goal, so to increase our fan base, we’re taking to the streets. We need our loyal readers (that’s you) to take to the internet and go forth and tweet.
We want to do something special for our 1,000th fan on Facebook and Twitter.
Whoever is the 1000th Facebook visitor and the 1000th Twitter visitor will get a special feature on our blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages. For writers and artists, this will be a great way to get your name out there for everyone to see. For students, this is a great way to build your resume. We see thousands of visitors each week from all over the world and you will have the attention of each and every one.