A Working List of Publication Possibilities

NewPages.com — guide to lit mags and journals, links to calls for submissions, links to small presses. Alt-press-ish.

WritersDigest — links to blogs, articles, competitions, advice, market list, agent list. Huge.

GlimmerTrain Press — lit mag run by two sisters as a second career (good story), monthly contests (with fee) and free standard submissions.

Rachelle Gardner — blog by lit agent, clear query guidelines. Daily posts are usually interesting.

FundsForWriters — grants, contests.

QueryTracker — free database of agents and pubs, plus free tool to keep track of queries.

Duotrope — free database of markets for fiction writers and poets.

Jane Friedman — blog by media prof on advancing technologies and what they mean for writers. And for humans.

MediaBistro — the giant site for freelancers.

 

 

 

 

Dear Robin, a letter to my adviser

Dear Robin,

Here’s the part where I am to demonstrate that I “understand the theories and methods of creative writing” (Objective 1). Does that bore you as much as it does me?

I could have done this, I suppose, by analyzing the teaching methods of creative writing and the theories behind them, and seeing how close I come when I work with my own students, who are mostly older adults writing their life stories, or middle-schoolers who are a bit too rambunctious for their classrooms. But it seemed best to address the topic as a student – a student who’s studied and practiced creative writing for nigh on 50 years. My favorite bookshelf holds the reference books I use most, and about five dozen books by writers on writing. I’ve read them all at least twice.

Want the spoiler? Not a spoiler, really, because I spelled it out in my Major Project Proposal: “Since I will write for the rest of my life, and make some or all of my living from doing so, I have designed this Major Project to be attentive to the process of writing — the process of Becoming A Writer, to remind myself that the journey is never over.” Edited to the essential point, I mean that being a student of creative writing is every bit as important as being a teacher of it. And that each informs the other.

I’ve read the syllabi and promotional material for a number of the country’s top writing programs. And I’ve read the criticisms of these programs. I’ve seen firsthand what a “workshopped” piece of fiction or creative non-fiction looks like. (Billy Collins has the all-time best poem about this. Have you read it?)

My single most distressing classroom experience of 49 years was in a Fiction class in the University of Minnesota’s MFA program. I had to submit writing samples, and ask professors to recommend me, and talk with the director about why I, a CCE student, wanted to take the class. Who knows why I got in? Maybe my writing stands up with MFA students, or maybe they had a spot to fill and wanted my tuition. The class was taught by adjunct faculty, Mary Logue, a poet and Minnesota Book Award winner, among many other awards, but best known for her mystery series. Not Henry James or Virginia Woolf, but her stories are well-crafted and engaging. And at its heart, any writing endeavor is about storytelling, something Logue does very, very well. Last I heard, Henry and Virginia aren’t available to teach.

I don’t know – maybe the MFA students were miffed that a bigger name wasn’t in charge. Maybe they were at a point in their three-year program where they would have been at each other’s throats anyway. Okay, not all of them. Half the class. Literary bullies, they were. The wicked half ruined it for the six of us who were there for thorough and thoughtful critique of the merits and deficiencies of the writing we brought to class.

We were all familiar with the usual writers and writings from English literature and from world literature. We could quote from the current Pulitzer and Booker winners, the National Book award, even smaller, regional award winners. The “important stuff.” But only a few of us wanted, or were willing, to talk about the writing we loved. The stories or books that stayed with us, or that we re-read simply for the pleasure of the immersion. For me, that always starts with the students I find in front of me, whether I am “teaching” them, or a student myself. It includes Nathaniel Hawthorne and Carol Shields and Henry James and O. Henry and Annie Proulx and Lee Smith and Faith Sullivan and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Eudora Welty and Mark Twain and Shakespeare and Poe and about a dozen newish short story writers whose names never stay with me, but whose writing does.

One guy said, “If I don’t make it before I’m 30, I’ll never be a Writer.” Geez, really? I thought to myself. Aloud I said, rather timidly, I’m afraid, “I’m 50, and I’m here because I’ve had a character in my head for ten years, and I’ve written down bits and pieces of her story, and I’m pretty sure there’s a book there and I’m hoping to make some progress. I’ll keep my day job until I’m certain.” And in my head I was thinking, I’m a writer, not a Writer. They were ruthless with each other. One particularly tiresome young woman shared far too much about her year working in a New York publishing house, which might have been somewhat useful had any of us been working on a manuscript we were thinking of submitting there. But alas, she assured us that nothing we’d presented in class would have been considered.

I thought, People, people. These folks sitting here every week, this instructor – this is not your competition. There’s a whole wide world out there – that’s your competition, your audience, your material. It pleases me no end, several years later, that I see in print the names of the talented writers who were also kind and helpful people. Those writers, and the instructor, gave me advice and feedback that I still use. The jerks seem to have faded. But it was valuable classroom time, if only to convince me that I do not want to spend even one semester with people who view writing from an angle a cosmos away from my own.

The truth is, though, I’ve learned something about how to write, and what to write, from everyone who’s ever stood in front of me. From teachers, certainly. You, Robin, pacing in front of the Science and Humanity class, and encouraging us to spend most of the semester thinking before writing — about Descartes, and Latour, and advertising, and media, and culture, prevailing or otherwise. (I’ve just re-read my Anchoring Descartes and my Science in Everyday Life essays, and your comments. What fun.) Mrs. Tish, my sixth grade teacher, let me take the summer to finish my story about a girl and a lost dog, and turn it in to her that August; she gave me an A for it in May, because she said she knew it would be good. Mark Garrison, who taught fifth grade at my kids’ school, invited me one spring to visit with creative writing exercises, and I went back several times each year for several years. With him, I saw that teaching can be as much fun as writing.

I chose four books on writing to look at again (you’ll see those reviews linked from my Project page) because I think they cover a good understanding of the theories and methods of creative writing. In a nutshell, their advice boils down to the same thing I hear whenever I ask a writer, or a teacher for advice: Read good writing. Pay attention to the world. Write every day, revise, write some more.

And I haven’t found a theory or method I love as much as Roger Rosenblatt’s  explanation: “All good stories, fact or fiction, end badly. We write to find out how to live before the bad ending happens.”

Objective 5 — write a draft manuscript of up to 40 poems. Nope, didn’t make it. I should have said 30 to begin with, and then I wouldn’t have to feel bad about the 28 I posted. But I’m willing to put my name on these 28, a few of them are pretty good, and I’ll enjoy working with the rest. As you pointed out, “All Shall Be Well” is a poem of sorts, or 42 poem/paragraphs strung together. I’ve meant to do more with it, but am still not sure what – and am beginning to think that leaving it as is allows it to say what I want to say about my children’s journey with mental illness/health, even if starkly. It was a stark journey.

The third part of this project was to look at publishing, the current state of publishing creative writing. (Objective 3) At this point in the project, it seemed like a good idea to compile something that might be useful later on (other than the raw material of 20 or so poems to revise) so I decided to make a list of various outlets, marking what’s notable about each.

It would be easy to drop into despair over the odds of getting one’s creative writing published. By published, I mean in an actual book, with cover art, and jacket blurbs — a book that would sit on bookshelves — in stores, libraries, homes (the bookshelves are oak and smell of furniture wax and there’s a comfortable chair with a good reading lamp close by). In addition to the book suitable for oak shelves, there would be an e-reader version. Later, a movie deal, adaptation or screenplay. Ah, the writing life. Luckily, I didn’t start out wanting to be a well-known and beloved and richly rewarded novelist. The current state of publishing is not all that different from 10 or 50 years ago, as far as I can tell — there are just so many more people writing now. More writers = more writing, which presumably means it’s about evenly distributed between good and bad writing, much as always. Good writing isn’t a guarantee of publication all that much more than bad writing is a prohibition of it. Editors at major publishing houses serve as much as marketing managers as mid-wives of manuscripts, which means large houses can take on more books in less time — if the books require marketing, and not much editing. It’s safe to publish books of the same kind that are already selling. (Where did Oprah get her supply of struggling-Southern-woman-finds-her-strength books? The list to choose from became self-perpetuating, that’s where.) Self-publishing gets easier and less expensive every year, which simply means that more books, good and bad, are lost in the crowd. It seems universal that every author is expected to participate, or initiate, the marketing effort for a book. Social media and web sites are de riguer.

I loved talking with Chris Fischbach at Coffee House Press about one of their newest acquisitions. It’s a novel written by a musician with a large and loyal following, who then went on to record an album in the voice of one of his characters. Fischbach admits they were a little slow to see the social media possibilities for this… I’ve posted a couple of entries about my conversation with Chris, with a Coffee House board member, and with writer friends, one an essayist, the other a YA author.

Coffee House publishes about 15 titles per year. Lots of interesting small presses do the same. But there are about a million other options for publication — particularly for short fiction, poetry, essays — and surely more outlets on the way in coming years. The well-established literary journals receive increasing numbers of submissions, but there are newer journals, too. “Alternative” weeklies, or quarterlies, online journals. I’m fascinated with Kindling – “pocket lit” that comes in an envelope, short stories and poems that fit on 4×6 cards. Cool.

My conclusion: Writers have to work hard to get their work published, so the writing itself had better be its own reward.

Pursuing publication has not been my strong suit. I’ve used my writing time to write, and I’ve never been regular about submitting my work to journals or contests or publishers and keeping track of what is where. Maybe now that I have a working list, I’ll do a bit more. I have the tools to pursue publication. But if I never get published in the book-on-the-oak-bookshelf kind of way, I will still write. My facility with language, and with storytelling, have kept me happy for more than five decades, and — not insignificant — employable for much of that time.

When I left MPR last July, I gave myself the gift of a year to focus on my writing. Not exclusively – I still had a family to deal with, and a part-time job at IKEA for health insurance (thank you, Swedish socialism) and I didn’t hole up in a peaceful cabin with a mountain view to finish a manuscript. But for seven months now, I’ve been able to focus primarily on the writing I needed to do to finish my degree. And I used the opportunity to look more closely at the kind of writing I’d like to do for pay, and how I might exchange my time to do that. So while it will be great to have an actual degree to hang on the wall (above the oak bookcase) in the end, the learning along the way was the main point.

It always is.

My very grateful thanks to you for helping me learn about writing – in 1982, and since,

Judy

 

 

 

Major Project Proposal

Creative Writing: On Becoming A Writer
New and Prior Learning
Judith Ecker Budreau
University of Minnesota
Fall 2011 & Spring 2012
PIL 3281

DESCRIPTION
        Reading and writing have been an integral part of all of my classes and projects. When I was developing my Degree Plan, I contacted working writers, some of whom teach in the University of Minnesota’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. I expected they would give insistent advice on what I should read and write as I prepared for my degree, but to a person, they all told me to do exactly what I have been doing for most of my life: Read everything you can get your hands on – novels, short stories, plays, poetry, newspapers, magazines. And write every day – write, revise, write some more. What it comes down to is this: living inside language, and reaching from there to the rest of the world.
What are the principles and practices of creative writing? How do these influence a writer’s process? This Major Project answers these questions by considering how writers produce creative work, and what they do with it once it’s created.
The Major Project focuses on varied examples of my writing, reflections on the theory and process of creative writing, a brief analysis of publishing practices, and the draft of a completed manuscript of creative writing.

BACKGROUND and RATIONALE
        In planning this Major Project, I went back to the 2006 draft of my Degree Plan – and was reassured to find that most of what I wrote and planned for is still relevant, even as the work has taken me in different directions than originally planned.
The planned program included an academic exploration of fiction, poetry and literary non-fiction, and analysis of the cultural, social, and political contexts under which writers produce their work. I put an emphasis on stories (fiction and non-fiction, including memoir) as private and public history, because I believe that we create, reflect and convey the meaning of our private and public lives through our written language. I remain fascinated by the intersection of language and human experience – why and how stories are recorded, repeated, kept – and how these stories affect decisions about participation in our private lives, in community, in public life. Language – and story – is our central resource for being human, and for understanding humanity. Anything – everything – can be changed by our stories.
We change ourselves, we change our world when we write our stories, and when we read others’ stories. In the act of reading or writing, we become absorbed by the rhythm of the language. But it is the meaning of the story – the meaning behind, and within, and around the language – that stays with us. Stories need to be studied, and created, over and over again.
Reading and writing have been an integral part of all of my classes and projects. When I was developing my Degree Plan, I contacted working writers, some of whom teach in the University of Minnesota’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. I expected they would give insistent advice on what I should read and write as I prepared for my degree. I thought I would hear, “You must understand Chaucer” or “Study Greek mythology” or “Start with the Romantic poets.” Several of them suggested particular readings, but to a person, they all told me to do exactly what I have been doing for most of my life: Read everything you can get your hands on – novels, short stories, plays, poetry, newspapers, magazines. And write every day – write, revise, write some more. What it comes down to is this: living inside language, and reaching from there to the rest of the world.
My web site is titled with my name (judybudreau.com) but the sub-title is “write through the   middle.” There I am, in what I hope is the center of my adult life, writing through the middle of it. In my current writing, I am exploring the idea of space, and                                     the space we draw around content, and how we find meaning by attending to both.  A poem is a poem because of the space it occupies, or doesn’t occupy, on the page. We hear music because of the space between notes. We see the stars because of the black                            sky between them. We hold ourselves separate from others by physical and emotional space. I’m in the middle of this idea of space, and writing from there.
Since I will write for the rest of my life, and make some or all of my living from doing so, I have designed this Major Project to be attentive to the process of writing – the process of Becoming a Writer, to remind myself that the journey is never over.

OBJECTIVES         Through this project I will:
1. Understand the theories and methods of creative writing.

2. Demonstrate the necessity of regularly creating original writing in the process of becoming a creative writer, by posting to my web site/blog, categorizing posts by content and subject; in effect, a log of my writing before and during this project.

3. Analyze the publishing practices of creative writing and its impact on becoming a published creative writer.

4. Write creatively from the middle, the center of my adult life.

5. Write a draft manuscript of up to 40 poems.

METHODS             To accomplish these objectives, I will:

1.  Review the literature on theory and practice of creative writing, and write about this on my web site.

2.  Construct a website (judybudreau.com) for content related to this project, and for my continuing writing.

3.  Explore current publishing practices, including interviews with writers and editors at small presses, and write about this on my web site.

4.  Write creatively from the middle, the center of my adult life, posting this writing regularly to my web site/blog during this Project.

5.  Draft a manuscript of poems.

RESULT         An established web site with 1) varied examples of my writing “from the middle” 2) reflections on the theories and methods of creative writing, and 3) a brief analysis of publishing practices. And the draft of a completed manuscript of creative writing.

SCHEDULE
September – October 2011             Begin literature review, choose several of my writing pieces to revise, and write new pieces.
November 2011 – January 2012      Add content to web site. Continue revisions for manuscript.
February 2012                                   Write reflections on the theory and process of creative writing. Write brief analysis of publishing practices. Complete draft of manuscript.
Early March 2012                               Submit Major Project to evaluator

EVALUATOR         Robert L. Brown, Jr., Department of Cultural Studies and                                              Comparative Literature, Univerity of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

EVALUATION QUESTIONS
1.  How well does the student understand the theories and methods of creative writing?

 

2. How well does she demonstrate the necessity of regularly creating original writing in the process of becoming a creative writer?

3. Please comment on the thoroughness of the student’s analysis of the publishing practices of creative writing and its impact on becoming a published creative writer.

4. In your evaluation of the reflections written by the student, please consider the degree to which she demonstrates an understanding of creative writing, and of her objective to “write from the middle.”

5. Please comment on the quality of the student’s poems.

6. Please comment on the overall quality of the completed project. For example, you might list the criteria you use when evaluating projects like this. Please consider commenting on the thoroughness of the student’s explanations and interpretations, her application of the knowledge gained in the course of this project, and her ability to articulate her own and other plausible perspectives.
In your evaluation, please describe how well the student has addressed the assignment, considering: thoroughness, support and justification, subtleness of connections, and persuasiveness and nuances of arguments.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Atwood, M. (2002). Negotiating with the dead. New York: Random House.

Berg, E. (1999).  Escaping into the open: the art of writing true. New York:
HarperCollins.

Brewer, R.L., ed. (2010). Writer’s market 2011. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Goldberg, N. (1986). Writing down the bones. Boston: Shambhala.

Lamott, A. ( 1994). Bird by bird. New York: Random House

Martin, P., ed. (2008) The new writer’s handbook: a practical anthology of best advice for
your craft & career. Minneapolis: Scarletta.

Rosenblatt, R. (2011). Unless it moves the human heart. New York: HarperCollins.

Strunk, W., Jr.  and E. B. White. ( 1979). Elements of style. Boston: Simon &
Schuster.

WordPress.org. (n.d.) http://wordpress.org/

Zinsser, W. K. (2001). On writing well. New York: HarperCollins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Profit Literary Press seeks board members

Well, that wasn’t exactly how my friend Mary acquired a position on the board of Coffee House Press. In truth, the editor went to high school with her daughter, and one day she ran into him and was talking about something else, and he told her where he worked and what he did and she became interested and started following the authors and books that Coffee House publishes and a few years later she was invited to sit on the board. And to recruit others who might spread the word about the Press, or give money, or parties, or at least attend readings and tell their friends to buy the books. Which is how I came to be invited to an event for Boarded Windows, a new novel by Minnesota musician Dylan Hicks. The really cool thing is the accompanying CD, which Dylan recorded as one of the characters from his novel.
Coffee House Press has 8 staff members, about 7 interns, 17 Board members — and they publish the work of 168 authors. It began 25+ years ago as a poetry magazine started by Allan Kornblum. Mary said the Board is mainly charged with financial stewardship in service to the mission of the Press, but sometimes they spend meetings talking about the cover design of a particular book. Beginning in 2011, all Coffee House titles are issued simultaneously in print and e-reader format — a rarity even in 2012 as readership of e-books gallops alongside print…

Agents, view 2

I had this great writing partner many years ago, Margot. She was a psychotherapist (not a psycho therapist, as she once wrote me) and once I got over the feeling that she was decoding my childhood in my writing (actually, I came to welcome that) we got along great. When we worked together, she was writing essays on the natural world and the spirituality to be found therein. They were lovely essays, and I looked forward to getting lost in their woodsy paths and finding my way back out, always seeing something I’d missed. Margot organized the essays into a collection, subtitled the sections, wrote some more and sent off the manuscript to a series of agents. No one was especially interested for several years. Then an agent took it on, sent it to several publishers, and passed on their feedback to Margot. Feedback like, change this, or make this longer, or that shorter, and really, what we want is a coffee table book so how about we get rid of most of the text and add photos?
In the meantime, Margot had been sending out her little essays to different magazines and journals, some of them widely circulated, and amassing quite a long list of published essays. So she felt a bit freer to say no thank you to the feedback her agent was passing along and continued to send out her essays, one at a time. Some day, they will be a book on their own, and some publisher will be grateful she has a respectable following among readers of various magazines and journals.

 

Agents, view 1

My friend Colleen has written a children’s book, a YA novel in the parlance of writers (for Young Adult.) She’s participated in a writing group led by Jane Resh Thomas for a number of years, and her manuscript grew out of this. I haven’t read it yet, but our friend Angelina from Book Club did, at one sitting, and loved it. Angelina knows children’s books. The highlight of her family’s collection, and it’s considerable, are her shelves of Newbery winners, all 90 years of them, and our book club still reads the Newbery winner each year in December. (The award is announced in spring, but we’ve stuck with a December reading, a holdover from the days when it made a holiday gift book for our children, most of whom are out of or finishing college now.)
Colleen’s manuscript is with an agent, who might or might not take an interest in it and shepherd it through publication. Colleen is casual about this, and not boastful at all that a well-known and respected literary agent is even reading her work. But she is quietly proud of having finished the manuscript, as she should be. And a bit unnerved, because she just heard that this same agent has just received the final draft of a second book by an award-winning YA author. Colleen is sure her manuscript is now buried under this magnificent new one, as well as some take-out menus, and dry-cleaning tickets, and the box of stale bagels from last Wednesday’s staff meeting…
Whatever happens next for Colleen and her book, I’ll remember her quiet pride when she said she had finished the manuscript. I can’t imagine any of her emotions at her publication party will top that.

Coffee House Press visit

In January, I was invited to a Coffee House Press new book event by a board member. Very cool. Publisher Chris Fischbach interviewed Dylan Hicks about his novel, Boarded Windows, due out in May. Hicks is a Minneapolis singer and songwriter and music critic.

Even cooler, though, was hearing Dylan Hicks talk about the album that came out of writing the book, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene. When he was done writing the book, he recorded the songs he imagined one of his novel’s characters singing.

So the January evening at the Press was Chris and Dylan sitting on stools in front of 40 or so of us, talking about publishing this particular book, and next to them on top of a bookcase was Chris’ portable radio/CD player, on which we heard part of the album. Nerdy in the best possible way. Chris began by saying that he sort of thinks the entire goal of publishing is to inspire more art or literature – or he hopes, at any rate, to inspire the creation of something beyond the book they’re publishing. In this case, Dylan casually mentioned that an album grew out of the book. Hmmm… thought Chris. This guy posts on Facebook that we’ve picked up his book, and gets 2,000 congratulatory messages from his friends, who know him as a musician. Cross-pollination! Here’s the deal: when you buy the book, you get to download the album for free. And the book and album will be promoted to overlapping markets. And Dylan will do author events at bookstores and music venues, sometimes reading, sometimes singing, sometimes both.

Chris also said he was attracted to Boarded Windows because of its unreliable narrator – a common theme among Coffee House titles. Leaves the reader to do the sorting out. And Chris noted that he tends to veer away from novels written in the present tense, because there is no good way to spell out the history, the context of the story the narrator (unreliable or not) is trying to tell us.

Lucky me – in the middle of a project about creative writing, I saw an author’s first public event, and now I can watch the debut of a newly published novel, and its accompanying CD…

 

Book review – Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Nathalie Goldberg (Shambhala, 1986)

Best line: “Own anything you want in your writing, and then let it go.”

Why read this book: I can’t say it better than Judith Guest in the Foreword: “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that writers do not write to impart knowledge to others; rather, they write to inform themselves.”

Composed as a series of meditations on how she practices writing and teaching, Goldberg’s book has gotten a mention in just about every writing class or group I’ve encountered since 1986.  Her writing exercises are exercise in the best sense of the word – vital and fun and energizing. Goldberg specifies her tactics for a 10-minute, or 60 minute “freewrite”: whatever you can commit to, don’t lift your pen during that time, don’t cross anything out, choose paper and pen or pencil so you can feel the writing implement on the paper. Further exercises, which I’ve used in my own writing and with students, involve making a list of nouns, then one of verbs and cross-pollinating them to see what surprises you come up with. Her approach to writing is what she promises: it frees the writer within.

On the lonely artist: “I tell my students in a group to get to know each other, to share their work with other people. Don’t just let it pile up in notebooks. Let it out. Kill the idea of the lone, suffering artist. We suffer anyway as human beings. Don’t make it any harder on yourself.”

On acquiring skill: “If it’s essays you want or short stories, write them. In the process of writing them, you will learn how. You can have the confidence that you will gradually acquire the technique and craft you need.”

On poetry: “If you read a great poem aloud – for example, ‘To a Skylark’ by Percy Byshe Shelley – and read it the way he set it up and punctuated it, what you are doing is breathing his inspired breath at the moment he wrote that poem.”

On metaphor: “… metaphor must come from a very different place than that of the logical, intelligent mind… it’s better to be crazy than false.”

On detail: “Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else… The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness… This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history… use details. They are the basic unit of writing.”

On teaching poetry to children:  “I don’t have to give them any rules about poetry. They live in that place already. Close to things… The terrible things about public schools is they take young children who are natural poets and story writers and have them read literature and then step away from it and talk ‘about’ it.”

On computers: “I have not worked very much with a computer, but I can imagine using a Macintosh, where the keyboard can be put on my lap, closing my eyes and typing away. The computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called “wraparound.” You can rap nonstop. You don’t have to worry about the typewriter ringing a little bell at the end of a line.” [The book was written in 1986, after all!]